Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1803–1882)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Massachusetts native, was one of the founders of Transcendentalism, a philosophical, literary, and cultural movement that stressed spiritual oneness with nature, reliance on inner experience, and rejection of social conformity. Other prominent Transcendentalists included Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau.

Although Emerson began as a Unitarian minister, his increasing emphasis on feeling and conduct over creeds and external forms led him to resign the pulpit in 1832. Emerson insisted that a human life should be guided more by inner development than by traditions, institutions, or social expectations. This ethical individualism expressed itself in political liberalism, but grudgingly so. Emerson long opposed slavery, the mistreatment of American Indians, and the denial of the suffrage to women, yet he disliked political involvement and felt ...

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