By the 1850s, the uniquely American problem of slavery dissolved differences as transcendentalists turned ever more exclusively to abolition. Along with their early inheritance from European Romanticism, America’s transcendentalists abandoned their interest in general humanitarian reform. By war’s end, transcendentalism had become identified exclusively with Emersonian self-reliance, congruent with the national ethos of political liberalism and market capitalism.
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Transcendentalism was a religious philosophy, centered in Massachusetts, that attracted many of the leading intellectuals prior to the Civil War. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a noted Massachusetts writer, philosopher, and leader in the Transcendentalist movement. Abolitionism was the movement, centered in the North, that abolition of slavery even in those states that had practiced it since the founding of the country.