As the American political controversies of the 1850s were as much about the category of the political as about slavery, property, or territorial expansion, so did Emerson's focus shift from a philosophical exploration of politics to a lived experience of conflict and a new poetics of political writing. The essay “Politics,” published in 1844, explored an idealist vision emerging from Transcendentalism, but the engagement with British power and cultural authority that took place during his long visit in 1847 and 1848 opened up an existential challenge to the premises of that essay. Although critical of intellectual rigidity and closed minds, Emerson finds himself drawn to the inner assurance of British society. The marginal status of English Traits (1856), Emerson's account of his travels, is reflected in the relative paucity of critical discussion of the book. English Traits represents, however, not only the confrontation with British pragmatism but a new perspective on the relationship between ideas and power. As the orientation of this text is away from Transcendentalist hermeneutics and toward irony, one way of reintegrating English Traits into American intellectual history is to alter its status as a detour in Emerson's writing career, lacking in real significance, and instead to read it as one of the symptomatic literary productions of the 1850s.