Henry Ward Beecher
|Henry Ward Beecher|
Henry Ward Beecher
June 24, 1813|
Litchfield, Connecticut, U.S.
|Died||March 8, 1887
Brooklyn, New York
|Occupation||Protestant Clergyman, Abolitionist|
|Spouse(s)||Eunice White Beecher|
|Parents||Lyman and Roxana Beecher|
Henry Ward Beecher (June 24, 1813 – March 8, 1887) was a prominent Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, abolitionist, and speaker in the mid to late 19th century. An 1875 adultery trial in which he was accused of having an affair with a married woman was one of the most notorious American trials of the 19th century.
Early life 
Born in Litchfield, Connecticut, Henry was the eighth of thirteen children born to Lyman Beecher, a Presbyterian preacher from Boston. His mother, Roxana Foote, died when Henry was three. His well-known siblings included writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, educators Catharine Beecher and Reverend Thomas K. Beecher, and activists Charles Beecher and Isabella Beecher Hooker. In addition, Henry was the uncle of Edgar Beecher Bronson. Henry was especially close to his sister Harriet, two years his senior, according to the web site of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, New York City. "This friendship with Harriet continued throughout their lives, and she was still listed on the membership rolls of Plymouth Church when she died in 1896."
The Beecher household was exemplary of the orthodox ministry that Lyman Beecher preached. His family not only prayed at the beginning and end of each day but also sang hymns and prepared for other rigorous church obligations. They were expected to participate in prayer meetings, attend lectures and other church functions. "Undue frivolity was discouraged, so they did not celebrate Christmas or birthdays. Dancing, theater, and all but the most high-toned fiction were forbidden."  Henry would recall later that he had not a single toy throughout his childhood.
Henry had a childhood stammer and was considered slow-witted; his less than stellar performance at Boston Latin School earned him punishments such as being forced to sit for hours in the girls' corner wearing a dunce cap. At age fourteen, he began his oratorical training at Mt. Pleasant Classical Institution, a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he met a fellow student, Constantine Fondolaik, a Smyrna Greek whose parents had been massacred by Turks.
The sensational poet Lord Byron was the ultimate in romantic ideals of the day, having died of fever fighting for Greek independence against Turkey, and Beecher saw that exoticism, as well all the romantic passion that his family frowned on, embodied in Fondolaik. Beecher referred to him as "...the most beautiful thing I had ever seen...a young Greek God". Both students attended Amherst College together, and it is probable that in his relationship with Fondolaik, Beecher, for the first time, received the sort of unstinting affection that had been lacking in his family life. He described the "contract" of friendship and "brotherly love" they entered into, and wrote that they were "connected by a love that cannot be broken." Beecher signed this contract "H.C. Beecher", with the "C" standing for "Constantine". Fondolaik died of cholera in 1842, just hours after his return to Greece, but Beecher's worship of him would endure for the next thirty years. He named his third son after him, and never attended any Mount Pleasant reunions, since the one schoolmate he would hope to see "will never greet me."
Beecher graduated in 1834 and in 1837 received a degree from Lane Theological Seminary outside Cincinnati, Ohio, which his father then headed. First becoming a minister in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (1837–39), he was then pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis (1839–47).
In 1847, he was appointed the first minister of the new Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York. That fall, Beecher and his wife, the former Eunice Bullard, and their three surviving children moved to Brooklyn.
Beecher's fame on the lecture circuit led to his becoming editor of several religious magazines, and he received large advances for a novel and for a biography of Jesus.
Henry's father preached a form of Calvinist theology that "combined the old belief that 'human fate was preordained by God's plan' with a faith in the capacity of rational men and women to purge society of its sinful ways," according to historian Michael Kazin.
"For (Henry) Beecher, sinfulness was a temporary malady, which the love of God could burn away as a fierce noonday sun dries up a noxious mold," according to Kazin.
