A Sense of Mastery • State Constitutional Development •
Constitutional Flexibility • The Political Party and Its
Function • Family Law • Women's Rights • Children and
the Law • Early Labor Movements • Debtor Imprisonment •
Pauper Relief • The New Prison • Code Revision • Race
Relations and Antislavery • Conclusion • For Further
THE 1830S MARKED the beginning of three decades of enormous ferment in America. Throughout the period, especially in the North and West, countless groups, organizations, and individuals clamored for “reform” and improvement in society. Vast economic, social, and political changes both stimulated the calls for reform and also made them possible. The South generally rejected social reforms (temperance was an exception), in part because slavery chained Southern society to existing social relations, even as it chained African Americans in servitude.
The era we call the Age of Jackson saw rapid strides in economic development; major steps in social and political activity also transformed laws of personal status and affected the practical workings of constitutional government. And, as in all periods of change, failure accompanied success.
Americans in the middle of the nineteenth century seemed in constant motion. Foreign and domestic observers noted the restless energy that fueled economic development and encouraged civic and cultural enterprises, religious crusades, and movements aimed at improving the lot of paupers, ameliorating conditions in prisons and asylums, fighting the abuse of alcohol, gaining political and legal rights for women, and, most of all, ending slavery. From coastal urban centers to interior hamlets, Americans appeared to be ceaselessly working, exhorting, building, or dreaming. Amazingly, many of these dreams came true—as canals and railroads tied the nation together and public schools,