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“A Different Drummer”. 19th Century Social Reform Henry David Thoreau & Ralph Waldo Emerson. Standard 8.6.7. Identify common themes in American art as well as transcendentalism and individualism (e.g., writings about and by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Who were the transcend-

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a different drummer

“A Different Drummer”

19th Century Social Reform

Henry David Thoreau & Ralph Waldo Emerson

standard 8 6 7
Standard 8.6.7

Identify common themes in American art as well as transcendentalism and individualism (e.g., writings about and by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Who were the transcend-

entalists and what did

they believe?


writers and thinkers in New England who believed the most important truths in life transcend or go beyond human reason


stressed emotion over reason

believed that an individual has control over his or her life

the beliefs of transcendentalists led them to support social reform as a way of improving America in the mid-1800s

two important transcendentalists were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What ideas did Emerson

express in his writings

and speeches?

Ralph Waldo Emerson

popular essayist & lecturer

spoke and wrote about self reliance and character

Emerson believed:

the human sprit was reflected in nature

nature held higher values that came from God

in the importance of the individual

Emerson urged people to use their “inner light” to guide their lives and improve society

“A man should learn to detect and

watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within.”

The Inner Light

What ideas did Thoreau

express in his writings?

Henry David Thoreau

Emerson’s friends and neighbor

Thoreau believed that the growth of industry and the rise of cities were ruining the nation

Thoreau urged people to live as simply as possible

his best known work is Walden

the book describes spending a year alone in a cabin on Walden Pond in Massachusetts

Thoreau believed that an individual must decide what is right and wrong

Thoreau’s ideas and actions were part of a mounting wave of reform activism that had begun in the 1840s


Thoreau on Nature & Self Examination

“A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

In what ways did Thoreau’s

beliefs contribute to social


Civil Disobedience

Thoreau argued that people had a right and a duty to disobey unjust laws if their consciences demanded it

went to jail for refusing to pay taxes to support the Mexican War which he felt promoted slavery

Thoreau’s beliefs told him slavery was wrong and he took direct action to end it

delivered several lectures in opposition to the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law

as an abolitionist he worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad helping escaped slaves reach freedom

Nonviolent Protest

Thoreau’s writings and actions influenced people both during his life and after his death

In the 20th century, Mohandas K. Gandhi (India) and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez (America) are all examples of people extending Thoreau's individual model onto huge scales of mass action

Why are Emerson’s and

Thoreau’s ideas important



Answer the following questions using the information you learned

from the presentation.

1. According to Emerson and Thoreau, how does a single individual recognize what is wrong and what is right?

2. At what point, and by what right, does a person's conscience carry more authority than the law?

3. List some examples of what can be accomplished by acts of civil disobedience?

4. What is important about the idea of civil disobedience in our own time?

group activity create a chart
Group Activity - Create a Chart

Pretend that Henry David Thoreau is returning to look at

today’s society. He will spend a week in your community.

Make a two-column chart. In the left column, list things,

places, activities, or ideas that he would most likely criticize.

On the right, list things, places, activities, or ideas that he

would most likely appreciate. Be prepared to explain your

chart to the class.
















Castillo, Davidson, Stoff, The American Nation, Prentice Hall, 2000, p. 341-343