In the spring of 1805 Rev. Henry Ware, who had been for nearly twenty years pastor of the first church in the town of Hingham, was inaugurated as the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard College. The place had been made vacant by the death of Professor David Tappan, who was a moderate Calvinist; that is, one who recognized the sovereignty of God, but allowed to man a limited opportunity for personal effort in the process of salvation. It was assumed by the conservative party that a Calvinist would be appointed, because the founder of this important professorship, it was claimed, was of that way of thinking, and so conditioned his gift as to require that no one but a Calvinist should hold the position. This was strenuously denied by the liberals, who maintained that Hollis was not only liberal and catholic in his own theology, but that he made no such restrictions as were claimed.[1] When the nomination of Mr. Ware was presented to the overseers, it was strongly opposed; but he was elected by a considerable majority. A pamphlet soon appeared in opposition to him, and this was the beginning of a controversy that lasted for a quarter of a century.[2]

This war of pamphlets was made more furious by Rev. John Sherman’s One God in One Person Only, and Rev. Hosea Ballou’s Treatise on the Atonement, both of which appeared in 1805. Mr. Sherman’s book was described in The Monthly Anthology as “one of the first acts of direct hostility against the orthodox committed on these western shores.”[3] The little book by Hosea Ballou had small influence on the current of religious thinking outside the Universalist body, to which he belonged, and probably did not at all enter into the controversy between the orthodox and the liberal Congregationalists. It was, however, the first positive statement of the doctrine of the atonement in a rational form, not as expiatory, but as reconciling man to the loving authority of God. Within a decade it brought the leading Universalists to the Unitarian position.[4] These works were followed, in 1810, by Rev. Noah Worcester’s Bible News of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which presented clearly and forcibly an Arian view of the Trinity, or the subordination of Christ to God. These definitions of their position on the part of the liberals were met by the publication of The Panoplist, which was begun by Dr. Jedidiah Morse, of Charlestown, Mass., in 1805. This magazine interpreted the orthodox positions, and devoted itself zealously to the defence of the old ideas, as understood by its editors. It was not vehemently aggressive, but was largely devoted to general religious interests, and to the promotion of a higher spirit of devotion. It was followed by The Spirit of the Pilgrims, which was more combative, and in some degree intolerant. In the year 1808 the Andover Theological School was founded, the result of a reconciliation between the Hopkinsians and the Calvinists of the old type, affording an opportunity for theological training on the part of those who could not accept the liberal attitude of Harvard.

Most of the liberal men of this time refused to bring their beliefs to the test of exact definition. It was their opinion that no theological statement can have high value in relation to Christian attainments. Under these conditions were trained the men who became the leaders in the early Unitarian movement. William Ellery Channing, who was settled over the Federal Street Church in June, 1803, was distinctly evangelical, and of a profound and earnest piety. Slowly he grew to accept the liberal attitude, as the result of his love of freedom, his lofty spirituality of nature, and his tolerant and generous cast of mind. He gave spiritual and intellectual direction to the new movement, guided its philanthropic efforts, and brought to noble issue its spiritual philosophy. Early in the year 1804, Joseph Stevens Buckminster was settled over the Brattle Street Church; and, though he preached but a little over six years before a blighting disease took him away, yet he left behind a tradition of great pulpit gifts and a wonderfully attractive personality. Another to die in early manhood was Samuel Cooper Thacher, who was settled at the New South in 1811, and who was long remembered for his scholarship and his zeal in the work which he had undertaken. Charles Lowell went to the West Church in 1806, and he nobly sustained the traditions for liberality and spiritual freedom that had gathered about that place of worship. In 1814 appeared Edward Everett, at the age of twenty (which had been that of Buckminster when he entered the pulpit), as the minister of the Brattle Street Church, to charm with his eloquence, learning, grace, and power. Francis Parkman began his career at the New North in 1812,–“a man of various information, a kind spirit, singular benevolence, polished yet simple manners, fine literary taste.”[5] A few years later John Gorham Palfrey became the minister of the Brattle Street Church, and James Walker was settled over the Harvard Church in Charlestown. Among the laymen in the churches to which these men preached were many persons of distinction. The liberal fellowship, therefore, was of the highest social and intellectual standing. The piety of the churches was serious, if not profound; and the religion presented was simple, sincere, intellectual, and earnestly spiritual.
The Monthly Anthology.

The practical and tolerant aims of the liberals were shown by the manner in which they began to give expression publicly to their position. In The Monthly Anthology they first found voice, although that publication was started without the slightest controversial purpose. Begun by a young man as a monthly literary journal in 1803, when he found it would not support him, he abandoned it;[6] and the publishers asked Rev. William Emerson, the minister of the First Church in Boston, to take charge of it. He consented to do so, and gathered about him a company of friends to aid him in its management. Their meetings finally grew into The Anthology Club, which continued the publication through ten volumes. Among the members were William Emerson, Samuel Cooper Thacher, Joseph S. Buckminster, and Joseph Tuckerman, pastors of churches in Boston and vicinity of the liberal school. There was also John S.J. Gardiner, the rector of Trinity Church, who was the president of the club throughout the whole period of its existence, and one of the most frequent contributors to the periodical. The members were not drawn together by any sectarian spirit, but by a common aim of doing something for literature, and for the advancement of culture. The Monthly Anthology was the first distinctly literary journal published in this country. It had an important influence in developing the intellectual tastes of New England, and of giving initiative to its literary capacities. The spirit of The Monthly Anthology was broad and catholic. Naturally, therefore, in its pages the liberals made their first protest against party aims and methods. In a few instances theological problems were discussed, the extreme Trinitarian doctrines were criticised, and the liberal attitude was defended.
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Piety, and Charity.

