IT HAD BECOME EVIDENT soon after 1820 that the long impending separation between the two wings in the Congregational Church had in all but name now taken place. Under their loose organization no procedure was provided by which the one wing might excommunicate the other; separations therefore had to come about gradually by mutual withdrawals from relations in which since the very beginnings of the churches they had been united. There were indeed many instances in which the entire congregation without division gravitated to one side or the other, usually following the lead of their minister; but where division of sentiment proved incurable the minority, as the aggrieved party, would withdraw and organize another church. In 81 cases it was the orthodox party that withdrew, though in about a dozen other cases the liberal minority withdrew from a society in which they were outnumbered by the orthodox. Separations ceased by 1840; though by 1825 the Unitarians realized that without their wishing it they were practically a community by themselves. Excluded as they were from their old associations, it now became a serious question whether they should go on as they were, trusting that, as some of them believed, Unitarianism would in a generation irresistibly sweep the whole country; or should instead organize a new denomination by themselves, to hold the liberal ministers and churches together while they defended and extended their common faith. Most of the older leaders were disposed to let their liberal movement take its natural course rather than attempt to direct it and give its forces, effective organization; for they had of late seen quite too much of the sectarian spirit, and would fain be done with it. The younger men, however, beginning their ministry full of faith and zeal, felt that if their faith were to spread into new fields, especially in the rapidly settling new West, the work must be planned and directed; for if they left the matter to chance, contented to do nothing, they would simply be abandoning the field to crude orthodoxy, or to cruder irreligion, leaving liberal religion to die out within a generation.
When the division was complete, the Unitarians numbered some 125 churches — 100 in Massachusetts, mostly within twenty-five miles of Boston, a score elsewhere in New England, and five from New York south. In belief they had with one accord abandoned the doctrine of the Trinity, and were rapidly leaving Arianism behind; but on other doctrinal points there was great diversity, since they were liberal and undogmatic in spirit, though adverse to the dogmas of Calvinism. In fact they valued Unitarianism more for its freedom than for its doctrine. Belonging generally to the conservative class, socially and politically they were disposed to be complacent and selfconfident, and felt moved by no eager desire to make converts to their religion or to urge it upon others; but their main emphasis was upon uprightness of moral character, while they were given to philanthropic causes and the general welfare, were devoted to general interests, faithful to civic duties, and generous to cases of private need.
The orthodox on the other hand were for the time stunned by the sweeping victories of their opponents. Despite the fierce attacks upon them in the Panoplist in 1815, the Unitarians had made steady gains. Their doughty antagonist, Dr. Morse, had now withdrawn from the field, and the Panoplist had been absorbed in a milder publication; Harvard University had escaped from their control; the Supreme Court had denied possession of many of their church properties; and they had as yet no acknowledged champion. How the field looked from the orthodox point of view can best be told in the words of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, speaking of the life of her father, the Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher, who came to Boston in 1826.1
‘When Dr. Beecher came to Boston, Calvinism or orthodoxy was the despised and persecuted form of faith. It was the dethroned royal family wandering like a permitted, mendicant in the city where once it had held court, and Unitarianism reigned in its stead. All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarians. All the elite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches. The judges on the bench were Unitarian, giving decisions by which the peculiar features of Church organization, so carefully ordained by the Pilgrim Fathers, had been nullified. The Church, as consisting, according to their belief, in regenerate people, had been ignored, and all the power had passed into the hands of the congregation. This power had been used by the majorities to settle ministers of the fashionable and reigning type in many of the towns of Eastern Massachusetts. The dominant majority entered at once into possession of churches and church property, leaving the orthodox minority to go out into schoolhouses or town halls, and build their churches as best they could.’
But the orthodox reaction had already begun. Andover Seminary was prospering and sending out large classes of young ministers to the churches. Amherst College, founded in 1821, was, after determined opposition, at length chartered by the General Court in 1825,and bid fair to provide higher education untainted by the liberalism of Harvard. The vigorous Calvinist revivalist, Lyman Beecher, was brought from his parish in Western Connecticut to revive the languishing Park Street Church by a series of special services in 1823,and these were followed by a general revival of religion among the orthodox churches of the vicinity, marked by public excitement, and by some secessions of members from Unitarian churches to orthodox. The former were thus challenged to meet the latter with greater energy, and were given the spur needed to organize their forces.
Some elements of organized life indeed already existed and were active among the Unitarians. A Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Piety and Charity had been formed in 1806when its Secretary, the Rev. William Emerson, began publishing the Christian Monitor, containing practical devotional works and reprints of older writings of religious value; and also a series of Religious Tracts and other works; and in 1821 the Publishing Fund Society was established to promote the circulation of improving works of religion and morality. But although both these organizations were supported by the liberal element, they were unsectarian and refused to publish controversial matter, and it was not until the middle of the century that they made any special effort to circulate Unitarian literature. Also the Christian Disciple set out with the purpose of promoting practical, nonsectarian Christianity, partly perhaps as a protest against the aggressive liberalism of the short-lived General Repository which it succeeded in 1813; but it was not vigorous enough to add much strength to the liberal cause, and it somewhat languished. When after six years Dr. Worcester withdrew from it, the Boston ministers took it in hand, enlarged it, and changed its plan, determined to make it a standard journal of Liberal Christianity appealing to the whole country.2 Under the new auspices it was edited by the Rev. Henry Ware, Jr., for six years, until in 1824 it was transformed into the Christian Examiner to hold for forty-five years an outstanding place in American religious journalism.3
One modest agency for church extension was in existence before the Congregational churches separated. The Massachusetts Evangelical Missionary Society was founded early in the century and incorporated in 1816 ‘to furnish the means of Christian knowledge and moral improvement to those ... who are destitute or poorly provided.’ It was not at first sectarian, and it was supported by both conservatives and liberals; but gradually the orthodox ceased to cooperate and it became distinctly Unitarian, and so exists to this day. It made small grants to communities where there was no preaching, assisted them in securing ministers, and thus established young churches in a good many country towns. It still aids feeble churches and ministers in need. Besides this there still remains one relic of the past in the Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians and others in North America. But there was an ardent group that felt that liberal Christians ought to do a great deal more than this to extend their faith. The first tentative step toward organization was therefore taken by ministers that had gathered in Boston for election day to hear the election sermon and attend their anniversaries as the ministers of the State were then accustomed to do. According to arrangement previously made, therefore, the liberal ministers on the evening of May 30, 1820 met in large numbers in Berry Street, in the new vestry of the Federal Street Church.4 An address was delivered by Mr. Channing, who spoke of the objects that had brought them together, and of their need as liberal men for mutualaid and support. They needed a common bond of union and an opportunity for conference which they had lacked hitherto, to the end of nourishing practical religion and a Christian spirit as well as for promoting their distinctive views.5 The address was well received, and the meeting was adjourned until the next evening when, after an animated discussion, simple articles were adopted.6 At the next year’s meeting the name of the Ministerial Conference in Berry Street (commonly called the Berry Street Conference) was adopted; and as a step toward practical activity it was voted to consider the further extension of religious publications. This earliest and oldest Unitarian organization has maintained an unbroken existence to this day. It meets but once a year, with meetings for ministers only; and as practical activities were soon assumed by another society, its meetings have been given to the discussion of a paper presented by a member. These discussions have often served as a sort of safety-valve for brethren suffering from high pressure, and as they have been carried on with the greatest freedom and marked by the broadest tolerance, they have proved a bond holding together in peace and mutual respect men having the widest variety of opinions.
