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The Important Role Of Transcendentalism In American History

773 words - 3 pages

The Important Role of Transcendentalism in American History

In 1830, a movement known as Transcendentalism began to gain
popularity in America. Representing an idealistic system of thought,
"strength, courage, self-confidence, and independence of mind"1 were some
basic values admired by the followers of the Transcendental movement.
Transcendentalists opposed many aspects of their government, where they
felt "many unjust laws existed."2 Therefore, they became the leaders of
many modern reform movements. Transcendentalists also had a major affect
on their society. Transcendentalism became a "powerful force for

Originating in the area in and around Concord, Massachusettes,
Transcendentalism was recognized as having an "underlying relationship to
the Romantic movement as a whole."4 Three of the most obvious or well
known sources or origin of Transcendentalism are neo-platonism, German
idealistic philosophy, and certain Eastern mystical writings which were
introduced into the Boston area in the early nineteenth century."5

Transcendental beliefs focused on "the importance of spirit over
matter."6 Ralph Waldo Emerson, a well known Transcendentalist, felt that
"all men aspire to the highest, and most of them spend their lives seeking
money and power only because they see nothing higher."7 Followers also
believed in a spiritual hunger, or the need to find themselves one with the
world. In addition, they believed in "an ascending hierarchy of spiritual
values rising to absolute good, truth, and beauty."8 Transcendentalists
also believed in a supreme being, the Oversoul, and felt that "if the
Oversoul is all powerful and at the same time good, then evil does not

Transcendentalism "appealed to the best side of human nature,
confident in the divine spark in all men, and it was a clarion call to
throw off the shackles of custom and tradition, and go forward to the
development of a new and distinct American culture."10 It was believed
that human nature was basically good since "God was in every person."11
Therefore, "man, because he isthe creature of God, necessarily partakes of
the divine nature of his creator."12 Man's creator, the Oversoul, was
conceived by Emerson as an "all pervading spiritual power from which all
things emanate, and from which man derives the divine spark of his inner
being."13 This Oversoul is "by definition good."14 The Oversoul "dwelt
within human beings as well as in nature."15

The Transcendentalists also supported many various reform movements
such as the following: suffrage for women,...

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