In the year 1806 Rev. William Emerson began the publication of The Christian Monitor, in his capacity as the secretary of the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, Piety, and Charity, a society then newly founded by residents of Boston and its vicinity for the purpose of publishing enlightened and practical tracts and books. This series of small books, each containing one hundred and fifty or two hundred pages, and issued quarterly, was begun for the purpose of publishing devotional works of a practical and liberal type. The first number contained prayers and devotional exercises for personal or family use, and there followed Bishop Newcombe’s Life and Character of Christ, a condensed reproduction of Law’s Serious Call, Bishop Hall’s Contemplations, Erskine’s Letters to the Bereaved, and two or three volumes of sermons on religious duties and the education of children.

Besides The Christian Monitor this society issued a series of Religious Tracts which had a considerable circulation. Then it undertook the publication of books for children, and for family reading. In aiming to publish works of pure morality and practical piety, its methods were thoroughly catholic and liberal; for it was unsectarian, and yet earnestly Christian. The spirit and methods of this society were thoroughly characteristic of the time when it was organized, and of the men who gave it life and purpose. Not dogma, but piety, was what they desired. In the truest sense they were unsectarian Christians, zealous for good works and a devout life.[7]
General Repository.

The Monthly Anthology and The Christian Monitor represented the mild and undogmatic attitude of the liberals, their shrinking from all controversy, and their desire to devote their labors wholly to the promotion of a tolerant and catholic Christianity. The beginning of the controversial spirit on the liberal side found expression in The General Repository and Review, which was begun in Cambridge by Rev. Andrews Norton, in April, 1812. In the first number of this quarterly review the editor said that the discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity “in our own country has hitherto been chiefly confined to private circles,” and cited the books of John Sherman and Noah Worcester as the only exceptions. The review opened, however, with a defence of liberal Christianity which was aggressive and outspoken. In later issues an energetic statement was made of the liberal position, the controversial articles were able and explicit, and in a manner hitherto quite unknown on the part of what the editor called “catholic Christians.” One of the numbers contained a long and interesting survey of the religious interests of the country, and summed up in an admirable manner the prospects for the liberal churches. After the publication of the sixth number, Mr. Norton withdrew from the work to become the librarian of Harvard College; and it was continued through two more issues by “a society of gentlemen.” To this journal Mr. Norton was by far the largest contributor; but other writers were Edward Everett, and his brother, Alexander H. Everett, Joseph S. Buckminster, John T. Kirkland, Sidney Willard, George Ticknor, Washington Allston, John Lowell, Noah Worcester, and James Freeman, most of them connected with Harvard College or with the liberal churches in Boston. It is evident, however, that the liberal public was not yet ready for so aggressive and out-spoken a journal.
The Christian Disciple.

What was desired was something milder, less aggressive, of a distinctly religious and conciliatory character. To this end Drs. Channing, Charles Lowell, and Tuckerman, and Rev. S.C. Thatcher, with whom was afterwards associated Rev. Francis Parkman, planned a monthly magazine that should be liberal in its character, but not sectarian or dogmatic. They invited Rev. Noah Worcester, whose Bible News had cost him his pulpit, to remove from New Hampshire to Boston to become its editor. Although Mr. Worcester’s beliefs affiliated him with the Hopkinsians in everything except his attitude in regard to the inferiority of Christ to God, yet he was compelled to withdraw from his old connections, and to find new fields of activity. He began The Christian Disciple as a religious and family magazine, the first number being issued in May, 1813. It was not designed for theological discussion or distinctly for the defence of the liberal position. Its tone was conciliatory and moderate, while it zealously defended religious liberty and charity. Its aim was practical and humanitarian, to help men live the Christian life, as individuals, and in their social relations. When it touched upon controverted questions, it was in an expository manner, with the purpose of instructing its readers, and of leading them to a higher appreciation of true religion. As his biographer well said of Noah Worcester, he made this work “distinguished for its unqualified devotedness to the individual rights of opinion, and the sacred duty of a liberal regard to them in other men.”[8]

Dr. Worcester was not so much a theologian as a philanthropist; and, if he was drawn into controversy, it was accidentally, and much to his surprise and disappointment. It was not for the sake of defending his own positions that he replied to his critics, but in the name of truth, and from an exacting sense of duty. His gentle, loving, and sympathetic nature unfitted him for intellectual contentions; and he much preferred to devote himself to philanthropies and reforms. In the briefest way The Christian Disciple reported the doings of the liberal churches and men, but it gave much space to all kinds of organizations of a humanitarian character. It advocated the temperance reform with earnestness, and this at a time when there were few other voices speaking in its behalf. It devoted many pages to the condemnation of slavery, and to the approval of all efforts to secure its mitigation or its abolition. It gave large attention to the evils of war, a subject which more and more absorbed the interest of the editor. It condemned duelling in the most emphatic terms, as it did all forms of aggressiveness and inhumanity. In spirit Dr. Worcester was as much a non-resistant as Tolstoï, and for much the same reasons. More extended reports of Bible societies were given than of any other kind of organization, and these societies especially enlisted the interest of Dr. Worcester and his associates.

With the end of 1818 Dr. Worcester withdrew from the editorship of The Christian Disciple, to devote himself to the cause of peace, the interests of Christian amity and goodwill, and the exposition of his own theological convictions. The management of the magazine came into the hands of its original proprietors, who continued its publication.