The growing wish for union in order to give the liberal cause greater strength soon spread from ministers to laymen; for soon after the forming of the Berry Street Conference in 1821 several gentlemen in Boston got together and formed the Publishing Fund Society, thus putting into immediate effect the project that had been tentatively discussed by the Conference. Though refusing to print controversial or sectarian works, within its restricted limits it carried on its useful activities for many years. The older men in especial had an almost morbid aversion to accepting a sectarian name. In 1835 Dr. N. L. Frothingham, already over twenty years settled over the First Church as an acknowledged Unitarian, prided himself on never having used the word Unitarian in his pulpit;7 and Dr. Channing even declared as late as 1841 that he was little of a Unitarian.8 Very many men and ministers, especially in the strong old churches of Boston, had little or no denominational feeling, and would give no active support to denominational causes.9
The growing demand for effective missionary activity, however, was not satisfied, for a very different feeling prevailed among the younger men. A full dozen of the recent graduates of the Harvard Divinity School, where they had sat under the progressive and stimulating teaching of Professor Andrews Norton, were eager, zealous, unafraid, and impatient to be spreading to a broader world the good news of Christianity free from the taint of Calvinism; and it was they that took the lead in the movement to organize the American Unitarian Association. They realized that if they were to do anything to spread their faith beyond its present limits, they must unite and organize for the purpose; whereas if they were to refrain from this, they would be yielding the field to orthodoxy without a struggle, giving way meekly before views that they believed not only untrue but harmful. Their first step was taken in 1824 at a meeting of a club of thirty or forty leading Boston Unitarians called the Anonymous Association, who were interested in promoting the progress of liberal Christianity. Regarding tracts as the best available means of making their faith known they proposed to form an organization for spreading Unitarian principles through the press. A public meeting was called of all interested, ‘to confer together on the expediency of appointing an annual meeting for the purpose of union, sympathy and cooperation in the cause of Christian truth and Christian charity.’ The meeting was well attended, and the record of proceedings faithfully reflects the state of the Unitarian mind. The first speaker doubted the expediency of what was proposed, and thought that great care ought to be used. Unitarianism should be propagated slowly and silently, and he was convinced that the plan would do more harm than good. Another, speaking in favor, explained that the purpose was not to make proselytes. Dr. Channing gave a cautious approval; but an eminent judge thought the plan dangerous, unbecoming to liberal Christians, and not beneficial to the community. Everything necessary could be accomplished without any general association. A leading merchant feared Unitarianism would become popular, and when it was in the majority would become intolerant. A prominent minister thought the plan would prove very dangerous by arousing sectarian spirit; another would have no sectarian name used. But the supporters of the motion would not be talked down, and spoke strongly for it. Unitarians had been too timid; had been careless about fostering their own cause; ought to come forward in support of their own views. A great deal had been accomplished by the few that had worked together for the cause. Organization was necessary to maintain the cause, and Unitarianism would gain by using the name. Though discussion continued through the winter, the prevailing sentiment was favorable to the project.10
At the Berry Street Conference in May, the Rev. Henry Ware, Jr., reported what had been proposed, and invited attendance at an afternoon meeting. None of the opposition seems to have attended, and it was unanimously voted ‘that it is expedient to form a new society to be called the American Unitarian Association,’ and a committee was appointed to draft a Constitution. The next morning, therefore, May 26, 1825,11a Constitution was adopted for an association ‘to diffuse the knowledge and promote the interests of pure Christianity’; and an able board of officers was chosen. Dr. Channing, though wishing the Association well, declined the offered Presidency, and Dr. Aaron Bancroft, of Worcester was chosen; while Dr. Channing’s young colleague, the Rev. Ezra Stiles Gannett, full of fervor, zeal and energy, was chosen Secretary. The chief executive work of the Association fell upon him. The Executive Committee at once held meetings to organize their work and employed an agent to solicit members and funds. Results were slowly won. In the first year only 65 members were obtained in Boston, where interest was lukewarm, and their total number was 891, and subscriptions amounted to $2,567, support coming mostly from outlying towns. In fact, during the first twenty-five years, only between a third and a half of the Boston churches made any contribution.
