The Christian Watchman & Reflector: A 19th Century Boston Baptist Newspaper

When studying history, there are a variety of sources that give us a window into another world, and one of these is newspapers. In their time, newspapers served as the primary medium for the exchange of ideas, at times resembling a form of “social media.” Controversies were debated, sermons reprinted, minutes of various societies published. Newspapers could be so controversial that an editor could lose his life (see the example of Elijah Lovejoy who was murdered at the age of 35 for printing an abolitionist paper).

Over the past few years I’ve come to deeply enjoy digging into the archives of a 19th century Boston Baptist newspaper, The Christian Watchman and Reflector (GenealogyBank has searchable digitized archives for the Christian Reflector for the years 1842–48 and for the Christian Watchman from 1819–1876). It was here that I first discovered nineteen previously unpublished letters written by Charles Spurgeon, including his “Red Hot Letter on American Slaery” (see: “Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index”). I’ve since devoted hours upon hours to searching the archives on any variety of topics related to Baptist History. Additionally, when I want to know “what did certain 19th century New England Baptists think about [X]?” I search the archives. Every source, though, needs itself to be examined, in order to better understand the context and the perspectives expressed in it. Though somewhat lengthy, this is actually just a beginning sketch of the history of this paper. An exhaustive study remains to be done, and this merely gestures toward some of the contours such a study could follow.

The Most Popular Baptist Paper in All New England

William Cathcart  (1826–1908), in his Baptist Encyclopædia, called it “the most popular Baptist paper in all New England” (466). Robert Turnbull (1809–1877) considered it “the leading Baptist journal in New England, and one of the best papers in the country.”

Thomas Armitage (1819–1896), in his The History of the Baptists, gives this brief overview of the paper:

The oldest Baptist weekly in America is ‘THE WATCHMAN’, of Boston, established in 1819, with the title, the ‘Christian Watchman,’ and edited by Deacon James Loring. The question of slavery becoming a subject of warm discussion, the ‘Christian Reflector’ was begun at Worcester, Mass., edited by Rev. Cyrus P. Grosvenor. This paper was removed to Boston in 1844, under the editorship of Rev. H. A. Graves, where it obtained a large circulation; but, Mr. Graves’s health failing, Rev. J. W. Olmstead became its editor, March, 1846, and in 1848 the two papers were united, under the name, ‘The Watchman and Reflector,’ Dr. Olmstead remaining as editor

(Armitage, 882)

The leading Baptist seminary at the time—Newton Theological Institution—was just ten miles away, and the Watchman & Reflector tended to stay up-to-date with, and to some extent to reflect, the higher echelons of white Baptist leadership.

Name Changes and Mergers (1819–1913)

The paper underwent a number of mergers and name changes over the years. Here is a nearly complete list of its evolution over the years (with links to the Library of Congress listing for each title):

The Christian Watchman

Christian Watchman: (Boston) 1819-1819

The very first article published in the Christian Watchman was a missionary update from Burma:

Christian Watchman & Baptist Register. (Boston) 1819-1821

The Christian Watchman. (Boston) 1821-1848

(LOC notes that the paper was “Published under the patronage of: Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, Dec. 9, 1825-Aug. 1838.”)

The Christian Reflector

Christian Reflector (Worcester, MA) 1838-1839

Christian reflector. (Worcester, Mass.) 1840-1848

The Christian Watchman & Reflector (or was it “Reflector and Watchman”?!)

In 1848, the Watchman and the Reflector merged, though the order in the name switched during its first year:

Christian Reflector & Christian Watchman: (Boston) 1848-1848

Christian Watchman & Christian Reflector. (Boston) 1848-1850

Christian Watchman & Reflector. (Boston) 1851-1866

Watchman & Reflector. (Boston) 1867-1875

In 1876 the paper merged with another Boston paper, the Christian Era, to form: The Watchman (Boston).

The Watchman. (Boston) 1876-1913

William Cathcart, “The Watchman”

William Cathcart includes an entire entry for “The Watchman” in his Baptist Encyclopædia

Watchman, The, a weekly religious paper, pub­lished in Boston, was started, in 1819, by True & Weston, Mr. Weston being its first editor. The original name of the paper was The Christian Watchman, and it was intended to be an organ of the Baptist denomination, setting forth and vin­dicating, in a kind, Christian spirit, the peculiar tenets and practices of the Baptist churches in this country Messrs. True & Weston did not long retain their connection with the paper, but passed it into the hands of William Nichols, Deacon James Loring acting as its editor. Here it remained for fifteen years, and, as an exponent of Baptist prin­ciples and practices, it performed excellent service for the denomination. On the retirement of Dea­con Loring from the editorial chair, Rev. B. F. Farnsworth took charge of the paper for a few months, when he was succeeded by Rev. Ebenezer Thresher, who was its editor for three years. During the next ten years—from 1838 to 1848— The Christian Watchman was under the editorial management of Rev. William Crowell, whose abil­ity as a writer was everywhere acknowledged. Under his supervision the paper took a high posi­tion among the religious periodicals of the day. In consequence of what by many were regarded as too conservative views on the exciting topics which were agitating the community during this period, Mr. Crowell’s position was condemned ; and there seeming to be a call for the establishment of another paper, the Christian Reflector was started in Worcester, Mass., with Cyrus Grosvenor as editor, and W. S. Dannell as publisher. In 1844 the new paper was removed to Boston, and, under the edi­torial management of Rev. H. A. Graves, it was not long before its circulation exceeded that of The Christian Watchman. The health of Mr. Graves led to his resignation, and the paper passed into the hands of Rev. J. W. Olmstead. The two papers were united in 1848, under the editorial manage­ment of Messrs. Olmstead and Hague. Mr. D. S. Ford, one of the publishers, soon came upon the editorial staff, his specialty being the arrangement of the outside of the paper, which, by his enterprise and rare tact, was made as attractive as the inside. The general tone and circulation of the paper con­tinued to improve from year to year until 1867, when it was enlarged to an eight-paged sheet, furnishing to its patrons nearly double the amount of reading matter, with but a small increase in its price. Mr. Ford retired from the Watchman and Reflector at the close of the year 1867, and the proprietorship and editorial management were in the hands of Dr. Olmstead. The Christian Era, which commenced its existence in Lowell, Mass., in 1852, to meet the demand for a more thoroughly out­ spoken anti-slavery paper, after passing through a successful career, chiefly under the management of its editor, Rev. Dr. Webster, was merged into what, under the present arrangement, is called The Watchman, at the close of 1875. The editors of The Watchman were Drs. Olmstead, Lorimer, and Johnson during the year 1876. Rev. L. E. Smith, D.D., for a long time connected with the Examiner, of New York, took the editorial chair at the beginning of 1877. The circulation of the paper in 1878 was a little under 20,000, and was con­stantly increasing. Its growth has been extraor­dinary. The Christian Watchman, insignificant in size, has expanded to a sheet 49 inches by 33, nearly eight times as large as at its birth. The expense of a single paper for original matter has been often larger than the former outlay for an entire year. It cannot be doubted that a prosper­ous future is before it.

