Henry Ward Beecher

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Henry Ward Beecher: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! A Biography of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher By Samuel Scoville; William C. Beecher Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1888
Henry Ward Beecher: An American Portrait By Paxton Hibben The Press of the Readers Club, 1942
FREE! Henry Ward Beecher: The Shakespeare of the Pulpit By John Henry Barrows Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893
Henry Ward Beecher: Peripatetic Preacher By Halford R. Ryan Greenwood Press, 1990
Reverend Beecher and Mrs. Tilton: Sex and Class in Victorian America By Altina L. Waller University of Massachusetts Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Henry Ward Beecher: The Emergence of the Gospel of Love"
Nook Farm: Mark Twain's Hartford Circle By Kenneth R. Andrews Harvard University Press, 1950
Librarian’s tip: "The Religion of Love: Henry Ward Beecher" begins on p. 33
The Character of God: Recovering the Lost Literary Power of American Protestantism By Thomas E. Jenkins Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Sympathy and Alienation: Henry Ward Beecher"
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