The Bee Line Railroad: At the Dawn of the Midwest Railroad Era

Bee Line Train, Bellefontaine Railway 1864
A Bee Line Train; Bellefontaine Railway 1864 Annual Report Cover. Courtesy of the Indiana State Library.

On May 11, 1848, as the Midwest railroad era dawned, Connersville-based former Indiana Congressman and Senator Oliver H. Smith took to the podium in Indianapolis: “The time has now come when central Indiana has to decide whether the immense travel, emigration, and business of the west should pass round or go through central Indiana…and not force them round by either Cincinnati on the east, or Chicago on the north.”

Smith, who had also sponsored a bill to extend the National Road through Indiana during his Congressional term in 1828, foresaw the potential economic synergies in linking Midwest railroads from the heartland with East Coast markets. Now, its citizens would need to make the financial investment to make it happen. And the mechanism to ignite this explosive rush was not a rutted path or canal, but a new form of transportation in the Midwest: a railroad. It would be among Indiana’s first.

By July, Smith had tallied the necessary stock purchase commitments or “subscriptions” to incorporate the railroad destined to link Indianapolis to Cleveland on one end, and to St. Louis on the other. In legal terms, it was called The Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad [I&B], extending 83 miles northeast from Indianapolis to an undefined location in the wilderness along the Ohio state line.

Soon, it connected with two others Ohio railroads to reach Cleveland – one with a confusingly similar name: The Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad [B&I]. The other was already the regional powerhouse that soon financed, controlled and finally swallowed the other two: The Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C]. But to the traveling public the complete or partial string of railroads linking these economic centers became known as the Bee Line – like a bumblebee’s nearly straight-line path between these two cities.

Bee Line Railroad, circa 1860
Route of the Bee Line Railroad, circa 1860. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.

The pedigree of Smith’s first board of directors read like a Who’s Who of eastern Indiana politicians and business leaders. Because the bulk of initial stock subscriptions came from county boards through which the line would pass, representatives from Marion, Hancock, Madison, Delaware and Randolph counties populated the first board.  Many were closely affiliated with Oliver Smith in terms of shared political and legal careers – such as Jeremiah Smith of Randolph County and David Kilgore of Delaware County.

Indianapolis & Bellefontaine Railroad route, circa 1855
Route of the Indianapolis & Bellefontaine Railroad, circa 1855. Reprinted from Map of Indiana. New York: J. H. Colton & Co., 1855. Courtesy of Ball State University Libraries, GIS Research and Map Collection (annotated by Erin Greb Cartography).

The two Smiths had met in the mid 1820s when both served as state and county prosecuting attorneys. Oliver appointed Jeremiah to chair the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s committee to locate its eastern terminus somewhere along the Ohio state line. Once determined, the Smiths moved quickly to capitalize on their insider information. They purchased the land and platted what shortly became known as Union – today’s Union City. Jeremiah in particular would profit handsomely, as Union became a key Midwest railroad junction town by the mid 1850s.

And because early railroad companies did not allow locomotives or rail cars to travel beyond their geographic/corporate boundaries, Union bustled with activity. Oliver Smith rationalized that the avoidance of potential accidents and repairs to cars sent out of state “would more than counter balance any inconvenience growing out of transfers at the State Line, from one line to another.” One can only guess the passengers’ reaction to this rationale, as they were often forced to stay overnight at Union’s Branham House hotel awaiting an onward train.

Oliver and Jeremiah Smith
(L) Oliver H. Smith. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. (R) Jeremiah Smith. Courtesy of the Preservation Society of Union City.

David Kilgore, on the other hand, had been active with Oliver Smith in Indiana Whig politics. They often served as lawyers on the same case, and grew close as Smith purchased the land and platted Kilgore’s Yorktown hometown in 1837. Kilgore owned a parcel adjacent to Yorktown as well as a sizeable farm on the Indianapolis Road between Yorktown and Daleville. Conveniently, the Bee Line would slice through both parcels of Kilgore’s land – not to mention curving through Smith’s Yorktown.

David Kilgore
David Kilgore. From the author’s personal collection.

As prominent editor Henry V. Poor of the nationally renowned American Railroad Journal spouted about the route of the Bee Line: “the road undoubtedly should have been constructed on a direct line between Indianapolis and Union…why did he not take this line for the Bellefontaine road? Because he owned some property at Yorktown or Muncietown and curved the road to promote his private interests.” Railroading was about more than just railroading.

Daniel Yandes
Daniel Yandes. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The opportunities for personal gain abounded in building the railroad as well. Nearly all of the directors gained lucrative contracts to supply ties for long stretches of the route, for building depots, and representing the Bee Line in right-of-way disputes. Then, as funding grew thin, Indianapolis entrepreneur Daniel Yandes and banker Alfred Harrison teamed up to finance and complete construction of the route from Chesterfield to Union – essentially taking stock and board control of Smith’s railroad even before the first train reached Union in 1853.

Oliver Smith’s eagerness to cut lucrative side business deals connected to the Bee Line ultimately proved to be his undoing. In 1853, Indianapolis led the country by constructing the nation’s first “Union Station“. Remarkably, until then, different railroads terminating in the same metropolitan center did not share a common station or depot. They would often be miles apart from each other. While good for local transportation companies, warehouses and hotels, it made little long-term business sense. Although the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s depot in the northeast corner of Indianapolis was the outlier among all others, Smith refused to place a machine or repair shop facility closer to Union Station.

Indianapolis Depots map, 1852
Indianapolis Depots Map, from SD King Map of Indiana, 1852. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (annotated by Erin Greb Cartography).

Calvin Fletcher, the highly-regarded Indianapolis civic leader and banker through whose land the Bee Line passed – and who assumed a board position in mid 1852 – took note of Smith’s rationale for resistance. Recounting the board issue in his diary, Fletcher observed: “The subject of removal of the Depo [sic] now built on the North East part of the town would be adjitated [sic]. This I knew would be extremely offensive to Mr. O.H. Smith…as he was, as I supposed, connected with Billy Young in the property in its vicinity.”

Calvin Fletcher
Calvin Fletcher. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Smith was still laboring under the misimpression that his authority was all but absolute. He had clearly dismissed the board power shift that occurred the year before when Daniel Yandes and Alfred Harrison struck a stock payout deal to complete building the road to Union. The emerging Hoosier Partisans power group which grew to include Calvin Fletcher – whose board election they orchestrated – and David Kilgore, however, relegated Smith to the sidelines.  By the Spring of 1853 they accepted his resignation from the board of the railroad he had toiled to bring to life.

As was typical of early Midwest railroad boards, the Bee Line far underestimated the amount of capital required to bring such a massive undertaking to life. For early Midwest businessmen, financing and operating such large corporate organizations were matters of first impression. And with hard cash virtually non-existent, individuals could commit to purchase stock by pledging labor, materials or land. Such arrangements often left the railroad cash poor and unable to meet its obligations. County governments, with pushback from both its citizens and Indiana’s governor, had reached their limit as well.

Bee Line, Indianapolis, Madison, Railroad
Map of the Indiana portion of the Bee Line, and the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad circa 1860. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartogarphy.

Fortunately for the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine and Indiana’s first railroad, the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] (completed in 1847), their pressing mutual financial problems would be the solution for each. The M&I had a supply of unused rails, underutilized equipment, and a solid credit position – courtesy of its earlier birth as a state-run and funded railroad. But it was slowly diminishing in importance as its route to Indiana’s Ohio River port city of Madison could not rival the well establish and larger commercial cities just up and down river – Cincinnati and Louisville. And the situation became more acute when Indiana’s legislature allowed any group of individuals able to raise $50,000 to build a railroad to anywhere in the state without a special charter. Those headed toward Cincinnati and Louisville were at the top of the list.

On the other hand, the I&B possessed an enviable route pointed toward Cleveland and ultimately the East Coast. However, it needed the credit to which the M&I had access – not to mention rails to finish its construction, and equipment and operating personnel to actually run the line. It appeared to be a ‘win-win’ for both. M&I’s President, John Brough, saw this opportunity and capitalized on the situation.

By the time the Bee Line’s first segment, the I&B, opened between Indianapolis and Pendleton in 1851, Brough’s M&I would be supplying rolling stock and operating personnel as well as financial backing. It would not come without a cost. The balance of his life and career would be closely tied to the Bee Line. However, this new relationship also signaled the beginning of a love-hate affair between Brough and the Hoosier Partisans.

Check back for Part II to learn more about John Brough’s career and relationship with the Bee Line, and the financier behind the growth of Midwest railroads: Indiana’s James F. D. Lanier.

Continue reading “The Bee Line Railroad: At the Dawn of the Midwest Railroad Era”

Flocks that Darken the Heavens: The Passenger Pigeon in Indiana

Julian Pender Hume, cover Extinct Birds, accessed Errol Fuller, The Passenger Pigeon, pg. 74.

One day in rural Monroe County, Indiana during the 1870s, 10-year-old Walter Rader witnessed an astonishing natural phenomenon: passenger pigeons had gathered at his family farm “by the millions.” As the birds descended on the farm, they blocked out “almost the entire visible area of sky.” He remembered that so many pigeons roosted in the trees surrounding the farm at night “that their weight would often break large limbs from the trees.” The crash rang so loudly he could hear it clearly inside his house.

John James Audubon’s painting of the male and female passenger pigeon, accessed Wikimedia. To see a 3D view of a passenger pigeon, visit the Smithsonian’s webpage.

Children in the 1870s became the last generation to witness such unbelievable flights of passenger pigeons. When the Indianapolis Star shared Rader’s memories in 1934, the passenger pigeon had been extinct already for twenty years, though it had reigned as North America’s most abundant bird since the 16th century. Passenger pigeons, once so numerous that they could disrupt natural landscapes, impact the nation’s economy, and shape American social life and cuisine, became a rarity by 1900. At their disappearance, some theorized that all the pigeons had drowned in the Gulf of Mexico, flew across the Pacific to Asia, or succumbed to some mysterious disease. What happened? How could a bird so populous that it darkened the sky be reduced to none in mere decades?

The passenger pigeon had a long history of striking awe in mere humans. Its large flocks astonished early European settlers and visitors. Ralphe Humor described the wild pigeons he saw in Virginia in 1615 as

beyond number or imagination, my selfe have seene three or four hours together flockes in the aire, so thicke that even they have shadowed the skie from us.

Portrait of John James Audubon by John Syme, White House Historical Association, accessed Wikimedia.

Even early ornithologists could not believe the amounts of passenger pigeons they witnessed. John James Audubon, one of the most prominent early North American naturalists, encountered such a large flight of passenger pigeons along the Ohio River in Kentucky that he was “struck with amazement.” He recalled the “air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow.” Despite the excrement, he decided to try to count all the pigeons that flew overhead, as any dedicated ornithologist would. He pulled out a pencil and paper and made a dot on the page for every flock that passed by. Audubon gave up after about twenty minutes, as the sky overhead was still inundated with pigeons. He counted 163 dots on the page. He later calculated that he saw well over one billion pigeons that day.

According to historian Joel Greenberg, “Nothing in the human record suggests that there was ever another bird like the passenger pigeon.” Estimations indicate three to five billion passenger pigeons inhabited North America from the 1500s through the early 1800s, constituting 25-40% of the continent’s total bird population. The passenger pigeon often traveled in huge flocks and left undeniable marks on the landscapes they inhabited. They formed roosts (resting sites) and nests for breeding in trees spread across miles. Their collective weight broke branches and sometimes toppled trees. When the pigeons finally left, it sometimes looked like tornado had swept across the land.

Passenger pigeon range, accessed birdwatchingdaily.com

The bird only lived in North America, generally east of the Rocky Mountains, between the Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Passenger Pigeons, always on the move in their search for enough food to feed their massive flocks, generally flew north in the spring and south in the fall. Indiana falls smack dab in the middle of the passenger pigeon’s range and migration path. William Hebert wrote one of the earliest extant records of the pigeon in Indiana. In 1823, while he visited Harmony, he saw “astonishing flights of pigeons” and millions congregated in the nearby woods. Since pigeons upon pigeons inhabited each tree, no guns were even necessary to hunt them. Parties of people went into the forest at night, armed with poles, and simply knocked armloads of pigeons off the trees.

During the 18th and 19th century, Americans put their lives on hold when pigeons came to town. The bewildering sight of pigeons upon pigeons as far as the eye could see attracted amazed onlookers. The influx of pigeons became a free, relatively easy source of food that required little skill to capture or kill. Since pigeons often traveled and nested in such high concentrations, it was almost impossible to miss shooting a bird (or two) with a rifle or capture huge numbers with a net. Naturalist Bénédict Henry Révoil witnessed pigeon fever strike Hartford, Kentucky in 1847. He attested that for three days “the population never laid aside their weapons. All—men and children—had a double barreled gun or rifle in their hands,” waiting for the right moment to shoot through the thick cloud of pigeons flying above them. “In the evening the conversation of everybody turned upon pigeons . . . For three days nothing was eaten but boiled, or broiled, or stewed, or baked pigeons.”

