By focusing on bodily health, physiological reformers bypassed institutions like churches, schools, and voluntary societies and placed the burden of responsibility directly on individuals. Each person was responsible to maintain his or her own health in strict temperance and probity. While this certainly constituted a discourse of biopolitical discipline, health reformers also believed that physiology empowered people: with health and thereby with happiness and wealth. Through this optimistic focus on the individual, therefore, physiological reformers helped push republican political thought toward pro-market, liberal individualism. Bodily health was no longer a means by which to support the republic; now, it was an end in itself—part of living a happy, successful life.
My paper explores the role of physiology in antebellum northern political thought through the political writings and activities of physiological reformers and physicians, especially the popular lecturer Sylvester Graham.
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