It was recognized that at the first most could be done for the cause by publishing and circulating tracts, and of these six were published, and a total of 17,000 copies were issued the first year; but in the second year both membership and contributions increased, and 65,000 tracts were issued. A circular letter was issued to all the Unitarian parishes, outlining the work the Association proposed and inviting cooperation in it, but insisting that the purpose was not to build up a sect or emphasize its particular doctrines, but to promote pure practical Christianity. For the sake of practical cooperation in the production and distribution of tracts, the Directors effected an arrangement with the publisher of the Christian Register,12 by which the Association provided one of the ministers as editor. Considerable opposition to the Association was offered from conservative circles, and objections had to be answered and inertia overcome; but in the course of the second year a field appeared which made a strong appeal to Bostonians. The neglected condition of the poor in Boston, estranged from churches, neglected by the clergy, often destitute and exposed to temptation, and sorely in need of friendly interest, called for assistance. Although this was obviously a case for local rather than general attention, the Association, with the aid of funds raised by the ladies of the churches, took it up and employed Dr. Joseph Tuckerman, lately minister of the church at Chelsea, to take charge of the work as minister-at-large to the poor, and the work was continued under the Association’s auspices until 1834, when it was assumed by the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches in Boston.13 Dr. Tuckerman’s work as minister-to-the-poor opened a new era in philanthropy, and he laid down and practiced all the main principles of modern scientific philanthropy. It also extended to England, where the accounts that he gave of his work during his visit in 1833 gave great stimulus to a similar organization of Domestic Missions’ in the larger cities.14
Opportunities for missionary work in the field were soon found. During the first summer a number of students in the Divinity School at Cambridge volunteered to spend a part of their vacation in exploring fields in perhaps a dozen Counties in Massachusetts and vicinity, and gathered useful information for future use, and in the very first year an appeal for aid came from Northumberland, Penn., where the Rev. James Kay, of late minister to one of the Methodist Unitarian churches in Lancashire, had organized a church and was erecting a meetinghouse.15 Aid was also sought and given for a similar movement that he had just organized at Harrisburg, and for one at Augusta, Ga. But the most important enterprise was the sending of a Messenger to explore the religious situation and the outlook for liberal churches in the new West. Mr. Moses G. Thomas of the Divinity School at Cambridge was sent as a special agent to the Western States. He traveled between four and five thousand miles, half of the way on horseback, and returned after five months in the states between Philadelphia and St. Louis. He brought back enthusiastic reports of many communities in which liberal religion would be eagerly received, especially mentioning the infant churches at Northumberland, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, and the inviting openings at Marietta, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis and other promising posts if only good ministers could be had.16 He also saw much of churches belonging to the Christian Connection to which reference has already been made.17 They were a loose aggregation of three different and widely separated offshoots, separating at about the beginning of the century from Baptists in New England, Presbyterians in the West, and Methodists in the South, who when they discovered one another tended to coalesce, and were said to have about 500 ministers and toward 1,000 congregations, 50,000 communicants, and some 200,000 adherents. They were organized into over twenty State Conferences and a General Conference, and published three periodicals. In belief they were anti-trinitarian, accepting only the Bible as authority, but were somewhat more conservative than Unitarians, though disposed to cooperate with them closely. Two Messengers were appointed to attend the United States Christian Conference. Gestures were made looking toward fraternal cooperation, and it was seriously proposed in 1837 that the two bodies should unite in maintaining a new liberal theological school somewhere on the Hudson,18 though the plan was not carried out until 1844, when a measure of cooperation was realized in the Meadville Theological School.
Encouraged by these reports from the field, the Association proceeded to organize for effective work. Several new openings were reported in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The distribution of tracts was enlarging, many Auxiliary Associations had been formed, and more than fifty agencies established, besides the general depositary in Boston. Twenty-one tracts had been printed, and in three years 143,000 had been sold. There was also a growing demand for free distribution, to meet which the Unitarian Book and Tract Society was formed in 1827 to distribute tracts without charge. Well before the Unitarian schism there had been Sunday-schools in a handful of churches that later became Unitarian; but in 1827 the teachers connected with Unitarian parishes in Boston and vicinity organized the Unitarian Sunday-school Society, which for more than twenty-five years did effective work in publishing text-books and Sunday-school papers until the Society was reorganized as a general denominational body in 1854. Other indications of vigorous church life were shown in the building of new churches in Boston and Philadelphia, and a second one in New York, in missionary preaching in Maine, the Connecticut valley and New York State. Promising new periodicals were established, like the Unitarian Advocate (Boston, 1828–32), to counteract the Spirit of the Pilgrims which Dr. Beecher had set up in 1828 to champion the reviving spirit of orthodoxy; and the Liberal Preacher (Keene, 1828–38), which published monthly sermons by the best Unitarian preachers. Great encouragement was aroused by the rapid growth of the Harvard Divinity School, which had doubled in enrollment, had erected the well appointed Divinity Hall in 1826, had within four years settled thirty-five men in the ministry but was unable to meet more than half the applications made for preachers. From overseas came reports of the progress made by the English Unitarians; of the striking growth of Liberalism at Geneva;19of the newly discovered Unitarian Church in Transylvania; and the promising beginning of a Unitarian mission in India.20
While the Unitarian movement was thus showing an upsurge of vitality, the orthodox too were beginning to recover spirit. They had for a time seemed stunned by the rapid advance of the Unitarians, who had been steadily gaining since 1815, and since Dr. Morse's departure they had had no strong and aggressive leader. But Dr. Lyman Beecher of Litchfield, Conn., known as a successful revivalist, had been anxiously watching from afar, and urging the necessity of taking aggressive steps against the advancing Unitarianism,21 and when in the spring of 1823 he was requested to come and assist the minister of Park Street Church in promoting a revival, he at once responded. He was much encouraged by the success of his meetings, and when called again to Massachusetts in the autumn to preach an ordination sermon at Worcester, he made his sermon a vigorous statement of the doctrine that he maintained, and of the need of defending it manfully.22 It was sharply reviewed in the Christian Examiner, which charged Beecher with softening his statement of Calvinism so much as to make it acceptable to Unitarians. He contended in reply that he was defending not Calvinism but the New England Theology, that he rejected some of Calvin's views, and frankly held a modification of the Calvinism of Edwards’s day. He thus put Unitarianism on the defensive. At all events, it paved the way for his later activity in Massachusetts; for when the orthodox two years later dedicated a fine new church in Hanover Street, Boston, he was the inevitable choice for its new minister; and his pastorate there was the beginning of an orthodox aggression which was marked by an almost continuous revival that lasted five years.23 His meetings were crowded both morning and evening, and some of the Unitarians were moved by the earnestness of his preaching to return to the orthodox faith; and the Unitarians were so much aroused that they began in self-defence to hold evening meetings of their own.24 The fact is that they needed the stimulus or sharp competition to rouse them out of the complacency into which they had fallen when winning in every field, being persuaded that without especial effort on their part their cause was bound to win within a generation.
Early in his Boston ministry, Dr. Beecher, as the now accepted leader of the orthodox cause in eastern Massachusetts, became actively interested in the case of the church at Groton. Here was a case where division had not taken place at once after the Dedham decision, and where the parties existing managed to get on peaceably together so long as no occasion called for decisive action; but in 1826 such an occasion arose. The aged minister of the parish after forty-eight years’ service asked for a colleague, and the church consisting of only some thirty voting members out of a parish of three hundred, by a vote of seventeen to eight chose an orthodox candidate; but the parish, which had grown liberal by three to one, refused to concur in the choice. Dissension followed, and when the parish committee provided liberal supplies for the pulpit, the old pastor and his supporters ceased to attend service, set up worship of their own, and began to build a new meeting-house. The parish therefore proceeded to choose a new pastor, who was elected by a large majority. The seceders called an ex parte Council, which met and published an elaborate “Result,” prepared by Dr. Beecher, which attempted to vindicate the paramount right of the church to call its minister. A very bitter newspaper controversy ensued, but reached no practical result.25 As the case lay, the real question was whether the small majority of seventeen voting members out of a church membership of thirty should be permitted to impose upon the great majority of the legal members of a large parish taxed to maintain public worship, a minister who was unsatisfactory to them.
