American Philosophy

New England Transcendentalists

Was Ralph Waldo Emerson an abolitionist?

Yes, but it took him a while to develop his position. From childhood, he thought that slavery was evil, but he relied on persuasion rather than outright opposition to it until 1837. At that time he was shocked by the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy, an abolitionist publisher in Illinois. By 1844 he said of the abolitionists: “[W]e are indebted mainly to this movement, and to the continuers of it, for the popular discussion of every point of practical ethics.” After that, he was considered a strong voice for abolition; the Atlantic magazine—which also published essays by the African American intellectual Frederick Douglass—printed these words by Emerson, referring to the slave-owning and free American states, in 1862:


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Philosophy Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App