Transcendentalism, the idea, has numerous definitions. American Transcendentalism was first a reform movement in the Unitarian church. Emerson, the "founding father" of the movement, declared that he wanted no followers as his doctrines stressed independent thought. Transcendentalists felt that individualism stemmed from listening to one's "inner voice," and that life is guided by intuition. Intuition allowed people to disregard authority and rely on direct experience. Transcendentalists believed in the Oversoul, in which each individual shares a soul with everything else in the world. Transcendentalism centered on the divinity of each individual; but this divinity could be self-discovered only if the person had the independence of mind to do so. American thought lent itself to this concept of independence. If one can judge by the voter participation in presidential elections (at least 70% of those registered to vote did so, throughout Emerson's lifetime and up to the turn of the century), Americans certainly thought their individual voices were of value. Emerson, and others, believed in what he called the Oversoul. (Walt Whitman called it the "float").There is an inner "spark" contained by and connecting all facets of nature, including humankind, which can be discovered not through logical reasoning but only through intuition, the creative insight and interpretation of one's own inner voices.
Transcendentalists called for an independence from organized religion; they saw no need for any intercession between God and man. Divinity is self-contained, internalized in every being. Transcendentalism gives credence to the unlimited potential of human ability to connect with both the natural and spiritual world. The chief aim is to become fully aware not only of what our senses record, but also to recognize the ability of our inner voice-our intuition-to wisely and correctly interpret the sensory input. Transcendentalists were idealistic and optimistic because they believed they could find answers to whatever they were seeking. All they had to do was learn to read, through their intuition, the external symbols of nature and translate them into spiritual facts. A transcendentalist declared there was meaning in everything and that meaning was good, all connected by and parts of a divine plan. Emerson refuted evil by insisting it was not an entity in itself but rather simply the absence of good. If good was allowed, evil dissipated. One ray of light can penetrate darkness. According to the transcendentalists, everyone had the power to "transcend" the seeming confusion and chaos of the world and understand nature's signs. Everything on earth has the divine "spark" within and thus is all part of a whole. This philosophy led to an optimistic emphasis on individualism. One aspect of individualism is the value of the individual over society. To "transcend" society one must first be able to look past and beyond it. One must follow his instincts and not conform to what society dictates. Although society will influence an individual towards conformity, it is important to remain true to one's self and to one's identity. Secondly, individualism includes being self-reliant. In his essay, "Self-Reliance", Emerson urges the reader to "trust thyself."
Woodlief, Anne. "American Romanticism (or the American Renaissance." Homepage. January 8, 2001. http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm
American Litarary Romanticism. North Georgia Colle and State University. 1997. http://www.gc.peachnet.edu/www/bstrickl/lit/amlit.htm