At nearly the same time with the trouble at Groton, trouble arose in another church, in which Dr. Beecher was deeply interested as a consultant if not as an active participant. In the church at Cambridge the venerable Dr. Abiel Holmes (father of Oliver Wendell Holmes) had been settled minister since 1792. In his religious belief he was conservative, while his congregation had for more than a generation sympathized with liberal tendencies; but his preaching was generally practical, and no complaint was made of his theology so long as it was tolerantly held, and pulpit exchanges’ with the neighboring ministers were impartially made. At the height of the Unitarian controversy, when the ‘exclusive polic’26 was being adopted by the orthodox, Dr. Holmes, without giving any notice to his people, joined the orthodox reaction which Dr. Beecher was so vigorously leading, and ceased to exchange with Unitarians, or to admit a Unitarian to his pulpit. For several years no particular complaint was made, but in 1827, when the revival movement at Dr. Beecher’s church was moving the neighboring churches, Dr. Holmes, besides admitting only Calvinists to his pulpit, began holding, special meetings with Calvinistic speakers, and appeared to be aiming to convert his congregation to Calvinism, ignoring the convictions of his Unitarian members, there was so much dissatisfaction that members of his parish requested that he resume his former practice and exchange with Unitarians as well as with orthodox. Dr. Holmes felt that it would violate his conscience and create trouble in his congregation if he complied with the request, and for nearly two years, while the liberals who composed three fourths of the parish continued to press their cause, he stedfastly held his ground. At length the parish voted to lay the matter before an Ecclesiastical Council, which advised that the pastorate be dissolved, and Dr. Holmes was accordingly dismissed in 1829. The conservative majority of the church then withdrew, with a minority of the parish, and organized separately.27 These two cases, in addition to that at Dedham already related, were those that excited the most heated controversy as Congregationalists separated from Unitarians. There were, indeed, several minor cases, as at Waltham, where in 1825 every member of the church, including the minister, seceded from the parish and formed a new church and society; and at Brookfield in 1827, where a liberal majority of the parish settled a Unitarian minister, and all the male members of the Church but two withdrew, excommunicated the two, and claimed the church property; whereupon the two organized a new Church, and recovered the property by law.28 In many other parishes, however, a happier course was pursued, and without any controversy the Church and parish either remained orthodox or became quietly liberal.
Attacks upon the Unitarians had somewhat changed their ground since the outbreak of the controversy. The question at first debated had been as to the truth or error of the doctrines in question; but that question was largely exhausted in the controversy following the Baltimore sermon. The next criticism concerned the practical effects of the Unitarian faith. Already in 1819 a Presbyterian minister at Baltimore had stated that Unitarian preachers were most acceptable to the gay, the fashionable, the worldly-minded, and even the licentious; 29 and another in New York not long after charged that religion and morals had alarmingly declined and vice increased in Boston since the spread of Unitarianism there, and had insinuated that even Unitarian ministers were men of loose morals and little piety.30 These outrageous charges recklessly made, were at once widely accepted, and repeated as unquestioned truth; while more scrupulous critics soberly charged that Unitarianism made its followers less earnest in their religion, less faithful in its observances, and less strict in their morals. It was declared that they had gradually abandoned one doctrine after another until little of their Christianity now remained, and as they no longer accepted the verbal inspiration of the Bible, they were denounced as infidels. Worst of all, as some of them accepted the doctrine of the Universalists, it was said that they encouraged men to sin since they no longer feared eternal punishment.31 Such charges were persistently pressed by the Spirit of the Pilgrims which was founded in 1828 to sustain the orthodox cause.
But the charge that the Unitarians most resented, and to which they were most sensitive, was that they were lukewarm in their religion, and indifferent to piety.32 Dr. Channing in particular felt called upon to defend the Unitarians against these charges, and when asked to preach at the dedication of the Second Unitarian Church in New York in 1826 33 he chose for his subject, “Unitarian Christianity most Favorable to Piety.’ He supported his theme by taking nine separate doctrines and comparing them in the two systems, and showing the better results of the Unitarian. His thought had matured and grown more definite since his Baltimore sermon, and he hit out strongly, making no attempt to soften his blows as he sought out the vulnerable spots in his antagonist’s armor; but his worst offence was that in criticizing the popular theory of the atonement he used an unfortunate comparison and likened the scene on Calvary to a gallows set up at the center of the universe for the public execution of an innocent being. This was never forgiven by the orthodox but the sermon was greeted by the Unitarians with unbounded enthusiasm.34 One reading the sermon in the calmer atmosphere of to-day is not likely to find it more than moderately interesting; but it is significant for showing how far Channing’s thought had moved since 1815, and also how far it is from the Unitarianism of a century later.
Tension between the churches now grew greater. To rouse the orthodox feeling and make it more vigorous Dr. Beecher had founded the Spirit of the Pilgrims in 1828 to replace the Panoplist, while to offset this the Unitarians put forth the Unitarian Advocate, and for a decade the quarrel grew more bitter, angry and personal than ever. The Rev. Parsons Cooke of Ware, Mass., now attacked the Unitarians from a new angle, in the annual Fast-Day sermon, April 3, 1828, in which he charged that in the State of Massachusetts, with a population more than three fourths Trinitarian, the Unitarians exercized nine tenths of the political influence. The chief offices of trust and profit had for a long time been held by Unitarians, and they had held the chief appointive offices; and this, he declared, must have come about by sectarian political manoeuvering. All the judges but one had been Unitarians, and court decisions had favored their cause. The orthodox had even been excluded from literary and civil privileges and offices in the State. The incorporation of Amherst College as an orthodox institution had been hindered by Unitarians, and Harvard College had been administered in their interest. Their corrupt political influence must be counteracted. The sermon stirred up considerable political activity, and provoked an able reply from the Chief Justice.35 Apparently Cooke’s sermon had produced the desired effect in rousing the orthodox to take measures for seeking political control and taking it from Unitarian hands, for there seemed to be some signs that they might try to exclude Unitarians from all offices in State and Church.
