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The War on WordsSlavery, Race, and Free Speech in American Literature$
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Michael T. Gilmore

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226294131

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226294155.001.0001

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Emerson: Prospects

Emerson: Prospects

(p.45) Emerson: Prospects
The War on Words

Michael T. Gilmore

University of Chicago Press

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.

Keywords:   Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Transcendentalist, antebellum writer, American Renaissance

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