The Early Eighteenth Century:
American Romanticism (1820-1865)
America and Utopia: from its very beginning the
language of utopia has been used to describe
the American experiment.
• 1603: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all
people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we
have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall
be made a story and a by-word through the world” (Winthrop).
• 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are
instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, “
• 1963: “This is our hope. … With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling
discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will
be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to
stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day” (King).
• 2008: “Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street,
a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable
experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had
traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their
declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring
of 1787” (Obama).
Key Events that Shaped 1820-1865
• 1820: Missouri Compromise (No slavery in Louisiana north of 36 30‟ except in
• 1823: Monroe Doctrine (Warns all European nations not to colonize America)
• 1830: Indian Removal Act
• 1831: Trail of Tears
• 1837: Financial panic and failures of numerous banks lead to severe
unemployment, which persists until the 1840‟s.
• 1844: Telegraph invented by Samuel Morse
• 1846-8: Mexican American War
• 1848: Seneca Falls Convention (Inaugurates campaign for women‟s rights)
• 1848-9: California Gold Rush
• 1857: Dread Scott v Sanford decision (Supreme Court denies African Americans
• 1861-65: Civil War
• 1863: Emancipation Proclamation
Cultural Issues that Shaped
American in the Early 18th Century
• Manifest Destiny
• Slavery and the
• “The Woman
“Both place and time were changed,
and I dwelt nearer to those parts of
the universe and to those eras in
history which had most attracted
me. Where I lived was as far off as
many a region viewed nightly by
astronomers. We are wont to
imagine rare and delectable places
in some remote and more celestial
corner of the system, behind the
constellation of Cassiopeia‟s Chair,
far from noise and disturbance. I
discovered that my house actually
had its site in such a withdrawn, but
forever new and unprofaned part of
the universe” (Thoreau 59).
Some Characteristics of American
• Romantic thinkers emphasize the importance of imagination and feeling in
reaction to the premium placed on reason during the 18th century. They
believed that the particular and specific individual was more important than
• Many Romantics represented the primitive and untrammeled over the artificial
or developed as an aesthetic ideal in their paintings, writing, and social theory.
• The Romantic period is marked by Protestantism in political action-stressing
above all the “Rights of Man:”
– In Europe and America, Romantic philosophy included radical assault on virtually
all social institutions. Fundamental hierarchies of government, notions of
sovereignty, once emblems of social and literary stability, now exemplified the
dead hand of the past. (Harper‟s Ferry is a useful example)
• Many Romantics stressed a hope for the future and belief in innate goodness of
man and were wary of the danger of institutional restraint.
• Because the Romantic movement included many women and former slaves, it
stressed a development of theory of political rights for those previously
Key Terms in American
According to theorist Lawrence Buell
the pastoral is, “in the loose sense
of being preoccupied with nature
and rurality as setting, theme and
value in contradistinction from
society and the urban…[the
pastoral] refers not to the specific
set of obsolescent conventions of
the eclogue tradition, but to all
literature-poetry or prose, fiction
or non-fiction-that celebrates the
ethos of nature/rurality over
against the ethos of town city.
This domain includes for present
purposes all degrees of rusticity
from farm to wilderness” (463).
• “A New England movement which flourished from 1835-60. It had its
roots in Romanticism and in post-Kantian idealism by which Coleridge
was influenced. It had a considerable influence on American art and
literature, Basically religious, it emphasized the role and importance of
the individual conscience, and the value of intuition in matters of
moral guidance and inspiration. The actual terms was coined by
opponents of the movement but accepted by its members (Ralph
Waldo Emersion is one of the leaders, published The
Transcendentalists in 1841). The group were also social reformers.
Some members, besides Emerson, were famous and include Bronson
Alcott, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne” (DL<
• “According to Romantic writers, the
sublime caused the reader to
experience elestasis ("transport").
Edmund Burke developed this line
of thought further in his influential
essay, „The Sublime and the
Beautiful‟ (1757). Here, he
distinguished the sublime from the
beautiful by suggesting that the
sublime was not a stylistic quality
but the powerful depiction of
subjects that were vast, obscure,
and powerful. These sublime topics
or subjects evoked "delightful
horror" in the viewer or reader, a
combination of terror and amazed
pleasure.” (DL< 874).
• In its most basic form, the
Industrial Revolution can be
defined as the shift in
manufacturing that resulted
from the invention of power-
driven machinery to replace
hand labor. Although its origins
are hard to pin down exactly,
the shift in manufacture covers
roughly 1770 to 1840 in both
Europe and America.
Characteristics and Implications of
the Industrial Revolution…
• No attempt was made to regulate the shift from the old economic world like
that of the “Pilgrims” (Mercantile Capitalism) to the new, since even liberal
reformers were committed to the philosophy of Laissez-faire-„let do‟ or „let
alone‟ out lined in Adam Smith‟s Wealth of Nations.
– Under the theory of Laissez-faire, general welfare can be ensure only
through free operation of economic laws, and government should maintain
a strict policy of noninterference to leave manufacturers to pursue,
unfettered, their private interests
– For the great majority of the laboring class, the results of laissez-faire and
the „freedom‟ of contract it secured were inadequate wages and long hours
of work under harsh discipline in sordid conditions-insurance, laws
restricting child labor, minimum wage, environmental concerns,
insurance, etc. did not exist.
– While conditions for the poor worsened, the landed and mercantile class
enjoyed prosperity owning to the market success.
