Archive for the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ Tag

Feast of Elijah P. Lovejoy, Owen Lovejoy, and William Wells Brown (November 10)   Leave a comment

Above:  Am I Not a Man and a Brother?

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Journalist, Abolitionist, Presbyterian Minister, and Martyr, 1837

brother of


U.S. Abolitionist, Lawmaker, and Congregationalist Minister



African-American Abolitionist, Novelist, Historian, and Physician


If the evil authorities refuse to protect me, I will look to God; and if I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton.

–Elijah P. Lovejoy, November 3, 1837; quoted in G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006), 718


Shout it from the rooftops!

–Congressman Owen Lovejoy, 1859, in response to the allegation of being a “Negro stealer”



Thirteen years ago, I came to your door, a weary fugitive from chain and tripes.  I was hungry, and you fed me.  Naked was I, and you clothed me.  Even a name by which to be known among men, slavery had denied me.  You bestowed upon me your own.  Base indeed, should I be, if I ever forget what I owe to you, or do anything to disgrace that honored name!

As a slight testimony of my gratitude  to my earliest benefactor, I take the liberty to inscribe to you this little narrative of the sufferings from which I was fleeing when you had compassion upon me.  In the multitude that you have succored, it is very possible that you may not remember me; but until I forget God and myself, I can never forget you.

Your faithful friend,

William Wells Brown

Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1848), Second Edition


Elijah P. Lovejoy comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).  Owen Lovejoy and William Wells Brown come to my Ecumenical Calendar via personal connections to Elijah P. Lovejoy.

Elijah and Owen Lovejoy were sons of farmers Daniel Lovejoy (also a Congregationalist minister) and Elizabeth Pattee (Lovejoy), of Albion, Maine.

Elijah, born on November 9, 1802, received his name in honor of Elijah Parish (November 7, 1762-October 15, 1825), a Congregationalist minister, an abolitionist, an active member of the Federalist Party, and a friend of Daniel Lovejoy.  Elijah graduated from Waterville College, Waterville, Maine, with honors, in 1826.  He, as a student, had received financial support from Benjamin Tappan (Jr.) and taught in the college’s preparatory school.

Owen, born on January 6, 1811, left the farm at the age of 18 years and matriculated at Bowdoin College.  He studied yet never practiced law.  Owen, a member of the Class of 1832, became a Congregationalist minister instead.

Elijah decided to serve God in the West–Illinois, to be precise–yet needed money first.  He attempted to find work in Boston, Massachusetts, before moving along to New York, New York.  There, in 1827, he sold subscriptions to the Saturday Evening Gazette door-to-door for a few weeks.  During this time of struggles our saint wrote to Jeremiah Chaplin, the President of Waterville, College.  Chaplin sent enough money for Elijah to go westward.

Elijah lived and worked in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1827 to 1836.  At first he taught in schools and submitted poems to newspapers.  Then our saint became a parter in the St. Louis Times, which favored the National Republican Party, a predecessor of the Whig Party.  Elijah, as a journalist, met community leaders active in the American Colonization Society.  Our saint, after a period of spiritual struggle, converted to Presbyterianism in 1832.  He, as a partner in the St. Louis Times, hired a slave, later known as William Wells Brown.

William, born a slave near Lexington, Kentucky, circa 1814, was a mulatto.  His master and father was George W. Higgins.  Our saint’s mother was Elizabeth, a slave.  Higgins sold Elizabeth and William several time.  William grew up mostly in St. Louis, where he worked primarily on river boats.  He and his mother escaped to Illinois in 1833, but slave hunter captured them.  Our saint escaped successfully to Ohio the following year, though.  In Ohio a Quaker named Wells Brown provided clothing, food, and money, and helped William move along.

Also in 1834, the renamed William Wells Brown married Elizabeth Schooner.  The couple had two daughters who lived to adulthood–Clarissa and Josephine.  The latter (1839-1874) wrote her father’s biography in 1856.  The couple separated in 1847, and Elizabeth died in 1851.

