Francis James Grimké in the 21st Century: A Bibliography of Recent Literature

Francis James Grimké (November 4, 1850–October 11, 1937) was a Presbyterian pastor who served most of his life in Washington, D.C. After his death, Carter G. Woodson selected a number of papers, addresses, and letters in his monumental 4 volume The Works of Francis J. Grimké. Woodson considered Grimké one of the most significant figures of his time: “probably no other man living made a larger contribution to this outcome [the improvement of the lives of Black people in America] than did this uncompromising and unyielding agent of righteousness and truth” (“Introduction,” The Works of FJG, 1:xix).

In our day, Grimké is not recognized as widely as he should be. His Works are out of print; many of his sermons and addresses are in archives unaccessible to the public; the only book-length treatment of him was a single dissertation published nearly fifty years ago (Henry J. Ferry, “Francis James Grimke: Portrait of a Black Puritan,” Yale, 1974).

When trying to “retrieve” a historical figure’s and their legacy, one runs in to the issue of selectivity. In Grimké’s case, Dr. Jemar Tisby notes this: “Some white evangelical and Reformed folks may want to make Francis Grimké into a Black mascot because he was Presbyterian and/or they liked his theology. But they will selectively quote him to fit their narrative of a sound/safe Black preacher” (Tweet, May 28, 2020, referencing Malcolm Foley chapter below).

In recent years, Francis Grimké’s life and writings have found their way into a wide variety of books and articles, a testament to the irrepressibility of his influence. The following is a brief survey of some of the books, chapters, articles, anthologies, and blog posts that make reference to Francis James Grimké in a significant way (i.e., more than a passing reference). As you read through the list, consider the breadth of subjects that intersect with the life and work of Francis Grimké. In the words of Woodson, again, “In his works all important issues before the American people and how they were decided may be studied.”

This post could also serve as a helpful “where to start?” reading Grimké. The four volumes of Grimké’s Works stretch to over 2,400 pages, and it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. This post at least shows what historians, scholars, editors, and other authors have found significant over the past 20–25 years.

I’ve arranged items within the categories in chronological order. If you know of something that I haven’t included here, drop me a note in the comments, and I’ll add it!

Books/Chapters

James Cone, “Calling the Oppressors to Account,” in Quinton Hosford Dixie and Cornel West, eds., The Courage to Hope : From Black Suffering to Human Redemption : Essays in Honor of James Melvin Washington (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999).

The Courage to Hope is a collection of essays in honor of the great Black Baptist historian James Melvin Washington, with contributions by Cornel West, Vincent Harding, Albert Raboteau, Sandy Dwayne Martin, Judith Weisenfeld and more. Cone starts off his article with a quote from Francis Grimké’s address “The Roosevelt-Washington Episode, or Race Prejudice,” (1901). The Grimké quote includes the phrase (“He [God] will call the oppressors to account”) from which Cone derives the title of his essay.

(read online at the Internet Archive)

Linda Przybyszewski, The Republic According to John Marshall Harlan (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

Linda Przybyszewski is an associate professor of history at the University of Cincinnati. This book on the famous U.S. Supreme Court justice includes over a dozen references to Grimké, who was a pastor in Washington D.C. while Harlan was on the court. Harlan and Grimké were allies in fighting (unsuccessfully) segregation in the Presbyterian church.

(read online at the Internet Archive)

Cleophus J. LaRue, The Heart of Black Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).

Dr. Cleophus Larue is the Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. This book examines Black preaching as a form, as well as analysis of several 19th century preachers and contemporary preachers. FJG gets a 10 page section devoted to him (44–53) in the larger chapter “The Power Motif in Nineteenth-Century American Sermons.” The book also includes two FJG sermons in the “Appendix: Sermons”:

  • “A Resemblance and a Contrast Between the American Negro and the Children of Israel: in Egypt, or, The duty of the Negro to Contend Earnestly for His Rights Guaranteed Under the Constitution,” 1902 (147–160)
  • “The Roosevelt-Washington Episode, or Race Prejudice,” 1901 (161–72)

(read online at the Internet Archive)

Mark Perry, Lift up Thy Voice: The Grimké Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders (New York: Viking, 2001)

This is a significant book on the Grimké family. “Part III: The Grimké Brothers” (233–342) covers the lives of Archibald and Francis, and is the fullest treatment available since Ferry. The bibliography also include a list of twenty “Selected Major Sermons of Francis James Grimké,” a great place to start for someone looking to dive into Grimké’s works:

  • “God and the Race Problem.” Washington, D C., 1903.
  • “Highest Values.” Washington, D C., 1903.
  • “The Inheritance Which All Parents May and Ought to Leave to Their Children.” Washington, DC., 1903.
  • “The Atlanta Riot.” Washington, D.C., 1906.
  • “Equality of Rights for All Citizens. Black and White Alike.” Washington, D C., 1909.
  • “Character: The True Standard by Which to Estimate Individuals and Races and by Which They Should Estimate Themselves and Others.” Washington. D C., 1911.
  • “Fifty Years of Freedom.” Washington, D.C., 1913.
  • “Effective Christianity in the Present World Crisis.” Washington. D.C., 1918.
  • “Scotsboro.” Washington. D.C., 1918.
  • “Spiritual Life “Washington, DC., 1918.
  • “A Look Backward Over a Pastorate of More Than Forty Two Years Over the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church.” Washington. D.C., 1923.
  • “What Is the Trouble with the Christianity of Today?” Washington, D.C., 1923.
  • “The Paramount Importance of Right Living.” Washington, D.C., 1926.
  • “My Farewell Quadrennial Message to the Race.” Washington. D.C., 1933.
  • “Christianity Is Not Dependent Upon the Endorsement of Men Great in Worldly Wisdom.” Washington, D.C., 1934.
  • “Christ’s Program for the Saving of the World.” Washington, DC., 1934.
  • “Jim Crow Christianity and the Negro.” Washington. D C.. 1934
  • “What Is to Be the Real Future of the Black Man in this Country?” Washington,
  • DC., 1934.
  • “Conditions Necessary to Permanent World Peace.” Washington, D.C., 1933
  • “Quadrennial Message to the Race.” Washington, D C . 1937.

(read online at the Internet Archive)

Thabiti Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher : Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

Thabiti Anyabwile, like Grimké, is a Black pastor in Washington, D.C. This book gives a short biographical sketch of three Black pastors, including FJG, and then reprints several of their sermons. Anyabwile includes four of Grimké’s sermons, two of which are unavailable (publicly) anywhere else:

  • The Afro-American pulpit in relation to race elevation (1892) – in Works, V1
  • Christianity and race prejudice (1910) – in Works, V1
  • The religious aspect of reconstruction (1919) – previously unavailable
  • Christ’s program for the saving of the world (1936) – previously unavailable

For readers looking for Grimké sermons, this is one of the only collections available in print.

(purchase at Amazon)

Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

The same year (2007) Anyabwile also published this book. His analysis includes a short section on Grimké on pages 118–22 in the chapter on “African America Anthropology” and interacts with nine different Grimké sermons.

(purchase at Amazon)

Mark Sidwell, Free Indeed: Heroes of Black Christian History (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2001).

Mark Sidwell is a professor of history at Bob Jones University. Sidwell has written a couple of articles on Grimké (see below for the most recent). For the second edition of his book, Sidwell added a chapter on Francis Grimké — be sure to get the edition published in 2001, not the first edition from 1995.

(purchase at Amazon)

Harriet A. (Harriet Ann) Jacobs, The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008)

Harriet Jacobs was a longtime friend of Francis and Charlotte Forten Grimké. The second volume of this set includes a couple of letters to Francis, as well as an account of a Christmas message he gave, and the text of his eulogy at Jacob’s death.

(get this one from the library if you can; it’s $175 on Amazon)

Christopher Z. Hobson, The Mount of Vision: African American Prophetic Tradition, 1800-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Christopher Hobson is an English professor at SUNY. His book is “in-depth study of prophetic traditions in African American religion.” Francis Grimké is one of “four prophetic thinkers that serve as reference points throughout the book” (xiv). With over 80 references in the book, this is one of the more extensive studies of Grimké in recent years.

(purchase at Amazon)

Rhondda Robinson Thomas and Susanna Ashton, eds., The South Carolina Roots of African American Thought: A Reader (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014).

This book includes a chapter dedicated to Grimké, in particular, how he outlined “a radical, biblically grounded blueprint for African American activism in “The Negro and His Citizenship” (1905). In particular, it highlights Grimké’s position in light of the Booker T. Washington vs. W. E. B. Du Bois debate, and notes that Grimké landed squarely on the side of Du Bois, as part of, in Grimké’s words, “the radical wing of the race.” It also includes a reprint of “The Negro and His Citizenship,” with a number of helpful explanatory footnotes (originally found in The Negro and the Elective Franchise: A Series of Papers and a Sermon (Washington, D.C: American Negro Academy, 1905). 

(purchase at Amazon)

Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the Story of a Forgotten Era, 1st Edition. (New York: Amistad, 2017).

This is the story of “the inspiring rise and calculated fall of the black elite, from Emancipation through Reconstruction to the Jim Crow Era.” It focuses on Daniel Murray, who was an upper class Black man in Washington, D.C., but given the location, it also contains several references to Francis Grimké. In fact, Murray was married by Grimké in Fifteenth Street Presbyterian.

(purchase on Amazon)

Francis J. Grimké, Meditations on Preaching (Madison, MS: Log College Press, 2018).

This 120 page booklet was collected from The Works of Francis J. Grimke, Volume 3: Stray Thoughts and Meditations. Dr. Irwyn Ince wrote the forward (5 pages) which introduces Grimké. The meditations themselves are short, from half a page up to four pages long.

(purchase at Log College Press)

Malcolm Foley, “The Only Way to Stop a Mob: Francis Grimké’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance” in Timothy Larsen, ed., Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present (InterVarsity Press, 2021): 196–218

This edited volume includes contributions from David Bebbington, Catherine Brekus, Thomas S. Kidd, Mark A. Noll, Brian Stanley, and others. Foley’s chapter “”Foley “introduces the great African American pastor-theologian Francis Grimké, who never used ‘evangelical’ to describe himself yet em­braced all the traits of the [Bebbington] Quadrilateral.” Foley “considers how evangelicals of different races, who agreed on evangelical essentials, reached such starkly different conclusions on social and political issues, including the widespread lynching of African Americans.” (Thomas Kidd, “Introduction,” 4).

(purchase at Amazon)

Kathryn Freeman et al., “Pandemics, the Rev. Francis J. Grimké, and Life Lessons,” in Racialized Health, COVID-19, and Religious Responses (Routledge, 2022).

A century before COVID-19 was the “Spanish Flu” epidemic of 1918–1920, and Francis Grimké had some poignant remarks about that epidemic. This chapter mainly interacts with Grimké’s Some Reflections, Growing Out of the Recent Epidemic of Influenza that Afflicted Our City: A Discourse Delivered in the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., Sunday, November 3, 1918 (read online at HaithiTrust)

The whole chapter can be read online here.

Mark A. Noll, America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911 (New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press, 2022).

Noll’s most recent book is massive, clocking in at over 800+ pages. Noll includes a 6 page section on Grimké in his concluding chapter, “Still Under a Bushel.” Noll notes that “the career of Francis Grimke exemplified the highest level of Black scripturalism” and that he “was one of the great, if still unheralded, figures of his age” (658, 659). Noll talks about Grimké’s wholistic faith: “Yet unlike many white religious leaders, Grimké did not follow the bifurca­tion common in his day. The same preacher who could expound so eloquently on the spiritual imperatives of Christian faith also spoke constantly about the imperative for believers to live out their faith, especially the imperative to op­pose race prejudice with all their might” (660–61).

(purchase on Amazon)

Articles

Mark Sidwell, “Francis Grimké and the Value and Limits of Carter Woodson’s Model of the Progressive Black Pastor,” Fides et Historia 32.1 (2000): 99–117.

A fascinating article using Grimké as a test case for Carter G. Woodson’s categories of “progressive” and “conservative” Black pastors in his book The History of the Negro Church. Excellent survey of Grimké and astute analysis of Woodson. Displays some of the most extensive interaction with Grimké’s works that I’ve seen anywhere (nearly 60 references from all 4 volumes of the collected Works). I highly recommend this article if you can find it.

David Torbett, “Race and Conservative Protestantism: Princeton Theological Seminary and the Unity of the Human Species,” Fides et Historia 37.2–1 (2005): 119–36.

Included a brief three page section highlighting Grimké’s biblical stance against racism. Torbett considers Grimké to be one example of the “legacy” of Princeton on issues of race, in contrast to other figures, like J. Gresham Machen, who “bitterly opposed Warfield’s support of desegregation” (135).

Chris Hobson, “Francis Grimké and African American Prophecy,” The Utopian 5 (2006).

A fascinating article in an anarchist publication describing Grimké as an illustration of “A long line of African American religious leadership in social struggle testifies that Christian belief is not necessarily, nor primarily, a disincentive to struggle here on earth.” This article is of a piece with Hobson’s book on the Black prophetic tradition (see above).

(read it online here)

Mark A. Noll, “Theology, Presbyterian History, and the Civil War,” The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-) 89.1 (2011): 4–15.

An insightful article that contains two pages analyzing Grimké’s thought relating to race and Jim Crow.

(available on JStor)

Robert F Schwarzwalder, “‘For a Real, Not a Sham Christianity’: Francis J. Grimké on Racial Strife and World Peace in the Early Twentieth Century,” Fides et Historia 53.2 (2021): 17–33.

This article has a particular focus on Grimké’s views on American foreign policy, especially surrounding World War I. In the essay, Scharzwalder sets out to “sketch Grimké’s biography and establish his Evangelical credentials before taking a closer look at key statements that he made before, during, and after the Great War” (19).

Dissertation

Steven B. Crymes, “An Investigation and Sketche [Sic] into the Life, and Theological Thought of Francis J. Grimke and Its Social and Political Implications” (Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 2008)

I have been unable to obtain a copy of this dissertation. If anyone is in Louisville and can take a trip to their library, let me know! It would be much appreciated.

Anthologies

Michael Warner, ed., American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King, Jr (New York: Penguin Books, 1999).

This anthology is over 900 pages long and includes 58 sermons. Francis Grimké’s is the first sermon in the section “20th Century”: “A Resemblance and a Contrast Between the American Negro and the Children of Israel: in Egypt, or, The duty of the Negro to Contend Earnestly for His Rights Guaranteed Under the Constitution” (1902). The book also includes a brief biographical sketch. Ironically, immediately following the Grimké sermon is one by J. Gresham Machen, who infamously protested Black students studying at Princeton Seminary, where Grimké was an alumnus.

(read online at the Internet Archive)

James Daley, ed., Great Speeches by African Americans (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006)

This collection includes a number of speeches, including Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, MLK, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Barack Obama, and others. The speech selected by Francis Grimké is “Equality of Rights for All Citizens: Black and White, Alike” (1909).

(read online at the Internet Archive)

Joslyn Pine, ed., Book of African-American Quotations (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2011)

A 200 page book of quotes from over 250 different Black figures, including Grimké. Here’s a few of his:

  • “The white people in this country seem to be greatly concerned as to whether humanity or the savage is to rule in other lands but utterly indifferent as to which rules in this.”
  • “Slavery is gone, but the spirit of it still remains.”
  • “It is only what is written upon the soul of man that will survive the wreck of time.”