• According to the Oxford English
Dictionary “manifest destiny n.
(also with capital initials) orig. U.S.
(now hist.) is the doctrine or belief
that the expansion of the United
States throughout the American
continents was both justified and
inevitable”. For example John
O‟Sullivin commented in 1845, “
Our manifest destiny is to
overspread the continent allotted by
Providence for the free
development of our yearly
multiplying millions” (OED).
Characteristics and Implications of
• The period from 1820 to 1865 saw a dizzying growth in the nation‟s
population and territorial reach; increasing urbanization; and the expansion of
railroads, canals, and other forms of transportation that allowed for more
extensive economical forms of distribution.
• The nation‟s population of approximately four million in 1790 jumped to thirty
million by 1860, in part because of the massive emigration from Ireland and
elsewhere in Europe that occurred during the 1840‟s and 1850‟s.
• Territorial space available to this burgeoning population dramatically
increased following the war with Mexico (1846-48), which added 1.2 million
square miles of land to the 1.8 million square miles that the nation held before
the war; this is the area that would become Texas, California, Arizona,
Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming.
• In 1838 the Cherokees were forcibly removed by federal troops under General
Winfred Scott. They were sent on what would be called the Trail of Tears to
present day Oklahoma. During the winter march an estimated 4,000 people of
Slavery and the Civil War
• A politics of antislavery has an
important place in the careers of a
number of the American Romantic
writers. For example, when the Fugitive
Slave Law of 1850 was enforced in
Boston in 1851 Thoreau publicly
delivered the following:“Slavery and
servility have produced no sweet-
scented flower annually, to charm the
senses of men, for they have no real
life: they are merely a decaying and a
death, offensive to all healthy nostrils.
We do not complain that they live, but
that they do not get buried. Let the
living bury them: even they are good
for manure” (Thoreau).
Characteristics and Implications of
Slavery and the Civil War…
• In 1859 John Brown‟s violent raid on Harper‟s Ferry failed to initiate a
slave rebellion in the South, but his action was later used during the
civil war as an example of the “holy war against slavery” that would
fulfill the promise of freedom guaranteed in the Declaration.
• While some Romantic Abolitionists advocated the need for the Civil
War, many, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, had little notion of the
suffering and destruction involved in the conflict that would eventually
kill over 600,000 Americans before Grant‟s surrender to Lee in 1865.
• While the fourteenth amendment granted former slaves the right to
Due Process and Equal Protection, laws like Dread Scott v. Sanford
(1857) kept former slaves from being recognized as citizens. Instead of
a rise in education and standard of living for former slaves, the post-
Civil War era was marked by the resurgence of segregationist practices
and anti-black violence, most notably lynching.
“The Woman Question”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton stated in
Declaration of Sentiments and
Resolutions: “We hold these
truths to be self-evident: that all
men and women are created
equal; that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain
inalienable rights; that among
these are life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness; that to
secure these rights
governments are instituted,
deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed”
Characteristics and Implications 19th
century Women‟s Rights…
• The fact that women had such a significant place in urban reform movements
is not surprising, given that urban reform centered on creating homelike,
domestically attractive conditions for the poor, and that another major reform
effort of the pre-civil war period centered on women‟s rights.
• In 1848, at the first women‟s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton‟s resounding “Declaration of Sentiments” invoked
Jefferson‟s Declaration, substituting male for British tyrannical authority to
show how the nation‟s social institutions and legal codes mainly severed the
interests of America‟s white male citizenry.
• That same year , the New York State Legislature, in response to critics like
Stanton, passed the nation‟s most liberalized married women‟s property act,
which made it legal for women to maintain control over the property they
brought to the marriage.
• Although Cady Stanton and Suzan B. Anthony began the struggle for national
suffrage in the United States, national voting rights for American women did
not exist until the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920.
Henry David Thoreau
• “His interest in the flower or the
bird lay very deep in his mind, and
was connected with Nature, -- and
the meaning of Nature was never
attempted to be defined by him. ...
His power of observation seemed
to indicate additional senses. He
saw as with a microscope, heard as
with an ear-trumpet, and his
memory was a photographic
register of all he saw and heard”
• “Henry David Thoreau aspired to write great literature by adventuring at home, traveling
as he put it, a good deal in Concord, Massachusetts. „As travelers tgo around the world
and report natural objects and phenomena, so let another stay at home and report the
phenomena of his own life‟” (Norton Anthology 825).
• In 1843, Thoreau‟s brother John died of lockjaw in his arms. His brother‟s death inspired
the elegiac A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers that he wrote during his stay
at Walden Pond, and which was initially poorly received.
• Between 1847 and 1854 Thoreau produced as many as seven full revisions of Walden,
which was finally published in 1854.
• Thoreau died of Tuberculosis in 1862 at the age of 44.
• Recognition of Thoreau as an important writer was slow in coming, but by 1906 he was
becoming widely recognized as a social philosopher, naturalist, and an the author of one
of the masterpieces of American fiction.
• In 1906 Mahatma Gandhi read “Civil Disobedience,” and later acknowledged its
important influence on his thinking about how best to achieve Indian independence.
Later in the century, Martin Luther Luther King Jr. would similarly attest to the crucial
influence of Thoreau on his adoption of nonviolent civil disobedience as a key to the
Civil Rights Movement in the Untied States.
"Walden Pond Past and Present"