Drawing of a passenger pigeon shoot in Northern Louisiana by Smith Bennett, c. 1875, accessed Wikimedia.

Indiana newspapers often updated Hoosiers on the comings and goings of passenger pigeons in the state. In 1850, an enormous pigeon roost formed near Lafayette, Indiana. According to newspaper reports, four men went to the roost to hunt and returned to town with 598 pigeons. The Indiana State Sentinel encouraged others to head to the roost because “the pigeons are unusually fat and most excellent eating.” In 1854, another roost ten miles long by five miles wide near Brookville, Indiana attracted persons “coming many miles to enjoy the sport.” An Indiana Herald journalist reported that:

the roar of their wings on arriving and departing from the roost is tremendous and the flocks, during the flight, darken the heavens. The ground is covered to the depth of several inches with their manure. Thousands [of pigeons] are killed by casualties from breaking limbs of trees.

Yet, the Indiana American assured readers to come to the roost as “There are pigeons enough for all.”

Example of pigeon updates in the Marshall County Republican [Plymouth, Indiana], September 10, 1857, pg. 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Pigeon flocks that blocked the sun and toppled trees supported many Americans’ belief that their nation supplied an endless bounty of natural resources. No matter man’s actions, there would always be an inexhaustible amount of pigeons. Though the concept sounds a bit irrational today, historian Jennifer Price notes in her book Flight Maps that 18th- and early 19th-century Americans would probably have to stretch their own imaginations to envision our landscape as it now exists, crisscrossed with highways, dotted with skyscrapers, and cleared for agriculture. Most European settlers came from nations that had been over-hunted for centuries, so the incredible amounts of game they encountered in America seemed impossible for humans to eradicate. Additionally, Price explains that the freedom to hunt (like shooting a pigeon) became a social, political, and ecological act unique to America. In many European nations, only the upper class who controlled most of the lands where game remained could hunt. She observes “To hunt meant so much more than mere utilitarian gain. To go hunting was to tap into the continent’s bounty, to supplement the table, to exercise your skill with a shotgun, perhaps to band together with neighbors after plowing.”

This strong hunting tradition Price describes still plays out in present day Hoosier culture. For example, during the 2016 election Hoosiers voted to include an amendment that protects the right to fish and hunt, subject to state wildlife regulations, in the state constitution. Joel Schumm, a clinical law professor at Indiana University, told the Indianapolis Star this protection reflects the fact that “hunting and fishing is deeply ingrained in our culture and our state.”

During the latter half of the 19th century, revolutionary transportation advancements put the purportedly inexhaustible pigeon population to the test. Roads, canals, and railroads connected the far corners of the country and created a national market. As the railroad expanded into rich game areas in the west, market hunters could capture or kill millions of pigeons at vast nesting sites in the North and ship them east for huge profits, instead of just selling a few at local markets.

Indiana State Sentinel [Indianapolis, Indiana], 8 May 1851, pg. 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
High class restaurants and trap shooters supplied much of the demand for all these pigeons. In the 1830s, the first fine dining establishments, as opposed to the more common tavern or eating house, appeared. Passenger pigeons became a delicacy wealthy Americans ate in rich sauces or alongside truffles, instead of baking them at home in pies. Trapshooting arrived in the United States from England in the 1830s and became a popular sport in the 1870s. Contestants shot at targets, namely live passenger pigeons, launched into the air from traps. Sportsmen’s associations across the country hosted events that required thousands of birds for contestants to shoot at.

Can you find pigeon or squab (a young pigeon) on the menu? Delmonico’s, New York City, April 18, 1899, accessed New York Public Library.

As trains began to ship thousands of pigeons across the nation daily to supply demand, Révoil predicted that the passenger pigeon was “threatened with destruction . . . if the world endure a century longer, I will wager that the amateur of ornithology will find no pigeons except in select Museums of Natural History” in 1847. The last large flocks of pigeons appeared in the 1870s. Throughout the 1880s, ornithologists and sportsmen reported smaller and smaller flocks, until they began to worry none were left.

At the turn of the 20th century, ornithologists and naturalists called for increased wild game protection. Many sportsmen began advocating for conservation, or wise use, of natural resources and tried to overturn the widespread assumption that America’s natural resources were unlimited. Sportsmen worried that without intervention, hunting as a leisure activity would disappear because no game would be left. In 1900, Congress signed the Lacey Act into law. Championed by sportsmen and naturalists alike, the law protected the preservation of wild birds by making it a federal crime to hunt game with the intent of selling it in another state.

Martha, the last passenger pigeon, accessed Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

However, it was too late for the passenger pigeon. During the 1910s, some ornithologists offered cash rewards to the individual that could bring them to a flock or nest of passenger pigeons, as a last ditch effort to save the species. All rewards went unfulfilled, since no passenger pigeons could be found. Historian Joel Greenberg recently found new evidence, further examined in his book A Feathered River Across the Sky, that the last verified passenger pigeon in the wild was shot here in Indiana, near Laurel on April 3, 1902. A young boy shot the bird and brought it to local taxidermist Charles K. Muchmore, who recognized it at once, and preserved it until ornithologist Amos Butler verified it was indeed a passenger pigeon. Unfortunately, a leaky roof destroyed the specimen around 1915. No more substantial evidence appeared in front of Butler, or any other ornithologist for that matter, of the passenger pigeon’s existence. Butler concluded in 1912 “The Passenger Pigeon is probably now extinct,” in the wild. The last captive passenger pigeon, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914, marking the official extinction of the species.

National Association of Audubon Societies, c. 1920, accessed Errol Fuller, The Passenger Pigeon, pg. 50.

According to Iowa Representative John F. Lacey, creator of the Lacey Act, the extinction of the passenger pigeon spurred necessary support from the public, often from hunters and sportsmen, for broader wildlife protection. Though the passenger pigeon could not be saved, other animals in danger of a similar fate, like the American bison, the egret, and the trumpeter swan, survive to this day.

On April 3, 2017, 115 years after the last verified wild passenger pigeon was shot in Indiana, the Indiana Historical Bureau will unveil a state historic marker dedicated to passenger pigeon extinction. It will be located in Metamora, Indiana, five miles from where the last passenger pigeon was shot.

Check back on our Facebook page and website for more details on the marker dedication ceremony, open to the public.

Lincoln’s Forgotten Visit to Indianapolis

al-cooper-union
Portrait of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln prior to delivering his Cooper Union address in New York City, February 27, 1860, image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Lincoln reportedly said, “Brady and the Cooper Institute made me president.” Read this blog to decide if that actually was the case.

Quick, Abraham Lincoln buffs! Can you name all the dates Lincoln delivered a public address in Indiana after moving to Illinois in 1830?

Did you guess February 11 and 12, 1861?  Identifying those days were probably fairly easy since that was when Lincoln journeyed through Indiana en route to Washington for his first inauguration. According to historical records, he delivered whistle-stop speeches at State Line City, LafayetteThorntown, Lebanon, and Zionsville. His train stopped at Indianapolis that evening where Governor Oliver P. Morton and 20,000 Lincoln supporters welcomed him. He addressed the citizens of Indiana from the train platform before he disembarked to his hotel room at the Bates House. Lincoln adherents called upon the president-elect later that evening, and he delivered an ad hoc speech from a balcony of the hotel. He resumed his journey east the next morning, which also happened to be his fifty-second birthday.  Lincoln continued to greet and deliver short speeches to well-wishers in Shelbyville, Greensburg, Morris, and Lawrenceburg as his train steamed on to Cincinnati, Ohio.

If you are an advanced Lincoln enthusiast, you may be able to identify another Lincoln visit to Indiana that occurred in 1844 while he campaigned for Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay. During that fall visit, he spoke at the Spencer County Courthouse in Rockport.

Site of Rockport Tavern
This Indiana Historical Bureau marker in Rockport references Lincoln’s visit in 1844.

According to oral lore and tradition, he made several other speeches around Spencer County (and allegedly spoke in Knox, Daviess, Warrick, and Vanderburgh counties). However, the Rockport address is the only southern Indiana speech corroborated with a contemporary source. While in Spencer County, Lincoln visited his boyhood home and the graves of his mother and sister. This would be Lincoln’s first and only return to his childhood home since he left Indiana in 1830.

Aside from those two visits in 1844 and 1861, most Lincoln fans would be hard-pressed to identify the other time that Lincoln visited Indiana for political purposes. It happened on September 19, 1859 in Indianapolis, where he delivered a speech so obscure that it was largely forgotten for 70 years before a Lincoln researcher and an Indiana State Library employee uncovered it in an issue of a short-lived Indianapolis newspaper, the Daily Evening Atlas.

First, some historical context is helpful to illuminate Lincoln’s Indianapolis speech. In January 1859, Lincoln lost his U.S. Senate campaign to Stephen A. Douglas. Financial necessity forced him to pay more attention to his legal career in the aftermath of this political defeat.  Practicing law, however, had lost some of its luster after the political-high of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. As the foremost Republican in Illinois, Lincoln felt an obligation to lead the fractious Illinois Republican political alliance and craft a vision for party success in 1860. Lincoln was particularly concerned about Douglas’s attempts to position himself as a centrist presidential candidate who could siphon off some of the fledgling Republican Party’s conservative-to-moderate-leaning internal factions.

In early September 1859, Lincoln declined an invitation to speak in Illinois citing the necessity of devoting himself to private business. However, two things occurred in September that changed Lincoln’s mind. Harper’s Magazine published his arch-rival’s article that extolled the political virtues of popular sovereignty. Ohio Democrats also invited Douglas to campaign for state candidates. These two events compelled Lincoln to confront the Little Giant, albeit indirectly.

Lincoln-Douglas2
“The Undecided Political Prize-Fight,” political cartoon from 1860. Source: http://www.paperlessarchives.com/lincoln_douglas_debates.html

There was no formal head-to-head continuation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in September 1859, but Lincoln shadowed his nemesis throughout the Buckeye State, and delivered speeches in Columbus and Cincinnati following Douglas’s wake. On September 16 and 17, Lincoln spoke at the Ohio capitol, Dayton, and briefly at Hamilton. The overall texts of these speeches were similar to one another, and presented sharper arguments than Lincoln first introduced during the formal debates in 1858.

Of all the oratory Lincoln delivered during this circuit, his Cincinnati speech on the evening of September 17, 1859 stood out from the rest, as he crafted his address to speak directly to the many southern Ohioans and Kentuckians in the audience. It was probably the best attended speech during his tour through the state. The speech also reached a much larger audience when newspapers throughout the North widely reprinted and commented on the Cincinnati address. The text so thoroughly saturated the 19th-century news network that few journalists covered the Indianapolis speech that he gave two days later.

american-hotel
Image from Jacob Piatt Dunn’s History of Greater Indianapolis (Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1910).  The street shown is Louisiana Street.

On the morning of September 19, 1859, Abraham Lincoln, his wife, and one of their sons departed Cincinnati for Indianapolis.  They arrived at the Union Depot in the Hoosier capital at four o’clock.  A party of political friends, led by Atlas editor John D. Defrees, welcomed the Lincolns as they disembarked.  The hosts escorted their visitors across the street to the American Hotel (located near present-day 18 W. Louisiana St.) where they would spend the night.

masonic_hall_in_indianapolis
Masonic Hall in Indianapolis, ca. 1850s, image courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

At seven o’clock that evening, an audience packed the Masonic Hall (then located on the southeast corner of Washington Street and Tennessee, which is now Capitol Avenue) to hear the Illinoisan speak.  Among those in attendance were political dignitaries from both sides of the aisle, including Indiana’s Democratic Governor Ashbel P. Willard, Lincoln’s future cabinet member Caleb Blood Smith, future Indiana governor Oliver P. Morton, and Congressman Albert G. Porter (also a future governor).  Although not mentioned in newspaper coverage as being in attendance, the Atlas reported that Henry S. Lane registered at a hotel that day.  Most likely he attended too.  If Lane was in the audience, then his presence would be of interest since he became an instrumental lobbyist for Lincoln’s presidential nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention, and later as a U.S. Senator during the Civil War he voted for many of President Lincoln’s legislative proposals.

One wonders how Lincoln appeared and sounded to his Midwestern audiences during the late summer of 1859. The descriptions of Lincoln in the Indianapolis newspapers are somewhat limited. However, the audience’s impression of the orator were perhaps not unlike the Democratically leaning Cincinnati Enquirer‘s colorful introduction of the then not-so-well-known Lincoln to their readers:

“Hon. Mr. Lincoln is a tall, dark-visaged, angular, awkward,
positive-looking sort of individual, with character written on his face and energy expressed in his every movement.  He has the appearance of what is called…a Western man – one who, without education or early advantages, has risen by his own exertions from an [sic] humble origin….He makes no pretension to oratory
or the graces of diction, but goes directly to his point…regardless of elegance or even system….With orthoepy [correct pronunciation of words] he evidently has little acquaintance, pronouncing words in a manner that puzzles the ear sometimes to determine whether he is speaking his own or a foreign tongue.”

linc-port
Ambrotype, September 1858, unidentified artist, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.  A year before Lincoln lectured in Indianapolis, he sat for this portrait around the time of the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate in Charlestown, Illinois.  Lincoln probably did not look too different a year later while speaking to Hoosiers.

