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Born in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 12, 1775, Lyman Beecher was a Presbyterian minister who co-founded the American Temperance Society in 1826 and is often credited as one of the driving forces behind the Second Great Awakening in the early part of the 19th century.
In addition to his own achievements, Beecher fathered 13 children, several of whom had significant careers, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher.
People & Ideas: Lyman Beecher
A Presbyterian minister, leading revivalist and social reformer, Lyman Beecher helped build the organizations that became known as the "benevolent empire" and gave religion in America its distinctive voluntary stamp.
The son of a blacksmith, Beecher attended Yale University, where he came under the influence of university President Timothy Dwight. Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1799, he plunged into the religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening. Moving away from strict Calvinist doctrine, Beecher acknowledged that human beings were deeply sinful, but he also taught that they also had the ability to accept God's grace, if they decided to do so.
In 1810, Beecher became the pastor of the Congregational Church of Litchfield, Conn. The Congregational Church was the established church in Connecticut, and it held on to its favored status even while other state churches were being disestablished. But in 1818, with much trepidation, Connecticut decided to end ties between church and state. Beecher fought hard against this move and lamented the day that it was accomplished: "It was as dark a day as ever I saw. The odium thrown upon the ministry was inconceivable. The injury done to the cause of Christ, as we then supposed, was irreparable."
But Beecher changed his mind and made a public about-face -- from leading defender of religious establishment to champion of religious voluntarism. He came to recognize that the end of the church's dependence upon the state made it a more vital, more forceful institution. He wrote that it was:
In 1832, Beecher moved his family to Cincinnati. Eagerly absorbing tales from travelers who had ventured as far West as California, Beecher exalted that only then "did I perceive how God, who seeth the end from the beginning, had prepared the West to be mighty."
Beecher's ebullient hopes for the West reflected his brimming expectations for the country as a whole. For Beecher, the United States was uniquely blessed by divine purpose and endowed with a special destiny. He believed America had a duty to serve as "a light to the nations," to demonstrate by example what other peoples can achieve. He expressed this view in a famous sermon: "Look now at the history of our fathers and behold what God hath wrought, . a powerful nation in full enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, where all the energies of men . find scope and excitement on purpose to show the world by experiment of what man is capable."
Beecher believed that the bright and shining promise of America would be fulfilled in the West. Tamed and guided by religion and morality, its future would be "glorious." But there was one problem: the growing Roman Catholic Church in America. In 1832, Beecher delivered a series of lectures and published an influential book, A Plea for the West, denouncing the church and warning of its inevitable and corrupting influence. In the wake of his warnings, a Boston mob, influenced by false rumors that schoolgirls were being held captive against their will, burned the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Mass.
In Cincinnati, Beecher became president of Lane Theological Seminary and poured his prodigious energies into creating voluntary organizations dedicated to social reform and the spread of Christianity -- the American Bible Society, American Educational Society, American Sunday School Union, American Tract Society and American Society for the Promotion of Temperance. The infrastructure created by these organizations contributed to social cohesion and unity, and Beecher believed that religious leaders should look past denominational differences to come together to reform the nation: "With trumpet-tongue, the providence of God is calling upon Christians of every denomination, to cease from their limited views, and selfish ends, and to unite in the conflict which is to achieve the subjugation of the world to Christ."
Even as he called for unity, he became caught up in fractious religious controversies, including a debate about the proper role of ministers. Should they take the lead on social reform efforts ? Or should they focus on saving individual souls? Beecher strongly favored religious voluntarism and competition, but his defense of religious diversity had limits. To Beecher, religious disagreement and competition was desirable only if the end result was Protestant agreement and unity. Christians who did not believe in the Trinity, such as Unitarians, did not belong in his vision of America. Neither did Catholics.
Beecher himself was charged with heresy by his own congregation, now the Presbyterian Church, after he supported the controversial New Measures initiated by revivalist Charles Finney the charges were dropped after protracted litigation. But these arguments and contradictions of his own principles did not stop him from becoming one of the most influential religious thinkers and social reformers of his time.
Find out what's happening in Smithtown with free, real-time updates from Patch.
The farmer became town assessor in 1839 and held the office for eight years, and in 1840 he began seven terms as highway commissioner. These positions led to Smith serving as town supervisor from 1869 to 1880.
Judge Smith wrote of the politician and former member of the Whig party, "As a proof of his popularity and the esteem in which he was held by his townsmen, it is only necessary to say that his town had many times gone Republican, but he never failed of election on the Democratic ticket."
Lyman Beecher's Version of Events
[Lyman Beecher spent his life seeking ways to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable. A staunch advocate of an established church, he turned to benevolent institutions like the Bible and Tract societies to inculcate Christian morality and behavior when Connecticut disestablished Congregationalism. A frequent critic of Finney's new measures, Beecher came to accept and use some of them himself. This impulse to find a middle way runs through his reaction to the crisis at Lane Seminary. Charles Beecher was his son as well as his editor. The Professor Stowe mentioned is Calvin Stowe, husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lyman Beecher's son-in-law.]
Autobiography, Correspondence, Etc., of Lyman Beecher
Edited by Charles Beecher
New York: Harper, 1864
ANTI-SLAVERY IMBROGLIO [Volume II, Chapter 34] (excerpted)
. . . . The sentiments of the students toward their gifted companion and leader may be gathered from the following testimony by Professor Fairchild, in his Address to the Alumni of Oberlin: "Among these students was Theodore D. Weld, a young man of surpassing eloquence and logical powers, and of a personal influence even more fascinating than his eloquence. I state the impression which I had of him as a boy, and it may seem extravagant, but I have seen crowds of bearded men held spell-bound by his power for hours together, and for twenty evenings in succession."
In his reminiscences of that period Dr. Beecher observed: "Weld was a genius. First-rate natural capacity, but uneducated. Would have made a first-rate man in the Church of God if his education had been thorough. In the estimation of the class, he was president. He took the lead of the whole institution. The young men had, many of them, been under his care, and they thought he was a god. We never quarreled, however."
It was a noble class of young men, uncommonly strong, a little uncivilized, entirely radical, and terribly in earnest. Penetrated as they were with admiration and love for their brilliant leader, they constituted a kind of imperium in imperio, to govern which by ordinary college law might prove difficult.
An illustration was soon found. At first they recited daily to the professor of Ecclesiastical History, a most amiable and excellent man, but not possessed of all the elements of character necessary to bridle these fiery and unbroken steeds, or to inspire them with sufficient interest in the lectures of his department. At length there was a species of emeute. The class informed Dr. Beecher that they could not and would not attend the obnoxious lectures any longer, and implored relief.
After consultation, the doctor replied, in his vivacious way, "Boys, I'll tell you the best we can do for you. You must attend Professor ----'s lecture once a week, and behave, and Stowe and I will take care of you the rest of the time." This was before the regular course of study had been matured. With this arrangement the young malcontents were, of course, highly delighted, and all things moved on smoothly and pleasantly.
All this time, however, the great subject of emancipation was not forgotten. "A great work," observes Mr. Weld, "was to be done in preparing the way for an open discussion. We early began to inculcate our views, by conversation, upon our fellow-students. Those of us who sympathized together in our abhorrence of slavery selected each his man to instruct, convince, and enlist in the cause. Thus we carried one after another, and, before ever we came to public debate, knew pretty well where we stood."
Dr. Beecher's position on the slavery question, before the discussion was held, is sufficiently clear from the following reply to Arthur Tappan, who had written to inquire whether the trustees had taken any action in reference to admitting students of color to the institution. "We have taken," he says, April 23, 1833, "no order on the subject, as none is needed, and I trust never will be. Our only qualifications for admission to the seminary are qualifications intellectual, moral, and religious, without reference to color, which I have no reason to think would have any influence here, certainly never with my consent.
"I am not apprised of the ground of controversy between the Colonizationists and the Abolitionists. I am myself both, without perceiving in myself any inconsistency. Were it in my power to put an end to slavery immediately, I would do it but it is not. I can only pursue the measures best calculated, in my judgment, to get the slaves out of bondage in the shortest time and best manner and this, as I view the subject, is to make emancipation easy instead of difficult, to make use of the current of human fears, and passions, and interests, when they may be made to set in our favor, instead of attempting to row up stream against them.
"I would press the consciences, so far as they have any, of the Southerners, and shake their fears, and press their interests, as the Abolitionists are doing but then, that the pressure might avail, I would not hermetically seal their hearts by cutting off the facilities of emancipation, and tempt them to delay it till insurrection might do the work, but offer them an easy, practicable way of doing their duty, as the Colonizationists are doing and I can perceive no need that the two classes of philanthropists should fall out by the way, though, if they do, perhaps they may provoke one another to do more than they might otherwise accomplish. I trust God has begun, by the instrumentality of both, a great work, which will not stop until not only the oppressed here are free, but Africa herself shall have rest in the Lord along her extended coast and deep interior."
. . . .
When the idea of a debate was first mentioned to Dr. Beecher in conversation, so far was he from deprecating free discussion, that he offered to attend and take part in the argument. It was the result of more cautious counsels from some of the trustees that led him and the other members of the faculty to advise postponement. The reasons assigned were the absorbing nature of the discussion, its divisive tendency, the risk of exciting popular prejudice, and the probability that at a later period discussion might be either needless or safe.
As the students, however, insisted on being allowed to go on, the faculty would not refuse them. The result was a nine evenings' annihilative onset upon slavery, followed by a unanimous vote in favor of immediate emancipation. Nine evenings more devoted to the colonization scheme resulted in its rejection, with but a single solitary vote in its favor. Anti-slavery and colonization societies were immediately organized, and active efforts commenced to elevate the colored population of the city.
"We have formed," writes Mr. Weld to Arthur Tappan, April 12, "a large and efficient organization for elevating the colored people in Cincinnati have established a Lyceum among them, and lecture three or four evenings a week on Grammar, Geography, Arithmetic, Natural Philosophy, etc. Besides this, an evening free school, for teaching them to read, is in operation every week-day evening, and we are about establishing one or two more. * * * We have three large Sabbath-schools and Bible-classes. By sections in rotation, and teaching the evening reading-schools in the same way, we can perform an immense amount of labor among them without interruption to our studies. * * *
"I visited this week about thirty families, and found that some members of more than half these families were in bondage. May God make us more humble, fearless, unflinching, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, full of sympathy for suffering humanity, and rejoicing that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."
Perceiving the momentum of their motion, and well aware how easy it was in those days to rouse the slumbering demon of pro-slavery fanaticism, Dr. Beecher endeavored to caution them, particularly with reference to putting in practice their principle of social intercourse according to character, irrespective of color"--a principle as dangerous as it is just.
