Thomas Wentworth Higginson
|Born||December 22, 1823|
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||May 9, 1911 87) (aged|
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Occupation||Minister, author, soldier|
Thomas Wentworth Higginson (December 22, 1823 – May 9, 1911) was an American Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist, and soldier. He was active in the American Abolitionism movement during the 1840s and 1850s, identifying himself with disunion and militant abolitionism. He was a member of the Secret Six who supported John Brown. During the Civil War, he served as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally authorized black regiment, from 1862–1864. See ‘Firebrand of Liberty, the Two Black Regiments that Changed the Course of the Civil War’ by Stephen Ash. Following the war, Higginson devoted much of the rest of his life to fighting for the rights of freed people, women and other disfranchised peoples.
Higginson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 22, 1823. He was a descendant of Francis Higginson, a Puritan minister and immigrant to the colony of Massachusetts Bay. His father, Stephen Higginson (born in Salem, Massachusetts, November 20, 1770; died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 20, 1834), was a merchant and philanthropist in Boston and steward of Harvard University from 1818 until 1834. His grandfather, also named Stephen Higginson, was a member of the Continental Congress. He was a distant cousin of Henry Lee Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a great grandson of his grandfather.A third great grandfather was New Hampshire Lieutenant-Governor John Wentworth.
Higginson entered Harvard College at age thirteen and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at sixteen.He graduated in 1841 and was a schoolmaster for two years. In 1842 he became engaged to Mary Elizabeth Channing.
He then studied theology at the Harvard Divinity School. At the end of his first year of divinity training, he withdrew from the school to turn his attention to the abolitionist cause. He spent the subsequent year studying and, following the lead of Transcendentalist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, fighting against the expected war with Mexico. Believing that war was only an excuse to expand slavery and the slave power, Higginson wrote anti-war poems and went door-to-door to get signatures for anti-war petitions. With the split of the anti-slavery movement in the 1840s, Higginson subscribed to the Disunion Abolitionists, who believed that as long as slave states remained a part of the union, Constitutional support for slavery could never be amended.
Higginson married Mary Channing in 1847 after graduating from divinity school. Mary was the daughter of Dr. Walter Channing, a pioneer in the field of obstetrics and gynecology who taught at Harvard University, the niece of Unitarian minister, William Ellery Channing, and the sister of Henry David Thoreau's friend Ellery Channing. Higginson and Mary Channing had no children but raised Margaret Fuller Channing, the eldest daughter of Ellen Fuller and Ellery Channing. Ellen was the sister of the Transcendentalist and feminist author, Margaret Fuller.Mary Channing died in 1877. Two years later Higginson married Mary Potter Thacher, with whom he had two daughters, one of whom survived into adulthood.
Higginson was also related to Harriet Higginson, whose Wooddale, Illinois, home was the first commission of famed architect Bertrand Goldberg in 1934.
A year after his leaving divinity school, a growing passion for abolitionism led Higginson to recommence his divinity studies. He graduated in 1847 and was called as pastor at the First Religious Society of Newburyport, Massachusetts, a Unitarian church known for its liberal Christianity.He supported the Essex County Antislavery Society and criticized the poor treatment of workers at Newburyport cotton factories. Additionally, the young minister invited Theodore Parker and fugitive slave William Wells Brown to speak at the church, and in sermons he condemned northern apathy towards slavery. In his role as board member of the Newburyport Lyceum and against the wishes of the majority of the board, Higginson brought Ralph Waldo Emerson to speak. Higginson proved too radical for the congregation and was forced to resign in 1848.
