Beecher, Henry Ward

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Beecher, Henry Ward

Henry Ward Beecher, 1813–87, American Congregational preacher, orator, and lecturer, b. Litchfield, Conn.; son of Lyman Beecher and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. He graduated from Amherst in 1834 and attended Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati. After two pastorates in Indiana, he accepted a call in 1847 to the newly organized Plymouth Church (Congregational) in Brooklyn, N.Y. There Beecher became famous for his advocacy of an emotional "gospel of love" Christianity instead of the strict Calvinist doctrine that then characterized much of American Protestantism. Every important issue of the day was discussed from his pulpit and in his lectures. He was a leader in the antislavery movement, a proponent of woman suffrage, and an advocate of the theory of evolution. Beecher became editor of the Independent in 1861 and of the Christian Union in 1870. In 1863 he visited England, where his lectures were influential in gaining a more sympathetic understanding of the Union cause. Enthusiasm, imaginative insight, a strong interest in humanity, ready wit, and an easy command of language produced a convincing eloquence. The sensational lawsuit brought against him by Theodore Tilton for adultery ended after a long trial (1875) with disagreement of the jury. Beecher's friends acclaimed him the victor. Despite the trial, Beecher remained influential for the rest of his life. His published works include The Life of Jesus, the Christ (1871) and Evolution and Religion (1885).

See biographies by L. Abbott (1904, repr. 1969), P. Hibben (1942, repr. 1973), and D. Applegate (2006); study by W. G. McLoughlin (1970); R. Shaplen, Free Love and Heavenly Sinners (1954); R. W. Fox, Trials of Intimacy (1999).

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