(read online at the Internet Archive)

John Ernest, ed., Douglass in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014).

This is a fascinating book, which “offers an introduction to Douglass the man by those who knew him.” Included among the many accounts is Francis Grimké’s, “The Second Marriage of Frederick Douglass.” Grimké had officiated Douglass second marriage to a white woman, Helen Pitts, and his address notes “how dramatically controversial this interracial union was at the time” (137).

(purchase on Amazon)

M. Clark, The Voice of a People: Speeches from Black America (Mint Editions, 2021).

Another collection of speeches, nearly 300 pages worth. This one includes Grimké’s, “The Negro will Never Acquiesce” delivered November 20, 1898.

(purchase from Amazon)

Lectures

Henry J. Ferry, “Francis James Grimke: Prophet on a Tightrope” (2008)

In 2008, Henry Ferry gave a lecture at the Reformed Institute of Metropolitan Washington, which is a general overview of Grimké’s life

(pdf of the lecture manuscript available here)

Sean Michael Lucas, “African American Fathers and Brothers in Presbyterian History” (2017)

Covers Black Presbyterians

(video of the lecture available on Youtube)

Blog Posts

Adam Borneman, “Francis Grimke: An African American Witness in Reformed Political Theology,” Political Theology Network, 22 November 2013: https://politicaltheology.com/francis-grimke-an-african-american-witness-in-reformed-political-theology/.

Louis Weeks, “The Earnest Protest of Francis Grimké,” Presbyterian Historical Society, 13 July 2016: https://www.history.pcusa.org/blog/2016/07/earnest-protest-francis-grimk%C3%A9.

Sean Michael Lucas, “Meet Francis Grimké (1850–1937), Faithful Minister of Grace,” The Gospel Coalition, 2018: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/francis-grimke/.

Nicholas R. Barnfield, “Francis J. Grimké,” To Those of His House, 3 August 2020: https://tothoseofhishouse.com/reflections-on-faithful-servants/papers/.

P. C. Kemeny, “Missed Opportunity: Francis Grimké on Racism and Revival,” The Gospel Coalition, 2022: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/grimke-racism-revival/.

Advertisement

Frederick Douglass, “The Pro-Slavery Mob and the Pro-Slavery Ministry” (1861)

(image: “Expulsion of Negroes and Abolitionists from Tremont Temple, Boston, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1860,” Harpers Weekly, December 15, 1860).

Frederick Douglass

In December 1860 and January 1861, mobs had shut down multiple anti-slavery meetings in the North. Douglass himself had been in attendance at a in Boston, December 3, 1860, in honor of John Brown, until a mob broke up the meeting and they were forced to move to another venue. In January 1861, Samuel May, a Unitarian pastor, had a meeting shut down in Syracuse, New York, and then the mob burned him in effigy at the town square. But in addition to mobs, several pro-slavery sermons and articles had also been published in December and January, by Presbyterians like James Boylan Shaw, Henry Van Dyke, and James Henley Thornwell, as well as Episcopal bishop John Henry Hopkins.

Frederick Douglass connected the two, and blasted away at both in a remarkable article published in the March 1861 issue of his Douglass Monthly, titled “The Pro-Slavery Mob and the Pro-Slavery Ministry” (original available here).

“The Pro-Slavery Church and the Pro-Slavery Ministry”

I have transcribed the article here, and added explanatory footnotes (with links) to the figures and events referenced by Douglass:

Quotes

Here are a few choice quotes from the article (though, as it is only a few pages long, you really should just read the whole thing):

These two Powers have been harmoniously and simultaneously active, since the second of December, in the service of the American slave system.  The union and concert between them is as admirable as their work is hateful and diabolical.  The causes that have moved the one to pelt us with brickbats, have equally moved the other to pester us with sermons.—The weapons of the one are brutal, and those of the other spiritual; but they amount to about the same thing in the end.

Color makes all the difference in the application of our American Christianity. To the whites it is full of love and tenderness. To the blacks it is full of hate and bitterness. The same Book which is full of the Gospel of Liberty to one race, is crowded with arguments in justification of the slavery of another.

But the rowdies have been scarcely more active in their devotion to our National Barbarism than the Reverends.  The higher we go up in the scale of ecclesiastical gradation, the more heartless and cruel do we find the enemies of our cause.

We argue with no such disputants. It would be insulting to  Common Sense, an outrage upon all right feeling, for us, who have worn the heavy chain, and felt the biting lash, to consent to argue with Ecclesiastical Sneaks who are thus prostituting their Religion and Bible to the base uses of popular and profitable iniquity.  They don’t need light, but the sting of honest rebuke. They are of their father the Devil, and his works they do, not because they are ignorant, but because they are base.

The Sermons of Drs. Vandyke, Hopkins, Thornwell, and others, to prove that God is well pleased with slaveholding and slave-catching, and that those are the chief of sinners who oppose the slave system and seeks its abolition, may well give inaffable joy to the hearts of Atheists, and of all who wish to see the Bible sink beneath the waves of universal contempt.  What reverence can men have for a Book that authorizes one race to make beasts of burden of another?  What love can a man have for a God who plunges him in the hell of Slavery? A thousand times over, give us the Religion or no Religion of the Infidel, with its Justice and Humanity, than the Religion of Slavery as taught by these crafty and cruel Doctors of Divinity.

We are at the end of argument with such persons. If they press the Bible into the service of Slavery, so much the worse for the Bible.  We are quite tired of quoting text against text, not because we cannot find as many on our side, the side of Liberty, as these Doctors find on the side of Slavery, but because we have had enough of these arguments.  The man that will go to God, or to the Bible, to look for arguments in support of a desire to work his brother man without wages, is a hypocrite as well as a scoundrel, and is below the level of argument.

“In great Perils of our Lives”: George Whitefield and Stono Rebellion of 1739

George Whitefield

It was late at night on Wednesday, January 2, 1740, in colonial South Carolina. George Whitefield and a small party were trying find their way to “a Gentleman’s House, where we had been recommended” but they missed their turn in the dark, and decided to keep on going, “trusting to the Almighty.” Soon after they saw a light, but when they went up to it, they found “a Hutt full of Negroes.” One of Whitefield’s friends figured they might be “some of those who lately had made an Insurrection in this Province, and were run away from their masters.” Whitefield and company rushed off (“thought it best to mend our Pace”), but soon came upon another fire, and imagined another “Nest of such Negroes” so they went off the road through the woods to avoid them. Whitefield and his friends were terrified, believing they were “in great Perils of our Lives”(A Continuation of the Reverend Mr. Whitefield’s Journal, from His Embarking After the Embargo, to His Arrival at Savannah in Georgia, 78–79).

Why was Whitefield so afraid? What was the “Insurrection” he was referring to? How does this help us situate Whitefield in the racial landscape of colonial America at the time?

A Buffer Zone

To understand the mindset of a British citizen traveling in South Carolina in 1740, you have to first step back and look at international politics, in this case, the tension between Britain and Spain. Britain had long felt discomfort with Spanish Florida to the south; the two were competing for the loyalty of native tribes, trade, and land and Britain felt the need for a “buffer zone” between South Carolina and Florida. This was part of what prompted the formation of the Colony of Georgia in 1732, but the boundaries of Georgia did not fall neatly into the existing European territorial claims. Philip Woodfine explains:

“In North America… tensions were mounting over British settlement and expansion in the new colony of Georgia, a large part of which lay in territory long claimed by Spain.” 

Philip Woodfine, Britannia’s Glories: The Walpole Ministry and the 1739 War with Spain, 1.
map from Provincial America, 1690-1740

James Oglethorpe, one of the trustees of Georgia, and the only one to actually visit the colony, wasn’t worried. In April 1834, he noted, that if push came to shove:

“we are in very little Apprehension of the Spaniards we being much more able to dislodge them from Augustine than they us from Savannah” 

“Copy of a Letter from Mr. Oglethorpe to the Trustees dated at Charles Town 2d April 1734,” in Letters from Georgia, v. 14200, 1732-1735 June, 73.

Letters to and from the Colony of Georgia are riddled with references to the “Spaniards” and in particular, their settlement at St. Augustine in Florida, demonstrating that their “vecinas del sur” (neighbors to the south), were regularly on their minds.

(For more on this, see: Herbert E. Bolton and Mary Ross, The Debatable Land: A Sketch of the Anglo-Spanish Contest for the Georgia Country (University of California Press: 1925 — Free on Google Books)

“Freedom”

One particular point that the Spanish sought to exploit was the British practice of enslavement. In June 1738, it was reported in Georgia that: 

“a Proclamation was publickly read in the streets of Augustine purporting That all the Negro Slaves that had run away from the English should have their Freedom” 

(in Letters from Georgia, v. 14203, 1737 June-1739 January, 58.

The Trustees of the Colony had prohibited slavery in Georgia (one of the best accounts of this that I’ve found is Andrew C. Lannen, “Liberty and Slavery in Colonial America: The Case of Georgia, 1732-1770,” Historian 79.1 (2017): 32–55). This was not because they were abolitionists, but for a variety of other reasons, including this desire to maintain a “buffer zone” between slave-holding South Carolina and Spanish Florida. To respond to this promise of freedom in Augustine, enslaved Black people would have to first escape from South Carolina, only to attempt to cross Georgia, where officials were watching and waiting to capture escaped slaves and return them to their owners before they could make it to Florida. Once in Florida, Spanish officials even created armed regiments of self-emancipated Black soldiers, a prospect that was frightening and destabilizing to the racialized British colonial order.

It was into this context that Whitefield made his first visited to the Colony of Georgia, arriving in May 1738 (A Continuation of the Reverend Mr. Whitefield’s Journal, from His Arrival at Savannah, to His Return to London, 1). His first visit only lasted three months, and in fact, Whitefield would have been in the Colony when the “Proclamation” in St. Augustine was read.

Interestingly, Whitefield did not agree with the Trustees that having a “slave free buffer zone” between South Carolina and Florida was necessary. In fact, he thought it was crippling the Colony of Georgia:

“The people were denied the use of both rum and slaves… So that, in reality, to place people there on such a footing, was little better than to tye their legs and bid them walk. The scheme was well meant at home; but, as too many years experience evidently proved it was absolutely impracticable in so hot a country abroad”

Memoirs of the life of the Reverend George Whitefield, 25. 

Whitefield’s return trip to England took him into slaveholding South Carolina, and by September 9, he was on board the “Mary” a ship “bound from Charles-Town to England” (Journal… Savannah to London, 13).

The Embargo

Meanwhile, tensions between Britain and Spain continued to mount, and Whitefield was directly impacted. In 1739, as a “precautionary measure,” Britain placed an embargo on all shipping (Philip Woodfine, Britannia’s Glories, 211). This embargo meant that Whitefield was unable to travel back to the Colonies, and indeed, his journals are divided accordingly: 

The embargo would be lifted in August 1739, and by August 14, Whitefield was on board the “Elizabeth” on his way to Philadelphia, where he would land late in October. 

While Whitefield’s ship was making its way across the sea, several dramatic events were taking place that would impact him, and all of the colonies.

“Patience perforce”

In June 1739, Oglethorpe noted growing tension with the Spanish in Florida to the south:

“The Governour of Augustine is wonderful civil, but I believe the reason is Patience perforce. We are as Civil but will not trust them” 

Oglethorpe to the Earl of Egmont, June 13, 1739 in “Letters from Georgia, v. 14204, 1739 June-1740 June,” 1.

Oglethorpe went on: 

“I hear that they are to have a great Reinforcement at Augustine, and families to Settle there. 

They receive the run-away Negroes, and have Strove to bribe our Indians from us, but my Party among the Creeks, particularly those who were in England, Stick firmly to us, yet there are some Priests and others Sent up by the French and Spaniards with presents to bribe the mercenary Part, So that my friends in the Nation have invited me to come up. They are to have a general meeting in July, where they either will renew their Assurances of Fidelity to the King or go into the Spanish Interest” 

Oglethorpe to Egmont, June 13, 1739,” 1–2.

In July 1739, in response to this invitation from his “Indian friends,” Oglethorpe embarked on a four hundred mile “Tour into the Indian Nations to Establish Peace between them and the English” (“A Ranger’s Report of Travels with General Oglethorpe, 1739–1742,” 218).

Several months into the trip, on September 13th, the party received word “of a Declaration of War with Spain,” which would come to be know as “The War of Jenkin’s Ear” (“Ranger’s Report,” 222). While most of this war would take place elsewhere (in the Caribbean, and in South America), battle lines were also drawn between Georgia and Florida, and in 1742, Spain would (unsuccessfully) attempt to invade Georgia itself. Interestingly, a young George Washington (7 years old at the time) received reports of this war directly from his older brother, Lawrence Washington, who was serving as a Captain in a Virginia Company dispatched to Cartagena (Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life, 9).

“Calling out Liberty”

On September 17th, just a few days after Oglethorpe’s party heard about the start of the war, they received another report. They “met a Trading Boat going to Fort Augusta, the People on board her told us the Negroes in Carolina had raised up in Arms and killed about forty White People” (“A Ranger’s Report,” 222). Needless to say, armed resistance to enslavement was (and is) a complicated subject, and considered very differently depending on whose perspective it is viewed from. 

Williams

Let’s look at this incident first from the perspective of one of the first Black historians, George Washington Williams (1849–1891) in his History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 (1883):

“Sudden and destructive insurrections were the safety-valves to the institution of slavery. A race long and cruelly enslaved may endure the yoke patiently for a season: but like the sudden gathering of the summer clouds, the pelting rain, the vivid, blinding lightning, the deep, hoarse thundering, it will assert itself some day; and then it is indeed a day of judgment to the task-masters! The Negroes in South Carolina endured a most cruel treatment for a long time; and. when “the day of their wrath” came, they scarcely knew it themselves, much less the whites. Florida was in the possession of the Spaniards. Its governor had sent out spies into Georgia and South Carolina, who held out very flattering inducements to the Negroes to desert their masters and go to Florida. Moreover, there was a Negro regiment in the Spanish service, whose officers were from their own race. Many slaves had made good their escape, and joined this regiment. It was allowed the same uniform and pay as the Spanish soldiers had. The colony of South Carolina was fearing an enemy from without, while behold their worst enemy was at their doors! In 1740 [note: the actual date was September 1739] some Negroes assembled themselves together at a town called Stone [Stono], and made an attack upon two young men, who were guarding a warehouse, and killed them. They seized the arms and ammunition, effected an organization by electing one of their number captain ; and, with boisterous drums and flying banners, they marched off “like a disciplined company.” They entered the house of one Mr. Godfrey, slew him, his wife, and child, and then fired his dwelling. They next took up their march towards Jacksonburgh, and plundered and burnt the houses of Sacheveral, Nash, Spry, and others. They killed all the white people they found, and recruited their ranks from the Negroes they met. Gov. Bull was “returning to Charleston from the southward, met them, and, observing them armed, quickly rode out of their way.” In a march of twelve miles, they had wrought a work of great destruction. News reached Wiltown, and the militia were called out. The Negro insurrec­tionists were intoxicated with their triumph, and drunk from rum they had taken from the houses they had plundered. They halted in an open field to sing and dance; and, during their hilarity, Capt. Bee, at the head of the troops of the district, fell upon them, and, having killed several, captured all who did not make their escape in the woods.” 