The Compromise of 1850 brought new challenges and new ambitions for the unemployed minister. He ran as the Free Soil party candidate in the Massachusetts Third Congressional District in 1850, but lost. Higginson called upon citizens to uphold God's law and disobey the Fugitive Slave Act. He joined the Boston Vigilance Committee, an organization whose purpose was to protect fugitive slaves from pursuit and capture.His joining of the group was inspired by the arrest and trial of the free black Frederick Jenkins, known as Shadrach. Abolitionists helped him escape to Canada. He participated with Wendell Phillips and Theodore Parker in the attempt at freeing Thomas Sims, a Georgia slave who had escaped to Boston. In 1854, when the escaped Anthony Burns was threatened with extradition under the Fugitive Slave Act, Higginson led a small group who stormed the federal courthouse in Boston with battering rams, axes, cleavers, and revolvers. They could not prevent Burns from being taken back to the South. Higginson received a saber slash on his chin; he wore the scar proudly for the rest of his life.
In 1852, Higginson became pastor of the Free Church in Worcester. During his tenure, Higginson not only supported abolition, but also temperance, labor rights, and rights of women.
Returning from a voyage to Europe for the health of his wife, who had an unknown illness, Higginson organized a group of men on behalf of the New England Emigration Aid Company to use peaceful means as tensions rose after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The act divided the region into the Kansas and Nebraska territories, whose residents would separately vote on whether to allow slavery within each jurisdiction's borders. Both abolitionist and pro-slavery supporters began to migrate to the territories. After his return, Higginson worked to keep activism aroused in New England by speechmaking, fundraising, and helping to organize the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee. He returned to the Kansas territory as an agent of the National Kansas Aid Committee, working to rebuild morale and distribute supplies to settlers. Higginson became convinced that abolition could not be attained by peaceful methods.
As sectional conflict escalated, he continued to support disunion abolitionism, organizing the Worcester Disunion Convention in 1857. The convention asserted abolition as its primary goal, even if it would lead the country to war. Higginson was a fervent supporter of John Brown and is remembered as one of the "Secret Six" abolitionists who helped Brown raise money and procure supplies for his intended slave insurrection at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. When Brown was captured, Higginson tried to raise money for a trial defense and made plans to help the leader escape from prison, though he was ultimately unsuccessful. Other members of the Secret Six fled to Canada or elsewhere after Brown's capture, but Higginson never fled, despite his involvement being common knowledge. Higginson was never arrested or called to testify.
Higginson was one of leading male advocates of woman's rights during the decade before the Civil War. In 1853, he addressed the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in support of a petition asking that women be allowed to vote on ratification of the new constitution. Published as "Woman and Her Wishes,"the address was used many years as a woman's rights tract, as was an 1859 article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, "Ought Women to Learn the Alphabet?" A close friend and supporter of woman's rights leader Lucy Stone, he performed the marriage ceremony of Stone and Henry Browne Blackwell in 1855 and, by sending their protest of unjust marriage laws to the press, was responsible for their "Marriage Protest" becoming a famous document. Together with Stone, he compiled and published The Woman's Rights Almanac for 1858, which provided data such as income disparity between the sexes as well as a summary of gains made by the national movement during its first seven years. He also compiled and published, in 1858, "Consistent Democracy: The Elective Franchise for Women. Twenty-five Testimonies of Prominent Men," brief excerpts favoring woman suffrage from the speeches or writing of such men as Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, Rev. Wm.H. Channing, Horace Greeley, Gerrit Smith, and various governors, legislators, and legislative reports. A member of the National Woman's Rights Central Committee since 1853 or 1854, he was one of nine activists retained in that post when that large body of state representatives was reduced in 1858.
After the Civil War, Higginson was an organizer of the New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1868,and of the American Woman Suffrage Association the following year. He was one of the original editors of the suffrage newspaper The Woman's Journal, founded in 1870, and contributed a front-page column to it for fourteen years. As a two-year member of the Massachusetts legislature, 1880–82, he was a valuable link between suffragists and the legislature.
During the early part of the Civil War, Higginson was a captain in the 51st Massachusetts Infantry from November 1862 to October 1864, when he was retired because of a wound received in the preceding August. He was colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first authorized regiment recruited from freedmen for Union military service. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton required that black regiments be commanded by white officers. "We, their officers, did not go there to teach lessons, but to receive them," Higginson wrote. "There were more than a hundred men in the ranks who had voluntarily met more dangers in their escape from slavery than any of my young captains had incurred in all their lives."
