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Christianity. He was the first editor of _The Index_; and there appeared
in April, 1872, his statement of what are generally recognised as


"1. We demand that churches and other ecclesiastical property shall no
longer be exempt from just taxation.

"2. We demand that the employment of chaplains in Congress, in State
legislatures, in the navy and militia, and in prisons, asylums, and all
other institutions supported by public money, shall be discontinued.

"3. We demand that all public appropriations for educational and
charitable institutions of a sectarian character shall cease.

"4. We demand that all religious services now sustained by the
Government shall be abolished; and especially that the use of the Bible
in the public schools, whether ostensibly as a text-book or avowedly as
a book of religious worship, shall be prohibited.

"5. We demand that the appointment, by the President of the United
States, or by the Governors of the various States, of all religious
festivals and fasts shall wholly cease.

"6. We demand that the judicial oath in the courts and in all other
departments of the Government shall be abolished, and that simple
affirmation under the pains and penalties of perjury shall be
established in its stead.

"7. We demand that all laws directly or indirectly enforcing the
observance of Sunday as the Sabbath shall be repealed.

"8. We demand that all laws looking to the enforcement of "Christian"
morality shall be abrogated, and that all laws shall be conformed to the
requirements of natural morality, equal rights, and impartial liberty.

"9. We demand that not only in the Constitutions of the United States,
and of the several States, but also in the practical administration of
the same, no privilege or advantage shall be conceded to Christianity
or any other special religion; that our entire political system shall
be founded and administered on a purely secular basis; and that whatever
changes shall prove necessary to this end shall be consistently,
unflinchingly, and promptly made."

He knew how unlikely it was that the Association would agitate for
anything; and in January, 1873, he published a call for organisation
of liberal leagues, in order to obtain the freedom already asked. Such
leagues were soon formed in most of the States, as well as in Germany
and Canada. Among the members were Phillips, Garrison, Lucretia Mott,
Higginson, and other famous abolitionists, Karl Heinzen and other
radical Germans, several Rabbis and editors of Jewish papers,
Inger-soll, Underwood, the editor of _The Investigatory_ and other
active agitators, several wealthy men of business, Collyer, Savage,
and other Unitarian clergymen. Hundreds of newspapers supported
the movement; and eight hundred members had been enrolled before a
convention of the National Liberal League met in Philadelphia, on
the first four days of July, 1876. The managers of the International
Exhibition in that city had already decided that it should be closed on
Sunday, in violation of the rights, and against the wishes, of the Jews,
unbelievers, and many other citizens. The Free Religious Association had
been requested in vain, at a recent meeting, to remonstrate against this
iniquity. The League passed a strong vote of censure without opposition,
and appointed a committee to present a protest which had been circulated
during the convention. Resolutions were also passed asserting the right
of all Americans to enjoy on Sunday the public libraries, museums,
parks, and similar institutions "for the support of which they are
taxed," and demanding "that all religious exercises should be prohibited
in the public schools."

It was under the influence of this example that the Free Religious
Association held a special convention on November 15, 1876, to protest
against the Sunday laws of Massachusetts. A Jewish Rabbi complained that
more than two thousand Hebrew children in Boston were prevented from
keeping holy the day set apart for rest and worship in Exodus and
Deuteronomy, and many of them actually obliged by their teachers to
break the Sabbath. This was the effect of the law commanding them to go
to school on Saturday, which is that "seventh day" whose observance
is required by the fourth commandment. Other speakers declared that
no legislation was needed to ensure Sunday's remaining a day of rest.
Mention was made of the fact that "any game, sport, play, or public
diversion," not specially licensed, on Saturday evening, made all
persons present liable to be fined. This was already a dead letter; and
the theatres had announced with perfect safety twenty years before, in
their playbills, "We defy the law." A few months after this convention,
its influence was shown in the opening of the Art Museum free of charge
to the people of Boston, Sunday afternoons.

