• Edwin Chapin


    Edwin Chapin 


    Edwin Hubbell Chapin (December 29, 1814-December 26, 1880), Universalist minister, author, lecturer, and social reformer, was one of the most popular speakers in America from the 1840s until his death. He was revered for his eloquent tongue and passionate pleas for tolerance and justice.

    Edwin was born in Union Village, New York, to Beulah Hubbell and Alpheus Chapin. The Hubbells and the Chapins had emigrated from England in the mid-1600s and settled in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Their descendants included doctors, soldiers, politicians, and clergy. A non-puritanical Calvinist, Edwin's father played the violin, was a great conversationalist, and made his living as an itinerant portrait painter. His mother was a cultured woman from Bennington, Vermont. Because the family moved often, schooling was intermittent for Edwin and his two younger sisters, Ellen and Martha. Their parents, however, instilled in them a love for books. When Edwin was 11, the family settled for a while in the West End of Boston. Instead of attending school, he worked as an errand boy and wrote poems to amuse his friends. At 13 he joined a neighborhood drama club, where he recited poetry, sang songs, and played comic roles with relish.

    His pious parents, fearing that Edwin would choose an acting career, enrolled him in Bennington Seminary in Bennington, Vermont, a boys' academy noted for academic discipline. During his four years under the guidance of the gifted headmaster, James Ballard, Edwin blossomed into a witty, inspiring orator and poet. Although he could move an audience of townsfolk and fellow students to laughter and tears, no one predicted he would become a minister. After his graduation, he worked as clerk in the Bennington post office. As his employer and landlord was a lawyer, he began to think that he might want to pursue law as a career.

    Chapin served eight months in two law offices in Troy, New York. While there, he enjoyed a brief stint as a political orator for Presidential candidate Martin Van Buren but disliked everyday legal drudgery. At the same time he was caught up in a religious revival. A Calvinist minister, thinking his ideas unsound, rebuffed his tentative application for advice about entering the ministry.

    Depressed and discouraged, Chapin moved back with his family, who were then in Bridgewater, in central New York. From there he accompanied his father to nearby Utica. They lodged near the office of the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, a Universalist magazine. Wandering into its store one day, he was intrigued by the ideas in the books on display of a God of love rather than fear, so different from the deity of his Calvinist upbringing. After he began to work in a law office across the street, he continued to frequent the store. He met and talked with the magazine's editor, Aaron Grosh, and with various Universalist clergymen, including Dolphus Skinner. He wrote poems, hymns and editorials for the Magazine and Advocate and was soon hired by the paper. He served as assistant editor, 1837-38. Converted by his exposure to the Universalist faith, and with Grosh's encouragement, he revived his desire to be a minister. In 1838 he delivered his first sermon in Litchfield, New York.

    Although he had no college education or theological training, and only a year's exposure to Universalism, in 1838 Chapin was called to be pastor of the Independent Christian Church, in Richmond, Virginia, composed of both Universalists and Unitarians. Audiences flocked to hear the sermons and lectures of the young man with the powerful voice and magnetic personality. His tract, Universalism: What It Is Not, and What It Is, 1838, became widely popular. Universalism, he wrote, was not atheism, skepticism, or deism. Instead, "it teaches that all mankind will finally be saved from sin and its consequent misery." Universalists did not "argue against punishment,—against future punishment,—but against the endless duration of sin and misery." The same year, Chapin was ordained by the New York Central Association and married Hannah Newland of Utica, whom he had met at the Magazine and Advocate bookstore. She was his devoted companion for 42 years.

    In 1839, on his way to the General Convention of Universalists, held in Portland, Maine, Chapin stopped in Charlestown, Massachusetts to attend the funeral of the minister Thomas F. King, father of Thomas Starr King. Having heard of Chapin's eloquence, the church leaders invited him to speak that evening. Soon he received a call to fill the now-vacant pulpit. His acceptance was delayed for a year, while he searched for a replacement in Richmond. Before he accepted, he wrote the congregation a letter confessing that he could not find scriptural proof for the doctrine of universal salvation, although he believed it to be in the "spirit of Christ." Also, he rejected the "doctrine of the trinity, of vicarious sacrifice to appease the wrath of God, of total depravity, original sin, etc. etc." He made it clear that he was an independent thinker who served "God and humanity"and preached not a creed but "Liberal Christianity." In spite of these reservations, he was enthusiatically welcomed by the congregation. Hosea BallouHosea Ballou 2dThomas Whittemore, Otis A. Skinner, Sebastian Streeter, and Elbridge G. Brooks took part in his installation. He served the Charlestown church, 1840-45.

    In Charlestown Chapin began to espouse the temperance, abolition, and anti-capital punishment causes of Theodore ParkerHorace Mann, William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Spear, and others. He was mentor and friend to Starr King, who "enjoyed a rich conversation with Bro. Chapin on philosophy and religion." Out of the grief following the death of his first born child, Edward Channing Chapin (named for William Ellery Channing), he wrote the book The Crown of Thorns: A Token for the Sorrowing, 1847.

    Chapin alternated between a frenzy of productive activities—installations, ordinations, college commencements, speaking in favor of social reforms, sermons, publications, service as chaplain of the Massachusetts legislature and as a member of the State Board of Education—and exhausted depression. His generous contributions to charity, support of his father, and his purchases of rare books often outran his income. Partly in order to increase his income, in late 1845 he became the colleague of the aging Hosea Ballou at the Second Universalist Church in Boston. Here his advocacy of reforms, notably temperance, alienated some conservative Universalists, who, under Ballou, had not been used to such preaching. He moved on after only two years.

    In 1848 Chapin was installed at the Fourth Universalist Society in New York City, where he remained for 32 years, preaching broad church Christianity and becoming the most popular preacher in the city. In 1852, when his congregation bought a larger church on Broadway, over 2,000 people came to the first Sunday evening service and hundreds were turned away. In 1866 the Fourth Universalist Society moved to a new building at 5th Avenue and 45th Street, The Church of the Divine Paternity.

    Chapin's preaching was described as hypnotic. He was for a quarter-century the star of the Lyceum circuit, devoting half his time to traveling from Maine to Illinois to deliver his lectures. These addresses, on subjects such as "Orders of Nobility," "Modern Chivalry," "Social Forces," "Man and His Work," "Woman and Her Work," and "The Progress of Popular Liberty," were more intellectual and polished, if a little less emotional than his sermons. When Starr King was on a program with him, he always asked to speak before Chapin did. Chapin's fame was international. One of his most impassioned speeches was delivered to 3,000 people of different nationalities and languages at the 1850 Peace Congress at Frankfurt am Main. Even those who knew no English burst into applause, sensing the heartfelt eloquence.

    Although seldom controversial in his sermons, Chapin was adamantly opposed to slavery. Despite his abhorrence of war and loss of life, he supported the Union side during the Civil War, which caused dissension in his church. Merchants in the congregation who had done business with Southern slave-holders objected to his public stance. In response to one attack, he told the members of the congregation that "While you have absolute control of your temple, you have no authority over my conscience."

    Chapin appealed to a broad audience which included people from many faiths. He was not interested in theological differences, but in commonalities and in the spiritual aspects of religion. He rejected a literal reading of the Bible. It was a book, he said, "where each his dogma seeks, and each his dogma finds." He commended the moral principles set forth by Jesus Christ as the best path to salvation. He opposed his church adopting the sectarian Winchester Profession of Faith. Like the Restorationists, he believed that punishment of a limited duration might be required in the afterlife. Some complained that there was nothing especially Universalist in his sermons. He nevertheless rejected eternal damnation, believing that each person would eventually be saved by a loving God.

    Chapin was enthralled by the scientific discoveries of his day. He could see no conflict between religion and science. "The more we learn of nature," he said, "the more clearly is revealed to us this fact—that we know less than we thought we did . . . as science, as nature, opens upon us, we find mystery after mystery, and the demand upon the human soul is for faith, faith in high, yea, in spiritual realities." "Faith is not the surrendering of our minds to that which is irrational and inconsistent," however. "In that which conflicts with our reason we cannot have faith." He thought that the faith we must have is "in realities that are not of time or sense."

    Chapin preached continually on the obligation to care for all people, stressing their innate worth. In 1869 his congregation raised funds to establish, in his honor, the Chapin Home for the Aged and Infirm in New York City, open to anyone over 65. His wife was its first and long-time president. Bringing comfort and cheer to its residents was a favorite pastime for Chapin.

    In his book Humanity in the City, 1854, Chapin observed, "There sits the beggar, sick and pinched with cold; and there goes a man of no better flesh and blood, and no more authentic charter of soul, wrapped in comfort, and actually bloated with luxury." This teaches us, he reflected, "our duty and our responsibility in lessening social inequality and need." Large cities heighten both good and evil, he wrote in Moral Aspects of City Life, 1853: "The close contact that excites the worst passions of humanity also elicits its sympathies—and noble charities are born of all this misery and guilt." He believed his major role in life was to help alleviate this misery. "The preacher, especially in the city," he said, "must be a true reformer, definite, emphatic, bold." Although he criticized institutions, denounced manifest evils, and worked endlessly for social causes, he did not denounce individuals, believing moral persuasion more effective in changing behaviors and lives.

    Chapin's library of nearly 10,000 volumes included poetry, plays, folk-lore, legends, ballads, biographies, history, philosophy, progressive social thought, essays, orations, and practical Christianity, but little theology or Biblical criticism. He rarely used quotations or allusions in his talks. Instead, he used his reading to understand the great issues of life and faith.

    At ease behind a podium, Chapin was shy and uncomfortable in social settings. He preferred the company of family and close friends (such as P. T. Barnum), where he was relaxed, witty, and jovial. He rarely visited parishioners, except the sick or grieving. He disliked small talk, and quickly disappeared after services and lectures to avoid meeting strangers and autograph seekers. Fortunately, his wife Hannah was even-tempered, cheerful, sociable, and a skilled manager of her husband's business affairs.

    In 1856 Chapin was given a Doctor of Divinity degree by Harvard College. He received an LL.D. from Tufts College in 1878. He was a trustee of Bellevue Medical College and Hospital and a member of the State Historical Society, the beneficent society called Order of Odd Fellows, and the prestigious Century Club, composed of "authors, artists, and amateurs of letters and the fine arts."

    Chapin preached his last sermon on Palm Sunday, 1880. His health had deteriorated for six years from progressive muscular atrophy, but he refused an assistant and resisted retirement until forced by debilitation. After a brief trip to Europe and a summer relaxing at the family cottage in Pigeon Cove, Cape Ann, Massachusetts, he steadily grew worse and died a few days before his 66th birthday.

    The funeral service was conducted by James M. Pullman of the Church of Our Saviour (Sixth Universalist Society in New York City). The sermon was preached by his good friend, the Congregationalist minister Henry Ward Beecher, who said later: "The audience at Chapin's funeral was remarkable. It came the nearest being a representation of the Church Universal I ever saw . . . Not another minister in New York could draw such a diversity of people to his burial." Other participants included Henry Whitney Bellows of the Church of All Souls, President Elmer H. Capen of Tufts College, Robert Collyer of the Unitarian Church of the Messiah, and Thomas Armitage of the 5th Avenue Baptist Church. Chapin was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Seven months later Hannah died and was laid beside him. They were survived by three children.

    Among Chapin's many books and tracts are Duties of Young Men (1840), The Positions and Duties of Liberal Christians (1842), The Philosophy of Reform (1843), Three Discourses on Capital Punishment (1843), The Relation of the Individual to the Republic (1844), Hymns of Christian Devotion (1846, with John G. Adams), True Patriotism (1847), The Fountain: A Temperance Gift (1847), Duties of Young Women (1848), Discourses on the Lord's Prayer (1850), Christianity, the Perfection of True Manliness (1854), The American Idea and What Grows Out of It (1854), A Discourse on Shameful Life (1859), A Discourse on the Evils of Gaming (1859), Living Words (1860), Providence and Life (1869), Lessons of Faith and Life (1877), The Church of the Living Word (1878), and The Church of the Living God (1881).

    The only full-length biography of Chapin is Sumner Ellis, Life of Edwin H. Chapin (1882). There are biographical sketches in David Robinson, The Unitarians and the Universalists(1985) and Mark Harris, Historical Dictionary of Unitarian Universalism (2004). See also Russell Miller, The Larger Hope, vol. 1 (1979). Obituaries include The Sun (New York City, December 28, 1880), and the Universalist Register (1882). 

    Article by June Edwards - posted May 24, 2006

    All material copyright Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society (UUHHS) 1999-2016

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  • Orestes Brownson  


    Orestes Brownson

    Young Orestes BrownsonOrestes Augustus Brownson (Sept. 16, 1803-April 17, 1876) as a maverick Universalist and Unitarian minister, then an independently-minded journalist, essayist, and critic, was a wide-ranging commentator on politics, religion, society, and literature with connections to the Transcendentalist movement. Disillusioned with liberal religion and radical politics, in 1844 he converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Catholic intellectual, a constitutional conservative, and a fierce critic of Protestantism.

    Orestes was born in the frontier village of Stockbridge, Vermont. He and his twin sister were the youngest children of Sylvester Brownson and his wife Relief Metcalf. In 1805 Sylvester died, leaving a destitute 28-year-old widow with five children. Orestes lived with his mother until he was six, old enough to remember her Universalist teaching about the "gift of a Saviour's love to sinners." He was then sent to live with an older couple in Royalton, Vermont. They were Congregationalists but did not attend church because they disapproved of the evangelical preaching in their local church. They instructed Orestes in the rudiments of the Reformed faith and encouraged him to explore the religious options Royalton had to offer. He did not unite with any church but had a rich spiritual life centered on private reading of the Bible.

