WILLIAM CHANNING was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on April 7, 1780. His personality was a happy combination of his parents' traits, including his father's pleasant and calm disposition and his mother's somewhat stern sense of honesty and justice. He grew up to be a serious but observant young man, small in stature, with big eyes gazing steadily, and speaking in a clear and persuasive voice.
After graduating from the Harvard College ( 1798), he accepted an offer to tutor in the family of Randolphs in Richmond, Virginia, but became seriously ill and returned to New England, practically an invalid, to study theology. In 1803 he was ordained pastor of a Congregational church and remained in Boston for the rest of his days, except for several trips, abroad and at home.
He died in Bennington, Vermont, on October 2, 1842.
Channing was the first outstanding thinker of the post-revolutionary period. As a minister, he fought some of the religious traditions brought from Europe, among them the Calvinist dogma that human nature is essentially depraved as also the conservative belief that faith excludes the right to doubt and question, thus condemning both destructive and constructive thinking as sinful. The essence of religion, he contended, was to serve human beings on earth, and to help them organize moral and happy communities. In his capacity of a reformer, or "apostle" of Unitarianism, he incorporated some of the 18th-century deistic ideas into Christianity of the 19th century, for example, the doctrine that religion is determined by the reasoning power and conscience of mankind. When his influence spread, he became the founder of the American Unitarian Association ( 1825).
As a liberal and humanitarian, Channing was unconditionally opposed to every sort of oppression and injustice, particularly to slavery, on the ground that all men at all times are by nature and by right free; consequently, he declared in his book on Slavery ( 1835), no human being can be justly held and used as property. Another traditional injustice is denial of education to large num-