(Cathcart, 1216)

Note: if the language regarding William Crowell and Cyrus Grosvenor seems cryptic (“took a high position”; “too conservative views on the exciting topics which were agitating the community during this period”) let me make it plain: Crowell was moderate on the issue of slavery, and Grosvenor was outspoken: 

Begun in 1838, the Christian Reflector was religious paper for the Baptists of Massachusetts. Intended as a paper for the layman, the Reflector was outspoken in its advocation of temperance and morality, and of abolition. Cyrus P. Grosvenor edited the first four volumes. Although the paper was theological in nature, during his editorship, at least two or more articles concerning the slave and the abolitionary movement appeared each week.

“Christian Reflector,” Library of Congress

William Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopædia

Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopædia is a standard reference book for 19th century Baptist history. A search of the book uncovers a wide range of Baptist figures who were connected to the Watchman and Reflector in a variety of ways, whether as owners, editors, writers, reporters, or occasional correspondents. Reading through the list will give you a sense of the various ways Baptists engaged with their newspapers.

Granville S. Abbott (1837–1897)

“For four years he edited the Sunday-school department of The Watchman, of Boston.”

(Cathcart, 10)

Rufus Babcock (1798–1875)

“Dr. Babcock had a ready pen, and always maintained an intimate connection with the religious press… His correspondence with the Watchman, as it is now called, extended over almost the entire period of its existence.”

(Cathcart, 52)


James G. Bolles (1802–1871)

When fifteen, entered a printing-office in Bridgeport, Conn., and remained till twenty; went to Boston, Mass., and was partner in the firm that published the Christian Watchman.”

(Cathcart, 111)

William Chauncy Child (1817–1876)

“In 1861 he was chosen district secretary of the American Tract Society, of Boston, which position he held for eight years,— 1861–69. Soon after retiring from this office he was elected district secretary of the American Baptist Publication Society, and was in office until1873. He occupied during the latter years of his life a responsible position on the editorial staff of The Watchman and Reflector.”

(Cathcart, 215–26)

William Crowell (1806–1871)

Crowell, William, D.D., was born in Middle- field, Mass., Sept. 22, 1806. He received his liter­ary and theological education at Brown and New­ton. While pursuing his studies at the latter he preached in several villages and towns around Bos­ton, especially at Quincy, where he gathered a congregation in a large gambling-room in a house formerly used as a tavern, and such was the bless­ ing attending his ministrations in this room that a church was organized. 

Soon after leaving Newton, Mr. Crowell accepted the editorship of the Christian Watchman. This position he held for ten years, when the Watchman and the Christian Reflector were united. During this period the paper prospered, and its reputation was not surpassed by any denominational organ in the country. 

While in Boston, in 1845, he preached twice every Sunday, and taught in the Sunday-school. After leaving Boston he accepted the pastorate of the church in Waterville, Me., and continued to serve it for about two years, when he removed to St. Louis, Mo., to take editorial charge of The Western Watchman. He held this position for ten years, making the paper a power among the grow­ing hosts of Missouri Baptists. A variety of causes led him, just as the late war was about to convulse the nation, to retire from the editorial chair of The Western Watchman, after which he served as pastor for a short period at Freeport, 111., and at the time of his death he was engaged in ministerial and other labors in New Jersey. He died in August, 1871. The Watchman and Reflector, of Boston, of August 31, 1871, says of him, “His mind was one of uncommon discrimination and clearness. We mourn the loss of so able and good a man, and that his ‘sun should have gone down while it was yet day.’” Dr. Crowell was one of the most tal­ented and cultured men in the Baptist denomina­tion, his piety was all-pervading, and he shed a genial and blessed light over the entire relations of life. Thousands mourned his death as an af­fliction to the whole Baptist Israel. He was the author of several works, chief among which was “The Church Member’s Manual” now used as a text-book in some of our theological seminaries.

(Cathcart, 1304).

Sewell S. Cutting (1813–1882)

.In 1851 he accepted an editorial position on the Watchman and Reflector, of Boston.

(Cathcart, 305)

Daniel Sharp Ford

Daniel Sharp Ford

“Daniel Sharp Ford (1822-1899) is a Northern Baptist newspaper publisher. Born in Cambridge in a Christian home, as a young man Ford apprenticed in the printers’ trade in Boston, soon becoming a partner in the newly-founded Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Baptist newspaper that becomes a leading voice for American Baptists.

Ford’s publishing enterprises did not stop there. In 1857 the business partners founded the Youth’s Companion, a publication aimed at young Christians. In a matter of time, a falling out between Ford and his partner led to his giving up his part in the Watchman and Reflector while assuming full ownership of Youth’s Companion.”

(from Bruce Gourley, “Baptists and the American Civil War: March 5, 1864”)

Amory Gale (1815–1874)

He graduated from Brown University in 1843, and from Newton Theological Seminary in 1846. Under his labors while a student at Brown Univer­sity an extensive revival was experienced in Royalston. His first settlement after graduating was at Ware, Mass. Here he was ordained Nov. 11, 1846. In the spring of 1857 he received a com­ mission from the American Baptist Home Mission Society to visit the West, and settled with the First Baptist church of Minneapolis. He succeeded Rev. T. R. Cressey as general missionary for the State. July 1,1858. For fifteen years he toiled in his mis­sionary work, and reaped a glorious harvest. The Rev. Lyman Palmer collated many facts concerning Brother Gale’s labors, from which we select the fol­lowing : “Sermons, 5000; family calls, 16,000; books sold or donated, 25,000 volumes; miles traveled. 100,000.—more than 50.000 miles of his missionary journevings were with Indian ponies, in a buggy or a sleigh.” Large churches were anxious for his services, but his reply was, “The men are fewer who will take fields to be worked up, so I will take a new field.” He had a strong physical frame, but it was the constraining love of Jesus that wrought within him an indomitable energy to grapple with and overcome great difficulties. He did not stop to look at obstacles, but to inquire for needed work. For years he suffered very much with asthma, and often slept leaning against the wall of his room, lie had as true a missionary spirit as ever dwelt in a human heart. He organized Sunday-schools all over Minnesota. At the time of his death there were one hundred and sixty-nine Baptist churches in that State, more than one-half of which he had assisted in forming. His name will long remain a household word in Minnesota. 