Under the new management the circulation of the magazine increased. At first the younger Henry Ware became the editor, and he carried the work through the six volumes published before it took a new name. It became more distinctly theological in its purpose, and it undertook the task of presenting and defending the views of the liberals. In 1824 The Christian Disciple passed into the hands of Rev. John Gorham Palfrey, and he changed its name to The Christian Examiner without changing its general character. At the end of two years Mr. Francis Jenks became the editor, but in 1831 it came under the control of Rev. James Walker and Rev. Francis W.P. Greenwood. Gradually it became the organ of the higher intellectual life of the Unitarians, and gave expression to their interest in literature, general culture, and the philanthropies, as well as theological knowledge. The sub-title of Theological Review, which it bore during the first five volumes, indicated its preference for subjects of speculative religious interest; but during the half-century of its best influence it was the General Review or the Religious Miscellany, showing that it was theological only in the broadest spirit.
Dr. Morse and American Unitarianism.

Reluctant as the liberal men were, to take a denominational position, and to commit themselves to the interests of a party in religion, or even to withdraw themselves in any way from the churches with which they had been connected, they were compelled to do so by the force of conditions they could not control. One of the first distinct lines of separation was caused by the refusal of the more conservative men to exchange pulpits with their liberal neighbors. This tendency first began to show itself about the year 1810; and it received a decided impetus from the attitude taken by Rev. John Codman, who in 1808 became the minister of the Second Church in Dorchester. He refused to exchange with several of the liberal ministers of the Boston Association, although he was an intimate friend of Dr. Channing, who had directed his theological training, and also preached his ordination sermon. The more liberal members of his parish attempted to compel him to exchange with the Boston ministers without regard to theological beliefs; and a long contention followed, with the result that the more liberal part of his congregation withdrew in 1813, and formed the Third Religious Society in Dorchester.[9] The withdrawal of ministerial courtesies of this kind gradually increased, especially after the controversies that began in 1815, though it was not until many years later that exchanges between the two parties ceased.

In 1815 Dr. Jedidiah Morse, the editor of The Panoplist, and the author of various school books in geography and history, published in a little book of about one hundred pages, which bore the title of American Unitarianism, a chapter from Thomas Belsham’s[10] biography of Theophilus Lindsey, in which Dr. Lindsey’s American correspondents, including prominent ministers in Boston and other parts of New England, had declared their Unitarianism. Morse also published an article in The Panoplist, setting forth that these ministers had not the courage of their convictions, that, while they were Unitarians, they had withheld their opinions from open utterance. His object was to force them to declare themselves, and either to retract their heresies or else to state them and to withdraw from the churches with which they had been connected. In a letter addressed to Rev. Samuel C. Thacher, Dr. Channing gave to the public a reply to these charges of insincerity and want of open-mindedness. He said that, while many of the ministers and members of their congregations were Unitarians, they did not accept Dr. Belsham’s type of Unitarianism, which made Christ a man. He declared that no open declaration of Unitarianism had been made, because they were not in love with the sectarian spirit, and because they were quite unwilling to indulge in any form of proselyting. “Accustomed as we are,” he wrote, “to see genuine piety in all classes of Christians, in Trinitarians and Unitarians, in Calvinists and Arminians, in Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, and Congregationalists, and delighting in this character wherever it appears, we are little anxious to bring men over to our peculiar opinions.”[11]

The publication of Dr. Morse’s book, however, gave new emphasis to the spirit of separation which was soon to compel the formation of a new denomination. It was followed four years later by Dr. Channing’s Baltimore sermon and by other positive declarations of theological opinion.[12] From that time the controversy raged fiercely, and any possibility of reconciliation was removed. Before this time those who were not orthodox had called themselves Catholic, Christians or Liberal Christians to designate their attitude of toleration and liberality. The orthodox had called them Unitarians; and especially was this attempted by Dr. Morse in the introduction to his American Unitarianism, in order to fasten upon them the objectionable name given to the English liberals. It was assumed that the American liberals must agree with the English in their materialism and in their conception of Christ as a man. Dr. Channing repudiated this assumption, and declared it unjust and untrue; but he accepted the word Unitarian and gave it a meaning of his own. Channing defined the word to mean only anti-Trinitarianism; and he accepted it because it seemed to him presumptuous to use the word liberal as applied to a party, whereas it may be applicable to men of all opinions.
Evangelical Missionary Society.

Of more interest than these contentions in behalf of theological opinions is the way in which the liberal party brought itself to the task of manifesting its own purposes. Its first organizations were tentative and inclusive, without theological purpose or bias. No distinct lines were drawn, and to them belonged orthodox and liberal alike. Their sole distinguishing attitude was a catholicity of temper that permitted the free activity of the liberals. One of the first organizations of this kind was the Evangelical Missionary Society, which was formed by several of the ministers resident in Worcester and Middlesex Counties. The first meeting was held in Lancaster, November 4, 1807, when a constitution was adopted and the society elected officers. “The great object of this Society,” said the constitution, “is to furnish the means of Christian knowledge and moral improvement to those inhabitants of our own country who are destitute or poorly provided.” The growth of the country, even in New England (for the operations of the society were confined to that region), developed many communities in which the population was scattered, and without adequate means of education and religion. To aid these communities in securing good teachers and ministers was the purpose of the society. It refused to send forth itinerants, but carefully selected such towns as gave promise of permanent growth, and sent to them ministers instructed to organize churches and to promote the building of meeting-houses. In this way it was the means of establishing a number of churches in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. It also sent a number of teachers into new settlements in Maine, who were successful in training many of their pupils for teaching in the public schools. In several instances minister and teacher were combined in one person, but the work was none the less effective.

