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Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher Henry War Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the son of Lyman Beecher, a prominent Congregationalist minister and educator. His sister was Harriet Beecher (Stowe), author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Beecher graduated from Amherst College in 1834 and studied at Lane Theological Seminary where his father was serving as president. In 1837 he was called to a Presbyterian ministry at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and began to develop his extraordinary preaching techniques. From 1839 to 1847 he ministered in Indianapolis. In 1847, Beecher moved to a Congregational church in Brooklyn, New York. His dramatic oratory quickly drew crowds of 2,500 to the pews in Plymouth Church. Most of the great liberal causes of the day were espoused, including temperance, women’s suffrage, Abolitionism, evolutionism, and scientific biblical criticism. In 1854 Beecher and his congregation were strongly opposed to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and launched a fund-raising drive to purchase rifles to arm the antislavery forces in the territories. Those arms were dubbed “Beecher’s Bibles.” Beecher was also active in political circles, first with the Free-Soil movement and later with the Republican Party. When the Civil War erupted, Beecher raised money to support a volunteer Union regiment. In 1863 he conducted a lecture tour in England for the purpose of popularizing the Northern cause to often doubting audiences. In 1874 Beecher was sued by Theodore Tilton, a former friend, for alleged adultery with Tilton’s wife. This was one of the great scandals of the post-war era. The trial resulted in a hung jury, but Beecher was later cleared of all charges before two church courts. The notoriety sparked by this event followed Beecher for the remainder of his life, but he continued to be a popular writer and lecturer. Henry Ward Beecher, regarded by many as the greatest clerical orator of his century, was also the embodiment of much that the South feared and hated — a man of liberal ideas who was willing to marry religion, politics and money to accomplish his goals.