Leonard Bacon son prepared for college at grammar school in Hartford, Connecticut; he graduated from Yale University in 1820 and from the Andover Theological Seminary in 1823. From 1825 until his death he was pastor of the First Church (Congregational) in New Haven, Connecticut, occupying a pulpit which was one of the most conspicuous in New England, and which had been rendered famous by his predecessors, Moses Stuart and Nathaniel W. Taylor. In 1866, however, though never dismissed by a council from his connection with that church, he gave up the active pastorate; still, in 1868 he was president of the American Congregational Union.
From 1826 to 1838, he was an editor of the Christian Spectator (New Haven). In 1843 he was one of the founders of the New Englander (later the Yale Review), and in 1848, with Richard Salter Storrs, Joshua Leavitt, Joseph Parrish Thompson, and Henry C. Bowen, he founded The Independent, a magazine designed primarily to combat slavery extension; he was an editor of the Independent until 1863. From 1866 until his death he taught at Yale: first, until 1871, as acting professor of didactic theology in the theological department; and from 1871 as lecturer on church polity and American church history.
Bacon was buried at Grove Street Cemetery, as was his sister Delia Bacon. Four of his six sons became Congregational pastors: Edward Woolsey Bacon (in New London, Connecticut), Leonard Woolsey Bacon, George B. Bacon (in Orange, New Jersey), and Thomas Rutherford Bacon (in New Haven, Connecticut).
Convictions and influence
In his own theological views, Bacon was broad-minded and an advocate of liberal orthodoxy. In all matters concerning the welfare of his community or the nation, moreover, he took a deep and constant interest, and was particularly identified with the temperance and anti-slavery movements, his services to the latter constituting perhaps the most important work of his life. In this, as in most other controversies, he took a moderate course, condemning the apologists and defenders of slavery on the one hand and the Garrisonian extremists on the other. His Slavery Discussed in Occasional Essays from 1833 to 1846 (1846) exercised considerable influence upon Abraham Lincoln, and in this book appears the sentence, which, as rephrased by Lincoln, was widely quoted: "If that form of government, that system of social order is not wrong — if those laws of the Southern States, by virtue of which slavery exists there, and is what it is, are not wrong — nothing is wrong."
He was early attracted to the study of the ecclesiastical history of New England and was frequently called upon to deliver commemorative addresses, some of which were published in book and pamphlet form. Of these, his Thirteen Historical Discourses (1839), dealing with the history of New Haven, and his Four Commemorative Discourses (1866) may be especially mentioned. The most important of his historical works, however, is his Genesis of the New England Churches (1874). He published A Manual for Young Church Members (1833); edited, with a biography, the Select Practical Writings of Richard Baxter (1831); and was the author of a number of hymns, the best-known of which is the one beginning, "O God, beneath Thy guiding hand Our exiled fathers crossed the sea."
Gradually, after taking up his pastorate, he gained greater and greater influence in his denomination, until he came to be regarded as perhaps the most prominent Congregationalist of his time, and was sometimes popularly referred to as "The Congregational Pope of New England." In all the heated theological controversies of the day, particularly the long and bitter one concerning the views put forward by Dr Horace Bushnell, he was conspicuous, using his influence to bring about harmony, and in the councils of the Congregational churches, over two of which, the Brooklyn councils of 1874 and 1876. he presided as moderator, he manifested great ability both as a debater and as a parliamentarian.
His congregation published a commemorative volume in his honor, Leonard Bacon, Pastor of the First Church in New Haven (New Haven, 1882), and his biography is also found in Williston Walker's Ten New England Leaders (New York, 1901).
- "American Congregational Union". The Congregational Quarterly 10: 299–309. July 1868. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
- Memorial biographies of New England historic genealogical society, 1853–1855, Volume 8. New England Historic Genealogical Society. 1907. p. 83.
- National Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States, Publishing Committee (1880). The Congregational year-book 2. Congregational Pub. Society. p. 62. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches of the United States, Executive Committee (1908). The Year book of the Congregational Christian churches of the United States of America. p. 12. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- "Rev. of Leonard Woolsey Bacon, Church Papers". New Englander and Yale Review 37 (142): 133–35. January 1878. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- "Bacon's Unexpected Resignation.a New-haven Congregational Church Losing its Pastor on Account of the Dissatisfaction of a Few Members". The New York Times. 24 March 1884. p. 1. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- "Some Hit and Miss Chat; Stray Bits of Gossip from an Observer's Note Book. A Dream's Strange Sequel--one of Leonard Bacon's Sons--Clevelands of the Last Century". The New York Times. 7 September 1885. p. 2. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bacon, Leonard". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press