American Utopias: The History of Famous Attempts to Establish Utopian Societies in the United States

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In the 19th century, the young United States was exposed to the profound changes that historians call the Market Revolution. Cities experienced drastic changes as manufacturing and trade created jobs that hungry job seekers from the countryside migrated towards, but the hype triumphed over the realities, and more unemployed recent migrants lived in the cities than the number of gainfully employed workers. Urban stresses dominated American cities and also attracted the attention of reformers.

The rural areas also experienced profound changes from the intrusion of commercial trade, which penetrated the agricultural regions and affected the prices of supplies and transport. This also affected the profits from foodstuff and produce, all of which average rural Americans could not control. Left to the mercy of the markets, while the rapid era of canal building and the first railroads brought the countryside further into the grips of the cities, religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening took over, and so too did new experiments arise to provide alternative models of the capitalistic system that left people at the mercy of boom and bust cycles.

For most utopian societies, the common element was a charismatic figure who had a vision of how to lead the people out of an untenable present into a better future by committing themselves to a new set of rules and practices. They envisioned better futures at a physical location intended to be the root of a movement that would spread and redeem the community.