Williams, History of the Negro Race in America, 299–300.

The Ranger who accompanying Oglethorpe on his journey added this additional detail reported from a Black person who they encountered on September 20th:

“…about fifty of these Villains attempted to go home but were taken by the Planters who Cutt off their heads and set them up at every Mile Post they came to”

“A Ranger’s Report,” 223.

On October 9, James Oglethorpe wrote back to the Trustees in England, and included “An Account of the Negro Insurrection in South Carolina.” Located between South Carolina and Floriday, Oglethorpe had mobilized very colonial force available to help capture any self-emancipated Black people:

“[General Oglethorpe] im­mediately ordered a Troop of Rangers to be ranged, to patrole through Georgia, placed some Men in the Garrison at Palichocolas… and published a Proclamation ordering all the Constables &ca. of Georgia to pursue and seize all Negroes, with a Reward for any that should be taken. It is hoped these measures will prevent any Negroes from get­ting down to the Spaniards.” 

“An Account of the Negro Insurrection in South Carolina,” 236.

The “Account” further explained the roots of the insurrection in the promise of Black freedom in Spanish Florida:

“Sometime since there was a Proclamation published at Augustine, in which the King of Spain (then at Peace with Great Britain) promised Protection and Freedom to all Ne­groes Slaves that would resort thither. Certain Negroes belonging to Captain Davis escaped to Augustine, and were received there…

Several Spaniards upon diverse Pretences have for some time past been strolling about Carolina, two of them, who will give no account of themselves have been taken up and committed to Jayl in Geor­gia. The good reception of the Negroes at Augustine was spread about, Several attempted to escape to the Spaniards, & were taken, one of them was hanged at Charles Town…

“Account,” 232, 233.

The “Account” describes the southward march like this:

“Several Negroes joyned them, they calling out Liberty, marched on with Colours displayed, and two Drums beat­ing, pursuing all the white people they met with, and killing Man Woman and Child when they could come up to them.”

“Liberty” was on their minds and on their lips!

Two days later, on October 11, Oglethorpe wrote to the Trustees again, noting the strategic location of Georgia in light of the war with Spain, and in repressing any further attempted Black revolutions.

“I think a little Time will make this Province the most flourishing of any in America. This Colony lies between the French & Spaniards and Carolina, and if there was not that Distance of an Intervening Province, it would be Impossible to prevent a General Revolt of the Negroes. From Georgia we can with Ease invade the Spanish Florida and the French on the Missisippi. 

“Letter from Coll. Oglethorpe, 11 Oct. 1739,” in Letters from Georgia, v. 14204, 1739 June-1740 June,” 35–36.

The incident would become known as the “Stono Slave Rebellion,” which was the largest slave rebellion in the Southern Colonies (“Stono Rebellion”).

For more on this, see:

“a Woman was dancing a jigg

All of this—declarations of war, an attempted slave revolution—had occurred while George Whitefield was on a ship crossing the Atlantic.  He finally landed in Pennsylvania on October 30, reaching Philadelphia late on November 2 (Journal… Embargo to Savannah, 26–27). From there he began working his way south, through Maryland and North Carolina, reaching South Carolina on January 1, 1740 (Memoirs, 48–49; Journal, 77). 

On January 2, Whitefield records an incident regarding a woman “dancing a jigg”:

“By Advice of my Friends, I went in amongst them whilst a Woman was dancing a jigg. At my first Entrance I endeavour’d to shew the Folly of such Entertainments, and to convince her how well pleased the Devil was at every Step she took. For some Time she endeavour’d to out-brave me; neither the Fiddler or she desisted but at last she gave over, and the Musician laid aside his Instrument. It would have made any one smile to see how the rest of the Company, one by one, attack’d me, and brought, as they thought. Arguments to support their Wantonness; but CHRIST triumph’d over Satan.—They were all put to Silence, and were for some Time so over-aw’d, that after I had discoursed with them on the Nature of Baptism, and the Necessity of being born again, in order to enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven” 

Journal, 77.

This is a telling example of the kinds of “sins” Whitefield was concerned with at the time, and a stark contrast in light of his own participation in enslavement.

“In Great Perils of Our Lives”

As Whitefield and his party continued to make their way toward Charlestown, the Stono rebellion was apparently on their minds, and they were terrified of the possibility of more violence. Thus is the setting for the incidents in the woods we began with. Whitefield describes the night like this:

“At Night we thought to call at a Gentleman’s House, where we had been recommended, about Forty Miles distant from our last Night’s Lodging, but the Moon being totally eclipsed, we missed the Path that turned out of the Road; and then thought it most advisable, as we were in the main Road, to go on our Way, trusting to the Almighty to strengthen both our Beasts and us. We had not gone far but we saw a Light; Two of my Friends went up to it, and saw a Hutt full of Negroes; they enquired after the Gentleman’s House whither we were directed, but the Negroes seemed surprized, and said they knew no such Man, and that they were but new Comers. From these Circumstances one of my Friends inferr’d, that these Ne­groes might be some of those who lately had made an Insurrection in the Province, and were ran away from their Masters. When he return’d, we were all of his Mind, and therefore thought it best to mend our Pace. Soon af­ter we saw another great Fire near the Road Side, but imagining there was another Nest of such Negroes, we made a Circuit into the Woods, and one of my Friends at a Distance observed them dancing round the Fire. The Moon shining bright, we soon found our Way into the great Road again; and after we had gone about a Dozen Miles, expelling to find Negroes in every Place, we came to a great Plantation, the Master of which, to our great Comfort, gave us Lodging, and our Beasts provender. Upon our relating the Circumstances of our Travels, he gave us Satisfaction about the Negroes, inform’d us whose they were, and upon what Occasion they were in those Places in which we found them. This afforded us much Comfort, after we had rode near Threescore Miles, and, as we thought, in great Perils of our Lives. Blessed be thy Name, O Lord, for this, and all other thy Mercies, thro’ JESUS CHRIST! 

Journals, 78–79.
Mr. Whitefield’s Journal

The next morning, Whitefield’s party had “a hospitable Breakfast set before us by the Gentleman who last night received us into his house,” before continuing on their way, arriving in Charleston two days later on January 5 (Journal, 79).

“such divine Judgments”

While in Charlestown, all of these events were evidently on Whitefield’s mind. The next day (January 6) was a Sunday, and Whitefield preached in “one of the Dissenting Meeting-houses.” Whitefield criticized their clothing as too festive for the times:

“I question whether the Court End of the Town at London could equal, at least exceed them in affected Finery and Gaiety at Dres, and a Deportment ill-becoming Persons who have had such divine Judgments lately sent abroad amongst them.—I reminded them of it in my sermon; but I thought at first I seem’d to them as one that mocked”

Journal, 80

Thomas Kidd asserts that by “divine Judgments,” Whitefield was referring to the Stono Rebellion and the War of Jenkins’ Ear (George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, 100; Kidd mistakenly cites page 81 of the Journal instead of page 80). The “Gaiety” of the people was in stark contrast to visceral fear of “Peril” that Whitefield himself had felt just 3 nights before, and he was sure to let them know about it in the sermon.

“civil, diligent and laborious”

Two days later, Whitefield set out on the final leg of his journey, from Charles-Town to Georgia, riding in “an open Canoe” (Journal, 82). The Canoe was powered by enslaved labor: “having five Negroes to row and steer us.” Whitefield comments on the character of these enslaved laborers, and one wonders whether he was on edge at first, wondering whether these too, were the type who might rise up at any time. Instead, he notes, “The poor Slaves were very civil, diligent, and laborious.” It was an overnight trip, and they apparently slept overnight “on the water,” and after paddling nearly all of the next day, arrived “about five on Wednesday evening” at Beaufort. There they stayed at an Inn — though, one wonders (assumes?) that the sleeping quarters for the enslaved rowers was separate (and unequal!) to that of the esteemed white clergyman Whitefield. On Wednesday, Whitefield notes that they “refreshed ourselves at a Plantation in the Way,” and later slept for four hours on the shore. “… a little after Midnight we prayed with the Negroes, took Boat again, and reached Savannah before Noon the next Day.” A nearly twelve hour shift of paddling the canoe, from midnight until noon. Whitefield notes that he next “Had a joyful Meeting with my dear Friends” — one suspects that, by contrast, his enslaved transportation labor was attempting to recover from their exertions.

“the Hazard of being knocked on the Head

“Stephens’ Journal”

In April 1740, Whitefield took a trip north again, visiting Philadelphia, and other cities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, before returning to Georgia in June (Journal…Georgia to Philadelphia, 18–52). At the time, General Oglethorpe was attempting enlist soldiers to fight in the war against Spain, and while Whitefield was gone, the recruiters came to Whitefield’s orphanage at Bethesda. The incident is recorded in the William Stephens, “A Journal of the Proceedings in Georgia, Beginning October 20, 1737” (in Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Volume 4):

Thursday, April 24: Enlisting of Men was now the principal Affair in hand; which had so drained the Town, that it was hard to find a Man more to enter: Wherefore it was resolved by the Officer, to make a Visit to the People at work about Mr. Whitfield’s Plantation at the Orphan-House; which I would have nothing to say to, but left them to do as they pleased, being unwilling to shew the least Discouragement in so important a Service; and not over-fond of meddling, where my appearing in it (I had Reason to apprehend) would be ill construed as a Sort of Sacrilege, in breaking in upon such a Work, carrying on for so pious an Use: Moreover, I knew it was a Mat­ter much in question among the Directors of that Work, whether or not it was lawful in the Sight of God, to take up Arms with an offensive Intent, or on any Occasion, but purely in Defence of our own Lives…

Friday, April 25: …The enlisting Officer stuck to his Purpose of Yesterday, and marched with a few Volun­teers, and a Drum attending him, to beat up for more Soldiers at the Orphan-House, where he would find a Number of People; but what Disposition any of them were in for War, or what Success he met with, we yet had not learnt.

Saturday, April 26: Capt. La Feit, and his Subaltern Recruit­ing Officer, taking Breakfast with me, I was informed by them what Success they had attending Yesterday’s Ex­pedition to Bethesda (which is the Name given to that Place by Mr. Whitfield) and it proved almost fruitless, one or two Fellows only taking on: They took Notice to me of the People in general there, being provided with one and the same Answer; which it was supposed was taught them to give, by their Employers, when in­vited to take Arms; which was, that they had good Pro­visions, and a Place to sleep in, with ready Money to Pay for their Work, where they were, which they were not desirous to change for the Hazard of being knocked on the Head, and the Certainty of be­ing continually exposed to bad Weather, either Heats, or heavy Rains.

Sunday, April 27: Mr. Simms observed the Directions given him by Mr. Whitfield, in reading the Prayers of the Church, and a Sermon (out of what Author I know not) in the Forenoon, and after, maintaining the Doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, in stronger Terms than had been delivered yet; excluding from Heaven all who came not fully up to the Pitch of Faith…

“Stephen’s Journal,” 559–62

Stephen’s perspective is fascinating. He knows some will consider it “sacrilegious” to pull men away from such a “pious work” as building the orphanage in order to fight in the war. He also knows that the Bethesda group was debating a form of pacifism, and might object on those grounds. In the end, however, the excuse given for not enlisting was simple economics: they had a good job, and good pay, with no risk. They did not want to change things for “the Hazard of being knocked on the Head” and the terrible conditions of war.

Observations

Many things are striking about this whole situation. It is fascinating that the Spanish allowed freed (by their own agency) Black people to fight in their own regiment, and (allegedly) paid them equally with their regular Spanish soldiers. This kind of radical equality so near to the slave-holding British colonies would introduce radically subversive and destabilizing energy into that society. The call for “Freedom” in Augustine was powerful, and provoked an initial crack-down (the two hangings) from the white authorities in South Carolina, before the full fledged rebellion actually occurred.

The insurrection was extremely violent, on both sides. What is particularly striking to me, though, is the brutality on the part of the British “planters.” While positioning themselves on the side of white, European, Christian, “civilization” (versus the “savagery” of Native Americans and Africans), the white planters engage in conduct as brutally violent as anyone, beheading the runaway slaves, and setting their heads up “at every Mile Post they came to.” Oglethorpe’s Ranger doesn’t say for how many miles these heads were placed, but it was meant as a graphic intimidating warning. Again, I don’t know if the heads were still up on those posts several months later when Whitefield was passing through, nor if he even passed along the same road, but the possibility is fascinating.

It is noteworthy, to me at least, where Whitefield situates himself in all of this. His descriptions of Black people are telling, imagining a “Nest of such negroes,” using language fitted for animals rather than people. It’s interesting too, that Whitefield felt completely at home in the hospitality of various white slave-owners: the “master” of a “great plantation,” and then again at another plantation on the way to Georgia. In fact, he interprets this hospitality as part of the “mercies of God” toward him and his fellow travellers. Interesting also, is Whitefield’s description of his enslaved canoe paddlers, especially in light of the fear of violence he had been experiencing.

Finally, I want to highlight those enslaved canoe paddlers, on whose backs (literally?) Whitefield’s luggage would have been carried, and by whose efforts he was carried along on this segment of his journey “preaching the Gospel” in the colonies. Whitefield saw no contradiction, and in fact, probably thought he was helping bring them to Christ as he “prayed with them” before their twelve hour stint of paddling.

In all, this is a fascinating episode in the life of “America’s spiritual founding father.”

Evangelistic Enslavement: James Hervey’s “gift” of a slave to George Whitefield

James Hervey (1714–1758) was an English pastor in Weston Favell, England. Though not as well known as figures like John Wesley or George Whitefield, in his own day Hervey was ranked among the most influential of the evangelicals in England. While Whitefield was known for his preaching and Wesley for his organizing, Hervey was known for his writing, especially two works: Contemplations and Meditations (1747) and Theron and Aspasio: Or, A Series of Dialogues and Letters: Upon the Most Important and Interesting Subjects (1755).

J. C. Ryle said of Hervey, 

“I therefore boldly claim for him a high place among the spiritual heroes of the last century… let us not grudge Hervey his crown. He deserves to be had in remembrance.”

J. C. Ryle, The Christian Leaders of the Last Century: Or, England a Hundred Years Ago (1869), 356.

Another 19th century author said compared to Wesley and Whitefield: 

The person who contributed most effectually by his writings to revive evangelical doctrine in his native country was unquestionably the Reverend James Hervey.”

“No book was more popular [than Theron and Aspasio] in England in Scotland for many long years”

James Hervey and the Evangelism of His Times,” The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, (1853), 814, 820.

Luke Tyerman, the prolific Methodist historian, said this: 

“Hervey was one of the most godly men of the age in which he lived; and certainly, he was one of the most popular and successful authors.” 

Tyerman, The Oxford Methodists: Memoirs of the Rev. Messrs. Clayton, Ingham, Gambold, Hervey, and Broughton (1873), 326.

Baptist John Collett Ryland wrote an entire memorial to The character of the Rev. James Hervey (1791); and the preface to John Brown’s said this:

The Rev. James Hervey, the subject of the fol­lowing Memoirs, exhibits in his writings a most zeal­ous attachment to the great doctrines of the glorious gospel, and in his life a most eminent example of evan­gelical holiness

John Brown, Memoirs of the life and Character of James Hervey, 2nd edition [“considerably enlarged”] (1822), ix.

Hervey was a man highly esteemed in his own time, and by generations following him.