In 1816 this society was incorporated, its membership was broadened to include the state, and active aid and financial support were given it by the churches in Boston and Salem. It was not sectarian, though, after its incorporation, its membership was more largely recruited from liberals. In time it became distinctly Unitarian in its character, and such it has remained to the present day. Very slowly, however, did it permit itself to lose any of its marks of catholicity and inclusiveness. In the end its membership was confined to Unitarians because no one else wished to share in its unsectarian purposes. At the present time this society does a quiet and helpful work in the way of aiding churches that have ceased to be self-supporting because of the shifting conditions of population, and in affording friendly assistance to ministers in times of distress or when old age has come upon them.
The Berry Street Conference.

The first meeting of the liberal ministers for organization was held in the vestry of the Federal Street Church[13] on the evening of May 30, 1820, which immediately preceded election day, the time when anniversary meetings were usually held. The ministers of the state then gathered in Boston to hear the election sermon, and for such counselling of each other as their congregational methods made desirable. At this meeting Dr. Channing gave an address stating the objects that had brought those present together, and the desirability of their drawing near each other as liberal men for mutual aid and support. “It was thought by some of us,” he said, “that the ministers of this commonwealth who are known to agree in what are called liberal and catholic views of Christianity needed a bond of union, a means of intercourse, and an opportunity of conference not as yet enjoyed. It was thought that by meeting to join their prayers and counsels, to report the state and prospects of religion in different parts of the commonwealth, to communicate the methods of advancing it which have been found most successful, to give warning of dangers not generally apprehended, to seek advice in difficulties, and to take a broad survey of our ecclesiastical affairs and of the wants of our churches, much light, strength, comfort, animation, zeal, would be spread through our body. The individuals who originated this plan were agreed that, whilst the meeting should be confined to those who harmonize generally in opinion, it should be considered as having for its object, not simply the advancement of their peculiar views, but the general diffusion of practical religion and of the spirit of Christianity.”

As this address indicates in every word of it the liberal men were sensitively anxious to put no fetters on each other; and their reluctance to circumscribe their own personal freedom was extreme. This was the cause that had thus far prevented any effectual organization, and it now withheld the members from any but the most tentative methods. Having escaped from the bondage of sect, they were suspicious of everything that in any manner gave indication of denominational restrictions.
The Publishing Fund Society.

In May, 1821, a year later than the foundation of the Berry Street Conference, several gentlemen in Boston, “desirous of promoting the circulation of works adapted to improve the public mind in religion and morality,” met and established a Publishing Fund. The publishing committee then appointed consisted of Dr. Joseph Tuckerman, Dr. John Gorham Palfrey, and Mr. George Ticknor. The Publishing Fund Society refused to print doctrinal tracts or those devoted in any way to sectarian interests. The members of the society made declaration that their publications had nothing to do with any of the isms in religion. Their great object was the increase of practical goodness, the improvement of men in all that truly exalts and ennobles them or that qualifies them for usefulness and happiness. Most of their tracts were in the form of stories of a didactic character, in which the writers assumed the broad principles of Christian theology and ethics which are common to all the followers of Christ, without meddling with sectarian prejudice or party views. In such statements as these the promoters of this work indicated their methods, their aim being to furnish good reading to youth, and to those in scattered communities who could not have access to books that were instructive. Besides the tracts of this kind the society also published a series for adults, which were of a more strictly devotional character, and yet did not omit to provide entertainment and instruction.[14] This society continued its work for many years, and it issued a considerable number of tracts and books that well served the purpose for which they were designed.
Harvard Divinity School.

One important result of the theological discussions of the time was the organization of the Divinity School in connection with Harvard College. The eighteenth-century method of preparation for the ministerial office was to study with some settled pastor, who directed the reading of the student, gave him practical acquaintance with the labors of a pastor, and initiated him into the profession by securing for him the “approbation” of the ministerial association with which he was connected. Another method was for the student to continue his residence in Cambridge, and follow his theological studies under the guidance of the president and the Hollis professor, making use of the library of the college. When Rev. Henry Ware was inducted into the Hollis professorship, it was seen that some more systematic method of theological study was desirable. He gradually enlarged the scope of his activities, and in 1811 he began a systematic courser of instruction for the resident students in theology. Ware “was one of those genuine lovers of reform and progress,” as John Gorham Palfrey said, “who are always ready for any innovation for the better; who, in the pursuit of what is truly good and useful, are not only content to move on with the age, but desirous to move on before it.”[15] This effort of his to improve the methods of theological study proved to be the germ of the existing Divinity School.

The Hollis professorship of divinity was founded by Thomas Hollis, of London, in 1721. Samuel Dexter, of Boston, established a lectureship of Biblical criticism in 1811. Both the professorship and the lectureship were designed for the undergraduates, and not primarily for students in theology. In 1815, however, it became apparent to some of the liberals that a school wholly devoted to the preparation of young men for the ministry was needed.

