Social Reforms, Transcendentalism
and Utopian Communities
1
Robert Owen: A Declaration of Mental Independence (July 4, 1826)
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Robert Owen was a British utopian thinker
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Widely regarded as the father of the Co-operative
movement
During the early industrial revolution, competitive
free-enterprise capitalism prevailed
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Many workers were exploited
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Child labor
Deplorable working conditions
Owen purchased New Lanark Mills in Scotland
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Established model factory
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Many leading industrialists visited Owen’s factories
and some even adopted parts of Owen’s system
The farm covered over 20,000 acres
Owen called for a revolution in Western thought
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Robert Owen
Paid fair wages
Employed no child under age ten
Free medical services
Built affordable workers' housing
Established schools
Provided religious instruction and recreational facilities
Owen moved to the US in 1824 and established
collective farming at New Harmony, Indiana
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Long hours and low pay
Criticized fundamental principles
Asked his followers to replace old ways of thinking
with more enlightened views and practices
2
Robert Owen’s Vision of New Harmony
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William Maclure: Letter to the New Harmony Gazette
(May 17, 1826)
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Disputes arose concerning the structure of the community
and about religion
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Josiah Warren, a participant at the New Harmony Society,
declared that the community was doomed to failure due to
a lack of individual sovereignty and private property
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"We had a world in miniature. --we had enacted the French
revolution over again with despairing hearts instead of
corpses as a result. ...It appeared that it was nature's own
inherent law of diversity that had conquered us... our "united
interests" were directly at war with the individualities of
persons and circumstances and the instinct of selfpreservation..."
In a letter to the people of New Harmony, William Maclure,
a leader in the community, discussed the problem of some
doing more work than others, and the inability for some to
feel themselves equal to those of a different class
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These factors led to an abandonment of the communal
principle after two years
As a solution to these problems, the community was divided
into sub-communities
This division of the community foreshadowed the eventual
failure of Owen's New Harmony project
By 1828, Owen's ambitious experiment at New Harmony
consumed almost four-fifths of his personal wealth and
eventually it was abandoned
Owen returned to England in 1829
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He persisted in his efforts to better the lives of the working
poor
Left a lasting influence on the development of socialist
thought
William Maclure
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Bronson Alcott's Maxims on Education (1826-1827)
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Amos Bronson Alcott: teacher and writer
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Associated with the Transcendentalist movement
Attempted to embody his ideals
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Founded a Utopian community, Fruitlands, in Harvard,
Massachusetts, which only lasted a short time
Alcott's Journals display his wit and his unyielding optimism
In 1826-1827, Alcott wrote General Maxims for teachers
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His maxims represent cautions and advice to teachers as to
their role in and influence upon young minds in the classroom
They display Alcott's love for and devotion to children, and his
belief in the ability of children to think for themselves
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Amos Bronson Alcott
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In his schools he introduced art, music, nature study, field trips, and
physical education into the curriculum, while banishing corporal
punishment
He encouraged children to ask questions and taught through
dialogue and example
“…15. To teach, appreciating the value of the beings to whom
instruction is given”
“21. To teach, gradually and understandingly, by the shortest steps,
from the more easy and known, to the more difficult and unknown”
“26. To teach, by simple and plain unambiguous language”
“37. To teach, endeavouring to make pupils feel their importance by
the hope which mankind placed in their conduct”
“52. To teach, pupils to teach themsleves”
Alcott's most lasting contributions were in education
Attempted many practices which today would be
considered commonplace, but in his time were seen as
dangerous
5
Orestes Augustus Brownson: New Views of
Christianity, Society, and the Church (1836)
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Orestes Augustus Brownson: philosopher, minister, essayist,
and reviewer
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By age thirty, Brownson became a Universalist preacher and
editor of the theological journal, Gospel Advocate
He published The Boston Quarterly and wrote his articles
alongside such Transcendentalists as Margaret Fuller, Bronson
Alcott, and George Ripley
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Unlike the Transcendentalists he thought that men were sinful
In 1836 he organized the Society for Christian Union and
Progress and published New Views of Christianity, Society, and
the Church.
Brownson took exception to many tenets of the Christian faith,
writing in 1840, that Christianity ought to be “abolished”
But, by 1844, Brownson reconsidered his brief aversion to
Christianity
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His articles were of a literary, philosophical and political nature
His articles also appeared in the Transcendentalist magazine, The
Dial.
