Thematic essay question

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Thematic Essay Practice – Reform Movements

US History/Napp Name: __________________
From the August 2004 New York States Regents/ U.S. History & Government

Directions: Write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs addressing the task below, and a conclusion.
Theme: Reform Movements

Reform movements have been an important part of United States history.


Identify two reform movements in the United States since 1800 and for each reform movement

Describe the historical circumstances that led to the need for reform

State one goal of the movement and discuss two actions taken by the government, a group, or an individual in support of this goal

Evaluate the extent to which the reform movement has made an impact on the United States

Some suggestions you might wish to consider include the abolitionist movement, Populist movement, Progressive movement, women’s rights movement, civil rights movement, and the labor movement.
Gathering the Facts:

  1. The Abolitionist Movement

  • The goal of the abolitionist movement was the immediate emancipation of all slaves and the end of racial discrimination and segregation.

  • Advocating for immediate emancipation distinguished abolitionists from more moderate anti-slavery advocates who argued for gradual emancipation, and from free-soil activists who sought to restrict slavery to existing areas and prevent its spread further west.

  • Radical abolitionism was partly fueled by the religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening, which prompted many people to advocate for emancipation on religious grounds.

  • Abolitionist ideas became increasingly prominent in Northern churches and politics beginning in the 1830s, which contributed to the regional animosity between North and South leading up to the Civil War.” ~

  • Although many New Englanders had grown wealthy in the slave trade before the importation of slaves was outlawed, that area of the country became the hotbed of abolitionist sentiment. Abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets sprang into existence. These were numerous enough by 1820 that South Carolina instituted penalties for anyone bringing written anti-slavery material into the state.

  • Following Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, Southern states began seceding from the Union. Though personally opposed to slavery and convinced the United States was going to have to be all free or all slave states – ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’ – he repeatedly said he would not interfere with slavery where it existed. But he adamantly opposed its expansion into territories where it did not exist, and slave owners were determined that they had to be free to take their human property with them if they chose to move into those territories.

  • Less than two years into the civil war that began over Southern secession, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It freed all slaves residing in areas of the nation currently in rebellion. Often ridiculed, both then and now, because it only freed slaves in areas that did not recognize Lincoln’s authority, it meant that Union Army officers no longer had to return runaway slaves to their owners because, as the armies advanced, slaves in the newly captured areas were considered free. It also effectively prohibited European nations that had long since renounced slavery from entering the war on the side of the South.

  • The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, declared ratified on December 18, 1865, ended slavery in the United States – at least in name. During the Reconstruction Era, Southern states found ways to ‘hire’ black workers under terms that were slavery in all but name, even pursuing any who ran off, just as they had in the days of the Underground Railroad.

  • Abolition had been achieved, but the lessons learned by those in the abolition movement would be applied to other social concerns in the decades to come, notably the temperance and woman’s suffrage movements.” ~

  1. The Populist Movement

  • Throughout the 1880s local political action groups known as Farmers’ Alliances sprang up among Middle Westerners and Southerners, who were discontented because of crop failures, falling prices, and poor marketing and credit facilities.

  • Although it won some significant regional victories, the alliances generally proved politically ineffective on a national scale. Thus in 1892 their leaders organized the Populist, or People’s, Party, and the Farmers’ Alliances melted away.

  • While trying to broaden their base to include labor and other groups, the Populists remained almost entirely agrarian-oriented.

  • They demanded an increase in the circulating currency (to be achieved by the unlimited coinage of silver), a graduated income tax, government ownership of the railroads, a tariff for revenue only, the direct election of U.S. senators, and other measures designed to strengthen political democracy and give farmers economic parity with business and industry.

  • In 1892 the Populist presidential candidate, James B. Weaver, polled 22 electoral votes and more than 1,000,000 popular votes.

  • By fusing with the Democrats in certain states, the party elected several members to Congress, three governors, and hundreds of minor officials and legislators, nearly all in the northern Middle West.

  • In the South, however, most farmers refused to endanger white supremacy by voting against the Democratic Party.

  • Additional victories were won in the 1894 midterm election, but in 1896 the Populists allowed themselves to be swept into the Democratic cause by their mutual preoccupation with the Free Silver Movement.

  • The subsequent defeat of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan signaled the collapse of one of the most challenging protest movements in the U.S. since the Civil War. Some of the Populist causes were later embraced by the Progressive Party.” ~ Britannica

  1. The Progressive Movement

  • Progressivism began as a social movement and grew into a political movement.

  • The early progressives rejected Social Darwinism.

  • In other words, they were people who believed that the problems society faced (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) could best be addressed by providing good education, a safe environment, and an efficient workplace.

  • Progressives lived mainly in the cities, were college educated, and believed that government could be a tool for change.

  • Social reformers, like Jane Addams, and journalists, like Jacob Riis and Ida Tarbel, were powerful voices for progressivism.

  • They concentrated on exposing the evils of corporate greed, combating fear of immigrants, and urging Americans to think hard about what democracy meant.

  • Other local leaders encouraged Americans to register to vote, fight political corruption, and let the voting public decide how issues should best be addressed (the initiative, the referendum, and the recall).

  • On a national level, progressivism gained a strong voice in the White House when Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901.

  • TR believed that strong corporations were good for America, but he also believed that corporate behavior must be watched to ensure that corporate greed did not get out of hand (trust-busting and federal regulation of business).

  • Progressivism ended with World War I when the horrors of war exposed people’s cruelty and many Americans associated President Woodrow Wilson’s use of progressive language (‘the war to make the world safe for democracy’) with the war.” ~

  1. The Women’s Rights Movement

  • The first gathering devoted to women’s rights in the United States was held July 19 - 20, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York.

