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Carriage House, designed by Charles B. Cluskey, considered by some to be Georgia's most prominent architect of the antebellum period.
Carriage House, designed by Charles B. Cluskey, considered by some to be Georgia’s most prominent architect of the antebellum period. Savannah, GA
Photo: Public Domain

Antebellum Period (1815-1861) 

 

Articles concerning Antebellum period 1815-1861

 

 

 

 


  • A Chapter on Idiots (1854)The wearing uncertainty of many years succeeds the infancy. The ignorant notions of idiocy that prevailed before we knew even the little that we yet know of the brain, prevent the parents recognizing the state of the case. The old legal accounts of idiocy, and the old suppositions of what it is, are very unlike what they see. The child ought not, according to legal definition, to know his own name, but he certainly does; for when his own plate or cup is declared to be ready, be rushes to it. He ought not to be able, by law, "to know letters;" yet he can read, and even write, perhaps, although nobody can tell how he learned, for he never seemed to attend when taught. It was just as if his fingers and tongue went of themselves, while his mind was in the moon. Again, the law declared any body an idiot "who could not count twenty pence;" whereas this boy seems, in some unaccountable way, to know more about sums (of money and of every thing else) than any body in the family. He does not want to learn figures, his arithmetic is strong without them, and always instantaneously ready...
  • Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves 1807The ten sections of the 1807 act were designed to eliminate all American participation in the trade. Section 1 set the tone. After January 1, 1808, it would "not be lawful to import or bring into the United States or the territories thereof from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such [person] ... as a slave, to be held to service or labour." The act provided an enormous penalty — up to $20,000 — for anyone building a ship for the trade or fitting out an existing ship to be used in the trade.
  • Alexander Graham Bell and His Role in Oral EducationWritten by Brian H. Greenwald, Ph.D., Gallaudet University. "The promise of a more homogeneous society allowed oralism to emerge as the most attractive option to educate deaf people. Such strategies paralleled the general assimilation movement through the supposed uplifting of the deaf community by halting sign language use, reducing the importance of residential schools, and decreasing intermarriage among deaf partners."
  • American Colonization Society (1816-1919*)This Society was formed at Washington, near the last of December, 1816. Though the objects proposed by the Society had, for a considerable time previous to its origin, occupied the thoughts of several enlightened and benevolent individuals, still the Institution owes its origin mostly to the philanthropic efforts of Rev. Dr. Finley of New Jersey, aided by Rev. Samuel J. Mills, and a few others of a kindred spirit. The object to which the attention of the Society is exclusively directed, is to colonize, with their own consent, on the Coast of Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem expedient, the people of colour in our country, already free--and those others, who may hereafter be liberated by the humanity of individuals, or the laws of the States.
  • Brief History of Government Charity in New York (1603 - 1900)This entry describes the history of legislative actions taken by the New York State Government for the poor in New York State from 1603 to 1900. Derived from the research of Linda S. Stuhler.
  • Brown, JohnJohn Brown was a controversial figure who played a major role in leading the United States to civil war. He was a devout Christian and lifelong abolitionist who tried to eradicate slavery from the United States through increasingly radical means. Unlike most abolitionists, Brown was not a pacifist and he came to believe that violence was necessary to dislodge slavery. He engaged in violent battles with pro-slavery citizens in Kansas and Missouri, and led a raid on the federal munitions depot at Harper’s Ferry.
  • Brown, William WellsBy 1843 Brown was lecturing regularly on his experiences in slavery for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. By that time he also became deeply committed to lecturing on behalf of women’s rights and temperance laws. It was this involvement as a prominent speaker that many historians and scholars suggest provided the trajectory for his later career as a writer.
  • Education Of The Blind (1833)"It has long been to us a matter of surprise that the blind have been so much neglected. Our age, compared with those that have passed away, is truly a humane one; never has more attention been paid to individual man than now; never has the imperative duty of society to provide for the wants of those whom nature or accident has thrown upon its charity, been more deeply felt, or more conscientiously discharged...."
  • First Annual Report Of The Trustees Of (Mass.) State Lunatic Hospital: 1833Other institutions, both in Europe and America, which have exhibited the most remarkable proportion of cures, have discriminated in their admissions, receiving the more hopeful cases only. The inmates at Worcester have been a more select class than were ever before assembled together; but unfortunately for success in regard to cures, it has been a selection of the most deplorable cases in the whole community. Of the one hundred and sixty-four individuals received, considerably more than one half came from jails, almshouses and houses of correction, and about one third of the whole number had suffered confinement for periods varying from ten to thirty-two years.