    When Orestes was 14, his family was reunited and moved to Ballston, New York, near Saratoga. Orestes was apprenticed to James Comstock, the owner, editor and printer of the Independent American newspaper, in the fashionable resort of Ballston Spa. Accustomed to the relative equality of a Vermont farming village, Orestes was shocked by the extravagance of the resort's guests and the servility of the slaves, servants, and staff who catered to them. "Wealth, more frequently the veriest shadow of wealth, no matter how got or how used, is the real god, the omnipotent Jove, of modern idolatry," he wrote bitterly. Brownson's work on the newspaper was the beginning of his political education. From Comstock, he absorbed the idea that democracy was threatened by money and privilege and that "nonproducers" such as lawyers, bankers, and the clergy were parasites living off the labor of the working class. These principles remained the basis of his politics throughout the 1820s and 1830s.

    At the urging of his aunt, Asenath Delano, a leader of the small Universalist society in Ballston, Brownson read some basic Universalist literature. He was unimpressed by Elhanan Winchester, Charles Chauncy, and Joseph Huntington, and disturbed by Hosea Ballou's Treatise on Atonement. Ballou's ridicule of orthodox belief, together with the worldly and irreligious atmosphere of Ballston Spa, caused Brownson to wonder if there was any truth to religion at all. In an 1834 letter, he wrote that he "was soon a Deist, and before I was seventeen an Atheist." When he was 19, however, he made a desperate attempt to regain his faith by joining the Presbyterian church. The experience was an unhappy one, and he left the church after nine months.

    By this time Brownson's apprenticeship had ended. He studied for a few months at Ballston Academy, then became a schoolteacher in nearby Stillwater and in Camillus, in western New York. In 1824 he took a teaching position in Springwells, Michigan, near Detroit. Within a few months, he contracted malaria, and spent most of his time in Michigan ill or convalescing. In less than a year he was back in Camillus. His brief stay in Michigan may nevertheless have changed the course of his life. Detroit at that time was a largely French-speaking, Catholic community. At a time when most Americans thought of Catholicism as, at best, an obsolete religion superseded by a more advanced form of Christianity, Brownson was one of the few American Protestants to have experienced the Catholic church as a living and benign presence.

    During his time in Springwells and Camillus, Brownson continued to consider the arguments for and against universal salvation. In 1825 he declared himself a Universalist. He consulted Dolphus Skinner, the Universalist minister in Saratoga Springs, New York, about entering the ministry. Skinner recommended that he study with his own mentor, Samuel Loveland. Brownson was soon after accepted into fellowship as a Universalist evangelist. During 1825-26 he prepared for the ministry under Loveland's guidance. He was ordained in 1826.

    Brownson spent the three and one-half years of his Universalist ministry at a succession of small churches in New York state. After his ordination, he obtained a temporary position supplying pulpits in Fort Ann and Whitehall, near the Vermont border. This was followed by a series of settlements in central New York: Litchfield, 1826-27; Ithaca and Genoa, 1827-28; and Auburn, 1829. In 1827 Brownson married Sally Healy, a daughter of the family with which he had boarded while teaching in Camillus. The couple eventually had eight children.

    Shortly after arriving in New York, Brownson was caught up in a dispute about the advisability of organizing a New York State Convention of Universalists. He joined a group of ministers, led by Linus Smith Everett, who opposed the convention out of concern about its ill-defined and, in their opinion, arbitrary disciplinary powers. This drove a wedge between Brownson and Dolphus Skinner, who was one of the convention's strongest supporters.

    When Everett moved to Massachusetts in late 1828, he arranged for Brownson to succeed him as minister at Auburn and as editor of a Universalist newspaper, theGospel Advocate. An inexperienced editor, Brownson soon became embroiled in a dispute with Theophilus Fisk, a former owner of the Gospel Advocate. In the course of the argument, Fisk charged that Brownson had renounced Christianity and become "a secret agent of infidelity."

    Though Brownson's theology was less orthodox than Fisk's, it was well within the range of opinions held by Universalists of his time. Many Universalists, however, were prepared to believe Fisk's allegations - particularly after Brownson defended Abner Kneeland, then being dismissed from his church on the ground of infidelity, and wrote admiringly of the notorious freethinker Frances Wright. Even those who approved of Brownson's theology criticized the Gospel Advocatefor "splitting straws" with other Universalists instead of spreading the message of universal salvation. At a time when Universalists were worried by the rise of a confident and united evangelical party in American politics, they were particularly sensitive to anything that might bring the denomination into disrepute.

    In October, 1829, Brownson returned from a six-week trip to New England to find that, in his absence, Dolphus Skinner had bought the Gospel Advocate. He merged it with his own Utica Magazine and eliminated Brownson's editorial position. Unable to stay on as assistant editor or to find work on other Universalist publications, Brownson joined the staff of the Free Enquirer, the avowedly anti-religious paper co-edited by Frances Wright. This confirmed the mistaken idea that his enemies already had about him: that he was an "infidel," and possibly mentally unbalanced as well. Brownson's separation from the Universalist denomination was made formal in September 1830, when the Universalist General Convention voted "that there is full proof that said Kneeland and Brownson have renounced their faith in the Christian Religion, which renunciation is a dissolution of fellowship with this body."

    As the years went by, Brownson found it convenient to accept "infidelity" as the explanation for his departure from Universalism. As a Unitarian minister in the 1830s, he wore the "infidel" label with a certain degree of pride, using it to establish himself as an authority on the arguments most likely to appeal to unbelievers. His 1840 novel Charles Elwood, or the Infidel Converted was understood to be a thinly disguised history of his own case. After he converted to Catholicism, the story of his past infidelity fit in with the narrative of his progress toward Catholicism, and supported his case for the inadequacy and incoherence of Protestantism.

    After his departure from the Universalists, Brownson renounced sectarian religion in favor of social reform, declaring himself to be a "philanthropist" rather than a "religionist." For a few months in 1830 he edited the Genesee Republican, a newspaper of the Workingmen's party in New York State, but he quickly decided that this party lacked the broad support necessary to spearhead an effective reform movement.

    Just as he became disillusioned with Workingmen politics, Brownson experienced a spiritual conversion that led him to declare himself a Unitarian. Behind this re-conversion lay his belief that he detected a divine voice within his soul, an experience that reaffirmed for him the existence of a paternal God. By early 1831, Brownson had resumed preaching on an independent basis, affirming his affinity for Unitarians, who taught that "God is our Father, that all men are brethren, and that we should cultivate mutual good will." In making this turn towards Unitarianism, Brownson had been influenced by William Ellery Channing, especially his 1828 sermon, "Likeness to God."

    Brownson established a newspaper called the Philanthropist, probably the only Unitarian periodical in New York State at the time. Although he managed to keep it afloat for about two years, he was forced to fold the insolvent paper in 1832. Financial necessity and growing ambitions led Brownson to seek a regular pulpit, with a salary to support himself, his wife, and two young sons. He accepted a call to Walpole, New Hampshire, a move that put him within the orbit of Boston, the center of American Unitarianism. He attended gatherings of the American Unitarian Association and began publishing essays in Boston Unitarian periodicals, including the Christian Register, the Unitarian, and the Christian Examiner.

    In 1834 Brownson began serving the church in Canton, Massachusetts, fifteen miles from Boston. From that post, he began to advocate for fundamental social reform. In an 1834 Fourth of July address, for instance, Brownson expressed concern that economic inequality was growing, and noted that the nation was failing to live up to the principle of equality embedded in the Declaration of Independence. His social radicalism alienated some of his parishioners. When his contract was renewed in 1836, ten church members voted against his retention.

    In the summer of 1836, Brownson seized upon an opportunity suggested by George Ripley, to become a minister-at-large for the poor and working classes of Boston (a position previously filled by Joseph Tuckerman). Moving his family to the suburb of Chelsea, Brownson launched the Society for Christian Union and Progress, which he hoped would allow him to unite Christianity with social reform. In 1836 he published a short book, New Views of Christianity, Society, and the Church, in which he diagnosed the ills of contemporary Christianity and proposed a cure based upon the theological principle of atonement. He reinterpreted atonement by envisioning Jesus mediating between the spiritual and the material; once humanity understood the unity of the spiritual and the material, he believed, "Man [will] stand erect before God as a child before its father," and therefore "Man will reverence man." Brownson achieved rapid success in attracting listeners—hundreds attended his weekly preaching.

    The Panic of 1837 inspired Brownson to sharpen his criticisms of the economic status quo. In a fervid sermon entitled "Babylon is Falling," he predicted the end of the commercial system of banks and paper money, which he believed promoted "artificial inequality." William Ellery Channing and other socially conservative Unitarians were less than pleased with Brownson's radical pronouncements. Brownson, however, was energized by his time in Boston. In 1838 he launched theBoston Quarterly Review, in which he hoped to reach a larger audience.

    The next several years were tumultuous for Brownson. In 1836, with a number of current and former Unitarian ministers, including his friend Ripley, Ralph Waldo EmersonFrederic Hedge, and Theodore Parker, he had attended the first meeting of what would become known as the Transcendentalist Club. Brownson expressed support for the basic principle of Transcendentalism: that every human had the potential to gain direct, intuitive access to spiritual and moral truth. Though he harshly criticized the radical individualism expressed by Emerson in his 1838 address to the Harvard Divinity School graduates and by Parker in his 1841 sermon "The Transient and Permanent in Christianity," Brownson nevertheless aligned himself with the Transcendentalists during the late 1830s and early 1840s.

    Brownson harnessed his evolving religious beliefs to his desire for radical social and economic change. He called first for a new church and then, more radically, for "no church," by which he meant the replacement of the morally hollow activities of praying and psalm-singing with strenuous effort to create an actual Christian community. He asserted that social reform is the true religion of Jesus: "No man can enter the kingdom of God, who does not labor with all zeal and diligence to establish the kingdom of God on the earth; who does not labor to bring down the high, and bring up the low; to break the fetters of the bound and set the captive free." In his incendiary 1840 essay "The Laboring Classes," he predicted possible class warfare—"now commences the new struggle between the operative and his employer, between wealth and labor"—and argued for a radical solution to the inequality generated by the wage system: the abolition of hereditary property and the creation of a fund to provide educational and occupational opportunities for all young men and women as they reached adulthood. The essay was greeted with intense hostility, even by his own Democratic party.

    Brownson was disappointed by the response to his plan and devastated by the Whig victory in the presidential election of 1840. He believed that voters had been duped by the packaging of William Henry Harrison as the "man of the people" when the Whigs' policies actually supported the economic interests of the wealthy and undermined constitutional limitations on government power. Brownson was one of the few people at the time who understood the implications of the commodification of public opinion and the threat it posed to democratic government. Of what use was theoretical political equality if the wealthy could use their wealth to convince the working classes to vote against their own best interests? "Man, against man and money," he recognized, was "not an equal match."

    As Brownson became disillusioned with democratic politics and secular reform in general, he experienced another resurgence of faith that led him to return to preaching in 1842. Later that year, he published an open letter to Channing entitled The Mediatorial Life of Jesus. He believed that Pierre Leroux's concept of the collective life of humanity explained the transmission of human sinfulness from generation to generation. He saw in this a means of redemption. Jesus, who was both divine and human, performed the critical function of transmitting his divine life to humanity. All that humanity needed to do to be saved was to join in communion with the divine essence of Jesus.Older Orestes Brownson

    In early 1843 Brownson published an extraordinary series of articles in the Christian World, a new Unitarian periodical. After establishing a few key principles—that humans were sinful, that they needed to be redeemed, and that God had surely provided a means of redemption—Brownson began his intellectual march toward Rome. He explicitly repudiated traditional Protestant soteriology, denying that individuals could read the Bible profitably without guidance and arguing that faith was the result rather than the cause of being saved. What was needed, Brownson asserted, was a church that embodied Christ's "life" (in Leroux's sense) and that could provide both guidance and grace. TheChristian World cut Brownson off before he could draw conclusions about what church deserved allegiance, but his trajectory made it clear enough that he no longer represented a Unitarian perspective.

    For Brownson, it remained but to answer a historical question: which church was the true church? Ideally, the fragments of the church universal might unite, but barring that unlikely outcome, Brownson was beginning to see that his line of thought led him almost inexorably toward the Roman Catholic Church. In the July 1844 issue of Brownson's Quarterly Review (he had revived his journal earlier that year), he announced his final conclusion: "either the church in communion with the See of Rome is the one holy catholic apostolic church or the one holy apostolic church does not exist."

    After Brownson, along with his wife and children, converted to Catholicism, he became an aggressive Catholic apologist, whose anti-Protestant rhetoric alienated even some Catholics. By the late 1850s he had adopted a more conciliatory tone, emphasizing the continuity between Catholic and American values, and encouraging Catholic immigrants to take their rightful place as Americans. His autobiography, The Convert, 1857, was part of his effort to explain Catholicism to Protestant Americans. During the 1860s, his most liberal Catholic period, he argued that the Catholic church should incorporate insights from modern science and democracy.

    Although Brownson disapproved of slavery, before the Civil War he had opposed the abolitionist movement. Since he believed that labor for wages was tantamount to slavery, he did not think slavery justified placing the nation at risk. Once secession and war had actually come, he supported the Union and supported emancipation as a war measure. He became a Republican and ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, in 1862. After losing two sons in the war, in 1864 Brownson ended the twenty-year run of his Quarterly Review.

    After the war Brownson continued to write for other Catholic publications. He remained an active lecturer and a prolific writer until his death in 1876. Although he sometimes accepted oversight from his bishop, he never abandoned the spirit of intellectual freedom that he had developed as a Universalist and a Unitarian.