Thus the Association began to co-operate with the National League; and
the latter soon had the support of more than sixty local organisations.
The movement for establishing "Equal Rights in Religion" was uniting
Liberal Christians, Jews, independent theists, Spiritualists,
materialists, evolutionists, agnostics, and atheists. All were willing
to call themselves "Freethinkers" and work together as they have never
done since 1877. Then the League felt itself strong enough to call
for "taxation of church property," "secularisation of public schools,"
"abrogation of Sabbatarian laws," and also for woman suffrage, as well
as compulsory education throughout the United States. Steps were taken
towards nominating Ingersoll on this platform for President of the

These plans had to be abandoned; the agitation subsided; and the harmony
between lovers of liberty from various standpoints was lost. A fatal
difference of opinion was manifest in 1878, in regard to those Acts of
Congress called "the Comstock laws."

These statutes forbade sending obscene literature through the mails;
and there had been more than a hundred recent convictions. Some of the
prosecutions were said to have been prompted by religious bigotry; and
there seems to have been unjustifiable examination of mail matter.
The most important question was whether the laws ought to be enforced
against newspapers and pamphlets about free love and marital tyranny,
which were not meant to be indecent but really were so occasionally. A
publisher in Massachusetts was sentenced in June, 1878, to two years
of imprisonment for trying to mail such a pamphlet; but he was soon
released. More severe punishment has been inflicted recently for similar
offences. The majority of people in America and England favoured the
exclusion by law of indecent literature from circulation; and this
course has been considered necessary on account of the known frailty of
human nature. The members of the Free Religious Association were willing
to have the Comstock laws changed, but not repealed; and they voted,
early in 1878, to take no part in what threatened to be an unfortunate
controversy. The League, however, was divided on the question whether
these laws ought to be amended or repealed. Abbot, Underwood, and other
prominent members declared that literature ought to be excluded from
the mails or admitted according as it was intentionally and essentially
indecent, or only accidentally so. Thus Ingersoll said: "We want all
nastiness suppressed for ever; but we also want the mails open to all
decent people." Other members held that the Comstock laws ought to be
repealed entirely, and no restriction put on the circulation of any
literature except by public opinion. This must be admitted to agree with
the principle that each one ought to have all the liberty consistent
with the equal liberty of everyone else; but this application of the
theory cannot be considered politic in agitating for religious freedom.
The _Investigator, Truthseeker_, and other aggressive papers, however,
called for complete repeal; and a petition with this object received
seventy thousand signatures.

The National League had voted, in 1876, that legislation against obscene
publications was absolutely necessary, but that the existing laws needed
amendment. The question whether this position should be maintained,
was announced as the principal business to be settled in the convention
which met at Syracuse on October 26, 1878. Mr. Abbot, the president, and
other prominent officers declared that they should not be candidates
for re-election if the position assumed two years before was not kept.
Scarcely had the convention met, when its management passed into the
hands of the friends of repeal. They allowed Judge Hurlbut, formerly
on the bench in the Supreme Court of the State, to argue in favour of
closing the mails against publications "manifestly designed or mainly
tending to corrupt the morals of the young." Much respect was due to the
author of a book which declared, in 1850, that married women had a right
to vote and hold property, as well as that the State "cannot rightfully
compel any man to keep Sunday as a religious institution; nor can it
compel him to cease from labour or recreation on that day; since it
cannot be shown that the ordinary exercise of the human faculties on
that day is in any way an infringement upon the rights of mankind." On
Sunday morning, October 27th, it was agreed that the question of repeal
or reform should be postponed until the next annual convention; but
the decision was made a foregone conclusion that afternoon, when
three-fifths of the members voted not to re-elect Mr. Abbot and other
champions of reform. The defeated candidates left the convention at
once, as did Mr. Underwood and many other members, Judge Hurlbut taking
the lead. A new league was organised by the seceders; but it was not a