  • Franklin Pierce's Veto Is ChallengedWilliam Seward was one of the most powerful statesmen of the 1850s. Under Abraham Lincoln, with whom he vied for the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination, he was Secretary of State. In 1854, as a Senator from New York, he was a supporter of the Dorthea Dix bill that passed both the House and Senate. Here he provided his rationale for opposing the veto message given by President Pierce. The effort to override the veto failed.
  • Garrison, William Lloyd
  • Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler
  • Home Missionary Society of PhiladelphiaWhile some children required long-term placement, assistance was often temporary. One worker describes a case below which particularly displays the “uplift” mentality of the Society:"After a meeting, I called on a widow with four children. She is sick. To secure daily bread, her boy, twelve years of age, sells papers. He called to see me, asking for a situation in the city, whereby he might help his mother. I knew a man of business who wanted a boy, took him with me and secured the place. He has been with him three weeks, and gives such good satisfaction that his wages have been raised, and he is promised permanent employment with a knowledge of the trade. When the mother had sufficiently recovered she came to thank me for the interest I had taken in her son. In this case it was not the money given which called forth her gratitude, but the fact that I had helped the family to help themselves."
  • Instruction Of Idiots (1849)This article written by J. G. W. appeared in a Philadelphia Quaker periodical as efforts to educate children with cognitive disabilities first started in the United States.
  • Kelley, AbbyAbigail (Abby) Kelley was an influential Quaker anti-slavery reformer and a women rights activist who provided inspiration and courage to the women who organized the 1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention. Her activism in Seneca Falls led to the formation of the Wesleyan Methodist Congregation with their public anti-slavery stance and free speech commitment.
  • Listening to Patients: The Opal as a Source The Opal, which was “dedicated to usefulness,” is a ten volume Journal that was written and edited by the patients of the Utica State Lunatic Asylum, (1851 – 1860). The more than 3,000 pages of material in The Opal includes political commentary, humor, advice, and theory on insanity in the form of articles, poetry, prose, cartoons, plays, and literature.
  • Lovejoy, OwenOwen Lovejoy (January 6, 1811 – March 25, 1864) was an American lawyer, Congregational minister, abolitionist, and Republican congressman from Illinois. He was also a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. After his brother Elijah Lovejoy was murdered in November 1837 by pro-slavery forces, Owen became the leader of abolitionists in Illinois.
  • Moral TreatmentWritten by Dr. James W. Trent, Jr., Gordon College. "Moral treatment was a product of the Enlightenment of the late eighteenth century. Before then people with psychiatric conditions, referred to as the insane, were usually treated in inhumane and brutal ways."
  • Moral Treatment of the Insane: 1847That some cases of insanity require medical treatment we believe, but we also believe that a large majority of the patients in Lunatic Asylums do not. There is much analogy between many of the patients found in all such institutions, and the passionate, mischievous, and what are called bad boys in a school, and there is about as much propriety in following the example of Mrs. Squeers, and physicing and medicating the latter as the former, in order to cure them or to change their propensities. Rational hopes for the improvement of either, should we believe, be founded on moral management alone.
  • New York State's County Poor Houses (1864)In 1864, an investigation was made concerning the treatment of the “insane” confined in the county poor houses of New York State. Dr. Sylvester D. Willard’s Report was the instrument that persuaded the New York State Legislature to pass, on April 8, 1865, The Willard Act, “An Act to authorize the establishment of a State asylum for the chronic insane, and for the better care of the insane poor, to be known as The Willard Asylum for the Insane.” What follows is the original report to the New York State Legislature by Dr. Sylvester D. Willard, Secretary of the Medical Society.
  • No Compromise with the Evil of Slavery: A Speech by Wm. GarrisonIn 1854, William Lloyd Garrison gave a speech in which he opened with: "I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of American Independence in which it is set forth, as among self-evident truths, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Hence, I am an abolitionist. Hence, I cannot but regard oppression in every form-and most of all, that which turns a man into a thing--with indignation and abhorrence. Not to cherish these feelings would be recreancy to principle. They who desire me to be dumb on the subject of slavery, unless I will open my mouth in its defense, ask me to give the lie to my professions, to degrade my manhood, and to stain my soul. I will not be a liar, a poltroon, or a hypocrite, to accommodate any party, to gratify any sect, to escape any odium or peril, to save any interest, to preserve any institution, or to promote any object. Convince me that one man may rightfully make another man his slave, and I will no longer subscribe to the Declaration of Independence."
  • Origin Of The Treatment And Training Of Idiots (1856)The idiot wishes for nothing, he wishes only to remain in his vacuity. To treat successfully this ill will, the physician wills that the idiot should act, and think himself, of himself and finally by himself. The incessant volition of the moral physician urges incessantly the idiot out of his idiocy into the sphere of activity, of thinking, of labor, of duty and of affectionate feelings; such is the moral treatment. The negative will of the idiot being overcome, scope and encouragement being given to his first indications of active volition, the immoral tendencies of this new power being repressed, his mixing with the busy and living word is to be urged on at every opportunity.