With other Transcendentalists he participated in the Brook Farm
experiment
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Became a prolific writer and commentator on social and religious
questions
Brownson became conservative and adopted Catholicism
He then began criticizing socialism and utopianism
Many Transcendentalists were taken back by his conversion and
began describing him as an "unbalanced mind”
Orestes Augustus Brownson
Brownson did not think that the major problems of the American
experiment had to do with lack of liberty but with its abuse
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He was concerned with virtue above all
Brownson wrote in 1864, "If you would make a man happy, study not
to augment his goods; but to diminish his wants“
6
Ralph Waldo Emerson “Man the Reformer” (January 25, 1841)
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Ralph Waldo Emerson was at the center of the American transcendental movement
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In September 1835, Emerson founded the Transcendental Club with notables like Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Hoar and Margaret Fuller
In 1840, Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and George Ripley founded the magazine, The Dial, with Margaret Fuller
editing
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The Dial became the leading mouthpiece for the transcendental movement
Emerson, its editor for two years, began publishing his poems and essays in the magazine
By the 1840s, Emerson became recognized as the leader of the Transcendental movement
In addition to his writings, Emerson made a living as a popular lecturer in New England
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The major American philosopher of the nineteenth century
Audiences were captivated by his speaking style
Emphasized self-reliance and nonconformity, he championed authentic American literature, and insisted that each
individual find their own relation to God
“. . . man as a reformer. . . our life . . . is common and mean . . . yet . . . each person . . . has felt his own call
to cast aside all evil customs . . . and to be in his place a free and helpful man, a reformer, a benefactor, not
content to slip along through the world like a footman or a spy . . . but a brave and upright man, who must find
or cut a straight road to everything excellent in the earth, and not only go honorably himself, but make it easier
for all who follow him, to go in honor and with benefit”
Emerson Lecturing
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Ralph Waldo Emerson “The Transcendentalist” (January 1842)
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Emerson developed a distinctly American strand of philosophy that
emphasized optimism, individuality, and mysticism
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In religious matters, Emerson rejected the belief in a personal God and
developed non-traditional ideas of soul and God
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Immanuel Kant
He emphasized individualism and each person's quest to break free from the
trappings of the world of the senses in order to discover the godliness of the
inner Self
He also stressed self-reliance and independence and his emphasis on nonconformity profoundly effected Henry David Thoreau
Nature was also essential to Transcendentalism
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He asserted in the essential unity of all thoughts, persons, and things in the
divine whole
For Emerson, traditional values of right and wrong, good and evil, appear in
his work as necessary opposites
He asserted that, in the individual, all truth can be discovered
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Although he never read Immanuel Kant, the great German Transcendental
philosopher, his work is reflective German idealism
Emerson’s Transcendentalism also resembled British Romanticism in his
belief that a fundamental continuity exists between man, nature, and God, or
the divine
According to Emerson, what is beyond nature is revealed through nature;
nature is itself a symbol, or an indication of a deeper reality
“The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual
doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the
human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration,
and in ecstasy . . . the spiritual measure of inspiration is the depth of
the thought . . . so he resists all attempts to palm other rules and
measures on the spirit than its own”
8
Margaret Fuller “The Great Lawsuit: Man vs. Men. Woman vs. Women”
(July 1843)
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Margaret Fuller holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the
American Renaissance
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Fuller became increasingly linked to the Transcendentalist movement
and befriended most of the leading intellectuals of Boston and
Concord, most notably Emerson
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From 1840 to 1842, she served with Emerson as editor of The Dial
Published in 1843, Fuller’s essay "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus
Men, Woman versus Women" made a compelling case for women's
equality
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She was a transcendentalist, literary critic, editor, journalist, teacher, and
political activist, ultimately turned revolutionary
“. . . If the negro be a soul, if the woman be a soul, apparelled in flesh, to one
master only are they accountable. There is but one law for all souls, and, if
there is to be an interpreter of it, he comes not as man, or son of man, but
as Son of God”
In 1844, Fuller became a book review editor for the New York Tribune
In 1845 she expanded her Dial essay and published Woman in the
Nineteenth Century, which became a classic of feminist thought
In 1846, Fuller became a foreign correspondent for the Tribune and
traveled to Europe
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There, she met many well-known European writers and intellectuals
In Italy, she became involved with revolutionaries and decided not to return
to America for a while
She fell in love with Marchese Giovanni Angelo d'Ossoli, a much younger
man of the petty nobility and a fellow revolutionary
She participated in the Revolution of 1848
After the revolt was suppressed by conservative forces, she, Ossoli and their
son decided to return to America in May of 1850
Tragically, the ship they were traveling on struck a sandbar and slowly sank
just off Fire Island New York
Fuller, Ossoli, and their son drowned
Margaret Fuller
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Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Tragic” (1844)
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In this essay Emerson outlines the
tragic elements of human life
According to Emerson, people should
accept the fact that life contains pain,
disappointment and frustration
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yet it is possible to obtain happiness
despite life’s tragic moments
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For Emerson, the development of
personal conscience yields
perspective and ultimately personal
contentment
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“He has seen but half the universe
who never has been shown the House
of Pain. As the salt sea covers more
than two thirds of the surface of the
globe, so sorrow encroaches in man
on felicity . . . the prevalent hue of
things to the eye of leisure is
melancholy. . . Melancholy cleaves to
the English mind in both hemispheres .
. . no theory of life can have any right,
which leaves out of account the values
of vice, pain, disease, poverty,
insecurity, disunion, fear, and death.”
