The Important Role of Transcendentalism in American History

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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


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...reconciled few of them."19

It was never united by a set program. Transcendentalism was comprised of

the various interests and labors of many different personal concepts.

Therefore, there were many conflicting values which made it an unsteady

system to follow.

At the time of the Transcendentalism movement, "it preached, practiced,

an idealism that was greatly needed in a rapidly expanding economy."20

However, soon people began to find other, more comprehensible means of

dealing within society. Therefore, they began to turn away from

Transcendentalism. However, even though Transcendentalism is non-existent

as a whole today, many of its ideas, values, and morals are still present

in many of the religions and beliefs of today's society. In conclusion,

Transcendentalism will always be present in the world, it just will not

have as obvious a presence.

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