Those who subscribed to the $30,000 secured for this purpose were in 1816 formed into the Society for the Promotion of Theological Education in Harvard University. This society rendered efficient aid to the school for several years. At a meeting held at the Boston Athenaeum, July 17, 1816, Rev. John T. Kirkland became its president, Rev. Francis Parkman, recording secretary, Rev. Charles Lowell, corresponding secretary, and Jonathan Phillips, treasurer. The society was supported by annual subscriptions, life subscriptions, and donations. The school began its work in 1816, with Rev. Andrews Norton as the Dexter lecturer on Biblical criticism, Rev. J.T. Kirkland as instructor in systematic theology, Rev. Edward Everett in the criticism of the Septaugint, Professor Sidney Willard in Hebrew, and Professor Levi Frisbie in ethics. In 1819 Mr. Norton was advanced to a professorship, and thereafter devoted his whole time to the school; and during that year the school was divided into three classes. In 1824 the Society for the Promotion of Theological Education took the general direction of the school, arranging the course of study and otherwise assuming a supervision, which continued until 1831, when the school received a place as one of the departments of the University. In 1826 a building was erected for the school by the society, which has borne the name of Divinity Hall. In 1828 a professorship of pulpit eloquence and pastoral care was established by the society, and in 1830 the younger Henry Ware entered upon its duties.[16] He was succeeded in 1842 by Rev. Convers Francis. In 1830 Rev. John Gorham Palfrey became the professor of Biblical literature, and soon after the instructor in Hebrew. Rev. George Rapall Noyes, in 1840, took the Hancock professorship of Hebrew and the Dexter lectureship in Biblical criticism.

Though organized and conducted by the Unitarians, the Divinity School was from the first unsectarian in its purpose and methods; for the Society for the Promotion of Theological Education, on its organization, put into its constitution this fundamental law: “It being understood that every encouragement be given to the serious, impartial and unbiassed investigation of Christian truth, and that no assent to the peculiarities of any denomination, be required either of the students or professors or instructors.”
The Unitarian Miscellany.

The first outspoken periodical on the liberal side that aimed at being distinctly denominational was published in Baltimore. Dr. Freeman preached in that city in 1816, with the result that during the following year a church was organized there. It was there in 1819, on the occasion of the ordination of Rev. Jared Sparks as the first minister of this church, that Dr. Channing gave utterance to the first great declaration of the Unitarian position, in a sermon that has never been surpassed in this country as an intellectual interpretation of the highest spiritual problems.

In January, 1821, Rev. Jared Sparks began the publication in Baltimore of The Unitarian Miscellany and Christian Monitor; and for three years he was its editor. For another three years it was conducted by his successor in the Baltimore pulpit, Rev. Francis W.P. Greenwood, who continued it until he became the minister of King’s Chapel, when it ceased to exist. During the six years of its publication this magazine was ably edited. It was controversial in a liberal spirit, it was positively denominational, and it had a large and widely extended circulation. It reported all prominent Unitarian events, and those of a liberal tendency in all religious bodies. Attacks on Unitarianism were repelled, and the Unitarian position was explained and vindicated. Mr. Sparks was as aggressive as Andrews Norton had been, and was by no means willing to keep to the quiet and reticent manner of the Unitarians of Boston. When he was attacked, he replied with energy and skill; and he carried the war into the enemies’ camp. His magazine was far more positive than anything the liberals had hitherto put forth, and its methods were viewed with something of suspicion in the conservative circles of Massachusetts. He published a series of letters on the Episcopal Church in The Unitarian Miscellany, which he enlarged and put into a book.[17] Another series of letters was on the comparative moral tendencies of Trinitarian and Unitarian doctrines, and these grew into a volume.[18] Both were in reply to attacks made upon him, and both were regarded with suspicion and doubt by the men about Cambridge; but, in time, they came to see that his method was sincere, learned, and honest.

In The Unitarian Miscellany, as in all their utterances of this time, the Unitarians manifested much anxiety to maintain their position as the true expounders of primitive Christianity. They did not covet a place outside the larger fellowship of the Christian faith. A favorite method of vindicating their right to Christian recognition was by the publication of the works of liberal orthodox writers of previous generations. Such an attempt was made by Jared Sparks in his Collection of Essays and Tracts in Theology, with Biographical and Critical Notices, issued in Boston from 1823 to 1826. In the general preface to these six volumes, Mr. Sparks said that “the only undeviating rule of selection will be that every article chosen shall be marked with rational and liberal views of Christianity, and suited to inform the mind or improve the temper and practice,” and that the series was “designed to promote the cause of sacred learning, of truth and charity, of religious freedom and rational piety.” In the first volume were included Turretin’s essay on the fundamentals of religious truth, a number of short essays by Firmin Abauzit, Francis Blackburne’s discussion of the value of confessions of faith, and several essays by Bishop Hoadley. That these writings have now no significance, even to intelligent readers, does not detract from the value of their publication; for they had a living meaning and power. Other writers, drawn upon in the succeeding volumes were Isaac Newton, Jeremy Taylor, John Locke, Isaac Watts, William Penn, and Mrs. Barbauld. The catholicity of the editor was shown in the wide range of his authors, whose doctrinal connections covered the whole field of Christian theology.

In the publication of The Unitarian Miscellany, Mr. Sparks had the business aid of the Baltimore Unitarian Book Society, formed November 19, 1820, which was organized to carry on this work, and to disseminate other liberal books and tracts. This society distributed Bibles, “and such other books as contain rational and consistent views of Christian doctrines, and are calculated to promote a correct faith, sincere piety, and a holy practice.” In the year 1821 was formed the Unitarian Library and Tract Society of New York; and similar societies were started in Philadelphia and Charleston soon after, as well as in other cities. Some of these societies published books, tracts, and periodicals, all of them distributed Unitarian publications, and libraries were formed of liberal works. The most successful of these societies, which soon numbered a score or two, was that in Baltimore. This society extended its missionary operations with the printed page widely, sending tracts into every part of the country, the demand for them having become very large. Its periodical had an extended circulation, its cheapness, its popular character, and its outspoken attitude on doctrinal questions serving to make it the most successful of the liberal publications of the time.[19]
The Christian Register.