  • Poor Relief and the AlmshouseWritten by Dr. David Wagner, University of Southern Maine. "Poorhouses (almshouses were simply the same thing with the old English word “alms” for charity used) started out rather small, sometimes in private homes, and at first were scattered in America. But in the 1820s, when America ceased being a completely agricultural society and began to receive more immigration, reformers such as Josiah Quincy in Massachusetts and John Yates in New York led a drive to build almshouses or poorhouses in every town and city. Their purposes were deeply steeped in a desire to not only save money but also to deter the 'undeserving poor.”"
  • Scott, DredOn March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court finally ruled in Dred Scott v Sandford [Sanford was misspelled by a court clerk]. In a 7-2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the majority of justices said that Scott and all slaves and free blacks were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no standing in the courts. Shortly after the decision was handed down Mrs. Emerson freed Scott. The case itself led to the nullification of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, allowing the expansion of slavery into formerly free territories and the legal principle that African Americans, slave or free, were not citizens of the United States. The backlash to this decision strengthened the abolitionist movement and further divided the North and South, leading four years later to the U.S. Civil War.
  • Sisters of Charity of New YorkWritten by Michael Barga. "Some of the earliest sustained social service institutions and health care facilities in New York City were started by the sisters. Their allegiance to local Catholics in the city came in conflict with their obedience to their superiors ... eventually leading to the establishment of a separate order recognized as the Sisters of Charity of New York (SCNY)."
  • Social Darwinism and the PoorExtrapolations from Darwinism, with its emphasis on evolutionary progress, offered reason for hope that a new and better social order could emerge from the turbulence. At the same time, by highlighting competition and the survival of the fittest as the drivers of evolution, it seemed to explain both the emergence of the fittest -- fabulously wealthy elites and giant corporations, as well as the unfit -- the masses of poor in the teeming city slums.
  • Stanton, Elizabeth CadyElizabeth Cady Stanton was a very prominent proponent of a woman's legal and social equality during the nineteenth century. In 1848, she and others organized the first national woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. She co-authored that meeting's Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled on the Declaration of Independence, and introduced the most radical demand: for womens suffrage.
  • Stewart, Maria MillerMaria W. Stewart (1803-1880) was one of the first American women to leave copies of her speeches. The address below is her second public lecture. It was given on September 21, 1832 in Franklin Hall in Boston, the meeting site of the new England Anti-Slavery Society. Although as an abolitionist, she usually attacked slavery, in this address she condemns the attitude that denied black women education and prohibited their occupational advancement. In fact she argues that Northern African American women, in term of treatment, were only slightly better off than slaves.
  • Temperance MovementWritten by Alice W. Campbell, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. "During the first half of the 19th century, as drunkenness and its social consequences increased, temperance societies formed in Great Britain and the United States. These societies were typically religious groups that sponsored lectures and marches, sang songs, and published tracts that warned about the destructive consequences of alcohol."
  • The Declaration of SentimentsThis resolution calling for woman suffrage had passed, after much debate, at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. In The Declaration of Sentiments, a document based upon the Declaration of Independence, the numerous demands of these early activists were elucidated.
  • Three Years In A Mad House (1851)"Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House," by Isaac H. Hunt, 1851. Hunt, a former patient at the Maine Insane Hospital published a scathing attack on his treatment by the institution’s attendants and doctors. Isaac Hunt describes all sorts of abuses and mistreatment. His account makes people wonder whether or not the asylum offered conditions better than those uncovered in local almshouses and jails by the investigative reports of Dorothea Dix. Out of Hunt’s complaints came an investigation by the Maine Legislature into conditions at the asylum.
  • Truth, SojournerThe turning point in Isabella’s life came on June 1, 1843, when at the age of 52 she adopted a new name, Sojourner Truth, and headed east for the purpose of “exhorting the people to embrace Jesus, and refrain from sin.” For several years, she preached at camp meetings and lived in a utopian community, the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, which devoted itself to transcending class, race, and gender distinctions.
  • Tubman, HarrietTubman had made the perilous trip to slave country 19 times by 1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she rescued her 70-year-old parents. Of the famed heroine, who became known as "Moses," Frederick Douglass said, "Excepting John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]."