The movement for amending, but not repealing, the Comstock laws was
given up; and most of those who had favoured it took sides with those
who had refused to agitate. There was little interest in "The Demands
of Liberalism" thenceforth among the Liberal Christians, Reformed Jews,
Transcendentalists, and evolutionists. These and other moderate liberals
refuse to call themselves "Freethinkers"; and they make little attempt
at collective and distinctive action. The Free Religious Association did
nothing towards secularising the laws of Massachusetts between 1876
and 1884. The agitation which began in the latter year ended on May
27, 1887, when the Sunday laws were discussed at Boston in a large
and enthusiastic convention. The Legislature had just passed a bill
to legalise Saturday evening amusements, as well as boating, sailing,
driving, use of telegraph, and sale of milk, bread, newspapers, and
medicines on Sunday; the signature of the Governor had not yet been
given; but it was agreed that these changes must be made, and for the
reason that the old restrictions could not be enforced. Judge Putnam, of
the State District Court, told the convention that "the Sunday law,
so called, has not in a long, long time been enforced," except by
"a prosecution here and there"; and that if it were to be enforced
strictly, the prosecutions would occupy nearly all the week. He opposed
any restraint on "entertainments not of an immoral tendency." Mr.
Garrison, son of the famous abolitionist, declared that Sunday ought to
be "the holiday of the week." Captain Adams, of Montreal, said: "This
is not a mere question how much men may do or enjoy on Sunday: it is
a question of human liberty, a question whether ecclesiastical
tyranny shall still put its yoke on our necks." The tone was bold, but
thoroughly practical from first to last.

An earnest protest against closing the Chicago Exposition on the
people's day of leisure was made by the F. R. A., in May, 1893; and
an important victory in behalf of religious liberty was won in 1898 in
Massachusetts. The Sunday laws of this State have been so improved as to
permit what are called "charity concerts," and are not made up entirely
of ecclesiastical music, to be given for the pecuniary benefit of
charitable and religious societies on Sunday evenings. The Legislature
which met early in 1898 was asked by representatives of the Monday
Conference of Unitarian Ministers, the Women's Christian Temperance
Union, and several other religious organisations to alter the law so as
to prevent any but "sacred music" from being heard on the only evening
when many people in Boston can go to concerts. The officers of the F. R.
A. made a formal request to be heard by a committee of the Legislature
through counsel, who proved that the "charity concerts" were really
unobjectionable, and that the opposition to them was due entirely to
zeal for an ancient text forbidding Hebrews to labour on Saturday in

The injustice of stretching this prohibition so far as to try to stop
concerts on Sunday evenings in America was pointed out by
representatives, not only of the F. R. A., but also of the International
Religious Liberty Association, which has been formed to protect
Christians who have kept the Sabbath on the original day set apart in
Exodus and Deuteronomy, from being punished for not prolonging their
rest from honest labour over an additional day, first selected by an
emperor whose decrees are not worthy of reverence. This association has
offices in Chicago, New York City, Toronto, London, Basel, and other
cities; and its principles are ably advocated in a weekly paper entitled
the _American Sentinel_. Representatives of this organisation assisted
those of the F. R. A. in forcing the "charity concerts" question to be
decided on its own merits, independent of ancient texts. The members of
the legislative committee made a unanimous report against suppressing
these harmless amusements; and their opinion was sustained by their
colleagues. This victory was duly celebrated at the annual convention of
the F. R. A., in Boston, on May 27, 1898. Among the speakers that
afternoon was the secretary of the I.R.L. A., who said: "If any nation
under heaven has the right to confiscate one-seventh of my time, and
tell how I shall and how I shall not use that, then the whole principle
of inherent rights is denied, and it now is simply a matter of policy
whether it shall not confiscate two-sevenths, three-sevenths,
or seven-sevenths, and take away all my liberty."

Since 1878, the agitation for religious equality has been carried on
mainly by materialistic atheists and agnostics, with some assistance
from Spiritualists. These aggressive liberals continue to call
themselves to Liberty in the Nineteenth Century.