On April 20, 1821, was issued the first number of The Christian Register, the regular weekly publication of which began with August 24 of that year. Its four pages contained four columns each, but the third of these pages was given to secular news and advertisements. The first page was devoted to general religious subjects, the second discussed those topics which were of special interest to Unitarians, while the fourth was given to literary miscellanies. Almost nothing of church news was reported, and only in a limited way was the paper denominational. It was a general religious newspaper of a kind that was acceptable to the liberals, and it defended and interpreted their cause when occasion demanded. The paper was started wholly as an individual enterprise by its publisher, Rev. David Reed, who acted for about five years as its editor. He had the encouragement of the leading Unitarians of Boston and its vicinity; and, when such men as Channing, Ware, and Norton wished to speak for the Unitarians, its columns were open to them. Among the other early contributors were Kirkland, Story, Edward Everett, Walker, Dewey, Furness, Palfrey, Gannett, Noah Worcester, Greenwood, Bancroft, Sparks, Alexander Young, Freeman, Burnap, Pierpont, Noyes, Lowell, Frothingham, and Pierce.

In his prospectus the publisher spoke of the growth of the spirit of free religious inquiry in the country; and he said that in all classes of the community there was an eagerness to understand theological questions, and to arrive at and practice the genuine principles of Christianity. His ideal was a periodical that should present the same doctrines and temper as The Christian Disciple, but that would be of a more popular character. “The great object of The Christian Register,” he said to his readers, “will be to inculcate the principles of a rational faith, and to promote the practice of genuine piety. To accomplish this purpose it will aim to excite a spirit of free and independent religious inquiry, and to assist in ascertaining and bringing into use the true principles of interpreting the Scriptures.”

For a number of years The Christian Register conformed to “the mild and amiable spirit” in which it began its career, rarely being aroused to an aggressive attitude, and seldom undertaking to speak for Unitarianism as a distinct form of Christianity. When the liberals were fiercely attacked, it spoke out, as, for instance, at the time when the Unitarians were charged with stealing churches from the orthodox.[20] Otherwise it was mild and placid enough, given to expressing its friendly interest in every kind of reform, from the education of women to the emancipation of slaves, thoroughly humanitarian in its attitude, not doctrinal or controversial, but faithfully catholic and tolerant. It was a well-conducted periodical, represented a wide range of interests, and was admirably suited to interpret the temper and spirit of a rational religion. It is now the oldest weekly religious newspaper published in this country. As the leading Unitarian periodical, it is still conducted with notable enterprise and ability.

Another periodical also deserves mention in this connection, and that is the North American Review, which was begun by William Tudor, one of the members of The Anthology Club, in May, 1815. While it was not religious in its character, it was from the first, and for more than sixty years, edited by Unitarians; and its contributors were very largely from that religious body. The same tendencies and conditions that led the liberals to establish The Monthly Anthology, The Christian Disciple, and The Christian Examiner, gave demand amongst them for a distinctly literary and critical journal. They had gained that form of liberated and catholic culture which made such works possible, and to a large extent they afforded the public necessary to their support. Mr. Tudor was succeeded as the editor of the review by Professor Edward T. Channing, and then followed in succession Edward Everett, Jared Sparks, Alexander H. Everett, John Gorham Palfrey, Francis Bowen, and Andrew P. Peabody, all Unitarians. Among the early Unitarian contributors were Nathan Hale, Joseph Story, Nathaniel Bowditch, W.H. Prescott, William Cullen Bryant, and Theophilus Parsons. For many years few of the regular contributors were from any other religious body, not because the editors put restrictions upon others, but because those who were interested in general literary, historical, and scientific subjects belonged almost exclusively to the churches of this faith.
Results of the Division in Congregationalism.

The controversy which began in 1805 continued for about twenty years. The pamphlets and books it brought forth are almost forgotten, and they would have little interest at the present time. They gradually widened the breach between the orthodox and the liberal Congregationalists. It would be difficult to name a decisive date for their actual separation. The organization of the societies, and the establishment of the periodicals already mentioned, were successive steps to that result. The most important event was undoubtedly the formation of the American Unitarian Association, in 1825; but even that important movement on the part of the Unitarians did not bring about a final separation. Individual churches and ministers continued to treat each other with the same courtesy and hospitality as before.

That the breach was inevitable seems to be the verdict of history; and yet it is not difficult to see to-day how it might have been avoided. The Unitarians were dealt with in such a manner that they could not continue the old connection without great discomfort and loss of self-respect. They were forced to organize for self-protection, and yet they did so reluctantly and with much misgiving. They would have preferred to remain as members of the united Congregational body, but the theological temper of the time made this impossible. It would not be just to say that there was actual persecution, but there could not be unity where there was not community of thought and faith.

When the division in the Congregational churches came, one hundred and twenty-five churches allied themselves with the Unitarians,–one hundred in Massachusetts, a score in other parts of New England, and a half-dozen west of the Hudson River. These churches numbered among them, however, many of the oldest and the strongest, including about twenty of the first twenty-five organized in Massachusetts, and among them Plymouth (organized in Scrooby), Salem, Dorchester, Boston, Watertown, Roxbury, Hingham, Concord, and Quincy. The ten Congregational churches in Boston, with the exception of the Old South, allied themselves with the Unitarians. Other first churches to take this action were those of Portsmouth, Kennebunk, and Portland.