Social and political views 
An advocate of Women's suffrage, temperance and Darwin's theory of evolution, and a foe of slavery and bigotry of all kinds (religious, racial and social), Beecher held that Christianity should adapt itself to the changing culture of the times. Later, in the 1870s and 1880s, Beecher became a prominent advocate for allowing Chinese immigration to continue to the United States, and is credited for delaying the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act until 1882. Beecher compared Chinese immigrants favorably to Irish immigrants, and argued that excluding the former from entering the country while allowing the latter was an unjust practice.
During the antebellum period, he raised funds to buy weapons for those willing to oppose slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, and the rifles bought with this money became known as "Beecher's Bibles". Politically active, he supported first the Free Soil Party and later the Republican Party.
During the American Civil War, his church raised and equipped a volunteer infantry regiment. Early in the war, Beecher pressed Lincoln to emancipate the slaves through a proclamation. The preacher later went on a speaking tour in England to undermine support for the South by explaining the North's war aims. Near the end of the war, when the Stars and Stripes were again raised at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Beecher was the main speaker.
During the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 he preached strongly against the strikers whose wages had been cut. His notorious "bread and water" sermon included "Man cannot live by bread alone but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live". The following Sunday heard "If you are being reduced, go down boldly into poverty". He then left for a two-month vacation in Europe.
Preaching style 
Thousands of worshipers flocked to Beecher's enormous Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Abraham Lincoln (who said of Beecher that no one in history had "so productive a mind") was in the audience at one point, and Walt Whitman visited him. Mark Twain went to see Beecher in the pulpit and described the pastor "sawing his arms in the air, howling sarcasms this way and that, discharging rockets of poetry and exploding mines of eloquence, halting now and then to stamp his foot three times in succession to emphasize a point." 
Beecher himself had this to say of his preaching style: "From the beginning, I educated myself to speak along the line and in the current of my moral convictions; and though, in later days, it has carried me through places where there were some batterings and bruisings, yet I have been supremely grateful that I was led to adopt this course. I would rather speak the truth to ten men than blandishments and lying to a million. Try it, ye who think there is nothing in it! try what it is to speak with God behind you,--to speak so as to be only the arrow in the bow which the Almighty draws." 
"He obtained the chains with which John Brown had been bound, trampling them in the pulpit, and he also held mock 'auctions' at which the congregation purchased the freedom of real slaves," according to the Web site of the still-existing Plymouth Church. The most famous of these former slaves was a young girl named Pinky, auctioned during a regular Sunday worship service at Plymouth on February 5, 1860. A collection taken up that day raised $900 to buy Pinky from her owner. A gold ring was also placed in the collection plate, and Beecher presented it to the girl to commemorate her day of liberation. Pinky returned to Plymouth in 1927 at the time of the Church's 80th Anniversary to give the ring back to the Church with her thanks. Today, Pinky's ring and bill of sale can still be viewed at Plymouth."
Beecher-Tilton scandal 
"His career took place during what one scholar has called the Protestant Century," according to Kazin, "when an eloquent preacher could be a celebrity, the leader of one or more reform movements and a popular philosopher — all at the same time."
In the highly publicized scandal known as the Beecher-Tilton Affair he was tried on charges that he had committed adultery with a friend's wife, Elizabeth Tilton. In 1870, Elizabeth had confessed to her husband, Theodore Tilton, that she had had a relationship with Henry Ward Beecher. Tilton was then fired from his job at The Independent because of his editor's fears of adverse publicity. Theodore and Henry both pressured Elizabeth to recant her story, which she did, in writing.
The charges became public when Theodore Tilton told Elizabeth Cady Stanton of his wife's confession. Stanton repeated the story to fellow women's rights leaders Victoria Woodhull and Isabella Beecher Hooker.
Henry Ward Beecher had publicly denounced Woodhull's advocacy of free love. She published a story in her paper (Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly) on November 2, 1872, claiming that America's most renowned clergyman was secretly practicing the free-love doctrines which he denounced from the pulpit. The story created a national sensation. As a result, Woodhull was arrested in New York City and imprisoned for sending obscene material through the mail. The Plymouth Church held a board of inquiry and exonerated Beecher, but excommunicated Mr. Tilton in 1873.
Tilton then sued Beecher: the trial began in January 1875, and ended in July when the jurors deliberated for six days but were unable to reach a verdict. His wife loyally supported him throughout the ordeal.
