Alexis de Tocqueville, a French traveler who wrote a classic report on American society, Democracy in America (1835), wrote, "in my view, more deserves attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America." He observed that "Americans of all ages, all stations of life and all dispositions are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types - religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, very large and very minute."
What de Tocqueville encountered during his travels to the United States in the 1830s was the keen desire of many American citizens to come together to eradicate evil from 19th-century life and perpetuate the evangelical and liberal belief in the perfectibility of humankind. Mindful of their right to act on behalf of their beliefs, citizens from throughout the nation came together to right perceived wrongs and crusade on behalf of their causes, including observance of the Sabbath, crime and punishment, hours and conditions of work, poverty, care of the handicapped, temperance, women's rights, the abolition of slavery, and education, to name a few.
The reform efforts of the 1830s and 1840s are evidence of the belief held by many citizens that just as society is the creation of the people, so the improvement of society rests with the people. Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking fondly of the reformers and reforms, may have summed it up best when he asked, "What
is man made for, but to be a Reformer, a Remaker of what man has made?"
To find additional documents from American Memory on these topics, use such key words as women's rights, women suffrage, educational reform or school reform, and anti-slavery movement or abolition.
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