As a prominent figure in the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson also led the reaction against Unitarianism. Emerson’s father, William Emerson, was a minister of the First Church of Boston, which was a Unitarian congregation. Like his father, Ralph Waldo Emerson was an ordained Unitarian minister. On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his famous “Divinity School Address” to Harvard Divinity School. In his address Emerson presented the idea of breaking free from the traditions of institutionalized religion, denounced organized religion as a whole, and stated that every man was divine.
During the early to mid-nineteenth century the Unitarian denomination experienced a counter-reformation, which started with the Transcendentalists. The Transcendentalists were a constituency within the Unitarian church that desired to reform the church. They wanted to rid the church of its rationalism and infuse a naturalistic religion. The movement away from a rational religious understanding to a naturalistic one necessarily would include transforming the Unitarian view of God. The Transcendentalists were writers and thinkers like Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Parker, George Ripley, and most importantly, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many of the Transcendentalists were brought up in the Unitarian church. They preached the idea of finding God through nature and natural experience. The Transcendentalists’, especially Emerson’s, ideals of individuality and self-reliance moved Unitarianism from corporate experience and traditional worship to an emphasis on individual worship.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is born in Boston to Rev. William and Ruth Haskins Emerson. He is the second of their eight children, five of whom reach adulthood.
The couple's fourth and final child, son Edward Waldo Emerson, is born. Soon after Emerson publishes the book , and delivers his first anti-slavery lecture.
After catching a cold, Ralph Waldo Emerson dies at home in Concord, Massachusetts, a month before his 79th birthday. He is buried in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
The two events that initiated the changes in the Unitarian church was the essential establishment of the congregation by Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing and the Divinity Hall Address delivered by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was the chief liberal of the liberal Christians; he embraced the fashionable philosophies of his time and stood against the Christian doctrine within the Unitarian congregation. While it is not the case that every person within the denomination adopted his views, Emerson’s natural philosophy influenced enough people that schism, evolution, and reestablishment necessarily occurred. This is religious transformation at its finest.
Heremained a bachelor, throughout his life, walked hundreds of miles, avoidedinns, preferred to sleep by the railroad, never voted and never went to achurch, and thelaws of Manu living an extremely frugal and Spartan life.
Following the establishment of the AUA the Unitarian denomination grew rapidly. By 1825, there were 125 Unitarian congregations within the American Unitarian Association. Along with the momentous expansion came notable adherents to the faith. Harriet Beecher Stowe commented to her brother that “all the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarian; all the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarian; all the elite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches; the judges on the bench were Unitarian.” These members included President John Adams, Daniel Webster, and Alexander Hamilton. By blending the Enlightenment ideals of logic and reason with faith in the miracles of Scripture, the Unitarians created a rich intellectual tradition. The pace at which the church was progressing would come to a quick halt, for little did they know that out of their own flock would come another source of opposition. &