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Program 8: The Reform Impulse/Religion and Individualism
Donald L. Miller and Louis P. Masur
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
Miller: Today, on A Biography of America, "The Reform