Slavery

If Hervey is as representative and prominent a figure as there was in 18th century evangelicalism, a question naturally arises (for me, at least): what, if anything, did Hervey have to say (or do) regarding the enslavement of Africans in the American colonies?

As far as I can tell, Hervey never visited America (though his works were published, read, and debated there), and never owned any slaves himself (though I am uncertain of the status of the “worthy domestic” cited below). Nevertheless, Hervey’s friendship with George Whitefield resulted in an active participation in slavery that is worth reflecting on.

Though Hervey pastored in Weston Favell, in 1750 he took a trip to London, about 70 miles away, at the behest of some of his friends:

“In June 1750, his health being much impaired by his great attention to duty, and his friends judging that the change of air might be of benefit to him, they formed a design, which they executed, of conveying him to London, under a pretence of riding a few miles in a friend’s post-chaise, who was going thither.”

Brown, Memoirs, 149. 

Hervey would remain there nearly two years, until April or May 1752, and during this time he stayed at a few places in London, including his friend George Whitefield’s house:

“One of the winters he staid in Lon­don, he lodged at the house of his good friend Mr. Whitefield, in Tottenham-court Road; here he was very happy”

Brown, Memoirs, 152.
George Whitefield

Hervey and Whitefield were lifelong friends, and Whitefield had previously visited him up on Weston Favell:

“A worthy domestic, yet alive (in 1811) intimates, his usual visitors were the Rev. Messrs. Whitefield, T. Jones, Cudworth, Doddridge, Ryland, and a pious young man, a stone mason ; these righteous men, their lips fed one another; in­deed almost none but religious persons called on him.”

Brown, Memoirs, 156.

Among the things Hervey and Whitefield did was review each others’ manuscripts (though, Hervey being the more literary of the two, this seems to have been a one-sided affair):

“In his friendship to Mr. Whitefield, he also review­ed his manuscripts. So this good man [Whitefield] writes Mr. Hervey; “ I thank you a thousand times for the trouble you have been at in revising my poor compositions, which I am afraid you have not treated with a becoming severity.”

Brown, Memoirs, 263.

Sometime in 1752, Hervey sent some of his own manuscripts to Whitefield for comment (Luke Tyerman thinks these were “Probably “Theron and Aspasio,” now in hand, though not published far three years afterwards” (Tyerman, Oxford Methodists, 277).) Whitefield wrote back:

“London, June 9, 1752.

“My very dear Friend,— I have received and read your manu­scripts; but for me to play the critic upon them, would be like holding up a candle to the sun. However, before I leave town, I will just mark a few places as you desire, and then send the manuscripts to your brother. I foretell their fate: nothing but your scenery can screen you. Self will never bear to die, though slain in so genteel a manner, without showing some resentment against its artful murderer.”

The Works of the Rev. George Whitefield, 431–32.

However, in the same letter sending the manuscripts to Whitefield, Hervey had also said this:

“When you please to demand, my brother will pay you £30, for the purchase of a negro; and may the Lord Jesus Christ give you, or rather take for himself, the precious soul of the poor slave.”

Brown, Memoir, 215.

Whitefield replied:

“You are resolved not to die in my debt. I think to call your intended purchase Weston, and shall take care to remind him by whose means he was brought under the everlasting Gospel.”

Whitefield’s 1252 letter to Hervey

It seems unlikely to me that Whitefield literally thought Hervey was repaying a debt, especially not for his editorial comments on his manuscript. It is more likely that Hervey meant this as a “gift” to his friend, and Whitefield’s response is a courteous reply. Whitefield likely named the enslaved man “Weston” after the town where Hervey was pastor (Weston Favell).

Historiography

How was this incident received and transmitted by historians and biographers? Luke Tyerman called it an “act … too curious to be omitted” and emphasizes its strangeness like this:

“Every one knows, that, Whitefield believed, that, the keeping of slaves was sanc­tioned by the Scriptures; that, hot countries could not be cultivated without negroes; and, that, the lives of numbers of white people had been destroyed in Georgia, and large amounts of money wasted, for want of negro labour. Hold­ing such principles, Whitefield, in 1751, bought a number of slaves, partly to cultivate the land attached to his Orphan House, in Georgia: and partly to instruct them, and to make them Christians. Strange to say, the gentle Hervey ap­proved of this procedure; and having, during his residence in London, largely shared in Whitefield’s hospitality, he gave to him, as a souvenir on leaving,—what ? A slave!”

Tyerman, The Oxford Methodists, 277.
Whitefield’s Orphanage in Georgia

However, other biographers of Hervey tried to frame this act in an entirely different light. One of Hervey’s earliest biographers, John Brown, called this an instance of charity:

“Among other instances of his charity, he proposed to buy a slave, to instruct him in the Christian religion.”

Brown, Memoirs, 215.

A whole book was edited in honor of Hervey, called Herveiana; Or, Graphic and Literary Sketches Illustrative of the Life and Writings of the Rev. James Hervey (1822) edited by John Cole. Cole actually attempts to compare Hervey to the great English abolitionist William Wilberforce:

“The following splendid instance of his charity is noticed by Brown, which shews that he possessed alike the spirit that animated Wilberforce, and that which influences Christians of the present day. Mr. Whitefield, being in America, Mr. Hervey proposed to buy a slave, (whom his friend there had opportunity to purchase) to in­struct him in the Christian religion…”

Herveiana, 98.

Cole goes on:

““The above account displays that Hervey did as far as was in his power as an individual in the cause of humanity, what Wilberforce as the repre­sentative of a body of individuals completely effected in the total overthrow of the cruelty in­flicted upon our fellow creatures. Our country­men of this age are endeavouring with a laudable zeal to convert heathens, and give them the glorious light of the gospel. Hervey used his power to effect the same desirable object in this brilliant and beneficent purchase, which is in every instance worthy of the man.”

Herveiana, 99.

Remarks

To modern eyes, (mine at least), this appears to be a bizarre incident. Yet, in other respects, it is to be expected of evangelicals, who seamlessly wedded enslavement of others with their own evangelical theology (for another example, see “The Edwards of History: A Reply to Douglas Wilson”). In fact, it seems clear that Hervey meant this as a form of evangelism: “may the Lord Jesus Christ give you the precious soul of the poor slave.” For those who believed that God providentially intended the trans-Atlantic slave trade so that  enslaved Africans could hear the “gospel,” this is a completely consistent act.

This incident also tells us about how Whitefield was known amongst his friends. Hervey knew that Whitefield would appreciate the “gift” of an enslaved person, and perhaps knew all about the enslaved workers at the Bethesda orphanage in Georgia. When you spend good money on a gift for a friend (£30 was no small sum), you want to be sure they will appreciate it, and whatever Hervey knew of Whitefield, he knew he would appreciate this.

Consider further that Whitefield had said that he would “take care to remind him by whose means he was brought under the everlasting Gospel.” Imagine being Weston, and imagine if Whitefield held true to his promise. Imagine constant reminders to “Reverend Hervey” — another link in the chain of events that brought you from your home in Africa, across the middle passage, to a slave block in London. All along, you are treated as “transferrable property,” such that you could be “given” as a “gift,” from one evangelical preacher to another.

In all, the ethical distortion in the original episode, and the further distortion in the historical reception of it (Tyerman excluded), are illustrative of 18th and 19th century evangelicalism.

“The mere sting of an insect, com­pared with the fangs of a tyger”: Heman Humphrey’s Parallel Between Intemperance and the Slave Trade

Heman Humphrey, Parallel Between Intemperance and the Slave Trade: An Address Delivered at Amherst College, July 4, 1828 (Amherst, MA: J. S. & C. Adams, 1828).

Heman Humphrey

In 1826 Lyman Beecher published his Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils, and Remedy of Intemperance (see “A ‘Middle Passage’ of Slavery and Darkness”: Lyman Beecher’s Six Sermons on Intemperance), and drew repeated comparisons between intemperance and the slave trade. Just a few years later, Amherst College president Heman Humphrey would expand upon this parallel and deliver an entire address devoted to the Parallel Between Intemperance and the Slave Trade.

Humphrey and Beecher were just two members in an upper class of evangelical temperance activists in New England. Humphrey and Beecher had served together as Congregational ministers in the state of Connecticut (Humphrey in Fairfield, 1807–1817; Beecher in Litchfield, 1810–1826), and David Huehner notes that “Humphrey had assisted Lyman Beecher in launching the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Morals” in 1813. The members of the Connecticut Moral Society agreed to abstain from “ardent spirits,” sabbath-breaking, profane swearing, slander, and gambling (see David R. Huehner, “Water is Indeed Best”: Temperance and the Pre-Civil War New England College,” in Jack S. Blocker, ed. Alcohol Reform and Society: The Liquor Issue in Social Context, 80; The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine (October 1813): 368–71; The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine (December 1813): 505–19; The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine (January 1814): 17–20; “Connecticut Moral Society,” in Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer (June 1815); Memorial Sketches: Heman Humphrey, 56; John Krout, The Origins of Prohibition, 146).

A decade later, Beecher and Humphrey had both moved to Massachusetts–Beecher to a pastorate in Boston, and Humphrey as the President of Amherst College–and when the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was formed in Boston 1826, they were both listed among the founding members, which included a number of other elite New England evangelicals:

  • Joshua Bates, president of Middlebury College (Vermont)
  • Bennet Tyler, president of Dartmouth College (New Hamphsire)
  • Ebenezer Porter, professor at Andover Seminary (Massachusetts)
  • Leonard Woods, professor at Andover Seminary
  • Moses Stuart, professor at Andover Seminary
  • Lyman Beecher, pastor (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Heman Humphrey, president of Amherst College (Massachusetts)
  • Marcus Morton, Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice
  • Francis Wayland, president of Brown University (Rhode Island)
  • Jeremiah Day, president of Yale College (Connecticut)
  • Eliphalet Nott, president of Union College (New York)
  • Samuel Miller, professor at Princeton Theological Seminary (New Jersey)

(see First Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (Andover: Flagg and Gould, 1828), 27–28).

While the First Annual Report did not elaborate at length on the comparison (like Beecher or Humphrey) it too included a reference to the intemperate as an “abject slave” (21), and reprinted the Western District New Hampshire Medical Society’s resolution that physicians prescribing alcoholic “medicines” as producing “slaves to Intemperance” (39).

Thus, the comparison between intemperance and slavery was becoming common, especially among the evangelical elite.

Parallel Between Intemperance and the Slave-Trade

Humphrey’s address was delivered to the students at Amherst College on July 4, 1828, and he expanded greatly on the comparison between intemperance and slavery Beecher had made a couple years earlier.

Humphrey starts off lamenting:

“that after the lapse of nearly fifty years of undis­puted political freedom, the blood-freezing clank of a cruel bondage is still heard amid our loudest re­joicings. You will naturally suppose I allude to that grievous anomaly in our free constitution, which darkens all the southern horizon; but I have a more brutifying and afflictive thraldom in view. For however cruel and debasing and portentous African servitude may be, beyond the Potomac, there exists, even in New-England, a far sorer bondage, from which the slaves of the South are happily free. This bondage is intellectual and moral as well as physical. It chains and scourges the soul, as well as the body. It is a servitude from which death itself has no power to release the cap­tive” (4).

Humphrey sounds a note he will repeat over and over: intemperance is “a more brutifying and afflictive thralldom” than African enslavement, “a far sorer bondage.” He thinks that African slavery is merely “physical” but not “intellectual” or “moral,” and this framing sets the stage for his entire argument.

He explains his strategy: “I have long thought, that a great advantage might be gained, by comparing intemperance with some other terrible scourge of humanity, which has fallen under deep and universal reprobation. Such a scourge is the Af­rican Slave-trade” (6). Humphrey makes a truly remarkable claim: “the position which I mean to take is this, that the prevalent use of ardent spirits in the United States, is a worse evil at this moment, than the slave-trade ever was, in the height of its horri­ble prosperity” (6, italics original).

He knows that this is a bold statement:

“However much this position may shock and stagger belief, I am confident it can be maintained, without the least extenuation on one side, or exaggeration on the other. Nothing but a sober and sorrowful parallel is necessary ; and such a parallel I shall attempt to sketch with as much brevity as I can” (6–7).

The Slave-Trade, not Enslavement per se

It is important to be precise about what Humphrey means by “the slave-trade,” since modern readers might think he means “slavery” in general. In fact, he means very specifically the trans-Atlantic trade, which was abolished in 1807 with the passing of the “Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves.” It was common to decry loudly the evils of this trade while remaining lukewarm regarding the evils of enslavement itself in the United States (for example, Jonathan Edwards condemned the trade while at the same time holding several people in enslavement; a century later white-supremacist and slavery apologist Robert Lewis Dabney did the same thing). Humphrey makes this clear when he states that “Congress has no hesitation in passing the severest laws against the one [the slave-trade], and why not do something to check the more dreadful rava­ges of the other [intemperance]?” (30). Spoken in 1828, this can only apply to the “importation of slaves,” not the institution itself (which would not be abolished, at least in the Confederate states, until 1863). 

Humphrey’s argument is not that “the slave-trade was not that bad; therefore intemperance is worse”; rather, the argument is that “the slave-trade was horrifically evil; and yet, even still, intemperance is worse”:

“And can any thing, you will ask, be worse ? Can any guilt, or misery, or peril surpass that of the slave-trade ? Can any national stigma be deeper, than for a single year to have tolerated the importation of human blood and broken hearts and daily imprecations? Yes, I answer, intemper­ance in the United States is worse than all this—is a more blighting and deadly scourge to humanity, than that traffic, all dripping with gore, which it makes every muscle shudder to think of” (8).

He compares the “comparative aggregate of misery” in terms of both the “number of victims” and the “aggregate of human misery which it inflicts” and judges that intemperance outweighs the slave-trade on both counts (8–12). Humphrey has a peculiar judgment regarding the affects of either on human persons:

“But while intemperance mixes ingredients equal­ly bitter, if not similar, in the cup of trembling and woe which it fills up to the brim, it casts in others, which the slave-trade never mingled—for it fetters the immortal mind as well as the dying body” (14).

How Humphrey could claim that enslavement did not afflict the minds of the enslaved is unclear.

“The mere sting of an insect, com­pared with the fangs of a tyger”

Humphrey piles on rhetorical questions, assuming that his point is obvious:

  • “Think of his [the intemperate man’s] thus dragging out months and years of torture, till the earth re­fuses any longer to bear such a wretch upon its surface, and then tell me, if any Barbadian slave was ever so miserable” (15);
  • “Was ever a kid­napped African more wretched in his Atlantic dun­geon?” (16);
  • “The veriest wretch, chained and swelter­ing between decks in a Portuguese Guineaman, is not half so miserable” (17);
  • “who that is bought and sold and thrown into the sea, for the crime of being sable and sick, suffers half so much as this very slave [the intemperate]?” (17);
  • “can any slave-torture be more excruciating than this?” (18).

Humphrey even claims that given the choice, he would choose to be enslaved on a plantation than to practice intemperance:

“Ah, give me, you say, the chains and stripes and toil and perpetual servitude of a West-India plantation, rather than the woe, the wounds, and the diseases of the dram-shop” (19).

