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The Reform Impulse
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The Events of 1831 Key Events Maps Transcript Webography

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Program 8: The Reform Impulse/Religion and Individualism

Donald L. Miller and Louis P. Masur

Introduction

Miller: America in the 1830s. Changing so fast, it seems to be flying apart. Charles Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville are among the many visiting Europeans fascinated by the country.

Masur: Tocqueville comes to America. His comment--he can't understand it. He says, "A religious insanity is prevalent in the United States."

Miller: Religious revivals help Americans feel they can control the chaos of change.

Masur: At the essence of it is this notion that man is a free moral agent. Think about that. You know, you move away from the concept of predestination; you move away from the concept that it has all been determined, all has been decided; into free moral agency, individualism. That you can become what you need to become, you can change your heart, you can determine your own fate.

Miller: That's a powerful catalytic factor for the reform movement, the sense of individual salvation.

Masur: I think it's pretty clear, right, that we can't understand them without it.

Miller: Today, on A Biography of America, "The Reform Impulse."



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