Lane Theological Seminary

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Lane Theological Seminary
Campus of Lane Theological Seminary
TypePrivate seminary
United States

Lane Theological Seminary was a Presbyterian theological college that operated from 1829 to 1932 in Walnut Hills, Ohio, today a neighborhood in Cincinnati. The founding and first years of Lane were difficult and contentious, culminating in a mass student exodus over the issue of slavery, or more specifically whether students were permitted to discuss the topic, the first major academic freedom incident in America. Cincinnati was quite racist and the trustees immediately prohibited further discussion of the topic, to avoid repercussions. Being on the border of the South, a lot of fugitive slaves went through Cincinnati. Their competition for jobs had led to the anti-abolitionist Cincinnati riots of 1829 and would soon produce the Cincinnati riots of 1836.

Inauguration of the Seminary[edit]

"The founding of Lane Seminary was accomplished after years of sometimes disparate efforts on the part of a large number of people."[1]:25–26 The Presbyterian tradition was to have educated clergy, and there was no seminary serving the vast and increasingly populated lands west of the Allegheny Mountains. The denomination was on record as early as 1825 saying such a seminary was needed. In 1829 there were only 8,000 ministers to serve a population of 12,000,000, two thousand more churches than ministers, and only 200 ministers per year were being trained.[1]:27 While there were local efforts to have the new seminary in Cincinnati, the Presbyterian General Assembly decided in 1827 to locate it in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. The western synods refused to accept this, finding it too far east.[1]:28

In the summer of 1828 Ebenezer Lane, a New Orleans businessman, "made known his interest in setting up a theological seminary near Cincinnati based on the manual labor system."[1]:28 He and his brother Lane pledged $4,000 for the new school, on condition that it be in Cincinnati and follow the manual labor model. After this, their connection with the Seminary was minimal; Ebenezer was not even happy that it carried his name.[1]:29–30

A board was set up in October of 1828, and the Ohio General Assembly issued a charter on February 11, 1829, specifying that the manual labor system would be "the fundamental principle" of the Seminary.[1]:30–31 The Rev. George C. Beckwith was appointed to a professorship in April, accepted in August, and arrived in Cincinnati in the following November. He "had 3 or 4 students during the winter."[2]:50 In July, 1830, Beckwith visited the Oneida Institute and wrote back to Cincinnati that manual labor worked well and that the farmers and mechanics of the neighborhood approved of it. He resigned in August, 1830.[2]:50 "At that time [1830], the seminary consisted of some woods and one foundation for a building."[3]:41

In January, 1831, George Washington Gale, president of the Oneida Institute, recommended a steward to supervise the Seminary farm; in February the trustees made the appointment. But in the winter of 1830-31, "Lane Seminary was in a state of suspended animation. There were no teachers and apparently only two students, Amos Dresser and Horace Bushnell, who had come out from the Oneida Institute and had been given special permission by the trustees to occupy rooms in the lonesome Seminary building."[2]:51

Theodore D. Weld and the Manual Labor Society[edit]

"By coincidence", the local efforts to set up a seminary fit with the desires of the Tappan philanthropists to found a seminary in the west.[3]:41

The charismatic Theodore D. Weld had been one of the first Oneida students, first studying and working on George Washington Gale's farm, then at Gale's Oneida Institute of Science and Industry from its opening in 1827 through 1830. When he left Oneida, he was hired by the new Manual Labor Society, funded by the same Tappan brothers that had funded Oneida, "to find a site for a great national manual labor institution...where training for the western ministry could be provided for poor but earnest young men who had dedicated their lives to the home missionary cause in the 'vast valley of the Mississippi'".[2]:43–44 Weld himself was seeking to continue his preparation for a career as minister.

"Cincinnati was the logical location. Cincinnati was the focal center of population and commerce in the Ohio valley."[2]:43 In the pre-railroad era, Cincinnati was the most accessible city in what was then the west of the United States

Weld stopped at Cincinnati twice on his manual labor lecture and scouting tour: in February and March, 1832, and in the following September. On the earlier visit he delivered several lectures and supported the call to famous revivalist Charles Grandison Finney to come west; Finney declined, though he did come three years later, as professor and then president of the new Oberlin Collegiate Institute. Weld's second choice — and it was his choice, because the Tappans relied on his recommendations — was Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Lane, Weld concluded, would do as a manual labor theological school, if Beecher would come. "Such an institution would undoubtedly attract many of Weld's associates who had been disappointed in the failure to establish theological instruction at the Oneida Institute."[2]:43 Beecher did come, beginning as president December 26, 1832;[2]:53 this is when "Lane actually began operation.... Before that time, staff was slight and housing meager."[4]:179 The house the Beecher family lived in is now known as the Harriet Beecher Stowe House.[5]

