EXCERPT: 'So great was the ferment of reform in the pre–Civil War United States that to understand it, to grasp the motives of the reformers, the nature of their work, their successes and failures, is to understand much about the American nation as a whole. To be sure, there was more to antebellum history than reform. At the same time that the reformers were trying to change men's ideas and actions, other Americans were holding fast to traditional concepts and ways of doing things. Even as the reformers were battering the walls of unrighteousness, both they and other men were taming wild nature for human use, expanding the nation's boundaries and settled areas at the expense of Indians and Mexicans, adapting its political institutions and political parties to the needs of a restless and growing people, wrestling with the thousand and one problems inherent in the pursuit of happiness. Yet historians have believed that the myriad of reforms and reformers offer a meaning for much of the whirl of confusion and change that was America in the antebellum years. They offer as well, some historians have claimed, valuable insights into the difficulties the Americans encountered when they tried to give concrete meaning to their cherished ideals–so often voiced, so little understood–of democracy and freedom.'