  • The principal organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention were Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a mother of four from upstate New York, and the Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott.

  • About 100 people attended the convention; two-thirds were women.

  • Stanton drafted a ‘Declaration of Sentiments, Grievances, and Resolutions,’ that echoed the preamble of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.’

  • The sometimes-fractious suffrage movement that grew out of the Seneca Falls meeting proceeded in successive waves.

  • Initially, women reformers addressed social and institutional barriers that limited women’s rights; including family responsibilities, a lack of educational and economic opportunities, and the absence of a voice in political debates.

  • Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a Massachusetts teacher, met in 1850 and forged a lifetime alliance as women’s rights activists.

  • For much of the 1850s they agitated against the denial of basic economic freedoms to women.

  • Later, they unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to include women in the provisions of the 14th and 15th Amendments (extending citizenship rights and granting voting rights to freedmen, respectively).

  • In the wake of the Civil War, however, reformers sought to avoid marginalization as “social issues” zealots by focusing their message exclusively on the right to vote.

  • The turning point came in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when the nation experienced a surge of volunteerism among middle-class women – activists in progressive causes, members of women’s clubs and professional societies, temperance advocates, and participants in local civic and charity organizations.

  • On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment, providing full voting rights for women nationally, was ratified when Tennessee became the 36th state to approve it.” ~

  1. The Civil Rights Movement

  • Nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in Southern states still inhabited a starkly unequal world of disenfranchisement, segregation and various forms of oppression, including race-inspired violence.

  • Jim Crow’ laws at the local and state levels barred them from classrooms and bathrooms, from theaters and train cars, from juries and legislatures.

  • In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine that formed the basis for state-sanctioned discrimination, drawing national and international attention to African Americans’ plight.

  • In the turbulent decade and a half that followed, civil rights activists used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to bring about change, and the federal government made legislative headway with initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

  • Many leaders from within the African American community and beyond rose to prominence during the Civil Rights era, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Goodman and others.

  • They risked—and sometimes lost—their lives in the name of freedom and equality.” ~

  • The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ushered in a new era in the struggle for civil rights. This landmark decision outlawed racial segregation in public schools.

  • By the time of the Little Rock incident, the nation had already become aware of the heightened struggle in the South. In 1955 blacks in Montgomery, Ala., organized a boycott of city buses in protest of the policy of segregated seating. Lasting 381 days, the boycott, instigated by Rosa Parks, succeeded in integrating the seating. It also led to the formation in 1957 of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in Atlanta, Ga., as a national organization presided over by a local black minister, Martin Luther King, Jr. As SCLC head, he would later become a central leader in the larger civil rights movement.

  • A major incident in 1960 led to the founding of another important organization and expanded the movement’s participants to include college-age blacks. In that year, four students from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College initiated sit-ins at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. Students from other southern black colleges and universities followed with similar sit-ins, bringing about the desegregation of several hundred lunch counters. During the sit-ins the young protesters organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.” ~

  1. The Labor Movement

  • Many of the first unions were formed to gain workers higher wages and shorter workdays. These unions often disbanded after their goals were achieved.

  • As the nation was growing, so was the need for labor. Many inventions and innovations turned the country from an agricultural society to an industrial society.

  • With more laborers in the workforce came the need to protect laborers from being mistreated by their employers.

  • The leaders of these union movements pushed for ten-hour workdays.

  • The unions, most notably the American Federation of Labor, urged Congress to pass legislation to help laborers.

  • One of the crucial legislative acts to the union movement was the passing of the Clayton Act in 1914. The Clayton Act, in more general terms, legalized strikes and boycotts.” ~

  • 1866

National Labor Union founded

  • 1877

National uprising of railroad workers Ten Irish coal miners (‘Molly Maguires’) hanged in Pennsylvania; nine more subsequently were hanged

  • 1881

Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions formed

  • 1882

First Labor Day parade in New York City

  • 1885

Successful strike by Knights of Labor on the Southwest (or Gould) System: the Missouri Pacific; the Missouri, Kansas and Texas; and the Wabash

  • 1886

American Federation of Labor founded

  • 1887

Seven ‘anarchists’ charged with the bombing in Chicago’s Haymarket Square and sentenced to death

  • 1890

Carpenters President P.J. McGuire and the union strike and win the eight-hour day for some 28,000 members

  • 1892

Iron and steel workers union defeated in lockout at Homestead, Pa. Integreated general strike in New Orleans succeeds

  • 1894

Boycott of Pullman sleeping cars leads to general strike on railroads

  • 1898

Erdman Act prohibits discrimination against railroad workers because of union membership and provides for mediation of railway labor disputes” ~

Look at the thematic essay question again. Which two reform movements will you choose?
In addition, in your own words, summarize each reform movement:

The Abolition Movement

The Populist Movement

The Progressive Movement

The Women’s Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement

The Labor Movement

Outlining the Thematic Essay:
Reform Movement: _______ Reform Movement: _______

  • Describe the historical circumstances that led to the need for reform

  • State one goal of the movement and discuss two actions taken by the government, a group, or an individual in support of this goal

  • Evaluate the extent to which the reform movement has made an impact on the United States

  • Describe the historical circumstances that led to the need for reform

  • State one goal of the movement and discuss two actions taken by the government, a group, or an individual in support of this goal

  • Evaluate the extent to which the reform movement has made an impact on the United States

Additional Notes:

Additional Notes:

Write the Essay:

Body Paragraph:


Body Paragraph:



Explain the meaning of the political cartoon. ______________________________________________________________________________

Explain the meaning of the political cartoon. _______________________________________

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