However, although technically enrolled as a student, Weld was the de facto head of Lane; "He...told the trustees what appointments to make."[2]:54 "Many of the students considered him the real leader of Lane",[1]:77 their "patron saint".[4]:181

"Lane was Oneida moved west."[2]:55 "

Meanwhile young men gathered in Cincinnati "as from the hives of the north". Most of them were from western New York. H. B. Stanton and a few others from Rochester floated down the Ohio from Pittsburgh on a raft. More than a score came from Oneida Institute. Even more arrived from Utica and Auburn, Finney's converts all. From Tennessee came Weld's disciple, Marius Robinson, and across the Ohio from Kentucky came James Thome, scion of a wealthy planting family. Up from Alabama journeyed two others of Weld's disciples, the sons of the Rev. Dr. Allan. From Virginia came young Hedges; and from Missouri, Andrew, of the famous family of Benton. From the South came another, James Bradley, a Negro who had bought his freedom from slavery with the earnings of his own hands. Most of these students were mature; only eleven were less than twenty-one years old; twelve of them had been agents for the national benevolent societies, and six were married men with families. The theological class was the largest that had ever gathered in America, and its member were deeply conscious of their importance.[3]:46

the institution itself is second in importance to no other in the United States. |title=textsDebate at the Lane seminary, Cincinnati. : Speech of James A. Thome, of Kentucky, delivered at the annual meet page=2

"Twenty-four of the forty students in Lane's first theological class were Oneida boys, many of whom had rafted down the French and Allegheny Rivers in 1833 for Cincinnati."[6]:40 These rafts were actually commercial vessels, and the men worked on them in exchange for the transportation.

In 1831, when the Rev. Lewis D. Howell, a student at Auburn Seminary at the time of Finney's revival there, was interim teacher of the Literary Department, there were fifty young men attending the seminary. Amos Dresser was the only New Yorker among them, but this was not to last long. 35 Three Oneida students went west to teach country schools in the winter of 1831–32. George Whipple and J. L. Tracy went to Kentucky; Calvin Waterbury got a school at Newark on the Licking River in Ohio. When in the spring Waterbury talked too much temperance, the inhabitants threatened to ride him out of town on a rail. He prudently climbed aboard a raft and floated down to Cincinnati. 36 There, he and Dresser were soon joined by two other Oneidas, Sereno W. Streeter and Edward Weed... 53

s many of these brethren will go down the Allegheny either in Rafts or Skiffs during the high water, you will see the importance of giving me an immediate reply to this." Early in June, Stanton and Weld and six other young Finneyites arrived in Cincinnati, having completed their journey down the river from Rochester and Oneida. They were promptly admitted to the seminary on the recommendation of two other "Oneidas" already in attendance. 41 The tempo of the seminary was sharply stepped up, its real head now being on the ground. "Weld is here & we are glad," wrote Professor Biggs to Vail on July 2. 54

The debates about slavery[edit]

Lane Seminary is known primarily for the debates held there over 18 days in February of 1834 that influenced the nation's thinking about slavery. The event resulted in the dismissal of a professor and the departure of a group of 40 students and a trustee. It was one of the first significant tests in the United States of academic freedom and the right of students to participate in free discussion. Several of those involved went on to play an important role in the abolitionist movement and the buildup to the American Civil War.

The students at Lane took the initiative in the affairs of the seminary and practiced piety mixed with practicality in the Oneida manner. In March of 1833 thirty-two students, includ- ing apparently all the Oneida Institute "alumni" then present, petitioned against the serving of that harmful and expensive drink, coffee, at the boarding house. 56

