Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Leonard Bacon: New England Reformer and Antislavery Moderate

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Leonard Bacon: New England Reformer and Antislavery Moderate

Article excerpt

Leonard Bacon: New England Reformer and Antislavery Moderate. By Hugh Davis. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Pp. xvi, 293. $60.00, ISBN 0-8071-2287-4.)

Hugh Davis has written an engaging study of Leonard Bacon (1802-1881). Though overlooked by other biographers, Bacon was an important figure in the nineteenth-century colonization, antislavery, temperance, evangelical benevolence, and nativist movements. A prolific writer, he wrote for numerous religious periodicals and, during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, was influential among northern Protestants as an editor and contributor to the New Englander and the New York Independent, and as a regular columnist for the Congregationalist.

He spent his first decade in the Old Northwest, where his parents were missionaries; subsequently they returned to New England, where he attended Yale and Andover Theological Seminary. The Missouri crisis and Bacon's Andover education exacerbated his dislike for slavery, fueling activism that resulted in Bacon's admission to the American Colonization Society's inner circle at age twenty-one. He soon entered the Congregational ministry and labored as the pastor of New Haven's Center Church for over four decades, which pulpit also served as a springboard for his reform interests.

Bacon's views of colonization reflected those of the northern wing of the movement. Believing that free blacks' inferior social standing resulted from white racism, Bacon held that blacks' relocation to Liberia would uplift them and promote the spread of Protestantism. Though he opposed slavery and racial prejudice, Bacon eschewed immediatism and never championed black equality. His advocacy of gradual abolition and his acceptance of the concept of the "good slaveholder" (which held that only the abusive behaviors associated with slaveholding were sinful, not slaveholding itself), often put him at odds with radical abolitionists. …

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