Evidently having this danger in mind, Channing was roused once more in his memorable Election sermon36 on Spiritual Freedom, in which he spoke at some length of the need of having religion held and professed in a liberal spirit, and of the danger that ensues when it becomes intolerant, exclusive and sectarian; and obliquely referring to local conditions he spoke of the power of organized sects, trained by the clergy to utter one voice to over-awe dissent, as a peril as dangerous as the Inquisition. This passage, together with the preface to Channing’s Discourses, Reviews and Miscellanies, published at almost the same time, angered the orthodox, and led Professor Stuart to address to Channing an indignant letter of protest, in which he, declared in the most solemn manner that he knew that Channing’s accusations were not true, and challenged him either to support or else to retract them.37
Channing made no reply, but the Rev. Bernard Whitman of Waltham, one of the younger ministers, eager for the fray if Channing was not, furnished a reply in Two Letters to the Reverend Moses Stuart; on the subject of Religious Liberty (Boston, 1830). Channing’s charges had been made in general terms rather than aimed at particular persons, and Stuart’s letter, while also general in its denials, asked for particular instances. Whitman answered with an overwhelming mass of testimony which he had gathered with the assistance of others, filling no less than 165 pages, and giving many instances of orthodox misrepresentation, and of threats and the like made to prevent their ministers from exchanging with Unitarians.38 This time it was Stuart that did not reply, but his part was taken by a brother minister, who was answered by Whitman.39 The further the controversy went on the more it wandered from the original subject into rumors and details, and aggravated the charges of insincerity, unfairness, hypocrisy and bigotry, and many things were said on both sides that were afterwards regretted. Quarrels became personal and angry. A hasty statement made at an ordination or a dedication on one side would call forth a denial on the other, while page after page would be spent in picking at petty flaws, until peaceable souls grew disgusted. At length the fires of controversy burned out. Moved by revulsion the Christian Examiner and the Christian Register resolved to cease the tedious strife (though this was taken for a confession of defeat), and at length the controversy ended. A final attempt to undermine Unitarian influence in the University was made in 1830 when the Divinity School was placed under University control, but the attempt was fruitless.40
The departure of Dr. Beecher in 1832 deprived his party of its leader,41 and the Spirit of the Pilgrims was suspended the next year; but early in 1834 the Constitution of Massachusetts was amended,42 providing for the separation of Church and State, and the voluntary support of churches and thus putting an end to the long controversy.
But one other act in the drama remains to be reported. The Rev. George B. Cheever of the Howard Street Church at Salem, being invited to deliver an address at a religious celebration on the fourth of July, 1833,43 took occasion to attack the Unitarians personally, their beliefs and their character. In what the Christian Examiner in its review characterized as ‘Cheever’s vituperations’ he attacked Priestley, Channing and other leaders of Unitarianism as cold-blooded infidels, with an abuse ‘unparalleled even in the worst days of theological intolerance and bigotry.’ This closed the controversy.
The separation of the denominations was now complete beyond any hope of reconciliation, and the two henceforth went different ways. The twenty years’ antagonism had wrought significant changes in both parties. The orthodox, who had begun as supporters of Calvinism, had departed further than they realized from some of Calvin’s teachings, and in place of these were now teaching what they called the New England Theology. The Unitarians for their part had also advanced further than they had intended. Most of them had left Arianism behind, and in their view of Christ had gone far towards Priestley and Belsham, while for support of their views they were coming to rely more upon the teachings of reason than upon the letter of Scripture. The orthodox were now soon to be absorbed in a theological controversy in their own ranks as Professors Taylor of New Haven and Tylor of Hartford hotly debated a point of doctrine; while the Unitarians were to be divided, the younger radicals against the older conservatives, as they sought to settle the question as to what were the true foundations of their religious life. We shall presently have to follow the Unitarians as they tried to meet the challenge of the new time.
With the air at length cleared of controversy with the orthodox, the outlook for the Unitarians seemed full of promise. Their social position, their leadership in offices of state, their controlling influence in education, their leading part in the world of business and in public affairs in general, were undisputed, and their churches were well attended and well supported. For more than a decade after controversy had died out they were building new churches faster than any other denomination. Their cause in fact was spreading so rapidly of itself that many concluded that any special missionary effort was superfluous, since the movement that had swept over eastern Massachusetts in a generation was bound in a generation or two more to sweep the country. In an atmosphere obviously not too favorable to missionary activity, the young Association was conducted by a group of mostly young men who were eager and aggressive, and determined to do everything possible to extend their cause, though it had for many years but a slender income, and during its first fifteen years its resources fluctuated in the narrow range between $500 and $1,500. For it must be remembered that the Association was not one of Unitarian churches as such, but simply one of interested individuals; and that the old parishes were too strongly attached to the Congregational principle of mutual independence for them easily to consent to unite in cooperative effort. For many years some of the oldest and strongest parishes made no contribution as such to the common work, and never formed the Auxiliary Associations which elsewhere proved such effective agents in raising funds to support it.
It has often been thought that this period of the Association’s first quarter-century was one of semi-torpor, and the orthodox opposition jubilantly declared that Unitarianism was a dying cause. But the fact is that even in this period its growth, though not rapid, was steady and healthy; and though it became a traditional complaint that the Boston churches in the main did little to advance their cause, it should be recorded that if they were slow to contribute to the Association, they often gave handsomely to separate denominational causes. In 1840, men were sent as scouts into the field in nine States, and reported a large number of places where they were eagerly heard by congregations that had been alienated by orthodox preachers, but could easily be gathered into permanent churches if only ministers could be provided, but unfortunately barely enough could be found to supply vacant pulpits in the East. Nevertheless promising congregations were gathered in the chief towns on the main traveled routes, such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago, which have survived to this day, though in numerous other towns promising ventures faded away through the shifting character of a migrant population seeking homes in a new country. It was not until 1837 that the Association could afford to employ a permanent Secretary who could devote his whole time to the work. The Rev. Charles Briggs, who served in this office for twelve years, carried on his work with great efficiency, and placed the missionary work of the Association on a permanent basis. He paved the way for the incorporation of the Association in 1847, when its Constitution was thoroughly revised and its business procedure was made more efficient. From this time bequests began to be received and a permanent fund to accumulate. The Association had won the sympathy and support of the majority of the societies, a new divinity school had been established at Meadville in 1844 to prepare young men from both the liberal denominations for service in the rapidly growing West; a hundred weak and struggling churches had been aided in their need; more than fifty vigorous churches had been planted in the West and South; and the number of Unitarian churches had grown from 125 when the Association was established to 230 at the middle of the century.44
There were no doubt many that felt relieved, now that peace had come, and hoped that . they might settle down in quiet to cultivate Christian character and promote a Christian civilization. They had pruned away the dead branches and deformities of the old theology, and had got, or seemed to have got, a good working faith. By temperament generally conservative religiously and socially, they would have been well content to have things go on indefinitely as they were. But sober heads like Channing and the younger Ware faced the unknown new era with forebodings, for they had misgivings for the future of their cause as it entered what might prove to be a critical period,45 New thoughts were already in the air, which the coming generation could neither escape nor evade. For while the Unitarians had, it is true, effected a reform of some important doctrines of the orthodox system, yet these were but details; while its fundamental principles they had not disturbed. They rested as before on the authority of Scripture as final, and regarded it if anything more strictly than the orthodox, and they believed in the supernatural and in the miracles reported in the New Testament. In short, accepting the philosophical foundation laid by John Locke, who had taught that all our knowledge depends on the evidence of our senses, they considered that the truth of the Christian religion rested on these, and that to question them was to undermine Christianity. But not long after 1830 some inquiring minds had begun to question the soundness of this philosophy, and to wonder whether our religious convictions had not a sounder foundation than the tradition of certain occurrences in the first Christian century. This questioning had its roots, directly or indirectly, in the current German philosophers — Kant, Jacobi, Fichte, Schleiermacher, and less directly in such French thinkers as Cousin and Jouffroy. German indeed was read by but few of the Unitarians of the time, though French by more; but most of them were content to absorb the new thinking through English writers who were deeply influenced by it, such as Coleridge, Carlyle, and Wordsworth, or through reviews of foreign works in the Christian Examiner.