  • Twilight, Alexander (1795 - 1857)For the next twelve years he learned reading, writing and math skills while performing various farming duties. He was able to save enough (probably with some assistance from the farmer for whom he labored) to enroll in Randolph’s Orange County Grammar School in 1815 at the age of 20. During the next six years (1815-1821) he completed not only the secondary school courses but also the first two years of a college level curriculum. Following his graduation from Randolph he was accepted at Middlebury College, entering as a junior in August of 1821. Two years later he received his bachelor’s degree. Middlebury College claims him to be the first African-American to earn a baccalaureate degree from an American college or university.
  • Underground Railroad, The (1820-1861)The Underground Railroad worked as a series of networks. The journey north was an extremely long route and the Underground Railroad provided depots or safe houses along the way. Those that led the runaway slaves north did so in stages. No conductor knew the entire route; he or she was responsible for the short routes from station to station. Once the “cargo” reached another station, it would be passed on to the next conductor until the entire route was traversed. This limited knowledge protected both the fugitive slaves and the integrity of the routes which sometimes extended over 1,000 miles.
  • Why A Woman's Rights Convention?Determined to overcome the social, civil, and religious disabilities that crippled women of their day, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, on 19 July 1848. It drew over 300. Stanton drafted the "Declaration of Sentiments," a document that stated "men and women are created equal"
  • William Lloyd Garrison, “On the Death of John Brown” (1859)On December 2, 1859, John Brown was executed by Virginia authorities in Charles Town for his ill-fated raid on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry. Soon after word of his death reached Boston, William Lloyd Garrison, the leading abolitionist in the United States at the time, gave this stirring tribute to Brown.
  • Woman Suffrage: History and Time LineA resolution calling for woman suffrage had passed, after much debate, at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. In The Declaration of Sentiments, a document based upon the Declaration of Independence, the numerous demands of these early activists were elucidated. The 1848 convention had challenged America to a social revolution that would touch every aspect of life. Early women's rights leaders believed suffrage to be the most effective means to change an unjust system.
  • Women and Nineteenth-Century ReformThe problem for Dix and other women reformers of the nineteenth century was how to engage in social causes without losing their femininity. Opponents of women’s suffrage argued that political engagement would make women “mannish” and thereby undermine the social order. Even Catharine Beecher argued that women should not receive the right to vote because it would destroy their feminine virtues. Instead, Beecher believed that women could best exert their moral influence through their roles in the Christian home and neighborhood.
  • Women and Nineteenth-Century ReformThe work of Dorothea Dix to improve the treatment of persons with mental illness illustrates the gendered nature of nineteenth-century reform activity. Like many women of her generation, Dix began her career as a teacher, a profession that many women and men believed ideally suited to women as it both mirrored and prepared them for their roles within the home. Dix’ tireless activism within the Unitarian church and sense of moral religious duty was also common for women of her day. Eventually Dix felt that school teaching was insufficiently rewarding and in 1831 left the United States for a tour of England and Scotland. There, she became acquainted with a number of leading reformers who worked to improve the conditions for the poor and the mentally ill. On her return to the United States, Dix accepted a position to teach Sunday School to women prisoners at the East Cambridge jail. Thus, her life’s purpose grew out of a very common role for women at this time, that of educator and moral guide.
  • Women In Nineteenth-Century AmericaAs household production by women declined and the traditional economic role of women diminished, the "home" appeared as a topic to be discussed and an ideal to be lauded. Less a place of production than a spiritually sanctified retreat from the hurly-burly of economic life, the home was where women nurtured men and children into becoming morally elevated beings. It could be said that what we think of as the traditional "home" was actually an invention of nineteenth-century Americans.
  • Women's Suffrage: The MovementIn 2005, the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, celebrated its 85th anniversary. The resolution calling for woman suffrage had passed, after much debate, at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. In The Declaration of Sentiments, a document based upon the Declaration of Independence, the numerous demands of these early activists were elucidated.
  • Wright, Frances (1795-1852)Frances Wright was the first woman in America to act publicly against slavery: in 1825 she bought a tract of land twenty miles outside a little Mississippi River trading post named Memphis, and there she established a commune she called Nashoba. Its purpose was to discover and then to demonstrate how slaves could be responsibly educated and then freed without undue cost to their owners. (To impose a disproportionate burden on one part of the nation when the institution of slavery plagued and disgraced us all seemed to Fanny Wright both unfair and politically unwise. Her political sense, such as it was, deserted her, however, when she published an article about Nashoba claiming that sexual passion was “the strongest and…the noblest of the human passions,” the basis of “the best joys of our existence,” and “the best source of human happiness.” This at a time when allowing an ankle to show in public doomed a woman’s reputation.)