America from 1820-1860: An Era of Progress?

Examines whether the United States, between the years 1820 to 1860, experienced an era of progress.

This paper examines whether the transformation of America from 1820 to 1860 improved the life of the average American. The paper discusses the change from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and from a rural to an urban culture, and the place of both slavery and the temperance movement in this transformation.
The paper describes the material, technological and social advances of the era and shows how the life of the common citizen was, on average, far better than that of the previous generation.
“Philosopher Thomas Hobbes might have described the life of the average American in the 1820s as he described man’s life before the advent of the social contract: nasty, brutish, and short. Paved streets, public education, and even indoor plumbing were not common luxuries in the cities and towns of the Northern or Southern US (Barth, 10). Consumption of alcohol and infant mortality rates were high; immigration and literacy rates and were low. Although the importation of slaves had been banned in 1808, following similar actions in Great Britain, slavery itself was a growing and profitable business (Ashworth, 170). The population of slaves was mostly concentrated in the Southern region of the US, as was agricultural activity.
The life of the factory workers, small farmers, and slaves of 1820 was devoted mainly to work. Religion was one of the country’s greatest past-times, and the free time of the average farm or factory worker in the United States of the 1820s was as likely to be spent at church, or a church activity, than anywhere else. Churches of many different denominations were still the social center of both urban and rural communities (Ulrich, 39). Leisure time was scarce for the lower classes, while for the upper classes it remained plentiful.