"When they founded colored schools," said Dr. Beecher, "I conversed with Weld repeatedly, and pointed out these things. Said I, you are taking just the course to defeat your own object, and prevent yourself from doing good. If you want to teach colored schools, I can fill your pockets with money but if you will visit in colored families, and walk with them in the streets, you will be overwhelmed."
The young men, however, thought they saw the danger, and really tried to guard against it. Their opinion was, and probably still is, that no amount of prudence, nothing short of surrender of the enterprise altogether, would have availed.
Dr. Beecher thought differently. He felt decidedly that the students had not, in all respects, shown a proper spirit in their treatment of their instructors. Still, his letters show that, before leaving for the East during the summer vacation, he anticipated no such serious results as actually ensued.
. . . .
Some time previously a committee had been appointed by the trustees on this subject, but the recommendation of strenuous measures was resisted by the faculty. After the departure of Dr. Beecher, Professor Stowe, and Professor Morgan, however, this committee, in connection with the Professor of Ecclesiastical History, proceeded to consider the subject.
The result was, Dr. Beecher was informed by letter that on the 20th of August the executive committee adopted a resolution "declaring that rules ought to be adopted prohibiting any societies or associations in the seminary, any public meetings or discussions among the students, any public addresses by the students in the seminary or elsewhere, or appeals or communications to the students at their meals or when assembled on other ordinary occasions, without the approbation of the faculty and requiring that the Anti-slavery Society and Colonization Society of the seminary should be abolished and providing that students not complying with these, as with other rules, should be dismissed. * * *
"It was decided to postpone the enactment of these rules until the faculty should be reassembled and in the mean time, in order that the students might not remain in ignorance of the contemplated regulations, and that the public impressions on the subject might be rectified, it was ordered that the proceedings should be published, which will be done in a week or two."
A few days later the following letter was received from the same writer (September 13, 1834), still farther unfolding the state of affairs: "We have acted with great deliberation, and great reluctance in the absence of the faculty. If we could have felt any reasonable confidence that even the existence of the seminary could have been preserved, we should have postponed every thing till the faculty were reassembled. Many of our best citizens were looking upon the seminary as a nuisance, more to be dreaded than cholera or plague.
"The spirit of insubordination, resistance to law, and of civil commotion, which they regarded it as fostering, was deprecated in a tone to make one shudder. The scenes of France and of Hayti recur to their imaginations, and it is impossible to make them calm or even reasonable. It is impossible for persons not well conversant in the slave states, and the part of the country on their borders, to realize the state of the public mind on these subjects. If once excited, we may as well tamper with the whirlwinds and the lightning."
These resolutions of the trustees, having been published, were denounced by the anti-slavery press as an attack on freedom of speech. "In what age do we live?" asks the New York Evangelist "and in what country? and who are the persons thus restrained? and with whose endowments was the seminary founded? and who is its president? * * Nor do we see how such men as Dr. Beecher and Professor Stowe, and Professor Morgan could consistently remain, nor how those subscribers to the funds of the seminary who expected to make it an institution of elevated character, could make any farther payments to trustees so incompetent to appreciate the wants of the age. But let us hope the trustees will pause before they take the final step."
. . . The hope had been cherished by some of the students--so it was stated publicly at the time in the Emancipator, of New York--that Dr. Beecher, on his return, would be able to arrest the execution of these laws. This hope, however, proved vain. The trustees declined to await Dr. Beecher's return the laws were formally promulgated and as things had gone too far to afford much prospect of a change the students, with one consent almost, resolved on retiring from the institution.
"When I got back," said Dr. Beecher, "I found all in a flurry. If I had arrived a little sooner I should have saved them but it was too late." An attempt was made, indeed, to expound the obnoxious resolutions and orders as containing "nothing which is not common law in all well-regulated institutions, since they merely commit the whole management of the internal concerns of the seminary to the discretion of the faculty," but this the students regarded as indorsing the despotic enactments in all their extent. . . . .
The History Of The First Congregational Church Of Litchfield
The original wooden meetinghouse was completed in 1723 and replaced on the same site in 1761. The early meetinghouse served not only for public worship but also as a venue for town meetings and other community gatherings.
The prominent American preacher Lyman Beecher served the First Congregational Church as its minister from 1810 to 1826, and Beecher’s fame as a preacher attracted people to the church. The current building, constructed in 1829, is the congregation’s third meetinghouse. This third meetinghouse was built after the church had outgrown its 1761 building, due in part to the popularity of Lyman Beecher’s preaching.
There is no definite record indicating who designed the 1829 church. Five other Congregational churches were built on essentially the same design in the Connecticut towns of Old Lyme (the 1816 Old Lyme Congregational Church), Milford (1823), Cheshire (the 1827 First Congregational Church of Cheshire), Southington (1830), and Guilford (the 1830 First Congregational Church of Guilford).
All six churches are fronted by Ionic porticos with four fluted columns, the doors of all six churches have the same dimensions, all six steeples are of the same design (described as a “four-stage Gibbsian tower and spire”) the specific prototype being James Gibbs’ St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. All are surmounted by weather vanes that all appear to have been cast from the same mold, and all six churches have twenty-over-twenty double-hung windows.
The 1829 meetinghouse remained in use for several decades, until its architectural style fell out of favor during the years after the Civil War.
The building was moved a short distance down the road, without its steeple, to make way for a new church building. The fourth meetinghouse, which was completed in 1873, was a wooden structure in a Victorian Gothic style, with stained-glass windows and dark-colored pews and pulpit furniture.
By the early 20th century, church members had lost their fondness for the new building and sought to return the church’s third meetinghouse to its original location. In 1929, the meetinghouse that was built in 1873 was razed, and the third meetinghouse, was reconstructed on its original site and rededicated “for the town’s use in public worship”.
A Plea for the West
Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), father of Edward Beecher (Document 9) and Henry Ward Beecher (Document 13), moved from New England (where he had struggled to uphold the traditional Calvinism of the Congregational Church against the encroachments of Unitarianism) to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832 to assume the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary. Shortly thereafter he published this short tract urging Americans to support protestant educational institutions (like Lane) in order to secure the “religious and political destiny” of the nation, which, he argued, hinged upon the Western spread of a protestant evangelicalism with deeply Calvinist roots. Although many of his contemporaries derided the tenets of the reformed tradition, American liberty, Beecher argued, was deeply rooted in the Calvinist theology of New England with its tradition of principled resistance to arbitrary power (see Mayhew, Document 4). The spread of religion, education, and liberty were interconnected, Beecher asserted—and all were equally threatened by the growing influence of Catholicism in the United States, with its historic associations with monarchical and even despotic regimes.
Even in the context of the antebellum nativism in which anti-Catholicism was a seminal feature, Beecher was sensitive to the potential that his arguments would be dismissed as merely intolerant. Yet religious toleration—or what Beecher calls “charity”—does not require turning a blind eye to potential threats, he argues, for the simple reason that truth can always withstand the strongest scrutiny. Beecher’s anti-Catholic rhetoric raises several important questions about the possible limits on religious liberty and the proper course of action for a republican nation to take when faced with a potential incompatibility between the principles undergirding its political order and the teachings of a particular religion.
…It is certain that the glorious things spoken of the church and of the world, as affected by her prosperity, cannot come to pass under the existing civil organization of the nations. Such a state of society as is predicted to pervade the earth, cannot exist under an arbitrary despotism, and the predominance of feudal institutions and usages. Of course, it is predicted that revolutions and distress of nations will precede the introduction of the peaceful reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. The mountains shall be cast down, and the valleys shall be exalted and he shall “overturn, and overturn, and overturn, till he whose right it is, shall reign King of nations King of saints.” 1
It was the opinion of Edwards 2 that the millennium would commence in America. When I first encountered this opinion, I thought it chimerical but all providential developments since, and all the existing signs of the times, lend corroboration to it. But if it is by the march of revolution and civil liberty, that the way of the Lord is to be prepared, where shall the central energy be found, and from what nation shall the renovating power go forth? What nation is blessed with such experimental knowledge of free institutions, with such facilities and resources of communication, obstructed by so few obstacles, as our own? There is not a nation upon earth which, in fifty years, can by all possible reformation place itself in circumstances so favorable as our own for the free, unembarrassed applications of physical effort and pecuniary and moral power to evangelize the world.
But if this nation is, in the providence of God, destined to lead the way in the moral and political emancipation of the world, it is time she understood her high calling, and were [sic] harnessed for the work. For mighty causes, like floods from distant mountains, are rushing with accumulating power, to their consummation of good or evil, and soon our character and destiny will be stereotyped forever.
It is equally plain that the religious and political destiny of our nation is to be decided in the West. There is the territory, and there soon will be the population, the wealth, and the political power. The Atlantic commerce and manufactures may confer always some peculiar advantages on the East. But the West is destined to be the great central power of the nation, and under heaven, must affect powerfully the cause of free institutions and the liberty of the world. …It is equally clear, that the conflict which is to decide the destiny of the West, will be a conflict of institutions for the education of her sons, for purposes of superstition, or evangelical light of despotism, or liberty.
…The thing required for the civil and religious prosperity of the West, is universal education, and moral culture, by institutions commensurate to that result – the all-pervading influence of schools, and colleges, and seminaries, and pastors, and churches. When the West is well supplied in this respect, though there may be great relative defects, there will be, as we believe, the stamina and the vitality of a perpetual civil and religious prosperity.
By whom shall the work of rearing the literary and religious institutions of the West be done?
Not by the West alone. The West is able to do this great work for herself, – and would do it, provided the exigencies of her condition allowed to her the requisite time. The subject of education is nowhere more appreciated and no people in the same time ever performed so great a work as has already been performed in the West. Such an extent of forest never fell before the arm of man in forty years, and gave place, as by enchantment, to such an empire of cities, and towns, and villages, and agriculture, and merchandise, and manufactures, and roads, and rapid navigation, and schools, and colleges, and libraries, and literary enterprise, with such a number of pastors and churches, and such a relative amount of religious influence, as has been produced by the spontaneous effort of the religious denominations of the West. The later peopled states of New-England did by no means come as rapidly to the same state of relative, intellectual and moral culture as many portions of the West have already arrived at, in the short period of forty, thirty, and even twenty years.