    The Archives of the University of Notre Dame hold the Orestes A. Brownson Papers. Letters written by Brownson exist in numerous libraries, including the Houghton Library at Harvard University. For early correspondence, see Daniel Barnes, "An Edition of the Early Letters of Orestes Brownson" (Univ. of Kentucky thesis, 1970). The best resource for locating Brownson's published writings is Patrick W. Carey, Orestes A. Brownson: A Bibliography, 1826-1876 ( 1997). Most of Brownson's published work is available in one of three editions: The Early Works of Orestes A. Brownson, 7 vols, edited by Patrick W. Carey (2000-2005), which collects Brownson's writings up to 1844; The Works of Orestes A. Brownson, 20 vols, edited by Henry F. Brownson (1882-1906), which contains Brownson's post-Catholic conversion publications; and Orestes Brownson: Works in Political Philosophy, 5 volumes (projected), edited by Greg Butler (2003- ).

    Brownson's autobiography, The Convert (1856), is an essential work, if used carefully and in the light of other sources. The best modern biography of Brownson is Patrick W. Carey,Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane (2004). A number of older biographies, including Henry F. Brownson, Orestes A. Brown's Early Life (1898), Middle Life(1899), and Later Life (1900); Theodore Maynard, Orestes Brownson: Yankee, Radical, Catholic (1943); and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Pilgrim's Progress: Orestes A. Brownson(1939) continue to be valuable resources. Brownson's earliest years are covered by Lynn Gordon Hughes, "The Making and Unmaking of an American Universalist: the Early Life of Orestes A. Brownson, 1803-1829" (Brown Univ. thesis, 2007). Part of this was published as "Orestes A. Brownson's This-Worldly Universalism," Journal of Unitarian Universalist History (2008). On Brownson's middle years, see David J. Voelker, "Orestes Brownson and the Search for Authority in Democratic America" (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dissertation, 2003). Philip F. Gura takes Brownson's roles in the Unitarian and Transcendentalist movements seriously in American Transcendentalism: A History (2007). Ann C. Rose,Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830-1850 (1981) and William R. Hutchison, The Transcendentalist Ministers: Church Reform in the New England Renaissance (1959) are also valuable studies on this count. 

    Article by Lynn Gordon Hughes and David Voelker - posted November 2, 2009


    All material copyright Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society (UUHHS) 1999-2016

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  • Olympia Brown   


    Olympia Brown

    Olympia BrownOlympia Brown (January 5, 1835-October 23, 1926) dedicated her life to opening doors for women. Among only a handful of women to graduate from college, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch in 1860 and three years later became the first woman graduate of a regularly established theological school: St. Lawrence University. She was ordained a Universalist minister, the first woman to achieve full ministerial standing recognized by a denomination. As a young minister, she took an active role in the women's suffrage movement and was one of the few original suffragists who lived to vote in the 1920 presidential election.

    The first of four children, Olympia Brown was born to Vermont Universalists Asa B. and Lephia Olympia Brown, pioneers in Prairie Ronde, Michigan. Determined to give his children a good education, her father built a schoolhouse on his farm. He and Olympia rode from house to house to enlist their neighbors' donations toward hiring a teacher. The Brown children later attended school in the nearby town of Schoolcraft. Olympia was determined to go to college and persuaded her father to allow her and a younger sister to enter Mary Lyons's Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts. After an unhappy year in the rigidly Calvinistic atmosphere there, Olympia went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Horace Mann was president. Her experience there was so positive that her family moved to Yellow Springs for all four children to get a good education.

    While at Antioch, Olympia Brown invited Antoinette Brown (no relation) to lecture and preach. "It was the first time I had heard a woman preach," she remembered, "and the sense of victory lifted me up. I felt as though the Kingdom of Heaven were at hand." Her next step was theological school, even though theological schools at that time did not welcome women.

    "The ministry was the first objective of her life," wrote Gwendolen Brown Willis, "since in her youthful enthusiasm she believed that freedom of religious thought and a liberal church would supply the groundwork for all other freedoms. Her difficulties and disillusionments in this field were numerous. That she could rise superior to such difficulties and disillusionments was the consequence of the hopefulness and courage with which she was richly endowed."

    The Unitarian School of Meadville, Pennsylvania, replied to her request for admission saying that "the trustees thought it would be too great an experiment" to admit a woman. Oberlin replied that she could be admitted but could not participate in public exercises. Finally, Ebenezer Fisher, President of the Universalist Divinity School at St. Lawrence University, offered her admission but added that he "did not think women were called to the ministry. But I leave that between you and the Great Head of the Church." This, Olympia thought, "was exactly where it should be left. But when I arrived, I was told I had not been expected and that Mr. Fisher had said I would not come as he had written so discouragingly to me. I had supposed his discouragement was my encouragement."

    Entering divinity school in 1861, she completed her course of study in 1863. She had to convince those opposed to women in the ministry that they could complete the required course of study as commendably as she had. Then she had to convince the reluctant ministers to ordain her and allow her to be called to the parish ministry. Despite considerable opposition, Brown prevailed in both goals. This determination characterized her throughout her long and fruitful life.

    In 1864 she was called to her first full-time parish ministry in Weymouth Landing, Massachusetts. At this time Olympia Brown became active in the women's rights movement, working with Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and other leaders. In the summer of 1867, at the urging of Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, she agreed to take on a rigorous campaign in Kansas to urge passage of a woman suffrage amendment. The Weymouth Landing parish generously gave their minister a four-month leave of absence to fulfill this commitment.

    Although Henry Blackwell assured Brown that he had made all the arrangements for her campaign, she arrived in Kansas to find that little if anything had been done in her behalf. She would have to make her own travel arrangements, find lodgings in each town, advertise her speaking engagements, secure halls in which to speak and deal with those determined to disrupt her speeches. Often she had to face down hostile townspeople who wanted to discredit her and the cause of woman suffrage. Brown took such obstacles as challenges to be surmounted and kept her eyes firmly on her goal. In spite of unbearable heat and brutal winds, she persevered and mounted a spirited campaign, delivering more than 300 speeches. She was not discouraged when only one-third of the voting population (all male, of course) approved the amendment. In spite of the final vote Susan B. Anthony considered Olympia Brown's work a glorious triumph.

    By 1870 Brown was ready for another challenge and accepted a call to the Universalist Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, "thinking it a larger field of usefulness." Even though the church had many members, "some had lost interest and there had even been an inclination to close the church." She also found that "unlike my Weymouth people, they had no such breadth of vision."

    Although her mother and her friends advised her against marriage because they thought it would interfere with her career as a minister, she married John Henry Willis in 1873. She "thought that with a husband so entirely in sympathy with my work, marriage could not interfere, but rather assist. And so it proved, for I could have married no better man. He shared in all my undertakings." As did Lucy Stone, Olympia Brown kept her maiden name, with Willis's agreement. It was a most felicitous marriage. When her husband died, unexpectedly in 1893, she wrote: "Endless sorrow has fallen upon my heart. He was one of the truest and best men that ever lived, firm in his religious convictions, loyal to every right principle, strictly honest and upright in his life,....with an absolute sincerity of character such as I have never seen in any other person." A son, Henry Parker Willis, was born in 1874 and a daughter, Gwendolen Brown Willis, in 1876.

    During her maternity leave for her first child, a faction at the Bridgeport church started agitating to terminate her ministry. As she writes in her autobiography: "although (or because) my parish gave me a vote of endorsement passed by a large majority, these enemies continued....calling in ministers from neighboring churches...promulgating the doctrine, 'what you need here is a good man.'"

    At the end of 1874, Brown decided to resign her ministry. She and her husband stayed in Bridgeport for two more years, during which time her daughter was born. With characteristic spirit, Olympia recounts "after this tempestuous time at Bridgeport, I considered where I should go to continue the work of preaching, to which I had, as I thought, a distinct calling."

    Discovering that a Universalist church in Racine, Wisconsin, was in need of a minister, she wrote to Mr. A. C. Fish, the clerk of the society, to offer her services. He wrote back that the parish was in an unfortunate condition, thanks to "a series of pastors easy-going, unpractical and some even spiritually unworthy, who had left the church adrift, in debt, hopeless and doubtful whether any pastor could again rouse them." This was precisely the kind of challenge that Olympia welcomed. It is also true that her options were limited.

    Of her career as a parish minister she writes: "Those who may read this will think it strange that I could only find a field in run-down or comatose churches, but they must remember that the pulpits of all the prosperous churches were already occupied by men, and were looked forward to as the goal of all the young men coming into the ministry with whom I, at first the only woman preacher in the denomination, had to compete. All I could do was to take some place that had been abandoned by others and make something of it, and this I was only too glad to do."Olympia Brown

    With two small children to support, John Willis closed his business in Bridgeport and went ahead to Racine to find a house and employment. This type of support for his wife's endeavors was typical of him throughout their married life. He became one of the owners of The Racine Times-Call newspaper and worked actively to support his wife's ministry.

    Rejuvenating the Universalist society in Racine was not a task for the faint of heart, but Brown set about it with her usual competence, dedication and practical skill. Not only did she breathe new life into the society, but she also established it as a center of learning and cultural activities. Bringing famous speakers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, and Susan B. Anthony, she added immeasurably to the life of the surrounding community.

    After nine years of rebuilding, she felt that her parish was able to sustain itself, and she made a momentous decision. At the age of 53 she decided to make a career change. Though she would continue to work as a part-time minister in smaller Wisconsin congregations, Brown left full-time ministry to become an activist for women's rights. Because her new role necessitated a great deal of travel, she was fortunate to have both a supportive husband and a capable mother at home to help care for the family.

    Olympia Brown was a tireless and effective organizer for suffrage initiatives at the state and national level, leading the Wisconsin Suffrage Association for many years and serving as Vice-president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, Like Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she promoted a broad range of reforms aimed at women, Believing that education was the key to women's advancement, she worked tirelessly to have women admitted to colleges and professional schools.

    By the 1890s Brown was convinced that the suffrage movement was languishing under what she considered the lackluster leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw. Little progress was being made toward a suffrage amendment, the older suffragists had either died or were being ignored, and in her opinion the fire seemed to have gone out of the movement. Not until Alice Paul and Lucy Barnes started the Woman's Party in 1913 did Brown feel optimistic about the suffrage cause. She welcomed the more confrontational and street-wise tactics of the Woman's Party and was elated with their strategy of mounting large vigils and demonstrations to mobilize support. When she was asked to be a charter member of this more militant and energetic group, she stated "I belonged to this party before I was born."

    Brown joined in many of the demonstrations organized by the Woman's Party. In freezing rain, in bitter cold, in spite of dangerous confrontations and little police protection from hecklers, the octogenarian minister from Wisconsin was there. During one memorable demonstration, protesting Woodrow Wilson's turning his back on the suffrage amendment, she publicly burned his speeches in front of the White House. When the suffrage amendment was finally passed in 1919, Brown was one of the few original suffragists who was still alive to savor the triumph. She voted in her first presidential election at the age of 85.

    Speaking in the Racine church in the fall of 1920 on the changes that had taken place since her resignation as minister, she said, "the grandest thing has been the lifting up of the gates and the opening of the doors to the women of America, giving liberty to twenty-seven million women, thus opening to them a new and larger life and a higher ideal."

    In this sermon, she also testified to the importance in her life of Universalism, "the faith in which we have lived, for which we have worked, and which has bound us together as a church. . . . Dear Friends, stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important to you as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before you the loftiest ideal, which has comforted you in sorrow, strengthened you for the noble duty and made the world beautiful for you."

    After the suffrage victory, Brown dedicated herself to promoting world peace and became one of the original members of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

    In her later years she spent summers at her lakeside home in Racine and winters in Baltimore with her daughter Gwendolen, who taught Greek and Latin at the Bryn Mawr School there. She died in Baltimore at 91 and was buried beside her husband in Racine's Mound Cemetery.

    At the time of her death, The Baltimore Sun captured the independence, fearlessness and passionate commitment to justice of the Reverend Olympia Brown by stating; "Perhaps no phase of her life better exemplified her vitality and intellectual independence than the mental discomfort she succeeded in arousing, between her eightieth and ninetieth birthdays, among the conservatively minded Baltimorans."

    The church Brown helped to vitalize in Racine has been re-named the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church. In 1975 a group of parishioners mounted a successful campaign to have an elementary school in Racine named in her honor. Nothing would have made this proponent of education, especially for women, prouder.

    To honor the centennial of her ordination in 1963, the Theological School at St. Lawrence University unveiled a plaque which reads in part:

    Preacher of Universalism 
    Pioneer and Champion of Women's Citizenship Rights 
    Forerunner of the New Era 
    The flame of her spirit still burns today.

    Olympia Brown's papers and documents relating to her work are held at the Schlesinger Library, the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the State Historical Society of Wisconsin; and in the papers of the National Woman's Party at the Library of Congress. Brown's writings include "Hand of Fellowship" and "Installation Sermon," Services for the Ordination of the Reverend Phebe A. Hanaford as Pastor of the First Universalist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, Feb. 19, 1868 (1870); "The Higher Education of Women," The Ladies' Repository, A Universalist Monthly Magazine for the Home Circle (1874); "Crime, Capital Punishment and Intemperance," Papers and Addresses, Columbian Congress of the Universalist Church, Chicago (1893); Acquaintances Old and New Among Reformers (1911); and Democratic Ideals; A Memorial Sketch of Clara B. Colby(1917). Some of Browns works are collected in Dana Greene, editor, Suffrage and Religious Principle: Speeches and Writings of Olympia Brown (1988). "Olympia Brown: Two Sermons: 'But to Us There is One God' and 'Man Does not Live by Bread Alone,'" with an introduction by Ralph N. Schmidt, was published in The Annual Journal of the Universalist Historical Society (1963). Printed in the same issue was "Olympia Brown: An Autobiography," edited and compiled by Gwendolyn Brown Willis. Most of the quotations in the above article come from this source.