Intemperance is worse than the slave-trade in the shame it produces, and the guilt upon the conscience (19–20), and here he waxes eloquent:

“Now what, I pray you, is African slavery in its most terrific forms com­pared with this ? The mere sting of an insect, com­pared with the fangs of a tyger—the slight incon­venience of a ligature, contrasted with the live and crushing folds of the Boa Constrictor. Drag me bound and bleeding, if you will, from my blazing habitation— thrust me half dead into the fetid hold of any slave-ship—sell me me to any foreign master— doom me to labour in any burning climate— set over me any iron-hearted driver—load me with any chains and compel me to toil night and day in any sugar-house ;—but deliver me not over to the retributions of a conscience, exasperated by the guilt of intemperance!” (22).

White Supremacy

If it seemed that something was off in Humphrey’s moral calculus, he says it explicitly partway through the address. Intemperance “inflicts more misery” than the slave-trade, in part because of “the keener sensibilities of a civilized than of a savage state” (22, 23). Because white civilized men have “keener sensibilities” than the African “savage” white men would be more miserable in the bondage of drink than a Black person in actual enslavement. Humphrey’s comparison rests fundamentally on the stereotype of Black people as more impervious to pain, more “hardy,” with duller “sensibilities.”

Again, he asserts that the pain of a family ripped apart in Africa suffers not as badly as a family afflicted with intemperance:

“Or when you have wept with that aged pair, on the slave-coast, whose only son has just been carried off by the ruthless man-stealer, come home to New- England, and see the only prop of once doting, and now aged parents, falling intoxicated and blasphem­ing over the threshold of their door ; and tell me, whose breach is widest, whose sorrows spring from the deepest fountain ? Much as I love my children, let them all grind in chains till they die, rather, in­ finitely, than become the slaves of strong drink” (23).

“The Means of Grace”

Humphrey also compares the affect on religious faith, and again, makes several questionable claims regarding the two evils:

“intemperance is beyond all compari­son more destructive to the souls of men than the slave-trade. Diabolical as this traffic is, it does not deprive its victims of the means of grace, for they never enjoyed them. It seals not up the bible, nor blots out the sabbath, nor removes men from the “house of God and the gate of heaven.” It har­dens not their hearts. It sears not their conscien­ces. They are not more likely to lose their souls in America, than they would have been in their native country” (25).

The fact that many enslaved people and their descendants have struggled with Christianity as a “white slaveholding religion” seems utterly foreign to Humphrey. In fact, Humphrey pulls out the age old providential apology for slavery at this point:

“On the contrary, many are brought under the saving light of the gospel here, who, in all prob­ability, would never have heard of a Saviour there” (25).

Moderation?

Humphrey’s dubious comparison causes him to extend his argument into another fallacy, condemning drinking even in moderation:

“if intemperance is more af­flictive and disgraceful to humanity than the slave-trade, who can justify himself even in the moderate use of strong drink ? Would those respectable and influential men who drink sparingly, lend the weight of their example, for a moment, to perpetuate the slave-trade, supposing it had not yet been abolished? Would they go into the market and buy at all? Would they tell us, that much as they abhor a wholesale traffic in human flesh, they see no harm in trading a little ; and that nobody can be comfort­able without a few slaves?” (35).

If there is no such thing as “slaveholding in moderation,” then, according to Humphrey, neither can alcohol be consumed in moderation either. In fact, on the last page of the address, Humphrey exhorts his hearers to “Touch not—taste not—handle not”—even though, ironically, in the passage he is quoting from (Colossians 2:21), the apostle Paul is condemning such strict rules as “doctrines of men” rather than from God(Col 2:22). Humphrey’s rhetorical zeal got away from him in almost every sense.

Antislavery at Amherst College

It is probably unsurprising, therefore, that just as Humphrey followed Lyman Beecher in comparing intemperance with the slave-trade, he also did the same in suppressing an anti-slavery society at Amherst College, just as Beecher did at Lane Seminary (see ““Social Intercourse Irrespective of Color”: Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary “Rebellion” of 1834”). A year after Beecher disbanded the anti-slavery society at Lane, Humphrey did the same in 1835 at Amherst (see William Seymour Tyler, History of Amherst College During Its First Half Century, 1821-1871 (Springfield, MA: Clark W. Bryan, 1873): 245–51; Robert H. Romer, “Higher Education and Slavery in Western Massachusetts” (2005); Michael Jirik, “Combating Slavery and Colonization: Student Abolitionism and the Politics of Antislavery in Higher Education, 1833-1841,” (2015)).

Like many “moderate” northerners, Humphrey seemed more concerned with anti-slavery advocacy than with slavery itself, and as he demonstrates clearly in his address, was far more concerned with other social ills, like intemperance, than he was with enslavement.

“The hands are white that handle the money”: Review of Carl R. Osthaus, Freedmen, Philanthropy, and Fraud: A History of the Freedman’s Savings Bank

Carl R. Osthaus, Freedmen, Philanthropy, and Fraud: A History of the Freedman’s Savings Bank (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).

The Freedman’s Savings Bank headquarters, Washington D. C.

“This bank is just what the Freedmen need” said Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1865, when the bill chartering the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company was signed into law.  Yet, by the time it was all over, Frederick Douglass would say that “the Freedman’s Bank was the black man’s cow but the white man’s milk” (Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, July 3, 1874, Smith MSS, Syracuse University Library, in Osthaus, 1).

W. E. B. Du Bois gives a brief survey of this episode in his Black Reconstruction and sums it up like this: “No more extraordinary and disreputable venture ever disgraced American business disguised as philanthropy than the Freedmen’s Bank—a chapter in American history which most Americans naturally prefer to forget” (Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880 (Oxford, 2007), 491).

In 1976, Carl Osthaus published his dissertation on the Freedman’s Bank, which he completed at the University of Chicago under his mentor John Hope Franklin. The book is a superb study enabling us to not forget. His detailed, meticulous account tells both the story of the Freedman’s Bank as well as as the broader movements in America during Reconstruction. 

The Freedman’s Bank and Racial “Uplift”

The Freedman’s Bank is a powerful illustration of dynamics that were taking place throughout the country, involving every sphere of society:

“Just as the Freedmen’s Bureau would seek to satisfy the ex-slaves’ need for land, education, and immediate relief, and the Christian missionaries would care for the reformation of their souls, the Freedman’s Bank would instill economic morals and social values in the Negroes”

Osthaus, 10.

I found particularly fascinating the role of northern missionaries, white and Black, in promoting the bank, and the way moral and spiritual “uplift” was intertwined with the material operations of the Bank:

“Every piece of Freedman’s Bank literature revealed the officers’ missionary zeal. Bank officials incessantly distributed, in D. L. Eaton’s words, ‘tracts and papers… on temperance, frugality, economy chastity, the virtues of thrift & savings; explaining how daily savings in small sums at interest will accumulate & the duty of men to provide for their families–and in a word giving short & simple homilies on the virtues which constitute the moral life of civilized communities'”

Eaton to Committee on Freedmen’s Affairs, July 5, 1868, Committee on Freedmen’s Affairs, National Freedman’s Savings and Trust Co., Legislative Records, NA, RG 233, in Osthaus, 49.

Osthaus does not shy away from describing the paternalism that infused some of the efforts on behalf of the bank:

“Bank officials spoke with egalitarian rhetoric, although sometimes their actions and comments displayed paternalistic attitudes… A circular intended for the freedmen would, they erroneously believed, “of course” be referred “for advice to those more intelligent whom they have been accustomed to trust.” Other statements were not so subtly condescending. The Memphis cashier declared that “the fickel [sic] mindedness of the Colored people makes it impossible for me to remit to you yet the small sum I have as yet on deposit.”

Osthaus, 70–71.

Cooke, Railroads, and Banks

Jay Cooke; Henry Cooke

The original reason I was drawn to look at the Freedman’s Bank was the role of Jay Cooke, his brother Henry Cooke, and the way the massive enterprise of trans-continental railroads affected the entire country. Osthaus tells the story of the Cookes and the Bank in full:

“The name of Jay Cooke, the famous Civil War financier, appeared frequently in Bank advertisements, although he had no connection with the Bank and was associated with it only tangentially because his brother and business partner Henry D. Cooke, became chairman of the Finance Committee in mid-1867. That the Cookes had no connection with the Bank before 1867 did not prevent the Semi-Weekly Louisianian from praising their roles in its establishment. Later Bank officials used the Civil War fame of Jay Cooke specifically to bolster confidence in the Bank’s investment policy and generally to highlight the Bank’s sound financial standing”

Osthaus, 55.

Ironically, the Cookes would take advantage of the Freedman’s Bank as their own banking and investment institutions came under severe strain in the early 1870s. At one point, Henry Cooke transferred $500,000 from the Freedman’s Bank to the First National Bank (which they controlled):

“$500,000 [was] an enormous sum on which the Cookes paid only 5 percent interest, while the Freedman’s Bank was paying its depositors 6 per- cent”

Osthaus 153–54.

This was a pattern in the management of the bank:

“This episode reveals a significant pattern: Cooke, Huntington, and other officers and trustees on occasion used the Freedmen’s Bank as a dumping ground for their bad private claims or the poor securities of the First National Bank”

Osthaus, 156.

When Jay Cooke & Company went bankrupt in 1873, it sent shockwaves through the entire world and triggered a massive recession and the failure of a number of banks, companies, and individuals. The Freedman’s Bank failed at this time, though Osthaus notes that this was not a simple case of cause and effect:

“Obviously no single factor was decisive, and even a combination of fraud and national economic crisis leaves much to be explained”

Osthaus, 173.

Frederick Douglass

As the bank was floundering, they appointed Frederick Douglass to be the president in an effort to prop up its reputation, while keeping important information from him:

“Later it was alleged that Douglass was elected president so that a black man would be in office when the Bank failed. (Fleming, p.85, makes this statement but fails to document it)”

Osthaus, 184.

All along, southerners opposed the bank:

“The most avid purveyors of the conspiracy legend were the southern Democratic newspapers. For years they had regarded the Bank as just another element in the Reconstruction carpetbaggger-missionary complex, and the failure with all its scandalous exposures simply vindicated their judgment”

Osthaus, 202.

Du Bois notes the same thing:

“the white planter regarded the Freedman’s Bank as part of the Freedmen’s Bureau and did everything possible to embarrass it and curtail its growth”

Black Reconstruction, 492.

(As a historiographical note, this southern attitude is reflected in another book on the Freedman’s Bank, Walter Fleming, The Freedmen’s Savings Bank (1927), which I cannot recommend).

Long after it was all said and done, in 1890 Frederick Douglass would assess a number of institutions established to “help” Black people after the Civil War, including the Freedman’s Bank: 

“Like the Peabody fund, the Slater fund, the Freedman’s Bank, and many other Institutions, nominally established for the benefit of these people, the hands are white that handle the money. The Germans have a proverb “That they who have the cross will bless themselves,” and there is nothing in the history of the Institutions named, or in the history of others that might be named to contradict this proverb.”

To the Editor of the National Republican, in Frederick Douglass and Philip S. Foner, The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass: Reconstruction and After, vol. IV: Reconstruction and After (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 458).

The story of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company is a fascinating, instructive, and little known episode in American history. Carl Osthaus’s book is a the best and most thorough treatment of it, and I highly recommend it. (There’s a copy available for $2,333 on Amazon–I borrowed it from my public library).

Additional Reading:

“A ‘Middle Passage’ of Slavery and Darkness”: Lyman Beecher’s Six Sermons on Intemperance

Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher (1775–1863) was a Presbyterian minister and seminary president, and was “one of the most prominent and powerful evangelical Protestant religious leaders” in his day (J. Earl Thompson, “Lyman Beecher’s Long Road to Conservative Abolitionism,” Church History 42.1 (1973), 90). In the early 19th century, evangelicals were increasingly active in a multitude of reform movements, and Beecher was one of the most active. Among other issues, Beecher was particularly concerned about the sin of intemperance. 

Beecher first engaged intemperance formally in 1812 when he chaired a committee on temperance for the Connecticut General Association of Congregational Churches. His work reached the national stage, however, in 1826 with the publication of Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils, and Remedy of Intemperance, published by the American Tract Society. Beecher had preached this series of sermons after visiting a parishioner and finding him drunk (see Lyman Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, Etc., of Lyman Beecher, D.D., vol. II (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1866), 34–38). The Sermons would be widely printed, distributed, reprinted, and even translated, going through twenty printings from 1827 to 1838 (Mark Noll, America’s God, 526).

A Foundational Document

Beecher, Six Sermons

The sermons are widely recognized as foundational to the temperance movement that was developing in the 1820s:

  • “Perhaps no man in America has done more to mould public opinion on the temperance question than Lyman Beecher… Dr. Beecher’s celebrated ‘Six Sermons on Intemperance,’ delivered in 1826 and published in book form in 1827, mark a most important epoch in the temperance movement. Reprinted abroad and eagerly read by many thousands, they did more than any other agency to create a distinct and practical temperance sentiment and were recognized as the standard authority on the temperance question for many years” (The Cyclopaedia of Temperance and Prohibition (1891), 43, 44).
  • “Reprinted during the next decade by almost every temperance or organization of consequence, the sermons were as widely read and exerted as great an influence as any other contribution.” (John Allen Krout, The Origins of Prohibition (1925), 105–6.)
  • “In the fall of 1825 Beecher preached six thunderous sermons on temperance; these were published the following year and had a tremendous influence, both at the time and over the decades.” (Ronald G. Walters, American Reformers, 1815-1860 (1978), 126.
  • “In 1825, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father, Lyman Beecher, gave a series of six sermons which helped to launch the temperance movement” (Cynthia Hamilton, “Dred’: Intemperate Slavery,” Journal of American Studies 34.2 (2000): 257)
  • “the social organization of the temperance movement begins in earnest in the 1820s in Boston, with the American Temperance Society (ATS) and its cofounder, the abolitionist Presbyterian minister Lyman Beecher.” Beecher’s Six Sermons were a “foundational document of the temperance movement” (Mark Lawrence Schrad, Smashing the Liquor Machine: A Global History of Prohibition (2021), 313).
  • Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition” (2011) opens with a dramatization of Lyman Beecher and the Six Sermons (“Introduction to Nation of Drunkards“).

Slavery and Intemperance

There is much to digest and analyze in the Six Sermons, but I wish to highlight one issue in particular: Beecher’s rhetorical use of American slavery to argue against intemperance. This particular feature has been noted by Charles Cole, Cynthia Hamilton, and Mark Schatz:

  • “Noteworthy in Beecher’s work is the connection he made between the evils of intemperance and slavery. The sale of ardent spirits, he believed, was just as vicious as the slave trade and the fight for the abolition of the enslavement to drink just as noble as the plea for the cause of the Negro. Both were enormities that had to be eradicated.” (Charles C. Cole, Jr., The Social Ideas of the Northern Evangelists 1826-1860 (1966), 118–19).
  • “Beecher used the slave trade as a moral yardstick for the evils of intemperance.” (Hamilton, “Intemperate Slavery,” 257).
  • “Like many abolitionist activists, Beecher reasoned that drunkenness was actually a greater threat than slavery: one-tenth of the American population were subjugated to the slave-master, while all of humanity was vulnerable to being enslaved to the liquor trader. The slave-master went home after sundown, they reasoned, while liquor’s grasp knew no rest” (Schatz, Smashing the Liquor Machine, 315).

Beecher uses the issue of slavery rhetorically in several different ways in the sermons, both implicitly and explicitly. He implicitly ranks the sins of slavery and intemperance, he describes intemperance using the imagery of slavery, and he compares intemperance and slavery and the efforts to eradicate them.

