James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 378.
A group of New England writers that came to be known as transcendentalists believed that individuals should not conform to the materialistic world or to some abstract notion of religion. Instead, people should look within themselves for truth and guidance. The leading transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson – an essayist, poet, and lecturer – proclaimed that most Americans failed to lift their eyes from the mundane task of making a living. “We hear…too much of the results of machinery, commerce, and the useful arts," Emerson wrote. The power of the solitary individual was nearly limitless. Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and other transcendentalists agreed with Emerson that “if the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.” In many ways, transcendentalism represented less an alternative to the values of mainstream society than an exaggerated form of the rampant individualism.