The American Whigs: An Anthology

By Daniel Walker Howe | Go to book overview

2
RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGY AND POLITICAL FREEDOM

Lyman Beecher


A PLEA FOR THE WEST

Lyman Beecher ( 1775- 1863) represents the religious dimension of Whiggery. The son of a blacksmith, Beecher made himself one of the country's leading preachers and fathered one of our greatest literary families; its best remembered member is the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. A combative man, Beecher found himself continually caught up in controversy. In theology he was a Calvinist of the "new school" and was tried for heresy by more conservative churchmen. (He won acquittal.) He engaged in many crusades against what he took to be evils -- among them intemperance, Unitarianism, and slavery. His years as president of Lane Seminary in Ohio were among the stormiest of all; a rebellion by disaffected students against the trustees led to the founding of Oberlin College.

This statement shows Beecher in a characteristic mood, calling for help in establishing Protestant colleges on the frontier to counteract the influence of the colleges Catholics were starting. He delivered the address in various cities as he toured the country in search of funds. There was a strong streak of nativism and anti-Catholicism among many Whigs; occasionally these feelings provoked mob violence. Here, however, Beecher is trying to appeal to reason rather than prejudice. As to how well he succeeded, readers are likely to differ.

It was the opinion of [ Jonathan ] Edwards that the millenium would commence in America. When I first encountered this opinion, I thought it chimerical; but all providential developments since, and all the existing signs of the times, lend corroboration to it. But if it is by the march of revolution and civil liberty that the way of the Lord is to be prepared, where shall the central energy be found, and from what nation shall the renovating power go forth? What nation is blessed

____________________

SOURCE. Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West ( Cincinnati, 1835).

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