Mary Kupiec Cayton, "Transcendentalism," in The Oxford Companion to United States History, ed. Paul Boyer (2001), www.anb.org/articles/cush/e1543.html.
As intellectuals, the transcendentalists were probably the first group in America to establish a substantial cultural presence without church or state sponsorship. Although some, like Emerson and George Ripley, began as Unitarian ministers, by the transcendental heyday of the 1840s most had left that calling for lecturing, publishing, freelance teaching and writing, or subsistence pursuits that left time free for philosophizing and writing. Both their insistence on the radical integrity of individual judgment and their reliance on new forms of disseminating their ideas secure their status as the first intellectual flowering of American democratic culture. Not that transcendentalists joined the Democratic party; most, in fact, to the extent that they were overtly political, supported the Whig party's moralistic programs of self-culture and reform. Their relationship to the marketplace, moreover, was ambivalent, as they utilized the burgeoning commercial medium of print to criticize the new economic order By the late 1850s, transcendentalism as a distinct movement had disbanded. But enough of the transcendental worldview had filtered into the popular imagination that one can say not that the movement collapsed, but rather that the culture absorbed it.