William lived in Buffalo, New York, from 1836 to 1845.  There he worked on a steamboat on Lake Eve and helped many slaves escape to Canada.  He also became active in the abolitionist and temperance movements in Buffalo.

Elijah, who studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, starting in 1832, became an ordained minister the following year.  In 1833 he published the first issue of the St. Louis Observer, a Presbyterian newspaper.  He wrote critically of slavery, tobacco, liquor, and Roman Catholicism.  Our saint favored gradual emancipation.  He also refused demands backed up by threats of mob violence–to cease writing about slavery.

In 1836 Francis McIntosh, a free African American taken into police custody unjustly, attacked the officers, wounding one and killing the other.  He subsequently died at the hands of a lynch mob.  A local judge blamed only Elijah, whom he accused of stirring up discontent.  Our saint knew he had to leave St. Louis.  Before he departed, however, a mob destroyed his printing press while authorities watched.  Elijah, his wife Celia Ann French (married in 1835), and family left for Alton, Illinois.

The Alton Observer debuted in 1836.  Elijah continued to write against slavery, despite threats of mob violence and the lack of police protection.  In late October 1837 he presided over the congress of the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society at his congregation, Upper Alton Presbyterian Church.

Elijah became a martyr on November 7, 1837.  He and some supporters defended themselves against a mob that broke into the warehouse where he had hidden his new printing press.  Our saint died, and the mob threw the printing press into the Mississippi River.  His wife and two children had to go on without him.  There was no funeral, and an unmarked grave held his corpse, despite national attention.  Also, no court convicted anyone for the murder.  John Brown, however, dedicated his life to the destruction of slavery shortly thereafter.

Owen, who witnessed his brother’s murder, took up the mantle.  He and brother Joseph wrote Memoir of Elijah P. Lovejoy (1838).  Owen, pastor of the Congregational Church, Princeton, Illinois (1838-1856), founded congregations in conjunction with the American Missionary Association and became a conductor of the Underground Railroad.  He, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, served in the Illinois State Legislature (1855-1857) then the U.S. House of Representatives (1857-1864).

Owen died in Brooklyn, New York, on March 25, 1864.

William Wells Brown continued to work against slavery.  He, Clarissa, and Josephine lived in England from 1849 to 1854.  He traveled, lecturing on behalf of the abolitionist cause.  In 1854, the Richardsons, who had purchased the freedom of Frederick Douglass, did the same for Brown.  Our saint and his daughter moved to Boston, Massachusetts, that year.  While in England, he had written and published Clotel; or, the President’s Daughter (1853), a novel based on the lives of slave children of Thomas JeffersonClotel was the first novel by an African American.

Brown, back in the United States, persisted in his abolitionist activism.  He, a renowned orator and the first published African-American playwright (for The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom, 1858), sided with William Lloyd Garrison in the dispute that divided the U.S. abolitionist movement.  Brown, like Garrison, included women in the definition of people who deserved legal equality.  Our saint became more radical after 1854; he advocated for emigration to Haiti, laid aside his opposition to violence, and helped to recruit African-American soldiers for the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

Brown, who married Anna Elizabeth Gray in 1860, added more items to his list of accomplishments.  He became a historian, writing the following volumes:

  1. The Black Man:  His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (1863);
  2. The Negro in the American Rebellion (1867), perhaps the first work about African American during the U.S. War for Independence; and
  3. The Rising Son; or, the Antecedents and Advancements of the Colored Race (1873).

Furthermore, Brown became a doctor.

Brown died in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on November 6, 1884.

Elijah P. Lovejoy, Owen Lovejoy, and William Wells Brown loved God, followed Christ, and left their country and world better than they found them.








O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom

the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


The Seventh Party System   1 comment

Above:  Alexander Hamilton, First Leader of the Federalist Party

Image in the Public Domain


I am convinced that the United States of America has been in the Seventh Party System since or shortly before January 20, 1993.  As a teacher of U.S. history on the college level, I think about various matters of the past, especially when students’ questions prompt me to do so.

