Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane

Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane

Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane

Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane


Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803-1876) was a philosopher, essayist, and minister whose broad-ranging ideas both reflected and influenced the social and religious mores of his day. This superb biography by Patrick Carey provides a thorough, incisive account of Brownson's shifting intellectual and religious life within the context of American cultural history.

Based on a close reading of Brownson's diary notebooks, letters, essays, and books, this biography chronicles the course of Brownson's eventful life, particularly his restless search for a balance between freedom and communion in his relations with God, nature, and the human community. Yet Carey's work is more than an excellent account of one man's development; it also portrays the face of an important period in American religious history. What is more, 200 years after Brownson's birth, America is marked by the same pressing social and religious issues that he himself addressed: religious pluralism, changing religious identifications, culture wars, military conflicts, and challenges to national peace and security. Carey's book shows how Brownson's values and ideas transcend his own time period and resonate helpfully with our own.


Nineteenth-century Americans experienced tremendous geographical expansion, religious mobility and diversity, social and intellectual ferment, rapid technological changes, economic and industrial innovations, immigrant influxes, Protestant crusades, political upheavals over slavery and a consequent Civil War, and new scientific discoveries. Brownson was a part of these transformations and throughout his life commented upon them as a minister, journalist, essayist, philosopher, and theologian.

Brownson was born and nurtured in a Vermont that was on the outskirts of American cultural ferment, but in a society that reflected the mobility of the nation itself. As a teenager he joined the Vermont migration into New York and in his early twenties journeyed to Detroit, and then back again to Vermont, returning after a year to the Finger Lake region of upstate New York before moving on to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey in his later years. As a young man he identified with an adventurous and mobile nation.

From the beginning of his public career, Brownson moved in and out of affiliation with a variety of social and political movements. At the beginning of the Jacksonian political revolution he associated with the Workingmen’s movement and its advocacy of universal education . . .

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