Greene was born in Preston, Connecticut. He graduated from Middlebury College, Vt., in 1819, and then studied for the ministry at Andover Theological Seminary (1819–20) but his religious beliefs did not agree with any denominational creed.
In 1821 he was made professor of sacred literature in Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio. The American Colonization Society (ACS) was very controversial at Western Reserve College. Students and faculty often had debates on the subject. At this time, William Lloyd Garrison became a great influence to Green. In 1832, Green used the chapel four Sundays in a row to attack the ACS and its supporters. This angered many trustees and clergymen.
Expecting to be fired, Green resigned in 1833 and became the president of the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, a Presbyterian institution. Green accepted the presidency at Oneida on two conditions: he was allowed to preach immediatism and he was allowed to accept African-American students. The Oneida Institute was a manual labor college founded in 1829, but it also had some liberal classical classes.
As president, Green dramatically changed the college by accepting numerous African Americans, more than any other college during the 1830s and 1840s. Green did not believe that it was right to have separate labor schools for blacks and whites. This belief led him to attempt to get Gerrit Smith to merge his black manual labor college with the Oneida Institute. This made Oneida a hotspot for abolitionist activity. Many future well-known black leaders and abolitionists were students at Oneida while Green was president. These include William Forten, Alexander Crummell, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet and Rev. Amos Noë Freeman.
In 1832, Green began to correspond with Gerrit Smith on the issue of black education. The two men became very close friends and much of what is known about Green is known from their letters. The two men worked together toward the goal of abolition. They continued correspondence until 1872, when they stopped writing because of long held disagreements about civil government and political abolition.
Green presided over the 1833 meeting of the American Anti-Abolition Society in Philadelphia. He was famous for refuting the arguments of men who used the Bible to defend slavery. In the late 1830s, Green focused most of his time contesting these arguments.
The Panic of 1837 hit the Oneida Institute hard and the college began to decline. Green also had begun to lose favor with conservative Presbyterians, which added to Oneida’s troubles. Green became a troublemaker in the religious community of the North after he formed a separation congregation of abolitionist-minded members of the Whitesboro's First Presbyterian Church in 1837.
In 1844, the Oneida Institute was sold to the Freewill Baptists because of financial problems. After the Oneida Institute closed, Green became an active supporter of the Liberty Party. This was a third party that was completely devoted to the abolition of slavery. After the party failed to make an impact on American politics, Green became bitter with the democratic process. He did not like popular democracy and was in favor of an oligarchy or modified theocracy. Unlike many Liberty Party members, Green did not join the Free Soil Party. He was worried that abolition would not be part of the major party principles.
After fellow abolitionists did not support his ideas about government, Green became resentful and did not travel far from Whitesboro. He supported his wife and children by farming and preaching to small groups of abolitionists.
In 1860, Green published a collection of his writings, titled Sermons and Other Discourses with Brief Biographical Hints.
He died on May 4, 1874 while giving a speech on temperance in Whitesboro.
Green wrote several books, including:
- History of the Quakers (1823), and
- Sermons and Discourses, with a few Essays and Addresses (1833).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.