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meeting, Theodore Parker said to him, "Wendell, why do you make a fool
of yourself?" The great preacher came out a few years later in behalf of
the rights of women; but it was long before a single religious newspaper
caught up with _The Investigator_.

How the clergy generally felt was shown in 1851, at Akron, in northern
Ohio. There Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and
Universalist ministers appealed to the Bible in justification of the
subjugation of women. There was no reply until they began to boast of
the intellectual superiority of their own sex. Then an illiterate old
woman who had been a slave arose and said: "What 's dat got to do with
women's rights, or niggers' rights either? If my cup won't hold but a
pint, and yourn holds a quart, would n't ye be mean not to let me have
my little half-measure full?" The convention was with her; but the Bible
argument was not to be disposed of easily. The general tone of both
Testaments is in harmony with the familiar texts attributed to Paul and
Peter. These latter passages were written, in all probability, when
the position of women was changing for the better throughout the Roman
Empire: and the original words, asserting the authority of husbands, are
the same as are used in regard to the power of masters over slaves. Such
language had all the more weight, because the ministers had been brought
up as members of the ruling sex. They may have also been biassed by the
fact that their profession depends, more than any other, for success
upon the unpaid services in many ways of devoted women. Emancipation was
by no means likely to promote work for the Church. There was an audience
of two thousand at Syracuse, in 1852, when what was called the "Bloomer
Convention," on account of the short dresses worn by some members,
took up a resolution, declaring that the Bible recognises the rights of
women. Mrs. Rose said that the reform had merits enough of its own,
and needed no justification by any book. A letter was read from Mrs.
Stanton, saying that "among the clergy we find our most violent enemies,
those most opposed to any change in woman's position." The accuracy
of this statement was readily admitted, after a reverend gentleman
had denounced the infidelity of the movement, in a speech described
as "indecent" and "coarsely offensive" in the New York Herald; and the
resolution was lost.

The lady who offered it was ordained soon after for the
Congregationalist ministry; but she was obliged to confess, at the
Woman's Rights' Convention, in 1853, that "the Church has so far cast
me off, that to a great extent I have been obliged to go to just such
infidels as those around me for aid to preach my Christian views." It
was at this meeting that a doctor of divinity, and pastor of a prominent
society, denounced the reform so violently that Mr. Garrison called him
a blackguard and a rowdy, with the result of having his nose pulled
by the champion of the Church militant. There were many such unseemly
manifestations of clerical wrath. The _History of Woman Suffrage_, which
was edited by Mrs. Stanton and other leading reformers, said, in 1881:
"The deadliest opponents to the recognition of the equal rights of women
have ever been among the orthodox clergy." The Unitarians were more
friendly; but I do not think that the reform was openly favoured, even
as late as 1860, by one clergyman in a thousand out of the whole number
in the United States. The proportion was even smaller in Europe.

Even as late as 1878, it was resolved by the Woman Suffrage Convention
at Rochester, N. Y., "that as the first duty of every individual is
self-development, the lessons of self-sacrifice and obedience taught
woman by the Christian Church have been fatal, not only to her own vital
interests but through her to those of the race." Influences were already
at work, however, which have made the relations of platform and pulpit
comparatively friendly in this respect.

The women of the North showed their patriotism, during the great war,
by establishing and managing the Sanitary Commission, the Freedman's
Bureau, and the Woman's Loyal National League. Important elections
were carried in 1862 by the eloquence of Anna E. Dickinson, for the
Republican party; and it has often since had similar help. The success
of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and other partly philanthropic
and partly religious organisations, has proved the ability of women to
think and act independently. Many of their demands have been granted,
one by one; and public opinion has changed so much in their favour, that
they ceased long ago to encounter any general hostility from the clergy
in the Northern States.

