Study Guide

Ralph Waldo Emerson Social Aims & Death

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Social Aims & Death

In 1844, Emerson published his second essay collection, Essays: Second Series. He also delivered his first anti-slavery lecture. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850 - an act that made it illegal to assist an escaped slave - his abolitionist rhetoric stepped up. Emerson spoke against slavery even in places where such a position was controversial, and he endured boos and worse from unsympathetic crowds. (In 1861, pro-slavery protestors nearly mobbed him at one speech.) Emerson was deeply moved by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual end of slavery. He wrote the poem "Boston Hymn" to commemorate Lincoln's signing of the proclamation on New Year's Day 1863.

"God said,
I am tired of kings,
I suffer them no more;
Up to my ear the morning brings
The outrage of the poor. ...
Come, East, and West, and North,
By races, as snow-flakes,
And carry my purpose forth,
Which neither halts nor shakes."

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