First a brief review of the first six party systems is in order.

The First Party System was the Federalist-Jeffersonian Republican divide, with parties forming during George Washington’s administration.  The national Federalist Party did not field a presidential candidate after 1816, but not all Federalists became Jeffersonians, some of whom had begun to sound like Federalists by that point.

The Second Party System grew up around Andrew Jackson in the 1820s.  His supporters were Democrats, and his opponents merged into the Whig Party in the 1830s.  Before that, however, they were National Republicans and Anti-Masons, the latter of which gave us the presidential nominating convention in 1831.

The Third Party System emerged in the middle 1850s, in the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854).  The Whigs came apart, as did the Democrats to a lesser extent, and the Republican Party emerged with a platform which included opposition to the expansion of slavery but not support for immediate abolition of that damnable peculiar institution.

The Fourth Party System began after the 1896 general election, in which Republican William McKinley won a landslide victory.  The Republicans controlled the presidency for all but eight years (the Woodrow Wilson Administration, 1913-1921) through the end of the Herbert Hoover Administration (1929-1933).

Franklin Delano Roosevelt inaugurated the Fifth Party System, during which the Democratic Party controlled the presidency for all but eight years (the Dwight Eisenhower Administration, 1953-1961).  This system ran its course until the 1968 general election and the election of Richard Nixon, who employed the notorious “Southern Strategy.”  Lyndon Baines Johnson was correct; he gave the South to the Republicans when he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Sixth Party System began with Nixon and ended with George H. W. Bush.  Republicans controlled the presidency for all but four years.  Jimmy Carter, the sole Democratic president (1977-1981) during this system, was hardly an FDR-LBJ social programs type.

The Seventh Party System, I am convinced, began with the Clinton Administration or during the campaign of 1992.  This fact has become obvious to me only in hindsight.  (Historical analysis does require the passage of time.)  Here is my case:

  1. None of the presidential elections (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016) has been a landslide, certainly not in the popular vote.
  2. Regardless of the identity of the President, about half of the population seems to hate his guts.
  3. A vocal proportion of that livid portion of the population entertains unfounded conspiracy theories.  For the record, Vince Foster did commit suicide.  Nobody murdered him, so there was no murder for the Clinton Administration to cover up.  Also, the George W. Bush Administration was not complicit in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011; a hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, was the birthplace of Barack Obama in 1961; and Osama bin Ladin is dead.  One can, however, find websites arguing against all these propositions.  This means nothing conclusive; once I found the website of the Flat Earth Society.
  4. Vitriol, unvarnished hatred, and unapologetic indifference to objective reality has become increasingly politically acceptable.  The abuses of power (and threats of them) commonplace in third world countries have entered mainstream political discourse in this country.

Also, for the record, Barack Obama is neither a Socialist nor a Communist.  There are Socialist and Communist Parties in the United States, and they do not mistake him for one of their sympathizers.

It is long past time to lower the political temperature and retire over-the-top charges which distract from the serious issues of the day.  We have a nation, one which has lasted for more than 200 years.  Childish antics do not honor the highest ideals upon which our founders created the United States.

How should we, as citizens, respond when the lunatics take over the asylum?  How should we respond when the temporary occupant of the Oval Office spews a combination of venom, rumors, and falsehoods casually, thereby degrading his office and the country, yet labels documented journalistic stories “fake news”?  How should we respond when many of our fellow Americans, members of a cult of personality, affirm  whatever Il Duce with bad hair utters and tweets?  How should we respond to the American Il Duce‘s fondness for authoritarian leaders?

Donald Trump is a domestic threat to the United States.  Trumpism is a domestic threat to the United States.  We should recognize these truths and utilize the constitutional methods available to us to resist both.

I derive some comfort from the realities of demographic changes, which will usher in the Eighth Party System, as soon as more people of certain demographic categories vote in sufficient force consistently.





