An Emersonian notion of originality and autonomy has over the last century and a half evolved into an enduring part of our cultural heritage. In a nation fractured by racial or class barriers, this assertive individualism continues for many to hold forth the hope of a fundamental principle overlapping our cultural divisions. Of course, this self-reliance has not gone unquestioned in an age of postmodern skepticism. If once a defiance of history and society seemed the American Adam's heroic gesture, recent critics such as Frank Lentricchia and Donald Pease have pointed out the Emersonian self s inescapable ties to the overdeterminate world of discourse. Not only have recent critics dismissed the plausibility of Emerson's idealism, they have disavowed its ideology of solipsistic independence that repudiates collective life. What I would like to do is to pose the problem of Emersonian individualism differently, to frame the terms of the debate less according to false oppositions between authenticity and culture, self and society, or freedom or fate, than in terms of complex negotiations about social authority undertaken in response to the “age of reform's” blurring of traditional distinctions between the public and private. In the second quarter of the 19th Century, the push toward state-sponsored education, specifically, was refiguring power in terms of socialization. Within his essays, Emerson acknowledges that identity is, and could only be, a social construct. Rather than trying to elude the fate of circumstances, Emerson, it might better be argued, attempts to redefine the nature and limitations of freedom in a world where, as he says in his lecture on “Culture” (March, 1851), “education” has superseded politics.