In the summer of 1874 he sailed for Europe. While abroad he visited the principal places of in­terest in Great Britain, many of the continen­tal cities, Greece, Constantinople, and Palestine. At Jaffa, prostrated by Syrian fever, he was taken to the hospital, where he died, Nov. 25, 1874. During his travels a number of highly interesting letters from his pen were published in the Watch­man and Reflector, of Boston. The death of no citizen of Minnesota ever occasioned more profound sadness, lie was buried in the 1”American Prot­estant Cemetery,” near the city of Jaffa.

(Cathcart, 430–31)

George Gardner (1828–1895)

George Gardner

“He has contributed to the pages of the Baptist Quarterly, published several missionary tracts, and was the Sunday-school editor of the Watchman and Reflector for 1871 and 1872.”

(Cathcart, 436)

Hiram Atwell Graves (1813–1850)

In 1842 he became the editor of the Christian Reflector, a Baptist weekly newspaper, published in Boston. He entered upon the duties of the office when the fortunes of the paper were at their lowest ebb. At once it was evident that an energetic man was at the helm of affairs. The moribund paper was lifted into new life. Its subscription list increased largely, and it was a power in the denomination, which made itself felt in every direction. At length it was united with the Christian Watchman, and under the new name of the Watchman and Reflector it was the most popular Baptist paper in all New England. 

Such hard and constant strain on his nervous system, as he was forced to endure to bring his paper up to the point where he finally left it, thoroughly exhausted him, and he was compelled to retire from his editorial chair and seek rest and recuperation in a milder climate. Three or four years were spent in the island of Jamaica. His disease was probably held in check, but it was not subdued. Feeling satisfied that he could not recover, he returned to his native land, and after lingering a few weeks, he died at his father’s house in Bristol, R. I., Nov. 3, 1850. 

The fame of Mr. Graves rests upon his accomplishments as an editor. Of him, as working in this department of Christian labor, Dr. Turnbull says,“He formed the character and laid the foundation of the prosperity of the Watchman and Reflector, the leading Baptist journal in New England, and one of the best papers in the country. 

Easy, versatile, and graceful, apt, also, in a high degree, with sufficient spice of wit and vigor, always sensible and often eloquent. his leaders, short or long, were the first things caught by appreciative readers. In full sympathy with the spirit of Christianity and the progress of the age in all benevolent enterprises, he threw himself into the grand movement of the church for the salvation of the world. Our educational, missionary, and philanthropic schemes are largely indebted to his judicious, earnest advocacy.”

(Cathcart, 466)

William Hague (1808–1876)

“He has also written much for the reviews and the periodical press, especially for the Watchman, of Boston, with which he was at one time connected editorially, and whose columns he has often enriched over his well-known signature “Herbert.” Dr. Hague is justly regarded as one of the ablest and most scholarly ministers of his denomination.”

(Cathcart, 485)

Alvah Hovey (1820–1903)

Alvah Hovey

“Dr. Hovey has contributed a large amount of matter to the Christian Review, the Baptist Quarterly, the Bibliotheca Sacra, the Examiner and Chronicle, the Watchman, the Standard, and other papers.”

(Cathcart, 547)

Heman Lincoln (1821–1887)

Heman Lincoln

“Dr. Lincoln has had much experience in writing for the press during all his professional life. For five years he was editorially connected with the Christian Chronicle, and for thirteen years with the Watchman and Reflector.”

(Cathcart, 703–704)

Richard M. Nott (1831–1880)

“In the summer of 1880 his health so failed that he was obliged to abandon his supply at Brookville, and also his valuable work in the Sunday-school department of The Watchman, the “Lesson Helps,” which were very satisfactorily prepared by him.”

(Cathcart, 859)

John W. Olmstead (1816–1891)

In 1846 he became editor of the Christian Reflector, of Boston. In 1848 the Watchman was united with it, and he filled the editorial chair of the consolidated papers until 1877. His ability as a religious journalist was fully demonstrated in his long and successful management of that paper… His life has been one of great usefulness and honor”

(Cathcart, 868)

George Whitefield Samson (1819–1896)

George Samson

He entered Brown University in September, 1835 ,and graduated in 1839. In the mean time he was an occasional correspondent of, and reporter for, the Christian Watchman, Boston… 

After four years of arduous labor, having specially prepared himself for the study of art and of Biblical archaeology, he spent a year in the East and in Western Europe, devoting half a year to Goshen, the Desert of Sinai, and Palestine; following the route of Napoleon’s engineers in1798–99 through the delta retraced by Seetzen in 1810, and personally finding the valley east of Jebel Mousa, regarded by early Christians as the place of Israel’s encampment, and since his visit recognized by French and German scholars. He satisfactorily identified also the sites of Christ’s birth, baptism, transfiguration, death, ascension, and other localities. A series of letters was written for the Watchman, of Boston ; three articles on Goshen were prepared for the Christian Review; one on Sinai for the Bibliotheca Sacra; a treatise on the places of New Testament baptisms; a small volume on spiritualism,—all appearing between 1848 and 1851. 

…No Baptist clergyman in the country is perhaps better known throughout the denomination than Dr. Samson.”

(Cathcart, 1024–25)

Lucius Smith (1822–1900)

In 1868 he entered upon his duties as literary editor of the Examiner and Chronicle, and held that office until 1876, when he was called to the chair of editor of the Watchman, which place he now occupies. 

Dr. Smith’s editorial calling seems to be the one for which he has special and most superior qualifi­cations. His experience in this line goes back to his student days, when for a year he was editor of the Williams Miscellany, a college magazine. Pres­ident Hopkins said at the expiration of that year’s work, “ I do not believe you are done with editing. I am inclined to think it is your vocation.” The event has justified the correctness of his confident assertions. Besides articles contributed to reviews, magazines, and various newspapers, Dr. Smith published, in 1852, “Heroes and Martyrs of the Missionary Enterprise, with an Historical Review of Earlier Missions.” The degree of D.D. was conferred upon him in 1869 by Williams College. Dr. Smith is held in the highest esteem in the extensive fields which he has cultivated.”