Updated on November 7 and 9, 2016

Updated October 9, 2018


The Unfortunate Triumph of Ignorance and Emotionalism   Leave a comment

Above:  The Beginning of the Declaration of Independence 

Image in the Public Domain


Or, Why We Should Not Fail to Recognize the Text of the Declaration of Independence, Especially on July 4

In 1988 National Public Radio (NPR) began its annual tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on the air on the morning of each July 4.  For years I, as a student of American history, have anticipated the orchestra of voices, each speaker reading a segment of the complete text of that great document.  This year NPR tweeted the full text of the Declaration of Independence in 113 tweets, giving rise to an unfortunate Twitter storm.  There were bitter complaints that NPR was, among other offenses, calling for the violent overthrow of the federal government and daring to (gasp!) criticize Donald Trump, as if criticizing those in authority is unpatriotic and un-American.  (Tsk:  Dissenters founded this country.)  Many angry Twitter uses had to eat crow the following day.

 A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

–From the Declaration of Independence

This incident leads me to some troubling thoughts.  It confirms me in my low opinion of human nature (trust in the faithfulness of God, as Martin Luther said) and illustrates the fact that one negative use of social media is to expose the degree to which one is an overly emotional and poorly informed person.  People out themselves voluntarily and unwittingly as individuals who should study more deeply, or at all.  I recall hearing that my grandfather Taylor, who died in 1976,  said that it was better to have a reputation as a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  If social media had existed in his time, I am certain, he would have added clauses about posting and sharing.  All of us who are or have been on social media are guilty of some unfortunate acts of posting, sharing, and/or liking, especially with regard to factually inaccurate posts.  I am.  I am also a former used of social media.  It is something best avoided, except for official purposes, at least in my case; I might permit it to take up too much of my time otherwise.

…whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

–From the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is a document of which many Americans have superficial knowledge at best.  Many (including some of my students) conflate it with the Constitution, which, of course, a few years younger.  So if one is already worked up emotionally and coming from a certain defensive political perspective while reading a disembodied criticism of George III (Parliament, actually, British Parliamentary supremacy dates to the Glorious Revolution of 1688), one might interpret it as a criticism of Donald Trump or a call for the overthrow of the government.  (George III, by the way, was a loving husband and a kind father-in-law.)  My knowledge of the document is greater than that of such poorly informed Twitter users, for I teach the document not quite line-by-line in U.S. History I survey courses.  The Declaration of Independence is a foundational document, one that schools should teach well and that inquisitiveness should compel one to explore on one’s own.  I do not blame schools and teachers completely though, for, although I teach the document thoroughly, some of my students still manage to confuse it for the Constitution and Thomas Jefferson for James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.  At some point students are responsible for their own ignorance.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

–From the Declaration of Independence

By the way, is not July 4 a wonderful day to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence?  When one thinks about how much many of the signers of the document sacrificed for idealism and country, one should stand in awe of them.

If NPR retweets the Declaration of Independence again next July 4, it will probably meet with a similar reception, unfortunately.  Ignorance and emotionalism seem never to die.





Above:  John Adams, President of the United States from 1797 to 1801

Image in the Public Domain


The administration is not the nation-state.  This is a simple fact that political dissidents keep having to repeat, even in my native land, the United States of America.  To oppose the presidential administration is not to be disloyal.  The Constitution of the United States even builds debate and dissent into the political system, complete with contested elections.

The failure to acknowledge the fact that the administration is not the nation-state during the Quasi-War with France during the administration of President John Adams (1797-1801) contributed to the abomination that was the Sedition Act of 1798.

SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be ho]den to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.

SEC. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in Republication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.

APPROVED, July 14, 1798.