Ranking

The first “reference” to slavery is not a reference at all, but rather an implicit ranking of two issues:

“Intemperance is the sin of our land, and, with our boundless prosperity is coming in upon us like a flood; and if anything shall defeat the hopes of the world, which hang upon our experiment of civil liberty, it is that river of fire which is rolling through the land, destroying the vital air, and extending around an atmosphere of death.”

Six Sermons, 7–8.

Alcohol was indeed a big problem in the 19th century: “By the 1820s, the typical adult white American male consumed nearly a half pint of whiskey a day. This is about three times the present consumption rate” (W. J. Rorabaugh, Prohibition: A Very Short Introduction (2020), 9).

However, the issue of slavery was continuing to grow as well. The population of enslaved people in the United States increased over 30% (from 1.5 million to over 2 million) between 1820 and 1830 (see J. David Hacker, “From ‘20. and Odd’ to 10 Million: The Growth of the Slave Population in the United States,” Slavery & Abolition 41.4 (2020), 13).

Yet, comparing the two issues, Beecher asserted that intemperance, rather than slavery, was “the sin of our land.”

Describing

In the next reference to slavery, Beecher describes intemperance in terms of slavery:

“many a wretched man has shaken his chains and cried out in the anguish of his spirit, Oh, that accursed resort of social drinking: there my hands were bound and my feet put in fetters ; there I went a freeman, and became a slave—a temperate man, and became a drunkard.”

Six Sermons, 19.

For Beecher, intemperance was a form of slavery, and this may be why he felt so comfortable comparing the two issues throughout the sermons.

Comparing

In addition to ranking and describing, Beecher includes many comparisons between slavery and intemperance, their evils, and their remedies:

“WHAT THEN IS THIS UNIVERSAL, NATURAL, AND NATIONAL REMEDY FOR INTEMPERANCE? IT IS THE BANISHMENT OF ARDENT SPIRITS FROM THE LIST OF LAWFUL ARTICLES OF COMMERCE, BY A CORRECT AND EFFICIENT PUBLIC SENTIMENT; SUCH AS HAS TURNED SLAVERY OUT OF HALF OF OUR LAND, AND WILL YET EXPEL IT FROM THE WORLD” (63). [note: this is the only passage in the sermons printed in all-caps].

“This however cannot be done effectually so long as the traffic in ardent spirits is regarded as lawful, and is patronized by men of reputation and moral worth in every part of the land. Like slavery, it must be regarded as sinful, impolitic, and dishonorable. That no measures will avail short of rendering ardent spirits a contraband of trade, is nearly self-evident” (64–65).

“It is admitted that the trade employs and sustains many families, and that in many instances the profits are appropriated to useful purposes. But this is no more than might have been said of the slave-trade” (67).

In a striking passage, Beecher elaborates at length on the similarities—in his mind—between American slavery, including the middle passage, and intemperance:

“We execrate the cruelties of the slave-trade—the husband torn from the bosom of his wife—the son from his father—brothers and sisters separated for ever— whole families in a moment ruined! But are there no similar enormities to be witnessed in the United States? None indeed perpetrated by the bayonet, but many, very many perpetrated by intemperance” (70).

“We have heard of the horrors of the middle passage, the transportation of slaves, the chains, the darkness, the stench, the mortality, and living madness of woe, and it is dreadful. But bring together the victims of intemperance, and crowd them into one vast lazar-house, and sights of woe quite as appalling would meet your eyes. 

Yes, in this nation there is a “middle passage” of slavery and darkness and chains and disease and death. But it is a middle passage, not from Africa to America, but from time to eternity, and not of slaves whom death will release from suffering, but of those whose sufferings at death do but just begin. Could all the sighs of these captives be wafted on one breeze, it would be loud as thunder. Could all their tears be assembled, they would be like the sea” (71).

Beecher also believed that the same remedies that he thought were adequately addressing slavery would also work to address intemperance:

“And what has been done justifies the expectation that all. which yet remains to be done will be accomplished. The abolition of the slave-trade, an event now almost accomplished, was once regarded as a chimera of benevolent dreaming. But the band of Christian heroes who consecrated their lives to the work, may some of them survive to behold it achieved. This greatest of evils upon earth, this stigma of human nature, wide-spread, deep-rooted, and intrenched by interest and state policy, is passing away before the unbending requisitions of enlightened public opinion” (84).

“Men who are mighty to consume strong drink, are unfit members of that kingdom which consisteth not in “meat and drink,” but in “ righteousness and peace.” The time, we trust, is not distant, when the use of ardent spirits will be proscribed by a vote of all the churches in our land, and when the commerce in that article shall, equally with the slave-trade, be regarded as inconsistent with a credible profession of Christianity. All this, I have no doubt, can be accomplished with far less trouble than is now constantly occasioned by the maintenance or the neglect of discipline, in respect to cases of intemperance” (90).

Analysis

Beecher’s rhetorical use of slavery reveals a few things about his views of American slavery. Though he was personally opposed to slavery, and believed it to be a sin, he was quite optimistic that the institution would inevitably decline and disappear from American culture. In his 1826 Sermons, Beecher felt that slavery was well on its way to being “expelled from the world,” that it was “an event now almost accomplished.” Unfortunately, slavery and the Southern “Slave Power” would grow and increase for 40 more years, and would only be expelled violently through a bloody civil war.

Because he thought slavery was well on its way out, he did not feel the same sense of urgency in addressing it as he felt about intemperance, a fact noted by abolitionists:

“From the abolitionists’ perspective Beecher’s notion of the corporate guilt of slavery and his appeal to mild reforming methods were merely verbal camouflage concealing his deficient sense of moral urgency about and his lack of empathy for the plight of the slaves.”

Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 93.

Beecher himself demonstrated his “lukewarm” position on the issue of slavery when controversy erupted at Lane Seminary where he was president, and he joined other faculty and trustees in shutting down the student abolition society there (see ““Social Intercourse Irrespective of Color”: Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary “Rebellion” of 1834“).

Thirty years later, the American Tract Society (which had published Beecher’s sermons in 1826) itself came under severe criticism over the issue of slavery (see “‘Fraternal’ to Whom? White Evangelicalism’s Centuries-long Problem with Race”). In the midst of that controversy, in 1857, William Jay published a lengthy letter criticizing the American Tract Society’s willingness to publish tracts on the sins of “all who sell or drink intoxicating liquors,—who read novels, play cards, attend horse-races, join in the dance, go to the theatre, and either smoke or chew tobacco,” even though many evangelical Christians disagreed on those things, yet refused to publish a word on slavery (William Jay, A letter to the committee chosen by the American Tract Society : to inquire into the proceedings of its executive committee, in relation to slavery (1857), 5). . Beecher’s Six Sermons was one of those publications they had published on liquor.

By contrast, one of Beecher’s students at Lane Seminary, Theodore Dwight Weld, inverted the priority and urgency of the two issues:

“As Weld put it to Tappan in late 1835, the abolition cause “not only overshadows all others, but it involves all others and absorbs them into itself. . . . revivals, moral Reform etc., etc., will remain stationary until the Temple is cleansed.”

Weld to Tappan, Nov. 17, 1835, in Bames and Dumond, Weld-Grimké Letters, I, 244; in James Brewer Stewart, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery, 45.

J. Earl Thompson compares up Beecher’s activity on slavery and intemperance and sums it up thus:

“During his career he gave barely a respectable amount of time and attention to the slavery question, and it can hardly be placed at the top of his list of favorite reforms— a position that was occupied probably by Sabbatarianism and the temperance movement for him and the many other evangelical reformers who reached the apex of their dynamism and influence in the 1820s.”

Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 108–09.

The larger movements of abolitionism and temperance reform are quite illustrative and fascinating to compare, with many overlapping figures (including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and others), and overlapping concerns. Lyman Beecher’s Six Sermons offer a vivid illustration of the way one prominent white evangelical viewed these social ills and the rhetorical use he made of one in combatting another.

“Social Intercourse Irrespective of Color”: Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary “Rebellion” of 1834

Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher (1775–1863) was “one of the most prominent and powerful evangelical Protestant religious leaders” in his day (J. Earl Thompson, “Lyman Beecher’s Long Road to Conservative Abolitionism,” Church History 42.1 (1973), 90). Beecher was a Presbyterian minister in Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1832 became the president of Lane Seminary, a Presbyterian school in Cincinnati. Beecher was involved in a number of evangelical social reform movements, especially Sabbatarianism and the temperance movement, and his endorsement was coveted:

“Being one of the most prominent and powerful evangelical Protestant religious leaders, his endorsement of moral causes was highly coveted and assiduously cultivated and gave them an aura of legitimacy, respectability and urgency.”

Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 109.

Thompson highlights the white Christian nationalism at the heart of Beecher, and other evangelicals, reform efforts:

“Many historians have pointed out that he and most evan­gelical Protestants of his generation yearned for the millennial age of spiritual purity, material abundance, democratic freedoms and socio-political tranquility and that they dreaded any individual, group or institution that threatened to delay or block it. But what has been neglected almost altogether is that these Protestants perceived this halcyon era to be tantamount to the triumph of white evangelical Protestantism in America… Beecher’s goal was the ascendancy of white evangelical Protestantism in a predominately white America.” 

Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,”90.

Slavery

How did the issue of slavery fit into Beecher’s vision of a Christian America? Beecher was personally opposed to slavery, and believed it to be a sin. However, in spite of the fact that the population of enslaved people in the United States increased over 30% (from 1.5 million to over 2 million) between 1820 and 1830, Beecher was naively optimistic that slavery would inevitable decline and disappear from American culture (see J. David Hacker, “From ‘20. and Odd’ to 10 Million: The Growth of the Slave Population in the United States,” Slavery & Abolition 41.4 (2020), 13).

At an 1834 Colonization meeting in Cincinnati, Beecher said this:

“There can be no doubt that slavery, through the world, is destined to cease.” 

“Dr. Beecher’s Address”  The African Repository and Colonial Journal (American Colonization Society, 1834), 279.

Additionally, Beecher did not see a place for free Black people in American society, and endorsed the colonizationist dream of sending all freed Black people back to Africa as “missionaries. Thompson describes the way abolitionists viewed Beecher: 

“From the abolitionists’ perspective Beecher’s notion of the corporate guilt of slavery and his appeal to mild reforming methods were merely verbal camouflage concealing his deficient sense of moral urgency about and his lack of empathy for the plight of the slaves.”

Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 93.

Lane Seminary

Lane Seminary

The conflict between Beecher’s moderate opposition to slavery and the more urgent efforts of the “immediate abolitionists” reached the national stage in 1834, just two years after he assumed the presidency of Lane Seminary. That year a number of anti-slavery students had joined the seminary (including Theodore Dwight Weld), had organized debates on “immediate abolition” versus colonization, and had subsequently formed a student anti-slavery society. Not content merely to discuss these issues, the students took to the streets of Cincinnati to put their ideas into action:

“It was only after they plunged into missionary work among the freedmen of Cin­cinnati, which also involved frequent social contacts with them—visiting, eating and boarding with them—that the Lane educator became upset and unsure of his proteges. Just as the town’s respectable white citizens became enraged by the missionaries’ practicing ‘immediate intercourse irrespective of color,’ so Beecher was also repelled by this doctrine and offended by his students’ re­fusal to give up their style of evangelism.”

Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 100.

The faculty met with the students repeatedly and asked them to stop. Eventually the faculty and trustees disbanded the anti-slavery society, and a large group of students withdrew from the school and went down the road to Oberlin College instead. The whole incident is a case study of the white, northern, paternalistic racism in some of the conservative “anti-slavery” circles, and has been much written about. However, what I have not seen much attention to (though some, like Thompson, mention it briefly) is the main point of contention at the heart of the whole dispute: “social intercourse irrespective of color.”

“The Evils Which Its Existence Occasioned”

In shutting down the society, the faculty had complained of “the evils which its existence occasioned” (“Statement of the Faculty Concerning the Late Difficulties in the Lane Seminary,” 33). The faculty sought to clarify why they had shut down the society: not because of abolitionism per se, but because of “the spirit and manner of doing a few things not necessary to the prosperity of the society itself, against the advice of the faculty, and reckless of the consequences in doing violence to public sentiment” (“Statement of the Faculty,” 34). What were these “few things” and their “consequences”?

The main issue, which the faculty emphasized over and over, was “social intercourse” with Black people, or, in Thompson’s words, “treating blacks as equals with dignity and respect” (“Beecher’s Long Road,” 100):

“In the discussions preceding the organization of the society, the doctrine of social intercourse according to character, irrespective of color, was strenuously advocated, and the knowledge of this opinion of the students became extensive in the city, and it was not long before reports multiplied, that they were beginning to put their doctrine in practice. These reports, greatly amplified, appeared, on examination, to originate in the fact, that an influential member of the anti-slavery society, weary with lecturing and too much indisposed to return to the seminary, accepted the proffered hospitality of a respectable colored family to pass the night with them, and that one of the teachers of a colored school, a member of the Abolition Society, and till recently a member of the seminary, boarded in a colored family.”

“Statement of the Faculty,” 36.

Manisha Sinha describes the activities of the students:

Contact with African Americans made the Lane rebels even more committed to immediatism and against colonization. Their activities caused an uproar, and school authorities sought to ban discussion of slavery. Two of the students, Augustus Wattles and Marius Robinson, began to teach full-time in black schools. Weld never forgot his experience with black Cincinnatians, many of whom had bought themselves out of slavery and continued to scrape money together to buy friends and families. Recounting their stories, he ‘was forced to stop from sheer heart-ache and agony.'”

Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause, 242.

The trustees and faculty could not abide this. They were perfectly fine with efforts to “help” Black people…:

On this occasion the students were convened, and the reports in circulation and the state of public feeling were explained to them by the faculty, and the belief was expressed that, without offence to the community or injury to the seminary, the colored people might be instructed in common schools, and Sabbath schools, and lectures, and by any missionary labors, among them, necessary for their best good…

…so long as that help was meted out from a proper distance:

…provided they abstained from the apparent intention of carrying the doctrine of intercourse into practical effect. That this, in our belief, would not be endured by the community, and would be resisted in a manner which would render it impossible to protect either them or the institution. 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 36.

The faculty tried to pressure students to stop associating so closely with Black people:

These considerations were pressed upon the attention of an influential member of the Abolition Society, who had been especially instrumental in the establishment of the schools, and he was requested to exert his influence to change the residence of the instructor, and to prevent that kind of intercourse, which would offend the community and injure the seminary.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 36.

The “influential member” was likely Weld. In his autobiography, Beecher describes the scene:

“When they founded colored schools,” said Dr. Beecher, “ I conversed with Weld repeatedly, and pointed out these things. Said I, you are taking just the course to defeat your own object, and prevent yourself from doing good. If you want to teach colored schools, I can fill your pockets with money; but if you will visit in colored families, and walk with them in the streets, you will be overwhelmed.” 

Lyman Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, Etc., of Lyman Beecher, D.D., vol. II (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1866), 325.

The “influential student” pushed back: 

In reply, he justified the boarding of white instructors in colored families, as indispensable to secure the confidence of that injured people and do them good. That any reference to color, in social intercourse, was an odious and sinful prejudice, and that some action, in advance of public sentiment, was necessary to put it down.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 36–37.

