Examine the significance of the effects of the transcendentalist movement.

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Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that arose in the United States in the late 1820s. Like Romanticism, from which it sprang, it rejected tradition in favor of intuition, privileged nature over civilization, and trusted in the inherent goodness of the individual. It preached that all people are born possessing a...

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Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that arose in the United States in the late 1820s. Like Romanticism, from which it sprang, it rejected tradition in favor of intuition, privileged nature over civilization, and trusted in the inherent goodness of the individual. It preached that all people are born possessing a divine spark. Prominent transcendentalists, most notably Emerson, advised that people should reject vitiated European book learning and turn inward to be led by God towards their divine purpose.

The transcendentalists have had the long lasting effect of putting a belief in individualism at the center of the American psyche. We are a country that favors the creative chaos of individualistic pursuit over subordinating oneself to tradition and authority.

Trusting in the guidance of the individual conscience has led to an enshrining of the notion of civil disobedience. Thoreau argued for the primacy of conscience in the fraught period before the Civil War when he wrote "Civil Disobedience," an essay that strongly supported people of conscience in disobeying unjust laws. This essay had a strong influence on Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent protests against racism in the 1960s.

On the political front, the transcendentalists were at the forefront of advocating for abolition of slavery and women's rights in this country.

Writers like Emerson and, very prominently, Thoreau, also advocated turning to the simplicity and divinity of nature. Thoreau's Walden helped inspire the simplicity movement that has long been a part of the American character, pitting American's rugged and plain democracy against effete European ostentation. Further, the writing of transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau helped fuel the American preservation program, in which areas of wilderness have been set aside as valued national treasure.

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In addition to the movement toward self-reliance and social justice mentioned in the other answers, the Transcendentalist movement is responsible for shaping the modern educational system. Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott, was one of the leading Transcendentalist minds of Concord, Massachusetts. While responsible for some failed Transcendentalist ventures, such as Fruitlands farm, he is also famous for having started a Transcendentalist school in his backyard at Orchard House. Alcott did not like the system of education in place in Concord. Students were subjected to harsh disciplinary tactics and were expected to simply be the repositories of knowledge passed down to them rather than discovered. To the educational system in place during Alcott's time, a student was expected to simply absorb and repeat knowledge, parroting back facts and figures bestowed upon them. Alcott believed students should have agency within their own education, that true learning involved their being involved in their own educational experience. To Alcott, a student should be allowed to explore and question; this would result in a more significant educational experience. This perspective was shared by many of the Concord Transcendentalists; Henry David Thoreau was a teacher for a short time, but quit after being expected to physically discipline his students. A major component of Transcendentalist philosophy is the belief in experience as a means of discovery and learning.

Today, many schools have much more progressive, effective systems of education in place. The pedagogy of the modern teacher focuses on student-centered learning, via the creation of significant learning experiences. While we may not realize that the Transcendentalists are responsible for this system of education, we have them to thank every time a student is asked to experiment, consider, and apply.

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Transcendentalism emphasized the importance of one's own innermost beliefs and conscience, and it stressed the divinity of the individual's conscience over a belief in hierarchy or the dictates of society. Thoreau, for example, wrote "Civil Disobedience" after he spent a night in jail for refusing to pay taxes during the Mexican War. In this essay, written in 1849, he tells readers they have an obligation to follow their conscience and to refuse to collude with what he considers to be a corrupt government.

This treatise, along with the core ideas of Transcendentalism, inspired many Americans to voice their opposition to slavery and resist following laws they did not consider just. For example, many people decided not to follow the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which required people in free states (non-slave states) to return slaves to their masters. Later, figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and others in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s used some of Thoreau's ideas to choose to resist segregation. Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," written in 1963, is similar to Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" in explaining the author's reasons for resisting what he considers unjust laws.

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I think that a good argument can be made that one of the most significant effects of Transcendentalism was for individuals to follow their own voice.  The ideas of thinkers like Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Emerson seemed to resonate along the lines of individual thought.  These thinkers praised the individual capacity to think and the individual voice in taking action.  This becomes one of the most profound effects of Transcendentalism is that in a commercial world where conformity was becoming the norm, Transcendentalism praised the ideas of individuals finding their own voice and activating it.  In a larger sense, the effect of this was to frame the time period as one of reform.  The age of reform that was such a part of the 19th Century, pre- Civil War America was one in which different sets of rights were pursued.  The Transcendentalist call for individual freedom and action was seen as a vivid indictment of slavery, helping to greatly effect the abolitionist movement of the time.  The call for individuals rebelling against a social order that was unjust helped to feed the call for women's rights, as evidenced in the writings and work of Anthony and Cady Stanton.  Another effect of Transcendentalism was to demand that individuals seek to find another form of living as opposed to merely accepting what the condition of established being seemed to indicate.  When thinkers like Thoreau and Emerson demand an adherence to self- reliance or rejecting the conformist notions of the good, it can be seen as greatly affecting the need to demand reform and change in multiple venues.  It is here where I see the Transcendentalist movement having lasting effects in the time period.

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