How Did Transcendentalism Beliefs Shape American History?

Transcendentalism was a philosophical movement that emerged in the 19th century in America. The movement was led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller.

The core belief of this movement was that individuals have an innate sense of goodness and truth that can be accessed through intuition and personal experience. Transcendentalism had a significant impact on American history, shaping the country’s cultural, social, and political landscape.

The Roots of Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism was influenced by various intellectual and religious movements such as German Idealism, Unitarianism, and Romanticism. The movement emerged as a response to the increasing industrialization and materialism of American society during the 19th century. Transcendentalists believed that society had become too focused on material success and that people had lost touch with their inner selves.

Beliefs of Transcendentalism

Transcendentalists believed in the innate goodness and divinity of human beings. They held that individuals should trust their own instincts rather than blindly following societal norms or religious dogma. They also believed that individuals could attain a higher level of consciousness or transcendence by connecting with nature.

The Impact on American Literature

Transcendentalist ideas had a significant impact on American literature during the 19th century. Writers such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were influenced by transcendentalist beliefs. They incorporated themes such as individualism, nature, and spirituality into their works.

The Impact on Social Reform

Transcendentalists were also involved in various social reform movements such as abolitionism, women’s rights, and prison reform. They believed that individuals should act based on their own moral compass rather than following societal norms or laws.


In conclusion, transcendentalism had a profound impact on American history. The movement’s emphasis on individualism, nature, and spirituality continues to influence American culture today.

Transcendentalism also played a significant role in social reform movements during the 19th century. The movement’s legacy can be seen in the work of American writers, artists, and activists who continue to explore the themes of transcendentalism in their work.