But this work of self-supply is not completed, and by no human possibility could have been completed by the West, in her past condition. No people ever did, in the first generation, fell the forest, and construct the roads, and rear the dwellings and public edifices, and provide the competent supply of schools and literary institutions. New-England did not. Her colleges were endowed extensively by foreign munificence, and her churches of the first generation were supplied chiefly from the mother country and yet the colonists of New-England were few in number, compact in territory, homogeneous in origin, language, manners, and doctrines and were coerced to unity by common perils and necessities and could be acted upon by immediate legislation and could wait also for their institutions to grow with their growth and strengthen with their strength. But the population of the great West is not so, but is assembled from all the states of the Union, and from all the nations of Europe, and is rushing in like the waters of the flood, demanding for its moral preservation the immediate and universal action of those institutions which discipline the mind, and arm the conscience and the heart. And so various are the opinions and habits, and so recent and imperfect is the acquaintance, and so sparse are the settlements of the West, that no homogeneous public sentiment can be formed to legislate immediately into being the requisite institutions. And yet they are all needed immediately, in their utmost perfection and power. A nation is being “born in a day,” and all the nurture of schools and literary institutions is needed, constantly and universally, to rear it up to a glorious and unperverted manhood.
It is no implication of the West, that in a single generation, she has not completed this work. In the circumstances of her condition she could not do it and had it been done, we should believe that a miraculous, and not a human power had done it.
Who then, shall co-operate with our brethren of the West, for the consummation of this work so auspiciously begun? Shall the South be invoked? The South have difficulties of their own to encounter, and cannot do it and the middle states have too much of the same work to do, to volunteer their aid abroad.
Whence, then, shall the aid come, but from those portions of the Union where the work of rearing these institutions has been most nearly accomplished, and their blessings most eminently enjoyed. And by whom, but by those who in their infancy were aided and who, having freely received, are now called upon freely to give, and who, by a hard soil and habits of industry and economy, and by experience are qualified to endure hardness as good soldiers and pioneers in this great work? And be assured that those who go to the West with unostentatious benevolence, to identify themselves with the people and interests of that vast community, will be adopted with a warm heart and an unwavering right hand of fellowship.
…Experience has evinced, that schools and popular education, in their best estate, go not far beyond the suburbs of the city of God. All attempts to legislate prosperous colleges and schools into being without the intervening influence of religious education and moral principle, and habits of intellectual culture which spring up in alliance with evangelical institutions, have failed. Schools wane, invariably, in those towns where the evangelical ministry is neglected, and the Sabbath is profaned, and the tavern supplants the worship of God. Thrift and knowledge in such places go out, while vice and irreligion come in.
But the ministry is a central luminary in each sphere, and soon sends out schools and seminaries as its satellites by the hands of sons and daughters of its own training. A land supplied with able and faithful ministers, will of course be filled with schools, academies, libraries, colleges, and all the apparatus for the perpetuity of republican institutions. It always has been so – it always will be.
But the ministry for the West must be educated at the West. The demands on the East, for herself and for pagan lands, forbid the East ever to supply our wants. Nor is it necessary. For the Spirit of God is with the churches of the West, and pious and talented young men are there in great numbers, willing, desiring, impatient to consecrate themselves to the glorious work. If we possessed the accommodations and the funds, we might easily send out a hundred ministers a year, a thousand ministers in ten years, around each of whom schools would arise, and instructors multiply, and churches spring up, and revivals extend, and all the elements of civil and religious prosperity abound.
[At this point in the pamphlet, Beecher shifts his focus to the changing demographics of the West. He refers repeatedly to the rising number of Catholic immigrants in the region as a threat to its American character, due to their “ignorant” and “corrupting” influence.]…It [Beecher’s concern with Catholic influence] is nothing but a controversy about religion, it is said – a thing which has nothing to do with the liberty and prosperity of nations, and the sooner it is banished from the world the better.
As well might it be insisted that the sun has no influence on the solar system, or the moon on the tides. In all ages, religion, of some kind, has been the former of man’s character and the mainspring of his action. It has done more to fill up the eventful page of history, than all moral causes beside. It has been the great agitator or tranquilizer of nations, the orb of darkness or of light to the world, the fountain of purity or pollution, the mighty power of riveting or bursting the chains of men. Atheists may rage and blaspheme, but they cannot expel religion of some kind from the world. Their epidemic madness, like the volcano, may at times break out, and obscure the sun, and turn the moon into blood, and extend from nation to nation the cup of God’s displeasure, covering the earth with the slain and the fragments of demolished institutions. But it can reconstruct nothing. It must be temporary, or it would empty the earth of its inhabitants. It will be temporary, because so bright are the evidences of a superior power, and so frail and full of sorrow are men, and so guilty and full of fears, that if Christianity does not guide them to the true God and Jesus Christ, superstition will send them to the altars of demons.
But it is a contest, it is said, about religion – and religion and politics have no sort of connection. Let the religionists fight their own battles only keep the church and state apart, and there is no danger.
It [what will happen in the west as the number of Catholics increases] is a union of church and state, which we fear, and to prevent which we lift up our voice: a union which never existed without corrupting the church and enslaving the people, by making the ministry independent of them and dependent on the state, and to a great extent a sinecure aristocracy of indolence and secular ambition, auxiliary to the throne and inimical to liberty. No treason against our free institutions would be more fatal than a union of church and state none, when perceived, would bring on itself a more overwhelming public indignation, and which all Protestant denominations would resist with more loathing and abhorrence.
…But in republics the temptation and the facilities of courting an alliance with church power may be as great as in governments of less fluctuation. Amid the competitions of party and the struggles of ambition, it is scarcely possible that the clergy of a large denomination should be able to give a direction to the suffrage of their whole people, and not become for the time being the most favored denomination, and in balanced elections the dominant sect, whose influence in times of discontent may perpetuate power against the unbiased verdict of public opinion. The free circulation of the blood is not more essential to bodily health, than the easy, unobstructed movement of public sentiment in a republic. All combinations to forestall and baffle its movements tend to the destruction of liberty. Its fluctuations are indeed an evil but the power to arrest its fluctuations and chain it down is despotism and when it is accomplished by the bribed alliance of ecclesiastical influence in the control of suffrage, it appears in its most hateful and alarming form. It is true, that the discovery might produce a reaction, and sweep away the ecclesiastical intermeddlers. But in political crises, calamities may be inflicted in a day, which ages cannot repair and who can tell, when the time comes, whether the power will be too strong for the fetters, or the fetters for the power? For none but desperate men will employ such measures for the acquisition of power and when desperate men have gained power they will not relinquish it without a struggle.
…”But why so much excitement about the Catholic religion? Is not one religion just as good as another?”
There are some who think that Calvinism is not quite as good a religion as some others. I have heard it denounced as a severe, unsocial, self-righteous, uncharitable, exclusive, prosecuting system—“dealing damnation round the land”—compassing sea and land to make proselytes, and forming conspiracies to overturn the liberties of the nation by an unhallowed union of church and state. There have been those, too, who have thought it neither meddlesome nor persecution to investigate the facts in the case, and scan the republican tendencies of the Calvinistic system. Though it has always been on the side of liberty in its struggles against arbitrary power though, through the Puritans, it breathed into the British constitution its most invaluable principles, and laid the foundations of the republican institutions of our nation, and felled the forests, and fought the colonial battles with Canadian Indians and French Catholics, when often our destiny balanced on a pivot and hung upon a hair and though it wept, and prayed, and fasted, and fought, and suffered through the revolutionary struggle, when there was almost no other creed but the Calvinistic in the land still it is the opinion of many, that its well-doings of the past should not invest the system with implicit confidence, or supersede the scrutiny of its republican tendencies. They do not think themselves required to let Calvinists alone and why should they? We do not ask to be let alone, nor cry persecution when our creed or conduct is analyzed. We are not annoyed by scrutiny we seek no concealment. We court investigation of our past history, and of all the tendencies of the doctrines and doings of the friends of the Reformation and why should the Catholic religion be exempted from scrutiny? Has it disclosed more vigorous republican tendencies? Has it done more to enlighten the intellect, to purify the morals, and sanctify the hearts of men, and fit them for self-government? Has it fought more frequently or successfully the battles of liberty against despotism? or done more to enlighten the intellect, purify the morals, and sanctify the heart of the world, and prepare it for universal liberty?
I protest against that unlimited abuse with which it is thought quite proper to round off declamatory periods against the religion of those who fought the battles of the reformation and the battles of the revolution, and that sensitiveness and liberality which would shield from animadversion and spread the mantle of charity over a religion which never prospered but in alliance with despotic governments, has always been and still is the inflexible enemy of liberty of conscience and free inquiry, and at this moment is the main stay of the battle against republican institutions.
A despotic government and despotic religion may not be able to endure free inquiry, but a republic and religious liberty CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT IT. Where force is withdrawn, and millions are associated for self-government, the complex mass of opinions and interests can be reduced to system and order only by the collision and resolution of intellectual and moral forces.
To lay the ban of a fastidious charity on religious free inquiry, would terminate in unthinking apathy and the intellectual stagnation of the dark ages.
…It is an anti-republican charity, then, which would shield the Catholics, or any other religious denomination, from the animadversion of impartial criticism. Denominations, as really as books, are public property, and demand and are benefited by criticism. And if ever the Catholic religion is liberalized and assimilated to our institutions, it must be done, not by a sickly sentimentalism screening it from animadversion, but by subjecting it to the tug of controversy, and turning upon it the searching inspection of the public eye, and compelling it, like all other religions among us, to pass the ordeal of an enlightened public sentiment.
…Catholic powers are determined to take advantage of our halting by thrusting in professional instructors and underbidding us in the cheapness of education – calculating that for a morsel of meat we shall sell our birth-right. Americans, republicans, Christians, can you, will you, for a moment, permit your free institutions, blood bought, to be placed in jeopardy, for want of the requisite intellectual and moral culture?
One thing more only demands attention, and that is the extension of such intellectual culture, and evangelical light to the Catholic population, as will supersede implicit confidence, and enable and incline them to read, and think, and act for themselves. They are not to be regarded as conspirators against our liberties their system commits its designs and higher movements, like the control of an army, to a few governing minds, while the body of the people may be occupied in their execution, unconscious of their tendency. I am aware of the difficulty of access, but kindness and perseverance can accomplish anything, and wherever the urgency of the necessity shall put in requisition the benevolent energy of this Christian nation – the work under the auspices of heaven will be done.
It is a cheering fact, also, that the nation is waking up – a blind and indiscriminate charity is giving place to sober observation, and a Christian feeling and language towards Catholics is taking the place of that which was petulant, and exceptionable. There is rapidly extending a just estimate of danger. Multitudes who till recently regarded all notices of alarm as without foundation, are now beginning to view the subject correctly, both in respect to the reality of the danger, and the means which are necessary to avert it, and both the religious and the political papers are beginning to lay aside the language of asperity and to speak the words of truth and soberness. Under such auspices we commit the subject to the guardianship of heaven, and the intelligent instrumentality of our beloved country.