(Cathcart, 1071)

Joseph Stockbridge (1811–1894)

Having received an appointment as chaplain in the U. S. navy, he was ordained in New York in 1842, the sermon being preached by Rev. Dr. William R. Williams, from the appropriate text, Acts xxvii.24, “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” In the discharge of his official duties Dr. Stockbridge has visited many parts of the earth, and Occupied several stations as chaplain on land. He has also had intimate connections with the public press, both religious and secular. As a correspondent of The Watchman, under the signature of “Mallah” he has furnished a large amount of matter, especially in the form of interesting and instructive letters from foreign lands.”

(Cathcart, 1111)

Ebenezer Thresher (1798–1886)

Ebenezer Thresher

In 1834 he became editor of The Watchman, though his name did not appear in connection with the paper until1836, when he purchased the proprietorship from William Nichols, and held this three or four years.

(Cathcart, 1151)

Tremont Temple

Tremont Temle

Tremont Temple, Boston, Mass., was pur­chased early in 1843 by Timothy Gilbert, S. G. Shipley, Thomas Gould, and William S. Danwell for $55,000. It had been the Tremont Theatre.. The deed was executed in June, 1843. The object for which the edifice was bought by these gentle­ men was to secure a place of worship for the Tre­ mont Street Baptist church, where the seats should be free, that there might be free seats for the poor, and for strangers coming to the city to seek employ­ment, whose means would not allow them to rent, pews in other churches. 

…The church worshiping in the Temple has a membership of 1500, and, under the able ministry of F. M. Ellis,D.D., one of the largest congregations in the UnitedStates. It is known and designated as the headquarters of New England Baptists. The Missionary Union, the New England departments of the Home Mission Society and the Publication Society, the Woman’s Baptist Home and Foreign Missionary Societies, and the Watchman have rooms in the Temple.

(Cathcart, 1162–64)

James Upham (1815–1893)

In 1866 he retired from this position [president of the New Hampshire Literary Institute], and became one of the editors of the Watchman and Reflector. He held this office for several years with distinguished ability.

(Cathcart, 1185)

John E. Weston (1796–1831)

Henry Weston

Weston, Rev. John E., was born in Amherst, N. H., Oct. 13, 1796. On his mothers side he was of Huguenot descent, and had many of those qualities of character which we associate with those honored French refugees, who suffered so much for the sake of their religion. He estab­lished, in connection with Mr. Benjamin True, in 1818, the Christian Watchman, now The Watchman, of Boston, which has been in existence sixty-three years. His connection with the paper continued not far from three years. While thus engaged his religious impressions ripened into a full hope in Christ, and he was baptized by Rev. James M. Winchell, Feb. 22,1820, and connected himself with the church under the pastoral care of Rev. Dr. Sharp. Having given up his business as a printer, he now resolved to carry out his early purpose to secure a better intellectual training, with a view to entering the ministry. lie repaired to the Andover Phillips^ Academy, and subsequently put himself under the tuition of Rev. Dr. Bolles, of Salem, Mass.; then became a student of Columbian College, and com­pleted his theological studies in part at Andover and in part as a member of the first graduating class at Newton. He was ordained at East Cam­ bridge, Mass., Oct. 10, 1827, and was the pastor of the Baptist church in that place for four years. He resigned his charge May 27, 1831. An invita­tion had been extended to him to become the pas­ tor of the Baptist church in Nashua, N. II., but his work was nearly done. On his way to Nashua to fulfill an engagement he drove into a pond—it being a warm summer’s day—to refresh his horse. Unfortunately it was a dangerous place, and Mr. Weston leaped from the carriage, and, being unable to swim, was drowned. The sad event occurred July 2, 1831. Mr. Weston was father of the Rev. H. G. Weston, D.D., president of the Crozer Theological Seminary.

(Cathcart, 1234)

Review: Baptist Home Missions in North America (1883)

(image taken from the title page, a stylized logo using each letter of the American Baptist Home Mission Society’s initials: ABHMS)

In 2002, Mark Noll noted that “the history of the Baptists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a subject as scandalously neglected as had been, until very recently, the history of early American Methodism” (America’s God, 149). Nearly twenty years later, Matthew Shrader noted that “though some has been done to fill Noll’s lacuna, Northern Baptists have received significantly less historical attention than their Southern counterparts”(Thoughtful Christianity, 2). Baptist Home Missions in North America is an essential source for anyone attempting to uncover this neglected heritage (and is available for free on Google Books).

Henry L. Morehouse, ABHMS Corresponding Secretary, and editor of Baptist Home Missions in North America

The full title gives a good idea of the setting and occasion of the book: Baptist Home Missions in North America: Including a Full Report of the Proceedings and Addresses of the Jubilee Meeting, and a Historical Sketch of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, Historical Tables, Etc., 1832-1882. Baptists had a habit of celebrating the anniversaries of their associations with big commemorative meetings and often published histories in conjunction with these events. The fiftieth anniversary (“Jubilee”) of the ABHMS is what occasioned this lengthy (619 pages!) book. The book has five sections: I. The Annual Report of the ABHMS for 1881–82 (pp. 9–44); II. A detailed account of the Fiftieth Annual Meeting (45–290); III. Henry Morehouse’s “Historical Sketch” (291–540); IV. Addenda (541–56); V. Historical Table covering every missionary in every state for the first fifty years (557–619).

The two largest Baptist associations in the 19th century were devoted to foreign missions and home missions, respectively. While the American Baptist Mission Union was focused overseas in countries like Burma and India, the Home Mission Society was devoted to evangelizing and spreading Baptist principles on the advancing frontier. Along the way they dealt with every issue confronting white American Christians during that time: European immigrants, Chinese immigrants, Mexicans, Native Americans, Mormons, and every other ethnic or religious group they encountered; the slavery question (the ABHMS was the society within which the great split between northern and southern Baptists occurred over slavery in 1845), the Civil War, and then the Freedmen; schools and education; the temperance movement.

