Historical Context in Civil Disobedience
The Transcendentalist Movement: The spiritual and philosophical movement of transcendentalism emerged in New England in the 1820s and 30s at the hands of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and others. The movement, which arose as part of the American religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening, drew heavily from Platonism, German and British Romanticism, Unitarianism (a new sect of Christianity sweeping New England at the time), and Eastern philosophy, particularly the Hindu Upanishads. The transcendentalists—true to their Romantic roots—prioritized the individual, believing in the validity of internal intuitions and flashes of personal inspiration. Thoreau reflects his transcendentalist background in “Civil Disobedience” in his insistence on individual autonomy.