How Did Transcendentalism Affect American History?

Transcendentalism was a movement that emerged in the United States during the mid-19th century. It was a philosophical and literary movement that emphasized individualism, intuition, and the spirit of nature. The movement had a significant impact on American history, influencing literature, politics, and social reform movements.

Transcendentalism’s Origins

Transcendentalism emerged as a reaction against the prevailing intellectual and cultural norms of the time. The movement began in New England in the 1830s as a group of writers and thinkers who sought to break away from traditional religious doctrines and establish their own spiritual beliefs.

The Core Tenets of Transcendentalism

The core tenets of transcendentalism emphasized self-reliance, individualism, and the importance of nature. Transcendentalists believed that every individual possessed an inner divinity that could only be realized through personal introspection and spiritual exploration. They also believed in the inherent goodness of both people and nature.

Impact on Literature

Transcendentalism had a profound impact on American literature. Writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were at the forefront of this literary movement. Their writings celebrated individuality, self-reliance, and non-conformity.

Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” is perhaps one of his most famous works. In it, he encourages readers to trust their own instincts rather than follow what society dictates.

Thoreau’s “Walden” is another notable work that exemplifies Transcendentalist ideals. In it, he documents his two-year experience living in a cabin near Walden Pond and reflects on his relationship with nature.

Impact on Social Reform Movements

Transcendentalist ideas also influenced social reform movements during this period. Many Transcendentalists were strong advocates for abolitionism and women’s rights. They believed that all people were equal and deserved to be treated as such.

Impact on Politics

Transcendentalism also had an impact on American politics. The ideas of individualism and self-reliance were reflected in the political philosophy of the time. Transcendentalists believed that government should be limited and that individuals should have the freedom to pursue their own goals without interference from the state.


In conclusion, Transcendentalism was a movement that had a significant impact on American history. It influenced literature, social reform movements, and politics. The ideas of individualism, self-reliance, and the importance of nature continue to resonate with Americans today and reflect the enduring legacy of this important movement.