"A few months since, two members of the same institution, who had enjoyed the benefits of the manual labor system for some years, and who wished soon to enter upon their professional studies, left the Institute with their packs upon their backs, and shaped their course for the Lane Seminary, at Cincinnati, Ohio, the nearest theological institution where manual labor was made a requisition, and incorporated into the system. They traveled on foot to Olean, in the state of New-York, at the head of the Allegany river, hired themselves out to work a raft, descended the river three hundred miles to its junction with the Ohio, at Pittsburg[h], and thence five hundred miles farther to Cincinnati. Upon their arrival, they received each twenty-two dollars for their services as raftsmen. A few months after four other students of the same institution, upon the same errand, traveled the same route, in the same way. A number more expect soon to start for the same destination, and if rafts are to be found they hope to enjoy the privilege of working their passage."[7]:88

though I can no onger publicly advocate it as the agent of your society, I hope soon to plead its cause in the humbler sphere of personal example, while pursuing my professional studies, in a rising institution at the west, in which manual labor is a DAILY REQUISITION.[7]:100

A time of conflict[edit]

Lane Seminary was founded during a time of rising social, political and religious conflict. The school was at the center of the "Old School" - "New School" debate in both the churches and contemporary politics. While known for his fiery sermons, Beecher's calls for social activism were tempered by a pragmatic desire for mainline support. His opposition of fellow revivalist Charles Finney's views led him also to refuse demands that arose from a group of students led by Theodore Dwight Weld at the Seminary in 1834. These students went on to ministerial study at Oberlin.

1834 slavery debates: colonization or abolition?[edit]

At least three incidents of extreme cruelty to slaves, two of which caused the slave's death, were expounded publicly in a meeting at Lane in 1833, as related in Weld's American Slavery As It Is.[8]:87–88

Weld was an active supporter of "immediate emancipation" abolitionism, as opposed to colonization, which proposed sending blacks "back to Africa". Despite the fact that the Seminary had its own colonization society, over a period of several months Weld convinced nearly all of the students individually of the superiority of the abolitionist view. When the merits of the proposed solutions to slavery were debated over 18 days at the Seminary in February, 1834, it was one of the first major public discussions of the topic, but it was more of an anti-slavery revival than a "debate." The two specific questions addressed were:

  1. "Ought the people of the slaveholding states to abolish slavery immediately?", and
  1. "Are the doctrines, tendencies, and measures of the American Colonization Society, and the influence of its principal supporters, such as render it worthy of the patronage of the Christian public?"

Each question was debated for two and a half hours a night for nine nights. Among the participants:

  • Eleven had been born and brought up in slave states.
  • Seven were sons of slaveholders.
  • One had only recently ceased to be a slaveholder.
  • One had been a slave and had bought his freedom.
  • Ten had lived in slave states.
  • One was an agent of the Colonization Society.

Arguments addressing the first question in favor of the immediate abolition of slavery included:

  • Slaves long for freedom.
  • When inspired with a promise of freedom, slaves will toil with incredible alacrity and faithfulness.
  • No matter how kind their master is, slaves are dissatisfied and would rather be his hired servants than his slaves.
  • Blacks are abundantly able to take care of and provide for themselves.
  • Blacks would be kind and docile if immediately emancipated.

One of the most stirring speeches of the first nine nights was given by James A. Thome, the son of a slaveholder in Kentucky. His first-hand experience of the brutal realities of the slave system helped convince many of the students that there was no other remedy for them than the immediate and complete overthrow of slavery.

In response to the second question, Reverend Dr. Samuel H. Cox, who had served as an agent for the Colonization Society, testified that his view of the Society's plan changed when he realized that no blacks, despite the claims of those who ventured to speak for them, would ever consent to be removed from their native country and transplanted to a foreign land. He reasoned, therefore, that the plan could only be enacted by a "national society of kidnappers."[9]

At the end of the debate, many of the participants concluded not only that slavery was a sin, but also that the policy of the American Colonization Society to send blacks to Africa was wrong. As a result, these students formed an antislavery society and began organizing activities and outreach work among the black population of Cincinnati. They intended to attain the emancipation of blacks, not by rebellion or force, but by "approaching the minds of slave holders with the truth, in the spirit of the Gospel."[2]

The "rebels" depart[edit]

As Cincinnati businessmen, the members of the school's board of trustees were quite concerned about being associated with such a radical expression of abolitionism. "A riot was very [narrowly] averted, probably only because of Lane's summer vacation."[10] President Beecher did not want to escalate the matter by overreacting, but when the press began to turn public opinion against the students that summer, he was in Boston. In his absence, the Executive Committee of the trustees issued a report recommending the abolishment of the school's antislavery society, stating that "no associations or Societies among the students ought to be allowed in the Seminary except such as have for their immediate object improvement in the prescribed course of studies." They further urged the adoption of rules to "discourage...such discussions and conduct among the students as are calculated to divert their attention from their studies." The committee underlined their position by dismissing professor John Morgan for taking the side of the students. In October, without waiting for Beecher to return, the board ratified the committee's resolutions.[2]:158–161