After Lincoln’s old congressional colleague Caleb Smith introduced the lecturer to the Indianapolis crowd, Lincoln opened his address with some reminiscences of growing up in Indiana. The Atlas, the best extant source for this speech, reported his words in the third person:

“Away back in the fall of 1816, when he was in his eighth year, his father brought him over from the neighboring State of Kentucky, and settled in the State of Indiana, and he grew up to his present enormous height on our own good soil of Indiana. [Laughter.] The scenes he passed through to-day are wonderfully different from the first scenes he witnessed in the State of Indiana, where he was raised, in Spencer county, on the Ohio river. There was an unbroken wilderness there then, and an axe was put in his hand; and with the trees and logs and grubs he fought until he reached his twentieth year.”

The Democratic-leaning Sentinel, while not fully reporting on Lincoln’s oration, did supply a few anecdotes from Lincoln’s youth in Indiana that the Atlas omitted.  The Sentinel supplemented:

“[H]e had chopped wood, raised log cabins, hunted bears, drank out of the same bottle as was the fashion of those days, with the woodsmen of Indiana for years. He gave a graphic account of a bear hunt in the early days of this wooden country, when the barking of dogs, the yelling of men, and the cracking of the rifle when Bruin was treed, would send the blood bounding through the veins of the pioneer. Those were the days when friendships were true, and he did not think any other state of society would ever exist where men would be drawn so close together in feeling and affection.”

It is an interesting addition considering Lincoln had authored a poem about a bear hunt, and evidently the incident left quite an impression on him.

Lincoln stopped with his reminiscences, and admitted that he expected that his audience came to hear him say something about politics. At this point, he transitioned into a critique of Stephen Douglas’s advocacy of popular sovereignty. Lincoln opened his political remarks by recalling his famous words: “this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free; that a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He pointed out that Douglas had critiqued this thesis, and counter argued, “Why cannot this government endure forever, part free, part slave, as the original framers of the constitution made it?” Lincoln set out to answer Douglas’s question over the next two hours.

douglas
Stephen A. Douglas, ca. 1855-1861, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.  Lincoln challenged the Democratic incumbent for the U.S. Senate in 1858.  After a series of well-publicized debates, Lincoln lost the election in January 1859.  Douglas and Lincoln would continue challenging each other over the next few years, culminating in their respective candidacies for the presidency in 1860.

Lincoln reasoned that the U.S. Constitution was silent about slavery’s continued existence in America, and he disputed Douglas’s contention that the country was to endure “part free, part slave.”  Lincoln’s main support for this argument was legislation near and dear to the history of Indiana: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited the introduction of slavery into the Northwest Territory. Lincoln correctly pointed out that the Second Continental Congress passed the ordinance at the same time as legislators were crafting the U.S. Constitution.  Therefore, Lincoln maintained,

“There was nothing said in the Constitution relative to the spread of slavery in the Territories, but the same generation of men said something about it in this ordinance of ’87, through the influence of which you of Indiana, and your neighbors in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, are prosperous, free men….Our fathers who made the government, made the ordinance of 1787.”

Lincoln proved to be an astute student of Indiana history, and related to his audience that a few Indiana Territory residents had once petitioned Congress to amend the ordinance to allow for the introduction of slavery.  Lincoln likened this to the residents trying to exercise popular sovereignty. Yet in this case, Congress denied the petition. Lincoln reasoned, “[H]ad it not been for the ordinance of ’87, Indiana would have been a slave State.” He thereby refuted Douglas’s key political doctrine, by citing an example where the federal government had prohibited the spread of slavery, and ignored the supplications of some citizens seeking to exercise popular will. “Popular sovereignty,” Lincoln argued, “has not made a single free State in a run of seventy or eighty years [of the nation’s existence].”

In addition to focusing on popular sovereignty, Lincoln’s speech also focused on economics by contrasting slave labor and free labor. Lincoln summed up Douglas’s popular sovereignty in this way: “If one man choose[s] to make a slave of another man, neither that other man [n]or anybody else has a right to object.”

74-2001-1abrahamlincolnemployed-side1-2016
The Atlas reported, “The speaker himself had been a hired man twenty-eight years ago.” This Indiana Historical Bureau Marker tells about some of the hired work Lincoln performed while living in Indiana. The opposite side of the marker tells about Lincoln ferrying customers across the Ohio River, and his flatboat journey to New Orleans in 1828 with a load of goods.

For Lincoln, that was a dangerous proposition. As a counter to this prospect, he praised the merits of free labor. Citing Indiana’s labor force, Lincoln said, “[O]f all that is produced, seven-eighths of it is produced by the hands of men who work upon their own ground; and no more than one-eighth is produced by hired men.  The condition of the hired man was not worse than that of the slave.”  Lincoln recalled his own work in Indiana as a hired man, and assessing his own experience at that time he did not consider himself worse off than a slave.  He concluded:

“Men who were industrious and sober, and honest in the pursuit for their own interests, should after a while accumulate capital, and after that should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, and if they chose, when they had accumulated capital, to use it to save themselves from actual labor and hire other people to labor for them, it was right.”

At this time and before this audience, Lincoln spoke out against slavery not on moral grounds, but on economic grounds. Near the end of his two hour address, he said, “The mass of white men were injured by the effect of slave labor in the neighborhood of their own labor.” In other words, free labor’s value was depressed because of the existence of slave labor in the United States.

After Lincoln concluded, Oliver Morton took the stage to say a few words, but on account of the lateness of the hour, he kept his remarks brief. The next day the Lincolns continued their westward journey home to Springfield.  The Indianapolis press, both Republican and Democratic organs, gave accounts of the previous night’s events, but other papers largely ignored the future president’s remarks.

In the grand scheme of things, one could conclude that Lincoln’s visit to Indianapolis in 1859 was rather insignificant. Chalk it up as one of those “George Washington slept here” historical moments. However, there is another interpretation of his visit, which adds historical significance to it.  Historian Gary Ecelbarger in a Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association article argued against the common narrative that Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech delivered in New York City in February 1860 was the speech that made Lincoln president. Ecelbarger persuasively argues that before Lincoln could get an east-coast endorsement for his candidacy, he first needed to mobilize political support among Midwesterners. Obviously, Lincoln was a well-known figure in Illinois politics, but his first deliberate and substantial politicking outside of his home-state’s borders started with his September 1859 trip to Ohio and Indiana.

These speeches were the first of about 30 addresses Lincoln delivered in eight states and the Kansas Territory in the nine months leading up to his nomination for president in May 1860. As Ecelbarger interpreted it, “[This] is evidence that Lincoln sought to increase his exposure outside of Illinois for a run for the presidency.” In this light, Lincoln’s visit to Indianapolis takes on greater significance, as he introduced himself to the Hoosier demographic that would aid his political ascent. Many of the Republican attendees who heard him that night in Indianapolis would become influential brokers in helping him secure the presidential nomination, electoral influencers that would enable him to carry the Hoosier state in the general election, and strong backers of his executive and military policies as president during the Civil War.

To read the full text of Lincoln’s Indianapolis speech, click here.  View summaries of some of Lincoln’s most poignant assertions in his Indianapolis speech via the Atlas:

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Robert Ingersoll and Lew Wallace’s Legendary Train Ride

Robert Ingersoll (Left) and Lew Wallace (Right). Courtesy of the Library of Congress and Literary History Blog.
Robert Ingersoll (Left) and Lew Wallace (Right). Courtesy of the Library of Congress and American Literary Blog.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) remains one of the most influential leaders and intellectuals in “The Golden Age of Freethought” in the United States from the 1870s to the 1910s. Its adherents advocated for skepticism, science, and the separation of church and state. Ingersoll, a Civil War veteran, parlayed his success as a lawyer into an influential career in Republican politics, social activism, and oratory. Ingersoll served as a counterpoint to rising participation and influence in government of religion in the United States, delivering speeches to sell-out crowds that decried religiosity and its public entanglements. Ingersoll was also an early champion of women’s rights, influencing such early feminists as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and later ones such as Margaret Sanger.

Robert Ingersoll addressing an audience in New Rochelle, New York, May 30, 1894. Courtesy of the Council for Secular Humanism.
Robert Ingersoll addressing an audience in New Rochelle, New York, May 30, 1894. Courtesy of the Council for Secular Humanism.

He also spent considerable time and energy in Indiana, a state whose own religious diversity towards the late nineteenth century expanded, including German Lutherans to Catholics and other protestant denominations. From giving lectures throughout the state to influencing some of Indiana’s well-known historic figures, Ingersoll left a profound impact on the state and its development during the Gilded Age. As an example, Ingersoll delivered lectures at the illustrious English’s Opera House several times. The Indianapolis News wrote in 1899 that his lecture on “Superstition” was well attended and that “several people were shocked by the lecturer’s utterances, and left, some of them stopping in the lobby to ‘talk it over.’ The remainder seemed to enjoy the walk.”

General Lew Wallace, circa 1860s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
General Lew Wallace, circa 1860s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To get a further sense of this influence, one particular story bears recalling, which involved a train ride with an old Civil War colleague. Lew Wallace, Indiana native, Civil War general, and the author of the novel Ben-Hur, cited Ingersoll as his influence in writing the Christian epic. As Wallace biographers Robert and Katharine Morsberger noted, Wallace “had written the story [Ben-Hur] partly to refute Robert G. Ingersoll’s agnosticism. . . .” The story surrounding this influence is near apocryphal to scholars of both Ingersoll and Wallace. However, Wallace intimated the story’s veracity in the preface to a selection from Ben-Hur entitled The First Christmas.

An example of a passenger rail car, circa 1870s. Image courtesy of Trainweb.org.
An example of a passenger rail car, circa 1870s. Image courtesy of Trainweb.org.

On September 19, 1876, both Wallace and Ingersoll supposedly shared a train ride to Indianapolis to attend a Civil War soldiers’ reunion (although one of Wallace’s accounts says it was a Republican convention); both men served the Union Army during the Civil War and fought at the battle of Shiloh. Wallace recounted the highlights of their conversation in his preface to The First Christmas:

[I] took a sleeper [car] from Crawfordsville the evening before the meeting. Moving slowly down the aisle of the car, talking with some friends, I passed the state-room. There was a knock on the door from the inside, and some one [sic] called my name. Upon answer, the door opened, and I saw Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll looking comfortable as might be considering the sultry weather.

General Wallace in his study, 1899. Courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum.
General Wallace in his study, 1899. Courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum.

Ingersoll invited Wallace to join him in conversation. Wallace accepted on the condition that he could dictate the subject. From there, Wallace asked Ingersoll if he believed in the afterlife, the divinity of Christ, and the existence of God, with the “Great Agnostic” answering in the resounding, “I don’t know, do you?” Then, Wallace asked Ingersoll to present his best case against the doctrines of Christianity, which Ingersoll did with such “a melody of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation [concerning] believers in God. . . .” Ingersoll’s views of both theological and biblical skepticism shook Wallace to the core, with the latter remarking that, “I was in a confusion of mind unlike dazement.”

The title page to the first edition of Ben-Hur, 1880. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.
The title page to the first edition of Ben-Hur, 1880. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Lew Wallace’s own theological confusion, what he called “absolute indifference,” seemed spurred into action by Ingersoll’s words: “. . . as I walked into the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion.” Thus, Wallace began his own investigation into the doctrines and traditions of Christianity, culminating in the authorship of Ben-Hur and a “conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the divinity of Christ.” This story found its way into newspapers as well, with reporters recounting the meeting in the Terre Haute Sunday Evening Mail and the Indianapolis News. According to Wallace’s accounts and its echoes in newspapers, his evening with Ingersoll led to a full conversion to Christianity and the writing of one of the most successful religious novels of the period.

Wallace’s conversation with Ingersoll spurring him on to a religious awakening is indeed a compelling story.  However, a recently uncovered letter from Ingersoll gives cause to question the tale’s veracity. In 1887, seven years after Ben-Hur‘s publication, Ingersoll responded to a correspondent, Joseph Vardamann, asking about his role in inspiring Wallace’s novel.  Ingersoll wrote that he was “never well acquainted with” Wallace and did “not remember ever to have had a conversation with him on the subject of religion.” Ingersoll stressed that the story of their meeting on the train appeared to him as “without the slightest foundation.”