Higginson described his Civil War experiences in Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870),which has been published online by Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org). He contributed to the preservation of Negro spirituals by copying dialect verses and music he heard sung around the regiment's campfires. In his book, Drawn by the Sword, historian James M. McPherson argued that Higginson's service as a Union soldier showed in part that he did not share the "powerful racial prejudices" of others during the time period.
After the Civil War, Higginson became active in the Free Religious Association (FRA) and delivered the speech The Sympathy of Religions in 1870, which was later published and circulated. The address argued that all religions shared essential truths and a common exhortation toward benevolence, and that, indeed, division among them was ultimately artificial: "Every step in the progress of each brings it nearer to all the rest. For us, the door out of superstition and sin may be called Christianity; that is an historical name only, the accident of a birthplace. But other nations find other outlets; they must pass through their own doors."He pushed the FRA to tolerate even those who did not accept the liberal principles the Association espoused, asking "Are we as large as our theory? ... Are we as ready to tolerate ... the Evangelical man as the Mohammedan?" Although his own relationship to evangelical Protestants remained strained, he saw the exclusion of any religious mindset as fundamentally dangerous to the organization. Higginson spoke at the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893 and praised the great strides that had been made in the mutual understanding of the world's great religions, describing the Parliament as the culmination of the FRA's greatest ambitions.
After the Civil War, he devoted most of his time to literature.His writings show a deep love of nature, art and humanity. In his Common Sense About Women (1881) and his Women and Men (1888), he advocated equality of opportunity and equality of rights for the two sexes.
In 1874, Higginson was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.
In 1891, Higginson became one of the founders of the Society of American Friends of Russian Freedom (SAFRF). He edited its public appeal "To the Friends of Russian Freedom". Later, in 1907 Higginson was the vice-president of the SAFRF.
In 1905, he joined with Jack London and Upton Sinclair to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.Higginson was an Advisory Editor for the second attempt at The Massachusetts Magazine.
Higginson died May 9, 1911. Although his death record states that he was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he is actually buried in Cambridge Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the intersection of Riverview, Lawn, and Prospect paths.
Higginson's deep conviction in the evils of slavery stemmed in part from his mother's influence. He greatly admired abolitionists, who, despite persecution, showed courage and commitment to the worthy cause. The writings of William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Child were particularly influential to Higginson's abolitionist enthusiasm during the early 1840s.
Higginson was a strong advocate of homeopathy. In 1863, he wrote to Mary Channing Higginson – ".. and also Ms. Laura Towne, the homeopathic physician of the department, chief teacher and probably the most energetic person this side of civilisation: a person of splendid health and astonishing capacity.... I think she has done more for me than anyone else by prescribing homeopathic arsenic as a tonic, one powder every day on rising, and it has already, I think (3 doses) affected me."
In politics, Higginson was successively a Republican, an Independent and a Democrat. He described his early youth as having an interest in Brook Farm and of Fourierism.
Higginson is remembered as a correspondent and literary mentor to the poet Emily Dickinson.
In April 1862, Higginson published an article in the Atlantic Monthly , titled "Letter to a Young Contributor," in which he advised budding young writers to step up. Emily Dickinson, a 32-year-old woman from Amherst, Massachusetts, sent a letter to Higginson, enclosing four poems and asking, "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?" (Letter 260) He was not – his reply included gentle "surgery" (that is, criticism) of Dickinson's raw, odd verse, questions about Dickinson's personal and literary background, and a request for more poems.
Higginson's next reply contained high praise, causing Dickinson to reply that it "gave no drunkenness" only because she had "tasted rum before"; she still, though, had "few pleasures so deep as your opinion, and if I tried to thank you, my tears would block my tongue" (Letter 265). But in the same letter, Higginson warned her against publishing her poetry because of its unconventional form and style.