In this book you can get an idea of the ideals and motivations of nineteenth century American Baptists. As discussions of Christian Nationalism and race engulf us in 2021, it’s striking to see these same issues on full display back then as well. The “Address of Welcome” gives a good sense of the way Baptist were attempting to assimilate the flood of various immigrant and indigenous groups into a single “civilized” and “Christian” society: 

“This country, that we fondly call our own, you claim must forever belong to Christ. It was founded on this principle. This republic was rooted in religion… It seems as if our country was designed to be the battle ground of conflicting customs and ideas that should gather together from all nations upon its soil for a fair and final fight… We need the infusion of foreign life and blood to make us vigorous and strong. And if with all our God-given advantages we cannot baptize them into our spirit and stimulate them in due time to the life and laws of our commonwealth, we deserve to perish… To foreign nations we say ‘Send us over your poor and degraded you would trample under foot in your overcrowded towns and cities, and on our wide plains and prairies, under the fostering light and care of free institutions, of education and religion, we will make out of them such noble specimens of manhood as never grew on your cramped and narrow soil. We have no doubt this can be done if we will only multiply our schoolhouses and churches.”

(46–47)

This kind of “progressive” Christian Nationalism is found almost everywhere on the pages of this account, and it is important to wrestle with. These Baptists understood themselves to be under “the double inspiration of loyalty to the flag of the Union and the cross of the Christ” (144). “We are aiming to Christianize these immigrants that are coming in from all parts of the earth; the Christianize them, to Americanize them, and to baptize them if we can” (202). Quotes like this could by multiplied at length, as the celebratory nature of the meetings gave expression to the optimism of these white American Christians, and their firm belief that their work had both eternal and political and social purposes in God’s plan. There is almost a Baptist manifest destiny here, as they surveyed the west and saw their duty to spread Christian civilization there.

One particular area of interest that receives full treatment is the establishment of Black colleges in the south following the civil war, many of which would go on to become HBCUs (see also“Missionaries or Presidents”? Newton Theological Institution’s contribution to the founding of HBCUs”). The dynamics involved in this are many and they are very complex. Well-intentioned white northerners moved south to help “uplift” the poor, benighted Freedmen. This was important and necessary work, what W.E.B. Du Bois called “the gift of New England to the freed Negro” (The Souls of Black Folk, 48). However, it often came with a full dose of paternalism (on which, see Derek Chang, Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century). This subject receives multiple treatments throughout the book: “Work among the Colored People” (69–95); “Labors of Baptist for the Negro in America before 1862,” “First Work of the Freedmen,” “Work of the Freedmen–The New Era,” “Work of the Freedmen–The Work Established,” “The Society and Southern Baptists,” “James B. Simmons, D.D.,” “Schools,” “Nathan Bishop, LL. D.” (386–465). As Christians today continue to grapple with questions of race, there are valuable lessons–for good and for ill–that we can learn from efforts to cooperate in the past.

The 1880s was also a time of “reunion” with their southern brethren, and Southern Baptist like John Broadus were present at the meeting and embraced as brothers. White northern Baptists were willing to try to hold two things together: their work among Blacks in the south, and their fellowship with whites in the south, even though these often came into conflict. Baptists believed that, “In some way the Baptist North and South must come together and work together.” Yet, Basil Manly, one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, felt that he had to “express his disagreement with some of the delegation and especially with the language of the report concerning the exercise of all the rights and duties of citizenship for the freedmen” (427). Yet, northern Baptists tried somehow to look past this in the hope that “all remembrances of the late deplorable conflict in arms between two sections of this country shall be blotted out by the blood of Jesus” (430). This puzzle of three pieces has never really been solved, and this was already evident then. (For more on the conflict between northern and southern Baptists over the education of Black people in the south, see Barnas Sears, “Objections to Public Schools Considered.”

The Historical Sketch provides an outline of names, dates, and places that are ripe for further historical investigation. Heman Lincoln, William Colgate, Jonathan Going, Benjamin Hill, Jay Backus, E.E.L. Taylor, James Simmons, Nathan Bishop, Sewall Cutting, and many many more all get brief biographical sketches. 

The sixty pages of tables in the final section of the book provide names and dates for every missionary in every state in the country. If you are interested in the history of Baptists in your city or state, you should check here to find out which Baptist Home Missionary first spread Baptist principles to the area. I’ve found the history of Baptists in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida fascinating (to name a few).

In all, this book is indispensable to anyone who wants to understand Baptist History, Church History, and the history of race in America, at least from a white perspective. There is a legacy here that white Christians would do well to grapple with, for good and for ill. In all, this book is a historical treasure trove, hopefully not a buried one for too much longer.

Massachusetts Baptists and The Civil War

In January of 1861 Massachusetts governor John Andrew issued a call for volunteers to serve in the Union Army and recruiters began gather troops in various towns in the state. Baptist pastor H.L. Wayland of Worcester resigned his pastorate to become the chaplain of the 7th Connecticut Volunteers, serving from 1861–64. Other graduates of Newton Theological Institution also served including George Henderson as a chaplain, and Daniel Litchfield in the United States Christian Commission (The Newton Theological Institution General Catalogue 1835–1912). Albert Arnold, in his 1861 report for the Worcester Baptist Association, noted that “almost all our churches have representatives in the armies that have been assembled to put down a rebellious conspiracy against the lawfully constituted authority of the land” (Fifty-Ninth Annual Report of the Massachusetts Baptist Convention).

The Massachusetts Baptist Convention met in November 1861 in Boston and approved a series of resolutions on the war:

Resolved, That we regard the existing revolt against our National Government, not only as a breach of human law, but as a wanton rebellion against the authority of God; and whether we consider the sovereignty which it spurns, or the iniquity which it seeks to enthrone, it must be contemplated with execration and loathing by all unprejudiced and God-fearing men.

Resolved, That inasmuch as this unrighteous war against a good and beneficent government, is waged avowedly in the interest of African Slavery, which has been authoritatively set forth as the corner-stone of the so-called Southern Confederacy, the fact ought to open the eye of all loyal men as to the character and tendencies of that system of abominations, and to lead the public authorities to avail themselves of every measure justified by the spirit of the Constitution, and demanded by the political or military exigencies of the time, for its eradication from the land…

Resolved, That we recognize in the present mournful state of our country, the righteous visitation of a jealous God; and that we can look for salvation only by turning away from our vain boastings, by repairing the wrongs which we have practiced against the weak, by renouncing the greed of our avarice, and by dealing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. 

(Historical Sketch of the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society and Convention, 1802-1902).

