A literary and philosophical movement called transcendentalism developed in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. This movement is a reaction to certain eighteenth century rationalist doctrines and involves the rejection of strict Puritan religious attitudes. (Parrington 375). Transcendentalism is strongly influenced by Deism and opposes the strict ritualistic and dogmatic theology of all established religious institutions. (Parrington 375). Transcendentalist's of this period are opposed to weakening Calvinistic views regarding the corruption of human nature. (Parrington 375). Transcendentalism is described as a natural religion of democracy because it claims that divinity is in every human and therefore the universe. This suggestion that the individual is potentially divine can also support the religion of aristocracy. (Buell 168). The major influences are romanticism, idealism, self-examination, democratic individualism, nature, and mankind among others. (Parrington 375). Buell describes writings of this time as having "a semi-religious focus toward nature and a direct link with the universe, individual, and self.” (Buell 267).
The American writer Henry David Thoreau is considered to be the most representative writer of Transcendental thought. He writes philosophical essays in which he describes nature and individualism and writes of civil disobedience in literature for the very first time. (Eulau 119). Thoreau's essay, also called "Resistance to Civil Government” is considered to be one the most famous political essays representing Transcendentalism of the era. (Vivas 317). This essay is published anonymously, but major writers of this period recognize him as the author. (Hyman 24). .
There are over twenty five tenets of American Transcendentalism, however there are basic principles universally held by all transcendentalists. (Ruben 2). Thoreau writes about some of these elements in "Civil Disobedience”.