The earliest public sign of the influence of this new way of thinking (which presently came to be known as Transcendentalism) was in a review of Hengstenberg’s Christologie des Alten Testaments by the Rev. George R. Noyes46 in the Christian Examiner (xvi, 321–364, 1834). Asthis mostly concerned scholars, it excited no great comment, but within a year or two the adherents of the new tendency became increasingly active. A group known as the Transcendental Club (or Hedge’s Club, or the Symposium) met at irregular intervals from 1836 on, at which at dozen or more active spirits discussed philosophical and related subjects; and the new teachings were increasingly expressed in pulpits, lectures and periodicals. Even yet the spreading of Transcendentalism seems not to have been a matter for public concern, for the Christian Register and the Christian Examiner make hardly, any mention of it; but in 1838 came something that set the quietly smoldering fire all ablaze. In the spring of that year the senior students of the Harvard Divinity School invited Ralph Waldo Emerson to address them on the occasion of their graduation.47 He had served as minister of the Second Church in Boston for three years, and had then withdrawn from the active ministry to devote himself to literature. He had for several years found the religion of Unitarians cold and formal, and had tried to rouse them to make it a vital personal experience. But he had at length become persuaded that the ministry of the day, looking to persons and events in the past for inspiration instead of listening for the voice of God in their own souls, had lost any real power, and in his address he urged the young preachers to search for God within and to-day rather than in persons of by-gone ages.
Some of the little company heard the address with unfeigned delight. One of these was the Rev. Theodore Parker, young minister of a little church at West Roxbury, who wrote of it, ‘It was the noblest, most inspiring strain I ever listened to.’ Others were glad to have so earnestly and clearly said in public what they themselves had been vaguely thinking and feeling by themselves; but older heads regarded it with grave suspicion as subtly undermining the very foundations of the Christian religion, and were filled with consternation that young men about to enter the ministry should have been given advice so likely to disrupt their future career. The address must not be allowed to pass without rebuke. Emerson’s successor at the Second Church made haste to say in the Christian Register that Emerson was not a representative of the denomination nor of many in it, and that he was no longer considered a regular minister.48 A reviewer in the Christian Examiner called the address ‘neither good divinity nor good sense.’49 Professor Henry Ware, Jr., his predecessor at the Second Church, catching at some casual expressions not essential to Emerson’s main purpose, thought that Emerson subtly meant to deny the personality of God, and felt bound to preach in the College chapel at the opening of the next term a sermon obviously designed to counteract Emerson’s teachings, which he considered made worship impossible.50 Unitarian ministers’ meetings debated whether Emerson were Christian, pantheist or atheist, and writers in various newspapers attacked him.
A year later Professor Andrews Norton made a more pointed answer in an address to the alumni of the Divinity School, delivered from the same desk from which Emerson had spoken almost exactly a, year before.51 He had been one of the champions of the liberal party in the controversy of twenty years before, and he now girded on his armor afresh, and attacked Emerson's views as ‘the latest form of infidelity.’ He made an elaborate argument for miracles as the foundation of the Christian religion and declared that one that denies them in effect denies the existence of God and ought to leave the ministry. To all these attacks Emerson, though pained that his intention had been so misunderstood, could on, no account be induced to reply; but the Rev. George Ripley, one of the younger ministers of Boston, in a long anonymous letter challenged Norton’s main thesis; criticized him for making his own opinion the test of orthodoxy; questioned his right to pronounce who may wear the Christian name or occupy the Christian ministry; and called in question his judgment of foreign philosophers whose thought Emerson was assumed to reflect. Norton rejoined with a pamphlet of Remarks, and Ripley with two more Letters. Theodore Parker made his contribution in an anonymous letter, and Richard Hildreth in another.52 With this the immediate discussion came to an end; but the whole question of the supernatural origin of Christianity was now laid before the public, and ministers were forced actively or passively to take sides, for the question was bound to be raised whenever a minister was to be chosen. While some diplomatically reserved their opinions or waited for the question to be cleared up, some were bold and aggressive not counting the cost, and some were frozen out of the ministry and were forced to choose another calling.
But the excitement over Emerson’s address had barely died down when a new occasion unexpectedly rose. Mr. Charles C. Shackford was to be ordained as minister of the Hawes Place church in South Boston, and Theodore Parker was invited to preach the sermon. Parker was son of a poor farmer, who had had to struggle hard for his education; and after finishing the Divinity School he became minister of a country church at West Roxbury, where he was known as a faithful minister, already remarkable for his immense reading, his wide scholarship, and his extensive knowledge of foreign languages. When he was invited to assist at the ordination, he had been preaching but four years, but he was already known as one of the Transcendentalists, and hence was under some suspicion. He chose as his subject ‘The Transient and Permanent in Christianity.’ Although he believed in miracles, he insisted that Christianity does not need them to prove it true, but stands on its own merits, and its permanent element is the teaching of Jesus, which is self-evidently true, does not depend on the authority of Jesus, and would still be true even though it were proved that he had never lived at all. It is the forms and doctrines that are transient in Christianity. All this, putting concretely what Emerson had said abstractly, was in itself far enough from the views then held by most Unitarians, but it sounded still worse because he said it in language that seemed sarcastic and even irreverent; so that many of the Unitarians present were deeply shocked and grieved.