Ingersoll's letter to Joseph Vardaman, as reproduced in an 1922 issue of the Truth Seeker. Courtesy of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Ingersoll’s letter to Joseph Vardaman, as reproduced in a 1922 issue of the Truth Seeker. Courtesy of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

For Wallace’s part in creating Ben-Hur, we know from documentary evidence that he was already well-advanced in writing the novel before the time he claimed the interaction with Ingersoll took place.  In 1874, Wallace wrote in a letter to his half-sister, “I have just come out of the court room, and business is over for the day. Now, for home, and a Jewish boy whom I have got into terrible trouble, and must get out of it as best I can.”  This letter clearly alludes to some of Judah Ben-Hur’s trials, whether being charged with the assassination of Valerius Gratus, being enslaved in a Roman galley, or surviving the sea battle.

While Wallace’s recollections with the “Great Agnostic” may have been a fiction, the story’s enduring popularity among Wallace scholars nevertheless speaks to Ingersoll’s intellectual and rhetorical power. The story of their supposed train ride in 1876 continues to interest scholars and the general public, but whether the event actually happened may be lost to history.

The Lew Wallace statue at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Courtesy of Wiki Commons.
The Lew Wallace statue at the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Courtesy of Wiki Commons.
The Robert Ingersoll statue in Glen Oak Park in Peoria, Illinois. Courtesy of Wiki Commons.
The Robert Ingersoll statue in Glen Oak Park in Peoria, Illinois. Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

George Washington Julian: Radical Representative of Moral Conviction

"Julian, Rep. Hon. George Washington of Indiana," glass negative, circa 1865-1880, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003001974/PP/
“Julian, Rep. Hon. George Washington of Indiana,” glass negative, circa 1865-1880, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003001974/PP/

George Washington Julian was a radical political leader defined by his strong moral convictions. During a period marked by slavery, Civil War, monopolies, and discrimination against African Americans, immigrants, and women, Julian tirelessly advocated for abolition, equal rights, and land reform. He served as a U.S. representative from 1849-1851, served as an attorney in several fugitive slave cases in the 1850s (one which included a daring escape plan), ran for vice president on the Free Soil ticket in 1852, and again served as a U.S. representative 1861-1871.

Julian was born 1817 in Centerville (then called Centreville), Indiana.  He resided there for most of his life and maintained a law practice. Julian was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1840 and practiced law when not serving in Congress. Julian worked within the legal system and various political parties to achieve goals shaped by his moral convictions.  His commitment to abolition and equal rights (including equality in land distribution) remained remarkably consistent for over fifty years. In order to pursue reform in those areas, Julian often changed political parties, working with whichever party would advance these goals. He explained his position repeatedly throughout his career in his letters, articles, and speeches, including a description of his conversion to these causes in the Unitarian Review.  In 1853 he wrote to fellow abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, “you will not be blinded or disheartened by the irregular ebb and flow of political currents, or by facts which drift about upon their surface, but you will penetrate beneath it, to those great moral tides, which underlie, and heave onward, the political, the religious, and the whole framework of society.”  While he modified arguments and approaches he never wavered from working toward equality.  In the introduction to a collection of his Speeches on Political Questions [1872], he wrote that “while in a few instances opinions are advanced which have since been modified, my constant and inspiring aim was to declare what I believed to be the truth.”  An examination of the table of contents to this collection of speeches shows that he constantly and consistently addressed abolition, equal rights, and land reforms, in Congress and throughout the country.  Looking back on his career to 1884, Julian wrote in his Political Recollections [1884], “My triumph had no taint of compromise in it.”

United State House of Representatives, Thirty-First Congress

Julian took office in 1849 as U.S. Representative of the Fourth Indiana Congressional District, a largely Quaker and antislavery area based around Wayne County referred to as the “Burnt District.” Julian was a Free Soil Party leader, a single-issue party dedicated to opposing slavery extension, and later the institution of slavery itself. During his term, he supported legislation providing for abolition and equal access to public lands.

Julian gave several speeches in Congress advocating for the end of slavery and the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act.  His most poignant speech was likely “The Slavery Question” which he delivered to the House in 1850.  He also frequently presented petitions from abolitionist citizens of states across the county where he spoke or attended meetings. In 1851, he presented petitions from citizens of Massachusetts for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Julian also presented a petition from Indiana Quakers “against the existence of slavery generally and particularly against the Fugitive Slave Law.” Julian then requested that the committee to which the petition was referred “report a bill for the repeal of the fugitive slave law.”

George Washington Julian, Speech of George Washington Julian, of Indiana, on the Slavery Question, Delivered in the House of Representatives, May 14, 1850 (Washington: Printed at the Congressional Globe Office, 1850, St. Joseph Public Library, accessed Indiana Memory, https://digital.library.in.gov/Record/SJCPL_p16827coll6-261
George Washington Julian, Speech of George Washington Julian, of Indiana, on the Slavery Question, Delivered in the House of Representatives, May 14, 1850 (Washington: Printed at the Congressional Globe Office, 1850, St. Joseph Public Library, accessed Indiana Memory, https://digital.library.in.gov/Record/SJCPL_p16827coll6-261

In 1851, Julian spoke to Congress about why he supported the Homestead Bill, which would distribute public land in limited quantities freely to settlers who would live on and improve their plot, or “homestead.” Julian argued that all people had an “inalienable” and “natural right” to make a home from the soil.  He argued against the contemporary practice of providing large grants to companies and speculators who then required that people work for and rent from them. He referred to land monopolies in the North as “white slavery.”   He used the opportunity to make a strong argument against slavery as well.  He argued in front of Congress that the vast plantations of rich slave owners were not as productive as they would be if they were broken into plots held by individual owners. Julian said:

“The freedom of the public lands is therefore an anti-slavery measure. It will weaken the slave power by lending the official sanction of the government to the natural right of man, as man, to a home upon the soil, and of course to the fruits of his own labor. It will weaken the system of chattel slavery, by making war upon its kindred system of wage slavery, giving homes and employment to its victims, and equalizing the condition of the people.”

The bill failed in both the House and the Senate.  According to historian James L. Roark’s 1968 article in the Indiana Magazine of History, Julian’s abolition argument may have hurt the bill’s chances of passing.  Eleven years later however, after Julian’s return to Congress, the Homestead Act was passed.

Nomination for Vice-Presidency, 1852

The 1852 presidential election was mainly a contest between Whig candidate General Winfield Scott and Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce.  The Free Soil Party, however was the strongest third party in the running, ahead of the Know-Nothings, Union, and Southern Rights parties. The Free Soil Party named founding member Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire as their candidate and chose George Washington Julian as his running mate. The Free Soilers had little hope of winning.  Most people were tired of the agitation around slavery issues and were satisfied by the Compromise of 1850, which temporarily neutralized the problem for many.  However, for those morally opposed to slavery, a compromise was unthinkable and so they continued their political agitation for free soil. Wanting to maintain unity for the Union, most people voted for those candidates who supported the Compromise. The Hale-Julian ticket received only 155,825 votes out of over three million cast and no electoral votes.  However, the Free Soil Party leaders, including Julian, went on to become essential in the establishment of the new Republican Party only two years later. After the loss, Julian returned to his law practice.

Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries, "George W. Julian," n.d., Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library, accessed http://contentdm.acpl.lib.in.us/cdm/ref/collection/p15155coll1/id/4755
Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, “George W. Julian,” n.d., Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen County Public Library, accessed http://contentdm.acpl.lib.in.us/cdm/ref/collection/p15155coll1/id/4755

Fugitive Slave Cases

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act , which not only prohibited Hoosiers from aiding escaping slaves but required them to return self-emancipated African Americans to their enslavers. Many opposed the law and challenged it in the courts.  In the 1850s, Julian acted as a lawyer both for African Americans who were claimed as slaves and for those white Hoosiers who had helped slaves escape. According to Julian biographer Patrick W. Riddleberger, “after 1850 a lawyer in any of the states lying on the north shore of the Ohio River could, if he were so inclined, devote some of his practice to fugitive slave cases.”

In December 1854, Julian and E. H. Brackett acted as defense attorneys in a case against Benjamin Waterhouse, who was accused of harboring fugitive slaves named Tom and Jim.  Tom and Jim allegedly escaped from Kentucky slave master Daniel Payne and travelled through Indiana to Canada.  Waterhouse was found guilty of harboring the men while in Indiana. The law provided for a much harsher penalty, but due to Julian and Brackett’s efforts, Waterhouse served only one hour in prison and paid a $50 fine – a small success for those working to defeat the Fugitive Slave Act.

In December 1857, Julian served as an attorney in a complex set of related cases challenging the Fugitive Slave Act on behalf of an African American man, likely named West.  A Kentucky slaveholder named Austin Vallandingham claimed that West was his slave and that he had escaped into Illinois. Vallandingham sent a slavecatcher to apprehend West. When the slavecatcher took West from Illinois, intending to bring him to Kentucky, they passed through Indianapolis.  This gave Julian and other abolitionist lawyers an opportunity to challenge the Fugitive Slave Act and possibly aid West.  The abolitionists tried several different tactics, and were involved in trials at the local and federal levels.   They began by charging Vallandingham with kidnapping a free man.  Indianapolis Judge William Wallace released West but he was immediately arrested by a U.S. marshal on charges from Vallandingham of being an escaped slave.  Julian and other abolitionists now acted as West’s defense in a trial before U.S. Commissioner John H. Rea.  Vallandingham was unable to provide official documentation of ownership and gave inconsistent testimony and evidence throughout the trial.  Strangely, in an attempt to prove that West was indeed his slave, Vallandingham testified that he had cut off one of West’s finger joints — but West had no such injury. Among other tactics, the defense tried to delay the case, cited the Dred Scott Case, and argued that by bringing West into Indiana, where slavery was illegal, Vallandingham had unwittingly freed West. Despite their best efforts, the abolitionists were unable to help West. In his Political Recollections, Julian wrote, “After allowing secondary proof where the highest was attainable, and permitting hearsay evidence and mere rumor, the Commissioner [Rea] granted his certificate for the removal of the adjudged fugitive…” When the case was brought again to Judge Wallace, Julian explained that “under cover of an infamous law, and by the help of truculent officials, he [West] was remanded into slavery.”

When all hope of a fair outcome was lost, Julian and others sympathetic to West, attempted to plan his escape.  Julian recalled:

“The counsel for the negro, with a dozen or more who joined them, resolved upon one further effort to save him. The project was that two or three men selected for the purpose were to ask of the jailer the privilege of seeing him the next morning and giving him goodbye; and while one of the party engaged the jailer in conversation, the negro was to make for the door, mount a horse hitched near by, and effect his escape… unfortunately [he] mounted the wrong horse…and when he saw the jailer in pursuit, and heard the report of his revolver, he surrendered, and was at once escorted South… This is the only felony in which I was ever involved, but none of the parties has any disposition whatever to confess it at the time.”

 

United State House of Representatives, Thirty-Seventh through Forty-First Congress

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed slavery into the U.S. Territories.  The bill was sponsored by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen Douglass and supported and signed into law by Democratic President Franklin Pierce. Opposition to the Democratic administration and especially the extension of slavery united various disparate political groups into a new party –called the Republican Party nationally, but called the People’s Party in Indiana.  In 1854, the young Indiana party was more conservative than the national Republican Party.    The People’s Party resisted adopting the name “Republican” because of its association with the eastern abolition movement that many Hoosiers saw as too radical. Henry S. Lane was essential in organizing the People’s Party in Indiana.  Lane’s influence over the older Whigs brought most into the People’s Party, while abolitionists joined because of the anti-Kansas-Nebraska Act platform.  A dynamic and popular speaker, Lane also helped to convince many Democrats and Know-Nothings who were opposed to slavery extension to join the People’s Party.  With the goal of bringing as many people to the new party as possible, leaders maintained a moderate position in the 1850s, publicaly speaking against only the extension of slavery, not advocating for its abolition.  Julian, however, was considered a Radical Republican as he opposed the institution itself and called for abolition.

Republican Party Chart
Chart by author.

In Indiana and nationally, many Republican leaders catered to the Know-Nothing members, but Julian vehemently opposed the nativist, xenophobic party.  Julian believed that immigrants made the country stronger.  In an 1855 speech delivered in Indianapolis, Julian said of immigrants:

“Let them come. Trodden down by kingly power, and hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of our free institutions, let them have a welcome on these shores.  Their motive is a very natural and at the same time honorable one, — that of bettering their lot. They prefer our country and its government to every other. . . To proscribe him on account of his birthplace is mean and cowardly as to proscribe him for his religious faith or color of his skin. It is the rankest injustice, the most downright inhumanity”

Julian served as a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention, the first for the newly organized party. In 1860, Julian was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, this time as a Republican. The Goshen (Indiana) Times reported that Julian was elected by a “nearly 6,000 majority” and called him “one of the ablest men in the State.”  Other newspapers complained that he was too radically abolitionist and would cause discord in the tentatively united and relatively new Republican Party where many were adamantly anti-African American despite being anti-slavery.  Julian arrived in Washington D.C. February 1861, in time for the secession crisis. He opposed compromise measures that would have sacrificed the abolitionist cause to avoid secession. Julian disagreed with abolitionists who would have let the south secede, abandoning four million people into slavery.