Gradually, Higginson became Dickinson's mentor and "preceptor," though he almost felt out of Dickinson's league. "The bee himself did not evade the schoolboy more than she evaded me," he wrote, "and even at this day I still stand somewhat bewildered, like the boy." ("Emily Dickinson's Letters," Atlantic Monthly, October 1891) After Dickinson died, Higginson collaborated with Mabel Loomis Todd in publishing volumes of her poetry – heavily edited in favor of conventional punctuation, diction, and rhyme. In White Heat (Knopf, 2008), an account of Higginson's friendship with Dickinson, author Brenda Wineapple credits Higginson with more editorial sensitivity than literary historians have assumed. Higginson's intellectual prominence helped gain favor for Dickinson's altered but still startling and strange poetry.
His radicalism never dimmed; in 1906, at the age of 83, he joined with Jack London and Upton Sinclair to form the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.
I grew up in the Brook Farm and Fourierite period and have always been interested in all tendencies in that direction.
William Lloyd Garrison , who signed and printed his name Wm. Lloyd Garrison, was a prominent American abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, and social reformer. He is best known for his widely-read anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, which he founded in 1831 and published in Boston until slavery in the United States was abolished by Constitutional amendment in 1865. He was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and promoted immediate and uncompensated, as opposed to gradual and compensated, emancipation of slaves in the United States.
"The source of Garrison's power was the Bible. From his earliest days, he read the Bible constantly and prayed constantly. It was with this fire that he started his conflagration. ...So also, a prejudice against all fixed forms of worship, against the authority of human government, against every binding of the spirit into conformity with human law, — all these things grew up in Garrison's mind out of his Bible reading."
Lucy Stone was a prominent U.S. orator, abolitionist, and suffragist, and a vocal advocate and organizer promoting rights for women. In 1847, Stone became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree. She spoke out for women's rights and against slavery at a time when women were discouraged and prevented from public speaking. Stone was known for using her birth name after marriage, the custom being for women to take their husband's surname.
William Ellery Channing was the foremost Unitarian preacher in the United States in the early nineteenth century and, along with Andrews Norton (1786–1853), one of Unitarianism's leading theologians. Channing was known for his articulate and impassioned sermons and public speeches, and as a prominent thinker in the liberal theology of the day. His religion and thought were among the chief influences on the New England Transcendentalists although he never countenanced their views, which he saw as extreme. He espoused, especially in his "Baltimore Sermon" of May 5, 1819, given at the ordination of the theologian and educator Jared Sparks (1789–1866) as the first minister of the newly organized First Independent Church of Baltimore, the principles and tenets of the developing philosophy and theology of Unitarianism, leading to the organization in 1825 of the first Unitarian denomination in America and the later developments and mergers between Unitarians and Universalists, resulting finally in the Unitarian Universalist Association of America in 1961.
Samuel Gridley Howe was a nineteenth-century American physician, abolitionist, and an advocate of education for the blind. He organized and was the first director of the Perkins Institution.
Wendell Phillips was an American abolitionist, advocate for Native Americans, orator, and attorney.
The so-called Secret Six, or the Secret Committee of Six, were a group of men who secretly funded the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry by abolitionist John Brown. Sometimes described as "wealthy," this was true of only two. The other four were in positions of influence, and could, therefore, encourage others to contribute to "the cause."
The Liberator (1831–1865) was a weekly abolitionist newspaper, printed and published in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison and, through 1839, by Isaac Knapp. Religious rather than political, it appealed to the moral conscience of its readers, urging them to demand immediate freeing of the slaves ("immediatism"). It also promoted women's rights, an issue that split the American abolitionist movement. Despite its modest circulation of 3,000, it had prominent and influential readers, including Frederick Douglass and Beriah Green. It frequently printed or reprinted letters, reports, sermons, and news stories relating to American slavery, becoming a sort of community bulletin board for the new abolitionist movement that Garrison helped foster.