    There is a full-length biography: Charlotte Cote, Olympia Brown: The Battle for Equality (1988). Other biographical studies of Brown include Charles E. Neu, "Olympia Brown and the Woman's Suffrage Movement," Wisconsin Magazine of History (Summer, 1960); Nancy Gale Isenberg, "Victory for Truth: The Feminist Ministry of Olympia Brown," a master's thesis for the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1983); and Claudia Nichols, "Olympia Brown: Minister of Social Reform." Occasional Paper (Unitarian Universalist Women's Heritage Society, 1992). The Universalist Historical Society issued Olympia Brown: A Centennial Volume Celebration Her Ordination and Graduation in 1863 (1963). See also E. Larkin Brown, "Autobiographical Notes," edited by A. Ada Brown. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections (1905). Short biographies are also available in Famous Wisconsin Women, volume 3 (1973); Catherine F. Hitchens, Universalist and Unitarian Women Ministers, a special issue of the Journal of the Universalist Historical Society (1975), and Dorothy May Emerson, editor, Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (2000). 

    Article by Laurie Carter Noble - posted May 28, 2001

    All material copyright Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society (UUHHS) 1999-2016


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  • Henry Brooks Adams Marian Hooper “Clover” Adams 


     Henry Brooks Adams

     and Marian Hooper “Clover” Adams


    The journalist, historian, novelist, Henry Brooks Adams ( February 16, 1838-March 27, 1918) was the son of Civil War diplomat Charles Francis Adams and Abigail Brooks Adams. His grandfather, John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States. 

    Henry Adams was christened by his uncle Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, minister of Boston's First Unitarian Church. His formal education began in Boston, Massachusetts and continued in rural Quincy and at the Boston Latin school. He graduated from Harvard where he had family connections. His grandfather had taught rhetoric, his father was a board member, and his uncle Edward Everett had been president. Most Harvard faculty members, at that time, were Unitarian. After graduation in 1858, Henry went to Germany to study law but had problems with the language so he decided to travel instead. During his two years in Europe he interviewed Garibaldi in revolutionary Italy and he wrote newspaper articles as a correspondent for the Boston Courier

    Henry Brooks AdamsHe returned to Boston on the eve of the Civil War in 1860 and tried to study law with Judge Horace Gray. His congressman father rescued him by making him his secretary. Henry continued his newspaper reporting, writing anonymously for the Boston Advertiser. When Congressman Adams was appointed United States Ambassador to England, Henry served as his father’s official secretary. For a while he sent news dispatches to the New York Times but stopped, fearing he would be discovered and charged with conflict of interest. The Adams' Unitarian acquaintances in England were: Charles DickensHarriet Martineau, and geologist Sir Charles Lyell. He reviewed Lyell’s Principles of Geology for the North American Review. Henry was in England for the duration of the Civil War. 

    Returning to the United States, Henry Adams took up journalism and political reform. Articles he wrote appeared in the recently founded Nation and the New York Post. He advocated revenue reform and associated with those who had similar concerns in Washington. His hopes for President Grant were disappointed. Although disappointed politically, he enjoyed the informal Capitol life. The Edinburgh Review published his articles about corruption bringing him public attention. 

    Harvard reform President Charles W. Eliot appointed him assistant professor of medieval history in 1870. He usually socialized with younger Cambridge men, John Fiske, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., but he also visited the Ephraim Gurney household. There he renewed his acquaintance with Miss Marian Hooper, also known as Clover. Her sister was the wife of Harvard Dean Ephraim Gurney. It was Gurney who later hired Adams as North American Review editor. 

    Adams had met his future wife Marian Hooper (September 13, 1843-December 6, 1885), in 1866 when she was traveling in England with her father ophthalmologist Robert William Hooper. Her mother Ellen Sturgis Hooper, had been a minor poet and Transcendentalist. The Hoopers devoted themselves to philanthropy, art, and the education of their three children. Marian studied at Elizabeth Cary Agassiz’s Cambridge school. Dr. Hooper owned a King’s Chapel pew, while his wife attended James Freeman Clarke’s radically experimental Church of the Disciples, Boston. Marian’s grandparents entertained Emerson, and her mother and Aunt Caroline attended Margaret Fuller’s 1839 Conversations. They also contributed poetry to the Dial, the Transcendentalist journal. Clover’s mother wrote “Dry Lighted Soul,” dedicated to Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Henry and Marian were married on June 27, 1872 at the Hooper home in Beverly, Massachusetts by Rev. Charles Edward Grinnell (1841-1916), an 1865 Harvard Divinity School graduate. Adams called Grinnell “a jolly young fellow of our set.” Traveling to Europe following their wedding, they visited Henry’s father in Geneva where he was negotiating Civil War claims with the British. Henry and Clover proceeded to Berlin where her Unitarian cousin George Bancroft, U.S. Minister to Germany, introduced him to European historians and legal scholars. 

    Returning home after their honeymoon, Henry resumed his duties at Harvard in 1873. He was one of the first professors to teach using seminars. His Documents Relating to New England Federalism(1877), two biographies, John Randolph (1884) and The Life of Albert Gallitin (1879), and the nine volume History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison (1889-91) grew out of his graduate courses. His theme was the growth of America. The steamboat represented American power, as the dynamo would come symbolize a latter era. Chaffing at narrow academic life and clashing with the North American Review staff, he resigned his posts in 1877 and moved to Washington, D.C. to concentrate on writing. 

    Marian Hooper Adams was reared a Unitarian but became skeptical in later life. She was always loyal to Emersonian naturalism and never lost her social conscience. She was concerned for Native Americans and she was involved in her family's work with the Freedmans Bureau providing education for freed slaves. She said she wanted “to overcome prejudices,” but she often expressed contradictory preferences. She liked Italians compared to Germany’s “beer-drinking warriors.” She liked the Spanish while overlooking the social decay and corruption in Spain. She helped Henry with his writing but lacked ways to express her social concerns after their move to Washington, D.C. Clover was also a feminist. She and her cousin Elizabeth Bancroft shared an interest in the unconventional author George Sand. Although Henry favored education for women he questioned their abilities. Nevertheless, Clover studied Greek and Portuguese and backed her sister’s efforts to establish the Harvard annex that became Radcliffe. Clover softened Henry’s view of women and education. She was eager when women could vote for the first time in the 1879 school committee elections. 

    Clover’s Lafayette Square salon, across from the White House made her famous. John Hay, former Lincoln secretary and diplomat; Hay's wife Clara; and Clarence King, a geologist; made up their circle of friends known as the “Five of Hearts.” Mrs. Adams other interests included riding and portrait photography. She worked with photographic chemicals and darkrooms, processing her own pictures. She photographed her husband's parents and her portraits of Lincoln’s biographer John Hay and historian George Bancroft were significant. Although the Adamses didn't have children, she was a loving aunt to her five nieces, writing them stories, building them playhouses, and caring for them. Henry always had toys for little visitors. 

    Clover Adams was a literary model for her husband and for Henry James, a member of their Washington, D.C. circle. James shared Clover Adams Transcendentalist heritage. His Portrait of a Lady (1881) followed a visit with the Adamses. Protagonist Isabella Archer shares much of Clover’s personality. The despicable Gilbert Osmond characterizes Isabella saying, ". . . her sentiments were worthy of a radical newspaper or a Unitarian preacher.” 

    In addition to his historical writing, Henry Adams produced two novels, Democracy (1880) and Esther (1884). Like his wife Clover, the widowed Madeline Lee in Democracy, arrives in Washington, D.C. after a life of philanthropy. She organized a salon like Mrs. Adams. Writting under the name of Francis Snow Compton, he portrayed his wife again in Esther. He finished the book just before Clover’s death. Instead of the political corruption of Democracy, the novel concerns religion and its clash with science. 

    Clover took her own life by swallowing photographic chemicals on December 6, 1885, a few months after her father died. Her family sent for Unitarian minister Edward Hall, and she was interred in Rock Creek cemetery. There may have been a hereditary basis for her death. Even by the standards of upper class society her family was inbred. Her aunt died by her own hand. Her brother and sisters all attempted suicide. 

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture in Rock Creek CemeteryThey had planned to go to Japan together after the first half of his monumental history of the Jefferson and Madison years was finished. As a tribute to her memory, he made the trip with his friend, artist John LaFarge as his traveling companion. Before leaving, he chose Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whose work Clover appreciated, to create an enigmatic memorial bronze sculpture in Rock Creek Cemetery where she was buried. 

    He went to the Polynesian islands in 1890, and in Samoa, he met Robert Louis Stevenson who sent him to Tahiti with an introduction to the pretender to the leadership of the Teva clan, Tati Salman. They adopted Adams and John Lafarge into their clan, which also had ethnic Jewish members. Adams recorded the memoirs and genealogy of Tati’s sister, the divorced former Tahitian Queen. Proceeding on toward Europe, Adams and LaFarge stopped in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, where under a descendant of Buddha’s Bo Tree, Adams meditated for a half hour. Skeptically he said he left “without attaining Buddhaship.” Like other Bostonians and their contemporary Unitarian counterparts, however, he felt the lure of the East. 

    Even with much traveling, Adams finished his South Sea Memoirs of Marau Taaroa, Last Queen of Tahiti (1893). It documented Imperialist damage to native people. He did not include this period in his Education of Henry Adams. The American Historical Association chose him president in absentia at their 1894 meeting, the same meeting where Frederick Jackson Turner read his famous paper on the frontier theory. 

    Following the financial catastrophe of 1893 Adams had to help straighten out family affairs. He entered into dark speculations with his brother Brooks Adams about the Dreyfus affair and other international plots. In a limited number of his very private letters he made the word “Jew” synonymous with bankers and captialists. He echoed British and American populist rhetoric. Earlier as a historian, however, he had thought Jews were slighted. The historians’s sister Louisa had married Charles Kuhn, a Jew, and they got on well together. During their marriage, the Adamses had Jewish friends. In his youth, Adams tried to use his connections to help an American Jewish family who were badly treated in their native Germany. He even imitated Disraeli’s political novels. Also in the 1890’s, he sympathized with secular Jews including Elsie de Wolfe, his “niece in wish.” He also became good friends with Bernard Berenson, the art critic. He characterized Edouard Drumont’s views as “anti-semitic ravings.” He finally said that he was undecided about the Dreyfus case. While deeply worried about the threat to France from the Dreyfus scandal, he genuinely desired justice. He also backed away from his conspiratorial theories after a good deal of research. He remained, however, anti-capitalist. His greatest fury was reserved for French anti-Semites and he was prepared to join the anarchists in their attack on them. During the same time, he feared tropical people would overwhelm the northern hemisphere, although he had written sympathetically about the Tahitians and championed the cause of Cuba. He did not discuss this period in his Education of Henry Adams. He was a complex human being. Privately, and in a limited way he had used very, injudicious language. 

    Adams visited Cuba in 1894. Sympathy for the Cuban people led him to support the Cuban revolution. Cuban exiles met at the historian’s home across from the White House and planned delivery of arms and supplies. In a paper he wrote for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he encouraged United States intervention. After President McKinley’s assassination, Theodore Roosevelt invited him to the White House. The new Secretary of State, his friend John Hay, conferred with Henry and filled the Adams' house with dignitaries. History remembers Hay, Lincoln's Secretary and Secretary of State (1898-1905) as the architect of the Open Door Policy and the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty authorizing a Central American canal. By the turn of the century, however, he was an anti-imperialist ready to free the Philippines. As the new century began he feared Russia and Germany. 

    Disgusted by the present, Henry retreated into medieval study. He loved the French cathedrals and their windows. In his Mont Saint Michele and Chartres: A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity Uncle Henry guides his imaginary nieces through three centuries of the middle ages. Adams chose the thirteenth century to measure his fin de siecle world. He gave privately printed copies of Mont Saint Michele and Chartres as New Year gifts in 1905. 

    The church and devotion to the Virgin unified the medieval period, but where was continuity in his own time and what was the direction of history? He considered these questions in his next works. The Education of Henry Adams (1918) was privately printed and sent to friends. He had not mentioned Clover at all. Adams lived from the oil lamp era, through the Civil War and into the era of electricity, x-rays, and radium. He contrasted his time with the medieval age in the chapter “The Dynamo and the Virgin” in The Education of Henry Adams. Electricity and the great dynamos that generated it at the World's Fairs captured his imagination. As he saw it, in the Middle Ages people had worshiped the Virgin and were devoted to her churches while twentieth century people worshiped the humming machines. Instead of uniting people, however, this twentieth century worship divided them. He developed an historical theory of devolution in the final chapters of his biography. He longed for the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” to guarantee the course of morals and good government. 

    Henry Adams literary work continued through his final years. When his friend Secretary of State Hay died, Adams edited his letters and published them in 1908. In July, Adams had a stroke in Paris; that November he drew up his will instructing that he should be buried in an unmarked grave near Clover. Dissatisfied with the “Dynamic Theory of History” in his The Education of Henry Adams, he sent two papers, “Rule of Phase Applied to History” in 1909, and “Letter to American Teachers of History” in 1910 to his colleagues. Unlike the Darwinists whom he read after the Civil War, Adams proposed a law of social decay. In spite of the elaborate mathematics in these papers, however, his arguments were mostly supported by analogies. He complained to Brooks about his critics saying, “The fools begin at once to discuss whether the theory was true.” Following the death of his young friend, poet George Cabot Lodge, he published a short biography of the poet in 1911. In spite of his dark mood Adams continued to read and supported archeological excavations and the search for prehistoric humans in the French Dordogne caves. 