Even there, however, women still find it much too difficult for them
to enter a peculiarly easy, honourable, and lucrative profession. Their
elocutionary powers are shown on the stage as well as the platform.
Their capacity for writing sermons is plain to every one familiar with
recent literature. Their ability to preach is recognised cordially in
the Salvation Army, as well as by Spiritualists, Quakers, Unitarians,
and Universalists. Much of the pastoral work is done by women, in actual
fact; and more ought to be. The Sunday-school, choir, social gathering,
and other important auxiliaries to the pulpit are almost entirely in
female hands. Women enjoy practically the monopoly of those kinds of
church work for which there is no pay; and their exclusion from the kind
which is paid highly, in the largest and wealthiest denominations, looks
too much like a preference of clergymen to look after the interest of
their own sex. The most orthodox churches are the most exclusive;
and the same forces which are driving bigotry out of the pulpits are
bringing women in.

This reform is one of many in which a much more advanced position has
been taken by New England and the far West than by the South; and the
American Transcendentalists led public opinion in the section where most
of them lived. In Great Britain the struggle has been carried on in the
interest of the middle and lower classes, and under much opposition from
the class to which most admirers of philosophy belonged. No wonder that
one of the keenest critics of Transcendentalism was prominent among the
champions in England of the oppressed sex. John Stuart Mill declared,
in his widely circulated book on _The Subjection of Women_, that "nobody
ever arrived at a general rule of duty by intuition." He held that the
legal subjection of wives to husbands bore more resemblance, as far as
the laws were concerned, to slavery, than did any other relationship
existing in Great Britain in 1869. He did not argue from any theory
of natural rights, but pointed out the advantage to society of women's
developing their capacities freely. He also insisted on the duty
of government not to restrict the liberty of any woman, except when
necessary to prevent her diminishing that of her neighbours. This last
proposition will be examined in the next chapter. The fact that Mill's
great work for freedom was done through the press, and not on the
platform, makes it unnecessary to say more about him in this place.

II. Clergymen, like Transcendentalists, in England were generally
conservative, or reactionary; and the friends of reform were much more
irreligious than in America. Their appeal against the authority of
Church and Bible was not to intuition but to science; and they were
aided by Lyell's demonstration, in 1830, that geology had superseded
Genesis. Working-men were warned in lectures, tracts, and newspapers
against immorality in the Old Testament; and even the New was said
to discourage resistance to oppression and efforts to promote health,
comfort, and knowledge.

The most popular of these champions against superstition and tyranny
was Bradlaugh. He began to lecture in 1850, when only seventeen, and
continued for forty years to speak and write diligently. His atheism
obliged him to undergo poverty for many years, and much hardship. He
charged no fee for lecturing, went willingly to the smallest and poorest
places, and was satisfied with whatever was brought in by selling
tickets, often for only twopence each. He once travelled six hundred
miles in forty-eight hours, to deliver four lectures which did not repay
his expenses. Many a hall which he had engaged was closed against him;
and he was thus obliged to speak in the open air one rainy Sunday, when
he had two thousand hearers. At such times his voice pealed out like a
trumpet; his information was always accurate; opposition quickened the
flow of ideas; and he had perfect command of the people's English. His
great physical strength was often needed to defend him against violence,
sometimes instigated by the clergy. He had much to say against the Old
Testament; but no struggle for political liberty, whether at home or
abroad, failed to receive his support; and he was especially active for
that great extension of suffrage which took place in 1867. His knowledge
that women would vote against him did not prevent his advocating their
right to the ballot; but it was in the name of "the great mass of the
English people" that he was an early supporter of the cause of Union and
Liberty against the slave-holders who seceded.

In 1866 he became president of the National Society of Secularists, who
believe only in "the religion of the present life." Most of the members
were agnostics; and one of Bradlaugh's many debates was with Holyoake,
the founder of secularism, on the question whether that term ought to be
used instead of atheism. The society was so well organised that only
a telegram from the managers was needed to call out a public meeting
anywhere in England. Among Bradlaugh's hearers in America in 1873 were
Emerson, Sumner, Garrison, Phillips, and O. B. Frothingham. He won soon
after a powerful ally in a clergyman's wife, who had been driven from
her home by her husband because she would not partake of the communion.
Mrs. Besant began to lecture in 1874, and with views like Bradlaugh's;
but her chief interest was in woman suffrage. Both held strict views
about the obligation of marriage; and their relations were blameless.

