Paul Andreas Fischer
Vermont in the 1840’s: a Time of Revival, Religion, and Expanding Horizons
The population growth of the early 1840’s was fueled by deforestation efforts as agricultural potential expanded greatly. The population had matured and was now part of a great effort to redefine the national identity that had progressed across New England. Early secessionist movements in New England after the war of 1812, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson in reaction to early attempts to expand liberty throughout the Quebec peninsula (Buchanan, lecture) had become directed inwards; the small state and nation as a whole began to see a unique transformation. Important factors of this internal revolution can be seen as religious and political changes (these forces were still operating in lockstep), expansion of economic frontiers as well as technological competitiveness with Southern states who already enjoyed an economic transformation, and educational maturation. All of these combined into a new and cooperative effort to bring a new dawn to the Vermont countryside and the bustling townships which finally saw westward expansion stunted by squabbling over the nature of westward states and military paranoia of invasion from the North and Atlantic.
The religious revival is nationally noted for the education of African-American citizens and slaves, along with their baptism (Thornton, lecture). This revival can also be seen in the unanimously white states of the North, as the young nation had finally seen reason to expand educational efforts in the countryside and established extensive schooling efforts which saw literacy rates rise (Opal, lecture). Liberty was not the sole goal of these efforts, and the nature of the debates which shaped up affected Vermont in a unique manner.
Two primary objectives of the revivalism in Vermont are of particular interest. Which one came first is not immediately apparent, but logically it can be deduced that the stronger was a reaction to the weaker as this is the nature of successful social movements, society defined as a growing entity (Weiner, lecture). Firstly, the temperance movement attracted a great following in a young state (both in demographics and politically); it is likely the great population shifts described later in economic analysis of the state encouraged a persecution of apple orchard farmers who provided the raw materials which fueled the degenerative behavior of alcohol consumption. “An average of one in every four adults volunteered to take one temperance pledge” (Potash, 182). While demographics are unavailable, it is known that this effort was certainly unappreciated in rural and military circles; the latter had militias in which whisky was used as a reward and the former depended on distilleries to boost consumption of their crop.
What sort of political reaction may have occurred cannot be certain, but prosecution of secret groups and the anti-masonic sentiments of the state may be an endogenous reaction to these events in play. “Rousing greater moral and political ardor among Vermonters than temperance or any other reform was the issue of anti-masonry” which played a major role in the natural backlash which occurred as other states likely proved all too willing to provide a bountiful amount of alcohol, but had much less incentive to purchase the raw materials Vermont was capable of producing.
This came pursuant to various political and economic changes which had occurred in Vermont prior to the establishment of significant organized religion in the public sphere. While by the 1840s, Vermont was on the threshold of breaking through with new threshing machines that would transform agricultural capabilities and allow the conquest of the American South later after allegations of unfair democratic procedures and unconstitutional secession (which is only permitted in the event a state or states’ constitution is in conflict with the United States’ constitution, not when federal statutes and state statutes or constitutions conflict). “In the years following the war of 1812, New York Governor Dewitt Clinton backed the projected Erie Canal that promised to reroute trade form the rapidly growing Great Lakes trade region and Montreal to the Hudson River and New York City” (Potash, 168).
While temperance movements may have decried this as a corruption of social morals and code at the time, the economic success of the action cannot be denied; trade across Lake Champlain subsequently increased by a factor of 500%. This is double the rate of agricultural growth in Addison County as measured by sheep count after 1832 pursuant to recovery from the banking crisis at the time (Potash, 173). Slowly for industrialists hoping to finally dot the Vermont countryside with urban areas, but rapidly given modes of transportation and conservative social values, the state saw a distinct demographic transformation.
“In the decade after 1820, although the population increased by almost 19% to almost 280,652, a large number of towns actually lost population” (Potash, 167) though it is possible this change was not as beneficial as it first appears. Unlike today, when the expansion of the technological frontier can rapidly expand economic horizons, during that time period it was difficult to make significant gains, even as economic policies appeared to work. This is likely due to natural barriers from toxic substance use and semi-natural pollutants (medicine and industry were equally barbaric in the release and exposure of workers and customers to dangerous elements). These changes economically have roots in educational changes that occurred at the time.
Prior to the 1840s, “during the 1820s and 30s Middlebury graduated three times as many students as the University of Vermont” (Potash, 179). This gives an example of this principle in action as no significant technological gains are reported until 1850 when this trend can be presumed to have reversed: with an excess of Middlebury graduates in comparison to UVM graduates, despite an abundance of the former, local economic systems simply became saturated without industrial or agricultural concerns to support them; closer to the lake and transportation proved to be more fertile ground for educational investment. In modern times, we can see that as the population increases in intelligence, such as when lead was removed from paint, automobiles and the environment in general, the economy and graduation rates also increase in kind; in this case it can be seen that a change of around 5 points in IQ resulted in triple the number of college graduates and corresponding gains in gross domestic product.
Earlier reference to sheep in Addison county plays a particularly important role to early Vermont educational development. While it is well known that timber played an important role in Vermont’s history, “the state’s economy flourished initially, then absorbed war-time setbacks, and slowly overcame them, while developing an increasingly precarious agricultural dependence on a single crop, wool” (Potash, 146). The expansion of the agricultural capacity of the state must have marched hand in hand with widespread deforestation. With this would come the educational maturation which allowed Vermont citizens to lead some of the most brilliant military victories in the United State’s history as well as several key technological innovations which played a key role in the survival of the state despite numerous human rights violations and keen competition for valuable resources, whether maple sugar to flavor tobacco or the granite which formed the foundation of the nation’s political and economic capitals.
Buchanan, Andrew. "US Military History." University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. 2013. Lecture.
Opal, Jason. "American History to 1865." McGill University, Montreal, Quebec. 2010. Web.
Potash, P. Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont. Vermont Historical Society: 2004.
Thornton, Kevin. "US History to 1865." University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. 2010. Lecture.
Weiner, Mathew. "Introduction to Logic." University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. 2014. Lecture.