An Awakening of Religion and Individualism

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1827, the American Temperance Society is formed. In 1830, Joseph Smith founds the Church of the Latter Day Saints. In 1831, Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion; an illustration depicting scenes from the rebellion is shown. In 1833, William Lloyd Garrison founds the American Anti-Slavery society; a photograph of Garrison is shown. In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes “Self-Reliance”; a photograph of Emerson is shown. In 1848, supporters of women’s rights gather at Seneca Falls; the official announcement for the convention is shown. In 1854, Henry David Thoreau publishes Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. In 1855, most northeastern states “go dry” by prohibiting alcohol.

Protestantism shaped the views of the vast majority of Americans in the antebellum years. The influence of religion only intensified during the decades before the Civil War, as religious camp meetings spread the word that people could bring about their own salvation, a direct contradiction to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Alongside this religious fervor, transcendentalists advocated a more direct knowledge of the self and an emphasis on individualism. The writers and thinkers devoted to transcendentalism, as well as the reactions against it, created a trove of writings, an outpouring that has been termed the American Renaissance.

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