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For the first time, ordinary people could learn about culture in free public schools. Before the 1830s, schools were mostly for rich kids; if you wanted to get an education, your parents had to pay. Horace Mann started the common school movement (1850) of tax-supported mandatory free education for all children. By the end of the 1850s, every state outside the South had free education and teacher training.

In the 1820s, America got its own art after years of looking up to Europe as the only seat of real culture. The Hudson River School produced artists like Thomas Cole, who painted man and nature in harmony along the Hudson River in rural upstate New York. George Caitlin painted American Indians in natural settings, and John James Audubon became famous for his paintings of birds.

The U.S. cut a fine trail in literature as well; James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Henry David Thoreau (among others) wrote influential works during this period that are still popular today.


Strong feelings about spirituality were part of the Second Great Awakening (1830), which encouraged the idea that religion should be felt as well as thought. Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, shared a philosophy with his New England neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson: Transcendentalism. The Transcen-dentalists believed God was an inner voice, leading people to do the right thing and live in harmony with nature, if they'd just listen.

Evangelists traveled the country speaking at emotional revival meetings. Ministers like Charles Finney preached that how people lived helped decide whether they would go to heaven — a big change from the predestination of the Pilgrims (see Chapter 7). For the first time in America, women took an active part in church, which led to growing female influence in social movements. The Second Great Awakening also saw the birth of Mormonism and the spread of the Methodist church, as well as the beginning of groups devoted to abolition, education, and temperance.

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