A. What is the connection between religion, education, and liberty for Beecher? Why does he fear Catholicism, and what does it tell us about the types of religions that he believes will be compatible or incompatible with the American way of life?
B. How is Beecher’s vision of American expansion related to Winthrop’s “city on a hill” (Document 1)? How does it relate to the Northwest Ordinance (Document 5) or Adams’ July 4 Address (Document 7)? In what ways is Beecher’s understanding of religion and liberty similar to or different from that presented by Obama (Document 25)?
Isn’t This Like a Constitutional Amendment in Favor of Fast Food?
John Fea objects to the American Bible Society’s “Affirmation of Biblical Community” as a break with the institution’s past and an attempt to signal an evangelical brand (yuck):
There is nothing unusual with a religious organization making employees sign a statement of faith or requiring them to practice certain behavior that fits with the teachings of historic Christianity. Christian ministries and colleges, for example, do this as a matter of course.
But the fact that the ABS has decided to adopt such a statement after functioning for 202 years without one does make this development noteworthy. As the author of perhaps the only scholarly history of this storied Christian organization, I can attest that the “Affirmation of Biblical Community” represents a definitive break with the vision of its founders.
It also represents the culmination of a roughly 20-year transformation of the Society from a diverse Christian organization to a ministry with strong ties to American evangelicalism.
Fea is gaining a following, even to the point that Ruth McCambridge calls this a “hi-jacking”:
Here are some of the potentially break-worthy aspects of the Affirmation as reported at Christianity Today:
“I believe the Bible is inspired by God, an open invitation to all people, and, for me, provides authoritative guidance for my faith and conduct.”
“I will seek spiritual maturity through regular Bible engagement…”
“I will seek to refrain from sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant prescribed and exemplified in the Bible.”
If Fea’s point is that ABS never codified its doctrines or morals, he has a technical point. But do technicalities add up to a “break” or “hi-jacking?” Americans love fast-food but don’t have a national affirmation in favor of double-cheeseburgers. If someone in Congress proposed an amendment to affirm McDonalds and Whataburger, would it constitute a break with American norms, or an unusual step in merging the nation’s politics and tastebuds?
Still, the way Fea and others comment on the Affirmation is to suggest the folks at ABS were indifferent to morality and doctrine, or that the Bible Society was never truly in the evangelical camp. I don’t like to do this but I did learn from John Fea that ABS was part of a 19th-century push by evangelical Protestants to form voluntary parachurch agencies and change the world. In his history of ABS, he writes:
At the start of the Civil War, close to half of the population of the United States were evangelical Christians, and most of these evangelicals were sympathetic to the work of benevolent societies. . . . Between 1789 and 1829 the nation’s thirteen largest benevolent socieites — most of them unaffiliated with a specific denomination — spent more than $2.8 million to promote a more Christian and moral nation. . . . Lyman Beecher, perhaps the most vocal champion of a Christian nation and a founder of the ABS, believed that such interdenominational society should supplement the churches as a “sort of disciplined moral militia.” (51-52)
Is it just I or does that sound like Beecher could well affirm the ABS’s recent Affirmation (and might even add a few more items like drinking, smoking, movies, novels, Sabbath desecration)?
Indeed, one of Beecher’s colleagues in founding ABS, Elias Boudinot, was according to Tommie Kidd “the most evangelical founding father” and no slouch in the moralizing business. Here is how Kidd described Boudinot:
Boudinot was a member and president of the Continental Congress, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the director of the U.S. Mint from 1795 to 1805. Boudinot became increasingly alarmed about the rise of Deism and the attacks on traditional Christianity by Thomas Paine and others. He helped found the American Bible Society in 1816, and became the president of the American Society for Evangelizing the Jews in 1820 (John Quincy Adams was a vice president of this organization). Boudinot wrote Christian treatises such as The Age of Revelation and The Second Advent, which used prophecies from the Bible to argue that America risked losing the blessings of God if it continued to pursue faithlessness and worldliness.
Kidd then included an excerpt from Boudinot’s book, The Second Advent:
But has not America greatly departed from her original principles, and left her first love? Has she not also many amongst her chief citizens, of every party, who have forsaken the God of their fathers, and to whom the spirit may justly be supposed to say, “ye hold doctrines which I hate, repent, or else I will come unto you quickly, and will fight against you with the sword of my mouth.”
America has been greatly favoured by God, in all her concerns, both civil and religious, and she has much to hope, and much to fear, according as she shall attentively improve her relative situation among the nations of the earth, for the glory of God, and the protection of his people—She has been raised up in the course of divine Providence, at a very important crisis, and for no very inconsiderable purposes. She stands on a pinnacle—She cannot act a trifling or undecided part—She must determine whom she will serve, God or mammon—She stands by faith, and has great reason to take heed lest she should fall, from a vain confidence in her own internal strength, forgetting “the rock from whence she has been hewed, and the hole of the pit, from whence she has been digged.” …
Hearken then, ye who are happily delivered from many of the evils and temptations to which the European nations are exposed. Your fathers fled from persecution: a glorious country was opened to them by the liberal hand of a kind Providence—a land, literally, flowing with milk and honey—they were miraculously delivered from the savages of the desert—they were fed and nourished in a way they scarcely knew how. Alas! what have been the returns, their descendants, of late years, have made for the exuberant goodness of God to them? The eastern states, however greatly fallen from their former Christian professions, were settled by a people really fearing God. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent,” that is, will deprive thee of those Gospel privileges with which thou hast been so greatly favoured.
Again, Boudinot sounds like the sort of fellow who would likely add to ABS’ recent enumeration of biblical convictions. Kidd adds, “Whatever you might think of Christians today who say we need to bring America ‘back to God,’ it is a concern that evangelicals like Boudinot were expressing from the beginning of the nation.”
So just how much is Affirmation of Biblical Community a “definitive break” with the founders of ABS? Fea could well be right that compared to later developments in the Society’s history, when it became more mainline and even “liberal” Protestant, the current statement is a “hi-jacking.” But not with ABS founders who may not have supported Donald Trump but would be as obnoxious now about marriage, sex, family life, and public morality as they were then.
As the Great Awakening swept across Massachusetts in the 1740s, Jonathan Edwards, a minister and supporter of George Whitefield, delivered what would become one of the most famous sermons from the colonial era, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The sermon featured a frightening central image: the hand of all-powerful God dangling a terrified believer over a fiery pit, ready on a moment's notice to drop him into the flames of eternal damnation. Edwards hoped his sermon would wake up the faithful and remind them of the terrible fate that awaited them if they failed to confess their sins and to seek God's mercy.
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" eclipsed Edwards' more important contribution to religion in America. The son and grandson of preachers, he not only became a minister but also one of the greatest theologians in American history. His precocious intelligence and range of intellect was evident early on. He learned Latin, read Newton's Optics and wrote about rainbows and the captivating movement of spiders. Reveling in nature, he found "a divine glory, in almost everything." He described his own religious experience in almost mystical terms, as being "swallowed up by God."
By the time he died in 1758, Edwards had left behind a formidable body of work that addressed topics that have occupied Christian thinkers for nearly 2,000 years: the nature of sin, the will and virtue.
Lyman Beecher - History
Lyman Beecher Brooks (27 May 1910&ndash20 April 1984), president of Norfolk State College (later Norfolk State University), was born at Blakes in Mathews County, the son of John Robert Brooks, a farmer and waterman who supplemented his family's income by giving music lessons, and his second wife, Mary Anna Burrell Brooks, a schoolteacher. His mother named him for Lyman Beecher Tefft, president of Hartshorn Memorial College (later Virginia Union University), her alma mater.
Brooks enjoyed a stimulating home environment in which books and newspapers were readily available, and visiting preachers and other dignitaries often stayed with the family. He began reading at three years of age and received his early education in a one-room school at which his mother taught. Because Mathews County had no high school for African Americans, Brooks lived with an aunt so that he could attend the Middlesex Training School, which did offer three years of secondary education. He spent his fourth year of high school at Virginia Union University's secondary school in Richmond and then went on to major in mathematics there. Brooks graduated second in his class.
Brooks taught at the Middlesex Training School until 1934, when he became founding principal of the new Essex County High School. His duties included teaching, coaching athletic teams, building ties to the local community, and pressing the school board for more funds and equipment. After taking a summer course at the University of Michigan in 1936, Brooks decided to resign his job and pursue graduate studies at that institution. In 1937 and 1942, respectively, he received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in education.
Meanwhile, on 8 June 1938 Brooks accepted an offer to become the director of the Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University, a two-year, junior college division of that private Baptist university, which had been entirely dependent on local support since its founding in 1935. By 1938 the school had 115 students, operated on a budget of less than $12,000, and was housed in rooms rented from the Young Men's Christian Association. Brooks immediately located a suitable building and indebted himself to purchase it so that his college could start the new academic year in more appropriate quarters.
Brooks raised money, hired the best faculty that he could attract, added new programs, and increased enrollment. In March 1942, seeking financial support from the city, state, and federal governments, the school severed its ties with Virginia Union and became an independent junior college called Norfolk Polytechnic College. With the change in name, Brooks's title changed from director to president. On 29 February 1944 the school finally won financial support from the state and became the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College.
In April 1951 the city of Norfolk donated fifty-five acres in the middle of the city, previously the site of a golf course, and the college moved there in 1955. Earlier, in 1950, Brooks had created a committee to reorganize the school's curriculum and won approval from the state to become a full degree-granting institution. The first four-year programs began in elementary education and business in 1956. By 1975 twenty-nine departments offered sixty-two baccalaureate degree programs.
Enrollment at the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College exceeded that of its senior institution by the mid-1960s. Brooks began planning for separation in 1965, and on 1 February 1969 Norfolk State College became independent. In 1979, four years after Brooks retired, it became Norfolk State University. The state authorized the college to grant master's degrees in 1972, and two years later the Graduate School of Social Work began operation. Throughout the school's growth, it remained committed to Brooks's conviction that any student, given excellent teaching and motivation, could be educated. Thus, the school offered both honors programs for the most talented students and remedial programs for those less prepared.
Between 1962 and 1964 Brooks chaired a project, funded by the Cooperative Research Branch of the United States Office of Education, to study the effectiveness of vocational education in assisting unskilled workers to secure jobs. Brooks was the senior author of project reports published as Training the Hard-Core Unemployed: A Demonstration-Research Project at Virginia State College, Norfolk Division (1964) and Re-Education of Unemployed and Unskilled Workers (Summary) (1965).