Bradlaugh's place in history is mainly as a champion of the right of
atheists to sit in Parliament. He was elected by the shoemakers of
Northampton in 1880, when oaths of allegiance were exacted in the
House of Commons. Quakers, however, could affirm; and he asked the
same privilege. As this was refused, he offered to take the oath, and
declared that the essential part would be "binding upon my honour and
conscience." This, too, was forbidden; but there was much discussion,
not only in Parliament but throughout England, as to his right to
affirm. His friends held two hundred public meetings in a single week,
and sent in petitions with two hundred thousand signatures during twelve
months. The liberal newspapers were on his side; but the Methodist and
Episcopalian pulpits resounded with denials of the right of atheists
to enter Parliament on any terms. Among the expounders of this view
in leading periodicals were Cardinal Manning and other prominent
ecclesiastics. They had the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury,
as well as of many petitions from Sunday-schools. Public opinion showed
itself so plainly that Brad-laugh was finally allowed by a close vote to
make affirmation and take his seat. He was soon forced to leave it by an
adverse decision of the judges, but was promptly re-elected.

Again he offered in vain to take the oath. After several months
of litigation, and many appeals to audiences which he made almost
unanimous, he gave notice that he should try to take his seat on August
3, 1881, unless prevented by force. It took fourteen men to keep him
out; and he was dragged down-stairs with such violence that he fainted
away. His clothes were badly torn; and the struggle brought on an
alarming attack of erysipelas. A great multitude had followed him to
Westminster Hall, and there would have been a dangerous riot, if it had
not been for the entreaties of Mrs. Besant, who spoke at Bradlaugh's
request. His next move was to take the oath without having it properly
administered. He was expelled in consequence, but re-elected at once.
Thus the contest went on, until the Speaker decided that every member
had a right to take the oath which could not be set aside. Bradlaugh was
admitted accordingly, on January 13, 1886; and two years later he
brought about the passage of a bill by which unbelievers were enabled to
enter Parliament by making affirmation. The Irish members had tried to
keep him out; but this did not prevent his advocating home rule for
Ireland, and also for India. From first to last he fought fearlessly and
steadily for freedom of speech and of the press. His beauty of character
increased his influence. Mrs. Besant is right in saying: "That men and
women are now able to speak as openly as they do, that a broader spirit
is visible in the churches, that heresy is no longer regarded as morally
disgraceful - these things are very largely due to the active and
militant propaganda carried on under the leadership of Charles

III. Similar ideas to his have been presented ever since 1870 to immense
audiences, composed mostly of young men, in Chicago, New York, Boston,
and other American cities, by Robert G. Ingersoll. Burning hatred of
all tyranny and cruelty often makes him denounce the Bible with a
pathos like Rousseau's or a brilliancy like Voltaire's. He was decidedly
original when he asked why Jesus, if he knew how Christianity would
develop, did not say that his followers ought not to persecute one
another. In protesting against subordinating reason to faith, Ingersoll
says: "Ought the sailor to throw away his compass and depend entirely
on the fog?" Among other characteristic passages are these: "Banish
me from Eden when you will, but first let me eat of the tree of
knowledge!"... "Religion has not civilised man: man has civilised
religion."... "Miracles are told simply to be believed, not to be

Ingersoll is not merely a destroyer but an earnest pleader for what he
calls the gospel of cheerfulness and good health, "the gospel of water
and soap," the gospels of education, liberty, justice, and humanity. He
regards "marriage as the holiest institution among men"; but holds that
"the woman is the equal of the man. She has all the rights I have and
one more; and that is the right to be protected." He believes fully "in
the democracy of the family," and "in allowing the children to think for
themselves." He is not so much interested as Bradlaugh was in political
reform and social progress, but has often taken the conservative side;
and his speaking in public has been more like an occasional recreation
than a life-work. Some of his lectures have had an immense circulation
as pamphlets; and his Biblical articles in the _North American Review_
attracted much notice. He is never at his best, however, without an
audience before him; and he sometimes writes too rapidly to be strictly

