In his day, Ralph Waldo Emerson was something like a rock star. Crowds came to listen to his lectures. Young people hearkened to his message that American society was on the verge of a new age; intellectuals responded to his philosophical ideas, and society in general responded to his optimism.
His essay "Self-Reliance" and its appeal to the young people was effected by his arguments that they were on the verge of a new age. In addition, many responded to his optimism and philosophical ideas, ideas about the relationships of humanity, nature, and God. Also popular was his belief that
[N]o government or church can explain a man’s heart to him, and so each individual must resist institutional authority.
Further, Emerson appealed to young people because he advocated acting from impulses, rather than rules, contending that the "self-reliant will triumph over the tyranny of time." This idea of trusting one's instincts and believing in one's unique talents and passions greatly appealed to many, especially the young, who felt that the nation—also young—was headed for greatness.