Source = The Avalon Project, Yale University

Adjusting dollar amounts for inflation is crucial.  Know then, O reader, that $2000 (1798) is $39,800 (2015) and that $5000 (1798) is $99,400, according to

It was a partisan law applied to opposition newspaper editors and Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont.  One might also notice that the law permitted (by omission) all manner of negative press and speech regarding the Vice President, who was Thomas Jefferson, a leader of the opposition party.  Newspaper editors went to prison, newspapers closed, and Lyon became a federal inmate.  Lyon was hardly the most polite of Congressmen, but all that he had uttered and published negatively regarding the Adams Administration fell within the bounds of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Federalists who supported the Sedition Act of 1798 mistook partisanship for treason and trampled upon the First Amendment.  Lyon had argued in a letter to Spooner’s Vermont Journal that the allegedly power-hungry president had “swallowed up” “every consideration of public welfare.”  He had written this letter prior to July 14, 1798, so the legal principle of ex post facto protected him prior to the date that Adams signed the Sedition Act into law.  After the law had gone into effect, however, Lyon repeated those charges repeatedly and added more criticisms of Adams and the Federalist majorities in Congress (such as that Adams fostered “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” and Congress should send the President to a mad house).  The federal indictment (October 5, 1798) accused Lyon of having “malicious intent to bring the President and the government of the United States into contempt.”  The verdict was guilty.  Lyon went on to win reelection from his prison cell.

Alas, Jefferson was not a paragon of virtue with regard to freedom of the press.  Although he, as Vice President, opposed the Sedition Act of 1798, which expired in 1801, he encouraged partisans to use similar state laws against Federalist critics of himself and of his administration.  There was, for example, People v. Croswell (1804), which targeted Harry Croswell (1778-1858), editor of The Wasp, a Federalist newspaper in Hudson, New York.  Croswell was openly critical of President Jefferson.  Croswell lost that case, in which the prosecution convicted him of having committed both libel and sedition.  The editor kept losing libel lawsuits.  In 1814 he left journalism for the Episcopal priesthood.

The unfortunate tendency to confuse the presidential administration for the nation-state has recurred frequently, drawing support from the “rally around the flag” mentality.  Resurgence of this confusion in the form of jingoism has been especially egregious during times of war, whether declared or otherwise.  During World War I, for example, the federal government sent some antiwar activists to prison not for inciting violence, but for inciting nonviolence.  Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., disappointingly, compared the rhetoric of nonviolence during time of war to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  “My country, right or wrong” has never impressed me, for as the great Voltaire wrote,

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

And, as the moralist Samuel Johnson observed,

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Dissent is as American as the First Amendment.  That is a patriotic statement.  Those who enter public life should either have thick political skins already or grow them quickly.  President Harry Truman‘s maxim that those who want a friend in Washington, D.C., should bring a dog remains true much of the time.

I am convinced that another contributing factor to the identification of the administration with the nation-state is fear.  Out of fear individuals and institutions tend to trample people and ideals–even foundational principles.  A time of crisis, however, is properly a time to double down on acting in accordance with those foundational principles, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the fact that dissent is patriotic.  As Tom Dobbs, the character the late, great Robin Williams portrayed in Man of the Year (2006), said,

If dissent were unpatriotic, we would still be British.

I bristle whenever I read or hear someone accuse dissidents of being stupid at best or treasonous at worst.  One reason for my bristling is principled; I affirm that, in the words of The Use of Force in International Affairs (1961),

If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

What I think of the content of that dissent is irrelevant with regard to my estimate of the patriotism of the dissident.  Another reason is personal; I know the feeling of hearing and reading people question either my intelligence or my patriotism or both because of a political difference.  Dissent, however, is as American as the First Amendment.

Administrations come and go, but the United States of America persists.  The administration is not the nation-state.

As Martin Luther probably did not say,

Here I stand; I can do no other.

I will do no other.




I derived much material for this post from Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous Times:  Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (New York, NY:  W. W. Norton and Company, 2004).