Brooks married Evelyn Fields, a local schoolteacher, on 27 December 1954, and they had two daughters. His busy schedule included community service on the boards of Norfolk Community Hospital, the Hunton YMCA, and the Bank Street Baptist Church. When Brooks retired in 1975 after more than thirty-seven years at the helm of Norfolk State, the college had an enrollment of 7,500 students, occupied some 100 acres of land, and was one of the largest historically black colleges in the nation. He spent the first years of his retirement researching and writing the partly autobiographical Upward: A History of Norfolk State University (1935 to 1975), which was published in 1983. Lyman Beecher Brooks died on 20 April 1984 at Norfolk Community Hospital following a heart attack and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in that city. The Lyman Beecher Brooks Library at Norfolk State University honors his long period of leadership there.
Lyman Beecher Brooks, Upward: A History of Norfolk State University (1935 to 1975) (1983), portraits W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America (1981), 193 information provided by widow, Evelyn Fields Brooks Norfolk Journal and Guide, 22 Feb., 1 Mar. 1975 obituaries in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 22 Apr. 1984, Norfolk Virginian Pilot, 23 Apr. 1984, and Norfolk Journal and Guide, 25 Apr. 1984.
Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Tommy L. Bogger.
BEECHER DESCENDANT, COLLECTOR TO BESTOW 3 LETTERS ON CENTER
Mary Cox Schlosser of New York City has amassed almost 2,000 books and hundreds of letters written by the 19th century Beecher clan from Connecticut.
There's a reason for it: Schlosser is an avid collector, a museum researcher and a descendant of the Beechers.
She plans to give her latest find -- three Beecher letters she bought at a New York City auction in early June for about $1,200 -- to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford.
"It's a promised gift," she said.
Schlosser is one of about 150 Beecher descendants who will attend the third family reunion today at the Stowe Center in Hartford.
The Beechers -- who were as famous in the 19th century as the Kennedys are in the 20th -- were descended from the Rev. Lyman Beecher, who was born in New Haven and ministered in Litchfield. He has more than 500 descendants who live in New England, the Midwest and Canada.
Lyman Beecher had 11 children or a "Beecher's dozen," as some joke. All seven sons, including Schlosser's maternal ancestor, the Rev. George Beecher, became ministers.
The women didn't shirk their duties, either. Of the four sisters, Harriet became a writer, Catharine and Mary became educators of women and Isabella became an early advocate of women's rights.
The family's descendants often carry on their ancestors' concerns with social reform.
One heads a foundation that supports better conditions for women and children in Third World countries another was a missionary to El Salvador. Several serve as board members or volunteers in schools, hospitals and on conservation commissions. Still another serves on a human rights council, while another descendant is on the advisory committee for a peace center.
Schlosser, who started collecting Beecher works during the 1960s when an early edition of "The Minister's Wooing" by Harriet Beecher Stowe went for about $14, is amazed at the amount of correspondence, books and manuscripts by her ancestors.
"In our era of e-mail, one is quite astonished at how much they wrote," she chuckled. "They'd send a note across the street just to tell you to come to dinner. There is just an enormous amount of written materials."
She said an early edition of Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" now goes for $300 to $15,000, depending on its condition. She owns more than 30 English copies of that classic.
She is giving the Hartford center a letter written by Lyman Beecher asking the Rev. Leonard Bacon of New Haven to give a good review to a book Beecher's son, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, had published in 1844.
Two other letters are from Henry Ward Beecher in 1863 to Bacon, asking the minister to eulogize his father at his funeral.
"They are really significant," said Jo Blatti, executive director of the Stowe Center on Forest Street. "We're really delighted about that."
Schlosser said she couldn't afford another letter that sold at the R.M. Smythe auction house in New York for $600. That letter, written by Hartford minister Horace Bushnell to Bacon, was about charges of adultery against Henry Ward Beecher, who was accused of bedding the wife of his friend, Theodore Tilton. Beecher eventually was cleared by legal and church officials of the charges, although they created a sensation in the 19th century.
"I wish I could have bought more, but someone had more money than I did," Schlosser said. "That's the way it works."
Among other Beecher items sold at the June 8 auction was an 1852 letter from Harriet Beecher Stowe that went for $6,000. Written in the year she published "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the letter sought funds to free a slave family.
Growing up in Asheville, N.C., Schlosser didn't realize she was a Beecher.
"The Beecher name was something [family members] weren't interested in" talking about with their Southern neighbors, she said with a laugh.
But when she attended Vassar College in New York and began studying historic works -- such as Stowe's novels -- she was told by her family that she was a Beecher. She started researching the Beechers during the early 1960s.
"I'm doing it because once I got interested and trained as a historian, I found it a fascinating way of personalizing the 19th century American family's social history," she said.
"You start with Lyman Beecher, who began various ministries at the end of the 18th century and had children and they all get involved in various causes -- in women's suffrage, abolition, changing from their father's Calvinism to a more liberal religion -- and then Harriet dies in 1896 [in Hartford], and it's a neat 19th century package.
"They ran around and did such neat things and wrote about it and published it that's how I like to learn history," she said.
Schlosser said she's just tickled to give her latest letters to the Stowe Center.
"I don't know if Hartford realizes how many people across the country that are interested in women's studies come to the center," she said. "It is a national treasure."
Lyman Beecher's nativist history.
In his most important political tract, the nativist polemic A Plea for the West, Lyman Beecher assumes a version of history typical among antebellum intellectuals. For Beecher, only divine intervention can save the chosen nation from the disasters that have befallen the ascendant nations of the past. To Beecher's mind the conflict between "native" Americans and Catholic immigrants may destroy America and continue history, or it may destroy what Beecher regards as America's enemies and redeem humanity from the repetitive conflicts of the past.
If he is known at all, Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) is now probably best known as Harriet Beecher Stowe's father. However, he was a prominent figure in antebellum America. He was a famous Presbyterian preacher. His position as pastor in Boston's Hanover Street Church, with its commercially and socially powerful congregation, made him especially influential. In his time he was not only prominent, but also controversial. He provoked a public outcry when he left Boston to become the first president of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. Although not given to direct political involvement, his preaching and publication probably inspired anti-immigrant nativists to violent action. He spoke against slavery, but refused to join those who regarded Christian convictions as necessarily leading to participation in the abolitionist movement. Therefore, prominent students and faculty abandoned Lane and helped to establish Oberlin Collegiate Institute.
Some of his fellow Presbyterians disapprovingly labeled his emphasis on human agency "Arminian." This term distinguished the Arminians, who believed that people could help to bring about their own salvation, from the Calvinists, who believed that God alone brought about salvation. Although, as we shall see, his view of history emphasizes divine rather than human agency, Beecher may have been such an influential preacher because he placed a revivalistic emphasis on human agency, on the ability of preaching to bring about repentance, which in turn brought about salvation. The less revivalistic Presbyterians who called Beecher an Arminian tried to persuade a church synod to expel him from the presidency of Lane and from the church itself.
As a controversial and changeable figure in an antebellum American culture characterized by controversy and change, Beecher is typical of that culture. But as a typical figure in this culture where many once-clear distinctions were challenged or effaced, Beecher is difficult to categorize. He has been regarded as both Calvinist and Arminian, conservative and innovative, orthodox and heretical, proslavery and abolitionist, civil libertarian and nativist, Western and Bostonian, populist and elitist. But what most typifies Beecher as an antebellum American thinker and what reconciles the seemingly incompatible elements in his thinking is a particular view of history, which accounts for much of Beecher's politics, and certainly for his nativism. Beecher shared with many of his contemporaries a fear of Roman Catholic immigrants. Although Beecher was not simply a nativist to his contemporaries, his nativist polemic A Plea far the West (1835) is now his best-known work and was influential in antebellum America. (1) Beecher is not known to have belonged to the nativist Know Nothing or American Party, but he shared its defining belief that the greatest threat to America was Catholicism. "Although the Know Nothings' antislavery stance drew many Northerners to the Order . these citizens would not have become Know Nothings had they not also sympathized with its anti-Catholic agenda," writes Tyler Anbinder. (2) Anbinder contends that Beecher's Plea "helped revive anti-Catholicism," which, as Anbinder mentions and Ray Allen Billington argues at more length, had a long-standing and prominent place in Anglo-American self-definition. (3) In Plea far the West Beecher gives a version of history that supports his contentions about Catholicism, Protestantism, democracy, and America. Students of antebellum thought have usually attributed to antebellum Americans an assumption that history was a narrative of progress. But the recursive history that informs the thinking of a typical antebellum intellectual like Beecher does not progress toward a logical or temporal conclusion. Instead, this history merely represents its own culmination in an Apocalyptic conclusion.
For Beecher, events of his day repeat earlier events of the Bible and also foreshadow the events of the Book of Revelation. His version of history is, then, an antebellum version of the typological reading of Scripture and current events that goes back at least to Tertullian. (4) Although they have not explored the implications of typological history for nativists like Beecher, scholars like Ursula Brumm and, especially, Sacvan Bercovitch have pointed out the political power of this version of history. (5) In Plea far the West Beecher argues for an authoritarian democracy that would exclude some points of view and even some groups of people. Obviously, he might thus seem simply to contradict himself. But to understand his version of history is to understand the assumptions behind Beecher's argument. Nevertheless, as one tries to understand this argument and the antebellum culture in which it takes place, one should of course bear in mind that the argument remains authoritarian, bigoted, and hence profoundly dangerous--not least of all because it would make a sort of sense to an audience that shared with Beecher a version of history that might not seem dangerous in itself.
To summarize Beecher's point in Plea takes only a sentence: because Catholics are propagating their anti-democratic beliefs through immigration and education, Protestants must defend democracy by controlling immigration, protecting their children from Catholic influence, and supporting Protestant education. But Beecher writes an entire book to make his point. Of course, he offers as evidence events of his own day. But the narrative of history in which he places those events is repetitive and so, consequently, is his argument. A few ideas and images that are especially significant in that history--slavery, emancipation, the past, the millennium, Armageddon--recur again and again in Plea.
In the course of Beecher's argument, the recurrences of antebellum history seem to rush toward culmination. But without the divine intervention they figure forth but cannot bring about, they would not add up to anything. Later repetitions would add nothing to earlier repetitions. Therefore the repetitions of antebellum history are not culminative. Thus, insofar as progress is accumulation, antebellum history is not progressive. Beecher begins by placing antebellum America near the end of typological history. He contends that "all the existing signs of the times, lend collaboration to" Jonathan Edwards's opinion that "the millenium [sic] would commence in America." (6) Beecher evokes a typical jingoistic vision of the triumph of true Americans over the invading minions of the Antichrist. (7) Since those invaders represent older ideas, Beecher also regards America's coming triumph as a triumph over the past. But in Beecher's history disaster is always imminent--even, or especially, for a triumphant nation that, like the now-fallen triumphant nations before it, seems to have defeated once and for all the destabilizing forces of history. Even as Beecher tells of victory over, he also tells of repetition of the destructive past. Antebellum America's story may only foreshadow the eventual victory over and salvation from the past. It certainly repeats the previous stories of triumph and disaster that have themselves foreshadowed the final triumph over and end of history.
