This article examines how American humorists from the 1820s through the 1870s treated the Reformer, that most American figure whose commitment to improving society embodied the optimism characteristic of the mid-nineteenth century. The satirical treatment of Reformers, with its emphasis on their marginality, served as both a punishment for their transgression and a way to define acceptable social mores. The picture that emerges reveals the strengths of the American Reformer—lofty ideals and daring positions—but also weaknesses, namely their single-mindedness, and at times unrealistic goals. It also demonstrates the wit and talent of the humorists, while reflecting their tendency to play it safe. Humorists aligned themselves with the already familiar and characterized new ideas and political passion as threatening or just plain crazy. Nineteenth-century humor about the reform movement sheds light on the crucial political and cultural ideas that preoccupied society and with which it struggled.


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pp. 22-45
Launched on MUSE
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