Outside New England a beginning was made almost as soon as the Unitarian name came into recognition. At Charleston, S.C., the Congregational church, which had been very liberal, was divided in 1816 as the result of the preaching of Rev. Anthony Forster. He was led to read the works of Dr. Priestley, and became a Unitarian in consequence. Owing to ill-health, he was soon obliged to resign; and Rev. Samuel Gilman was installed in 1819. Rev. Robert Little, an English Unitarian, took up his residence in Washington in 1819, and began to preach there; and a church was organized in 1821. While chaplain of the House of Representatives, in 1821-22, Jared Sparks preached to this society fortnightly, and in the House Chamber on the alternate Sunday. When he went to Charleston, in 1819, to assist in the installation of Mr. Gilman, he preached to a very large congregation in the state-house in Raleigh; and the next year he spoke to large congregations in Virginia.[21] More than a decade earlier there were individual Unitarians in Kentucky.[22] On his journey to the ordination of Jared Sparks, Dr. Channing preached in a New York parlor; and on his return he occupied the lecture-hall of the Medical School. The result was the First Congregational Church (All Souls’), organized in 1819, which was followed by the Church of the Messiah in 1825. In fact, many of the more intelligent and thoughtful persons everywhere were inclined to accept a liberal interpretation of Christianity.

Although the Congregational body was divided into two distinct denominations, there were three organizations, formed prior to that event, which have remained intact to this day. In these societies Orthodox and Unitarian continue to unite as Congregationalists, and the sectarian lines are not recognized. The first of these organizations is the Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society, which was formed early in the eighteenth century for the purpose of securing “support to the widows and children of deceased congregational ministers.” The second is the Massachusetts Convention of Congregational Ministers, also formed early in the eighteenth century, although its records begin only with the year 1748. It was formed for consultation, advice, and counsel, to aid orphans and widows of ministers, and to secure the general promotion of the interests of religion. The convention sermon has been one of the recognized institutions of Massachusetts, and since the beginning of the Unitarian controversy it has been preached alternately by ministers of the two denominations. The Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians and Others in North America was formed in 1787. The members, officers, and missionaries of this society have been of both denominations; and the work accomplished has been carried on in a spirit of amity and good-will. These societies indicate that co-operation may be secured without theological unity, and it is possible that they may become the basis in the future of a closer sympathy and fellowship between the severed Congregational churches.
Final Separation of State and Church.

From the beginning the liberal movement had been more or less intimately associated with that for the promotion of religious freedom and the separation of state and church. Many of the states withdrew religion from state control on the adoption of the Federal Constitution. In New England this was done in the first years of the century. Connecticut came to this result after an exciting agitation in 1818. Massachusetts was more tenacious of the old ways; but in 1811 its legislative body passed a “religious freedom act,” that secured individuals from taxation for the support of churches with which they were not connected. The constitutional convention of 1820 proposed a bill of rights that aimed to secure religious freedom, but it was defeated by large majorities. It was only when church property was given by the courts to the parish in preference to the church, and when the “standing order” churches had been repeatedly foiled in their efforts to retain the old prerogatives, that a majority could be secured for religious freedom. In November, 1833, the legislature submitted to the people a revision of the bill of rights, which provided for the separation of state and church, and the voluntary support of churches. A majority was secured for this amendment, and it became the law in 1834. Massachusetts was the last of all the states to arrive at this result, and a far greater effort was required to bring it about than elsewhere. The support of the churches was now purely voluntary, the state no longer lending its aid to tax person and property for their maintenance.

Thus it came about that Massachusetts adopted the principle and method of Roger Williams after two centuries. For the first time she came to the full recognition of her own democratic ideals, and to the practical acceptance of the individualism for which she had contended from the beginning. She had fought stubbornly and zealously for the faith she prized above all other things, but by the logic of events and the greatness of the principle of liberty she was conquered. The minister and the meeting-house were by her so dearly loved that she could not endure the thought of having them shorn of any of their power and influence; but for the sake of their true life she at last found it wise and just to leave all the people free to worship God in their own way, without coercion and without restraint.

Although the liberal ministers and churches led the way in securing religious freedom, yet they were socially and intellectually conservative. Radical changes they would not accept, and they moved away from the old beliefs with great caution. The charge that they were timid was undoubtedly true, though there is no evidence that they attempted to conceal their real beliefs. Evangelical enthusiasm was not congenial to them, and they rejected fanaticism in every form. They had a deep, serious, and spiritual faith, that was intellectual without being rationalistic, marked by strong common sense, and vigorous with moral integrity. They permitted a wide latitude of opinion, and yet they were thoroughly Christian in their convictions. Most of them saw in the miracles of the New Testament the only positive evidence of the truth of Christianity, which was to them an external and supernatural revelation. They were quite willing to follow Andrews Norton, however, who was the chief defender of the miraculous, in his free criticism of the Old Testament and the birth-stories in the Gospels.

The liberal ministers fostered an intellectual and literary expression of religion, and yet their chief characteristic was their spirituality. They aimed at ethical insight and moral integrity in their influence upon men and women, and at cultivating purity of life and an inward probity. In large degree they developed the spirit of philanthropy and a fine regard for the rights and the welfare of others. They were not sectarian or zealous for bringing others to the acceptance of their own beliefs; but they were generous in behalf of all public interests, faithful to all civic duties, and known for their private generosity and faithful Christian living. Under the leadership of Dr. Channing the Catholic Christians, as they preferred to call themselves, cultivated a spirituality that was devout without being ritualistic, sincere without being fanatical. The churches around them, to a large degree, kept zealously to the externals of religion, and accepted physical evidences of the truthfulness of Christianity; but Channing sought for what is deeper and more permanent. His preference of rationality to the testimony of miracles, spiritual insight to external evidences, devoutness of life to the rites of the church, characterized him as a great religious leader, and developed for the Catholic Christians a new type of Christianity. Whatever Channing’s limitations as a thinker and a reformer, he was a man of prophetic insight and lofty spiritual vision. In other ages he would have been canonized as a saint or called the beatific doctor; but in Boston he was a heretic and a reformer, who sought to lead men into a faith that is ethical, sincere, and humanitarian. He prized Christianity for what it is in itself, for its inwardness, its fidelity to human nature, and its ethical integrity. His mind was always open to truth, he was always young for liberty, and his soul dwelt in the serene atmosphere of a pure and lofty faith.

[1] Josiah Quincy, History of Harvard University, I. 230, Chapter XII; Christian Examiner, VII. 64; XXX. 70.

[2] Jedidiah Morse, True Reasons on which the Election of a Hollis Professor of Divinity in Harvard College were opposed at the Board of Overseers.

[3] III. 251, March, 1806.

[4] Richard Eddy, Universalism in America, II. 87; Oscar F. Safford, Hosea Ballou: A Marvellous Life Story, 71.

[5] O.B. Frothingham, Boston Unitarianism, 161.

[6] Josiah Quincy, History of the Boston Athenaeum, 1. “In the year 1803 Phineas Adams, a graduate of Harvard College, of the class of 1801, commenced in Boston, under the name of Sylvanus Per-se, a periodical work entitled The Monthly Anthology or Magazine of Polite Literature. He conducted it for six months, but not finding its proceeds sufficient for his support, he abandoned the undertaking. Mr. Adams, the son of a farmer in Lexington, manifested in early boyhood a passion for elegant learning. He adopted literature as a profession; but, after the failure of his attempt as editor of The Anthology, he taught school in different places, till, in 1811, he entered the Navy as chaplain and teacher of mathematics. Here he became distinguished for mathematical science in its relation to nautical affairs. In 1812 he accompanied Commodore Porter in his eventful cruise in the Pacific, of which the published journal bears honorable testimony to Mr. Adams’s zeal for promoting geographical and mathematical knowledge. He again joined Porter in the expedition for the suppression of piracy in the West Indies, and he died on that station in 1823, much respected in the service.”

[7] In October, 1888, this society gave up its organization, and the sum of $1,265.10 was given to the American Unitarian Association for the establishment of a publishing fund.

[8] Unitarian Biography, I. 40, Memoir by Henry Ware, Jr.

[9] William Allen, Memoir of John Codman, 81.

[10] Thomas Belsham, 1750-1829, was a dissenting English preacher and teacher. In 1789 he became a Unitarian, and was settled in Birmingham. From 1805 to his death he preached to the Essex Street congregation in London. He wrote a popular work on the Evidences of Christianity, and he translated the Epistles of St. Paul. He was a vigorous and able writer.

[11] Memoir of W.E. Channing, by W.H. Channing, I. 380.

[12] Among the controversial works printed in Boston at this time was Yates’s Vindication of Unitarianism, an English book, which was republished in 1816.

[13] The entrance to the vestry of Federal Street Church was on Berry Street, hence the name given the conference.

[14] Christian Examiner, I. 248.

[15] American Unitarian Biography, Life of Henry Ware, I. 241.

[16] James Walker, Christian Examiner, X. 129; John G. Palfrey, Christian Examiner, XI. 84; The Divinity School of Harvard University: Its History, Courses of Study, Aims and Advantages.

[17] Letters on the Ministry, Ritual, and Doctrines of the Protestant Episcopal Church, addressed to Rev. William E. Wyatt, D.D., in Reply to a Sermon, Baltimore, 1820.

[18] Comparative Moral Tendency of Trinitarian and Unitarian Doctrines, addressed to Rev. Samuel Miller, Boston, 1823.

[19] H.B. Adams, Life and Writings of Jared Sparks, I. 175.

[20] Dr. George E. Ellis, in Unitarianism: Its origin and History, 147. The most prominent instance was that of the First Church in Dedham, and this was decided by legal proceedings. “The question recognized by the court was simply this: whether the claimants had been lawfully appointed deacons of the First Church; that is, whether the body which had appointed them was by law the First Church. The decision of the court was as follows: ‘When the majority of the members of a Congregational church separate from the majority of the parish, the members who remain, although a minority, constitute the church in such parish, and retain the rights and property belonging thereto.’ This legal decision would have been regarded as a momentous one had it applied only to the single case then in hearing. But it was the establishment of a precedent which would dispose of all cases then to be expected to present themselves in the troubles of the time between parishes and the churches gathered within them. The full purport of this decision was that the law did not recognize a church independently of its connection with the parish in which it was gathered, from which it might sever itself and carry property with it.” It was in accordance with the practice in New England for at least a century preceding the decision in the Dedham case, and the decision was rendered as the result of this practice.

[21] H.B. Adams, Life and Writings of Jared Sparks, gives a most interesting account in his earlier chapters of the origin of Unitarianism, especially of its beginnings in Baltimore and other places outside New England.

[22] James Garrard, governor of Kentucky from 1796 to 1802, was a Unitarian. Harry Toulmin, president of Transylvania Seminary and secretary of the state of Kentucky, was also a Unitarian.


    Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 54525952 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 763003 bytes) in /mounted-storage/home138/sub005/sc20812-ANIG/www/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php on line 192