Beecher proclaims that God has chosen America to be the unique, millennial nation, the camp of the saints whose salvation ends history in the Book of Revelation. Beecher hopes that the millennium will commence in America because America--especially the West--is a new place. This new land provides an occasion for a millennial collapsing of past, present, and future: "Instead of its being a work of difficult and dilatory movement, when the time to favor Zion comes, it shall outrun all past analogies of moral causes, as if seed-time and harvest should meet on the same field, or a nation should instantly rush up from barbarism to civilization." (8) Even in identifying America as the nation chosen to triumph over history, Beecher recites the marks of divine favor that have identified the nations that were chosen in the past but nevertheless suffered disaster because they failed to meet the obligations of being chosen. Often, God sent the disasters to return the chosen to the way to salvation. However, all of the chosen nations of the past have finally suffered disasters that obliterated their identity as the chosen and even as a distinct people. Hence indications of God's favor warn of God's wrath. Furthermore, in this history even salvation comes by way of the overthrow and enslavement that God repeatedly visits upon, and from which he repeatedly delivers, the chosen. It also proceeds by way of the overthrow and enslavement that God visits upon the enemies of the chosen.
Beecher describes the Catholic immigrations of his day as "floods," as an influx or even invasion that threatens to overwhelm the millennial nation. For Beecher, Catholic immigration foreshadows or perhaps even precipitates the biblical Armageddon, in which those who seek to end humanity's bondage to history will triumph over those who seek to perpetuate it: the eternal will triumph over the temporal, salvation will triumph over sin, and Protestants will triumph over Catholics. Of course, even the end of the past repeats the conflicts and disasters of the past.
Beecher believes that contemporary American political and moral reform, as the elimination of the differences, conflicts, and oppressions of history, prefigures the millennium. He imagines "the rapid and universal extension of civil and religious liberty, introductory to the triumphs of universal Christianity." (9) Nevertheless, Beecher, like many other antebellum Americans, portrays a precarious national ascendancy that repeats and foreshadows further repetitions of a violent, destabilizing, repetitive history:
Beecher's quotation marks indicate a paraphrase of a passage in Ezekiel. In paraphrasing that passage, Beecher, as he does elsewhere, places his version of American history in typological history. Ezekiel emphasizes even more strongly than does Beecher the instability of the chosen nation's place in that revolutionary history"
The ascendant nations of history, the chosen nation of the present among them, turn over the crown again and again until its rightful owner possesses it. At the end of history, Christ, "king of nations--king of saints," at last claims the crown. For Beecher, as for many of his contemporaries, the Apocalyptic hope for an escape from history is also an Apocalyptic foreboding that in its ascendancy any nation only repeats the story of the rise and fall of others that now supplicate for its favor:
Beecher pleads so urgently because he fears that history will subjugate the ascendant nation he addresses as it has subjugated other nations. He does not credit the nation with the ability autonomously to deliver humanity from history thus his version of history partakes of the Calvinistic emphasis on divine agency and human insufficiency, rather than of the Arminian emphasis on the God-given ability of people to effect their own salvation. Yet he calls upon his fellow citizens at least to represent if not to realize the capacity of humanity to be delivered from history. He urges them to respond to God's call and thus to show that God calls them:
In this antebellum narrative, a cataclysm with sources beyond human understanding and with consequences beyond human control threatens to overwhelm the nation. It may temporarily efface the nation's identity as the one chosen to be saved and to be the instrument of salvation. It may also obliterate the nation and place it beyond salvation for all time.
Beecher does not tell a story of progress, if progress is an increasing human capacity to overcome the evils of the past. In his history, human knowledge and power do not accumulate. People do not increase their control over history. They do not control it at all. Perhaps Beecher, "who, as a Calvinist, should have set small store by man's moral ability, chose to forget or bypass the fatal weakness and, with bold and daring confidence in the human race, looked for a millennial kingdom, the coming of which man's effort hastened, if indeed it did not insure." (14) Yet for Beecher, the millennium that human effort hastens is only one of many repetitions of the past, differentiated from earlier repetitions not by superior human effort, but, if at all, by divine intervention. For Beecher, whatever the mission God has assigned to American Protestants, only God can deliver people, enthralled as they are to history, from the repetitive conflicts that divide them: "But because man cannot convert the world to Christianity, cannot God do it? has he not promised to do it, and selected his instruments, and commanded his people to be fellow workers with him?" (15) As a nineteenth-century revivalist and perhaps as an American, Beecher may emphasize human agency, yet, for Beecher as a theologian in the Calvinist tradition, the actions of the elect do not produce, but only evince (and then only unreliably) their collective or individual election. Hence, moral and political reform might precede or at least prefigure the millennium. It might even be the means by which God produces the millennium. But a nation cannot thereby exercise an autonomous agency to bring about the millennium, any more than a person could autonomously bring about his or her salvation.
As Stuart Henry writes, "Lyman lived in the present, but his heart was often in bondage to the past." (16) "For Beecher, reform, like revival[,] with which it was inseparably bound, was, in large part, the decisive action that man's memory demanded and God's grace informed: reformation meant not 'to reshape,' but, as a dictionary tells, 'to restore to a former state.'" (17) Although he does not tell a story of progress, Beecher does tell of a culmination of events, an increasingly violent revolutionary moment. The outcome of this culmination is unpredictable. But it will finally identify the chosen nation. It will separate it from the transient ascendant nations that have been consigned to destruction. In the revolutionary cycle of antebellum history, the rise of nations foreruns their fall. The past prefigures the present. One ascendant nation succeeds another, now fallen nation. The West succeeds the East, which succeeded Protestant Europe, which succeeded Catholic Europe, which succeeded pagan Rome and Old-Testament Israel, which succeeded all of the kingdoms of the heathen that it overthrew.
Yet Beecher's history moves toward--or perhaps in the manner of--a conclusion. As it proceeds, it seems more and more like a conclusion. AS the revolutionary cycle of antebellum history accelerates, the sense of human control over that cycle diminishes, rather than increases. Thus Beecher's history seems to confirm and rely upon the Calvinist theory of divine agency, rather than the Arminian theory of human agency. The rise of each new nation repeats in an increasingly exaggerated fashion the repetitions of the past. This repetitive history does not leave the past behind. Rather, the accelerating and increasingly exaggerated repetitions of history emphasize more and more the presence of the past. Even what has often been mistaken as an antebellum story of progress, of the way the present exceeds the past, becomes a story of the way the present is an exaggeration of the past. The past returns in the very attempt to escape it that might be seen as progress. This version of progress could as well be termed regress. In its differences from the past, the present is more emphatically the past than is the past itself.
Beecher believes that history will culminate in the West. He imagines that Protestants and Catholics are meeting in the American West in what might later be imagined as an Apocalyptic showdown that will repeat, perhaps for the last time, the conflicts not only of the European but also of the Old Testament past. For him, to speak of the West of his day is to speak of the Apocalypse. Yet Beecher cannot know whether Protestant Americans (to his mind the only true Americans) will triumph in the conclusive conflict of history, or whether they will be obliterated, like the ascendant nations of the past, in a conflict that will only prefigure the conclusive conflict of history, whether they will be, or merely prefigure, the millennial nation. In antebellum Protestant discourse, writes Jenny Franchot, "the terms Catholicism and Protestantism functioned as purposeful, rhetorically charged generalizations, abstractions whose impact in large part depended on their ambivalent identification with, and sometimes violent differentiation from, one another." (18) Hence his Plea is urgent. He exhorts Protestant Americans to act while they still can.
Beecher asks for help in the ideological battle for the West. The most obvious sort of help would be money. And, since Beecher is president of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, the most obvious way for his audience to offer this help would be to make donations to Lane. But Beecher's Appeal was and remains well known because it invokes more fundamental concerns of its audience. It describes the possibility that the repetition of history of its day, like the repetitions before it, prefigures rather than accomplishes the end of history. God may deal with America as he threatened to deal--and in typological history did finally deal--with Israel. Even the Apocalypse might not save America, whose ascendancy could simply be yet another of history's prefigurations of the End. "The issue was not whether victory would be realized, but whether America would have a part in it." (19)
For Beecher, the onrush of events, the merging of past and present, and the apparent chosenness of the nation, not only promise salvation, but threaten destruction, and not only for the West, but also for the entire nation:
Just as Ezekiel envisions the reunification of the kingdoms whose division weakened the nation, Beecher exhorts the East to unite with the West and warns of disaster if sectional interests divide the country. (21) Ezekiel envisions the reunification of the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Beecher pleads for the unity of the West and the East, and thus he provides an example of how in antebellum America anti-Catholic discourse could "cross national, class, and ethnic boundaries and thus unify its rhetorical practitioners, however precariously, behind a 'Protestant Way.'" (22)
As it breaks with its European past, the recently settled East exaggerates and accelerates the European history from which it derives: the East's "colleges were endowed extensively by foreign munificence, and her churches of the first generation were supplied chiefly from the mother country." (23) And, as the newly-settled West in turn breaks with its Eastern past, it repeats in even more exaggerated and accelerated form this already exaggerated and accelerated past:
In seeming to leave the past behind even more thoroughly and quickly than did the East, the West brings the economic and cultural institutions and activities of the past even more emphatically to the present.
The story of the West repeats in an exaggerated fashion the revolutionary human history that, in its ethnic conflicts, national disasters, and oppressions, represents its own end. Thus, even as it promises an end to conflict, the history of the West repeats, at least in a battle of propaganda, the conflicts of the past: "[T]he conflict which is to decide the destiny of the West, will be a conflict of institutions for the education of her sons, for the purposes of superstition, or evangelical light of despotism, or liberty." (25) The religious and ethnic diversity of the West prepares it to repeat and resolve, in the triumph of the chosen, the ethnic and religious conflicts of the past:
In calling for Easterners to aid the West, Beecher ignores the South. He seems less interested in chattel slavery than in oppression in general, which he considers a symbol of the postlapsarian history that will end in the millennium:
Therefore, just as any sort of oppression--slavery, bondage, captivity--represents history and sin, so its lifting--emancipation, deliverance, freedom--represents the millennium and salvation. Like many of his contemporaries, Beecher uses the word "emancipation" not in the specific sense of freedom from chattel slavery, but in the general sense of millennial freedom from any sort of literal or figurative slavery, as when he writes of "the moral and political emancipation of the world" (28) Beecher calls upon his audience finally to end humanity's bondage to the despotism of the past, which may include not only Old-World Catholicism (which is for Beecher the most obvious representation of the corrupt postlapsarian order) but also American chattel slavery. Like many nativists as well as many abolitionists, Beecher considers Catholicism inherently proslavery, antidemocratic, and anti-American. (29) Of course, in the millennial end of the history of revolution and despotism, chattel slavery would, like other refigurations of the fall, end.