Feast of William Croswell (November 9)   1 comment

Christ Church, Boston

Above:  Christ Church (Old North Church), Boston, Massachusetts

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-402



Episcopal Priest and Hymn Writer

William Croswell was the third son of Harry Croswell (1778-1858) and Susan Sherman Croswell (1779-1855).  Harry was a Federalist newspaper editor twice convicted of criminal libel.  The standard for criminal libel was political then.  The Sedition Act of 1798, a Federalist measure, targeted Jeffersonian Republicans, shutting down newspapers, imprisoning Jeffersonian Republican critics (but not High Federalist ones) of the John Adams Administration, and racking up a 100% conviction rate.  Then came the Jefferson Administration in 1801.  Jefferson, hardly the paragon of free speech some imagine him to have been, condoned and encouraged libel suits against Federalist journalists, such as Harry Croswell, one half of People v. Croswell (1804).  The journalist had accused Jefferson of paying James Callender to publish stories critical of the President’s opponents.  New York Attorney General Ambrose Spencer, one target of Croswell’s criticisms, took the editor to court on grounds of libel and sedition.  The jury convicted Croswell.  In 1805, however, the New York legislature passed a law providing for the defense of truthfulness in libel suits.

Harry Croswell was working as the editor of a newspaper in Hudson, New York, when William debuted on November 7, 1804.  The family moved to Albany, New York, in 1809.  There the father edited another newspaper and had to contend with more harassment in the form of libel suits.  Finally he changed careers and became an Episcopal priest in 1814.  Harry served briefly at Christ Church, Hudson, New York, before become the Rector of Trinity-on-the-Green Episcopal Church, New Haven, Connecticut, where he served from 1815 to 1858 (his death).  While at Trinity Church he grew the parish, helped to increase the number of Episcopal congregations from one to eight, wrote books (mostly religious), and founded a night school for African Americans.

William Croswell graduated from Yale College in 1822.  He took a few years to settle on a career.  He considered becoming an attorney.  The private school he and brother Sherman Croswell operated at New Haven from 1822 to 1824 proved not to be his calling either.  Our saint even tried editing a political newspaper, the Albany Argus, with his cousin, Edwin Croswell, for two years.  (The politics of the Argus favored the nascent Democratic Party.)  Finally, in 1826, William decided to study theology.  He matriculated at the General Theological Seminary, New York, New York, that year, but health forced him to leave.  Thus, in the following year, he resumed theological studies at Hartford College.  In the meantime he worked as an editor of the Episcopal Watchman, which published some of his poetry. Ordination in the Episcopal Church came in 1828.

Our saint’s first parish was Christ Church, Boston, Massachusetts, or Old North Church, as in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s verse,

One if by land, and two if by sea,

in reference to the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere.  Croswell served there from 1828 to 1839.  During that time he married Amanda Tarbell (1808-1880).

Our saint’s second parish was St. Peter’s Church, Auburn, New York, of which he was the Rector from 1839 to 1844.  He left there to become the founding Rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts, which he served until he died at the end of the morning service on November 9, 1851. Between his departure from Auburn and his departure from this life Croswell received a D.D. degree from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1846.

William Croswell was a respected man who contributed to his communities.  Manton Eastburn, Bishop of Massachusetts from 1843 to 1872, censured our saint for taking certain liberties with the rites of the Church, but Croswell was an excellent pastor and public citizen.  Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1818-1896), Bishop of Western New York from 1865 to 1896, who edited and published our saint’s Poems, Sacred and Secular (1859), wrote of him:

As a pastor, few have been more exemplary and devoted than Dr. Croswell.  He delighted to find Christ in his poor; and yet he was always beloved and admired by many among the most refined and affluent.  As a preacher, he was chaste and fervent in his style, felicitous in his illustrations and expositions of Holy Scripture, and clear and evangelical in his statements of doctrine.

Charles Dexter Cleveland (1802-1869) included some of Croswell’s hymns on pages 83-86 of Lyra Sacra Americana: or, Gems from American Sacred Poetry (1868).  Harry Croswell had published the Memoir (1851) of his son in 1851.  That volume contained many poetic works.

Our saint’s literary legacy is secure, fortunately.







Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

William Croswell and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20