On his return, Beecher and two professors issued a statement intended to assuage the anger of the students regarding the action of the trustees, but it was regarded by the students as a faculty endorsement. Within a week, approximately 40 students and trustee Asa Mahan (one of Finney's contingent) requested dismissal from the school. (A list of the "Rebels".[1]:157–158 A gallery.[11] Their dismissions (withdrawal letters).[12] Their statement.[13]) The "Lane Rebels," as they came to be known, established an informal seminary of their own in 1834–1835, in Cumminsville, Ohio,[1]:132–133 near Cincinatti, with support from Lewis Tappan, and then accepted an invitation to join the new (1833) Oberlin Collegiate Institute, of which Mahan became president. At the "rebels" insistence, as a condition, Oberlin, after a "dramatic" vote (5–4), committed itself to accepting African-American students on an equal basis.[1]:170 The stand taken by the "rebels" not only challenged the school's unchecked authority over student and faculty activities, but also marked a shift in American antislavery efforts from colonization to abolition, and many of them became ministers, abolitionists, and social reformers across the country.[2]:164–166

Postcard of Lane Theological Seminary, Walnut Hills, Cincinnati. Late 19th century?

The Seminary after 1834[edit]

Following the slavery debates, Lane Seminary continued as a "New School" seminary, cooperating with Congregationalists and others in mission and education efforts and involved in social reform movements like abolition, temperance, and Sabbath legislation. The seminary admitted students from other denominations and pursued educational and evangelistic unity among Protestant churches in the West.

After the Civil War, the New School and the Old School Presbyterians had reconciled, and Lane Seminary was reorganized along more conservative Presbyterian lines. In 1910, it became affiliated with the Presbyterian Seminary of the South, and the Seminary continued as a small but respected school, though financial pressures continued to increase. Following a brief period of growth in the 1920s, it became apparent that Lane could no longer survive as an independent school. In 1932, it became part of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. While a permanent Board of Trustees for Lane Theological Seminary remained in service until the Seminary was legally merged out of existence in 2007,[14][dead link] the faculty, library collections, and students were transferred to Chicago, and the last remnants of the Cincinnati campus were destroyed in 1956. A historical marker in front of an automobile dealership at 2820 Gilbert Ave. marks the site of the campus.[15] Coordinates: 39°7′48.62″N 84°29′17.84″W / 39.1301722°N 84.4882889°W / 39.1301722; -84.4882889

Historical re-enactments[edit]

The Lane Debates have been re-enacted in recent years by historians from Yale University,[16] the University of Connecticut and Oberlin College.[17][failed verification]

Former Oneida students who enrolled at Lane[edit]

24 of the 40 members of Lane's first theological class were from Oneida.[2]:54–55 The author has been able to identify that number conclusively. They were:

  • John Watson Alvord
  • George Bristol
  • Charles P. Bush
  • Horace Bushnell
  • Amos Dresser
  • Alexander Duncan, not to be confused with Alexander Duncan (politician), from Cincinnati
  • Hiram Foote
  • Augustus Hopkins †1841[18]:7
  • Russell Jesse Judd
  • John J. Miter
  • Joseph Hitchcock Payne
  • Ezra Abell Poole
  • Samuel Fuller Porter
  • Charles Stewart Renshaw
  • Robert L. Stanton
  • Asa A. Stone, †1835[18]:8
  • Sereno Wright Streeter
  • Calvin Waterbury
  • Augustus Wattles
  • Edward Weed
  • Theodore Dwight Weld
  • Samuel T. Wells
  • George Whipple "abandoned his school in Kentucky to study theology and teach elementary courses at the

seminary".[2]:56 Later taught at Oberlin.[18]:8

  • Hiram Wilson. 55 n. 42
  • a atudent monitir-general, Samuel Wells, formerly of Oneida"57
  • R.L. Stanton, "an 'Oneuda'", in the print shop57

