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July 17, 2013

Sample Essay on Moralists and Modernizers

Moralists and Modernizers
The need to reform different dimensional aspects of human aspects is a very ancient phenomenon. The same can be said to the myths of the creation and fall. Undoubtedly, it goes without saying that the most enveloping reality of human life is that they are living creatures and the most alarming one is that they are flawed creatures. Steven Mintz in his book, Moralists and Modernizers, narrates the beginning of many secular reform movements, some of which came out quite successfully during the Progressive Era and New Deal. Mintz defines this period as the “"first age of reform" and considers the antebellum stage as the time of "the first secular efforts in history to remake society through reform." (Mintz, 1995)
For Mintz, the reformers of that period appeared in three broad types: Moral, Social and Radical. Moral reformers were usually and generally those driven the religious impetus having a tendency to involve themselves in issues like moral conduct, temperance, and sexual vice. Missionary organizations, Sunday schools, and all such campaigns against prostitution and alcohol consumption fall in this category. On the other hand, social reformers were more secular in their objectives and motivations.  These reformers can be characterized by modern prisons, camps for slum children, insane asylums, and exclusive focus on poverty.
Radical reformers wanted to bring about the fundamental structural change in the
American society.  All of the range of utopian movements of the period, and specially much of the upheaval and furor for the abolition of slavery may be classified in this category.

The gist of Mintz’s thesis that despite all the differences all these three reform groups can be termed modernizers in a way that the attempted to lay the cornerstone of institutions which were often secular but religious as well with an aim to bring about reform. Analyzed in this way, they were much more different than the earlier generations of American moralist who tended to reform the internal and hidden character of those who required reform. The antebellum reformers accentuated the importance of character building in much like a traditional way but still they were the modern reformers since they attempt to expand the personal sphere into the social structure and institution-building.
One can understand the argument of Mintz by putting into the larger framework of the historiography of the reform narrative and story in American Histoty. The first generation of historians was fanatics and extremists but they were laid the cornerstone of authentic reform.
  This type of reform reached its maturity in the Progressive Era and New Deal. The liberal historians dubbed the antebellum reformers an as fledgling stage in the lineage of progress, as precursor of the liberal impetus in the history of American history and that later paved the way for a more just and equitable society.
Mintz in his book sets out to burnish the image of antebellum reformers. He debunks the idea that one should easily agree with the historians who tend to downplay the antebellum reformers. Mintz has praises for these reformers expressing that idea that the glass is somewhat full irrespective of the way we look at it.  He airs his judgment on the period in a powerful passage: "Beyond their specific achievements, America's pre-Civil War reformers left an even more lasting gift: they reinvigorated American ideals and reinforced the nation's commitment to equality and social justice.”(Mintz, 1995)

Mintz, Steven,(1995) “Moralists and modernizers: America’s pre-Civil war reformers” JHU press

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