10
John Humphrey Noyes: “Bible Communism” (February 1849)
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At Yale, Noyes discovered the idea of Perfectionism
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He believed that the Second Coming was near and the Kingdom of
Heaven could be created on earth
He continued to preach in Putney, Vermont and organized a community
of followers
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The idea was that it was possible to be free oneself of sin and achieve
spiritual perfection
In 1834, he declared himself Perfect and free from sin which outraged others
and his license to preach was revoked
Noyes further studied the ideas of complex marriage, male continence and
striving for Perfection
In 1847, Noyes was arrested for adultery
After several supporters were also arrested, Noyes left Vermont for
Oneida, New York
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The Oneida Community would survive until 1879 and grow to a membership
of over 300
In order to support itself, the Community had many successful industries
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In his essay “Bible Communism,” Noyes outlined the most important
aspects of his religious philosophy
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John Humphrey Noyes
All members were equal and the economy of the community must be
communist
The most famous rule was based on Christ's teaching that there would be no
marriage in Heaven
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They manufactured animal traps and silk thread, and raised and canned fruits and
vegetables.
The Oneida Perfectionists believed in a special covenant with God, that the
individual was to be sublimated to the community as a whole, and that an
authoritarian figure should govern the community’s interests
Therefore, Noyes asserted that on earth all men were married to all women, and
that the men and women in the community should be sexually intimate with a variety
of partners
In June 1879, Noyes faced arrest for statutory rape and fled to Canada
11
The Oneida Community (1878)
12
The Brook Farm Experiment (1841-1847)
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The Brook Farm was located on a 200-acre dairy farm in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 9 miles outside of Boston
Founded as a transcendentalist Utopian experiment by George Ripley
It was conceived as an agrarian and pastoral utopia and was organized along the ideas of Charles Fourier, a
French socialist thinker who argued that a utopian society could be created in which people would jointly
share in the development of the whole community
Accordingly, the project was financed by a joint-stock company with 24 shares of stock at $500 per share and
each member was to participate in the manual labor in an attempt to make the group self-sufficient
The economy of the farm was based primarily on agriculture
The Brook Farm experienced a intellectually stimulating atmosphere in which such luminaries as Nathaniel
Hawthorne, John S. Dwight, Charles A. Dana, and Isaac Hecker resided and giants as Ralph Waldo
Emerson, W. E. Channing, Margaret Fuller, Horace Greeley, and Orestes Brownson visited frequently
Despite enthusiasm for the project, however, the Brook Farm imploded due to financial stress after only six
years of operation
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Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Criticism of Socialism from his “Lectures
Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New England”
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At the beginning of the 19th century,
American intellectuals came under the sway
of European socialist thinkers
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Charles Fourier
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However, Emerson took exception to what
he considered the rigidity of socialist thought
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Robert Owen
In particular the ideas of the French utopian
socialist thinker, Charles Fourier who
advocated the extension of women’s rights
and the adoption of workers’ cooperatives
Also, the British industrialist Robert Owen
Both were considered by many Americans to
offer a better method for organizing society
Although he admired both Fourier and Owen
for the novelty of their thought, he
nevertheless considered socialism impractical
Above all, he saw the greatest danger of
socialism in its inherent stifling of individuality
14
Henry David Thoreau “Civil Disobedience” (1849)
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Henry David Thoreau was one of the best known
transcendentalist thinkers of his age
Perceiving little difference between his writing and his life,
Thoreau was also an extremely complex literary figure of
many talents who turned to nature in a life-long quest for
ultimate Truth
He met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who became a patron and
advisor to him and who introduced him to the leading
transcendental thinkers of the day
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Although he could never make a living from his writings,
Thoreau’s work now comprises over 20 volumes
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Through Emerson, Thoreau contributed essays and poems to
The Dial
His writing is rich and complex and intended to nudge readers
to reconsider the beliefs that make up their lives
Politically, Thoreau was a lifelong abolitionist
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He opposed the U.S government’s war against Mexico, which
he believed was merely a ruse to extend slavery
In 1846, Thoreau was imprisoned after he refused to pay
taxes in protest against the Mexican War
Consequently, he wrote “Civil Disobedience” where he justified
nonviolent resistance to the government out of moral
principles
For him, morality was more important than society’s laws at
any given time and political institutions should be considered
with skepticism
15
Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854)
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From 1845-1847, Thoreau embarked on a two-year
experiment in simple living by living in an isolated log cabin
on land owned by Emerson
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While at Walden, Thoreau did an incredible amount of
reading and writing, yet he also spent much time "sauntering"
in nature
Thoreau lived a life of simplicity at Walden
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His intent was to isolate himself from society in order to
reexamine its values and practices and his role within it
He supported himself through his own labors, and widely read the
classics of world literature
In 1854, Thoreau published an account of this period entitled
“Walden,” which became one of the great classics of
American literature; indeed of world literature
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It offers a social critique of the West with its emphasis on
consumerism and its widespread destruction of the natural
environment
The book invites one to the examine one’s life and to the
realization of one's potential
Walden Pond
Henry David Thoreau
A Modern Replica of Thoreau’s Walden
Cabin
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