…it is a pestilential, topsy-turvy, harum-scarum whirligig. Give me the old, solemn, staightforward, regular Dutch canal—three miles an hour for expresses, and two-rod jogtrot journeys—with a yoke of oxen for heavy loads! I go for beasts of burden, it is more firmative and scriptural, and suits a moral and religious people better. None of your hop-skip-and-jump whimsies for me.”
—a canal stockholder for the purpose of putting down the railroads
Advances in manufacturing and transportation spurred a great economic expansion in the early 1900s. This fascinating process helped forge a national identity, but fueled growing regional tensions. While the northern states developed a diversified economy, those in the south remained chained to cotton and slavery. The turbulent transformation of the era spurred one of the greatest burst of reformism in American history. Countless organized efforts reflected the compulsion of Americans to restore order to their increasingly complex world. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass emphasized the personal sacrifice and investment necessary to create change.
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
It would take decades for African-Amerians to win their freedom, for women to secure the vote, for public education to spread to the corners of the republic. However, it was during the 19th century period of expansion and reform that the first critical steps were taken.
Expansion and Reform is the third of four programatic themes in the series Growth of a Nation. It spans the period 1800–1850 and details innovations in transportation during the era, the rapid expansion of the national economy, and the proliferation of social reform movements. Emphasis is given to the debate over slavery and activities both in support of and opposition to abolition.
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