Still in spite of all this the matter might have blown over and been forgotten but for the interference of some orthodox ministers who being present took notes of some of Parker's extreme statements, and rushed into print inquiring whether the Unitarian clergy meant to endorse such views, or to regard the preacher as a Christian; and they took it upon themselves to insist that the Unitarians should either disown Parker or else confess sympathy with his views.53 Unitarians made haste to accept the challenge, and to treat Parker almost as a heathen and a publican. Some of his brother ministers refused henceforth to speak to him in the street, to shake hands with him or sit beside him at meetings. They called him unbeliever, infidel, deist, atheist, and tried to get him turned out of his pulpit. Pressure against him was so general that soon there were but five ministers in Boston who would continue their former custom of exchanging pulpits with him, lest they should be thought thus to approve his opinions; and only ministers in the country observed the time-honored custom and continued their friendship.
Some twenty-five of the Boston ministers had long been united in the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers, who used to meet once a month, and to deliver in turn a ‘Thursday Lecture’ in the First Church. Parker was a member of it, and his fellow-members, feeling a certain sense of responsibility for him, were greatly disturbed that he should be known as a member of their Association. They debated whether to expel him outright; but that would be doing precisely what the orthodox had been complained of for doing to them a generation before. They tried to induce him to resign, but he felt that would be to violate a vital question of principle, and he kept his membership. All respected him for his character, and many still held him as a friend, though not approving his views. But he was often aggressive in manner, sarcastic in speech, and vehement in denunciation of those whose views differed from his own; and thus he alienated many of his fellow-ministers who might otherwise have stood by him. Even Channing, who continued to the end to be his friend, doubted whether he should be regarded as a Christian; but so long as his own congregation were satisfied with him, there was no way to expel him from the ministry. Hence most of the ministers simply gave him the cold shoulder, and made him feel unwelcome at their meetings, so that in a year or two they had so far frozen him out that he seldom attended the Association, and had little to do with most of its members. He was never expelled from the ministry, but in the Unitarian Year Book his name was never included in the list of ministers and churches except in the first one in 1846; and in the printed list of members of the Boston Association it never appeared at all.
A few of the ministers, however, though they did not agree with Parker's views, did believe more than the rest in religious freedom, and acted accordingly. Thus the Rev. John T. Sargent of Suffolk Street chapel54 exchanged with Parker in 1844. But his chapel was under the patronage of the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches, and its Executive Committee called him to account for his action so sharply that he felt bound in self-respect to resign his pulpit. The next year James Freeman Clarke also exchanged with Parker, whereupon fifteen of his most influential families emphasized their protest by withdrawing from his church and organizing a short-lived one of their own. A group of laymen, seeing that the Boston ministers had now effectually debarred Parker from their pulpits, therefore met and passed a resolution ‘that the Rev. Theodore Parker have a chance to be heard in Boston.’ They secured a large hall (the Melodeon) for him to preach in. The congregation steadily increased, and organized as the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society (1846), settled Parker as their minister, and removed to the much larger Music Hall. The press mostly used its influence against him, but he had an unparalleled hold on the common people, and was for years the most influential preacher in Boston, crowding Music Hall with its thousands, who had come not to listen to sensations, nor to popular oratory, but to plain, fearless discussion of serious themes. Parker was henceforth a man despised and rejected by most of his own denomination. His thought as it cleared grew more radical but never less religious; but as time went on, beside his Sunday preaching he threw himself more and more into the great social reforms of the day, temperance, prison reform, the elevation of woman, and against capital punishment, war, and slavery. After twelve years of incessant labor, preaching, lecturing, traveling, his health broke. The orthodox exulted and daily offered concerted prayers that the great infidel’s voice might be stopped. A period of travel in Europe failed to give him the hoped-for relief, and in 1860 he died at Florence, where his grave in the English cemetery remains a shrine for all Unitarians. His influence with them steadily increased, until at length he came to be admired and praised by them as second only to Channing among their prophets.55
The discussion among the Unitarians which had at first been centered about Parker, and about the place of miracles in Christian belief, did not end when he had ceased to play an active part in it, nor even after his death; but it broadened its scope into the general question as to what constitutes Christianity, and who should be regarded as Christians. This came to be known as the Radical Controversy, and disturbed the whole denomination for twenty years, until the more urgent matters concerned in the Civil War claimed the attention of all parties. For what Emerson and Parker had spoken publicly, many others were now beginning to think privately; and in time these radicals, as they began to be called, mostly among the younger men, grew more numerous and bolder, and disbelief in miracles and open denial of them increased, even among the clergy. A more liberal view of the Bible began to prevail, being largely stimulated by the labors of German scholars, and introduced to English readers by Parker’s Translation of DeWette’s Introduction to the Old Testament in 1843. Several works from professors at the Divinity School more or less reflected the new learning; while graduates of it were carefully screened by those that thought . belief in miracles essential, and some were deterred from the ministry. Yet the new views had spread so widely that the conservatives began to be much alarmed, and the income of the American Unitarian Association seriously fell off, since' conservative givers feared that their money might be used for the support of radical preachers. The matter finally broke out into public discussion in 1853, when the officers of the Association took official notice of what could no longer be ignored. Seeking the causes of the denomination’s slow progress, they judged that one of the chief ones was the excessive radicalism and irreverence of some (evidently meaning Parker) ‘who show no respect to the Scriptures, and deny the supernatural in the history of Christianity and in the life of its founder.’ They thought it their duty emphatically to disavow any sympathy with such views, and wished, so far as they might assume to speak for the denomination, to assert their profound belief in the divine origin, authority and sanctions of the religion of Jesus Christ. Since they had no delegated authority to speak in the name of the churches, but only as individuals, they could not propose anything like a creed which should bind all members, but could simply publish for the information of inquirers a declaration of the chief Unitarian views. They therefore set forth an elaborate statement, negative and positive, of the essential beliefs of Unitarians. The President then offered the following resolution which was briefly discussed and then unanimously adopted:
Resolved, That the divine authority of the Gospel, as founded on a special and miraculous interposition of God for the redemption of mankind, is the basis of the action of this Association.56
Similar action was taken the same year by the Western Unitarian Conference meeting at St. Louis.
