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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Gothic Undercurrents

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•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Henry Ward
- Ambrose
- Charles
Brockden Brown
- Emily Dickenson
- Charlotte
Perkins Gilman
- Nathaniel
- Washington
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Allen Poe
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Gilmore Simms
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Authors: Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1837)

Testimony in the Great Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case Illustrated
[7240] James E. Cook, Testimony in the Great Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case Illustrated (1875),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-121959].

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Born in Litchfield, Connecticut, Henry Ward Beecher was the son of the preacher Lyman Beecher and the brother of the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. He added to the discursive fame of his family by becoming a well-known preacher, orator, and lecturer. Beecher graduated from Amherst in 1834 and attended Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. After two pastorates in Indiana, he moved in 1847 to the newly organized Congregational Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York.

Publicly vocal on contemporary issues, Beecher was a leader in the antislavery movement, a proponent of women's suffrage, and an advocate of the theory of evolution. He regularly attracted some twenty-five hundred auditors to his Sunday sermons, and he published an early pamphlet, Seven Lectures to Young Men (1844). In 1854, he raised money among his congregation for weapons to be used in the antislavery cause; these rifles came to be called "Beecher's Bibles." Beecher became editor of the Independent in 1861 and of the Christian Union in 1870. He visited England in 1863, spreading sympathy for the Union in a series of lectures.

In 1875, one of Beecher's parishioners (and a popular speaker in his own right), Theodore Tilton, brought a lawsuit against him for adultery with Tilton's wife--a charge first made by Victoria Woodhull in her newspaper Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly. After a long trial, this suit ended with the jury in disagreement; Beecher's friends claimed that he won. Despite being publicly embarrassed by the trial, Beecher remained influential for the rest of his life. His works include The Life of Jesus, the Christ (1871) and Evolution and Religion (1885).

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