THE decades from 1830 to 1850 were probably the primmest in American history. The female sections of the population almost fainted if any one said pants" in their presence, and modesty was so complete as nearly to constitute caste. But the men were pretty tough. They drank, fought duels and were most profane. Many gambled for high stakes. They were gallant and obsequious to ladies, but kept mistresses, and were not safe to leave alone in the presence of the fair, though zealous to defend female honor against all males but themselves. Great men like Daniel Webster got drunk. Henry Clay lost fortunes at cards. Yet all masculinity had a high opinion of itself and was strong for social order.
The unconventional in man or woman was sternly rebuked. Men who kept women were shocked at a doctrine called "free love" that came to life out of the prevailing outward austerity. People who opposed slavery were regarded as pestiferous persons to be sternly dealt with. No abolitionist was considered respectable until William Ellery Channing espoused the cause.
One of the first upsetters of convention was Fanny Wright, an English woman of high ideals, who was