James Monroe: Oberlin's Christian Statesman and Reformer, 1821-1898

James Monroe: Oberlin's Christian Statesman and Reformer, 1821-1898

James Monroe: Oberlin's Christian Statesman and Reformer, 1821-1898

James Monroe: Oberlin's Christian Statesman and Reformer, 1821-1898

Excerpt

Born in Plainfield, Connecticut, to Quaker parents, James Monroe grew up in the tradition of Christian and humanitarian principles that guided his life. As a youth, Monroe actively participated in reform crusades. He accepted employment as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society, a group led by William Lloyd Garrison, that had a reputation for radicalism. As an abolitionist, Monroe showed his willingness to stand against the mainstream to protect individual rights and, more important, to help attain a more godly society on earth. His travels brought him worldly experiences and put him in contact with important men such as Frederick Douglass. His relationship with Douglass, the preeminent black American of the nineteenth century, demonstrated Monroe's advanced beliefs in racial equality, a characteristic not attributable to many reformers. Also, his work moved him into the oratorical tradition of the nineteenth century, a time in which mastery of the spoken word was a significant factor in advancing one's career.

His early penchant for radicalism led him to study at a place that proudly turned out such moral men as himself. In the antebellum period, Oberlin College served as the center of abolition and reform in the West. The most prominent evangelical reformer in the nation, Charles G. Finney, had guided Monroe to the Ohio school because Finney saw the high moral principles of the youth and the chance to strengthen his activist spirit. After conversion to Congregationalism, Monroe continued his desire to help create God's kingdom on earth and began as a minister laboring for individual conversion. The course of his life changed when he accepted a professorship at Oberlin College and answered the community's call for a faculty member to enter politics. As a politician, he would attempt to improve society through his reform efforts.

In 1856, Monroe carried his and Oberlin's reform agenda into the political arena, a common avenue for nineteenth-century activists. However, this decision dismayed Finney, who wanted Monroe to bring change within the realm of the Benevolent Empire, with emphasis on individual conversion. Notably, he did not enter as a third-party candidate but waited for the realignment of the two-party system to ensure that he could achieve some reforms. The birth of the . . .

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