"Freethinkers," and to support the _Investigatory Truthseeker_, and
other papers which have much to say against Sunday laws, religious use
of the Bible in public schools, and exemption of churches from taxation.
They often reprint "The Demands of Liberalism"; and one of these
requests has been so amended in Canada as to ask for the repeal of "all
laws directly or indirectly enforcing the observance of Sunday or the
Sabbath." The attack on the Comstock laws has subsided; and no
reference was made to them in 1897 in the call for a convention of the
organisation which took the place of the whole system of national and
local leagues in 1885. The name then chosen was "The American Secular
Union." The words, "and Freethought Federation" were added in 1895,
when two kindred associations were consolidated. It was under strong and
constant pressure from these aggressive liberals that the great museums
of art and natural history in New York were thrown open on Sundays to
longing crowds. One of the petitions was signed by representatives of a
hundred and twelve labour organisations. The trustees of the Art Museum
were induced to open it in the summer of 1891 by the contribution of
$3000, which had been collected by some young ladies for meeting extra
expenses. Thirty-eight thousand people took advantage, in August, 1892,
of their first opportunity to visit the Museum of Natural History on
their one day of leisure; and these visitors were remarkable for good
behaviour. There has been a similar experience in the Boston Art Museum
ever since the Sunday opening in 1877.

VII. An exciting contest took place at Chicago in 1893. More than fifty
nations were co-operating with the people of every one of the United
States in commemorating the discovery of America. Disreputable
politicians had persuaded Congress to pass a bill, by which closing the
Exposition on Sundays was made a condition of receiving aid from the
National Treasury. The people of Chicago had given three times as much,
however, as Congress; and there was much dissatisfaction among those
citizens who had bought stock in the enterprise. The grounds had been
kept open to visitors for some months, Sunday after Sunday, until the
buildings were formally thrown open on May 1st; and the receipts had
been liberal enough to prove that continuance of this course would be
greatly to the advantage of these shareholders, while Sunday closing
might result in heavy loss. During the first three Sundays of May the
gates were kept shut by order of the Board of National Commissioners,
made up of members from every State. Their action and that of Congress
had been sanctioned by petitions bearing millions of signatures; but
it is a significant fact that the alleged signers in Pennsylvania were
three times as many as the entire population of the State. Many people
had been counted again and again as members of different organisations;
and this fraud was committed in other parts of the country. No attempt
to find out what the people really wished was made except in Texas;
and there the majority was in favour of opening the gates. Sabbatarians
acknowledged publicly that they got little support from the secular
press; and much opposition was made to them by some of the great
dailies, as well as by the organs of aggressive liberalism.

Sunday after Sunday in May the gates were surrounded by immense crowds
who waited there vainly, hour after hour. Many of them could evidently
not come on other days; and the number was so large that the local
directors, who had been elected by the shareholders, voted on May 16th
for opening both gates and doors. This action was warmly approved by
the leading citizens of Chicago at a public meeting; but Sabbatarians
demanded that visitors be kept out by Federal bayonets. The National
Commissioners, however, permitted the entrance of a hundred and fifty
thousand people on the last Sunday of May. On Monday, the 29th, a judge
of Hebrew race, in a State court, pronounced the contract with Congress
null and void, because the money had not been fully paid. He decided,
accordingly, that there was no excuse for violating the Illinois law,
which guaranteed the right of the citizens to visit on Sunday the park
where the Exposition was held. This ensured the admission of visitors
on June 4th, and for twenty of the remaining twenty-one Sundays. The
Government buildings and many others, however, were closed; numerous
exhibits, for instance, one of Bibles, were shrouded in white; machinery
was not allowed to run; there were no cheap conveyances about the
ground; and there was little opportunity to get food or drink. No wonder
that the Sunday attendance was comparatively small; but there were one
hundred and forty thousand paying visitors on October 22d and 29th.

This was a victory of the press rather than the platform. There has been
no successor to the original Liberty League, and no rival to the Sunday
Society. The latter was organised in 1875 in England, where there has
been constant agitation since 1853 for opening the British Museum,
Crystal Palace, and other public institutions to their owners on Sunday.
Dean Stanley was president of this society; and among its members have
been Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall, Charles Reade, Lecky, Miss Cobbe,
Mrs. Craik, and many prominent clergymen. The real issue was stated
clearly at one of the public meetings by Tyndall as follows: "We only
ask a part of the Sunday for intellectual improvement." The justice
of this request has been so far admitted that on May 24, 1896, all the
national museums and galleries in London were opened for the first time
on Sunday. Among these educational institutions from which the
owners are no longer shut out are the National Gallery and the South
Kensington, British, and Natural History Museums. Many libraries and
museums in other parts of England were opened some years earlier.