Sarah Moore Grimké was an American abolitionist, widely held to be the mother of the women's suffrage movement. Born and reared in South Carolina to a prominent, wealthy planter family, she moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1820s and became a Quaker, as did her younger sister Angelina. The sisters began to speak on the abolitionist lecture circuit, joining a tradition of women who had been speaking in public on political issues since colonial days, including Susanna Wright, Hannah Griffitts, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Anna Dickinson. They recounted their knowledge of slavery firsthand, urged abolition, and also became activists for women's rights.
Henry Brewster Stanton was an American abolitionist, social reformer, attorney, journalist and politician. His writing was published in the New York Tribune, the New York Sun, and William Lloyd Garrison's Anti-Slavery Standard and The Liberator. He was elected to the New York State Senate in 1850 and 1851. His wife, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was a world renowned leading figure of the early women's rights movement.
Parker Pillsbury was an American minister and advocate for abolition and women's rights.
Martha Coffin Wright was an American feminist, abolitionist, and signatory of the Declaration of Sentiments who was a close friend and supporter of Harriet Tubman.
Rufus Saxton was a Union Army brigadier general during the American Civil War who received America's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions defending Harpers Ferry during Confederate General Jackson's Valley Campaign. After the war he served as the Freedmen's Bureau's first assistant commissioner.
The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Colored) was a Union Army regiment during the American Civil War, formed by General Rufus Saxton. It was composed of escaped slaves from South Carolina and Florida. It was one of the first black regiments in the Union Army.
Samuel Joseph May was an American reformer during the nineteenth century, and championed multiple reform movements including education, women's rights, and abolition of slavery. May argued on behalf of all working people that the rights of humanity were more important than the rights of property, and advocated for minimum wages and legal limitations on the amassing of wealth.
Lewis Tappan was a New York abolitionist who worked to achieve freedom for the enslaved Africans aboard the Amistad. Tappan was also among the founders of the American Missionary Association in 1846, which began more than 100 anti-slavery Congregational churches throughout the Midwest, and after the American Civil War, founded numerous schools and colleges to aid in the education of freedmen.
The Boston Vigilance Committee (1841–1861) was an abolitionist organization formed in Boston, Massachusetts, to protect escaped slaves from being kidnapped and returned to slavery in the South. The Committee aided hundreds of escapees, most of whom arrived as stowaways on coastal trading vessels and stayed a short time before moving on to Canada or England. Notably, members of the Committee provided legal and other aid to George Latimer, Ellen and William Craft, Shadrach Minkins, Thomas Sims, and Anthony Burns.
Henry Clarke Wright was an American abolitionist, pacifist, anarchist and feminist, for over two decades a controversial figure.
Stephen Symonds Foster was a radical American abolitionist known for his dramatic and aggressive style of public speaking, and for his stance against those in the church who failed to fight slavery. His marriage to Abby Kelley brought his energetic activism to bear on women's rights. He spoke out for temperance, and agitated against any government, including his own, that would condone slavery.
Lucretia Mott was a U.S. Quaker, abolitionist, women's rights activist, and social reformer. She had formed the idea of reforming the position of women in society when she was amongst the women excluded from the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. In 1848 she was invited by Jane Hunt to a meeting that led to the first meeting about women's rights. Mott helped write the Declaration of Sentiments during the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
Abolitionism in the United States was the movement that sought to end slavery in the United States, and was active both before and during the American Civil War. In the Americas and Western Europe, abolitionism was a movement that sought to end the Atlantic slave trade and to free the slaves. In the 18th century, Enlightenment thinkers condemned slavery on humanistic grounds, and English Quakers and some Evangelical denominations condemned slavery as un-Christian. At that time, most slaves were Africans or descendants of Africans, but thousands of Native Americans were also enslaved. In the 18th century, as many as six million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves, at least a third of them on British ships to North America. The Colony of Georgia originally prohibited slavery.
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Thomas Wentworth Higginson