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2009

College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University

Self-reliance

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The Limits Of Self-Reliance: Emerson, Slavery, And Abolition, James Read Jan 2009

The Limits Of Self-Reliance: Emerson, Slavery, And Abolition, James Read

Political Science Faculty Publications

In the 1841 essay “Self-Reliance” Ralph Waldo Emerson presupposed a democratic society of free and equal individuals – an idealized America with a veil drawn over racial slavery. As his own commitment to the antislavery cause deepened over time Emerson sought to reconcile his ideal of self-reliance with organized political action necessary to fight slavery.

Recent scholarship has corrected the previously dominant image of Emerson as detached from politics and indifferent to abolitionism. But even as he participated in it, Emerson saw antislavery activism as a distraction from his own proper work of freeing “imprisoned spirits, imprisoned thoughts, far back in ...