A official copy of these “strong and patriotic resolutions” was sent to President Lincoln and to his cabinet. William Seward, the Secretary of State, replied, noting that he had given them to Lincoln. The President had received “with pleasure and gratitude the assurance of the Massachusetts Baptist Convention that its intentions and influence will be unanimously given in favor of the efforts which the government shall make for the public safety in the crisis to staying and so important” (“Response from the Government,” Christian Watchman and Reflector, January 23, 1862).

If many of these establishment Baptists had previously been only moderately anti-slavery, and unwilling to break fellowship with their southern brethren over the issue, the precipitation of war had pushed them over the edge, and they whole-heartedly supported the war effort. Baptists who had hesitated to condemn slavery too strongly now called it an “abomination” and called for it to be eradicated (though Lincoln would not emancipate the slaves until 1863). The federal government welcomed their support, and recognized the importance that ministers, even Baptists, could play in encouraging widespread support for the war efforts. 

As the war continued, so did Baptist pronouncements in support of it. On August 20 and 21 of 1862, J.L.A. Fish was appointed the moderator of the Worcester Baptist Association, filling the role left by H.L. Wayland. Besides the usual activities, the war was on everyone’s mind, and “strong union resolutions were passed respecting the state of our country” (“Worcester Association,” Christian Era, August 29, 1862). A letter was read on “the Necessity and Encouragement to Special Prayer for the Holy Spirit in this time of trial. Free utterance was given against ‘the sum of all villainies’ now casting its shadow over us, and confidence urged in God alone” (Christian Watchman and Reflector, September 4, 1862).

The 1862 American Baptist Missionary Union met in Providence, Rhode Island. They noted that one year previously, “everything without and around wore an aspect portentous of evil to our people, our government, and our missionary operations. No man could tell what a day would bring forth, and all were shut up to hope and faith in Him who ‘alone doest wondrous things.’” Now everything had changed: “In a year, we have lived a generation, if we reckon time by the number and magnitude of the events it brings forth… You may thank God and take courage. You may thank Him for placing you in a position where you might learn lessons never received in a day of material and outward prosperity.” The ABMU passed the following resolutions on the war, a remarkable expression from the largest Baptist society in America:

The officers and members composing the American Baptist Missionary Union, assembled at their annual meeting in the city of Providence, May 27th and 28th, 1862, deem it incumbent on them as patriots, and not for­eign to their sphere as a religious Association, to give this public expres­sion of sentiment in reference to the present stupendous crisis through which the nation is passing. 

Resolved, That we regard the war now waged by the National Govern­ment to put down the unprovoked and wicked rebellion that has risen against it, and to establish anew the reign of order and of law, as a most righteous and holy one, sanctioned alike by God and by all right-thinking men, involving our very life as a nation, and every thing precious depend­ ing on that life, and related most intimately to the progress of civilization, freedom and Christianity throughout the earth. 

Resolved, That we believe the institution of slavery to have been the principal cause and origin of this attempt to destroy the government, and that a safe, solid and lasting peace cannot be expected short of its complete overthrow. 

Resolved, That we tender to the President of the United States and his associates in the government our hearty confidence, sympathy and support, with the assurance of our fervent prayer that the same Divine Hand which has so manifestly guided them in the past may lead them on to the full and triumphant establishment of union, justice and liberty over the whole coun­try and among all ranks and conditions of its people. 

Resolved, That a copy of this preamble and these resolutions be sent to the Secretary of State, signed by the President and Secretary of this meet­ing.

(The Missionary Magazine (1862), 214.)

Baptists also published their views in religious periodicals:

Newton Theological Institution professor Horatio Hackett published an entire book depicting the Christian influences in the Union Army: Horatio B. Hackett, Christian Memorials of the War: Or, Scenes and Incidents Illustrative of Religious Faith and Principle, Patriotism and Bravery in Our Army. With Historical Notes (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1864). Hackett wrote this book because he:

thought it might be a grateful service to the friends of our brave solders, as well as an act of justice to the soldiers themselves, and because I felt a hearty interest in the work. Facts like those here spread before us are adapted to give us our strongest impression of the intelligence, the earnestness, the Christian principle and heroism of so large a class of men, who have come forward to support the Government in this great emergency.

Hackett, Memorials of the War, (vi).

In 1866 the Boston South Baptist Association approved several striking resolutions on the aftermath of the war and the initial stages of Reconstruction:

Whereas, The nation is evidently passing through an exceedingly critical juncture in its history, the judgment of civil war having been succeeded by the only less heavy judgment of official recreancy and dereliction, and the struggle with open treason by a bitter struggle with the pseudo-loyalty of those in the high places of power; and

Whereas, The peace and victory for which we gave devout thanks at our last meeting have been so far frittered away that treason is again asserting its sway; reenacting the worst horrors and outrages of the barbarities of slavery, driving loyal pastors from their pulpits, burning the churches of the freedmen and massacreing Union citizens for the simple offence of loving liberty and praying for its triumph, therefore 

Resolved, That in these sad and painful events we recognize a clear warning of God against the folly and crime of suspending the appointed penalties of law, and substituting a weak, sentimental leniency for a wholesome, rigorous punishment of civil crime. 

Resolved, That while as Christian citizens we are bound to accord all due respect to the Chief-Magistrate of the nation, we nevertheless cherish profound aversion for his plan of reconstruction, whose only issue thus far has been the reconstruction of an exploded rebellion and the rehabilitation of perjured rebels. 

Resolved, That we extend our warmest sympathy to our Union brethren in the South who are reaping the bitter fruits of this policy, some of whom are now exiles and wanderers in consequence of it. 

Resolved, That in this exigency it is meet that all Christians, with a firm reliance on Almighty God, should constantly beseech him for his gracious assistance and succor, that harmony and brotherly love may be restored, that the sundered portions of our country may be again united, and that perfect civil and religious equality may prevail throughout the length and breadth of our country. 

Resolved. That we regard the assassination of our late beloved fellow-patriot and Christian brother, Rev. Jotham W. Horton, at the hands of the police of New Orleans, as one of the natural results of that “policy” In its restoration by the executive pardon of conquered but unrepentant traitors to all their former power of mischief:—and that we recognize in the deliberate murder of that faithful minister of Christ at his post of duty, a sign of the times that proves the still unabated bitterness of the hatred to free institutions which cost our country the calami­ties of war, and that speaks with a trumpet warn­ing to all loyal citizens to guard the future peace and liberties of the nation by choosing for their leaders men who will rule in righteousness.

