An American Family: The Beecher Tradition
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HENRY WARD BEECHER

Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet's favorite sibling, was born in 1813. He graduated from Amherst College in 1834 and entered Lane Theological Seminary. His early reformer impulses were directed at improving social conditions in the West. His lectures included "Twelve Causes of Dishonesty," "Gamblers and Gambling," and "Popular Amusements." His fame spread and he was invited to Head Plymouth Church of Brooklyn, where he began an extremely influential and public career. His lectures were printed each week and circulated widely. Henry used the platform of Plymouth Church to discuss public questions and advocacy of reform. One of the most scandalous events in 19th century Brooklyn was the accusation of Henry Ward Beecher having a relationship with Theodore Tilton's wife, a member of his church. The resulting trial lasted six months and the jury failed to agree on the verdict. The Church found him innocent of the charges and he continued to lecture and preach until his death in 1887.

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Exercises at the Semi-Centennial of Amherst College, July 12, 1871.
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Reverend Henry Ward Beecher made an address at this occasion, emphasizing his reformist beliefs. He stated in his address:

Amherst is for universal education. If a man be black, and is fully prepared, or a woman, and is fully qualified, its doors will be open to them. Amherst should lead in this march of progress, and if she does, it will not be the first time that she has led in progress and philanthropy. Amherst will do her duty, because she is sent to accomplish a great work, a work which is just and right. (p. 101-102)

Preaching, Lecturing and Writing

Henry planned his sermons just before delivering them, leaving his audience feeling that he was preaching extemporaneously. His sermons were performances, and his congregates were inspired by his emotional fervor. His popularity spread and he became a sought-after lecturer.

Lectures became popular in the 1840s because the growing middle class had leisure time to devote to self-improvement. For at least seventy years lyceum lectures remained a source of education for many American citizens. Rugoff in his book says: "As a man of God who spoke the language of the average citizen of both western towns and eastern cities, who was friendly, rich in humor and hope, and a natural actor, Henry Ward Beecher was ideal for the lyceum circuit." (p. 377)

The same doctrines that he preached in his sermons and lectures were the basis of his numerous books and pamphlets.

Illustration of house on corner of street.   Illustration of church with wagons and carriages in front.
Picture of the Beecher Home in Brooklyn, New York Courtesy of The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, Connecticut.
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  Picture of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, New York Courtesy of The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, Connecticut.
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War and Emancipation. A Thanksgiving Sermon, preached in the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, New York On Thursday, November 21, 1861.
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  Morning and Evening Exercises: selected from the published and unpublished writings of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Edited by Lyman Abbot.
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The Beecher Trial: a review of the evidence. Reprinted from the New York Times, July 3, 1875.
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  Plymouth Church and its Pastor, or Henry Ward Beecher and his accusers.
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