Because he regards the imminent Apocalypse as the end of all forms of oppression, Beecher regards attempts to abolish chattel slavery or other particular forms of oppression as futile or even self-defeating. Such attempts might even perpetuate oppression, especially if they divert or divide efforts to prevail in the Apocalyptic conflict that would bring about universal redemption. Only victory in this conflict could eliminate the source of oppression: the sin whose story is history. Only the end of history, only the end of the source of all oppression, could permanently end any particular sort of oppression:
Because of his assumptions about history, then, Beecher did not support, and apparently did not understand, Theodore Weld and the other abolitionists whose revolt and departure nearly destroyed Lane Theological Seminary while Beecher was president. (31) Of course, many abolitionists felt that to abolish slavery was to bring about the millennium. (32)
For Beecher and many of his contemporaries, only Apocalyptic conflict between the supporters of oppression and the supporters of freedom can end oppression, even when the supporters of oppression are oppressed. Although the Catholic immigrants "are not to be regarded as conspirators against our liberties," Beecher writes in the conclusion of his Plea, "their system commits its designs and higher movements, like the control of an army, to a few governing minds" who are hostile to America. (33) Democratic government, which allows opposing systems to conflict, itself prefigures and perhaps occasions the end of history by way of conflict. Beecher treats Catholicism as a symbol of the conflicts and oppressions of postlapsarian history. But he blames it and charitable attitudes toward it for restraining the conflict of ideas and institutions that he portrays as an Apocalyptic resolution of all conflict, or at least as a prefiguration of such an Apocalyptic resolution:
At stake in the conflict in the West is the salvation not only of the chosen, but of the world. The forces of the past pose a threat that justifies any measures, even a repetition of the oppressions and violence of history, if those measures can end the oppressions of the past and overthrow the "government of force":
Beecher's claim that only oppression can end oppression is especially ironic in a description of how European oppression produces "masses of feudal ignorance and servitude" that in turn oppress Europe as well as America and continue the cycle of "despotism and revolution."
The language Beecher directed toward his antagonists "was sometimes truculent," concedes the introduction (probably written by Beecher's
son Charles, who acted as a sort of general editor) to Volume Two of Beecher's Autobiography. But "[i]f he attacked either systems, or institutions, or men with severity, it was because he felt that the eternal interests of immortal souls were at stake." (36) Beecher seems to have regarded his violent rhetoric and Protestant education, like the revivals he led, "as a prominent instrumentality for the conversion of the world, and the speedy introduction of the millennial reign." (37) Beecher associates and nearly identifies European culture, the past, sin, postlapsarian history, slavery, imminent disaster for America, and "a dark minded, vicious populace." The volcano of oppressed, "infuriated animalism" threatens with continuing upheaval not only the rulers of Europe, but the entire world. It threatens America and thus the millennial hope it represents. Hence, in Beecher's mind, it justifies the rhetorical, political, and physical violence he directs against it--self-contradictory and self-defeating though that violence seems now.
Beecher's Apocalyptic rhetoric makes clear not only the universal implications of his nativist polemic, but, paradoxically, the ethnic and national exclusiveness of the chosen whose history will redeem all of human history. Beecher's language recalls the account in Revelation of the penultimate and final battles of history. Those battles recall earlier battles between the chosen and their enemies, especially the Babylonians and their various allies. Beecher represents the difference between Protestants and Catholics as a battle between an ethnically, religiously, and politically homogeneous people and the ethnically and religiously heterogeneous "heathen," who are united only by their enmity to and difference from the chosen. Henry writes that Beecher's prejudices against Native Americans and Catholics "had religious dimensions: they assumed identity of America's rightful destiny with Protestantism." (38) For Beecher, America is not only chosen, but Protestant, prosperous, native-born, more-or-less Anglo-Saxon, and, above all, homogeneous. Indeed, in his version of history the particular ethnicity of Americans was less important than was ethnic homogeneity. Because of that homogeneity, Beecher could see the story of Anglo-Americans (or at least those various European-Americans who could pass for Anglo-Americans) as, in effect, part of the Bible as he read it. For him, it echoed the stories of the chosen in the Old Testament and foreshadowed the events foretold in Revelation.
As a part of Beecher's biblical history, Catholic immigration becomes a military threat. Beecher's echoes of Revelation authorize violence against Catholics as a sort of divine intervention to protect the besieged chosen. Perhaps incited by Beecher, a mob burned an Ursuline school and convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834. Beecher expresses regret over the destruction of the school, but his "sermons were at least indirectly related to the Ursuline tragedy," and his Plea is, Ahlstrom contends, a response to it. (39) Although Billington contends that "[i]n all probability the convent would have been attacked whether or not [Beecher's] sermons were delivered," he also believes that Beecher's "antipathy toward Romanism contributed toward the burning of the convent" by way of "three violent anti-Catholic sermons" in which Beecher, the day before the burning, exhorted "overflowing audiences to action against Popery." (40) Furthermore, from his Boston church (which his heated sermons had earned the nickname "Brimstone Corner") Beecher was leading a revival during which the "turbulence fostered in the lower classes by the clergy found expression" in the anti-Catholic agitation of the time. (41) The anti-Catholic hatred that the Protestant clergy cultivated "led inevitably to violence and bloodshed, for such depth of feeling as that created by the anti-Catholic agitators demanded physical expression." (42) Even Henry, in his nearly hagiographic account, concedes that "the convent was burned, and just at the season when Lyman was alerting Massachusetts to danger from the 'despotic character and hostile designs of popery.'" (43) And, although Vincent Harding defends Beecher's denunciations of Catholicism, which Harding describes as requiring "a good deal of personal courage," he acknowledges, "[I]t is doubtless that the spirit [Beecher] represented was influential in the genesis of" the burning of the convent. (44)
Beecher writes of how, in the persons of the Catholic immigrants, "ignorance, and vice, and superstition encamp around evangelical institutions." (45) In these passages and elsewhere, he echoes the account in Revelation of the final battle, in which Satan
Beecher also writes that, in Santo Domingo (where slaves rose up against European slaveholders and armies to conquer the colony) and South America, Catholicism had found an opportunity for "perpetuating for a season her political and ecclesiastical dominion." (47) Here he again echoes Revelation. After Armageddon, the penultimate battle, an angel seals Satan in "the bottomless pit" for the millennium, "and after that he must be loosed a little season" for the final battle. (48)
Although Beecher pictures the Pope as the Antichrist, his Apocalypse also involves the other enemies of the Calvinist elect. In a promotional circular for the anti-Unitarian Christian Spectator, he describes the Unitarians in the same words that Jesus uses to describe "the false Christs, and false prophets" who in the last days "shall shew great signs and wonders: insomuch that (if it were possible,) they shall deceive the very elect." (49) The Unitarians "are filling the land with cavils against the doctrines of grace, calculated to unsettle the minds of multitudes, and if it were possible, to deceive the very elect." (50)
Henry notes "the persistent echo" of the Bible "that informed Beecher's speech as spontaneously as breathing." (51) He also notes the way that biblical language informed even Beecher's thought: "Lyman Beecher thought in military metaphor when he considered the struggle to guard the faith," and he "never forgot his role as a soldier in the army of God. Awaiting the final clash--and never doubting that it would come--" he fought the enemies of his faith all of his life. (52) In his Autobiography Beecher tells how, when the northern lights waked him one night and his uncle remarked that "we don't know at what time the day of judgment will come," Beecher began to weep at the thought that the End was arriving at that moment. (53) Barbara Cross notes that "the sense of living on the edge of time never left" Beecher. (54)
Beecher argues that "three-fourths of the foreign emigrants whose accumulating tide is rolling in upon us are, through the medium of their religion and priesthood, as entirely accessible to the control of the potentates of Europe as if they were an army of soldiers, enlisted and officered, and spreading over the land." (55) He urges his audience to regard the ideological conflict between Protestants and Catholics as a war" "[A] portion of the resources which potentates once squandered in war are beginning to be appropriated in munitions for the moral conflict." (56) He describes immigration as a coordinated act of aggression so obvious that it is better described as an invasion than as a conspiracy (although even Beecher sometimes uses the word "conspiracy" for it):
Beecher often uses phrases like "the battle of institutions," "the field of battle," and the "swarm on swarm" or "floods of annual immigration." (58) He thus places his discussion of immigration, religion, and the West in an Apocalyptic story of nationhood. In that story, only the destruction of the heterogeneous heathen can end the enslaving cycle of oppression and revolution, redeem history, fulfill God's design, and save the homogeneous people of God. Beecher compares the immigrants to "the locusts of Egypt." (59) He thus recalls not only the plagues that precede the deliverance of the chosen from their Egyptian captivity, but the recurrence of those plagues in the events that forerun Armageddon, in which armed locusts whose king is "the angel of the bottomless pit" threaten the saints with war. (60)
The representatives of the past (Catholicism, Europe, slavery, and history) may survive the imminent conflagration in the West. If these representatives of the past survive the conflict, humanity will remain bound to the past for the time. The United States will be just another nation whose fall repeats history. But if the representatives of the past perish, the United States will be the millennial nation, and humanity will be delivered from history: "If our light continues, their overturnings cannot be stopped till revolution has traveled round the globe, and the earth is free." (61)
Their culminate narrative of history expresses and perhaps produces the fears as well as the hopes of antebellum Americans. Beecher reports that some scoff at the threat of "immigration and a foreign religion," but he asks, "Is our republic, then, so mature, and solid, and strong, as to bid defiance to peril? Our wisest men have regarded its preservation, when formed of native citizens, only as an experiment. " (62) The preservation of what could be the redeemer nation depends upon the transformed recurrence and redemption in the present of a past in which chosenness is homogeneity--ethnic, religious, cultural, political. The possibility for immediate "universal emancipation," the deliverance of the world from bondage to the past, also depends upon this transformed recurrence, this perfected representation or refiguration, this transfiguration of history. Hence heterogeneity threatens the chosenness of the nation and the redemption of the world.
