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by Ronald G. Walters
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  • Author:
    Ronald G. Walters
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    Hill and Wang; 1st edition (July 1, 1978)
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    256 pages
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American reformers, 1815-1860. by. Ronald G. Walters. Social reformers - United States - History.

American Reformers, 1815-1860 book.

American Reformers 1815-1860

American Reformers 1815-1860. A most impressive work. James M. McPherson, Princeton University. Brief American lives: Four studies in collective biography. Walters, Donald C. Yelton. New York : Hill and Wang, 1997. Physical description.

For this new edition of American Reformers 1815-1860, Ronald G. Walters has amplified and updated his exploration of the fervent and diverse outburst of reform energy that shaped American history in the early years of the Republic. Capturing in style and substance the vigorous and often flamboyant men and women who crusaded for such causes as abolition, temperance, women's suffrage, and improved health care, Walters presents a brilliant analysis of how the reformers' radical belief that individuals could fix what ailed America both reflected major transformations in antebellum society and significantly affected American culture as a whole.

Some of the other reviewers have been awfully hard on Ron Walters for "skimming over" the info in this book. We're talking about a book that covers 45 years and hundreds or thousands of people (if you count all the utopians) in a little over 200 pages. I really liked this book as an introduction to the period and the people. It has led to my reading additional books about things like Brook Farm and the relationships between antebellum feminists and abolitionists. If you want fine detail and scrutany, look for something that is less scattershot, maybe "American Reformers: July 16, 1854."

In my mind, this is an introductory text, albeit a fine one. Walters is very accessable, he tries to include necessary historical perspective and whatever cultural information he deems to be valuable to the story he's telling in each chapter. And while each chapter is a story of a different movement or people, he also demonstrates those things these groups have in common. I won't spoil it for you, but at the least of it, they were all idealists who thought to affect the world around them.
great book
Needed it for a class, and this book was very informative. Gives a good look into the 19th century reform movement.
I needed this book for a reformation history class and enjoyed learning about the different reform movements. Really enjoyed the book.
With American Reformers, Walters has composed a fine synthesis of secondary literature on the varied antebellum reform movements. In doing so, he argues that the reform impulse emerges out of evangelical Protestantism but by the Civil War takes a more secular turn more involved in legislating social controls than converting the hearts of individuals. As he develops this argument he addresses the different forms that this reform impulse took and organizes the book thematically. He discusses in successive chapters utopian movements and secular communitarians, abolition, the women's movement and the peace movement, temperance, health reform and spiritualism, working man's reform, and institutional reform, into which he groups mental hospitals, prisons and schools.
Walters demonstrates the secularization of reform in the realm of communitarian societies. Thus, the early nineteenth century utopian settlements that often emerged out of pietistic impulses gave way to more secular experiments in social engineering such as Owenism, or as in the case of Oneida, how a once religious community endured only as a commercial venture. Similarly he shows institutions such as asylums wove their religious inspiration with the science of the times but like prisons and almshouses became holding pens for outcasts rather than places for healing and reform.
Walters also situates the emergence of reform in the particular circumstances of antebellum America. He argues that the emergence of the middle class created made it possible for people to devote time to reform, and that technological advances in printing made it possible for people to actually make a living as an "agitator." He also argues that reform helped shape the identity of the emerging middle class. This point come through particularly clearly in his chapter on working man's reform.
Walters' synthesis suffers from its grand scope and short length. In it he sacrifices a certain amount of detail and analysis for space and clarity. The section on utopian movements, for example, traces the personalities of the major reformers and a brief outline of the community that followed without in-depth analysis. Throughout the book quotations from primary sources would have been helpful in giving a feel for the particular movement under discussion. The lack of primary source material allows Walters to sacrifice documentation, and the reader sometimes wishes for some assistance in discerning the origin or fuller development of a particular point. To his credit, Walters provides a good bibliographical essay at the end, but the lack of documentation sometimes proves frustrating and thus interrupts the otherwise smooth flow in the text. Nonetheless, American Reformers is a very readable and useful synthesis of the secondary sources on antebellum reform. As such, it is a helpful and welcome addition to the field.
While American Reformers gives a fair overview of significant individuals and their movements in U.S. history, the book glosses over much material. Walters has accumulated much data, but it comes across as if he's heading a p.r. campaign for reformers instead of digging deep into his area. Much of Walter's writing is very light here and elsewhere (especially in his monthly columns he writes under the name of "Guido Veloce" for the Johns Hopkins Magazine) and at times it appears frivilous.
American Reformers is a wonderful resource book. Walters has done a beautiful job blending information with anecdotes. A great book for anyone interested in reform movements of the 19th Century, and their infuence on contemporary society.