    In 1912 the Titanic sank. Adams, who had booked tickets for its first return voyage from New York to England was shaken. Shortly after returning home to Washington, D. C., he had a stroke but in spite of his gloom and frustration with William Howard Taft’s administration, he recovered. The next year Adams finally published a commercial edition of Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres (1913). 

    Just before the Great War, Henry was in France with his nieces looking for medieval songs. When war came, he gathered them and managed the last trains and boats out of France. Returning to the United States, he even made a last return to Beverly Farms to his 1876 house abandoned after Clover’s death. He reflected, “Behind all the killing comes the great question of what our civilization is to do next.” 

    Toward the end of his life he said that “Unitarian mystic” best described his religious views. He returned home to Washington, D.C. Where he died on March 27, 1918. He was buried with Clover in a grave unmarked except by the famous statue he had commissioned. In 1919, he received the Pulitzer Prize posthumously for The Education of Henry Adams. The same year his brother Brooks Adams saw Henry’s last papers through the press as Degradation of the Democratic Dogma

    The principal archival repository for the Adams family is the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts. Some letters of Henry Adams are in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Material relating to the family and Harvard can be found at the Harvard University Archives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to the books by Henry Brooks Adams mentioned in the text, a number of collections of letters are available including: Henry Adams and His Friends: A Collection of His Unpublished Letters, ed. Harold Dean Cater, (1970); Letters of Henry Adams 1858-1891, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, (1930); and Letters of Henry Adams 1892-1918, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford (1938). A collection of shorter pieces are in Edward Chalfant, Sketches for the “North American Review,” (1986). A bibliography of Henry Brooks Adams works can be found in Charles Vandersee, “Henry Adams: Archives and Microfilm,” Resources for American Literary Studies (1979). 

    His autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918) is to some extent fictional, a better history than biography. Edward Chalfant and Ernest Samuels, two leading Henry Adams scholars, have written a number of books on Adams. For extended biographical coverage consult the three volume biography by Edward Chalfant, Both Sides of the Ocean A Biography of Henry Adams: His First Life 1838-1862, (1982); Biography of Henry Adams: His Second Life 1862-1891, (1994); andImprovement of the World: His Last Life, 1891-1918 (2001). Another three volume biography is Ernest Samuels, Henry Adams: The Young Henry Adams, (1967); Henry Adams: The Middle Years, (1958); and The Major Phase, (1964). For coverage of his Washington, D.C. Years see Patricia O'Toole, The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, 1880-1918 (1990). 

    For more on Marian Hooper Adams see Natalie Dykstra, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (2012); Eugenia Kaledin, The Education of Mrs. Henry Adams, (1981); and Ernest Samuels, “Marian Hooper Adams” in Notable American Women 1607-1950, ed. Edward T. James, (1971). Letters by Marion Hooper Adams can be found in, The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams, ed. Ward Thoron (1936). A critical appraisal of Henry Brooks Adams as a writer and historian is found in Gary Wills, Henry Adams and the Making of America (2005). A history that explores the relationships among the extended Adams family is Francis Russell, Adams, an American Dynasty (1976). 

    Article by Wesley V. Hromatko, D.Min. - posted March 28, 2012


    All material copyright Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society (UUHHS) 1999-2016 


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  • Peter Charadon Brooks Adams   


    Peter Charadon Brooks Adams

    Peter Charadon Brooks Adams (June 24, 1848-February 14,1927) was a lawyer, historian, and writer, who served as an informal adviser to President Theodore Roosevelt. Although reared Unitarian, he was agnostic for many years. Late in life he returned to the Unitarian fold at the family church in Quincy, Massachusetts. Named for his grandfather Peter Charadon Brooks, he was called Brooks at his grandfather's suggestion. 

    He was the youngest son of Abigail Brooks Adams and Charles Francis Adams, Sr. His mother was the youngest daughter of wealthy Unitarian Peter Charadon Brooks and Anna Gorham Brooks.President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was his grandfather and President John Adams (1735-1826) a great grandfather. His father, a diplomat, legislator, and writer was nominated for Vice President on the Free Soil ticket the year Brooks was born. 

    Brooks Adams - National Park ServiceBrooks Adams was baptized by Nathaniel Frothingham, the Unitarian minister at First Church of Boston, Massachusetts. His mother and father, conscientious parents, took him to the new Sunday school at First Church where his father sometimes taught. Later his father was the Sunday school superintendent at their summer church in Quincy, Massachusetts. His parents worried about Brooks during his childhood; he seemed too active, was often inattentive, and sometimes made scenes in public. He collected stamps with a single-minded zeal that often interrupted family life, and he had reading and spelling problems that made his mother despair. In spite of these difficulties, his parents took young Brooks to places like the Smithsonian. He attended Columbia College in New York City, as did his sister Mary. 

    When his father went to England to represent the United States during the Civil War, Brooks went along, attending Wellesley House, a British public school. Although Brooks won prizes at Wellesley House in most subjects and acquired an English accent, he wasn't ready for Harvard which required Greek and Latin. Returning home in 1865, he was tutored by Professor Ephraim Whitman Gurney. By the fall of 1866, he passed the Harvard entrance examination and enrolled. The curriculum had changed little in the ten years since his brother Henry Adams had attended. Brooks did not enjoy his studies, except for Ephraim Gurney’s course on Rome, nor did he apply himself. In time though, he matured overcoming most of his childhood problems. His brothers John and Charles disliked him while Henry treated him well. Brooks did nothing to improve his relationship with Charles when he charged a wine bill to his older brother. At Harvard, Brooks went out for rowing, and was the first Adams to get an invitation to join the prestigious Porcellian club. Following a trip west after graduation, Brooks decided to study law at Harvard Law School. He roomed with his brother Henry in Wadsworth House. 

    His father, Charles Francis Adams, Sr. returned to the diplomatic service in 1871 to negotiate Civil War damage claims against Great Britain over the building of the Confederate warship Alabama. President Grant opposed the appointment, but Secretary of State Hamilton Fish wanted Adams. When his father went to Geneva, Switzerland to take his place on the arbitration commission, Brooks, interrupting law school, went with him. His mother Abigail could not go. In 1870, his sister Louisa Catherine Adams, also in Europe, died in an Italian carriage accident. His father returned home when his mother became ill, but Brooks remained in Paris, not coming back to the United States until 1872. Once home, he studied law on his own, passed the bar, and opened a practice. In his free time he pursued his interest in reform including corresponding with journalist and poet William Cullen Bryant and other movement leaders. He wrote articles for the North American Review—which his brother Henry Adams edited—and The Atlantic Monthly. He ran for the General Court in 1877 but lost by two votes. In 1880 he had a breakdown that may have been caused by overwork. After recuperating in Florida he visited Henry who was living in Washington, D.C. In better health, Brooks returned to Quincy to care for his aging parents. 

    After his recovery he gave up law and turned to history. His ambition was to write a philosophy of history. His Emancipation of Massachusetts (1886), written during this period, told the story of the commonwealth, as a struggle against clerical domination. He told Henry Cabot Lodge; “It is not really a history of Massachusetts but a metaphysical and philosophical inquiry as to the actions of the human mind in the progress of civilization….” He strongly criticized the Cambridge Platform believing it furthered the aims of the Standing Order and limited religious liberty. This critique of the clergy and ancestor-venerating histories created much controversy. Influential, it would eventually change the historical interpretation of that period. His father died during the writing, but Brooks continued to live at the Old House and care for his mother. Following publication, William James and Thomas Wentworth Higginson corresponded with him about the book. 

    The Old House - Library of Congress-HABSAfter their father’s death, his brother Henry alternated between staying in the Old House in Quincy with Brooks and living in Washington, D.C. with a niece for company. In 1888, as Henry Adams was finishing the ninth and final volume of his History of the United States, Henry decided to leave the Old House in Quincy because Brooks was growing too quarrelsome. Brooks said frankly; “I am a crank; few human beings can endure to have me near them ….” After their mother’s 1889 death, Brooks decided it was time to get married. Henry Cabot Lodge’s wife suggested her sister Evelyn Davis. During their first carriage ride, Adams proposed, calling himself “eccentric almost to the point of madness” and warning her that she would marry him “at her own risk.” Nevertheless, the Admiral’s daughter accepted the challenge. Brooks and Evelyn were married at the Nahant Union Church with Episcopal Bishop Frederick Dan Huntington and Reverend W.A. Munsell presiding. 

    In 1893 the Adams brothers met in Quincy to deal with the financial panic that threatened the family trust. Brooks now became manager. In the hot August of that year, at the Old House in Quincy, Brooks discussed his manuscript for The Law of Civilization and Decay (1896) with Henry. Its arguments foreshadowed those of Spengler and Toynbee and influenced Henry's thinking. In a later edition, it predicted that inexpensive labor from the Orient would some day compete with American labor. The United States, according to Brooks, was in a Darwinian struggle for survival. The book attracted the attention of then New York police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, who would remember Brooks ideas when he became President. 

    During the 1890’s, Brooks echoed the Populist anti-Semitic rhetoric prevalent at the time. An Anti-Dreyfusard, he engaged his brother Henry in protracted discussions. Brooks hated hereditary bankers including Armenians and Indian Marwari. However, he did not believe in racial purity, since he thought civilized societies should intermarry with aborigines. 

    In America’s Economic Supremacy (1900), Brooks predicted that in fifty years the United States and Russia would be the major powers. In the book, he also forecast the Russo-Japanese War and the Russian Revolution. Brooks had faith in trusts and empire. While Brooks' brother Henry disagreed with the arguments and conclusions in America’s Economic Supremacy, he did agree that the reviews were too harsh. Unlike Brooks, brother Henry opposed imperialism, leaned toward socialism, and was against the Boer War. 

    Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt also disagreed with much of what Brooks had written. He once accused Brooks of being “touched in the head.” Nevertheless, Brooks became Roosevelt's unofficial “Square Deal” adviser. Brooks, whose brother Charles Francis Adams, Jr. had been president of the Union Pacific Rail Road, was deeply involved with the Roosevelt administration's interpretation of railroad law. Roosevelt met regularly with Brooks, who helped him shape the government's Panama Canal and Manchurian policy, and to define the U.S. role in the Russo-Japanese peace agreement. Brooks abrasive personality relegated him to the role of an éminence grise, a behind the scenes political adviser. Theodore Roosevelt wanted to appoint him to a more visible position, but reluctantly concluded that he was “an unusable man.” Brooks believed “Teddy” was the best alternative for the country, while brother Henry—an anti-Imperialist and anti-militarist—thought “Teddy” almost insane at times. 

    Brooks taught at Boston University, 1904-1911 as a lecturer of Constitutional Law. He explored the legal underpinnings of his economic theories on trusts and railroads. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was a close friend and intellectual influence whom Brooks was happy to see elevated to the Supreme Court. 

    Brooks voted Progressive in 1912, for his friend “Teddy” Roosevelt, even though it led to woman’s suffrage, which he opposed, the income tax, and inheritance taxes. Brooks had novel views about government; for example, he thought workers were entitled to stock or land, but that corporate boards should determine wages. His administrative ideas resembled those later held by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). A number of his shorter articles eventually were collected to form the 1913 book, Theory of Social Revolutions. He claimed that labor and capital were both monopolies. Like FDR, he was conservative, in the sense that he hoped reform could preserve the financial system. Another theme of the book was legal equality. He also forecast FDR’s Supreme Court battle. Brooks' desire to write a platform for the defeated Theodore Roosevelt was, unfortunately, blemished by his gratuitous anti-Catholicism and authoritarian tendencies. Reviewing his brother’s book, Henry did his best to emphasize its strengths. 

    When the Great War broke out, Brooks was in Europe at Bad Kissingen, Bavaria, taking the water cure. He thought the war could go on for thirty years. Naturally, the Quincy parish turned to an Adams for leadership in crisis. However, Brooks was unchurched. When he returned to Quincy in the fall, his minister at First Parish asked him to join the church and declare his faith before the congregation. He did so with great hesitation, having been agnostic for so long. Standing at his inherited pew, he made ethics his religious standard. Like Theodore Roosevelt and General Leonard Wood, he endorsed America's early preparation for war. 

    In 1917, Brooks and his nephew Charles were delegates to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. Curiously, the patrician Brooks argued for state socialism similar to Germany’s. He usually stood alone in his views, the other delegates often misunderstood him. Commenting on the convention, Henry wrote, “My solemn brother Brooks… is sitting with some five hundred other men in the State House trying to frame a new fabric for the Society of the next Century which shall satisfy some one [sic] although thus far he had got only to the point of dissatisfying every one [sic] more than ever.” 

    In his sixties, Brooks often claimed he was dying. A life-long curmudgeon, friends and relatives tended to ignore him. He lived for another decade, and continued to go his own way. After World War I, he opposed Wilson's peace negotiations, he was discontented with most politicians; and he especially disliked Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister (1916-22) of the United Kingdom. Morbidly thinking himself the last Adams, Brooks restored the Old House in Quincy and prepared it as a museum. In the 1920s, he retreated to Catholic monasteries, but he never converted. He grew ever more temperamental as his health failed. His wife was admitted to a sanitarium where she died in 1927. His death followed shortly thereafter. The Reverend Fred Alban, conducted the funeral at First Parish, Quincy—his great grandfather’s church—where Brooks had spoken at the 275th Anniversary celebration. Flags in Quincy flew at half-mast. 

    Brooks Adams' grave is in Mt. Wollaston Cemetery, in Quincy, Massachusetts, near where he swam as a boy. Brooks was not as fierce as he sounded, and in the end provided generously for his caretakers and animals. 

