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Transcendentalism and Romanticism

            American culture after the Revolutionary War was one of change. After securing freedom from King George III, the former colonists began to develop their own sense of national identity. With this recent individuality came new innovations such as the cotton gin, which cemented slavery as the cornerstone of American economy for decades to come. The turn of the century saw Beethoven write Symphony No. 1, which heralded a drastic and permanent change in music. Many aspiring authors, such as Poe, Whitman, Emerson, and Dickinson, found notoriety with their writings. The early 1800s also saw the rise of Romanticism, a movement that originated in Europe, and shortly after, transcendentalism. These two movements did have some characteristics in common. Both emphasized the importance of nature and distrusted societal pressures and norms. Each movement was birthed as a form of protest against harsh laws and religious restrictions of their times. Both viewed children as the embodiment of innocence and purity, something to be protected and nurtured. While they shared some similarities, Romanticism and Transcendentalism had many more differences. Romanticism emphasized the importance of emotions and individual liberties, particularly with respect to the artist. Originality was desired above all else, giving the individual complete authority over his own work. The movement did not place God as the center of the universe. It allowed for a high dependence on individual thoughts, feelings, emotions, and observations. Transcendentalism, by contrast, emphasized intuition and rational thought above emotion. It was largely a religious movement, empowering God, also known as The One or The All, and calling for its followers to achieve a personal connection with Him. These two movements helped to define American life after the Revolutionary War in different ways, saw the rise of new ideas and literature, and gave Americans a sense of national identity that was previously unknown to them.

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