The Seeds of War Sowed in New England

A revealing glimpse of antebellum New England, and the reform-minded youth who severed themselves from the past to bring on a new enlightenment. The book this is taken from is about the Brook Farm commune outside of Boston, where Lincoln’s assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana was a disciple. In the late 1850’s, Dana worked for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and brought Karl Marx on as a regular European correspondent.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
The Seeds of War Sowed in New England:
"It must be some aberration of the mind," said John Quincy Adams, shaking his head over the folly that was sweeping New England. "Here is my once loved friend, William Emerson’s young son Waldo, after failing in the everyday avocations of a Unitarian minister and schoolmaster, starting a new doctrine called Transcendentalism. He says the old revelations are worn out—superannuated." His caller nodded in sympathy. "One says the kingdom of Heaven comes from within. Another says it comes from without. And when you point out these basic differences, they go into explanations so complicated they explain nothing."
"Exactly. and that is a new revelation," went on the irate Mr. Adams. "we have had these Marat Democrats and phrenology and animal magnetism and Browson’s wild ideas—one plausible rascality after another. And if it were only strangers or sons of friends, but here in my own family I find it.  Mr. Adams was not the only aroused Bostonian. There were plenty of others. Even quiet Mr. Lowell thought there must be a maggot getting in people’s brains just then…
Unitarianism itself had been the first organized protest against the tightness of Calvinism and the church government that had ruled over New England so long. It was a faith with no life in it, and the young men who were in the holy orders and who saw this narrowness…rebelled and began to insist on freedom of conscience and inquiry. There was nothing definite to build on, except protest; there was no formulating of new thought there, only an objection to the old. Yet even this much was enough to cause a storm of doubt to sweep the States where Calvinism had ruled so long. It sent youth wandering down roads that had no signposts, into a wilderness where they lost their way and where many never found the way back to any faith.
The bankers were afraid that these sentiments would, if they grew too strong, endanger the price of stocks. The older clergy feared mostly the effect of scientific discoveries on religion. To some extent the education of the day was responsible for all this confusion. Young men had finished college and were sent abroad to finish their education, many to German universities….young Americans returning to their native land with their heads stuffed full of Hegel and Kant as well as of Schiller and Goethe. German philosophy and German poetry permeated the thought of the more brilliant of the younger men. The result was often confusion—or worse. Many were protesting the social order then existing, and this brought out cranks by the dozen; the radical anti-slavers, the mean who would drink no milk because it was stealing from the cow and destroying her maternal affections, the advocates of nudist cults, the vegetarians. Some wore their hair long…some wore felt hats with wide brims and Byronic collars. One group drank no water and one lived an entire years on apples and one on crackers.
The older people were aghast to see on sober Boston streets these youths with long hair parted in the middle and flopping blouses. By 1835 the movements of protest had become more than a social annoyance. The Abolitionist party had grown rapidly: Garrison’s Liberator had been published for some years and had won excited converts….and anti-slavery societies…most of them connected with the Evangelical churches. The South was becoming actively aroused, and here and there the battle cry, "The Union is in danger," began to be heard."
(Paradise Planters, The Story of Brook Farm, Katherine Burton, Longmans, Green and Company, 1939, pp. 3-6)