This came as near to the adoption of a creed as it was possible to come, and it doubtless reassured wavering spirits in their faith, but of course it did nothing to conciliate the radicals, nor is there any evidence that it mollified the opposition of the orthodox as it presumably desired to do. In fact, throughout this whole middle period the Unitarians seemed to be creeping cautiously along, careful not to give offence by emphasizing their distinctive doctrines, highly sensitive to orthodox criticism, and pathetically anxious to be acknowledged by the orthodox as really Christian despite incidental differences between them. It was a symptom of their state of mind that in this very year, when it was proposed at the Autumnal Convention at Worcester to erect a monument to Servetus on the three hundredth anniversary of his martyrdom, it was objected that ‘it would offend the orthodox.’ Indeed, the denomination had for some years been pretty much at a standstill, being apparently aimless, hopeless and powerless. At the annual Autumnal Conventions, variously held each October57 from 1842,though the time was bristling with important questions of public interest in which churches ought to have been active, the ministers discussed little but parochial matters, sounded no fresh note, and aroused no inspiration. Already in 1854 James Freeman Clarke spoke of the Unitarians as ‘a discouraged denomination.’58
The growth of the denomination was indeed slow. Since 1840 a few new churches a year had been added, but so many feeble ones had expired that the gain was barely a score. There were several reasons for this stagnation. The churches were forced to spend much of their strength in repelling the attacks of the orthodox, which were still bitter; when they entered new territory religious prejudice hindered their growth; many of the active spirits gave themselves more to furthering moral and social reforms, anti-slavery, temperance and the like than to spreading their own faith, and of course the controversy over radicalism was a serious obstacle to united effort for a common religious cause; for Emerson’s philosophy and Parker’s theology made more and more converts, and were adopted by some of the ablest and most brilliant of the younger ministers. By 1860 these views were said to be held by twenty-five of them who might have done the denomination great service had they been tolerantly treated. Instead they were opposed by the conservative majority of the older men until some were practically driven from the ministry. Of course they could not put any enthusiasm into building up a denomination which banned free thought and free speech; nor on the other hand would the conservatives give hearty support so long as it was tolerant of radicalism. Thus the number of contributing churches and the amount of missionary contributions dwindled, and at meeting after meeting appeals for aid to new and feeble churches had to be denied because the Association had nothing to give, so that many of these movements were starved to death. Hence church extension languished, and several of the ablest ministers went over to the Episcopal Church.
In spite of the Association’s being badly hampered by lack of funds, its work was nevertheless intelligently and efficiently carried on, and despite discouragements there were more signs of life and greater progress than was apparent on the surface. Thus in 1854, when resources and spirit were at their lowest, a fund of many thousand dollars was raised by special effort to spread the faith by publishing books by Unitarian authors in place of the usual tracts; and so much good was apparent from this that contributions were doubled that year. An interest in foreign missions also was kindled at the same time. A generation before some interest had been aroused for missionary work that the English Unitarians were doing in Calcutta,59 to which the Americans contributed for a few years. Now, in 1854, it was reported that great opportunities lay open there. The Association therefore appointed the Rev. C.H. A. Dall as their missionary in India. His work prospered, he planted several churches and schools, and he served with great devotion for over thirty-one years until his death in 1886, though no suitable successor could be found to continue his work. Likewise in the following year (1855) a promising chance seemed to be offered for a mission among the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota,60 where work was carried on for an experimental two years.
A large emigration to the West was, now setting in, and many New Englanders were seeking to establish new homes there. Many of these were Unitarians, and calls came for aid in founding new churches, and as the funds of the Association increased it became possible to assist them. Thus the first minister and church building in Kansas were Unitarian; and such important points as Detroit, Milwaukee and San Francisco, as well as many smaller places, were occupied., In this period also the Meadville Theological School was established in 1844 in northwestern Pennsylvania, and from that time on supplied a steady stream of young men for pioneer work in the Mississippi basin, while the Western Unitarian Conference, organized in 1852, did much to further missionary work throughout the West. Only in the South, was there little or no growth, on account of slavery; and the churches already established there had so much difficulty in keeping their pulpits supplied that some time before the outbreak of the Civil War several of them had suspended.61 Yet, taking the whole country together, though many little churches planted in small towns had been short lived or had not even settled ministers, the number of strong new ones founded at important centers much more than made good the loss; so that the denomination in 1860 was distinctly stronger and healthier than in 1845.
Still when all allowances have been made, it must be admitted that only a hundred out of two hundred and fifty churches were regular contributors to the work of the denomination, while a hundred more, including some of the largest and wealthiest, had never contributed at all. The Secretary of the Association complained that Boston Unitarians saw no reason for diffusing their faith, and it was reported that they did not wish to make Unitarians too common. Many felt that the liberalizing work of the denomination was done and could now better be left to others, or were waiting to see what step was to be taken next.62 Yet certain factors tended to hold the denomination together.
The Berry Street Conference, oldest of all its organizations, furnished a platform where all parties met together and spoke their minds freely, and thus came to better mutual understanding; the festival dinners where all came together at the time of the annual meetings, and the spirit of good fellowship was developed as they celebrated the year’s achievements and nourished their hopes for the future; the annual Autumnal Conventions, where ministers and laymen met together to discuss their common problems and how to meet them; the Meadville Theological School, cooperating with the Western Unitarian Conference with its broader outlook and its invitations to activity — all these strengthened the bonds of union.
For some years before the war broke out the tension of feeling between radicals and conservatives had been relaxing: The fears of the latter had not been realized; while a few of the younger scholars in the ministry, like Dr. Frederick H. Hedge, Dr. William H. Furness and James Freeman Clarke, by their breadth of view, their moderation in speech, and their practical wisdom, led in showing that brethren might respect one another’s views even though disagreeing with them. Laymen had never felt much concerned in the controversy anyhow; for it was realized that they were all of the same family after all, and would be ready to rally together to the same cause when one presented itself great enough to dwarf their differences. What was most wanted was for all the elements to be brought together in a spirit of union for the promotion of a common cause which in its greatness took precedence over any differences in belief. Such a cause was now to present itself not in doctrinal theology, or even in works of social reform, but in patriotic service of the nation. Though in war-time the church extension work of the Unitarians naturally ceased, yet Unitarian ministers and churches threw themselves with great fervor into the tasks presented by the war. Of late the Autumnal Conventions had been largely attended,63 and a growing enthusiasm was shown, and they emphasized the need of organizing the churches as such for effective work. No meeting was held in 1864; and inasmuch as a new era was to begin in 1865 with the organization of a National Conference, we may well take this as the point where we cross the line into a new and vigorous period of our history.
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