Us History

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Date Submitted: 11/13/2012 02:31 PM

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new religious denominations appeared which embraced people without regard to social standing or educational achievement. Such egalitarianism assaulted the status quo in other areas as well as Americans set out to correct their society's faults. The most profound version of reform idealism during this period was the peculiar romanticism practiced by the Transcendentalists, an eclectic coterie of New England poets and philosophers. A fluid group of geniuses and cranks, they included among their ranks people of genuine intellectual stature: clergymen such as Theodore Parker and Ralph Waldo Emerson; philosopher-writers such as Henry Thoreau and Bronson Alcott; and such learned women as Elizabeth Peabody and Margaret Fuller.

The Transcendentalists exercised an influence on American thought that far exceeded their numbers. Full of burning enthusiasm and perfectionist illusions about the boundless possibilities of human nature and the American social experiment, they broke away from what Emerson called the cultural domination of "reverent and conservative minds" and the dry logic of Enlightenment rationalism. Celebrating the individual spirit over the collective state, intuitive over rational knowledge, they rejected the intellectual methodology that had established the republic as the proper way to reflect upon and reform its society.

These visionaries—and the authors and artists of the romantic movement they affected—gave free rein to their fertile imaginations so as to transcend the limits of reason and cultivate inner states of consciousness, for they believed that human existence encompassed more experiences than reason and logic could explain: such as impressions and feelings. Such philosophical idealism traced its roots to Plato and Kant and led the Transcendentalists to use the lamp of personal inspiration to illuminate changing states of consciousness and spiritual essences and to wield the rod of personal revelation to beat upon the status quo.