Political and Social Changes in 1830s and 1840s America: an Examination of the Factors That Influenced George Fitzhugh

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The question of what, specifically, constitutes a free society has been debated in America since the era of American colonialism (Foner, chap. 1-4). Despite the ongoing debate, it was not until some sixty to eighty years after America declared its independence from Britain that many of the grievances Americans felt they suffered came to the forefront of American politics (Foner, chap. 12-13). While this seems a long time to wait for complaints to be considered, the general desire to maintain the new nation outweighed individual concerns for many years (Foner, chap. 8-10). By 1854, however, the year in which George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) wrote “Sociology For The South; Or The Failure of Free Society,” the discussion of what it meant to be free was a prominent issue in America. Though this may appear to be a sudden change in political landscape, the newly heated debate over freedom was actually the climax of changes which had occurred in America decades earlier. Indeed, an examination of Fitzhugh’s “Sociology For The South” reveals that the sentiments expressed are directly related to political and social shifts experienced in the 1830s and 1840s, specifically the Reform Movement; the movements generated by the Reform Movement, such as the abolitionist movement and the women’s rights movement; and the Mexican War. First, Fitzhugh’s “Sociology For The South” demonstrates sentiments created and encouraged by the American Reform Movement of the 1830s. During the Reform Movement, Americans, spurred by the absence of a powerful central government, formed voluntary political groups aimed at achieving common goals (Foner, pg. 428). This movement’s effect on religious attitudes was profound: the concept of “perfectionism,” in which both individuals and society as a whole could endlessly be bettered (Foner, pg. 435), led many to investigate alternative ways of living in
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