“Boston South Baptist Association,” Boston Evening Transcript, October 12, 1866

Jotham Horton was a graduate of Newton, and his death in the New Orleans Massacre of 1866 outraged Baptists in Massachusetts (See also J. Ellen Foster, Jotham Warren Horton). Baptists in Massachusetts remained concerned about the state of the country, particularly the condition of the Freedmen in the South. This would spur a number of northern Baptists to go and serve directly in the efforts of Reconstruction through the American Baptist Home Mission Society as well as other agencies.

Records like these form an important counterpoint to Lost Cause depictions of religion in the Confederate Army. After trying so hard for decades to maintain “fraternal” relations with their southern brethren, the tensions proved too much. Once the breach was made, Massachusetts Baptists became ardent supporters of the Union cause. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, both sides “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other,” and Baptists in Massachusetts were as fervent in this as anyone.

“Missionaries or Presidents”? Newton Theological Institution’s contribution to the founding of HBCUs

Newton Theological Institution was the first Baptist seminary in America (1825), and during the nineteenth century the school was massively influential in American Baptist life, as seen in the hundreds of graduates who served in pastorates, denominational leadership, education, and the mission field.  A number of Newton graduates went on to work in education, serving as presidents or professors in various colleges and seminaries. Particularly, after the Civil War, “Christian men were needed to train leaders among the freedmen of the South, and Newton alumni stepped into responsible positions as educators” (Historical Addresses, 7). Many of these schools would go on to become what we know today as HBCUs.

Henry Jones Ripley

Henry J. Ripley, professor at Newton Theological Institution (1826–60)

Henry J. Ripley (1798–1875) could be considered the grandfather of the Baptist HBCUs founded by Newton graduates. Ripley was the second professor hired at Newton and served thirty four years from 1826–1860. He had entered Harvard University at the age of fourteen, and then attended Andover Theological Seminary, graduating in 1819. While at Andover, he “became interested in the religious welfare of the colored people of the South.” Ripley said this was “partly, perhaps, because a number of colored families were settled in a lane not far from my parents’ residence, among whom, in my vacations, I used to hold religious meetings, and whom I visited, family by family, for religious purposes” (A Tribute, 10). Ripley’s interest was also awakened by reading Thomas Clarkson’s The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament. Ripley was appointed as a missionary in Savannah, Georgia and served a pastor and evangelist among the Black population between 1819 and 1826. Interestingly after his 34 years of service at Newton, “his early passion for ‘the elevation of the colored race in the United States returned,” and after the war Ripley served again in Savannah, Georgia for nine months as an American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) missionary (A Tribute, 33). It seems likely that it was Ripley’s example that multiplied among his students, as seen in almost two dozen Newton graduates who followed his example in going south to work among either enslaved people or freedmen.

The Choicest Jewels

J.L.A. Fish, president of the Florida Institute (1880–1890)

Alvah Hovey (Newton president, 1868–1898) held these men in high esteem: “whether the honored brethren at the head of these schools be called missionaries or presidents, or, rather, be supposed to unite these two forms of Christian service in one person, they are doing a great and good work in a very satisfactory manner, and we number them among the choicest jewels which adorn the brow of our alma mater” (Historical Address, 51). Even in 1926, Newton was still proud of this heritage: “To the stolen sons and daughters of Africa, Newton has provided a brilliant list of missionaries, nearly all of them commissioned by the Home Mission Society” (Historical Addresses, 30).

Charles H. Corey, president of Richmond Theological Seminary (1868–99)

In their reflections, one can detect a tinge of pride and paternalism: “The annals of sacrificial devotion to the cause of backward and oppressed peoples contain no more shining names than those of the Newton men who have given their lives to educate the Negro youth of our southern states” (Historical Addresses, 48). This dynamic, the “well educated minister” serving among the “backward and oppressed” people of the south, would continue through Reconstruction and beyond. In 1926, it was noted that “altogether twenty-three Newton men have taught in the Negro colleges of the South, of whom sixteen have been presidents and seven professors.” A few of the most notable included:

  • Lewis Colby (graduated 1835), agent for the Benedict Institution, Columbia, SC (1865–75)
  • Daniel W. Phillips (1840), president of Roger Williams University in Nashville, TN (1864–90)
  • Charles Ayer (1852) president Natchez Seminary, Natchez, Mississippi (1877–83) and Jackson College (1883–94)
  • Edward Mitchell (1853), president Leland University (LA) (1887–1900)
  • Joseph Leroy Atwell Fish (1856), president of the Florida Institute (1880–1890)
  • George M.P. King (1860), president Wayland Seminary (1869–1897)
  • Charles H. Corey (1861), president of  Richmond Theological Seminary (1868–99)
  • Henry Martyn Tupper (1862), president of Shaw University, North Carolina (1866–93)
  • George Rice Hovey (1885), professor at Richmond Theological Seminary (1887–91) Wayland Seminary (1897–99), president of Virginia Union University (1899–1918)

Detailed study remains to be done on most of these figures. A spreadsheet with a nearly complete listing of all Newton graduates who served in HBCUs can be found here, sortable by name, date, and institution: Newton Graduates who served in HBCUs

Sources:

Nice surveys of Newton’s history can be found here:

Books exploring the complex dynamics between white Northern Baptists and Black Baptist in the south:

  • James Melvin Washington, Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986)
  • James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988)
  • William E Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African-American Church in the South, 1865-1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993)
  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994)
  • Jay Riley Case, “From the Native Ministry to the Talented Tenth: The Foreign Missionary Origins of White Support for Black Colleges,” in The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003: 60–74.

Books on specific Newton graduates serving at HBCUs:

What Have the Clergy to do with Politics?

In 1854 Stephen Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have permitted the expansion of slavery into the western territories, breaking the compromises over slavery between north and south that had been enshrined in the U.S. Constitution (1787) and the Missouri Compromise (1820). As the proposed Act made its way through Congress, previously moderate clergy began to speak out, some for the first time. They had been silent when anti-slavery activists began organizing in the 1830s; they had resisted attempts to break fellowship with the slaveholders in the 1840s; but now in the 1850s, they realized that “the Slave Power” of the south intended to expand its reach through the entire country, and they finally began to speak out against the evils of slavery.

