Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts




This work explores the synthesis of Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1838 address "History" with the life of John Brown. In his address Emerson declares that "there is no history; only biography," and from this statement the foundation for Representative Men is put in place. Although nearly 21 years separate Emerson's lecture from Brown's work in "bloody Kansas" and Harpers Ferry, Brown's warfare for abolition gave Emerson's philosophy of "biography" an identity. In keeping with the concept of "biography," Emerson's overarching principle of "Self-Reliance" often deployed philosophical forms such as "Man Thinking" and "The Hero," but by 1850, Emerson's philosophy was informed by the politics of the day, and "Self-Reliance" became identified with the abolition movement. In an attempt to find an American biography, Emerson aligned himself with one of the country's most radical abolitionists. In Chapter One the author offers an explication of "History," including Emerson's experience in Europe in 1832, and the subsequent anticipation for an American genius. Chapter Two will focus on Emerson choosing Brown as a "representative," thus declaring Brown to be the "true history of the American Republic." In treating Emerson and Brown the writer engages not only major works of the Emerson canon, but lesser known essays and lectures, including "Remarks at a Meeting for the Relief of John Brown's Family" (1859), and "John Brown: Speech at Salem" (1860).



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Gregory Chad Wolfe



File Format


File Size

67 pages