    The principal archival repository for the Adams family is the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts. The papers of Brooks Adams are also available in the microfilm edition of the Henry Adams letters. Additional material can be found in the Harvard University Archives, Boston University Archives, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, and at the Old House, Quincy, Massachusetts. The best biographies of Brooks Adams are in journal form; Wilhelmina S. Harris, “The Brooks Adams I Knew” Yale Review, (1969) and Marc Friedlander, “Brooks Adams en Famille,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, (1968). Older biographies in book form that are useful include; Anderson Thornton, Brooks Adams: Constructive Conservative (1951); Arthur F. Beringause, Brooks Adams: A Biography (1955); and Timothy P. Donovan, Henry and Brooks Adams: The Education of Two American Historians (1961). For Brooks relationship with other family members see Francis Russell, Adams, an American Dynasty (1976). 

    Article by Wesley Hromatko - posted August 18, 2012

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    Francis Ellingwood Abbot 

    Francis Ellingwood Abbot 


    Francis Ellingwood Abbot (November 6, 1836-October 23, 1903), a founder of the Free Religious Association and first editor of the radical journal, the Index, developed an evolutionary philosophy of science. He yearned to free humankind from pre-scientific religions, believing that people could escape the trap of agnosticism by adopting his vision of free religion.

    Francis, the third of six children of Unitarians Fanny Ellingwood Larcom and schoolmaster Joseph Hale Abbot, was born in Boston and educated in the classics at Boston Latin School. He graduated from the Harvard ranked number one in the class of 1859 and then married Katharine Fearing Loring. After studying for a year at the Harvard Divinity School, he completed his theological studies at Meadville Theological School, 1860-63. Here he experienced an intellectual revolution caused, in part, by his encounter with Darwin's theory of evolution. His theology began to evolve toward a new liberalism, based upon the scientific method.

    In 1864 Abbot was ordained as minister of the Unitarian Church in Dover, New Hampshire. Within a year he began preaching on "Free Thinking," by which he meant that liberal Christians, employing complete intellectual freedom, should not be required to base their religion on the authority of Christ.

    Two articles in the North American Review in 1864, "The Philosophy of Space and Time" and "The Conditioned and the Unconditioned," and another in The Christian Examiner in 1865, "Theism and Christianity," established Abbot as the first American philosopher to endorse Darwin's theory of evolution. To him, natural law and evolutionary adaptation were the foundations of "the unity of the universe, the mutual harmony of all facts and truths."

    Abbot believed that philosophy and theology would each have to adapt to science. He thought that the community of nature, embracing both God and humans, could most fruitfully be explored using the scientific method. However, this required considering the purview of science as including the spiritual as well as the physical side of reality. For he believed that the human beings have a worshiping nature. He hoped that an extended definition of science, incorporating religion and theology, would eliminate what had become the traditional conflict between science and religion.

    Although Abbot did not attend the organizational meeting of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches of 1865, he was distressed by the Constitutional preamble which committed Unitarians to be "disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ" because he felt it denied free inquiry. The following year he, with William. James Potter and others, attempted to have the preamble removed. Their failure led Abbot to resign from the Unitarian ministry and, in 1867, to join with Potter in organizing and writing the constitution for the Free Religious Association (FRA). The purpose of this new organization was "to promote the interest of pure religion, to encourage the scientific study of theology, and to increase fellowship in the spirit, (while leaving) each individual responsible for his own opinions alone and affect in no degree his relations to other Associations."

    Abbot resigned his Dover Unitarian pulpit in 1868. Although retained for a while by a radical faction which split off from the church and was organized as an "Independent" society, by a ruling of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, he and his supporters, as non-Christians, were forbidden to use the church building.

    In 1869 Abbot became the minister of the Unitarian Society of Toledo, Ohio. He made it a condition of his employment that the Society withdraw from the National Conference and change its name from Unitarian to Independent. As his sermons were really philosophical essays and his pastoral style was negligent, the congregation dwindled in size and, in 1872, stopped paying his salary. This settlement confirmed his unsuitability as a parish minister. While in Toledo, in 1870, he founded the Index, a weekly magazine with a radical religious and social philosophy. From its inception the Index functioned as the voice of the FRA.

    After attending an 1872 convention advocating the Christianization of the United States Constitution, he became more than ever convinced that America was in bondage to Christianity, a religious philosophy which he believed could not provide a satisfactory foundation for the scientific world. In 1873 Abbot moved the Index to Boston, where he used it to call for the organization of Liberals Leagues all across America. These Leagues met in Philadelphia in 1876 and formed the National Liberal League. Abbot was elected its permanent president. In 1877, with more than fifteen hundred in attendance, the Congress of the League nominated Robert Ingersoll for President of the United States and Abbot for Vice President. He withdrew from the League the following year in protest over its congress's vote to campaign to repeal the Comstock laws.

    Abbot's social philosophy shared in the nineteenth century ideal of the unity and fellowship of all humankind. His faith in the possibility of this fellowship was based on his faith in the unity of the Universe. He believed that an eternal harmony exists in nature. The challenge was to reorganize civilization so this harmony—based on the principles of freedom, truth, and equal rights for all people—would be reflected in society and in individuals. Accordingly, the welfare of society is secured by the welfare of each of its members. He thought it the duty of each person to make society more moral, just as it is the duty of society to develop each individual through adequate moral education. If this reciprocal duty is not fulfilled, he believed, natural law is violated and, consequently, the social organism is penalized. For a person's organic moral nature requires him or her to seek a balance between life for self and life for others. Thus, in order to enhance the development of individuals, Abbot felt that it was necessary to reorganize society on the basis of love, righteousness, and truth. Free Religion aimed to work for such a reorganized society by deepening "human effort to realize this ideal, both in the individual and in society, through the attainment of larger truth than the world has yet known, grander virtue than men have ever practiced, wiser and purer and freer social conditions than have ever yet existed."

    Abbot argued that most of the evils that afflict society are preventable and unnecessary. He blamed Christianity for its postponement of "the very hope of universal reform to another world." He felt that Free Religion, having rejected superstition, dogmatism, and ecclesiasticism, offered a better method for social reform because its adherents realized that intelligent human effort, cooperating with nature and evolution and having faith in people, could bring about necessary reform in this world. Considering the power of the universal laws of nature and frailty of human efforts, he was nevertheless not optimistic about the future.

    Abbot considered universal education the primary way to permanently elevate the condition of humanity. He claimed that for education to function as an effective method of reform, Free Religion must attack Christianity. For "notwithstanding its partial good influence in some respects, [Christianity remains] the most formidable and stubborn obstacle of social reform." He rejected individualism and the authority of private judgment in thought and action and contended that the scientific method should serve as the supreme authority in moral issues. Our judgments, he thought, ought to be guided by the authority of universal reason or the "Consensus of the Competent." The competent would be those who proved themselves to be such, to the satisfaction of humankind, by their combined intelligence and virtue. This consensus represents an evolving enlightened public opinion. In addition, the all-conquering scientific method would continue to provide direction to the Consensus of the Competent, helping in the growth of their understanding.

    Abbot contended that some moral progress was perceptible, as shown, for example, in the United States Constitution's establishment of equal rights and the separation of Church and State. He explained: "It is not science alone that advances; it is not merely human intellect, but Man himself, that improves—Man with his feet in the mire and his head in the skies—Man, armed with a strength of brain that tames the wild forces of material Nature, and crowned with a conscience that makes him one with the Open Secret of the Universe." He considered the moral advance of humankind to be incomplete, however. There remained, he believed, a profound need in the Republic for more education in order to increase virtue. He thought it not enough for a person to improve his or her social and political surroundings. Each person, encouraged and aided by the educational process, might benefit by an increasing self-understanding as a self-governing being consecrated to higher and nobler aims useful to humanity. In his opinion Free Religion provided the social philosophy which best supported the continued moral progress of humanity.

    In 1880 Abbot retired as editor of The Index (Potter replaced him) to study philosophy at Harvard University. It was his ambition to write a thesis would give philosophy a new direction for the next one hundred years. He was succesful, at least, in academe. Shortly before he graduated in 1881, William James came to his house to tell him he had taken the "degree by storm." Having a Ph.D. did not, however, open up any splendid teaching opportunities. As a consequence, he and his family continued to struggle economically. He taught at a boy's school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1881-92.

    In 1885 Abbot wrote Scientific Theism. The book, which was also translated into German, was reviewed widely and considered a significant contribution to American philosophy. Charles Peirce, in the Nation, called it a "scholarly piece of work, doing honor to American thought."

    In Scientific Theism, Abbot described what he called Relationalism, or Scientific Realism, a philosophy that he believed to be novel. He based Relationism on the following principles: 1. Relations are absolutely inseparable from their terms. 2. The relations of things are absolutely inseparable from the things themselves. 3. The relations of things must exist where the things themselves are, whether objectively in the cosmos or subjectively in the mind. 4. If things exist objectively, their relations must exist objectively; if their relations are merely subjective, the things themselves must be merely subjective. 5. There is no logical alternative between affirming the objectivity of relations in and with that of things, and denying the objectivity of things in and with that of relations.

    Abbot spelled out the implications for religion of scientific realism. He portrayed nature as being born "in the eternally creative unity of Being and Thought." This meant that the universe, and all being, can be made intelligible by the tools provided by the scientific method. Consequently, he thought that whatever was currently unknown is knowable per se. He explained: "It is the great merit of new Scientific Realism to treat things and relations as two totally distinct orders of objective reality, indissolubly united and mutually dependent, yet for all that utterly unlike in themselves."

    Abbot's Scientific Theism required teleology, a study of the end towards which all things tend: "Teleology is the very essence of purely spiritual personality; it presupposes thought, feeling, and will; it is the decisive battleground between the personal and impersonal conceptions of the universe." He thought that it is through understanding purpose in nature that human beings are able to recognize the purely spiritual personality that is God. The universe can be described, according to Abbot, as nature's process of self-evolution in time and space, or as the creative life of God.

    In 1890 Abbot's The Way Out of Agnosticism, Or the Philosophy of Free Religion was published. By this time had also finished the outline of a projected two-volume work, The Syllogistic Philosophy, Or Prolegomena to Science. In 1893 his wife Katie and his friend William Potter died. Although the National Unitarian Conference adopted a new constitution, relegating the 1865 preamble to the status of a historical statement, his grief over these deaths and the rejection he still felt strongly made it impossible for him to return to Unitarianism. In 1903, upon completing The Syllogistic Philosophy, Abbot took a large dose of sleeping pills and died upon his wife's grave.

    The Francis Ellingwood Abbot Papers, including, diaries, lecture notes, correspondence, writings, photographs, and family papers are in the Harvard Archives and in the archives at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to his books Abbot wrote a great many articles in the Index and a few in other publications, including the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Free Religious Association and the Christian Examiner. His essays are gathered in W. Creighton Peden and Everett J. Tarbox, The Collected Essays of Francis Ellingwood Abbot, 4 volumes (1996). This also contains a bibliography of his articles. W. Creighton Peden, The Philosopher of Free Religion (1992) is a biography and a study of Abbot's thought. See also William J. Potter, The Free Religious Association: Its Twenty Five Years And Their Meaning (1892). 

    Article by Creighton Peden - posted May 14, 2009

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  • Matthew Caffyn (english)   Matthew Caffyn

    Matthew CaffynMatthew Caffyn (bap. October 26, 1628, bur. June 1714), an important early British General Baptist preacher and evangelist, was an influential antitrinitarian.

    Matthew was the seventh son of Thomas and Elizabeth Caffyn. According to family tradition, Elizabeth was a direct descendant of a martyr of the Marian persecution, possibly John Forman, who was burnt at East Grinstead in 1556. Thomas Caffyn was employed by the Onslow family, who owned Drungewick Manor, near the border of Sussex and Surrey. When Matthew was about 7, the head of the Onslow family adopted him as a companion for his own son Richard. The two boys were educated at a grammar school in Kent and, then, in 1643, sent to All Soul's College, Oxford to study for the Church of England ministry.

    A conscientious and able student of ancient languages, scriptures, and theology, Caffyn came to question both infant baptism and the Trinity and debated these doctrines with his professors. But this series of discourses failed to resolve matters to either party's satisfaction. Unable to convince Caffyn as to the validity of traditional belief, the university authorities tried unsuccessfully to induce him suppress his own views. He responded to their challenges 'patiently, clearly and fearlessly'. When, as became inevitable, he was expelled from Oxford, he left 'with an easy conscience'.

    In 1645 Caffyn, now 17, returned to Horsham, his future uncertain. Nevertheless his relationship with his patron remained firm, and it was perhaps thanks to Onslow that he was installed at Pond Farm in Southwater. He lived and worked the land there and at another local farm, in Broadbridge Heath, during the remainder of his life.

    Soon after he returned to Horsham, Caffyn was appointed assistant to the local General Baptist minister, Samuel Lover. During this period their religious meetings were held in private houses. Caffyn's campaigning vigour brought about a significant increase in local adherents, and, perhaps as early as 1648, he took over the ministry from Lover. By the age of 25 he had become a denominational leader, and had been appointed a 'messenger'. He was one of the few General Baptist leaders who had received any university training.

    At the same time he was active as a preacher and propagandist in the towns and villages round about. He engaged in vigorous debate and dispute with the Quakers, for whom Horsham had become an important centre (William Penn had a house nearby at Warminghurst), and there is a famous account of an encounter in 1655 when Thomas Lawson and John Slee, two Friends from the north, disputed doctrine with him. The result of their debates was a pamphlet by Lawson entitled An Untaught Teacher witnessed against (1655) and Caffyn's Deceived and Deceiving Quakers Discovered, their Damnable Heresies, Horrid Blasphemies, Mockings, Railings (1656). Caffyn also opposed George Fox, when he held a meeting in the area.

