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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The M'Clintock Family

Waterloo, New York powerfully illustrated the political, economic, and social changes taking place throughout the United States during the first half of the 19th century. Politics were becoming increasingly democratic for white men, most notably through the removal of requirements that a man own property in order to vote. Over time voters listened less to the wealthy and powerful, learning instead to make choices for themselves. Successful candidates for public office learned to appeal to a variety of voters, frequently emphasizing the wisdom and importance of the "common man" who made up a large section of the electorate.

The economy was developing in new ways. Across the country, innovations in transportation dramatically reduced the cost of shipping, lowering the price of goods and creating new trading opportunities. Better transportation was especially important because of the spread of the market economy. By the middle of the 19th century it had become much more common for a family to buy many of the products it needed, even if they had to come in some cases from hundreds of miles away. The growth of a national "market" encouraged people to specialize in the production of a small number of goods, selling them in order to receive money to pay for other needs. The Industrial Revolution contributed to this pattern, as factories began turning out large numbers of similar items. New plants in Waterloo, for example, began manufacturing woolen goods, a change that created new types of jobs.

Moving into this complicated, changing community--and into the house at 14 East Williams Street--was the M'Clintock family. Thomas and Mary Ann M'Clintock and their children came to Waterloo from Philadelphia in the mid-1830s. They rented a home on East Williams Street from Richard Hunt, who was married to Thomas's sister Sarah until she died in 1842. Its location was a convenient one for the M'Clintocks: the back door led to the drugstore Thomas operated with daughter Elizabeth and later, when he was older, son Charles.

Religion played a crucial role in the lives of the M'Clintocks. They were active members of the Society of Friends or, as they are commonly known, the Quakers. Since its founding in 17th century England, the Society has taught that everyone has an "Inner Light" that allows direct access to God. Following that Light leads to spiritual development. The Quaker belief that the Inner Light exists in all people has led them to think that no individual is better or worse than another. This emphasis on equality has helped make them one of the most socially active religious groups in the United States; they were, for example, some of the strongest opponents of slavery.

The M'Clintocks were members of a branch of the Quakers known as the Hicksites, who had left the main "meeting" in the 1820s. This split centered on the most important source for guidance: the traditional or Orthodox branch relied more heavily on the Bible, while the Hicksites, influenced by revivalism, placed more emphasis on individual conscience. Many Hicksites were energetic reformers, a tendency the M'Clintocks illustrated. They held temperance meetings in the room above the drug store and campaigned for better treatment of American Indians. They were strong opponents of slavery: Mary Ann and Thomas petitioned Congress to outlaw the practice, and Elizabeth helped organize fund-raising "fairs" that supported anti-slavery societies.

In the summer of 1848, however, the M'Clintocks were among 200 people in and around Waterloo who decided to leave the Hicksite meeting. They believed the Hicksites were still not active enough on social issues--many meetings refused anti-slavery speakers the use of their buildings, for example--or committed enough to sexual equality. They also wanted local meetings to have more autonomy. They therefore formed the Congregational Friends of Human Progress, a church open "to Christian, Jew, Mohammedan and Pagan" as long as that person was committed to improving society. In the guidelines for their new church, Thomas M'Clintock wrote that in the Progressive Friends, "not only will the equality of women be recognized, but so perfectly, that in our meetings, larger and smaller, men and women will meet together and transact business together." Even the Hicksites, who were far more liberal than most Quakers (who were in turn more liberal than most other churches), had separate services for the two sexes. It was this dedication to women's rights that helped bring the M'Clintock House into history.

1. What changes were taking place in western New York in the first half of the 19th century?

2. Do you think the Burned-Over District would have been a good place to find supporters of abolition and women's rights? Why or why not?

3. How did the M'Clintocks' religious beliefs shape their commitment to social reform?

Reading 1 was compiled from Andrea Constantine Hawkes, "'Feeling a Strong Desire to Tread a Broader Road to Fortune:' The Antebellum Evolution of Elizabeth Wilson M'Clintock's Entrepreneurial Consciousness," (Master's thesis, University of Maine, 1995); Sandra S. Weber, Special History Study: Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York (Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1985); and Barbara A. Yocum, M'Clintock House Historic Structure Report (Lowell, Mass: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1993).

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