During the Civil War, Julian served on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War which investigated management of the war and encouraged emancipation and employment of African Americans, first as laborers, and later also as soldiers, as means of winning the war. In an 1862 congressional speech, Julian argued: “In the battles of the Revolution, and in the War of 1812, slaves and free men of color fought with a valor unexcelled by white men. Are we afraid that a like honor to the colored man would be repeated, and thus testify against his enslavement?”

Throughout the Civil War, he worked to make clear that slavery was the cause of the war and that only complete freedom for all people would justify the losses caused by that war.  In an 1862 speech to Congress printed in the Liberty (Indiana) Weekly Herald, Julian stated:

“Sir, the people of the loyal states understand . . . They know that slavery lies at the bottom of all our troubles.  They know that but for this curse this horrid revolt against liberty and law would not have occurred. They know that all the unutterable agonies of our many battlefields, all the terrible sorrows which rend so many thousands of loving hearts, all the ravages and desolation of this stupendous conflict, are to be charged to slavery.”

According to Vernon Burton’s 2001 essay in A Companion to 19th Century America, “Despite the mountains of scholarship that has been produced, no consensus exists on the causes or consequences of the war, except that all serious historians credit slavery as its underlying root.” Julian and other Radical Republicans were ahead of their time in recognizing slavery as the main cause of unrest and war.  Once abolition was achieved Julian worked toward rights for African Americans and women, especially that of suffrage. He also fought for the common person’s right to hold land, standing up to large railroad companies that were taking public lands for private use.  However, he did see a shift in attitude in his own lifetime. Julian wrote in his Political Recollections, “step by step I saw my constituents march up to my position” and accept that ending slavery was essential to moving forward as a democratic nation.

Julian argued in Congress in support of the Homestead Act in 1862 as a measure to benefit the Union. By this time, land appropriation by railroads, capitalist groups, and speculators had increased and a more effective homestead measure was called for by Republicans. Julian spoke during the debate, advocating for homesteading as the best way to bring money to the Union and repay the nation’s debt to it’s soldiers, black and white.  Lincoln signed the Homestead Act May 20, 1862. Julian stated that its passage was “a magnificent triumph of freedom and free labor over the slave power.”

Julian also supported the Second Confiscation Act of 1862 which would confiscate all property from rebels and redistribute it as homesteads for people who had aided the Union – including African American soldiers and laborers.  He championed bringing homesteading to the South to break up the plantations, thus destroying both the aristocracy and the land monopolies.  Julian furthered his ideas on abolition and land confiscation during a debate in Congress in 1862.  He stated that the war was a fight to end slavery and demanded “instant, decisive, defiant action” to emancipate enslaved people (not just a proclamation of emancipation).  His plan included: arming freedmen, confiscation of all rebel property, and redistribution of plantation land to freedmen. Redistribution of rebel lands to freedman became one of Julian’s main concerns during the war.

Julian was appointed Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands in December 1863. For the next eight years he used this office to work to combine abolition (later reconstruction) and land reform.  Julian presented a sweeping land reform bill to Congress March of 1864, that would redistribute millions of acres of southern land to soldiers and freedmen, a repeal of the joint resolution of the previous year. Julian argued for homesteads for black soldiers in Congress:

“They have enlisted in the service of their country; they are enduring all the perils and hardships of war; they are helping by their valor achieve our victories and save the nation from impending destruction; they are to-day covering themselves with glory under General Grant, in driving back General Lee and his legions . . . Why would [one] . . . refuse to grant them, at the end of the war, a home on the land of their oppressors, who have enslaved their race for more than two hundred years, and at last sought both their lives and the life of the Republic?”

The bill narrowly passed the House May 12, 1864, but before it reached the Senate, the Attorney General ended confiscation.  In 1866 Congress passed Julian’s Southern Homestead Bill which gave 50,000,000 acres of public land in the South to homesteaders.

In 1865, Julian argued for suffrage rights for southern blacks. In a speech to Congress, Julian advocated for “the immediate bestowal of the elective franchise on all loyal men of the South, irrespective of color.” According to the Union City (Indiana) Eagle, “Not alone from motive of philanthropy or of exclusive justice to the black man — by the aid of whose blood and toil the rebellion had ultimately prostrated — was this urged, but also from the consideration that the best interests of the entire country, and especially the salvation of the Sothern States, demanded it.”   The Indiana State Sentinel reported that Julian made a speech in Muncie in which he said the people of Indiana will have to decide on negro suffrage, not Congress but that he “fully committed himself to the principle of universal suffrage.” While Julian believed in universal suffrage, he worked to achieve the vote for southern blacks first as it was more likely to be granted because northerners worried about southern leaders returning to power.  Julian recalled this suffrage campaign in his Political Recollections:

“My task was an arduous one, but I found the people steadily yielding up their prejudices, and ready to lay hold of the truth when fairly and dispassionately presented… The question involved the welfare of both races … not merely the fate of the negro, but the safety of society. It was, moreover, a question of national honor and gratitude, from which no escape was morally possible.  To leave the ballot in the hands of the ex-rebels, and withhold it from these helpless millions, would be to turn them over to the unhindered tyranny and misrule of their enemies…and making the condition of the freedmen more intolerable than slavery itself through local laws and police regulations.”

According to the House Journal and Congressional Globe, Julian proposed a constitutional amendment to Congress December 8, 1868 (H.R. 371). The bill was ordered to be printed, but does not appear with the other Bills and Resolutions of the 40th Congress. According to Julian’s Political Recollections, the amendment read: “the right of suffrage in the United States shall be based on citizenship, and shall be regulated by Congress… all citizens of the United States whether native or naturalized shall enjoy this right equally, without any distinction or discrimination whatever founded on race, color or sex.”  After the resolution was voted down, Julian attempted to make further inroads for women’s suffrage by presenting more targeted bills, including House Resolution 1530 which would have given the women of the District of Columbia the right to vote, and House Resolution 1531 which would have provided women in the territories with the right to vote.  He continued this tactic for the rest of his term in the House. According to the House Journal and the Congressional Globe, Julian introduced another resolution (H. R. 15) during the 41st Congress, First Session, proposing a constitutional amendment granting universal suffrage in the next Congress, which he modeled after the recently passed Fifteenth Amendment. Women were not granted the right to vote until Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

Julian slowed the pace of his work only slightly after he left Congress in 1871. He moved from his long-time home in Centerville to Irvington (Marion County) in 1873. (Julian’s home in the Irvington Historic District still stands). By this time he had become disillusioned with the corruption of the Grant administration, and drifted from the Republican Party to a tentative commitment to the Liberal Republican movement which was working for civil service reform. Julian represented Indiana at the  Liberal Republican Convention of 1872 where the other delegates put his name forward as a vice-presidential candidate, but he did not receive the nomination.

At the 1872 Democratic Convention, Julian’s name was put forward as a congressional candidate.  While this may seem strange, there are several reason Julian would have been amenable to this proposal. Again, there was his dissatisfaction with the Republican Party, but also Julian had changed his views on southern Democrats drastically.  While he called for their punishment immediately following the war, he now felt that the 14th and 15th Amendments had settled the war and the goal should be peace, amnesty, and unity.  In many ways, he naively though that his work for equal rights for African Americans had been successful and accomplished.  The Liberal Republicans were overwhelmingly defeated in 1872 and Julian moved further toward the Democratic Party.  By 1876 he actively campaigned for the Democrats, while stressing his role as an independent voter and political parties as temporary organizations useful only as long as they work for specific goals.  Still claiming his independence, Julian campaigned for the Democrats in 1880 and 1884. In 1885 Julian took public office for the last time in his life. President Grover Cleveland appointed him Surveyor General of New Mexico as a reward for his service to the party. He served until 1889, dealing mostly with land claims.  In 1889 he moved back to Irvington where he lived relatively privately and quietly until his death in 1899.  He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Hayden English: A Man Apart

William Hayden English. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
William Hayden English. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

When I started researching him, William Hayden English seemed like a pretty typical figure for the 19th century: Congressman, businessman, Vice-Presidential candidate. However, I soon realized how complicated his life and his politics really were.

English played a key role in the unrest in Kansas during the antebellum period, yet supported the Union during the Civil War (but was still antagonistic towards Lincoln’s presidency). A deal broker, English often chose the middle of the road. He was a conciliator, a compromiser, and a tactical politician who was a Pro-Union Democrat who held misgivings about both slave-sympathizers in the South and radical Republicans in the North. In more ways than one, he was truly a man apart.

William Hayden English was born on August 27, 1822. Early in his life, English received some formal education. According to a letter by E. D. McMaster from 1839, English received education in the “Preparatory and Scientific departments” of Hanover College. Additionally, he received accreditation to teach multiple subjects at common schools by examiners Samuel Rankin and John Addison. He would eventually leave school and pursue law, where he passed the bar in 1840.

The English family home in Englishton Park, Lexington, Scott County, Indiana, circa 1900. English lived here for many years with his family until his time in the Indiana House brought him to Indianapolis. An IHB marker for English is at this location. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
The English family home in Englishton Park, Lexington, Scott County, Indiana, circa 1900. English lived here for many years with his family until his time in the Indiana House brought him to Indianapolis. An IHB marker for English is at this location. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

His major break in politics came with his selection as the principal Secretary of the Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1850. During his time as Secretary, he earned the reputation as being a thoughtful and balanced tactician, someone who was willing to work with others and make things happen.

The first page of the manuscript version of the 1851 Indiana State Constitution. English honed his political skills during his time as principal secretary for the Constitutional Convention. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
The first page of the manuscript version of the 1851 Indiana State Constitution. English honed his political skills during his time as principal secretary for the Constitutional Convention. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

Using this newly-earned reputation, English was first elected to the Indiana House of Representatives from Scott County in August of 1851. On March 8, 1852, after the resignation of Speaker John Wesley Davis, English was elected Speaker of the House with an overwhelming majority of the vote. He was only 29 years old, making him the one of the youngest Speakers in Indiana History.

In his election speech, he stated his praise for the new Constitution and called for a full new legal code to be established. He additionally called for a “spirit of concession and compromise” and for his colleagues to “zealously apply himself to the completion of the great work intrusted [sic] to us by a generous constituency.” In effect, the Indiana House of Representatives under Speaker English had consolidated state government and extended its purview to neglected regions of the state.

William English's officialt Congressional Portrait, 1859. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
William English’s official Congressional Portrait, 1859. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

After his time in state government, English was called for national service. He won his first election to the United States House of Representatives in 1852, and was reelected in 1854, 1856, and 1858. During his tenure in Congress, English would be remembered for his “wise and patriotic course in Congress,” notably his important role in crafting a controversial bill that gave Kansas the choice of whether to come into the Union as a free or slave state.

English’s time in Congress, much like the rest of his political career, can be seen as pragmatic. While he morally abhorred slavery, he condemned abolitionists and believed in the notion of “popular sovereignty,” which argued that the people of a state or territory should choose for themselves whether to have slavery. He stated his view in a speech in 1854:

Sir, I am a native of a free State [sic], and have no love for the institution of slavery. Aside from the moral question involved, I regard it as an injury to the State where it exists….But sir, I never can forget that we are a confederacy of States, possessing equal rights, under our glorious Constitution. That if the people of Kentucky believe the institution of slavery would be conducive to their happiness, they have the same right to establish and maintain that we of Indiana have to reject it; and this doctrine is just as applicable to States hereafter to be admitted as to those already in the Union.

During this session, Congress was debating a bill named the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would repeal the Missouri Compromise (also known as the Compromise of 1820) and allow for states and their citizens to decide whether they wanted to be admitted as a slave state or free state. English voted for the bill and it was later signed into law by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854. Almost immediately, violence erupted between pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates in the state, who could not agree on the direction of the state constitution.

Alexander Stephens, circa 1860s. A congressman from Georgia, Stephens helped English craft the "English Bill" that would later ensure that Kansas as a free state. Today, he is best remembered for being the Vice-President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Alexander Stephens, circa 1860s. A congressman from Georgia, Stephens helped English craft the “English Bill” that hoped to quell unrest in the territory of Kansas. Ironically, he is best remembered for being Vice-President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

After his reelection in 1856, English, along with congressional colleague Alexander Stephens, went to work on a compromise bill that would potentially quell the violence and political unrest. This compromise, known as the English Bill, allowed the citizens of Kansas to either accept or reject the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. However, if the citizens of Kansas chose to be a slave state by referendum, they had to additionally let go of federal land grants within the territory.

