Social reform is one of the most defining characteristics of American literary Romanticism and is essential to any consideration of this field. The reform impulse in the Americas has been a prevalent literary theme since the writings of Spanish and French missionaries, Quakers, Puritans, and others in the so-called “new world.” By the turn of the nineteenth century, an empowering inheritance of both the Second Great Awakening and Enlightenment-era thinking was a belief in the individual’s ability to agitate for and effect social reform. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century reform movements in Great Britain and Europe also fostered parallel efforts in the early American Republic. This chapter considers the social reform writings that are central to the Romantic era in America, from roughly the 1830s to the start of the Civil War in 1861. American authors during these years addressed profoundly important causes, from antislavery to the rights of women and native peoples, to prisons and mental institutions, to temperance and other health reforms. Diverse authors writing across equally diverse genres identified reform as both a literary theme and a propaganda tool, framing it as necessary in order for the young American nation to fulfill its founding promises of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Arts and Humanities(all)