IV. A better parallel to Bradlaugh is furnished by Mr. B. F. Underwood,
who was only eighteen when he began to lecture in Rhode Island. The
great revival of 1857 was in full blast; and he showed its evils with
an energy which called down much denunciation from the pulpit. He
spoke from the first as an evolutionist, though Darwin had not yet
demonstrated the fact. To and fro through the Connecticut valley went
the young iconoclast, speaking wherever he could find hearers, asking
only for repayment of expenses, and sometimes failing to receive even
that. His work was interrupted by the war, in which he took an active
and honourable part. When peace was restored, he studied thoroughly the
_Origin of Species_ and the _Descent of Man_; and he began in 1868 to
give course after course of lectures on Darwinism in New England, New
York, and Pennsylvania. The new view had been nine years before the
public, but had received little or no support from any clergyman in the
United States, or any journal except _The Investigator_.

For thirty years Mr. Underwood has been busily propagating evolutionism
on the platform, as well as in print. No other American has done so
much to make the system popular, or has reproduced Herbert Spencer's
statements with such fidelity. He has taken especial pains to prove that
"evolution disposes of the theory that the idea of God is innate," as
well as of the once mighty argument from design. He has said a great
deal about the Bible and Christianity, but in a more constructive spirit
than either Bradlaugh or Ingersoll. He has discredited old books by
unfolding new truth. Among his favourite subjects have been: "What Free
Thought Gives us in Place of the Creeds," "The Positive Side of Modern
Liberal Thought," "If you Take away Religion, what will you Give in its
Place?" "The Influence of Civilisation on Christianity." He has always
shown himself in favour of the interests of working-men, and also of
women's rights and other branches of political reform. During the twelve
years ending in 1881, he lectured five or six times a week for at least
nine months out of twelve, often travelling from Canada to Arkansas and
Oregon. Occasionally he spoke every night for a month; but he has seldom
lectured in summer, except when on the Pacific coast.

His lectures in Oregon in 1871 on evolution awoke much opposition in the
pulpits. Two years afterwards he held a debate in that State against a
clergyman who was president of a college, and who denounced evolution
as in conflict with "the Word of God." Such views were then prevalent in
that city; but in 1888 it was found by Mr. Underwood to have become the
seat of the State University, where the new system was taught regularly.
Underwood, like Bradlaugh, has always challenged discussion, and he has
held over a hundred public debates. The first was in 1867; and some have
occupied twenty evenings. Most of his opponents have been clergymen;
and a hundred and fifty of the profession were in the audience at one
contest in Illinois in 1870. How much public opinion differs in various
States of the Union is shown by the fact that nine years later the doors
of a hall which had been engaged for him in Pennsylvania were closed
against him, merely because he was "an infidel." His friends broke in
without his consent; and he was fined $70. The first lecture which he
tried to give in Canada was prevented by similar dishonesty.
Another hall was hired for the next night at great expense; but much
interruption was made by clergymen; and when suit was brought for
damages through breach of contract, the courts decided that bargains
with unbelievers were not binding in Canada.

Both Bradlaugh and Underwood have usually spoken _extempore_, but both
have been busy journalists. The American agitator wrote as early as 1856
for both _The Liberator_ and _The Investigator_. His connection with the
latter paper lasted until the time when a serious difference of opinion
arose between those aggressive unbelievers who called themselves
"freethinkers," or even "infidels," and those moderate liberals who
belong to the Free Religious Association, and formerly supported _The
Index_. This journal came in 1881 under the management of Mr. Underwood.
His colleague, Rev. W. J. Potter, was nominally his equal in authority;
but I know, from personal acquaintance with both gentlemen, that the
real editor from first to last was Mr. Underwood. It was mainly due to
him that much attention was given, both in the columns of the journal
and in the meetings of the association, to efforts for secularising the
State. He was in charge of _The Index_ until it stopped at the end
of 1886. In 1882 he held a discussion in Boston with the president of
Williams College, and Professor Gray, the great botanist, on the
relations between evolution and "evangelical religion." About four
hundred orthodox clergymen were present. In 1897 Mr. Underwood was still
in his original occupation. Early that year he lectured in Illinois,
Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island,
Massachusetts, and Canada. He now believes, like Emerson, in "a higher
origin for events than the will I call mine."

