Education Reforms in Antebellum US

Context: As of 1830, states did not have an organized system of universal public education. When the first system was proposed, many hoped that it would improve political and social stability.

Problems: Before the reforms, education was limited to strictly upper class white people and was more popular in the north. Due to the new democracy in the United States, people were responsible for electing the leaders of the country, so education was a necessity for a functioning society. In addition, children were being homeschooled by their parents before these reforms which was not very successful because often the parents weren't very capable.

Goals: By changing the education system, reformers wanted to soften class lines, protect democracy with an educated electorate, and expose students to beneficial social morals.

“A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one.” -Horace Mann

Tactics: Horace Mann, the Father of the Common School, advocated for a board of education when he was the president of the Massachusetts state senate; he then stepped down from this position and became the secretary of this newly-created Massachusetts Board of Education. Through this board, Mann advocated for education for all, including the blind and deaf, as shown in his Seventh Annual Report. The first step to making these reforms was convincing the people that the lack of public education was a problem and that the homeschooling was not sufficient. Mann convinced the public of this through his twelve Annual Reports. Next the legislative bodies needed to convince the tax payers that it was worthwhile for them to support this endeavor. In Mann's Fourth Annual Reform in 1840, he discusses the qualifications and training necessary for the teachers. The state governments were then responsible for making sure that the children then attended school the mandatory six months of the year.

Leaders: Horace Mann was the main education reformer in the 1830s and 40s, and was followed by Henry Barnard who advocated for reforms in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Also, Governor William Seward of New York extended public support of education.

Outcomes: By 1861, the United States had the highest literacy rates out of any other country in the world. 94% of the population in the north and 83% of the white population in the south was literate. It was successful in providing education to all and improving literacy rates.

This was a liberal reform because it gave education to a widespread of people.



Horace Mann " Twelfth Annual Report," Annals of American History.
[Accessed October 23, 2014].

Horace Mann " On the Art of Teaching," Annals of American History.
[Accessed October 23, 2014].

Horace Mann " The Pecuniary Value of Education," Annals of American History.
[Accessed October 23, 2014].

"Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Education." American History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE52&iPin=E15067&SingleRecord=True (accessed October 23, 2014).


Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey (13th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill: 2009. - quote - picture of Mann - video

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