A further bit of trouble and controversy involved the Lane students associating with Black women in public:

The next excitement was caused by a visit paid to the seminary by several female colored persons, in a carriage, and the marked attention said to have been paid to them by the students. In this case, also, the public excitement was greatly increased by various exaggerations and misrepresentations of the fact.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 37.

And further, a seminary student walked with a Black woman as they travelled to their respective destinations:

Sometime after this, a new excitement was created by the walking of the instructor, who boarded in a colored family, with a colored female to the seminary or its vicinity, and returning in like manner. It was said that their meeting on the road was accidental, and that the young gentleman merely complied with her request to be directed to some place with which she was not acquainted. But they returned to the city in the same manner, and it was regarded by the community as part of a settled design to carry into effect the scheme of equalization.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 37.

Again, the faculty tried to convince the seminary students to stop this practice of “immediate intercourse irrespective of color”: 

About this time the dissatisfaction in the community became so great, as to induce the faculty to convene and address the students once more… they were distinctly notified that it was the doctrine and practice of immediate intercourse irrespective of color, which provoked the community, and arrayed its rising indignation against them and the seminary… and that if they persisted in their course with the distinct admonition and high moral certainty of these amplified and exasperating measures, they would be accountable for all the mischief which they produced; and that a continuance of this course would be, in our opinion, intolerable and ruinous.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 37–38)

What were these “intolerable and ruinous” effects on the seminary? One was fundraising:

Lane Seminary … is in its infancy, and has a character yet to form, confidence to earn, and funds for its complete endowment to collect; its patrons, past and to come, are deeply committed on both sides of this question [of slavery].

“Statement of the Faculty,” 35.

Another consequence was the affect on recruiting Southern students. In their response to the students, the faculty complained that the anti-slavery society “repelled the accession of southern and western students” (“Statement of the Faculty,” 43). Several years later, Beecher was able to reassure an Old School Presbyterian leader in Virginia, in an 1840 recruitment letter: 

“Our trustees and faculty are not abolitionists—and our students are conservatives rather than ultra and young men from the south will not be annoyed here or disqualified for usefulness at home.’” 

Vincent Harding, “ Lyman Beecher and the Transformation of American Protestantism” (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Chicago, 1965), p. 624, n. 1.—cited in Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 105 n. 97.

The “interests” of the seminary, both in terms of fundraising and enrollment, meant that pro-slavery patrons could not be provoked by the outrageous behavior of students in promoting anti-slavery and living out the principles of equality in the city of Cincinnati. When push came to shove, Beecher’s personal “anti-slavery” sentiments were pushed aside in light of these more compelling interest of the school.

The Students’ Response

Theodore Dwight Weld

The students met to consider the recommendations of the faculty to cease their activities, and responded with their own report. They outlined what the anti-slavery society had done in its official capacity, and what members had done “as individuals.” As individuals, they had done four things: 

1st. Engaged in instructing in the elements of science and in religion, the colored population of Cincinnati. 

2d. Written for the newspapers. 

3d. Avowed opposition to the principles of the American Colonization Society. 

4th. Visited, eaten, and boarded with colored people.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 39.

They agreed with the faculty that it was especially Number 4 that had incited the opposition of the community:

“But the great stone of stumbling to the community seems to be found in the fact, that some of our number have associated with the colored people upon terms of equality, have visited and eaten with them ; and, especially, that an individual, late a member of this institution, in the course of his missionary operations, has boarded in a colored family.” 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 39.

The students defended this practice at length, and their reply provides a great contrast to the more blatant paternalism of their faculty:

But as the measure, to which he [that student] has resorted, involves a principle of action, to which the faculty have called our attention, the frankness which we mean to manifest, forbids that we should conceal our sentiments upon this point, especially as such a perfect unanimity of sentiment obtains among us. The following considerations have had great weight with your committee: 

1st. The objection is unintelligent and founded in prejudice. 

2d. Public sentiment upon this subject is partial. It is found essential to success in all foreign missions, for the teachers to associate intimately with the people they instruct. It is essential to the gaining of that confidence, without which all efforts to good will fail in time to come, as they have in time past. The same thing, which so scandalizes the public here, is practised without reproach at Liberia upon similar communities ; nay, it is even commended by the same public who condemn it in our brother.

3d. He, whose example it is our business and our glory to imitate, once suffered detriment to his popularity by ‘sitting at meat with publicans and sinners.’ Surely their condition and the estimation with which they were regarded, gave them no advantage over the African race. Surely their color would have been a bar to free intercourse, with such as hold the sentiments of the Caucasians of this generation.

If he, who was harmless, undefiled, and thus separate from sinners, did nevertheless associate with those whose hearts were stained with sin, we are ashamed to claim his image, and then shut in our social sympathies from the children of God, because their skins independently of volition, absorb the rays of the sun.

It is fundamental to our principles to treat men according to their character without respect to condition or complexion. Thus we have learned the law of love. Thus we would act against the pride of caste. Thus we would practise as we preach—the only mode to get credit for sincerity or to influence others.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 40.

The students concluded their report with a number of formal resolutions, including this:

Resolved, That we cannot censure the practice of our members in eating, visiting, and boarding in colored families, on any principle of religion or of reason.

“Statement of the Faculty,” 41)

The faculty considered this report by the students in the anti-slavery society to have an “ungracious aspect” (“Statement of the Faculty,” 41).

Immediate Action

The term ended, and students went on summer vacation. The faculty had been willing to wait and hope that the controversy (like slavery itself) would fizzle out over time. However, in contrast with the issue of “immediate abolition,” they soon found themselves pressed to immediate action regarding the anti-slavery society:

“During the vacation, and in the absence of a majority of the faculty, events occurred which brought upon the executive committee, the necessity in their judgment of immediate action. The urgency of this necessity was greatly increased during their attention to the subject, by another visit to the seminary, of a carriage of colored persons. This augmented greatly the public exasperation, and occasioned, as the committee believed, a necessity for suspending the Abolition Society in the institution. 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 42. 

Again, the faculty repeated, the main problem with the society was not their ideas; the suspension of the society “had in its origin no reference at all to the rights of discussion and free inquiry, or to the question of abolition as right or wrong, expedient or inexpedient, or to the rights of the students to associate for the discussion and the propagation of abolition principles” (“Statement of the Faculty,” 42).

Rather, the problem was their direct association with Black people:

…there was a frequency and familiarity of intercourse between the students and the colored families of the city, which was on some accounts inconvenient to them, and occasioned animadversions, which we cannot repeat, but which subjected the students to ridicule, and were derogatory to the dignity and propriety, which ought ever to characterize young men who are in preparation for the ministry. These attentions of the young men to the colored people of the city, were also reciprocated with great frequency at the institution, and by invitations to dine with the students and other marked attentions, they were encouraged to come ; and these things, which were done, with the amplifications and invidious insinuations to which they gave occasion, went out over the city and over the West, and rendered the institution an object of intolerable odium and indignation. 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 42.

The faculty again made themselves very clear: 

And if, at any time, the committee or the trustees have spoken of abolition in terms of strong aversion, or expressed their determination to rid the institution of it, it has always been abolitionism associated with the doctrine of immediate equalization irrespective of color, and the attempt to reduce it to practice, and in view of the inflammatory influences, and odium, and peril thus brought upon the institution. 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 43, italics original.

By way of contrast, all other manner of voluntary reform societies were still approved: 

…we also regard with favor, voluntary associations of students designed to act upon the community, in the form of Sabbath schools, tract, foreign mission, temperance, and other benevolent labors in subordination to the great ends of the institution, of which, in all instances, the faculty, as the immediate guardians of the institution, must be the judges. 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 44.

In the end, the faculty blamed the students for the whole thing: 

…no impediment has existed, to the full exercise of free inquiry and benevolent action, which the abolitionists did not themselves create, by pressing upon public sensibility the doctrine, and countenancing and justifying the practice, of intercourse irrespective of color. 

“Statement of the Faculty,” 47.

The “Statement of the Faculty” reports were signed by Lyman Beecher, Thomas Biggs, and Calvin Stowe.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown describes in grossly offensive terms how the news was reported to the anti-slavery philanthropist Arthur Tappan, who had helped to fund Lane: 

“Hence, it came as a shock to Arthur Tappan when the board of trustees threatened to expel Weld’s company because of their ‘n*ggerism’”

(Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan and the Evangelical War Against Slavery, 127, {citing Huntington Lyman to James Thome, August 17 1834, Robert S. Fletcher File, Oberlin College Library}).

This incident is reflective of Beecher’s general views on slavery in America. Though he was personally opposed slavery, and hoped and believed it would fade away from American society, he held antipathy for “both sides” of the controversy, and felt that the abolition movement was just as much a divine punishment on the country as the slaveholders in the South. A few years after the Lane controversy, he expressed himself on the subject:

I regard,” writes Dr. Beecher, March 1838, “the whole abolition movement, under its most influential lead­ers, with its distinctive maxims and modes of feeling, and also the whole temper, principles, and action of the South in the justification of slavery, as signal instances of infatuation permitted by Heaven for purposes of national retribution. God never raised up such men as Garrison, and others like him, as the ministers of his mercy for purposes of peaceful reform, but only as the fit and fearful ministers of his vengeance upon a people incorrigibly wicked.

Autobiography, Correspondence, Etc., of Lyman Beecher, vol. II, 426.

Thompson notes that “This opinion, uttered in 1838, was never retracted or altered.” (Thompson, “Beecher’s Long Road,” 102).

Conclusion

When considering the issue of slavery in the United States, it’s easy to oversimplify the matter. The slaveholding south was bad, the free north was good; simply being opposed to slavery surely is enough to be on “the right side of history,” right? Lyman Beecher gives us a great case study of a conservative evangelical minister, and we can learn much from his example. Though he was personally opposed to slavery, he saw no place for Black people in what he saw as a white Christian America. Though he was perfectly happy for white people to “help” Black people from a distance, he felt that “social intercourse” on equal terms was too scandalous. Though the issue of slavery carried little urgency for him, the issue of whites and Blacks associating together carried great urgency, and moved him to take immediate action to shut down the anti-slavery society.

Christians today who look around and see the problems in their country, issues of systemic racialized injustice, often want to do something about it. They can think that simply by noticing the evil, and being personally opposed to it, they are doing the right thing. They can even get involved in “helping”—many white Christians get involved in missionary and non-profit work to address the ills they see. But is their effort to “help” constrained by an unwillingness to actually join the community they seek to serve? Are they more concerned with losing donors and constituents, then they are with living and acting consistently with their stated beliefs? Is their perception of the “problems” in the target community colored with an unrecognized assumption of their own cultural superiority? Do they maintain a careful distance from those they are seeking to help? Or are they cultivating genuine partnerships, partnerships established on the basis of “equality irrespective of color,” partnerships that involve walking together, eating meals together, and even living together, mutually giving and receiving from each other?

These are some of the lessons we can learn when we move past simplistic portrayals of the past, and dive deeper into the details.

Recommended Reading

1834 – “Statement of the Faculty Concerning the Late Difficulties in the Lane Seminary” in Fifth annual report of the trustees of the Cincinnati Lane Seminary : together with the laws of the institution and a catalogue of the officers and students, November, 1834 (Cincinnati: Corey & Fairbank, 1834).

1834 – A Statement of the Reasons Which Induced the Students of Lane Seminary, to Dissolve Their Connection with That Institution (Cincinnati, 1834).

1973 – J. Earl Thompson, “Lyman Beecher’s Long Road to Conservative Abolitionism,” Church History 42.1 (1973): 89–109 (on JSTOR)

1980 – Lawrence Thomas Lesick, The Lane Rebels: Evangelicalism and Antislavery in Antebellum America, First Edition. (Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1980).

2009 – Jeremy Land, “Lyman Beecher : Conservative Abolitionist, Theologian and Father,” Madison Historical Review 6.1

Robert Lewis Dabney: An Index

Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was a Southern Presbyterian pastor, Confederate soldier, and seminary theology professor. He was also a venomous white-supremacist. Though he died over a century ago, in the 1960s his reputation was rehabilitated when Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth republished his writings and commended him to a new generation of Reformed Evangelicals in America. As a result, a number of leading evangelical figures began to read, cite, and commend Dabney to their followers. Only recently has the problematic elements of his thought, including his white-supremacy, been acknowledged. This page is an index of a number of articles and compilations of sources I’ve written on Dabney and his legacy.

Robert Lewis Dabney: Primary Sources

What’s So Bad about Robert Lewis Dabney?

Start here if you’ve never encountered Dabney’s racist views, and are wondering “what’s the big deal?”

[Nine of] Eleven Letters by Chorepiscopus [Robert Lewis Dabney] to the Richmond Enquirer, on “The Moral Character of Slavery,” (1851)

In 1851, Dabney published these letters. I transcribed them and made them available for the first time.

“Worse than Questionable”: Commentary on Dabney’s 1851 Letters on Slavery

My thoughts on Dabney’s letters.

The Civil War and the Failure of White American Christianity

Dabney’s views on the Civil War shine a spotlight on the failure of White American Christianity.

“Not [only] as a slave but [also] as a brother”

Shows how Dabney distorted the book of Philemon to mean the opposite of what it says.

Review: Ecclesiastical Relation of Negroes: Speech of Robert L. Dabney, in the Synod of Virginia, Nov. 9, 1867, Against the Ecclesiastical Equality of Negro Preachers in Our Church, and Their Right to Rule Over White Christians

This one address encapsulates everything that is wrong with Dabney.

Robert Lewis Dabney in The Christian Intelligencer, 1872–73

Dabney wrote two articles on Black churches and Black theology — I transcribed and made them available here for the first time.

Robert Lewis Dabney, White Supremacy, and Public Schools

From 1876 to 1879, Dabney wrote several articles on the topic of education and public schools. This gives the historical context for that conflict.

Book Review: The Public School in Its Relations to the Negro

In 1875 and ’76, Bennet Puryear wrote several articles opposing Black education, using some of the most vile white-supremacy I’ve ever seen. Dabney endorsed these articles, and used them as a springboard for his own article “The Negro and the Common School” published in 1876.

Book Review: The New South

This piece is a great example of first-generation Lost Cause propagation, the way the ideology was formed, preserved, and passed down.

Book Review: Robert Lewis Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism

Dabney’s book has been recommended as a great book on reformed theology. This review examines the historical context and material in the book.

Reception of Dabney: Contemporaries

Book Review: In Memoriam: Robert Lewis Dabney, Born, March 5th, 1820, Died, January 3rd, 1898

After his death, Dabney’s sons collected several of the commemorative articles and addresses in this volume to honor their father.

The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney: Review and Reception

Thomas Cary Johnson wrote a 600 page biography of Dabney after he died. Here’s my review, and a few other reviews of the book.

Benjamin B. Warfield on Robert Lewis Dabney: Nine Reviews (1891–1905)

Warfield reviewed a number of Dabney’s works over the years, and this post collects those reviews in one place.

“May His Memory Be Increased!”: Benjamin B. Warfield on Robert Lewis Dabney and Race

Warfield has been praised for his courageous stance on racial issues; considering his treatment of Dabney, and contrasting him with contemporary Francis Grimké complicates the picture.