On March 7 a group of clergy in Providence, Rhode Island organized a meeting to protest “the Nebraska Bill,” to memorialize their opposition in a series of resolutions, to publish them, and to send them to Congress (“Nebraska Meeting in Providence,” Christian Watchman and Reflector, March 23, 1854). The meeting included addresses by several clergy, including Baptist pastor and educator Francis Wayland (“Dr. Wayland on the moral and religious aspects of the Nebraska bill. Speech at Providence, R. I., March 7“). A writer for The Liberator seemed pleasantly surprised that those who had previously “done what they could to put a stop to the agitation of the subject of Slavery, and have never been known as sympathizing with the movement against Slavery,” were now giving speeches “as radical Anti-Slavery as could be wished” (“Nebraska Meeting in Providence, Rhode Island,” The Liberator, March 17, 1854).

3,000 of the New England clergy signed the resolutions, and they were presented on the Senate floor. Douglas and others responded vociferously, declaring that the memorial was “disrespectful to the Senate, an atrocious slander” and that these New England clergy were “slanderers and demagogues” (“Congress,” Christian Watchman and Reflector, March 23, 1854).

The following week, the Baptist newspaper Christian Watchman and Reflector published a response titled “What Have the Clergy to do with Politics?” The piece is excellent is quoted here in full:

“We alluded cursorily, in our last week’s congressional summary, to the greeting which the protest of the New England clergy against the Nebraska bill received in the Senate. Except as an indication of the soreness which the striking manifestations of public sentiment have produced in the minds of those who are most responsible for the measure, the affair would hardly be worth a second reference. If the fathers and sponsors of that most audacious iniquity think that they will help it, or help themselves, by their intemperate abuse of men who represent the all but unanimous feeling of the ministers of religion in six States,—if they suppose that the moral and religious sentiment of the people will thus be more easily conciliated or subdued—they will not have to live many years to discover their error.

Whether the document was sufficiently respectful to the Senate, the first issue raised in the debate, is not now a material question, as the point was waived by the reception of the memorial. We are willing to concede that it might have been better expressed, not because there was anything intrinsically objec­tionable in its phraseology, but from its liability to misconstruction. 

But since this incident has been made the occasion for reproducing, in and out of the Senate, the old and mischievous notion that ministers transcend their proper sphere whenever they interest themselves in political questions, we can do no less than endeavor to expose it, more especially as it has been counte­nanced by many excellent people, for very different reasons, however, from those that we believe actuate politicians. 

We do not care to insist on the right of ministers of the gospel, as citizens equally with others interested in the welfare of the state, to have a voice in the discussion of public measures, nor on their ability to do this as intelligently, to say the least, as some who aspire to be thought statesmen. We assert their duty, as ministers, charged to “ declare the whole counsel of God,” in certain circumstances to weigh schemes of public policy in the balance of the sanctuary. 

There are questions frequently arising, and always liable to arise, in the sphere of political action, over which the conscience asserts a clear and express juris­diction, and the ministers of Him who is lord of the conscience cannot refuse to speak in his name with­ out faithlessness to their mission.

There may be those who are atheistical enough to deny that any moral responsibility attaches to their political action. But all who believe that there are such things as political duties, we suppose, will agree that there is also a moral obligation in respect of the manner in which they are discharged. Is there any species of moral obligation to which the sanctions of religion do not apply? And by what process are ministers exempted, or prohibited, from applying the sanctions of religion to any subject within the appoint­ed limits of its application? If it be admitted that men may do wrong in their political capacity, who can rebuke the wrong more fitly than those who are commissioned for the very purpose of “ warning every man, and teaching every man,” that they “may pre­sent every man perfect in Christ Jesus?”

The truth is, as we have had occasion more than once to observe, what is commonly called the inter­ference of clergymen with politics is generally an interference of politicians with religion, and ministers are only defending their proper domain, against in­truders. Questions of policy and expediency, merely as of political economy, and what are called in gene­ral public interests, do not concern the clergy as such. As citizens, having a common stake in the general welfare, they have a right to entertain and express opinions on these matters. But when politicians con­coct any project at war with morality and the pre­cepts of religion, it is no longer a question of right; it is their manifest duty to denounce it. It is their duty to the country, placed in peril;—to our public men, who are in danger of staining their own souls; —to the whole people, whom these political schemers are leading into temptation. Iniquity proposed in the capital cannot generally be executed without support at the ballot box. Every man who so votes as to fur­ther it, makes himself a consenting party to the wrong. Yet we are told that a minister must not warn the people of his own charge from the pulpit, nor remon­strate with others through the press, against acts of public wickedness. An ambitious aspirant for power tempts them to evil, and their spiritual guide must hold his peace. He must not interfere.

Many very worthy people reason that as the gospel is to renovate society, ministers must content them­selves with preaching that, and thus “ leaven” the whole community. That is to say, they must aim exclusively at the conversion of men, in the confi­dence that, being made the subjects of regeneration, they will not fail of grace to do everything uprightly. Just as if the Bible were not full of instances in which good men committed grave errors! Nathan did not preach to David, generally, the duties of faith and piety, but charged his conscience with the sin that had awakened the divine displeasure. Now, the American people possess the attribute of sovereignty. As the prophet before the king, as the  apostle before the procurator Felix, so the American minister before the American people, should fearlessly rebuke the abuses of, their power.

It should be remembered that piety and its fruits require cultivation, and that there is nothing so injurious to it as inattention to the claims and distinctions of moral duty. Tenderness of conscience, a quick susceptibility that shrinks from the least contamina­tion of evil, is essential to Christian virtue. Men are peculiarly liable to fail in this respect when they act in masses. It is very easy to lose the sense of individual accountability in matters of co-operative action. This is an age of combinations and associations, that invite men to cast their resources and their ability into common stock, and the temptation is strong to allow themselves, their minds and hearts and consciences, to be lost on the crowd. Political parties are the most extensive and powerful combinations known among us, for they embrace between them, nearly the whole people. Interest, prejudice, patriotism, combine to swell the tide of excitement. Men are hurried along with such speed that it requires more than common steadiness of mind to pause long enough to consider whither they are going. Moral thoughtlessness leads to moral blindness, and those who think to promote  “spirituality,” while, careless of moral impressions, will find their work drive heavily. Minis­ters need great discretion as to how they shall exert their influence; undue zeal in political questions is to be avoided; but to require that, for whatever motives, they should withdraw from their consideration, is to require them to neglect the souls of men just where they are in peculiar danger.” 

What Have the Clergy to Do with Politics?” Christian Watchman and Reflector, March 30, 1854 (2).

(Image: “Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States” (1856) from the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Public Domain, Link)