Henry Ward Beecher

Beecher whole

Beecher figure

Beecher slave girl

Beecher kids


Henry Ward Beecher (6/24/1813-3/8/1887) earned a nationwide reputation as a dramatic preacher. Based at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn (75 Hicks St., not far from this sculpture), he became a prominent abolitionist in the 1850s - like his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the bestselling Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Beecher criticized the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the expansion of slavery into western territories such as Kansas. (Guns sent there were ironically referred to as "Beecher's Bibles," for their power to "convert" those who were pro-slavery.) He supported Abraham Lincoln, campaigned for the Emancipation Proclamation, and toured England to persuade that country not to side with the Confederates. The slave girl on the left side of the pedestal is a nod to Beecher's prominent role as an abolitionist.

In 1872 - when he was a nationally recognized civic leader and preacher, particularly known for his appeal to the middle class - radical feminist Victoria Woodhull accused Beecher of having committed adultery with the wife of the editor of a religious newspaper. The resultant church and civil trials were a media circus. Beecher was exonerated by a hung jury. It didn't notably diminish his popularity: in 1875, he traveled 27,000 miles by rail to speaking engagements in the U.S. and Canada, earning $60,000.

Contemporary George William Curtis, editor of Harper's Weekly, described Beecher as a man

of strong virility, of exuberant vitality, of quick sympathy, of an abounding humor, of a rapid play of poetic imagination, of great fluency of speech: an emotional nature overflowing in ardent expression, of strong convictions, of complete self-confidence; but also not sensitive, nor critical, nor judicial; a hearty, joyful nature, touching ordinary human life at every point, and responsive to every generous moral impulse (quoted American National Biography from J. H. Tewskesbury, ed., Henry Ward Beecher as His Friends Saw Him [1904], p. 135).

For more on Beecher, including book recommendations, see Clifford E. Clark, "Beecher, Henry Ward," American National Biography Online [subscription required]; Access Date: Sun Jul 05 2015 08:04:44 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time).

John Quincy Adams Ward

Favorite Beecher Quotes

Where is human nature so weak as in a book store? - "Subtleties of Book Buyers," Star Papers (1855)

Never forget what a man says to you when he is angry. - Life Thoughts (1858)

The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game. The cynic puts all human actions into two classes — openly bad and secretly bad. - Lectures to Young Men: On Various Important Subjects (1856) Lecture IV : Portrait Gallery

You can get a sense of the style of Beecher's mind, and what mattered to him, on Wikiquote. Religion is extremely important to him - but not to me, so I haven't included quotes on it.