VIII. Nowhere has the platform done so much to regenerate the pulpit as
in Chicago. Religious history has been largely a record of strife. There
was little brotherly feeling between clergymen of different sects in
America before 1860; but they were often brought into co-operation by
the great war. Even Unitarians were shocked to hear Emerson speak with
reverence of Zoroaster in 1838; but he won only applause in 1869 when he
spoke of the charm of finding "identities in all the religions of men."
This was at a convention of the Free Religious Association, which has
pleaded from the first for "fellowship in religion," and often made this
real upon its platform. The secretary, Mr. Potter, said in 1872,
that some of his hearers would live to see "a peace convention" "of
representatives from all the great religions of the globe." Chicago
was so peculiarly cosmopolitan that the local managers of the Columbian
Exposition were glad to have products of the various intellectual
activities of mankind exhibited freely. Ample provision was made for
conventions in behalf of education and reform; but what was to be done
for religion?

An orthodox citizen of Chicago, Mr. Charles Carroll Bonney, took counsel
in 1891 with Rev. J. LI. Jones, a Unitarian, who has been preaching for
twenty years the essential oneness of all religions. Rabbis, bishops,
and doctors of divinity were consulted also; and thus was formed the
committee which invited "the leading representatives of the great
historic religions of the world for the first time in history," to meet
in friendly conference and show what they "hold and teach in common,"
as well as "the important distinctive truths" claimed for each religion.
Thus the Columbian Exposition offered an opportunity "to promote and
deepen the spirit of human brotherhood among religious men of diverse
faiths," "to inquire what light each religion has afforded or may
afford to the other religions of the world," and, finally, "to bring
the nations of the earth into a more friendly fellowship in the hope
of securing a permanent international peace." Thus was announced the
"Parliament of Religions." All the members were to meet as equals; and
there was to be neither controversy nor domination. The Archbishop of
Canterbury and some leading Protestants in America protested against
abandoning the exclusive claims made for Christianity; and similar
objections were offered by the Sultan of Turkey. The Jews, Buddhists,
and other believers in the ancient religions welcomed the invitation, as
did the dignitaries of the Greek Church, and also the Protestants on
the continent of Europe, and many members of every Christian sect in the
United States. The Catholic archbishops of America appointed a delegate;
and many Methodist and Episcopalian bishops agreed to attend the

The sessions were held in the permanent building erected in the centre
of Chicago to accommodate the intellectual portion of the Exposition.
Four thousand people assembled on Monday, September 11, 1893, to see a
Roman Catholic cardinal mount the platform at 10 A.M., in company with
the Shinto high-priest, an archbishop of the Greek Church, a Hindoo
monk, a Confucian mandarin, and a long array of Buddhists and Taoists
from the far East. All these dignitaries wore gorgeous robes of
various colours. With them were a Parsee girl, a Theosophist, a Moslem
magistrate from India, a Catholic archbishop from New Zealand, a Russian
and an African prince, a negro bishop, several Episcopalian prelates,
Rabbis, and Jewesses, missionaries returned from many lands, doctors of
divinity of various Protestant sects, and the lady managers of the great
Fair. A prominent Presbyterian pastor took the chair, and cordial
declarations of the brotherhood of religions were made by Catholic
archbishops, the Shinto high-priest, a Buddhist delegate, and the
Confucian sent by the Emperor of China. Full hearing was given in
subsequent sessions to advocates of the Jain religion, which is perhaps
the oldest, as well as of the Parsee, Jewish, Moslem, Taoist, and Vedic
faiths, besides a score of the leading Christian denominations. The

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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 12 of 16)