The New England Renaissance (1840-1860)



Taking American Romanticism a step further


In 1840 there is both dissatisfaction with the present and optimism about the future in the U.S.


Dissatisfaction existed over the reality of harsh working conditions and the limitations of poverty and lack of education faced by many.


Strong reform movements sprang up over education.  During this period tax-supported public education came into being.


This period saw the start of a focused women’s rights movement.  Women do not win the right to vote until 1920, but the fight begins during this period.


This is the period when dissatisfaction among many over the issue of slavery comes to a boiling point.


Optimism at this time was based on the dynamic progress in science and technology.

1.    soil and mineral surveys

2.   invention and development of machine tools

3.    invention of the reaper

4.    new roads, canals, and railroads

5.    first telegraph line – 1844


This optimism is reflected in American Literature in this period.  This is the time period when American Literature found its place among the great national literatures of the world.




Transcendentalism – An early 19th-century philosophical movement that stressed individualism, intuition, nature, and self-reliance.  By contemplating objects in nature, people can transcend the world and discover union with the “over-soul” that unites us all.


Transcendentalism is the view that the basic truths of the universe lie beyond (transcend) the knowledge we obtain from our senses.


At the heart of Transcendentalist writing is the belief that the spiritual unity of all forms of being, with God, humanity, and nature share a universal soul.


The two key Transcendentalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson and his protégé Henry David Thoreau.


Other key Transcendentalists: Margaret Fuller,  Theodore Parker,  Bronson Alcott,  William Ellery Channing,  George Ripley,  Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.


Big Three Beliefs of Transcendentalism

1.    There’s a direct connection or “correspondence” between the universe and the individual soul.  As a result, Nature is where it’s at.

2.    By contemplating objects in nature, people can transcend the world and discover union with the “Over-Soul”  that unites us all.

3.    Follow your own intuition and own beliefs, however divergent from the social norm they may be.  Since all people are inherently good, the individual’s intuitive response to any given situation will be the right thing to do.


Emerson is the key intellectual and philosophical voice of the 19th-century America.


Emerson’s writings, especially Nature, “The American Scholar,” and “Self-Reliance,” helped establish the philosophy of individualism, an idea that is deeply embedded in American culture.


In his “Divinity School Address,” Emerson declared that true religion resides within the individual, not in Christianity or in the church.


Emerson pointed the way to a unique American voice in poetry by calling for verse that celebrates democracy and ordinary experience rather than the epic themes of the past.


More on Transcendentalism
More on Emerson


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