    Caffyn's increasing influence, through persuasive oratory and skill as a polemicist, was felt throughout Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Hampshire and further afield. There was, for example, a public debate between Caffyn and the Anglican minister at Waldron parish church, as a result of which two local men were converted, one of whom became pastor to the Baptist congregation at Warbleton. The vicar of Henfield challenged Caffyn to a public debate in Latin, in the presence of other ministers, hoping to show him up, but Caffyn's university education stood him in good stead and he won the day. His supporters thereafter called him 'their battle axe and weapon of warre'.

    Caffyn fell out with Richard Haines, a member of his congregation who been close to him for a long time. Haines, a successful farmer, social reformer, inventor and author, promoted schemes for prevention of poverty and setting up 'working alms houses', invented a new way of cleaning clover seed from the husk, and applied for a patent for making 'cider-royal'. These ventures brought Haines into contact with men of influence, such as the Earl of Shaftesbury, and elicited disapproval from Caffyn, who held that patents were covetous and was uncomfortable with Haines's entry into a social milieu which he considered too far removed from the 'truly pious'. In 1672 Caffyn excommunicated Haines on the grounds that his greed was a cause of scandal and reflected badly on the church. The following year Haines appealed formally to the General Assembly. The matter was finally resolved in 1680, when the Assembly reversed the excommunication and ordered Caffyn to rescind it.

    In 1691 Joseph Wright denounced Caffyn to the General Assembly for stating, in a private conversation, objections to parts of the Athanasian creed. This, Wright claimed, amounted to denying both the divinity and the humanity of Christ. Accordingly, he moved for Caffyn's excommunication. But Caffyn's defence satisfied the Assembly, as it did when the matter was raised again in 1693, and later in 1698, 1700, and 1702. He took the Socinian view, which denied Christ's deity. When the Assembly refused to vote for Caffyn's expulsion, a rival Baptist General Association was formed. For many years Caffyn's Unitarian 'heresy' was a continual source of debate. During his own lifetime his adherents were known as 'Caffynites'. A pamphlet by Christopher Cooper of Ashford quoted one of his opponents who called his views 'a fardel of Mahometanism, Arianism, Socinianism and Quakerism'.

    During the period of the Restoration (1660-1688) the British Parliament passed several Conventicle Acts, attempting to suppress non-conformist worship. The first act, in 1664, made it illegal for more than 5 persons over the age of 16 to assemble together for worship, except according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer. A more severe act was passed in 1670, whereby a justice of the peace could convict without evidence if he believed a conventicle had been held. This suppression of Baptists and other dissenters continued until the 1689 Toleration Act, an important step towards freedom of worship. During the time the Conventicle Acts were in force, Caffyn was fined and had his livestock seized. He was imprisoned five times, once for about a year in Newgate, 'where he lay some time in a loathsome dungeon, and hardly escaped with his life', until the Onslow family obtained his release. He also spent time in Maidstone and Horsham gaols.

    In 1653 Caffyn married Elizabeth Jeffrey, from another General Baptist family, whom he met while preaching in Kent. They had 8 children: Joseph, Daniel, Sarah, Benjamin, Thomas, Stephen, Jacob and Matthew. Caffyn was a frugal man, and managed to support his growing family with little help from his church. During his last imprisonment he was supported by the industry of his wife, who remained productive at her spinning wheel. She died in 1693. Matthew the younger was ordained a General Baptist elder by his father in 1710, and, together with Thomas Southon, took over the Horsham ministry. It is said that Matthew the elder was buried under an old yew tree in Itchingfield churchyard, but any stone that may have marked his grave is now gone. His only remaining memorial is a window dedicated to him in the Unitarian church in Worthing Road, Horsham.

    Among Caffyn's other publications are Faith in God's Promises the Saint's Best Weapon (1661), Envy's Bitterness Corrected (1674), A Raging Wave Foaming Out its Own Shame (1675), The Great Error and Mistake of the Quakers (n.d.), and The Baptist's Lamentation (n.d.). Sources of information on Caffyn, his contemporaries, and his church include Mark Anthony Lower, The Worthies of Sussex (1865); Florence Gregg, Matthew Caffin, a Pioneer of Truth (1890); Charles Haines, Complete Memoir of Richard Haines, 1633-1685 (1899); Emily Kensett, History of The Free Christian Church, Horsham (1921); John Caffyn, Sussex Believers (1988); Victoria County History of Sussex, Vol VI, Pt II; and Dictionary of National Biography (2000). 

    Article by Brian Slyfield - posted July 26, 2009

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    John Boyden 
    John Boyden 


    John Boyden (May 14, 1809-September 28, 1869), a Universalist minister, politician, and social reformer, was a disciple oHosea Ballou and the longtime pastor of the First Universalist Church of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He worked prominently there for public education, temperance, abolition, and new forms of medical treatment.

    Born in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, John was the seventh of ten children born to farmers John and Elizabeth Boyden. He attended schools in Sturbridge and in nearby Brookfield and Dudley, Massachusetts. After finishing his education he taught in local schools while continuing to help his parents with their farm. At 14 he heard Hosea Ballou preach in Brookfield. A few years later, after another visit by Ballou to his area, he was converted to Universalism. In 1829 he quit teaching and was, for a year, a student for the ministry, living at Boston in the Ballou household. When Ballou sent him to preach his first sermon, he told him, "Be in earnest. Don't speak one word without making the people understand and feel that you believe it with all your heart."

    Boyden's first settlements were at Berlin, Connecticut, 1832-36, and Dudley, Massachusetts, 1836-40. While in Connecticut he visited P. T. Barnum, in jail for libel. In Dudley he worked part-time for the Universalist church in Southbridge, Massachusetts, 1838-39, and served as a representative to the state legislature. He was called to be the first minister to Universalists in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in 1840. The Universalists there, who had been organized since 1834, had just erected their first church building. He served this church and the Woonsocket community until his death nearly thirty years later.

    In a published sermon, The Dangerous Tendency of Partialism, 1843, Boyden likened anxiety over salvation, revivalism, and other "religious excitements" to alcoholism. Both practices, he reasoned, were dangerous to the health, and the consequent states of intoxicated illness were among the hells human beings create for themselves on earth. "Some persons are born again," he preached in 1847, "but only born to a few good things. They must grow-learn to do well-it is a track." The central idea of his life was "improvement": reform in every aspect of social and individual life.

    As chair of the local Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, Boyden campaigned for years against liquor licensing. In 1845 he was successful in getting local government to cease granting liquor licenses. Five years later he proposed a vigilance committee to help with the enforcement of these laws. After the failure of enforcement, in 1852 he backed the passage of prohibition modeled on the legislation adopted in Maine the year before. In order to keep this "Maine Law" in effect, in 1853 Boyden participated in a convention which organized a short-lived temperance party. As other issues came to the forefront during the 1850s, he found himself increasingly isolated within his community in his hard-line stance against the consumption of alcohol.

    Boyden was much more successful in the organization and promotion of public school education in Woonsocket. He served on the local school committee, 1841-51, again later in the 1850s, and 1860-64; functioned as chief local publicist for Henry Barnard's program of statewide educational reform; backed the unification and standardization of local school districts, 1849; and helped organize the Cumberland and Smithfield Institute of Education, 1845, which provided teacher training. He is remembered in a local history written shortly after his death as a leading light "among those who have labored earnestly and wisely for the advancement of popular education in Woonsocket."

    A local abolitionist leader, Boyden was a candidate for the United States House of Representatives on the Liberty Party ticket in 1847. He ran again, as a member of the Free Soil Party, in 1849. In the mid-1850s he was recruited by the Know-Nothing Party which in Rhode Island based much of its appeal on temperance and abolition. Although this may have been a case of "politics makes strange bedfellows," there were points of contact between the nativism of the Know-Nothings and Boyden's reform concerns. The influx of immigration that sparked nativist xenophobia was largely Roman Catholic, and Boyden was alarmed that Catholics often preferred not to send their children to public schools and that the drinking customs of these immigrants frustrated the temperance program. "Our country has many nationalities," Boyden said in an 1865 lecture, "Diversity in Unity," "but they ought to blend as rivers in a sea. The foreigner should be an American, with all the force of his nature. He should educate his children in our schools, preparing them to act the part of freemen. No man, foreign or native-born, should be allowed to cast a ballot who cannot read."

    In 1854 Boyden, calling himself an independent, defeated a prominent local Democratic politician in a by-election for a seat in the Rhode Island General Assembly. The surprising result of this isolated contest was the first evidence of a new political phenomenon in the state. The following year the Know-Nothings won a landslide victory in the state election. Boyden was elected a state senator on the Know-Nothing/Free Soil ticket. As a senator he voted for a number of reforms, including constitutional amendments to provide a poll tax for public education and a 21 year residency requirement for citizenship. These amendments were later defeated by referendum. After the Know-Nothings (by that time called the American Party) fragmented over abolition, with the northern delegates walking out of their 1856 national convention, Boyden no longer ran for public office and became a supporter of the newly-founded Republican Party.

    While making his pastoral rounds Boyden practiced homeopathic healing. He dispensed "little pills," nursed sick parishioners, and consulted with the local homeopathic physician. For these activities he was accused of being a "quack" by a local physician. Boyden, on the other hand, believed that the traditional forms of medicine used by the regular physician-blood-letting and dosing with mercury compounds-needed to be replaced by something new and improved. "What is the origin of 'quackery among the clergy' and others, if it is not quackery among physicians?" he asked the indignant doctor. "Your failures have driven the people to try experiments."

    Boyden supported voting and property rights for women, shorter hours for mill workers, aid for the starving in Ireland, public libraries, prison reform, and kind treatment of animals. He strenuously opposed capital punishment. He admired his crusading neighbor to the north, Adin Ballou, leader of the utopian community at Hopedale, Massachusetts. The two exchanged ministerial services and Boyden often attended Ballou's lectures and Hopedale community events. Having attended the new meeting house dedication in Hopedale in 1860, Boyden praised the community for "striving to realize the angelic announcement of peace on earth and goodwill to men."

    During his entire pastorate in Woonsocket Boyden was the chief officer of the Rhode Island Universalist State Convention-standing clerk, 1840-61, and, after the convention was reorganized, president, 1861-69. He gave the annual sermon at the United States Universalist General Convention held at Baltimore in 1844. Besides a number of tracts, Boyden published a Sunday School hymnal,The Eastern Harp, 1848. He and his congregation introduced public Christmas celebrations in Woonsocket in the 1850s.

    Boyden married Sarah Church Jacobs in 1831. They had one son, John Richmond Boyden, who died in young adulthood. Struggling with chronic poor health, Boyden took a leave of absence for several months in 1857. Traveling in New Hampshire the Boydens visited a Shaker community and were impressed by "a serenity of countenance that indicates the peace of God in the soul." They did not sleep in the community, however, as there were separate accomodations for women and men: "not being prepared even for a temporary divorce, [we] sought and obtained very comfortable quarters with a private family nearby."

    After Boyden died the Universalist church he had so long served held annual services at his grave. These regular commemorations persisted into the early 20th century.

    The biographer of Hosea Ballou, Oscar Safford, included Boyden with Hosea Ballou 2dThomas Whittemore, and Lucius Paige in a chapter called "Spiritual Sons." "We know not who in his generation surpassed him in largeness of love-the Christian love which recognizes the Infinite in the finite, the Divine in the human, and feels another's joy and sorrow as its own," Safford wrote. "No name among those held in honor by the Universalist Church is regarded with more affection than John Boyden, the Christian pastor, who had a genius for loving."

    A diary and other papers relating to John Boyden are in the archives of the First Universalist Church of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The archives include typescript histories of the church and a transcription of "The 1847 Diary of Rev. John Boyden" with a biographical introduction by Peter Hughes and a transcribed collection including many Boyden items, "The First Universalist Church in the Woonsocket Patriot, 1837-1869." Boyden publications not already mentioned include Review of Rev. M. Hill's Sermon on "American Universalism" (1844), Review of a Tract Entitled "A Strange Thing" (1845), (with A. Abbott) Religious Bigotry (1845), and "The Reign of Christ" in The Christian Helper (1858). Other useful sources of primary information are the Rhode Island government records, at the State House in Providence, Rhode Island and issues of the Universalist Register (1841-70). There is an obituary in the 1870 issue. Oscard F. Safford included several pages on Boyden in Hosea Ballou: A Marvellous Life-Story (1889). Boyden is also mentioned in Erastus Richardson, History of Woonsocket (1876) and Charles Stickney, Know-Nothingism in Rhode Island (1894). See also John G. Adams, Fifty Notable Years (1883) and Peter Hughes, "Quackery among the Clergy: Medicine and Ministry in Conflict in 1848," Proceedings of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (1995). 

    Article by Peter Hughes - posted August 4, 2004

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  • Herman Bisbee

    Herman Bisbee


    Herman Bisbee Herman Bisbee ( October 29, 1833-July 6, 1879) is best known as the only American Universalist minister to have been found guilty of heresy. After losing his Universalist fellowship, he became a Unitarian.

    Herman was one of eight children of a Universalist farming family in West Derby (now Newport), Vermont. In 1853 he married Mary Phelps Sias, daughter of another Universalist family. After a brief period as a farmer, Bisbee moved with his wife and family to Canton, New York, where he enrolled in the recently established Theological School of St. Lawrence University. While a student, he preached to a congregation in Malone, New York. He was ordained there in 1864, the year of his graduation.

    In 1865 Bisbee and his family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he helped to organize a new Universalist congregation and served as its first minister. In 1866 he accepted a call to the Universalist church in nearby St. Anthony (later part of Minneapolis), following the death of its minister, Seth Barnes. In his Memoir of Rev. Seth Barnes, 1868, Bisbee praised his predecessor as a pioneer of Universalism in the West and a faithful disciple of "the living, loving, lowly Jesus."

