Discuss the political background in the romantic period. Revolution-Reaction

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The Romantic movement began in a period of revolution and ended in a period of reaction. Many of the English Romantic poets embraced the ideals of liberty, fraternity, and equality that characterized the early vision of the French Revolution as the start of a new and better age for humankind. Many of them embraced the republicanism of the new United States. Republicanism, which does not refer to a political party but to the idea of a government headed by an elected official, not a hereditary monarch, was a radical idea at the time.

Some of the Romantics, such as Wordsworth, became deeply disillusioned with the French Revolution. Wordsworth happened to be in France when the revolution turned into a bloodbath, and he returned to England depressed and unhappy. He turned away in despair from the idea of politics as the way to liberate the common man and refashioned himself as a poet-prophet who wrote about common people in a way that idealized them and made them appealing to the upper classes, a very Romantic pursuit.

When the Napoleonic Wars started, England had a strong reaction against radicalism. The government feared English radicals would work with the French to enable a French invasion of England. This led to a conservative backlash. Wealthier Romantics like Shelley and Lord Byron sallied forth to the environs of places like Switzerland and Italy. Coleridge and Southey dreamed of establishing a utopian society in Pennsylvania. Charles Lamb and others moderated their public pronouncements of radicalism. By the end of the Romantic period, many of the poets, such as Wordsworth or Coleridge, who had not died young genuinely turned to conservatism.

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Even though the French Revolution ended in a dictatorship, the Romantic poets saw it as a glorious event in that it represented the power of ordinary citizens and the power of the individual to rise up against tyranny. The American Revolution also occurred during the heart of the Romantic period. America's version of Romanticism was Transcendentalism, most notably the authors Thoreau, Emerson and Walt Whitman, who all wrote about the individual.  So the political influence on Romanticism was a celebration of democracy and the power and ingenuity of the individual - from any social class.  Whitman's "Song of Myself" is the anthem of this idea, just as Emerson's "Self-Reliance," is the lecture to the individual and the mantra is Thoreau's "march to the beat of your own drummer." In general, the political background of the Romantic period is revolution and the struggle for individual freedom in democracy. On both sides of the Atlantic.

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