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The broad transition from a society marked by hierarchy and deference to elites to one governed by mass democracy fostered a reform mentality. The integration of the nation into an expanding market economy, combined with advances in transportation that connected the nation through roads, canals, and eventually railroads, both enabled the work of reformers and created many of the conditions against which they fought.

A culture of gentility and sentimentality, once the preserve of the aristocratic elite, seeped downward, incorporating the middle class in its dictates and inspiring efforts in reform. Changes in gender roles created a public space for women in reform associations. Improvements in printing technology allowed reformers to cheaply and rapidly diffuse their ideas through the penny press and inexpensive pamphlets and books.

Drawing often on the 30 Beginnings of Reform examples of British evangelicals, the Benevolent Empire included organizations designed to distribute religious tracts and Bibles, foster revivalism, fight the abuse of alcohol, and create Sunday Schools for poor urban children.

In addition, the antislavery movement initially derived much of its energy from evangelical reformers. Participants in the Benevolent Empire pioneered national reform organizations and innovatively used new printing technologies to spread their gospel of reform.

While evangelical reformers could be found throughout the nation, they were particularly influential in New England and among the Yankee migrants concentrated in upstate New York and the Old Northwest.


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Garrisonian radical abolitionists grew out of, and eventually rejected, evangelical reform culture. Transcendentalists like Emerson, either liberal Unitarians or religiously unorthodox, have long been recognized as a crucial group of reformers. Communitarian groups and radical new religions articulated other variants of the reform tradition. Kane exemplifies social reformers who combined anti-evangelicalism, romanticism, and a political loyalty to the Democratic Party.

In response to the evangelical culture of religion and reform, they advanced an alternative vision that emphasized the protection of liberty and the accompanying toleration of religious and cultural pluralism. While evangelical reformers clustered in the Whig Party, those like Kane participated in the reform wing of the Democratic Party, the very existence of which is often obscured in historical portrayals of the era because most antebellum Democrats defended slavery. They adhered to a romantic humanitarianism that sought to speak on behalf of the oppressed and the downtrodden.

Though slighted by historians, these anti-evangelical Democrats contributed greatly to the reforms of the era, including what became the culmination of antebellum reform: the abolition of slavery.

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Even when reformers like Kane made tactical coalitions with evangelical reformers as in the antislavery movement , they had distinctive rationales and motivations. The adjectives fit; Kane was romantic, neurotic, and sentimental. Kane and Smith shared many similarities.

Both Kane and Smith came from privileged backgrounds and inherited prosperity and prestige. Smith grew out of the evangelical reform movement and financially supported the various arms of the Benevolent Empire.

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While his abolitionism eventually moved him beyond evangelical reform, his religious vision still inspired his activities. Finally, Kane reconciled himself to political impurity, preferring to pursue reform through the Democratic Party and the Free Soil movement. It has run itself nearly out of breath on Abolition and Temperance: and now it has taken hold of the Bible. Immigration had doubled the number of Catholics in the city in the past decade.

Political, economic, and religious tensions between the largely Irish immigrants and other Philadelphians had escalated in the early s as they had in other large northeastern cities. An anti-immigrant political party, the Native American Party, gradually coalesced in the city during the late s and early s. Catholic complaints about the intolerant tone of the public schools—including the use of the King James Bible, Protestant hymns, and history books dripping with anti-Catholicism— united nativists to protect the Protestant atmosphere of the schools.

Their opponents came mostly from the Democratic Party, which had already entered into a strategic alliance with Irish voters and adhered to a vision of a more ethnically and religiously heterogeneous society.

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Given his ecumenical tendencies and staunch Democratic beliefs, John Kane sympathized with the Catholics. Complaints by the Irish-born Catholic bishop of Philadelphia, Francis Patrick Kenrick, led to a compromise in that allowed Catholic students to opt out of the Protestant Bible reading but continued to ban the Catholic Bible from schools. In early May , the nativists planned a provocative mass rally in Kensington. After being driven off by a crowd of Irish Catholics, they planned an even larger meeting three days later, which attracted an audience of three thousand.

Tensions turned violent and quickly escalated into full-scale riots for three days, which left some twenty dead both Irish and nativists , large sections of Kensington destroyed, and two Catholic churches in ashes. John later earned opprobrium as Pennsylvania attorney general for bringing criminal charges against some of the rioters. Philadelphians took different lessons from the riots. Many saw the need to replace the current police force, which was based on political patronage, with professionals.