The bill passed and the voters of Kansas did not reject the land grants, thus rejecting the Lecompton Constitution. Upon the Bill’s passage, English declared that, “The measure just passed ought to secure peace, and restore harmony among the different sections of the confederacy.” The Kansas issue would be not resolved until its admission to the Union as a free state in 1861.  As he did in the Indiana House, English struck a compromise that hoped to quell the violence, using federal land grants as a way to take heat off the slavery issue.

While the English Bill attempted to stave off conflict within Kansas, the harmony among the nation was short lived. The growing tensions among pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions of the country were mounting, and English lamented this development in one of his final speeches to Congress. He chastised both the abolitionists and radical Republicans, who he believed had appealed to the “passions and prejudices of the northern people, for the sake of getting into office and accomplishing mere party ends.” To English, the cause of all this strife was the agitation of the slavery question and the solution would be to elect a Democrat President and ensure that the national discussion be reverted back to other issues of state. This did not happen; in the fall of 1860, voters chose Republican Abraham Lincoln and the first seven southern states seceded from the union.

By 1861, right as English was leaving Congress, the United States became engulfed in Civil War. While many within the national Democratic Party either defected to the Confederacy or took a tenuous position of support in the north, English was unequivocally for the Union. In an August 16, 1864 article in the Indiana Daily State Sentinel, the Committee of the Second Congressional District, under the chairmanship of English, wrote a platform that supported the Union and decried the act of secession. However, it did reserve criticism for President Lincoln, particularly with regards to supposed violations of freedom of speech. English’s pragmatic, even-handed political gesture fell in line with many of his past political actions.

Campaign poster for candidacy of Winfield Scott Hancock and William Hayden English, 1880. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Campaign poster for candidacy of Winfield Scott Hancock and William Hayden English, 1880. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

After his time in Congress,  he was the President of the First National Bank of Indianapolis for 14 years. He established the bank in 1863, taking advantage of the reestablished national banking system during the Civil War. According to historian Emma Lou Thornbrough, the First National Bank of Indianapolis became “the largest bank of Indianapolis, and one of the largest in the Middle West.” He is also listed as a “banker” in the 1870 Census and as a “capitalist” in the 1880 Census. By the time of his death in 1896, English had become one of the wealthiest men in Indiana.

Even though his time in national politics was years removed, he was nonetheless nominated by the Democratic Party in 1880 for Vice President, with Winfield Scott Hancock as President. Articles in the Indianapolis News and the Atlantic noted that his chances for the Vice-Presidential nomination were quite good, especially if the candidate was presumed front-runner Samuel J. Tilden of New York. Within days of the News piece, when asked if he was interested in the VP nomination, English said, “None whatever, for that or any other office.

A campaign poster for Hanock and English, with a patriotic flair, 1880. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A campaign poster for Hanock and English, with a patriotic flair, 1880. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Despite his protestations, English was nominated for the Vice-Presidency by the Democratic Party on June 24, 1880, after Tilden redrew his consideration for the Presidential nomination and General Winfield Scott Hancock was elected in his stead. In his acceptance letter, English wrote that he was “profoundly grateful for the honor conferred” and that his election with Hancock would be a triumph over the dominance of the Republican Party in the presidency. Their chances to win the White House were dashed when they lost to Republicans James Garfield and Chester Arthur in the General Election.

English's Hotel and Opera House, circa 1948. Completed in 1880, it became a mainstay on Monument Circle before its demolition in 1948. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
English’s Hotel and Opera House, circa 1948. Completed in 1880, it became a mainstay on Monument Circle before its demolition in 1948. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
William Eastin English, circa 1880s. The son of William H. English, William E. managed the English Hotel and Opera House. Like his father, he became a successful businessman and U.S. Congressman. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
William Eastin English, circa 1880s. The son of William H. English, William E. managed the English Hotel and Opera House. Like his father, he became a successful businessman and U.S. Congressman. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
Actor Lawrence Barrett, circa 1880. When English's Hotel and Opera House opened on September 27, 1880, Barrett played the lead role in its production of Hamlet. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
Actor Lawrence Barrett, circa 1880. When English’s Hotel and Opera House opened on September 27, 1880, Barrett played the lead role in its production of Hamlet. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

While he was running for Vice-President, English’s business empire was also expanding, with his financing and construction of the English Hotel and Opera House. Historians James Fisher and Clifton Phillips noted that English purchased land on the city circle in the 1840s, as a residence for himself and his family. In early 1880, during renovations on the circle, English announced that he would invest in the construction of a new Hotel and Opera House. His son, William E. English, became the proprietor and manager. It officially opened on September 27, 1880, and the first performance was Lawrence Barrett as Hamlet. It would be in continual use until its closure and demolition in 1948.

English served as the President of the Indiana Historical Society, from 1886 until in his death ten years later. During his tenure, English wrote a two-volume history of the Northwest Territory and the life of George Rogers Clark. It was published in 1896, shortly after his death. An 1889 article in the Indianapolis Journal noted his compiling of sources and his emerging methodology; a two-volume general history that would be divided at the 1851 revised State Constitution. By 1895, the project materialized into the history mentioned above, with English using documents from leaders involved, such as Thomas Jefferson and Clark himself. He also conducted interviews with other key figures of the revised Indiana Constitution. English’s historical research became the standard account of the Northwest Territory for those within the Historical Society and the general public for many years.

The English family home on Circle Street, Indianapolis, 1870s. English lived in Indianapolis for most of his adult life, occasionally visiting his home in Scott County. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
The English family home on Circle Street, Indianapolis, 1870s. English lived in Indianapolis for most of his adult life, occasionally visiting his home in Scott County. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

William English died on February 7, 1896, as reported by the Indianapolis Journal. On February 9, thousands came to see his body displayed in the Indiana State Capitol before he was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.

His legacy in Indiana is lesser known, but he does have some monuments. A sculpture in the Indiana Statehouse commemorates his place in history. The town of English, Indiana is also named after the late politician. According to historian H. H. Pleasant and the Crawford County Democrat, the unincorporated town was originally named Hartford. It was changed to English in 1886 after the town was officially incorporated, in honor of election to Congress from the area. He also has an IHB marker at his former home in Lexington, Scott County, Indiana.

The William English Bust in the Indiana State House. Located on the fourth floor, the bust only lists his time as Indiana House Speaker as an accomplishment. Courtesy in.gov.
The William English Bust in the Indiana State House. Located on the fourth floor, the bust only lists his time as Indiana House Speaker as an accomplishment. Courtesy in.gov.

To many who enter the Statehouse and see his statue on the fourth floor, he might be just another leader of Indiana’s past. However, English’s political career attempted to stave off Civil War (at least temporarily) and reinforced Indiana’s political tradition of measured, temperate leaders who sought a middle ground on most issues. In that regard, English might be one of Indiana’s most emblematic statesmen.

Hoosier Saint: Saint Theodore Guérin

Guerin graphic
Graphic created from: Oil painting of Mother Theodore Guérin from 1858. Digital Image Copyright ©2006 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Image of Mother Theodore Guerin, Digital Image Copyright ©2006 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

In the early and mid 1800s, girls and young women in Indiana had limited access to educational opportunities.  Indiana historian Richard Boone noted that the state held “a prejudice against the education of girls with their brothers,” but “an impulse was early manifested” to establish schools for young women.

By 1850, approximately 14 schools for girls existed within the state. Young women also found it more difficult to obtain access to higher education during the early and middle 1800s. Most universities only allowed men to attend classes; Indiana University did not admit its first female student until 1867. During this time, however, there were dedicated individuals who worked to change the status quo. During her lifetime, Saint Theodore Guérin, recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2006, provided educational opportunities to Indiana’s girls and young women through the establishment of schools, most notably Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Saint Theodore Guérin was born and baptized at Etàbles in Brittany, France on October 2, 1798. Her parents, Isabelle le Fèvere and Laurent Guérin, named her Anne-Thérèse Guérin. During the first twenty-five years of Guérin’s life she faced numerous hardships. Before she reached the age of 13, she reportedly lost two brothers. When she was 15 years old, thieves robbed and murdered Guérin’s father, a French naval officer who served under Napoleon near Avignon, France. He was on furlough and heading home. After the loss of a husband and two sons, Guérin’s mother came down with a “severe illness,” leaving Anne-Thérèse Guérin to care for her mother and nine-year-old sister Marie.

The Indiana Historical Bureau and Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods installed a marker honoring Guerin in 2009.
IHB and the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods installed a marker honoring Guérin in 2009.

Guérin was a devout Catholic from a young age. She took her first communion at the age of ten. After ten years of caring for her mother, Anne-Thérèse Guérin left home and committed herself to becoming a nun. At the age of 25, she became a postulant at the Sisters of Providence in Ruillé, France on August 18, 1823, and received the religious name Sister Saint Theodore Guérin. Immediately following her entrance into the
convent, Sister Saint Theodore suffered from a severe illness that impaired her health for the rest of her life. She could never eat solid foods again. After her recovery, the Sisters of Providence assigned Sister Saint Theodore Guérin to missionary work in Pruilly-sur-Claise.

After a short period of time as a postulant, Sister Saint Theodore recited her first vows on September 8, 1825. She professed her perpetual vows on September 5, 1831. Around the same time she declared her first vows, Sister Saint Theodore received the appointment of Superior to the Sisters of Providence educational establishment in Rennes. For ten years, Sister Saint Theodore assisted the convent in establishing numerous schools and orphanages in Rennes, but a dispute with the Superior General of the Sisters of Providence resulted in a transfer of Sister Saint
Theodore. Her new assignment relocated her to Soulaines, a small country mission where her talents, as one biographer stated, “would find a much narrower scope.”

Bishop Simon Bruté of Vincennes. Image in public domain.
Simon Bruté, Bishop of Vincennes. Image in public domain.

After only a year in Soulaines, France, Sister Saint Theodore Guérin was “voted medallion decorations” by the French Academy Board of Education in 1836. One year earlier, in 1835, the Reverend Simon Bruté, the first Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, visited Rennes, France. He and the Reverend Célestine de la Hailandiére, soon to be Vicar-General of the Vincennes Diocese, became acquainted with the various charitable works of the Sisters of Providence. Four years later, in 1839, Bishop Bruté sent his Vicar-General on a recruiting mission to France from Indiana. The Reverend Hailandiére searched for sisters of the Catholic faith willing to move to the United States and create schools and orphanages for the Vincennes Diocese.

When the Reverend Hailandiére reached France, he received news that Bishop Bruté had died on June 26, 1839. He also obtained confirmation of his own appointment as the new Bishop of Vincennes. While in France, Bishop Hailandiére convinced six members of the Sisters of Providence to come to the United States and start a school in his Diocese. Hesitant because of her frail health, Sister Saint Theodore Guérin initially did not accept Bishop Hailandiére’s invitation, but, after careful consideration and prayer, she finally took a leadership position in the operation.

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On July 12, 1840, Sister Saint Theodore and the other sisters began their journey, departing from Ruillé, France. Fourteen days later on July 26, 1840, they left for Vincennes on the ship, Cincinnati. On September 4, 1840, the Cincinnati dropped anchor in New York. After traveling from New York by train, stagecoach, and steamboat the sisters rested in Madison, Indiana. On October 1, 1840, Bishop Hailandiére and three other men told the sisters they would not be starting a school in Vincennes. The Vincennes Diocese decided Terre Haute needed their services more. After various difficulties, Sister Saint Theodore and the other nuns arrived in the middle of a thick, village-less forest four miles outside of Terre Haute on October 22, 1840. Eventually, this became the site of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Sketch of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1845. Digital Image Copyright © 2007 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

The sisters lived with a farmer, Joseph Thralls, and his family during construction of their motherhouse and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods school. Workers also cleared land for farming and chopped wood for winter. During the school’s construction, Bishop Hailandiére visited the sisters on November 12, 1840, and awarded Sister Saint Theodore the title of “Mother.” Soon thereafter the Sisters of Providence began accepting new women ready to join the convent.

The first postulant arrived on May 1, 1841. On October 9, 1841, the Wabash Courier (published in Terre Haute) advertised the “Convent and Academy,” headed by “Sister Theodora Guerin.” After the establishment of their first school at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the sisters’ educational influence spread quickly throughout the state. On March 21, 1842, the Sisters of Providence opened a Girls’ Boarding School in Jasper. Despite terrible hardships, the convent opened 19 schools and orphanages between 1842-1856, spanning from Evansville to Vincennes to Fort Wayne.

Perhaps the most significant difficulty faced by the sisters was a fire that destroyed their barns and granaries on October 2, 1842, burning various provisions needed for the upcoming winter. Impoverished by fire, Mother Theodore Guérin, Sister Mary Cecilia and other unnamed sisters left Terre Haute for France on April 26, 1843 in search of financial aid. One month later, Mother Theodore and her traveling companions arrived in France upon the Silvia. During their stay, Mother Theodore Guérin and Sister Mary Cecilia met with Queen Marie Amelie of France, and secured money for the voyage back to the U.S. The Queen also began taking donations that later helped fund new schools.