V. The difference of opinion among liberals, just referred to, grew
out of the agitation for a free Sunday, which had been begun by Frances
Wright in 1828. A call for "an anti-Sabbath convention" in Boston was
issued by some Transcendentalists in 1848, when men had recently been
imprisoned in Massachusetts for getting in hay, and in Pennsylvania
for selling anti-slavery books. Churches were closed on Sunday against
lecturers for any reform, however popular; and even the most innocent
amusement was prohibited by public opinion. Only a moderate protest had
any chance of a hearing; but Garrison and the other managers insisted in
the call that "the first day of the week is no holier than any other,"
and refused to allow anyone who did not believe this to speak. Very
little was said about what the Sunday laws really were; but most of the
time was occupied with arguments that the Sabbath was only for the Jews,
and that keeping Sunday is not a religious duty. This last assertion
called out an earnest remonstrance from Theodore Parker; but his
resolutions were voted down. The Garrisonians insisted, as usual, that
the big end of the wedge ought to go in first; and their convention was
a failure. Twenty-eight years went by without any protest of importance
against Sunday laws in America.

Meantime the Free Religious Association was organised in Boston by
Unitarian clergymen who were indignant at the recent introduction into
their denomination of a doctrinal condition of fellowship. The first
public meeting, on May 30, 1867, called out an immense audience. Emerson
was one of the speakers; and he held his place among the vice-presidents
as long as he lived. A similar position was offered to Lucretia Mott,
but she declined on the platform. Her reason was that practical work
was subordinated to theological speculation by the announcement in
the constitution that the association was organised "to promote the
interests of pure religion, to encourage the scientific study of
theology, and to increase fellowship in the Spirit." These phrases were
altered afterwards; but the association has always been, in the words
of one of its leading members "a voice without a hand." Free religious
conventions have regularly increased the confusion of tongues in that
yearly Boston Babel called "Anniversary Week"; and there have been
many similar gatherings in various cities; but not one in four of these
meetings has given much attention to any practical subject, like the use
of the Bible in the public schools. A vigorous discussion of the Sunday
laws of Massachusetts took place in 1876, under peculiar circumstances
to be described in the next section; but there was no other until 1887.
_The Index_ started in 1870; but it was largely occupied with vague
speculations about theology; and its discontinuance in 1886 left the
association without any organ of frequent communication among its
members, or even an office for business. Dr. Adler, who became president
in 1878, tried to awaken an interest in unsectarian education, and
especially in ethical culture; but he resigned on account of lack of
support; and the Ethical Culture societies were started outside of the
association. Comparatively few of its members took any interest in the
petitions presented by its direction to the Massachusetts Legislature in
1884 and 1885, asking for taxation of churches, protection of witnesses
from molestation on account of unbelief, and rescue of the Sunday law
from giving sanctuary to fraud. The president acknowledged in 1892 that
there had been a "general debility for practical work." There seems to
have been a lack of energy among the managers; and some of the members
were too anxious to preserve their individuality, while others had too
much regard for ecclesiastical interests. The Parliament of Religions
next year, however, showed what good the association had done by
insisting continually on fellowship in religion, and keeping its
platform open to Jews, Hindoos, and unbelievers, as well as to
Christians of every sect.

VI. Prominent among the founders of the Free Religious Association
was Francis E. Abbot, who lost his place soon after as pastor of an
independent society, because the Supreme Court of New Hampshire decided,
on the request of some Unitarians for an injunction against him, that
his opinions were "subversive of the fundamental principles of

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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 11 of 16)