Others flocked to the Native American Party, which surged in popularity. For Thomas, the riots and the attitude Cuyler represented confirmed his distrust of evangelical reformers and inspired his commitment to protect religious minorities. He also reveled in using his heterodoxy to needle his devout family.

Like most other nineteenth-century intellectuals who departed from conventional be- 34 Beginnings of Reform lief, he remained deeply interested in religious questions. At times he envisioned himself as outside the Christian fold. Since the Whigs refused to renominate Tyler, no incumbent would defend the office and the race seemed wide open.

The Kanes initially supported the renomination of ex-president Martin Van Buren as the Democratic candidate. Shortly before the Democratic convention, however, Van Buren sank his own chances, which then seemed secure, by opposing the immediate annexation of Texas because it would add another slave state to the Union. In , Texans had declared their independence from Mexico and sought annexation; Andrew Jackson had demurred, wary of both a war with Mexico and northern opposition.

The issue, with its sectional overtones, continued to simmer and became central to the campaign. Clay soon retreated from his earlier position, and Thomas deemed that political calculations desire for the southern vote , not principle, had guided Clay. He exulted to Elisha that John counted James K. John had become acquainted with Polk while he served on the French Commission in the s, and Polk was an up-and-coming congressman from Tennessee. Thomas enthusiastically followed his father into campaign work for Polk and Dallas.

As Polk intended, Kane published the letter, which played a key role in persuading the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania to vote Democratic. However, John decided not to press personally his case in Washington, and Thomas lamented the lost possibility. Under this ethos, gentlemen participated in political debates through the press anonymously or pseudonymously to preserve their reputations, since newspaper editors and writers could not generally claim status as gentlemen. Finally, anonymous authorship may have resulted from his desire for self-denying obscurity in the ascetic tradition.

He relished music, particularly playing the piano and singing. In , John helped organize the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, now the oldest music society in the nation in continuous existence, to promote music through public concerts. Pennsylvania had long been central to movements against the death penalty in the United States.

In , however, England imposed its much harsher criminal code on the colony. In colonial and Revolutionary America, public executions were carefully scripted community events, opportunities for civil and religious elites to reinforce social order. After the Revolution, a broad campaign of penal reform swept the new nation, led in part by Philadelphian Benjamin Rush and 38 Beginnings of Reform influenced by Enlightenment philosophy. Pennsylvania acted first, eliminating the death penalty for robbery, burglary, and sodomy in and then for all crimes except first-degree murder and treason in The state also experimented with a penitentiary system, designed to reform criminals through solitude rather than severe punishments.

Despite some victories, however, there was a general retreat from reform of prisons and the death penalty in the early s.

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Prison reformers again pushed for penitentiaries not only to punish but also to reform criminals. Attempts to abolish the death penalty remained sporadic and local until a national campaign coalesced in the mids. Pamphlets, newspaper articles, and government reports—on both sides of the issue—were widely distributed. In , a New York Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment was founded, followed the next year by organizations in Massachusetts and Philadelphia and a national group, the American Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment.

In part, reformers responded to a broader romantic revulsion against intentionally inflicted pain. In June, the society issued a widely printed public letter, which Kane signed along with twenty-four others, laying out its arguments against the death penalty. On a practical level, the specter of the death penalty made juries unwilling to convict defendants of capital crimes. The following day, the convention selected Vice President George Dallas as president of the society and chose Thomas as one of its two secretaries.

In that capacity, he likely prepared copies of the proceedings for the press, which first appeared in the Pennsylvanian, and probably wrote articles on behalf of the movement. Proponents included leading evangelical ministers though exceptions existed, such as the young Henry Ward Beecher , who looked to biblical justifications for the death penalty.

Like Kane, many of the other participants in the anti-gallows campaign were young, ambitious reformers. No additional evidence, however, suggests further involvement by Kane. Likewise, the entire movement faded 40 Beginnings of Reform over the next decade. Legislative successes in a few states—Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin abolished capital punishment in the late s and early s—ironically coincided with a weakening of the broader campaign. Perhaps through his involvement with the movement against capital punishment, Kane became intrigued with peace reform.

Peace advocates enumerated a variety of positions on war, ranging from just war theory to absolute pacifism. The national society split in the late s, when the more radical activists, associated with the Garrisonian abolitionists, repudiated defensive wars, self-defense, and involvement in coercive governments. During the s, when Kane became aware of the movement, two main factions represented the peace crusade. The American Peace Society allowed a wider spectrum of belief including conservative reformers who justified defensive wars , had its roots in evangelical reform, and envisioned the end of war as paving the way to the Millennium.

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