A second board of enquiry was held at Plymouth Church and this body also exonerated Beecher. Two years later, Elizabeth Tilton once again confessed to the affair and the church excommunicated her. Despite this Beecher continued to be a popular national figure. However, the debacle split his family. While most of his siblings supported him, Isabella Beecher Hooker openly supported one of his accusers.
In March 1887, Beecher suffered a stroke and died in his sleep two days later on the 8th. Brooklyn, still an independent city, declared a day of mourning. The state legislature recessed, and telegrams of condolence were sent by national figures, including President Cleveland. Such was the anticipated attendance at his funeral, held at Plymouth Church at 10:30 a.m. on March 11, that tickets for members of the congregation, allowing them their normal pew seating, had to be printed. Crowd control was obviously a concern, as bearers were instructed the ticket "must be shown at the outer cordon of police and presented at the Orange street entrance by 10 A.M. As far as practicable, pew holders will be seated in their pews, save in such portion of the Church as may be necessarily reserved." The procession to the church, led by a black commander of the William Lloyd Garrison Post in Massachusetts and a white Virginia Confederate general and former slaveholder, marching arm in arm - paid tribute to what Beecher helped accomplish. Henry Ward Beecher was interred in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, survived by his wife Eunice, and four of their nine children: Harriet, Henry, William and Herbert.
Published works 
- Seven Lectures to Young Men (1844) (a pamphlet)
- The Independent (1861–63) (periodical, as editor)
- Eyes and Ears (1862) (collection of letters from the New York Ledger newspaper)
- Christian Union (1870–78) (periodical, as editor)
- Summer in the Soul (1858)
- Prayers from the Plymouth Pulpit (1867)
- Norwood, or Village Life in New England (1868) (novel)
- Life of Jesus Christ (1871)
- Yale Lectures on Preaching (1872)
- Evolution and Religion (1885) - (Reissued by Cambridge University Press 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00045-1)
-  Kazin, Michael, "The Gospel of Love" a review of The Most Famous Man in America, by Debby Applegate, The New York Times Book Review, July 16, 2006, page 1
-  "About Our Church" web page at the web site of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, New York City. Accessed on July 17, 2006
- Applegate, 28
- Lawrence, Anya, Love Divine: The Life of Henry Ward Beecher, iUniverse Press, 2005.
- Goldsmith, Barbara, Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998
- Hibben,Paxton; Lewis, Sinclair, Henry Ward Beecher: An American Portrait, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p. 31
- Hibben,Paxton; Lewis, Sinclair, Henry Ward Beecher: An American Portrait, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p. 32
- Beatty, 296-298
- Twain, Letter # 9
- Beecher, 138-139
- Applegate, Debby. The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher. New York: Doubleday, 2006. winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography.
- Beatty, Jack. Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
- Beecher, Henry Ward, and Edna Dean Proctor. Life Thoughts: Gathered from the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher. Boston: Phillips, Sampson and company, 1858. googlebooks.com Accessed September 24, 2007
- Benfey, Christopher. "A Summer of Hummingbees: Love, Art and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe & Martin Johnson Heade." New York:Penguin Group, 2008  H.W. Beecher featured throughout.
- Hibben, Paxton. Henry Ward Beecher: An American Portrait. New York: The press of the Readers club, 1942. (Foreword by Sinclair Lewis.)
- Rourke, Constance Mayfield; Trumpets of Jubilee: Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lyman Beecher, Horace Greeley, P.T. Barnum (1927).
- Twain, Mark. Alta California. Letter no. 9, San Francisco, March 30, 1867. twainquotes.com Accessed September 22, 2007
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Henry Ward Beecher|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Henry Ward Beecher|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Henry Ward Beecher at Project Gutenberg
- Henry Ward Beecher by Lymon Abbott (1904)
- Mr. Tilton's statement from the Brooklyn Eagle
- Article on Beecher-Tilton Scandal from the Brooklyn Eagle
- Susan B. Anthony's Statement about the scandal from the Brooklyn Eagle
- Henry Ward Beecher at Find A Grave