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lesick, Lawrence Thomas (1980). The Lane rebels : evangelicalism and antislavery in antebellum America. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810813724.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Fletcher, Robert Samuel (1943). A history of Oberlin College from its foundation through the civil war. Oberlin College. OCLC 189886.
  3. ^ a b c Barnes, Gilbert Hobbs (1964). The antislavery impulse, 1830–1844. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  4. ^ a b Henry, Stuart C. (1973). Unvanquished Puritan : a portrait of Lyman Beecher. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. OCLC 0802834264.
  5. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1943). Cincinnati, a Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors. p. 290. ISBN 9781623 Check |isbn= value: length (help). Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  6. ^ Sernett, Milton C. (1986). Abolition's axe : Beriah Green, Oneida Institute, and the Black freedom struggle. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815623700.
  7. ^ a b First annual report of the Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions, including the report of their general agent, Theodore D. Weld. New York: Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions. January 28, 1833.
  8. ^ Weld, Theodore (1839). American Slavery As It Is. Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society.
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Forssberg, Grant. The Origins of Knox College. Knox College. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  11. ^ "The Lane Rebels Gallery". Oberlin College Libraries. 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  12. ^ Smith, Maddie. "The Lane Rebels Dismissions". Cause for Freedom. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  13. ^ "Defence of the students". The Liberator. January 10, 1835. p. 1 – via
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ "Lane Seminary propelled anti-slavery movement". Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2004-05-02. Retrieved 2004-04-20. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2004-05-08. Retrieved 2004-04-20. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ a b c Annual catalogue of the officers and students of Lane Theological Seminary : with a triennial catalogue appended. Cincinnati: Geo. L. Weed. 1844.
  19. ^ "John Gregg Fee, 1816-1901. Autobiography of John G. Fee: Berea, Kentucky". p. 13. Retrieved 2017-08-06.

Further reading[edit]

The manual labor movement and the origins of abolitionism. Detail Only Available Academic Journal By: Goodman, Paul. Journal of the Early Republic. Fall93, Vol. 13 Issue 3, p355. 34p. 2 Black and White Photographs. DOI: 10.2307/3124349. Focuses on the history of the manual labor movement and the origins of abolitionism. Theodore Weld's advocation of the manual labor system; Manual labor movement's illumination of the link betwee...

Subjects: LABOR movement -- History; ANTISLAVERY movements; UNITED States; Labor Unions and Similar Labor Organizations; WELD, Theodore Dwight, 1803-1895

Add to folder Times Cited in this Database: (2)[permanent dead link]

General catalogue of Lane theological seminary, 1828-1881 by Lane theological seminary, Cincinnati, O Publication date 1881 Topics Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati, O Publisher Cincinnati, Elm street printing company Collection Princeton; americana Digitizing sponsor Internet Archive Contributor Princeton Theological Seminary Library Language English

History of the foundation and endowment of the Lane theological seminary [microform] by Lane Theological Seminary Publication date 1848 Topics Lane Theological Seminary Publisher Cincinnati : Printed at the Be

Annual catalogue of the officers and students of Lane Theological Seminary : with a triennial catalogue appended 1834-44 by Lane Theological Seminary, corporate author Inaugural Discourses, of Professors Morris and Nelson: Delivered at Lane Theological Seminary ... by Edward Dafydd Morris , Henry Addison Nelson , Lane Theological Seminary Historical sketch Publication date 1868

textsFifth annual report of the trustees of the Cincinnati Lane Seminary : together with the laws of the institution and a catalogue of the officers and students, November, 1834 by Lane Theological Seminary

Publication date 1834

A review of the statement of the faculty of Lane seminary : in relation to the recent difficulties in that institution. by Rankin, John, 1793-1886 Publication date 1835

Debate at the Lane seminary, Cincinnati. : Speech of James A. Thome, of Kentucky, delivered at the annual meeting of the American anti-slavery society, May 6, 1834. Letter of the Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Cox, against the American colonization society

The Lane Rebels: A Twentieth Century Look Author(s): Stuart C. Henry Source: Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985), Vol. 49, No. 1 (SPRING 1971), pp. 1-14 Published by: Presbyterian Historical Society Stable URL:

Ohio History Journal 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17



Resources for Studying the Lane Debates and the Oberlin Commitment to Racial Egalitarianism

  • Aptheker, Herbert. Abolitionism: A Revolutionary Movement. Boston: Twayne, 1992.

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  • Editorial. North Star, 26 January 1849.

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External links[edit]