From the Knights of the White Camelia to Secretary of Foreign Missions: Samuel Hall Chester (1851–1940), Race, and Southern Presbyterian Missions

Chester was one of Dabney’s students, and is the source for an interesting anecdote about Dabney as a professor. Chester himself is a fascinating study of white-supremacy and Presbyterian leadership.

R. J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction

A “Man of Faith and Courage”: Robert Lewis Dabney in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 1974–1999

Dabney was a major influence on R. J. Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstruction movement. This post documents that influence in their Journal.

Iain Murray and Banner of Truth

“Dabney was truly a Caleb”: Iain Murray’s biography of Robert Lewis Dabney

Iain Murray’s biography of Dabney white-washes his white-supremacy, and passes on the Lost Cause myth of the Civil War and slavery.

“A Leading Theologian”?: Herman Bavinck on Robert Lewis Dabney

Banner of Truth claimed that Bavinck endorsed Dabney as a “leading theologian.” That turned out to be an embellished claim, due to their partnership with Mississippi segregationists.

Banner of Truth on Dabney and the Southern Presbyterians: An Index

No one has done more to supply Reformed evangelicals with Dabney’s works than Banner of Truth.

John MacArthur

John MacArthur on Robert Lewis Dabney

“One of the wonderful old past generation American preachers was a man named R.L. Dabney. And reading him is always refreshing.” – John MacArthur

Douglas Wilson

Douglas Wilson on Robert Lewis Dabney

Douglas Wilson describes Dabney as one of “the men I am most indebted to philosophically.” Others have loved Dabney for his Reformed Theology, but Wilson loves him for his views on slavery, too.

Douglas Wilson and the Association of Christian Classical Schools

Shows how Dabney has been commended to educators interested in Christian Classical education.

John Piper and Desiring God

John Piper first cited Dabney in his dissertation, and then recommended him for decades in his books and on Desiring God’s website. This series of posts documents and wrestles with this.

John Piper, Desiring God, and Robert Lewis Dabney

“Love Your Enemies”? John Piper and Robert Lewis Dabney, part 2

“The Great Pattern of American Manhood”: John Piper and Robert Lewis Dabney, Part 3

“For Theologians”: John Piper and Robert Lewis Dabney, Part 4

“A Single River” or a “Poisonous Stream”? John Piper [and Robert Lewis Dabney], Interlude

“Trusting the Theology of a Slave Owner”: John Piper, Desiring God, and Robert Lewis Dabney, Part 6

“Great Saints of the Past”: John Piper, Desiring God, and Robert Lewis Dabney, Part 7

Whose Calvinism? Which Community? John Piper, Desiring God, and Robert Lewis Dabney, Part 8

“Flag It, Wave It, Acknowledge It”: John Piper, Desiring God, and Robert Lewis Dabney, Conclusion

Providence is No Excuse

Providence is No Excuse (on DesiringGod.org)

This was the article that started it all, demonstrating that racism was not a category separate from Dabney’s “good theology” but rather infected it.

“Social Justice Dung,” and other thoughts on Dabney

Some people didn’t appreciate the DG article (above). This was my response to some of their objections.

Should We Burn Dabney’s Books?

One objection in particular kept coming up; this post addresses it.

On Censoring Dabney and Denying “Sola Fide”

Another author claimed that I had bordered on denying “justification by faith alone.” He’s since deleted the post.

Zachary Garris

Book Review: Dabney On Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government

In 2018, Zachary Garris reprinted four of Dabney’s “greatest essays” on “biblical hierarchy.” Several of the essays are filled with white-supremacy and pro-Confederacy. I do not recommend the book.

The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney: Review and Reception

In 1891, Robert Lewis Dabney published a short biographical sketch in The Union Seminary Magazine titled “Thomas Carey [sic] Johnson” (available here). Johnson had just been appointed the professor of the English Bible and pastoral theology at Union, and Dabney was giving “the antecedents” to their new professor. After graduating from Hampden-Sidney college, and then Union Theological Seminary, Johnson, “upon the invitation of Dr. Dabney,” went to Texas to teach alongside Dabney in the Austin School of Theology. When Dabney’s illness got much worse in 1890, Johnson shouldered much of the load. Dabney praised Johnson’s scholarship, teaching, work ethic, and preaching, and commended him to Union.

Thomas Cary Johnson

Thirteen years later, Johnson would return the favor for his mentor and friend, first writing a brief sketch of his life and character for The Union Seminary Magazine (“The Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney, D. D., LL. D.” (1898): 157–67) and then greatly expanding this work into The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney.

It is important to understand Johnson’s relationship to Dabney in order to rightly understand this book. On the one hand, it’s important to know that Johnson revered Dabney and agreed with him on almost every single issue he confronted, whether it was the righteousness of slavery, the inferiority of Black people, or Dabney’s side of various theological controversies. Dabney is given to us through the most sympathetic lens possible. This actually serves us well, because Johnson does not feel the need to hide any of the details in these various controversies, because he believes Dabney is right. While many felt that Dabney had too many “crotchets” and was woefully out of step with the times. Johnson, though, was sympathetic to Dabney: “Dr. Dabney has received much criticism as ultra-conservative. Perhaps in some minor matters he was too antagonistic to change, but we confidently await the verdict of history on his conservatism. We do not believe he was too conservative in most matters” (569). Though Johnson had deep sympathies for Dabney, he wanted to give the man “in full,” and not edited to appeal to his contemporaries. In the very first page of the preface, Johnson says this: 

“An effort has been made to present, as nearly as possible, the genuine Robert Lewis Dabney in this book. He did not relish the thought of being trimmed to suit the notions of an author or an editor, and thus presented to the public. When his Collected Discussions were being brought out, there was some criticism of one of the articles to be presented in the first volume. The critic made the point that the article objected to would injure Dr. Dabney’s reputation if republished. The Doctor, on hearing this, turned somewhat sharply us, and said: ‘What do you think of this? Do you like the plan of trimming a man, whose life and work you would perpetuate, to suit your notions, and then handing the resultant down as if it were real?’ We made answer, that it seemed to us that, if a man’s works and life are worthy of preservation through the medium of the press, they and he should be handed down as they were, warts and all. He replied emphatically, ‘The truth demands it, sir.’ The memory of this little conversation helps to explain the presence of some features of the book. He was so intensely honest that he would have abhorred any effort to present him sheared to the demands of current moral and religious tastes” (v).

As long as one keeps in mind Johnson’s perspective, this is a very transparent account of Dabney’s life. It is in the conclusion (“Summary View of the Man and His Services”) that Johnson veers toward hagiography, praising Dabney to high heaven in every sphere he touched—“energy and power,” “sense of responsibility,” “Christian character,” “sanctified common sense,” “as preacher,” “as teacher,” “as theologian,” “as a philosopher,” “as a political economist,” “as a statesman,” “as a [Confederate] patriot,” “as a friend,” and “as a servant of God.” In fact, Johnson says: “as a holy man, he deserves to be ranked with Augustine and Calvin, Owen and Baxter and Edwards” (567).

After reading the book, I am convinced that Dabney was a great man; I am not convinced that he was a good man. Dabney was a force of nature and was possibly the strongest leader, teacher, and influence on Southern Presbyterians in the nineteenth century (and beyond). His seminary teaching stamped his views on hundreds of Presbyterian pastors and teachers, and his activity in the various Presbyterian synods often won the argument through sheer force of personality. Johnson gives us all of this. This influence was often in favor of strict Calvinist theology (which some will praise), but his most vehement and strenuous efforts in the church and in society were launched against the equality of Black people, and in these debates, he also made his imprint, and helped to shape the Southern Church for decades (indeed, over a century) to follow. His influence was great; it was not good.

In his Union Seminary Magazine article, Johnson explains why it is impossible to consider Dabney’s theology in abstraction from his embodied historical context:

“To give an adequate account of his life it would he necessary to enter into a discussion of the general current of theological thought during the last forty years and portray him in relation to these currents. It would also be necessary to give an exposition of many contemporary philosophical systems and show how he stood toward those systems. It would be no less needful to refer to many material, political and sociological changes which have occurred in our country during the last fifty years. For Dr. Dabney, while a minister of the gospel, was also a citizen of his commonwealth [Virginia], and a great christian statesman. He took a burning interest in all that vitally concerned the welfare of his country. He held profound views on political economy and statecraft, and set them forth with tremendous vigor. The lives even of most great preachers pass in such quiet that the historian finds little to dwell upon. What he says of one day’s labor and achievements may be said of almost every other day. Such was not the life of Dr. Dabney. His life touched so many points in the common history of church and state and touched them in a way so unusual that it is impossible to give an adequate sketch in a few pages” (159).

What Johnson said was necessary in 1898, he delivered in 1903. This book is essential for understanding Dabney’s life and legacy. 

A few odds and ends. Johnson’s references to Dabney’s articles and papers are a treasure trove for more digging, but they aren’t always accurate. For example, Johnson references two papers in “the Christian Intelligencer, which were interesting reading, e. g., “Description of Negro Worship in Richmond and Lynchburg, Ante and Post Bellum,” December 1872; “Description of Negro Theology,” January 1873, et al” (337). Actually, those articles were titled “Two Picture” (November 1872), and “Peculiar Religious Opinions of Southern Freedmen,” (January 1873) (see here for more on these particular articles). Trying to track some of these down will need to do some extra digging on occasion. Also, the indexes in Johnson’s book are incomplete. For example, the entry for “slavery” includes 2 page references; I added eleven more as I worked my way through the book. The book is available for free on Google Books. 600 pages is a lot to read on a screen (I have a hard copy), but is very convenient for searching within the book for specific words, phrases, or references. Finally, beware for some strong racial language, including the use of the n-word in some of Dabney’s letters. It is to be expected, but it is still jarring nonetheless.

Anyone interested in digging deeper into Dabney should read this, but I especially commend this book to white reformed(ish) evangelicals who want (or need!) to grapple more fully with the white-supremacy that has poisoned their theological tradition. I would also recommend that you read a contemporary historian’s take, like Sean Michael Lucas’s masterful Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life. Following Dabney’s trail through the 20th and 21st century has been fascinating and revealing for me — this book takes us back to the start of that trail.

Reception

It is interesting to see how Johnson’s book has been received and reviewed over the years, from figures like Benjamin B. Warfield, to the Confederate Veterans. 

A reviewer (“E. M”) in the South Atlantic Quarterly said this (review available here):

“While the reader may not agree with Professor Johnson’s exaggerated estimate of him as entitled to ‘the first place amongst the theological thinkers and writers of his century,’ he cannot but be impressed with the commanding position he held as a leader in the Presbyterian church for forty years or more… Professor Johnson is prone to put too high an estimate on the intellectual qualities of Dr. Dabney and to give him the palm in every contest he wages.”

Philip P. Wells, from Yale Law School, offered this summary (available here):

“The subject of this eulogistic biography lived from 1820 to 1898 and was a typical Virginian of the upper class; a rigid Calvinist and a theological professor, regarding slavery as divinely ordained and modern science as atheistic; an army chaplain; chief of staff to Stonewall Jackson in 1862 and later his biographer; and in his later life an uncompromising opponent to the union of the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches”

A glowing review (and advertisement) appeared in the Confederate Veteran: Published Monthly in the Interest of Confederate Veterans and Kindred Topics. The advertisement concluded like this:

“The book is a notable contribution to the historical literature of the South, and a copy should be in the home of every true Southerner.”

The review appears further in (available here), and concludes with this warm commendation:

“Taken all in all, few books have been produced in recent years of greater interest and value to all classes of readers.”

The review in the Independent and Weekly Review gave this assessment of Johnson and the book (available here):

“The author is not an adorer of Dr. Dabney, but an admirer and a faithful biographer. He has included in his book something which we could wish were not true, but his apology for so doing is a tribute to Dr. Dabney… Students of our national history might do well to read it, in order to see something relat­ing to our Civil War from the Southern standpoint.”

The Union Seminary Magazine offered a glowing review, as is to be expected. It begins like this:

“The Southern Presbyterian Church is to be congratulated upon the appearance of this book. Many of us looked forward with sharp appe­tite to its coming from the press, and not without some impatience under the delay, after the publishers informed us it was nearly ready for delivery. When it came we sat down to a feast of fat things. We became so much interested as almost to forget that sermons should be prepared for the next Sunday. This book contains many of the burning thoughts of our great teacher, gathered by a loving author fully prepared to appreciate them, who enjoyed special opportunities to learn the character of his great subject.”

It comments on Johnson like this:

“Dr Johnson was a favorite pupil of Dr. Dabney, and engaged by Dr. Dabney to assist him in the theological department of the Uni­versity of Texas. The mind, the energy and the power of work of these two men were cast in a mould somewhat similar; consequently the men were bound together by a bond of congeniality. It was, therefore, natural and appropriate that Dr. Johnson should be selected by the friends of Dr. Dabney to prepare his Life and Letters; and well has he done his task.”

They acknowledge Dabney’s foundational role in Southern Presbyterianism:

“For he had an ardent love for his Southland and her institutions. He felt called to lend all his mighty powers to the advancement of their welfare in church and State. The Southern Presbyterian Church is largely in­debted to him for her foundation and maintenance on solid scriptural principles in both theology and ecclesiology.”

Fundamentally, they are proud of this book:

“It would be an assumption contrary to human observation to expect that every reader will assent to everything in this book; but it is a noble book, of which the Southern Presbyterian Church may be proud.”

The review is available here.

B. B. Warfield reviewed the biography in The Princeton Theological Review, and his review contains a mix of praise and critique. Here is Warfield’s opinion of Johnson’s adulation:

“He is set before us in Dr. Johnson’s biography from the point of view of an intense admirer. He was worthy of his biographer’s admiration, but it may be doubted whether the expression of this admiration does not now and again pass the bounds within which it is effective. When speaking of a man like Dr. Dabney extravagance of praise is not necessary: the plainest picture of him, if true to life, will speak for itself… We may regret the element of unmeasured encomium which has been permitted to intrude into the biographer’s pages, especially into his concluding ‘summary view of the man and his services.’” 

Warfield’s full review is available here.

In 1977, Banner of Truth reprinted Johnson’s book, which stimulated a fresh round of reviews. John Pollock reviewed the book for The Churchman (a British Anglican journal):

“It would be a fair guess that few in England have heard of Robert Lewis Dabney and at first sight the Banner of Truth Trust have made a surprising choice for their admirable series of reprints, of Thomas Johnson’s massive biography of 1893. Nevertheless, the patient reader will be rewarded by entrance into a world worth exploring.”

Pollock comments on the Confederate flavor of the book:

“The modern reader takes for granted that Christianity and slavery are incompatible: Dabney and his biographer would disagree. They never ceased to regret its passing, and one of the charms of this book (however much we may condemn the attitude to slavery) is its unashamed loyalty to the defeated, ravished Confederacy: Yankees are ‘they’, Southerners are ‘we’. And certainly in this old civilization there was a very tine and attractive spirit, which still lingers south of the Mason-Dixon line.”

Finally, the Presbyterian Guardian included a review in their 1978 issue:

“Robert Lewis Dabney, a Southern PResbyterian theologian in the last half of the last century, is one of the outstanding Reformed theologians in American history. The Banner of Truth has done us a great service by republishing the definitive biography by his successor at Union Theological Seminary, Richmond. Those of us in the Presbyterian Church in America stand directly in the tradition of R. L. Dabney, and should be particularly interested in this book; and all those who love the Reformed faith should cherish this volume.”

The full review is available here.