Lyman Beecher

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Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher was a prominent theologian, educator and reformer in the years before the American Civil War.

Beecher was born in 1775, in New Haven, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale College in 1797 and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1799. He became a minister in Long Island, New York. In 1810, he accepted a position as minister in Litchfield, Connecticut. He became well known for his fiery sermons against intemperance and slavery. In 1826, he resigned his position in Litchfield and accepted a new one in Boston, Massachusetts. By this point, his reputation had spread across the United States. The church in Boston had more money to pay a minister of his standing. It also had a much larger congregation. In 1830, Beecher's church caught fire. A merchant who rented some rooms in the church stored whiskey in the basement. The whiskey somehow ignited. Beecher took this as a personal affront considering the sermons he delivered in the church's sanctuary against the evils of liquor. In 1832, he moved his family to Cincinnati, where he accepted a position as president of Lane Theological Seminary.

At Lane, Beecher worked to educate future ministers. He wanted them to spread across the American West and save people from their sinful ways. Beecher's years at Lane Theological Seminary were filled with controversy. The seminary's troubled history reflected the challenges that the Presbyterian Church, the state of Ohio and the nation faced in the nineteenth century. Within a few years of its founding, the seminary was divided over the issue of slavery. The school's board of directors tried to prohibit students from supporting abolitionism in 1834. Theodore Weld and many other students left the school. A number of these students enrolled at Oberlin College. The directors had hoped to prevent strife with the wider community in Cincinnati. Many residents of the city came from the South and still supported the institution of slavery. Other people opposed slavery, but believed that African Americans would move to the North and deprive white people of jobs. Beecher also had disagreements with other Presbyterian ministers over his religious beliefs. Not all church members appreciated Beecher's fiery oratory and openly complained about it. Tired of the constant bickering, Beecher resigned his position in 1850.

In 1851, Beecher left Cincinnati and moved to Brooklyn, New York. He spent the rest of his life living with his son, Henry Ward Beecher. He was comforted by his children, who continued their father's work. Henry was a Presbyterian minister and used his pulpit to urge Northerners to protest slavery and to avoid alcohol. Lyman's daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book inspired many people to stand up against slavery. Lyman Beecher died in 1863.


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