For Beecher, the chosen nation can end the history of sin only by setting itself off from the heterogeneity that, throughout that history, has surrounded God's people and threatened its distinct identity: "We have surmounted past difficulties also by means of a comparative homogeneity of character, opinions and interests. " (63) The end of history promises "universal emancipation," but only in the universe of the elect, those who are not of "the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth" and which are deceived by Satan. Beecher holds out the hope that Catholics could adopt the beliefs and practices and so become part of the homogeneous chosen. But in the future of which he tells, Catholics have not adopted those beliefs and practices. Hence, Catholics remain a threat. Catholics will continue to repeat the past and to represent the repetition of the past that the chosen must overcome.
But whatever contribution its educational or political efforts may make, the chosen nation cannot emancipate itself. Only God can do so. Hence, like all of the other nations of history, the chosen of Beecher's day must submit to the postlapsarian soteriological history that both enslaves and emancipates. The people of the future may continue to repeat the past, and thus may become indistinguishable from the people of the past:
Beecher wants to convert Catholics to a Protestantism that includes a belief in religious liberty. Yet he fears most of all that Catholics will come to his country and make a persuasive case for their religion. They might convert Protestants. They might educate and assimilate Protestants, just as Beecher wants to educate and assimilate Catholics. They might simply make themselves seem less foreign. They might settle as Catholics alongside their Protestant neighbors. Catholics would make America, which Beecher describes as homogeneously Protestant and therefore chosen, at least partly Catholic and would thus destroy the homogeneity and hence chosenness of the nation. Beecher claims that despite his wishes the homogeneous, Anglo, Saxon Protestant culture of America cannot assimilate Catholics. Catholics are unwilling and unable to become Protestants. Therefore, he argues, America must exclude them.
Beecher calls for "an immediate and energetic supervision of our government . to check the influx of immigrant paupers, thrown upon our shores by the governments of Europe, corrupting our morals, quadrupling our taxation, and endangering the peace of our cities, and of our nation." (65) For Beecher, universal freedom requires constraints on Catholic practices of worship, biblical interpretation, and church government. Beecher claims not to wish "that the civil and religious rights of the Catholics should be abridged or violated." (66) However, after deploring and finding Catholics largely to blame for the use of invective in debates between Protestants and Catholics, he describes Catholicism as "despotic in its constitution and doctrines," "the inflexible enemy of liberty of conscience and free inquiry, and at this moment . the mainstay of the battle against republican institutions," and "hostile to civil and religious liberty." (67) Therefore, he argues, America should suppress or exclude that system and the government should control both the number and the "general character of immigrants." (68)
The more Beecher struggles to distinguish the past (European Catholicism) from the present (American Calvinism), the more he makes them seem the same. Many would agree with Beecher that Catholicism and Calvinism offer different versions of the relationship of individual and institution. But Beecher is no more willing to consider the arguments or tolerate the presence of Catholics than, in his account, they are willing to hear or tolerate Protestants:
Beecher is certainly not any more willing than are the Catholics as he describes them to regard his church "only as one of many denominations." And he is certainly willing to identify the interests of the church with those of the government and to enlist government aid to support the church.
But Beecher sees in Calvinism not enslavement to the past, but Apocalyptic emancipation. For Beecher, civil and religious liberty is participation in "the Calvinistic system." With its "republican tendencies," Calvinism "has always been on the side of liberty in its struggles against arbitrary power." (70) Unlike Catholicism, Calvinism is part of the millennial transfiguration of history:
For Beecher, Calvinism, in repeating the past, transfigures it. Calvinism foreshadows and promises to bring about the soteriological promise of history. Catholicism, in repeating the past, simply repeats past conflicts and oppressions. It prefigures only a repetitive bondage to history.
But even as this history represents its own end, it represents its own continuation. The very images of the end of oppression and conflict necessarily involve Beecher in a repetition of oppression and conflict. Only the oppressions and conflicts of history can represent their own end. As a typological historian, Beecher necessarily involves himself in contradictions and paradoxes. He abhors "the interposition of lawless violence to injure the property or control the rights of Catholics." He contends that the violence at Charlestown "had no relation whatever to religious opinions, and no connection with any religious denominations of Christians." Yet he continues to contrast Protestants as the champions of freedom with Catholics as the source of violence and oppression. Thus Catholics are, according to Beecher, "accountable" "for all the political bearings of their unchangeable and infallible creed, for all the deeds of persecution and blood, justified by their principles and perpetuated by Catholic powers." (72)
Because Catholics are the source of violence, their destruction necessarily precedes the millennium. Beecher concedes that Catholic priests restrained those who protested the burning of the convent, but he uses even the peaceful gestures of and the attacks against Catholics as evidence against them. Although Beecher denounces the burning, he describes Catholic schools as the most dangerous means of perpetuating the sinful order of the past, of subverting the republic, and of postponing the millennium. Indeed, Beecher regards Catholic education as dangerous because it mitigates the hostility that Protestant education should produce toward Catholics:
The destruction of Catholicism would almost necessarily involve violence against Catholics and their property. But Beecher describes Catholicism as the source of antidemocratic violence: "And in what sort of elementary preparation for naturalization at the polls is the mind of a mob--whose rage may be tamed and their purpose controlled by the waving of a bishop's hand?--and what if this hand should wave onward instead of off?" (74) Furthermore, the Catholic Church as Beecher describes it takes place in Protestant typological history as "the great whore" of Babylon. (75) Catholicism and Catholics represent for Beecher the tumults of history. They produce even the violence that leads to their own destruction, which will finally free the chosen from the Babylonian captivities of and to history.
The measures Beecher recommends repeat the coercions he describes as part of "the Catholic system." But Beecher hopes that they repeat revolutionary history for the final time, and that they will bring about the perfect liberty of the millennium. He recommends a Protestant education that will make Catholics Protestant. He also warns against Catholic education because it will make Protestants Catholic or even merely sympathetic to Catholics. In the typological history in which his argument takes place, Beecher does not simply contradict himself, but rather he embraces the paradox by which God achieves good ends through the necessarily evil means of postlapsarian, yet soteriological, history. Indeed, from the divine perspective that history shadows forth, those means are not evil: the ends they achieve redeem those means, so that Beecher can recommend ensuring freedom of thought by suppressing particular sorts of thought that, he contends, would themselves suppress thought. He can recommend inculcating a system of belief to prevent the inculcation of a system of belief. He can recommend a European surveillance and supervision of immigrants who, he contends, threaten the republic because they are under European surveillance and supervision:
The "voice of the people" mimics European despots who, to further their own interests, admit, exclude, and, by way of the police, constantly observe immigrants and visitors.
Of course, "the people" does not include the unnaturalized, corrupt, motley, prolific horde of Catholic immigrants, "coming by numbers to outnumber us, and by votes to outvote us, and by the competitions of European munificence to secure an ascendant influence in the education of the young republicans of our nation." (77) In Beecher's account, democracy undermines itself by being too democratic. Too many common people have too much power. They vary too much in opinion. They respond to too many influences. The franchise is not limited to Protestants, who, despite their repetition of the actions of despotic governments, figure as the true democrats.
Beecher fears the immigrants because they will democratically destroy democracy. But he also fears that, under the influence of antidemocratic immigrants and the despots who control them, America will fail--as the Israelites, the Catholics, the Church of England, and others who have regarded themselves as chosen--have failed. By not being oppressive, America could become just another oppressive, temporarily successful political power. It could be just another historical prefiguration of the end of history.
Involved in the usual typological irony, Beecher and the other antebellum nativists must repeat history to end it. They try to escape the past and to exclude and control the figures of the past--the oppressed Catholic masses. But thus the nativists only repeat in the name of American democracy the oppressions that European despots perpetrated in the past. We can easily denounce Beecher's hypocrisy but only if we avoid doing him the violence that he does to those whom he attacks can we can understand why Beecher would have been persuasive and hence dangerous. If we credit him and his audience with a degree of self-awareness, we may see his reflection in more recent practice. Perhaps, like many who came after him, Beecher takes for granted self-contradiction because he imagines his world as one where only violence can end violence.
Austin Peay State University
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Chesebrough, David B. "Northern Sermons." In God Ordained this War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865. Ed. David B. Chesebrough. U of South Carolina P, 1987. 17-33.
Cross, Barbara. "Editor's Introduction." In Beecher, Autobiography, xi-xxxvi.
Dunne, Robert. "A Plea for a Protestant American Dream: Lyman Beecher's A Plea for the West." The Old Northwest 16 (1992): 189-97.
Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism. U of California P, 1994.
Harding, Vincent. A Certain Magnificence: Lyman Beecher and the Transformation of American Protestantism, 1775-1863. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1991.
Henry, Stuart. Unvanquished Puritan: A Portrait of Lyman Beecher. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.
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(1) Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (Yale UP, 1972), 459. Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (Oxford UP, 1992), 9.
(3) Anbinder, 9, III. Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1964), 1-31.
(4) Erich Auerbach, "Figura," in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature, tr. Ralph Manheim (U of Minnesota P, 1984), 11-76.
(5) Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (U of Wisconsin P, 1978). Ursula Brumm, American Thought and Religious Typology, tr. John Hoaglund (Rutgers UP, 1970).
(6) Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West (Cincinnati: Truman and Smith, 1835), 9-10.
(7) Robert Dunne, "A Plea for a Protestant American Dream: Lyman Beecher's A Plea for the West," The Old Northwest 16 (1992): 189-97.
(11) Ezekiel (Authorized Version), 21:25-27.
(14) Stuart Henry, Unvanquished Puritan: A Portrait of Lyman Beecher (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 161.
(18) Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (U of California P, 1994), xviii.
(29) Anbinder, 45-46, 104-105. Billington, 32-219.
(30) Henry, 198 (quoting from Beecher's essay "Union of Colonizationists and Abolitionists").
(32) Page Smith, "The Church of Abolition," in The Nation Comes of Age: A People's History of the Ante-Bellum Years, vol. 4, A People's History of the American People (New York: Penguin, 1981), 592-639. David B. Chesebrough, "Northern Sermons" in God Ordained This War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865 (U of South Carolina P, 1987), 19-20, 25-28.
(36) Lyman Beecher, The Autobiography of Lyman Beecher, ed. Barbara M. Cross (Harvard UP, 1961), 2:4.
(37) Beecher, Autobiography, 2:3.
(44) Vincent Harding, A Certain Magnificence.. Lyman Beecher and the Transformation of American Protestantism (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1991), 296, 361.
(46) Revelation (Authorized Version), 20:8-9.
(49) Matthew (Authorized Version), 24:24.
(50) Beecher, Autobiography, 1:328.
(53) Beecher, Autobiography, 1:12.
(54) Barbara Cross, "Editor's Introduction," in Beecher, Autobiography, I:xxiii.