We can’t understand Ralph Waldo Emerson the philosopher of self-realisation without understanding Emerson the radical abolitionist. In fact, his language and philosophy helped shape the contours of the antislavery movement in New England. As Bostonians’ dislike of slavery began to grow into active disobedience to the laws that supported it, many turned to Emerson’s ideas to understand their actions. This happened even as Emerson frankly disliked the insincerity and bad faith of many reformers – for whom moralism replaced an authentic character. Ultimately, through examples such as the militant abolitionist John Brown, Emerson came to celebrate a certain form of antislavery political activity, one that expressed heroic and authentic moral character traits and that could be experienced as resistance to the conformity to the marketplace.