Revival, Reform, and Romance
Elizabeth Cady grew up in Jacksonian America. It was a turbulent era characterized by rapid growth and social change. The nation had extended its borders across the Mississippi and was filled with boundless optimism about its "manifest destiny" to control the continent. Settlers moved west to populate the plains, and more and more foreigners migrated to the land of promise. Canals, highways, and railroads tied the nation together. The availability of transportation and cheap labor spurred industrial development. Production moved out of homes and farms and into factories, changing the social order. Fewer employees lived with their employers; fewer husbands worked at home. Geographic and economic growth was paralleled by the extension of political rights. "Jacksonian democracy" meant universal manhood suffrage—for white men. The national mood was expansive, energetic, ambitious, and optimistic.
Conservative elements in the population would have added "worried" to those adjectives. Like a fast-growing adolescent, the United States outgrew its boundaries and the traditions and institutions that had governed it in the past. The rhetoric of equality contrasted sharply with increased class consciousness and economic distinctions. Women and slaves were not included in the egalitarian ethic. Churches and small communities could not easily solve the larger problems that accompanied economic growth and dislocation. The overthrow of traditional values and institutions generated a religious revival, which in turn inspired widespread interest in reform. Reformers organized to perfect mankind and man-made institutions. Societies to promote temperance, common schools, and church attendance, to improve prisons and insane asylums, and to end prostitution and slavery flourished. 1