On November 28, 1843, Mother Theodore and the sisters left France on the Nashville. The boat headed to the Gulf of Mexico and docked in New Orleans. The passengers and crew faced numerous hardships on the voyage back to the United States. The Nashville nearly sank during a hurricane, and Mother Theodore became “seized with fever” while in New Orleans. The sisters then traveled up the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash rivers to return to Terre Haute. Mother Theodore Guérin and the other sisters finally returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on April 1, 1844.

A statue of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin by Teresa Clark at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Ill. An inscription on the front of the statue is a quote from Guerin that reads, "Love the children first, then teach them."
A statue of Saint Mother Theodore Guérin by Teresa Clark at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Ill. An inscription on the front of the statue is a quote from Guérin that reads, “Love the children first, then teach them.” Image from Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods blog.

Mother Theodore Guérin continued to advance women’s educational opportunities after she returned from France. Mother Theodore Guérin and the Sisters of Providence established a seminary of higher education for women at St. Mary-of-the-Woods. On January 14, 1846, nearly six years after arriving in Terre Haute, Governor James Whitcomb approved the Articles of Incorporation for the Female Seminary of St. Mary’s of the Woods (Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College).

After 12 more years of continuous educational service with the Sisters of Providence, Mother Theodore Anne-Thérèse Guérin died on May 14, 1856. She was buried on the grounds of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. On December 3, 1907, Mother Theodore’s remains were moved from the burial plot to a crypt. During the re-burial process workers discovered what is considered the first sign of Mother Theodore’s holiness: her brain was still intact.

Almost a year later, on October 30, 1908, the first miracle attributed to Mother Theodore Guérin occurred. Sister Mary Theodosia, who was suffering from cancer, stopped at Mother Theodore’s tomb to pray for another ill sister, Sister Joseph Therese O’Connell. The next day Sister Theodosia’s ongoing pain vanished. A medical examination later could not find the cancerous tumor.

Image of Mother Theodore Guerin, Digital Image Copyright ©2006 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Image of Mother Theodore Guerin, Digital Image Copyright ©2006 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

This unexplained occurrence piqued the interest of the Indianapolis Diocese. Two months after Sister Mary Theodosia prayed at Mother Theodore’s tomb, Bishop Joseph Chartrand of the Indianapolis Diocese wrote to the Sister’s of Providence Superior General, Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, to indicated that initial “proceedings regarding” Mother Theodore’s canonization would be discussed on December 6, 1908. Many members of the Diocese began to diligently gather the needed information about Mother Theodore Guérin, including interviewing people such as Mother Anastasie Brown who worked with the foundress.

In January 1914, the Reverend Alphonaus Smith and the Reverend John T. O’Hare officially initiated the rigorous process of canonization for Mother Theodore Guérin when they left for Rome with about 500 sealed typewritten pages of evidence. Years passed as different Catholic committees performed the needed tasks to complete Mother Theodore’s canonization. In June, 1975 members of the Indiana Academy elected the late Mother Theodore Guérin into their organization. The academy was created by the “Associated Colleges of Indiana to honor Hoosiers who have enriched the cultural and civic life of the state.”

During the 1990s the canonization of Mother Theodore gained momentum. In November 1996, Vatican medical consultants approved the healing of Sister Mary Theodosia as a miracle. Four months later, in March 1997, the Sister Theodosia miracle was approved by Vatican theologians, and acknowledged by the Cardinals in June that same year. On October 25, 1998, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Theodore Guérin in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The church gave her the title, Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin. Pope John Paul II stated at the ceremony that

“Her life was a perfect blend of humanness and holiness. She was fully human, fully alive, yet her deep spirituality was woven visibly through the very fabric of her life.”

Pope Benedict XVI proceeds to the altar at St. Peter's Square for the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in 2006. Digital Image Copyright © 2006 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Pope Benedict XVI proceeds to the altar at St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guérin in 2006. Digital Image Copyright © 2006 Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

In 2001, doctors diagnosed Phillip McCord, an employee at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, with a swollen cornea. Physicians told McCord that he needed a risky surgical procedure to transplant a new cornea. Although not a Catholic, McCord prayed to Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin for help. Slowly his condition improved over a matter of weeks, and doctors were amazed at his recovery without surgery. According to a 2006 article in the Criterion, McCord had “better than 20/20 vision in both eyes.” With the approval of this final miracle, Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin was canonized and officially determined to be a Saint on October 15, 2006. The Vatican gave the new Saint the religious name Saint Theodora Guérin, but the Sisters of Providence refer to her as Saint Mother Theodore Guérin.

In addition to her sainthood, Guérin’s ongoing legacy features her efforts to spread learning throughout Indiana. As of 2008, her most prominent endeavor, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, continues the mission it began under Saint Theodore Guérin, to provide women with educational opportunities. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College enrolls 1,700 students and offers campus-based undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs.  After 175 years of operation, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods’ Board of Trustees voted for the college to become fully co-educational in 2015.

To view the citations and annotations used in this post click here.

Wabash Valley Visions and Voices Digital Memory Project holds an impressive collection of digitized artifacts, and documents associated with Saint Theodore Guérin as well as historical sketches of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

 

Fort Wayne Pioneer: Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman

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Johnny Appleseed, image courtesy of biography.com.

John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, serves as an example of a part of the religious fervor on the western frontier in the years before the Civil War.  The legends and tales about him that grew even in his own lifetime rivaled those of his contemporaries, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.  Like them, Chapman’s career in the wilderness as a preacher and Good Samaritan quickly got caught up in the American imagination.

Johnny Appleseed had been on the frontier for several decades before coming to Fort Wayne, possibly as early as 1822.  Already many stories were told of this gentle man’s propagation of fruit trees in odd plots of land all over the Pennsylvania and Ohio wilderness, his love of wildlife, and the awe in which American Indians regarded him as a powerful medicine man.

He repeated the Bible verse Song of Solomon 2:5, which stated “refresh me with apples.” Johnny Appleseed declared “with apples shall men be comforted in the wilderness of the West.”  A holy man he was, for his principal aim was to bring, “some news right fresh from heaven” as he read from the Beatitudes to the settlers he visited in cabins in the forest. He told them of the spiritual happiness he enjoyed through the teachings of the Church of New Jerusalem. Ironically, the apples produced were not like the sweet apples we eat today, and therefore the fruit was more likely to be used for hard cider. This explains why many of the orchards he planted were destroyed during Prohibition.

One eyewitness described Johnny Appleseed’s appearance when he came to Fort Wayne as:

“simply clad, in truth clad like a beggar.  His refined features told of his intelligence, even though seen through the gray stubble that covered his face since he cut his hair and beard with scissors.  Johnny was serious, his speech clean, free from slang or profanity.  He traveled on foot – sometimes with just one shoe or two different kinds of boots.”

Some descriptions have him wearing his cooking pot for a hat, at times with other parts of hats – the crown or the brim – on top of his tin cap.  Other biographers claim that because his mush-pot hat did not protect his eyes from the bright sun well enough that he fashioned one made of pasteboard with a large peak in front.  Although his eccentric appearance occasionally caused anxiety or even alarm in some people, by and large, he was well liked for his sincere and kind ways.

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Artist depiction of John Chapman tending one of his apple tree plots, image courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Exceptionally strong for his tall slim frame, one pioneer observed that Johnny Appleseed was able to get more work done clearing the forests in one day than most men could finish in two.  Above all else, however, he was appreciated for his great ability to tell stories about his church, of his many adventures on the frontier, his narrow escapes in the wilderness, his interactions with American Indians, and his association with the wildlife of the Midwest, from bears to wasps.

Johnny Appleseed showed a great reverence for all life, including the lowly insects. In fact, he became a vegetarian later in life.  One story often told was that when he was being stung by a hornet that had crawled into his shirt, he carefully removed his shirt to allow the creature to go on its way unharmed rather than kill the stinging nuisance.  On another occasion he put out his evening camp fire to avoid the possibility of the moths being destroyed in the flames.  He was known to have purchased an aged horse from a pioneer who was continuing to put the creature to work, in order that the animal could spend its last days peacefully at pasture. A settler once described him saying that he was like, “good St. Francis, the little brother of the birds and the little brother of the beasts.”

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Notice, Fort Wayne Sentinel, April 19, 1845, accessed NewspaperArchive.com.

Johnny Appleseed died in 1845 at the age of 71.  He had been protecting his saplings from some cows that had broken down the fence of one of his orchards just north of Fort Wayne.  He was overcome by his exertions and succumbed to what the people of the time called the “winter plague.”  He was buried along the St. Joseph River and the old feeder canal bed on the Archer farm, but the actual site is not known today; a commemorative marker** sits atop the hill in present-day Johnny Appleseed Park, which was once the Archer family cemetery. Each year during the Fort Wayne festival that bears his name, visitors remember the comfort John Chapman brought to the west, for around his memorial children fondly place their gifts of apples.

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Memorial gravesite at the Fort Wayne Johnny Appleseed Park, image courtesy of North Carolina Central University School of Library and Information Services.

**This marker is not associated with the Indiana Historical Bureau State Historical Marker Program.

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Learn more about Johnny Appleseed and his influence on cultural history with William Kerrigan’s book, sold at IHB’s Book Shop.

The Lincoln Funeral Train in Indiana

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Map of the Funeral Train Route, Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives, http://www.lincoln-highway-museum.org/WHMC/WHMC-LFTR-01.html

On the evening of April 14, 1865, an assassin shot President Abraham Lincoln.  He died the next day at 7:22 a.m. While Union soldiers hunted the conspirators, the nation went into mourning. The funeral for the assassinated president took place April 19, 1865 at the White House.  The New York Times reported that “thousands wended their way up the capitol steps, into the grand rotunda, by the bier and coffin of the President… their homage was silent and tearful.”  On the morning of April 21, a military guard placed Lincoln’s casket in the ninth car of a funeral train which was draped in black. The casket of Lincoln’s son William who had died in 1862 was also aboard for the trip back to the Midwest.

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IHB state historical marker, learn more here.

The train, which also carried friends, family, high ranking officials, and a military guard, left Washington D.C. destined for Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, Illinois, on April 21. The War Department directed the procession which declared the tracks along the route to be “military roads.” On April 30 the Lincoln funeral train passed into Indiana where Lincoln spent much of his youth (1816-1830).  The War Department directed: “The route from Columbus to Indianapolis is via the Columbus and Indianapolis Railroad, and from Indianapolis to Chicago via Lafayette and Michigan Railroad.  In order to guard against accidents, trains will not run faster than twenty miles per hour.”

The train stopped in Richmond first, at 3 a.m., to the sound of tolling bells and a crowd of somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 people. Here, Governor Oliver P. Morton and almost 100 elected officials paid their respects. The governor and other several other high-ranking officials boarded the train for the trip to the state capital.

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Image courtesy of Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives, http://www.lincoln-highway-museum.org/WHMC/WHMC-LFTR-01.html

At 3:41 a.m. the train arrived in Centreville, home town of Congressmen George W. Julian, a steadfast abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights. Next it passed through Germantown and Cambridge City, home of Union General Solomon Meredith. As the train passed through Dublin at 4:27 a.m., almost the entire town was standing on the platform in the rain. Next the train stopped in Lewisville and afterwards it slowed as it passed through the small village of Charlottesville, where reportedly a large number of African Americans gathered in mourning. The train passed through Greenfield at 5:55 a.m. and then paused in Cumberland on the Hancock-Marion county border.

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Lincoln’s Funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue, April 19, 1865, Library of Congress Digital Collections, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003004934/PP/

The train reached Indianapolis on April 30 at 7 a.m. in the pouring rain. The city was decorated with arches, evergreens, and flags. The Indianapolis city band played the Lincoln Funeral March while soldiers moved the casket to the hearse. The hearse, which was an ornately decorated carriage drawn by six plumed white horses, delivered the casket from the train to the State House through streets lined with people. The Indianapolis Daily Gazette noted “the archways and mourning festoons across the streets, the public and private buildings draped in the habiliments of grief, the funeral procession, the solemn dirges, and, above all, the patient multitude that stood for hours in the drenching rain waiting an opportunity to look upon the earthly tenement so lately vacated by the spirit.”

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The coffin was placed in the interior hall of the State House which was lined in black cloth.  The Indianapolis Guard of Honor protected the flower-surrounded coffin. The Indianapolis Daily Gazette estimated that 15,000 troops and 60,000 private citizens passed through the rotunda that day.  Rain prevented the elaborate ceremonial procession from the State House back to the train depot which had been planned for that evening.  Instead, the casket lay in state until 10 p.m., which was longer than planned, and then the hearse carried the casket directly back to the train depot.  Mourning Hoosiers followed the carriage and the train left Indianapolis at midnight.

