Transcendental Ideas--Social and Political Reform

"In the history of the world the doctrine of Reform had never such scope as the present hour," Emerson in the Dial.

To understand transcendental attitudes toward reform, it's necessary to have a grasp of just what was going on, politically and socially, at the time. Jacksonian Democrats, with some populist excesses, were in conflict with the Whig party conservatives, but both seemed primarily interested in keeping the status quo and adding as much territory to the country as possible. Confrontation of the rights of slaves, women, and Indians was definitely NOT on the agenda for either party and differences between classes (and financial resources) grew, especially as more and more immigrants poured in from a starving Ireland and industry grew as farming diminished, turning independent farmers into factory operatives. It was an age of endless (and ineffectual) compromises to keep political power relatively equal between north and south, free and slave states. No wonder it was also an age of multiple reform movements, usually by small groups of people indignant at social and political inequalities but unable to make their voices heard effectively in Congress. How was one to act effectively, then? Small but vocal reforms were generally the path; speeches were made, essays were written, and some people even totally rearranged their lives, establishing small communities to correct problems in education, family and class structures, including sexual and gender norms. Another solution was to go west, looking for freedoms that seemed to be denied in the east, but anarchic lawlessness often replaced the traditional forms of government. Small inroads were made here and there, but certainly not enough to make the sort of changes that would prevent the Civil War.

Ideas & thought: