The belief of Unitarians in the innate goodness of man and in his progress towards a higher moral life, together with their desire to make religion practical in its character and to have it deal with the actual facts of human life, has made it obligatory that they should give the encouragement of their support to whatever promised to further the cause of justice, liberty, and purity. Their attitude towards reforms, however, has been qualified by their love of individual freedom. They have had a dread of ecclesiastical restriction and of any attempt to coerce opinions or to establish a despotism over individual convictions. And yet, with all this insistence upon personal liberty, no body of men and women has ever been more devoted to the furthering of practical reforms than those connected with Unitarian churches. No one, for instance, was ever more zealous for individual freedom than Theodore Parker; but he was essentially a reformer. He was a persistent advocate of peace, temperance, education, the rights of women, the rights of the slave, the abolition of capital punishment, reform in prison discipline, and the application of humanitarian principles to the conduct of life.
Peace Movement.

“It may be doubted whether any man who ever lived contributed more to spread just sentiments on the subject of war and to hasten the era of universal peace,” said Dr. Channing of Noah Worcester, who has been often called “the Apostle of Peace.” It was the second contest with Great Britain that led Dr. Worcester to consider the nature and effects of war. In August, 1812, on the day appointed for a national fast, he preached a sermon in which he maintained that the war then beginning was without sufficient justification, and that war is always an evil. In 1814 he further studied the subject, with the result that he wrote a little book which he called A Solemn Review of the Custom of War.[1]

The Solemn Review was widely circulated, it was translated into many languages, it made a deep and lasting impression, and it had a world-wide influence in preparing the minds of men for the acceptance of peace principles. The remedy for war it proposed was an international court of arbitration.[2] Through the efforts of Dr. Worcester the Massachusetts Peace Society was organized December 28, 1815, one of the first societies of the kind in the world.[3] William Phillips was made the president, and Dr. Noah Worcester the corresponding secretary, with Dr. Henry Ware, Dr. Channing, and Rev. Francis Parkman among his councillors. On the executive committee with Dr. Worcester in 1819 were Rev. Ezra Ripley and Rev. John Pierce. Other Unitarian members and workers were James Freeman, Nathaniel L. Frothingham, Charles Lowell, Samuel C. Thacher, J.T. Kirkland, and Joseph Tuckerman; and, of laymen, Moses Grant, Josiah Quincy, and Colonel Joseph May. In 1819 Dr. Worcester began the publication of The Friends of Peace, a small quarterly magazine, a large part of the contents of which he wrote himself. After the first number, having obtained the assistance of several wealthy Friends, he relinquished the copyright; and the numbers were republished in several parts of the country, thus obtaining a wide circulation. He devoted himself almost wholly to this publication and the advocacy of the cause of peace until 1829, when he relinquished its editorship. “This must be looked upon as a very remarkable work,” wrote Henry Ware, the younger. “To his wakeful mind everything that occurred and everything that he read offered him materials; he appeared to see nothing which had not a bearing on this one topic; and his book becomes a boundless repository of curious, entertaining, striking extracts from writers of all sorts and the history of all times, displaying the criminality and folly of war, and the beauty and efficacy of the principles of peace.”[4]

In his efforts hi behalf of peace, Dr. Worcester had the support of Dr. Channing’s “respectful sympathy and active co-operation.”[5] According to Dr. John Pierce, Channing was the life and soul of the Massachusetts Peace Society. “For years,” says his biographer, “he devoted himself to the work of extending its influence with unwavering zeal, as many of his papers of that period attest.”[6] From his pulpit Dr. Channing frequently expressed his faith in the principles of peace, and he strongly advocated those Christian convictions and that spirit of good will which would make war impossible if they were applied to the conduct of nations.

Not less devoted to the cause of peace was Dr. Ezra S. Gannett, of whom his son says: “He thought that reason, religion, the whole spirit as well as the letter of the gospel, united in forbidding war. Probably, he was non-resistant up to, rather than in, the absolutely last extremity; although he writes that an English book which Dr. Channing lent him as the best he knew upon the subject, ‘has made me a thorough peace man!'”[7] “Let the fact of brotherhood be fairly grasped,” wrote Dr. Frederic H. Hedge, “and war becomes impossible.”[8] “The tremendous extent and pertinacity of the habit of human slaughter in battle,” wrote Dr. William R. Alger, “its shocking criminality, and its incredible foolishness, when regarded from an advanced religious position, are three facts calculated to appall every thoughtful man and startle him into amazement.” “It is vain,” he said, “to undertake to impart a competent conception of the crimes and miseries belonging to war. Their appalling character and magnitude stun the imagination and pass off like the burden of a frightful dream.”[9]

Worcester’s Solemn Review convinced Rev. Samuel J. May “that the precepts, spirit, and example of Jesus gave no warrant to the violent, bloody resistance of evil; that wrong could be effectually overcome by right, hatred by love, violence by gentleness, evil of any kind by its opposite good. I preached this,” he said, “as one of the cardinal doctrines of the gospel, and endeavored especially to show the wickedness and folly of the custom of war.”[10] In 1826 he organized a county peace society, the first in the country; and his first publication was in advocacy of this reform.[11]

Of the men connected with political life, Charles Sumner was the most devoted and influential friend of the peace cause. As early as March, 1839, he wrote to a friend, “I hold all wars, as unjust and, unchristian.” His address on The True Grandeur of Nations, given before the mayor and other officials of Boston, July 4, 1845, was one of the noblest and most effective utterances on the subject. Though a considerable part of the audience was in military array, Sumner showed the evils of war in uncompromising terms, denouncing it as cruel and unnecessary, while with true eloquence, great learning, and deep conviction he made his plea for peace. “The effect was immediate and striking,” wrote George W. Curtis. “There were great indignation and warm protest on the one hand, and upon the other sincere congratulation and high compliment. Sumner’s view of the absolute wrong and iniquity of war was somewhat modified subsequently; but the great purpose of a peaceful solution of international disputes he never relinquished.”[12] He said in this oration that “in our age there can be no peace that is not honorable; there can be no war that is not dishonorable.” This statement was severely criticised, but it indicates his uncompromising acceptance of peace principles.[13] He added these pertinent sentences: “The true honor of a nation is to be found only in deeds of justice and in the happiness of its people, all of which are inconsistent with war. In the clear eye of Christian judgment vain are its victories, infamous are its spoils.”[14] He further declared that “war is utterly and irreconcilably inconsistent with true greatness.”[15] These views he continued to hold throughout his life, though in a more conciliatory spirit; and on several occasions he presented them before the Peace Society and elsewhere. When in the Senate he was a leader of the cause of arbitration, and exerted his large influence in securing its adoption by the United States as a means of preventing war with foreign countries. As late as July, 1873, he wrote to one of his friends: “I long to witness the harmony of nations, which I am sure is near. When an evil so great is recognized and discussed, the remedy must be near at hand.”[16]

The work done by Julia Ward Howe for the cause of peace is eminently worthy of recognition. One chapter of her Reminiscences is devoted to her “Peace Crusade” of 1870. The cruel and unnecessary character of the Franco-Prussian war led her to write an appeal to mothers to use their influence in behalf of peace. “The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect,” she writes, “and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed.”[17] She printed and distributed her appeal, had it translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Swedish, and then spent many months in corresponding with leading women in various countries. She invited these women to a Women’s Peace Congress to be held in London. After holding two successful meetings in New York, she began her crusade in England, holding meetings in many places, and also attending a Peace Congress in Paris. She hired a hall in London, and held Sunday meetings to promote the reform she had deeply at heart. The Women’s Congress was a success, and after two years of earnest effort Mrs. Howe had the satisfaction of knowing that she had done something to promote peace on earth and good will among men.
Temperance Reform.

Unitarians have been active in the cause of temperance, but again as individuals rather than as a denomination. The emphasis they have put on the importance of individual opinion and personal liberty has made them often reluctant to join societies that sought to promote this reform by restrictive and coercive measures. As a body, therefore, they have shown a greater inclination to the use of moral suasion than legislative power.

From Dr. Channing this reform had the most earnest approval. “The temperance reform which is going on among us,” he wrote, “deserves all praise, and I see not what is to hinder its complete success. I believe the movements now made will succeed, because they are in harmony with and are seconded by the general spirit and progress of the age. Every advance in knowledge, in refined manners, in domestic enjoyments, in habits of foresight and economy, in regular industry, in the comforts of life, in civilization, good morals and religion, is an aid to the cause of temperance; and believing as we do that these are making progress, may we not hope that drunkenness will be driven from society?”[18] He regarded the subject from a broader point of view than many, and urged that a sound physical education for all youth, as well as larger opportunities for intellectual improvement on the part of workingmen, would do much to prevent intemperance.[19] He maintained that to give men “strength within to withstand the temptations of intemperance” is incalculably more important than to remove merely outward temptations. Better education, innocent amusements, a wider spirit of sympathy and brotherhood, discouragement of the use and sale of ardent spirits, were among the means he recommended for suppressing this evil.[20]

The Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance was organized at the State House in Boston on February 5, 1813, “to discountenance and suppress the too free use of ardent spirits, and to encourage and promote temperance and general morality.” This was one of the first temperance societies organized in the country, and its chief promoters were Unitarians. Dr. John C. Collins, who published the records of the society, said of the year 1827, when he became a member, that “Channing, Gannett, and others were the most active men at that time in the temperance cause.”[21] Dr. Abiel Abbot was the first corresponding secretary of the society, and on the council were Drs. Kirkland, Lothrop, Worcester, and Pierce. Among the other Unitarian ministers who were active in the society were Charles Lowell, the younger Henry Ware, John Pierpont, and John G. Palfrey. Among the laymen were Moses Grant, Nathan Dane, Dr. John Ware, Stephen Fairbanks, Dr. J.F. Flagg, William Sullivan, Amos Lawrence, Samuel Dexter, and Isaac Parker.[22] Auxiliary societies were organized in Salem, Beverly, and other towns; and these gave to the temperance cause the activities of such Unitarians as Theophilus Parsons, Robert Rantoul, and Samuel Hoar.[23]

Of the more recent interest of Unitarians in questions of temperance reform there may be mentioned the thorough study made by the United States Commissioner of Labor, and printed in 1898 under the title of Economic Aspects of the Liquor Problem.[24] This investigation was ordered by Congress as the result of a petition sent to that body by the Unitarian Temperance Society. Probably few petitions have ever been sent to Congress that contained so many prominent names of leading statesmen, presidents of colleges and universities, bishops, clergymen, well-known literary men, and other persons of influence. The Unitarian Temperance Society was organized September 23, 1886, in connection with the meeting of the National Conference at Saratoga. Its purpose is “to work for the cause of temperance in whatever ways may seem to it wise and right; to study the social problems of poverty, crime, and disease, in their relation to the use of intoxicating drinks, and to diffuse whatever knowledge may be gained; to discuss methods of temperance reform; to devise and, so far as possible, to execute plans for practical reform; to exert by its meetings and by its membership such influence for good as by the grace of God it may possess.” It has held annual meetings in Boston, and other meetings in connection with the National Conference; it has published a number of important tracts, temperance text-books, and temperance services for Sunday-schools; and it has exerted a considerable influence on the denomination in shaping public opinion in regard to this reform. The presidents of the society have been Rev. Christopher R. Eliot, Rev. George H. Hosmer, and Rev. Charles F. Dole.

The subject of temperance reform has been before the National Conference on several occasions and in various forms. At the session of 1882 a resolution offered by Miss Mary Grew was adopted:–

That the unutterable evils continually wrought by intemperance, the easy descent from moderate to immoderate drinking, and the moral wrecks strewn along that downward path, call upon Christians and patriots to practise and advocate abstinence from the use of all intoxicating liquors as a beverage.

In 1891 a series of resolutions recommended by the Unitarian Temperance Society were adopted as expressing the convictions of the Conference:–

First, that the liquor saloon, as it exists to-day in the United States, is the nation’s chief school of crime, chief college of corruption in politics, chief source of poverty and ruined homes, chief menace to our country’s future, is the standing enemy of society, and, as such, deserves the condemnation of all good men.

Second, that, whatever be the best mode of dealing with the saloon by law, law can avail little until those who condemn the saloon consent to totally abstain themselves from the use of alcoholic drink for pleasure.

Third, that we affectionately and urgently call on every minister and all laymen and women in our denomination–our old, our young, our rich, our poor, our leaders, and our humblest–to take this stand of total abstinence, remembering those that are in bonds as bound with them, and throw the solid influence of our church against the influence of the saloon.


In proportion to its numbers no religious body in the country did so much to promote the anti-slavery reform as the Unitarian. No Unitarian defended slavery from the pulpit or by means of the press, and no one was its apologist.[25] Many, however, did not approve of the methods of the abolitionists, and some strongly opposed the extreme measures of a part of that body of reformers. The desire of Unitarians to be just, rational, and open-minded, exposed many of them to the criticism of being neither for nor against slavery. But it is certain that they were not indifferent to its evils nor recreant to their humanitarian principles.

The period of the anti-slavery agitation was truly one that tried the souls of men; and those who were equally conscientious, desirous of serving the cause of justice and humanity, and solicitous for the welfare of the slave, widely differed from one another as to what was the wise method of action. Among those severely condemned by the anti-slavery party were several Unitarian ministers of great force of character and of a genuinely humanitarian spirit. Three of them may be selected as representative.

Dr. Orville Dewey had seen something of slavery, and was strongly opposed to it. He thought the system hateful in itself and productive of nearly unmingled evil, and yet he was not in favor of immediate emancipation. His frequent indictments of slavery in his sermons and lectures were severe in the extreme; but his demand for wise and patient counsel, and for a rational method of gradual emancipation, subjected him to severe condemnation. “And nothing else brings out the nobleness of Dr. Dewey into such bold relief as the fact,” says Rev. John W. Chadwick, “that the immeasurable torrent of abuse that greeted his expressed opinion did not in any least degree avail to make him one of the pro-slavery faction. He differed from the most earnest of the anti-slavery men only as to the best method of getting rid of the curse of human bondage.”[26]

As early as 1830 Dr. E.S. Gannett said that “the greatest evil under which our nation labors is the existence of slavery. It is the only vicious part of our body politic, but this is a deep and disgusting sore. It must be treated with the utmost judgment and skill.” The violence of the abolitionists he did not approve, however; for his respect for law and constituted authority was so great that he was not ready for radical measures. He abhorred slavery, but he was not willing to condemn the slaveholder. He was therefore regarded by the abolitionists as more hostile to them than any other Unitarian minister. His attitude as a peace man, his strong regard for justice and fair dealing, as well as his earnest faith in the gentle influence of the gospel, forbade his accepting the strenuous methods of the abolitionists. He would not, however, permit anti-slavery ministers to be silenced in Unitarian meetings. When he saw something of slavery, in 1833, he expressed his convictions in regard to it in these forcible words: “It is the attempt to degrade a human being into something less than a man,–not the confinement, unjust as this is, nor the blows, cruel as these are,–but the denial of his equal share in the rights, prerogatives, and responsibilities of a human being, which brands the institution of slavery with its peculiar and ineffaceable odiousness.”[27]

Another minister who came under the condemnation of the abolitionists was Rev. John H. Morison, and yet he preached sermons against slavery that met with the vigorous disapproval of his congregation. “We all agree,” he wrote in 1844, “in the sad conviction that slavery in its political influence, more than all other subjects, threatens to upturn the foundation of our government; that in its moral and religious bearings it is a grievous wrong to master and slave; and that, as it is in violation of the fundamental principles of Christian duty, it must, if continued beyond the absolute necessity of the case, be attended with consequences the most disastrous.” Again, when Daniel Webster made his 7th of March speech in 1850, Dr. Morison, then the editor of The Christian Register, took the earliest possible opportunity to express himself as strongly as he could against it. “We at the North,” he wrote, “believe that slavery is morally wrong.” He said that the government, in its attempt to defend slavery as against the moral convictions of a large number of the people, was doing the country a great harm.[28]

The position of these men and of others who thought and acted with them can best be understood by recognizing the fact that they were opposed to sectarian methods in promoting reforms as in advancing the interests of religion. It is probable that in these heated times neither party did full justice to the spirit and purposes of the other. Even so gentle and charitable a man as Rev. Samuel J. May speaks of the “discreditable pro-slavery conduct of the Unitarian denomination.” “The Unitarians as a body,” he says again, “dealt with the question of slavery in anything but an impartial, courageous, and Christian way. Continually in their public meetings the question was staved off and driven out because of technical, formal, verbal difficulties which were of no real importance, and ought not to have caused a moment’s hesitation. Avowing among their distinctive doctrines the fatherly character of God and the brotherhood of man, we had a right to expect from the Unitarians a steadfast and unqualified protest against so unjust, tyrannical, and cruel a system as that of American slavery. And considering their position as a body, not entangled with any pro-slavery alliances, not hampered with any ecclesiastical organization, it does seem to me that they were pre-eminently guilty in reference to the enslavement of the millions in our land with its attendant wrongs, cruelties, horrors. They refused to speak as a body, and censured, condemned, execrated their members who did speak faithfully for the down-trodden, and who co-operated with him whom a merciful Providence sent as the prophet of the reform.”[29]

The testimony of Rev. O.B. Frothingham is fully as condemnatory of Unitarian timidity and conservatism, even of the moral cowardice betrayed by many of the leaders. He says the Unitarians, as such, “were indifferent or lukewarm; the leading classes were opposed to the agitation. Dr. Channing was almost alone in lending countenance to the reform, though his hesitation between the dictates of natural feeling and Christian charity towards the masters hampered his action, and rendered him obnoxious to both parties,–the radicals finding fault with him for not going further, the conservatives blaming him because he went so far.”[30] Mr. Frothingham finds, however, that the transcendentalists were quite “universally abolitionists, their faith in the natural powers of man making them zealous promoters of the cause of the slave.” He insists that as a class “the Unitarians were not ardent disciples of any moral cause, and took pride in being reasoners, believers in education and in general social influence, in the progress of knowledge and the uplifting of humanity by means of ideas,” but that they permitted these qualities to cool their ardor for reform and to mitigate their love of humanity.[31]

The biographers of William Lloyd Garrison are never tired of condemning Dr. Channing for what they call his timidity, his shunning any personal contact with the great abolitionist, his failure to grapple boldly with the evils of slavery, and his half-hearted espousal of the cause of abolition. The Unitarians generally are by these writers regarded in the same manner.[32]

Most of the accounts mentioned were written by those who took part in the agitation against slavery, in condemnation of those who had not kept step with their abolition pace or in apology for those whose words and conduct were thought to need defence. The time has come, perhaps, when it is possible to consider, the attitude of individuals and the denomination without a partisan wish to condemn or to defend. In this spirit the statement of Samuel J. May is to be accepted as true and just, when he says: “We Unitarians have given to the anti-slavery cause more preachers, writers, lecturers, agents, poets, than any other denomination in proportion to our numbers, if not without any comparison.”[33]

Among those who listened to William Lloyd Garrison when in October, 1830, he first presented in Boston his views in favor of immediate emancipation, were Samuel J. May, Samuel E. Sewall, and A.B. Alcott; and these men at once became his disciples and friends.[34] When Garrison organized the New England Anti-slavery Society in December, 1832, he was actively supported by Samuel E. Sewall, David Lee Child, and Ellis Gray Loring. It was to the financial support of Sewall and Loring, though they did not at first accept his doctrine of immediate emancipation, that Garrison owed his ability to begin The Liberator, and to sustain it in its earliest years.[35] For many years, Edmund Quincy was connected with The Liberator, serving as its editor when Garrison was ill, absent on lecturing tours, or journeying in Europe. The Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society, which in 1835 succeeded the New England Society, had during many years Francis Jackson as its president, Edmund Quincy as its corresponding secretary, and Robert F. Walcutt as its recording secretary, all Unitarians.

In 1834 was formed the Cambridge Anti-slavery Society, under the leadership of the younger Henry Ware; and the membership was largely Unitarian, including the names of Dr. Henry Ware, Sidney Willard, Charles Follen, William H. Charming, Artemus B. Muzzey, Barzillai Frost, Charles T. Brooks, and Frederic H. Hedge. The purposes of the society were stated in its constitution:–

We believe that the emancipation of all who are in bondage is the requisition, not less of sound policy, than of justice and humanity; and that it is the duty of those with whom the power lies at once to remove the sanction of the law from the principle that man can be the property of man,–a principle inconsistent with our free institutions, subversive of the purposes for which man was made, and utterly at variance with the plainest dictates of reason and Christianity.

In 1843 Samuel May visited England, and at Unitarian meetings described the obstacles in the way of the abolition of slavery, and spoke of the apathy of American Unitarians. He advised the sending a letter of fraternal counsel to the Unitarian ministers of the United States “in behalf of the unhappy slave.” Such a letter was prepared, and signed by eighty-five ministers. It was published in the Unitarian papers in this country, a meeting was held to consider it, and a reply sent to England signed by one hundred and thirty ministers. Mr. May was severely condemned for his part in causing such a letter to be sent, and the reply was rather in the nature of a protest than a friendly acceptance of the advice given.

A year later, however, this letter was again the subject of earnest discussion. In anniversary week, 1845, a meeting of Unitarian ministers was held to “discuss their duties in relation to American slavery.” The call for this meeting was signed by James Thompson, Joseph Allen, Caleb Stetson, Samuel Ripley, Converse Francis, William Ware, Samuel J. May, Artemus B. Muzzey, Oliver Stearns, James W. Thompson, Alonzo Hill, Andrew P. Peabody, Henry A. Miles, Frederic H. Hedge, James F. Clarke, George W. Briggs, Samuel May, Barzillai Frost, Nathaniel Hall, David Fosdick, and John Weiss. At the third session, by a vote of forty-seven to seven, it was declared “that we consider slavery to be utterly opposed to the principles and spirit of Christianity, and that, as ministers of the gospel, we feel it our duty to protest against it, in the name of Christ, and to do all we may to create a public opinion to secure the overthrow of the institution.” It was also decided to appoint a committee to draw up, secure signatures to, and publish “a protest against the institution of American slavery, as unchristian and inhuman.” Though some of those who spoke at these meetings condemned the abolitionists, yet all of them expressed in the strongest terms their opposition to slavery.

The committee selected to prepare this protest consisted of Caleb Stetson, James F. Clarke, John Parkman, Stephen G. Bulfinch, A.P. Peabody, John Pierpont, Samuel J. May, Oliver Stearns, George W. Briggs, William P. Tilden, and William H. Channing. The protest was written by James Freeman Clarke and was accepted essentially as it came from his hands. It was signed by one hundred and seventy-three ministers,[36] the whole number of Unitarian ministers at that time being two hundred and sixty-seven. Some of the most prominent ministers were conspicuous by the absence of their names from this protest. It must be understood, however, that those who did not sign it were as much opposed to slavery as those who did. “This protest,” said the editor of The Christian Register, in presenting it to the public,[37] “is written with great clearness of expression and moderation of spirit. It exhibits unequivocally and distinctly the sentiments of the numerous and most enlightened body of clergy whose names are attached to it, as well as many other ministers of the denomination who may be disinclined to act conjointly, or do not feel called upon to act at all in any prescribed way, on the subject.” It was not a desire to defend slavery that kept these ministers from signing the protest, but their excessive individualism, and their unwillingness to commit the denomination to opinions all might not accept. A few paragraphs from the protest will indicate its spirit and purpose:–

“Especially do we feel that the denomination which takes for its motto Liberty, Holiness and Love should be foremost in opposing this system. More than others we have contended for three great principles,–individual liberty, perfect righteousness, and human brotherhood. All of these are grossly violated by the system of slavery. We contend for mental freedom; shall we not denounce the system which fetters both mind and body? We have declared righteousness to be the essence of Christianity; shall we not oppose the system which is the sum of all wrong? We claim for all men the right of brotherhood before a universal Father; ought we not to testify against that which tramples so many of our brethren under foot?”

“We, therefore, ministers of the gospel of truth and love, in the name of God the universal Father, in the name of Christ the Redeemer, in the name of humanity and human brotherhood, do solemnly protest against the system of slavery as unchristian, and inhuman,” “because it is a violation of right, being the sum of all unrighteousness which man can do to man,” “violates the law of love,” “degrades man, the image of God, into a thing,” “necessarily tends to pollute the soul of the slave,” “to defile the soul of the master,” “restricts education, keeps the Bible from the slave, makes life insecure, deprives female innocence of protection, sanctions adultery, tears children from parents and husbands from wives, violates the divine institutions of families, and by hard and hopeless toil makes existence a burden,” “eats out the heart of nations and tends every year more and more to sear the popular conscience and impair the virtue of the people.”

“We implore all Christians and Christian preachers to unite in unceasing prayer to God for aid against this system, to leave no opportunity of speaking the truth and spreading the light on this subject, in faith that the truth is strong enough to break every yoke.” “And we do hereby pledge ourselves, before God and our brethren, never to be weary of laboring in the cause of human rights and freedom until slavery be abolished and every slave made free.”

Although many ministers and laymen took the position that the question of slavery was not one that should receive attention in the meetings of the Unitarian Association or other religious organizations, that these should be kept strictly to their own special purposes, it was not possible to exclude the one great exciting topic of the age. How persistently it intruded itself is clearly indicated in words used by Dr. Bellows at the annual meeting of the Association, in 1856. “Year after year this horrid image of slavery come in here,” he said, “and obtruded itself upon our concerns. It has prevented our giving attention to any other subject; we could not keep it out of our minds; and why is that awful crime against humanity still known in the world, still supported and active in this age of Christendom, but because it is in alliance with certain views of theology with which we are at war?”[38] At the same meeting strong resolutions of sympathy with the free settlers of Kansas, and with Charles Sumner because “the barbarity of the slave power had attempted to silence him by brutal outrage,” were unanimously adopted.[39]

In 1857 the subject of slavery came before the Western Conference in its session at Alton. The most uncompromising anti-slavery resolutions were presented at the opening of the meeting, and everything else was put aside for their consideration, a day and a half being devoted to them. The opinion of the majority was, in the words of one of the speakers, that slavery is a crime that “denies millions marital and parental rights, requires ignorance as a condition, encourages licentiousness and cruelty, scars a country all over with incidents that appall and outrage the human world.” Dr. W.G. Eliot, of St. Louis, and others, thought it not expedient to press the subject to an issue, though he regarded slavery in much the same way as did the other members of the conference. When the conference finally took issue with slavery, he and his delegates withdrew from its membership. His assistant, Rev. Carlton A. Staples, and Rev. John H. Heywood, of Louisville, went with the majority. A committee appointed to formulate a statement the conference could accept said that it had no right to interfere with the freedom of action of individual churches; but it recommended them to do all they could in opposition to slavery, and said that the conference was of one mind in the conviction “that slavery is an evil doomed by God to pass away.” This report was accepted by the conference with only one opposing vote.[40] When the year 1860 had arrived, Unitarians were practically unanimous in their condemnation of slavery.

When the names of individual Unitarians who took an active part in the anti-slavery movement are given, it is at once seen how important was the influence of the denomination. Early in the century Rev. Noah Worcester uttered his word of protest against slavery. Rev. Charles Follen joined the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society in the second year of its existence, and no nobler champion of liberty ever lived. If Dr. Channing was slow in applying his Christian ideal of liberty to slavery, there can be no question that his influence was powerful on the right side, and all the more so because of his gentle and ethical interpretation of individual and national duty. His various publications on the subject, his identification of himself with the abolitionists by joining their ranks in the Massachusetts State House in 1836, his speech in Faneuil Hall in protest against the killing of Lovejoy in Alton during the same year, exerted a great influence in behalf of abolition throughout the North. It is only necessary to mention John Pierpont, Theodore Parker, William H. Furness, William H. Channing, William Goodell, Theodore D. Weld, Ichabod Codding, Caleb Stetson, and M.D. Conway in order to recognize their uncompromising fidelity to the cause of freedom. Only less devoted were such men as Charles Lowell, Nahor A. Staples, Sylvester Judd, Nathaniel Hall, Thomas T. Stone, O.B. Frothingham, Abiel A. Livermore, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Longfellow, Thomas J. Mumford, and many others.

Samuel J. May and his cousin, Samuel May, were both employed by the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society. From 1847 until 1865 the latter was the general agent of that organization; and his assistant was another Unitarian minister, Robert F. Walcutt. James Freeman Clarke, though settled at Louisville from 1833 to 1840, was opposed to slavery; and in the pages of The Western Messenger, of which he was publisher and editor, he took every occasion to press home the claims of emancipation. John G. Palfrey emancipated the slaves that came into his possession from his father’s estate, insisting on receiving them for that purpose, though the opportunity was given him to accept other property in their stead. In accordance with this action was his attitude toward slavery in the pulpit and on the platform, as well as when he was a member of the lower house of Congress.

Of Unitarian laymen who were loyal to the ideal of freedom, the list may properly open with the name of Josiah Quincy, afterwards mayor of Boston and president of Harvard College, who began as early as 1804 his opposition to slavery, and carried it faithfully into his work as a member of the national House of Representatives soon after. The fidelity of John Quincy Adams to freedom during many years is known to every one, and his service in the national House has given him a foremost place in the company of the anti-slavery leaders. Not less loyal was the service of Charles Sumner, Horace Mann, John P. Hale, George W. Julian, John A. Andrew, Samuel G. Howe, Henry I. Bowditch, William I. Bowditch, Thomas W. Higginson, George F. Hoar, Ebenezer R. Hoar, George S. Boutwell, and Henry B. Anthony. Of the poets the anti-slavery reform had the support of Longfellow, Lowell, Bryant, and Emerson. The Unitarian women were also zealous for freedom. The loyalty of Lydia Maria Child is well known, as are the sacrifices she made in publishing her early anti-slavery books. Lucretia Mott, of the Unitarian branch of the Friends, was a devoted supporter of the anti-slavery cause. Mrs. Maria W. Chapman was one of the most faithful supporters of Garrison, doing more than any one else to give financial aid to the anti-slavery reform movement in its earlier years. With these women deserve to be mentioned Eliza Lee Follen, Angelina Grimké Weld, Lucy Stone, and many more.

A considerable group of persons who had been trained in evangelical churches became essentially Unitarians as a result of the anti-slavery agitation. Of these may be mentioned William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, Beriah Green, Joshua R. Giddings, Myron Holley, Theodore D. Weld, and Francis W. Bird. Of the first four of these men, George W. Julian has said: “They were theologically reconstructed through their unselfish devotion to humanity and the recreancy of the churches to which they had been attached. They were less orthodox, but more Christian. Their faith in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man became a living principle, and compelled to reject all dogmas which stood in its way.”[41]
The Enfranchisement of Women.

It is not surprising that the first great advocate of “the rights of women” in this country should have been the Unitarian, Margaret Fuller. She did no more than apply what she had been taught in religion to problems of personal duty, professional activity, and political obligations. With her freedom of faith and liberty of thought meant also freedom to devote her life to such tasks as she could best perform for the good of others. It was inevitable that other Unitarian women should follow her example, and that many women, trained in other faiths, having come to accept the doctrine of universal political rights, should seek in Unitarianism the religion consonant with their individuality of purpose and their sense of human freedom.

Among the leaders of the movement for the enfranchisement of women have been such Unitarians as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Mary A. Livermore, Maria Weston Chapman, Caroline H. Dall, and Louisa M. Alcott. The first pronounced woman suffrage paper in the country was The Una, begun at Providence in 1853, with Mrs. Caroline H. Dall as the assistant editor. Among other Unitarian contributors were William H. Charming, Elizabeth P. Peabody, Thomas W. Higginson, Ednah D. Cheney, Amory D. Mayo, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, Lucy Stone, and Mrs. E.C. Stanton. The next important paper was The Revolution, begun at New York in 1868, with Susan B. Anthony as publisher and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury as editors. Then came The Woman’s Journal, begun at Boston in 1870, with Mary A. Livermore, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, T.W. Higginson, and Henry B. Blackwell, all Unitarians, as the editors.

The first national woman’s suffrage meeting was held in Worcester, October 28 and 24, 1850; and among those who took part in it by letter or personal presence were Emerson, Alcott, Higginson, Pillsbury, Samuel J. May, William H. Channing, William H. Burleigh, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Catherine M. Sedgwick, Caroline Kirkland, and Lucy Stone. In April, 1853, when the Constitution of Massachusetts was to receive revision, a petition was presented, asking that suffrage should be granted to women. Of twenty-seven persons signing it, more than half were Unitarians, including Abby May Alcott, Lucy Stone, T.W. Higginson, Anna Q.T. Parsons, Theodore Parker, William I. Bowditch, Samuel E. Sewall, Ellis Gray Loring, Charles K. Whipple, and Thomas T. Stone. Among other Unitarians who have taken an active part in promoting this cause have been Lucretia Mott, Mary Grew, Caroline M. Severance, Celia C. Burleigh, Angelina Grimké Weld, and Maria Giddings Julian. Of men there have been Dr. William F. Channing, James F. Clarke, George F. Hoar, George W. Curtis, John S. Dwight, John T. Sargent, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Longfellow, Octavius B. Frothingham, Adin Ballou, George W. Julian, Frank B. Sanborn, and James T. Fields.

Unitarians have been amongst the first to recognize women in education, literature, the professions, and in the management of church and denominational interests. At the convention held in New York in 1865, which organized the National Conference, no women appeared as delegates; and the same was true at the second session, held at Syracuse in 1866. At that session Rev. Thomas J. Mumford moved “that our churches shall be left to their own wishes and discretion with reference to the sex of the delegates chosen to represent them in the conference”; and this resolution was adopted. At the third meeting, held at New York in 1868, thirty-seven women appeared as delegates, including Julia Ward Howe and Caroline H. Dall. The lay delegates to the session held at Washington in 1899 numbered four hundred and two; and, of these, two hundred and twenty seven were women.

At the annual meeting of the Unitarian Association in 1870, Rev. John T. Sargent brought forward the subject of the representation of women on its board of directors. Dr. James F. Clarke made a motion looking to that result, which was largely discussed, much opposition being manifested. It was urged by many that women were unfit to serve in a position demanding so much business capacity, that they would displace capable men, and that it was improper for them to assume so public a duty. Charles Lowe, James F. Clarke, John T. Sargent, and others strongly championed the proposition, with the result that Miss Lucretia Crocker was elected a member of the board.[42]

The first woman ordained to the Unitarian ministry was Mrs. Celia C. Burleigh, who was settled over the parish in Brooklyn, Conn., October 5, 1871. The sermon was preached by Rev. John W. Chadwick, and the address to the people was given by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. A letter was read from Henry Ward Beecher, in which he said to Mrs. Burleigh: “I do cordially believe that you ought to preach. I think you had a call in your very nature.” Mrs. Burleigh continued at Brooklyn for less than three years, ill-health compelling her to resign.

The second woman to enter the Unitarian ministry was Miss Mary H. Graves, who was ordained at Mansfield, Mass., December 14, 1871. She was subjected to a thorough examination; and the committee reported “that her words have commanded our thorough respect by their freedom and clearness, and won our full sympathy and approval by their earnest, discreet, and beautiful spirit.” Mrs. Eliza Tupper Wilkes was ordained by the Universalists at Rochester, Minn., May 2, 1871, though she had preached for two or three years previously; and she subsequently identified herself with the Unitarians. Mrs. Antoinette Brown Blackwell was ordained in Central New York, in 1853, by the Orthodox Congregationalists; but somewhat later she became a Unitarian.

The first woman to receive ordination who has continued without interruption her ministerial duties was Miss Mary A. Safford, ordained in 1880. She has held every official position in connection with the Iowa Unitarian Association, and she has also been an officer of the Western Conference and a director of the American Unitarian Association.

Several women have also frequently appeared in Unitarian pulpits who have not received ordination or devoted themselves to the ministry as a profession. Among these are Mrs. Caroline H. Dall, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, and Mrs. Mary A. Livermore. In 1875 Mrs. Howe was active in organizing the Women’s Ministerial Conference, which met in the Church of the Disciples, and brought together women ministers of several denominations. Of this conference Mrs. Howe was for many years the president.

In most Unitarian churches there is no longer any question as to the right of women to take any place they are individually fitted to occupy. On denominational committees and boards, women sit with entire success, their fitness for the duties required being called in question by no one. In those conferences where women have for a number of years been actively engaged in the work of the ministry they are received on a basis of perfect equality with men, and the sex question no longer presents itself in regard to official positions or any other ministerial duty.
Civil Service Reform.

The first advocate of the reform of the civil service was Charles Sumner, who as early as December, 1847, anticipated its methods in a series of articles contributed to a newspaper.[43] He was the first to bring this reform before Congress, which he did April 30, 1864, when he introduced a bill to provide a system of competitive examinations for admission to and promotion in the civil service, which made merit and fitness the conditions of employment by the government, and provided against removal without cause. This bill was drawn by Sumner without consultation with any other person, but the time had not yet arrived when it could be successfully advocated.

The next person to advocate the reform of the civil service in Congress was Thomas A. Jenckes, of Rhode Island, who in 1867 brought the merit system forward in the form of a report from the joint committee on retrenchment, which reported on the condition of the civil service, and accompanied its report with a bill “to regulate the civil service and to promote its efficiency.” The next year Mr. Jenckes made a second report, but it was not until 1871 that action on the subject was secured.[44] George W. Curtis says that at first he “pressed it upon an utterly listless Congress, and his proposition was regarded as the harmless hobby of an amiable man, from which a little knowledge of practical politics would soon dismount him.”[45] Most members of Congress thought the reform a mere vagary, and that it was brought forward at a most inopportune time.[46] Mr. Jenckes was the pioneer of the reform, according to Curtis, who says that he “powerfully and vigorously and alone opened the debate in Congress.”[47] He drew the amendment to the appropriation bill in 1871 that became the law, and under which the first civil service commission was appointed. “By his experience, thorough knowledge, fertility of resource and suggestion and great legal ability, he continued to serve with as much efficiency as modesty the cause to which he was devoted.”[48]

One of the first persons to give attention to this subject was Dorman B. Eaton, an active member of All Souls’ Church in New York, who was for several years chairman of the committee on political reform of the Union League Club of New York. In 1866, and again in 1870 and 1875, he travelled in Europe to secure information in regard to methods of civil service. The results of these investigations were presented in his work on Civil Service in Great Britain, a report made at the request of President Hayes. In 1873 he was appointed a member of the Civil Service Commission by President Grant; in 1883 he was the chairman of the committee appointed by President Arthur; and in 1885 he was reappointed by President Cleveland. The bill of January, 1883, which firmly established civil service by act of Congress, was drawn by him. He was a devoted worker for good government in all its phases; and the results of his studies of the subject may be found in his books on The Independent Movement in New York and The Government of Municipalities. He was described by George William Curtis as “one of the most conspicuous, intelligent, and earnest friends of reform.”[49]

The most conspicuous advocate of the merit system was Mr. George William Curtis, another New York Unitarian, who was the chairman of the Civil Service Commission of 1871. In 1880 he became the president of the New York Civil Service Reform Association, a position he held until his death. The National Civil Service Reform League was organized at Newport in August, 1881; and he was the president from that time as long as he lived. His annual addresses before the league show his devoted interest in its aims, as well as his eloquence, intellectual power, and political integrity.[50] In an address before the Unitarian National Conference, in 1878, Mr. Curtis gave a noble exposition and vindication of the reform which he labored zealously for twelve years to advance.[51]

It has been justly said of Mr. Curtis that “far above the pleasures of life he placed its duties; and no man could have set himself more sternly to the serious work of citizenship. The national struggle over slavery, and the re-establishment of the Union on permanent foundations enlisted his whole nature. In the same spirit, he devoted his later years to the overthrow of the spoils system. He did this under no delusion as to the magnitude of the undertaking. Probably no one else comprehended it so well. He had studied the problem profoundly, and had solved every difficulty, and could answer every cavil to his own satisfaction.” There can be no question that “his name imparted a strength to the movement no other would have given.” Nor can there be much question that “among public men there was none who so won the confidence of sincere and earnest men and women by his own personality. The powers of such a character, with all his gifts and accomplishments, was what Mr. Curtis brought to the civil service reform.”[52]

[1] American Unitarian Biography, edited by William Ware; Memoir of Worcester, by Henry Ware, Jr., I. 45, 46.

[2] Solemn Review, edition of 1836 by American Peace Society, 7.

[3] It had been preceded by societies in Ohio and New York, results of the influence of the Solemn Review.

[4] Unitarian Biography, I. 49.

[5] Memoir, II. 284; one-volume edition, 111.

[6] Ibid., III. 111; one-volume edition, 284.

[7] Memoir, 139.

[8] Christian Examiner, May, 1850, XLVIII. 378.

[9] Ibid., November, 1861, LXXI. 313.

[10] Life, 83.

[11] Ibid., 115.

[12] Cyclopedia of American Biography, V. 746.

[13] Memoir, II. 348.

[14] Memoir.

[15] Ibid., 351.

[16] Ibid., IV. 572.

[17] Reminiscences, 328.

[18] Memoir, III. 36; one-volume edition, 477.

[19] Memoir, III. 31; one-volume edition, 474, 475.

[20] Works, II. 301.

[21] When will the Day come? and other tracts of the Massachusetts Temperance Society, 135.

[22] Of the twenty-seven annual addresses given before this society from 1814 to 1840, at least sixteen were by Unitarians; and among these were John T. Kirkland, Abiel Abbot, William E. Channing, Edward Everett, the younger Henry Ware, Gamaliel Bradford, Charles Sprague, James Walker, Alexander H. Everett, William Sullivan, and Samuel K. Lothrop. The first four presidents of this society–Samuel Dexter, Nathan Dane, Isaac Parker, and Stephen Fairbanks–were Unitarians. Of the same faith were also a large proportion of the vice-presidents and other officers. Many of the tracts published by the society were written by Unitarians.

[23] Unitarians of every calling have been the advocates of temperance. Among those who have been loyal to it in word and action may be named John Adams, Jeremy Belknap, Jonathan Phillips, Charles Lowell, Ezra S. Gannett, John Pierpont, Samuel J. May, Amos Lawrence, Horace Mann, William H. and George S. Burleigh, Governor Pitman, William G. Eliot, Rufus P. Stebbins, and William B. Spooner. “Many of the leading men and women who were eminent as lawyers, judges, legislators, scholars, also prominent in the business walks of life, and in social position, gave this cause the force of their example, and the inspiration of their minds. By their contributions of money, by their personal efforts, by their public speeches and writings, and by their practice of total abstinence, they rendered very valuable service.”

[24] Twelfth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 1897.

[25] Theodore Clapp, of New Orleans, may be an exception, though he is claimed by the Universalists. See S.J. May’s Recollections of the Anti-slavery Conflict, 335.

[26] Autobiography and Letters, 117, 127, 129. The criticism of Dr. Dewey may be found in S.J. May’s Recollections, 367.

[27] Memoir, 139, 284, 296. See S.J. May, Recollections, 341, 367, for an anti-slavery indictment of Dr. Gannett.

[28] Memoir, chapter on Slavery.

[29] Recollections of the Anti-slavery Conflict, chapter on the Unitarians, 335.

[30] See Lydia Maria Child’s account of conversations with Channing on this subject, in her Letters from New York.

[31] Recollections and Impressions, 47, 183.

[32] The Story of his Life as Told by his Children.

[33] Recollections, 335.

[34] S.J. May, Recollections, 19; Life of A.B. Alcott, 220; Life of Garrison, I. 212.

[35] Life of Garrison, I. 223.

[36] The more prominent names are herewith given as they were printed in The Christian Register: Joseph Allen, J.H. Allen, S.G. Bulfinch, C.F. Barnard, Charles Briggs, W.G. Babcock, C.T. Brooks, Warren Burton, C.H. Brigham, Edgar Buckingham, William H. Channing, James F. Clarke, S.B. Cruft, A.H. Conant, C.H.A. Dall, R. Ellis, Converse Francis, James Flint, William H. Furness, N.S. Folsom, Frederick A. Farley, Frederick T. Gray, Henry Giles, F.D. Huntington, E.B. Hall, N. Hall, F.H. Hedge, F. Hinckley, G.W. Hosmer, F.W. Holland, Thomas Hill, Sylvester Judd, James Kendall, William H. Knapp, A.A. Livermore, S.J. May, Samuel May, M.I. Mott, A.B. Muzzey, J.F. Moors, Henry A. Miles, William Newell, J. Osgood, S. Osgood, Andrew P. Peabody, John Parkman, John Pierpont, Theodore Parker, Cyrus Pierce, J.H. Perkins, Cazneau Palfey, O.W.B. Peabody, Samuel Ripley, Chandler Robbins, Caleb Stetson, Oliver Stearns, Rufus P. Stebbins, Edmund Q. Sewall, Charles Sewall, John T. Sargent, George F. Simmons, William Silsbee, William P. Tilden, J.W. Thompson, John Weiss, Robert T. Waterston, William Ware, J.F.W. Ware, E.B. Willson, Frederick A. Whitney, Jason Whitman.

[37] Printed in The Christian Register, October 4, 1845.

[38] Quarterly Journal, III. 567.

[39] Ibid., 572.

[40] Unity, Sept. 4, 1886, Mrs. S.C.Ll. Jones, Historic Unitarianism in the West.

[41] Life of Joshua R. Giddings, 399.

[42] Memoir of Charles Lowe, 486. In 1901 four of the eighteen directors of the American Unitarian Association were women.

[43] Life, III. 149.

[44] Life of Charles Sumner, IV. 191; Works, VII. 452.

[45] G.W. Curtis, Orations and Addresses, II. 30.

[46] Ibid., 173.

[47] Ibid., 180.

[48] Ibid., 223.

[49] G.W. Curtis, Orations and Addresses, II. 458.

[50] See Curtis’s Orations and Addresses, II.; also, his Reports as civil service commissioner, and various addresses before the Social Science Association.

[51] Edward Cary, Life of Curtis, American Men of Letters, 294.

[52] George William Curtis and Civil Service Reform, by Sherman S. Rogers, in Atlantic Monthly, January, 1893, LXXI. 15.


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