    Up till this time Bisbee had been a theologically traditional Universalist. Ebenezer Fisher, president of the Canton school, had approved of his views concerning the Bible and revelation. In 1868-69, however, he spent ten months as minister of the Universalist church in Quincy, Massachusetts. While there he became interested in the Transcendentalist and Natural Religion ideas of the previous generation of Unitarians—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke—and the radical new Free Religious movement. In 1869 he returned to Minnesota with a new message to preach.

    In 1871 William Denton, a member of the Free Religious Association, lectured in Minneapolis on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. James Harvey Tuttle, minister of the Minneapolis Universalist Church, responded with a sermons and lectures upholding a literal interpretation of the Bible. Bisbee and fellow Universalist minister William Haskell countered (and sometimes mocked) Tuttle's view in a series of lectures which became known as the "Minneapolis Radical Lectures." Bisbee's "Radical Lectures" included talks on miracles, on the origin of the Bible, and on natural religion, notably one called "The Important and Enduring in Religion," modeled on Theodore Parker's "Transient and Permanent in Christianity."

    Reaction to Bisbee's lectures from his fellow Universalists was for the most part negative. An editorial in a leading Boston-based denominational newspaper, The Universalist, said that, since he denigrated the Bible and Christianity, he had no right to call himself a Universalist. Bisbee admitted that he had "pushed into prominence a different class of ideas from those which are generally pushed in Universalist Churches," but argued that he was only "defend[ing] the traditional liberality of the denomination" against "the extreme conservative tendencies developed by some leaders in the order."

    Bisbee's challenge to traditional theology came at a crucial time in Universalist history. In 1870, the Universalist General Convention had voted to reaffirm the Winchester Profession of 1803, but without including the "liberty clause" which had permitted theological differences. Thus, for the first time, the Universalists had a prescribed creed against which individual Universalists' beliefs could be judged. Bisbee claimed that the Winchester Profession "was designed to cover great varieties of opinion," and that his beliefs were within the range of acceptable interpretations. He denied that any newspaper editor had the right to pass judgment on his beliefs, and challenged the denomination to bring him up on disciplinary charges. He was confident that if this was done he would be vindicated.

    Early in 1872, the Committee on Fellowship, Ordination, and Discipline of the Minnesota Universalist Convention took Bisbee at his word and demanded that he surrender his letter of fellowship. At the state convention in June, he was formally charged with two counts of "unministerial conduct": for preaching heretical doctrines and for unbrotherly conduct toward James Tuttle. After a long debate, the convention passed a resolution withdrawing fellowship from him. In protest, Bisbee's fellow "radical," William Haskell, withdrew from the Minnesota Convention and united with the Illinois Convention. The editor of The Universalist, certainly no admirer of Bisbee's views, expressed dismay: "We must say that our Minnesota brethren have done a very extraordinary thing—one which the General Convention in Cincinnati should promptly and effectively correct."

    Bisbee filed an appeal to the General Convention, where a Board of Appeal upheld the action of the Minnesota convention. The Board conceded that Bisbee had "expressed assent to the Winchester Profession" as required, but ruled that this "is not, in cases of doubt, to be regarded as conclusive evidence that either that he believes it, or preaches in accordance with it." Faced with the old problem of trying to prosecute heresy without defining orthodoxy, the Board noted, "It appears to be almost self-evident that the Universalist Church does know what its religious faith is" although "it may not be necessary or profitable for the denomination to state with any great particularity."

    Bisbee's St. Anthony congregation, which had given him a unanimous vote of support, changed its name to the "First Independent Universalist Society" and prepared to leave the denomination with its minister. Within a few months, however, Bisbee resigned his ministry on the grounds of ill health, and moved to Boston.

    Bisbee studied briefly at Harvard Divinity School in 1873 and then went abroad. In 1873-74 he studied at Heidelberg University. His first wife having died in 1872, in Heidelberg he married Clara Maria Babcock, daughter of Unitarian minister William Babcock. Clara had studied at Harvard Divinity School and served as assistant to her father. Together Clara and Herman served the Stepney Church in London's East End for a few months in 1874. On their return to America, Herman became minister of Hawes Place Unitarian Church in Boston, where he served until his death. Clara Bisbee lived until 1927. In 1881 she established the Boston Society for Ethical Culture, also known as the Free Religious Society, at Lyceum Hall in Boston.

    Bisbee is largely remembered for forcing the Universalist denomination to face up to the issue of freedom of belief. After much debate and soul searching, in 1899 the General Convention adopted a new statement of belief, commonly referred to as the Boston Declaration. It identified "the five essential principles of Universalism: The Universal Fatherhood of God; the spiritual authority and leadership of his Son, Jesus Christ; the trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God; the certainty of just retribution for sin; and the final harmony of all souls with God." The Winchester Profession was commended as containing these principles, and most importantly, the "liberty clause" was reinstated.

    Most of what is known of Bisbee derives from Mary F. Bogue, "The Minneapolis Radical Lectures and the Excommunication of the Reverend Herman Bisbee," Journal of the Universalist Historical Society (1967-68). This contains substantial exceerpts from the primary documents. She did her research in what is now the Universalist Special Collection at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts (formerly the collection was held at Tufts University), at the Church of the Redeemer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and at the Minnesota Historical Society. Bisbee's story is also told in Russell Miller, The Larger Hope, vol. 2 (1985) and in Ernest Cassara, Universalism in America (1971). See also William Sasso, "American Universalism: 210 Years" and John Addington, "A Brief History: First Universalist Church of Minneapolis."

    Article by Charles A. Howe - posted November 25, 2007

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  • Mary Billings 
    Mary BillingsMary Charlotte Ward Granniss Webster Billings (July 11, 1824-March 2, 1904) was a Universalist author, activist, and hymn writer. The wife of two Universalist ministers, she herself was ordained in 1892. Kind and generous, she exemplifies the nineteenth-century liberal missionary zeal that spread Universalism to the west.

    Mary Charlotte Ward was the 14th of 16 children born to Charlotte Munger and William Ward of Litchfield, Connecticut. Most of the members of this deeply religious family attended St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Litchfield, which her paternal great-grandfather, the Rev. Solomon Palmer served until his death in 1771. Palmer, who studied in England, was a Presbyterian until he joined the Episcopal church in 1754.

    Around 1830, one of Mary's older brothers, probably Henry (b. 1805), converted to Universalism under the influence of Reverend Menzies Rayner, Universalist minister in Hartford, 1827-31. In turn, Henry persuaded his mother, Charlotte, and eventually Mary also, to convert. With no Universalist congregation in Litchfield, the Wards practiced their new faith privately.

    Litchfield was a large and culturally sophisticated town at the time, the home of Tapping Reeve, America's first law school, and the Litchfield Female Academy. Six of Mary's older brothers and sisters attended the Female Academy as part of their schooling. After the death of nine siblings, when Mary was about ten years old, her parents removed her from the academy to school her at home. She read the classics and roamed the countryside.

    Mary married three times, and while she was devoted to her husbands, she was not defined by them. All three marriages reflected her deep commitment to family and home, but they also allowed her literary creativity and religious drive to shine through. In 1845 she married Frederick Granniss, a wealthy silk merchant also of Litchfield. The couple moved to Hartford for better business opportunities in 1851. Here they lived a good life that included a beautiful home in West Hartford (nicknamed Lilfred's Rest), extended European travel, and Mary's first chance to worship with a Universalist congregation. At the Hartford Universalist Church, Mary worked with the Sunday School, participated in women's circles, and composed celebratory hymns. Frederick served as Sunday School superintendent for several years. Unfortunately, Frederick's health was poor. Mary devoted herself to his care until his early death in 1866. Nearly all her life she had one or more relatives in her care.

    Mary and Frederick had no children, although several of her writings suggest that they lost one or more infants in childbirth, possibly before the move to Hartford. In some ways, her compositions became her progeny. Her first book, Emma Clermont, appeared in 1849. During her twenty-four years as 'Mrs. Granniss,' she published dozens of short stories, poems, and hymns in Universalist magazines, including the Ladies Repository, Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley, the Trumpet, as well as various secular journals. The journal she kept on her extended tour of Europe, 1859-60, appeared in Ladies Repository in 53 installments from September 1860 to June 1865. Although fully engaged in writing and publishing, she found time for reform work. This was partly facilitated by her connections with other independent Universalist women, such as Caroline Soule, Phebe Hanaford, and Mary Livermore. Nevertheless, her orientation remained domestic: while committed to promoting Universalism, she did so primarily through writing and benevolent work, acceptable ministerial activities for mid-century women. Through her first marriage and widowhood, she apparently did not consider the public role of preacher.

    After Granniss died, Mary remained in Hartford with her older sister, Ellen. In 1869 Mary married Charles Henry Webster (b. 1817), a native of Georgetown, Massachusetts, who had been in the Universalist ministry in Connecticut since 1843. He had served churches in East Lexington, South Dedham, East Boston, and Chicopee, Massachusetts; Auburn and Lewiston, Maine; and Collinsville and Granby, Connecticut. He was also a chaplain in the Civil War and the Universalist missionary for Connecticut, 1867-69. His first wife, also named Mary, had died in 1868. The Websters settled in Rocky Hill, a small village south of Hartford. He left the ministry to run a bookstore.

    As the wife of a minister with a missionary bent, Mary expanded her church work into public ministry. In 1872 she served as the vice-president of the Women's Centenary Association (WCA) of Connecticut (the national WCA was originally founded in 1869 to raise money for the 1870 Universalist centennial). Her work with the Connecticut Universalist Convention brought her into contact with women ministers in her state, notably Olympia Brown and Phoebe Hanaford. In 1871 Mary preached her first public sermon in Hanaford's church in New Haven. Afterwards Mary engaged in supply preaching throughout the state. She was also active in the Women's Ministerial Conference (founded by Julia Ward Howe in 1873).

    Charles died of pneumonia in 1877. Widowed a second time, Mary, age 55, continued her ministry and writing. She earned a place in E. R. Hanson's 1882 compendium of 157 Universalist women, Our Woman Workers; published her second book, The Wonderful Christmas Tree, 1882, an illustrated childrens book; and eleven of her hymns appeared in Women in Sacred Song, 1884, a reference anthology of 2,500 hymn texts by over eight hundred women authors, including Hanaford and Howe.

    Well-connected and respected, Mary could have remained in Connecticut for the rest of her life. Instead, she took a radical step. She moved to Texas where she married Rev. James Billings, the state's new Universalist missionary. Mary was 61 and James was 74. Like Webster, Billings had an active career as a Universalist minister and publisher. Mary may have met him in the early 1880s, when he first received support from the Women's Centenary Association for mission work in Texas.

    The Billings were committed to spreading Universalism in Texas, as evidenced by their many administrative reports, sermons, and other theological writings published in the Universalist Herald, the Christian Leader, and elsewhere. Almost single-handedly, they established the Texas Universalist Convention, personally filling nearly every office at one time or other. Mary was a committed corresponding secretary, taking full advantage of the post office to help spread liberal religion into rural areas of this large state. They established the state mission center in Hico, a fledgling cotton town on the Texas Central Railway, about 75 miles southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth. In Hico they made sound real estate investments on behalf of the Texas Convention and opened All Souls Church in 1889, the same year that Mary was licensed to preach. Reports about membership in Hico vary, listing between 90 and 300 members.

    At the 1892 annual meeting of the Texas State Convention, Mary was ordained to the Universalist ministry. For a few years after James died in 1898, she continued his circuit preaching. Francis Skinner, a woman from Hartford, became her living companion. She also built up a small network of woman ministers in the southwest. Among these were Rachel Dallgren Billings (her step-daughter-in-law), Athalia Irwin, Marguerite Hess, Marianne Folsom, and Meekie Dunoway.

    Despite the particular challenges to growing a church in the southwest—extremes of weather, great distances, cumbersome travel, the unpredictable agrarian economy, and religious conservatism—during the Billings years congregations were created and Universalist membership grew significantly. After Mary's death, Texas Universalism declined. The Texas Universalist Convention continued until 1929, but never with the same focus or vigor as when James and Mary Billings were alive to lead it.

    There is archival information on Billings and Universalism in Texas in the Universalist Special Collections at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to the periodicals mentioned above Billings contributed to the Christian Leader, the Universalist Leader, the Guiding Star, theUniversalist Herald, and the Gospel Banner. There are entries on Billings in Elizabeth Brooks, Prominent Women of Texas (1896); Phoebe Hanaford, Daughters of America; or, Women of the Century (1882); E. R. Hanson, Our Woman Workers: Biographical Sketches of Women Eminent the Universalist Church for Literary, Philanthropic and Christian Work (1882); and Catherine Hitchings, Universalist and Unitarian Women Ministers (sec. ed., 1985). There is a piece on her, "Biographical Sketch: Mary C. Granniss," in the Trumpet and Universalist Magazine (March 5, 1859), and obituaries in the Universalist Register (1905) and theUniversalist Leader (April 30, 1904). See also Oscar Harpel, ed., Poets and Poetry of Printerdom: A Collection of Original, Selected, and Fugitive Lyrics Written by Persons Connected with Printing (1875); Eva Munson Smith, Woman in Sacred Song (1885); Stanley Manning, The Universalist Church and Texas (1922); "Fifty Years Ago in Texas," Christian Leader (November 28, 1936); W. H. Rollins, "Universalism in Texas," Christian Leader (October 22, 1938); and Donald Watt, From Heresy Toward Truth: The Story of Universalism in Greater Hartford and Connecticut, 1821-1971 (1971). 

    Article by Barbara Coeyman - posted December 23, 2007


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