It passed through Augusta, Zionsville, Whitestown, Lebanon, Hazelrigg, Thorntown, Colfax, and Stockwell, before reaching Lafayette. The New York Semi-Weekly Times reported on the trip through these towns: “These are small places, but it seems the inhabitants are on the roadside. Some of them hold torches in their hands, and the surroundings are solemnly lighted. Men stand with uncovered heads as the train hurries on its way.”  At Lebanon the residents “hung over the track, suspended from two uprights, a hundred variegated Chinese lanterns.”

The train reached Lafayette at 3:35 a.m. and the Indianapolis Daily Journal reported that in Lafayette “The houses on each side of the railroad is [sic] illuminated, and; as elsewhere, badges of mourning and draped flags are displayed; bonfires are blazing and bells tolling; mournful strains of music are heard, and the people are assembled at all the stations to view the train.” After leaving Lafayette, the train traveled through Tippecanoe Battle Ground, Brookston, Chalmers, Reynolds, Bradford, Francisville, Medaryville, Kankakee, La Crosse, Wanatha, Westville, and Lacroix.

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S. M. Fassett, President Abraham Lincoln’s hearse, Springfield, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91732556/

The train reached Michigan City at 8:25 a.m.  The Indianapolis Daily Journal reported that it “stopped under a large and beautiful temporary structure, trimmed with black and white and ornamented with evergreens and choice flowers.”  The arches were decorated with black and white fabric, evergreens, and flowers. Over each arch were the words “Abraham Lincoln” and a motto.  These included, “Our guiding star has fallen” and “Though dead he yet speaketh.” Young women sang the hymn “Old Hundred.”  The Times reported, “Many persons are affected to tears.” The paper concluded its description of the Michigan City stop: “Meantime, guns are fired, and the subduing strains of music are heard. The scene is gilded by an unclouded sun.” The Chicago Tribune reported that the morning was “clear and beautiful.”

Finally, it had stopped raining.

Read about the train’s journey to Chicago and then to Lincoln’s home of Springfield, where the President was laid to rest, here.

The Shared Humanism of Clemens and Kurt Vonnegut

Clemens (Left) was the Vonnegut family patriarch and lifelong freethinker. Kurt, Jr. (Right) was the great-grandson who carried his humanist heritage into his writing. Images courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections/citelighter.com.
Clemens (Left) was the Vonnegut family patriarch and lifelong freethinker. Kurt, Jr. (Right) was the great-grandson who carried his humanist heritage into his writing. Images courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections/citelighter.com.

The German-American community in Indianapolis, largely a product of mid-nineteenth century immigration, had a strong heritage of freethought (open evaluation of religion based on the use of reason). In particular, Clemens Vonnegut, the patriach of the Vonnegut family and lifelong freethinker, openly displayed his religious dissent through writings and community activism. This, in turn, influenced his family and the literary style of his great-grandson, novelist Kurt Vonnegut, especially the younger man’s ideas concerning God, religion, science, and ethics. The junior Vonnegut’s own midwestern brand of freethought, in the form of what literature scholar Todd F. Davis called a “postmodern humanism,” displayed a deep sense of skepticism about the irrationalism of his time, while simultaneously championing an ethical responsibility to ourselves and each other devoid of supernatural influences. Yet, true to his form as a freethinker, Kurt forged his own humanist identity. [*]

The Vonnegut Hardware Store, circa 1878. Founded by Clemens Vonnegut, the store would be an Indianapolis stable for well over a century. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
The Vonnegut Hardware Company on Washington Street, circa 1878. Founded by Clemens Vonnegut, the store would be an Indianapolis stable for well over a century. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

Clemens Vonnegut was born November 20, 1824, in Münster, Westphalia. In his early years, he studied in German public schools and apprenticed as a mercantile clerk. As recorded in the Indianapolis Press, a young Vonnegut came to the United States in the early 1830s, on assignment from his employer, J. L. de Ball and Company, which sold specialty fabrics. His year in New York convinced the young Vonnegut that America would be his permanent home. He then traveled to Indianapolis with his friend Charles Volmer to start a new life.

The Socialer Turnverein, a social club co-founded by Vonnegut, was the home of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis. Image Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.
The Socialer Turnverein, a social club co-founded by Vonnegut, was the home of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis. Image Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections.

He founded the Vonnegut Hardware Store in 1852, and was considered by the Indianapolis Star as “one of the city’s most respected citizens….” Like fellow Hoosier freethinker Hermann Lieber, he was a co-founder of the Socialer Turnverein and a forceful voice for public education. Clemens founded the German-English Independent School and served on its board for over 30 years. He also served as the first president of the Freethinker Society from 1870-1875, gave lectures to the society on occasion, and even translated the celebrated agnostic orator Robert Ingersoll’s Open Letter to the Clergy of Indianapolis into German for publication. His actions and beliefs heavily impacted the inception and growth of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis.

The German-English Indepdendent School, also co-founded by Vonnegut. He would work on multiple school boards for over thirty years.
The German-English Independent School, also co-founded by Vonnegut. He would work on multiple school boards for over thirty years. Image courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections.

After the end of the Freethinker Society in 1890, Clemens Vonnegut continued his activism more than any former member, mostly through writing. A Proposed Guide for Instruction of Morals, published in 1900, enunciated Vonnegut’s philosophy of freethought, both in theory and in practice. This treatise also displayed a rhetorical flourish that Kurt would later cite as an influence in his autobiographical work, Palm Sunday.  Echoing Ingersoll and Heinzen before him, Vonnegut declared that, “No religious creed has any real proofs. It rests simply on assertions.”

However, that does not mean that humanity cannot be moral. In fact, Vonnegut argued the opposite:

True virtue is its own reward, which is not enhanced but rather misled by belief. Belief deprives us of the joys of this world by teaching us that we must detest them, and instead of them we must hope for a heaven. Belief forms the germ for persecution of those who differ from us in their religious convictions.

A Proposed Guide for Instruction of Morals, 1900. Published in both German and English, this pamplet by Clemens Vonnegut argued for a moral and just society without the need of superstition or religious beliefs. Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.
A Proposed Guide for Instruction of Morals, 1900. Published in both German and English, this pamplet by Clemens Vonnegut argued for a moral and just society without the need of superstition or religious beliefs. Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.

Vonnegut saw morality as the wellspring of the “intrinsic quality of human character which ought to be nourished and cultivated early, continually, and carefully.” In subsequent pages, Vonnegut explained how such “cultivation” is achieved. Public education, family instruction, physical fitness, and social activities presented the means by which individuals perfected a moral life without the supernatural. Like Ingersoll, Vonnegut’s morality was clear, traditional, based in the family, and demonstrated a moral life without the need of God. While Clemens Vonnegut presented his philosophy clearly, the events surrounding his death were anything but.

Clemens Vonnegut’s death in 1906 created somewhat of a mystery for his family, and later his great-grandson. It was said that he died in the snow . . . or so the story goes. Kurt Vonnegut recalls this story in his autobiographical work, Palm Sunday. In the winter of 1906, Clemens Vonnegut supposedly went for a routine stroll. Having lost his way, he wandered the streets of Indianapolis for hours before he was found dead by the side of the road by a search party. This story bewildered Kurt, whose own freethought can be traced to his great-grandfather and his own extended family. However, as with many family stories, this one stretches the truth a little.

Clemens did not die by the side of the road, but was rather found unconscious. The Indianapolis News reported that C. W. Jones, a local construction worker, found the 82-year-old Vonnegut nearly five miles from the city on Crawfordsville Pike. He sustained injuries to his head and right shoulder, but doctors feared that exposure to the elements might be his biggest challenge. After fighting for his life for five days, Clemens Vonnegut succumbed to pneumonia on January 13, 1906. His obituary cited his charity and love for knowledge, his activities within the Socialer Turnverein and the Freethinker Society, and his 27-year service for a local school board. True to his iconoclastic nature, Vonnegut wrote his own eulogy back in the 1870s and asked for its recitation when he died. As recorded in the Indianapolis Star, he railed against the creeds of Christianity:

I do not believe in the atonement to the blood of Christ or in the sin of incredulity. I do not believe in a punishment in a future life. I believe neither in a personal God nor a personal devil, but I honor the ideal which man has created as the tenor of all virtues and perfections, and has named God.

Until the very end, Clemens believed in the power of humanity to throw off the shackles of religion and embrace the values of inquiry and human-based ethics.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in New York City, 1979. Photo by Marty Reichenthal. Courtesy of slopemedia.org.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in New York City, 1979. Photo by Marty Reichenthal. Courtesy of slopemedia.org.

Nearly a century later, famed author Kurt Vonnegut (born in 1922 in Indianapolis) wrote in Palm Sunday that his great-grandfather’s freethought was his own “ancestral religion” and that he was “pigheadedly proud” of the heretical nature of his family. Kurt Vonnegut, a future honorary president of the American Humanist Association, carried the torch of freethought for his grandfather, and in some respects, introduced his ideas to a new generation.

In many of his works, Kurt would openly criticize religion, spirituality, and faith, so much so that it even contributed to the end of his first marriage. Nevertheless, echoing his grandfather in a 1980 speech at the First Parish Unitarian Church, Vonnegut declared, “Doesn’t God give dignity to everybody? No—not in my opinion. Giving dignity, the sort of dignity that is of earthly use, anyway, is something that only people do. Or fail to do.”

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) would become Vonnegut's most well known novel. Its open understanding of the barbarity of war, coupled with many humanist themes, continues to enthrall readers. Courtesy of In These Times.
Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) would become Vonnegut’s most well known novel. Its open understanding of the barbarity of war, coupled with many humanist themes, continues to enthrall readers. Courtesy of In These Times.

His most popular novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), displays Kurt’s intense abhorrence of war (influenced by his own WWII POW experience) and a belief in a common humanity. Specifically, “so it goes” is a phrase that Vonnegut peppered throughout the novel, often after horrible events or even banal ones. This phrase conveys that no matter how bad things get, no matter how high one can get, the world (and indeed the universe) goes on. As an example, this passage from the novel, describing the protagonist Billy Pilgrim’s memory of a sculpture of Jesus, is fairly apt:

A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist’s rendition of all Christ’s wounds—the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes. Billy’s Christ died horribly. He was pitiful.

So it goes.

“So it goes” becomes the novel’s panacea; a way for the narrator to deal with the grim realities of war without the comfort of religious beliefs. In some respects, it can be seen as a mantra for humanism.

Kurt's son Mark reading his late father's remarks of Clowes Memorial Hall in April, 2007. This event capped Indianapolis's "Year of Vonnegut" ceremonies. The author had died just weeks before he was to deliver this address. Courtesy of USA Today.
Kurt’s son Mark reading his late father’s remarks at Clowes Memorial Hall in April, 2007. This event capped Indianapolis’s “Year of Vonnegut” ceremonies. The author had died just weeks before he was to deliver this address. Courtesy of USA Today.

Kurt Vonnegut’s humanism continued until the end of his life, as displayed by an address he meant to give on April 27, 2007 for Indianapolis’s “Year of Vonnegut” celebrations (he died on April 11; his son Mark gave the address in his stead). In this address, from the posthumous work Armageddon in Retrospect (2008), Kurt espoused his continued commitment to humanism. He wrote:

Am I religious? I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves “Our Lady of Perpetual Consternation.” We are as celibate as fifty percent of the heterosexual Roman Catholic clergy.

Actually—and when I hold up my right hand like this, it means I’m not kidding, that I give my Word of Honor that what I’m about to say is true. So actually, I am honorary President of the American Humanist Society, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that utterly functionless capacity. We Humanists behave as well as we can, without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an Afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.

This emphasis on “community” squares nicely with Clemens’s own commitments to community, both with the Freethinker Society and with his advocacy of public education. Both Vonneguts believed that the values of sociality and comradery are essential to the flourishing of a community, and you can achieve that system without a supernatural element.

Clemens Vonnegut’s humanism carried through many generations of his family and left an indelible mark on Kurt Vonnegut. The two men’s rejection of religion and the supernatural reinforced their love for humanity, their desire for community, and their commitment to the truth, no matter how horrifying it may be. Kurt’s own success as a writer and social critic would have delighted Clemens, who participated in many of the same literary pursuits and civic activities decades before Kurt was born. As such, their two lives, separated by time, nevertheless became entwined by their ideals. Their humanist legacy reinforces the diversity of intellectual and moral philosophies that embody the American Midwest throughout the 19th, 20th, and early-21st centuries.

Both Vonneguts were proud to be from Indianapolis and the city proudly remembers them.

[*] Kurt Vonnegut’s humanism may also be described as “Modern Humanism,” or “Naturalistic Humanism, Scientific Humanism, Ethical Humanism, and Democratic Humanism, [is] defined by one of its leading proponents, Corliss Lamont, as “a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.” Modern Humanism has a dual origin, both secular and religious, and these constitute its sub-categories” (Fred Edwords, “What is Humanism,” American Humanist Association, last updated 2008, accessed March 19, 2016, americanhumanist.org).