Emerson's efforts at reform and his Transcendentalist aversion to social witting and unwitting set the agenda for most antebellum writers by reinvigorating the prophetic voice—a breakthrough that Emerson associated with the recovery of sight. Emerson's idea of the poet-actor, his powers no longer vitiated by blindness or retrospection, dominates the American Renaissance. Although Emerson's turn toward reform has been copiously documented, repairing the overemphasis on his Transcendentalist aversion to the social witting and unwitting, with the controversy over slavery, has not been recognized. The consensus is that Emerson did not awaken to the magnitude of the nation's original sin until August 1844, when he committed himself to abolition with his “Address on...the...Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indies.” This chapter analyzes this claim merged with the larger political drama of the antebellum years.
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