American Writers in the Early 1800s

Following the Revolutionary War, the lack of political and economic stability delayed the development of true American literature. Around 1825, a distinctly American voice began to develop as writers explored the concept of identity in a vast and violent wilderness with little established social hierarchy.

Washington Irving was the first American-born best-selling author who was able to make a living from his published work. However, piracy was not protected by U.S. copyright and much of Irving’s work was written and published when he lived in the Europe. As a best-selling author with international literary claim, Irving spent his years promoting stricter copyright protection so others could pursue writing as a legitimate career.

In 1821, James Fenimore Cooper published his second novel, The Spy. However, due to the lack of copyright protection, his work was pirated by four different printers within a month. Revolutionary writers of the late 1700s focused primarily on personal essays and political topics. Later, the writers turned to fiction and entertainment writing, and America’s first literary tradition was born.

The first genuine American philosophy movement, transcendentalism, rose out of the romantic literary tradition. These writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau believed intuition and conscience were more important teachers of truth than experience and information gained from the senses. The movement was born in Concord, Massachusetts, which became an artist’s colony and an alternative to the hustle and bustle of post-Revolutionary American cities. Transcendentalists promoted a return to nature and focus on individual self-reliance.

Source: American Writers in the Early 1800s
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