The Transcendental Movement
In 1830, a movement known as Transcendentalism began to
gain popularity in America. It represented an idealistic
system of thought such as "strength, courage,
self-confidence, and independence of mind".
Transcendentalists opposed aspects of their government,
where they felt "many unjust laws existed." Therefore, they
became the leaders of a number of modern reform movements.
Transcendentalists also had a major effect on their society
and became a "powerful force for democracy."
Originating in the area in and around Concord,
Massachusetts, Transcendentalism was recognized as having
an "underlying relationship to the Romantic movement as a
whole." 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."
Transcendental beliefs focused on "the importance of spirit
over matter." 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." 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." 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 exist."
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." It was believed that human
nature was basically good since "God was in every person."
Therefore, "man, because he is the creature of God,
necessarily partakes of the divine nature of his creator."
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." This Oversoul is "by definition good." The
Oversoul "dwelt within human beings as well as in nature."
The Transcendentalists also supported many various reform
movements such as the following: suffrage for women, better
conditions for workers, temperance for all, modifications
of dress and diet, the rise of free religion, educational
innovation, and other various humanitarian causes. The
Transcendentalists became leaders or spokesmen of reform
movements in church, state, and society.
Transcendentalists are also known for contributing to the
rise of free religion, aiding the abolitionist movement,
supporting feminism, and promoting communitarian
experiments. In the abolitionist movement, many reformers
felt that "when a sixth of the population of a nation which
has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and
a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a
foreign army and subject to military law, then it is not
too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."
Transcendentalism's effect on society was tremendous.
Because it led many reform movements and rejected the
conventional ideas of the eighteenth century thought, a
rift began to form between the old and new ideas in
society. Transcendentalism represented a battle between the
older and the younger generations. It also represented an
emergence of a new national culture based on native
materials. This began to influence a break in American
culture. Transcendentalism encouraged "a complete break
with tradition and custom, encouraged individualism and
self-reliance and rejected a too-intellectual approach to
life." It became a call for "young men to slough off their
deadening enslavement to the past, to follow the God
within, and to live every moment of life with a
strenuousness that rivaled that of the Puritan fathers."
The main weakness of this seemingly perfect idea of
Transcendentalism is that it had "borrowed from many
sources and reconciled few of them." 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, "preached,
practiced, an idealism that was greatly needed in a rapidly
expanding economy." 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.