Elihu Palmer

On this date in 1764, Elihu Palmer, Thomas Paine's ardent supporter, was born in Connecticut. Palmer graduated from Dartmouth in 1787, read theology, and proved an unpopular minister in Presbyterian and Baptist congregations, where he spoke as a deist against the divinity of Jesus Christ. He switched to law and was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia in 1793. Yellow fever killed his young wife and blinded Palmer. He was invited to found the Deistical Society of New York, and lectured widely on the East Coast. He wrote orations, opinion pieces and the book Principles of Nature; or, A Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery Among the Human Species (c. 1801), in which he wrote that "the world is infinitely worse" for following Jesus. Palmer also founded Prospect, a journal that was published from 1803-1805. Unlike many Deists, Palmer argued that the flawed teachings of Jesus were responsible for Christianity's sordid history. According to Roderick C. French's entry in Encyclopedia of Unbelief, Palmer wrote that he preferred "the correct, the elegant, the useful maxims of Confucius, Antoninus, Seneca, Price and Volney." When Thomas Paine was universally ostracized for writing The Age of Reason, Palmer and his second wife, who nursed Paine, remained steadfast friends. Palmer was only 42 when he died during a speaking tour. D. 1806.

“Another important doctrine of the Christian religion, is the atonement supposed to have been made by the death and sufferings of the pretended Saviour of the world; and this is grounded upon principles as regardless of justice as the doctrine of original sin. It exhibits a spectacle truly distressing to the feelings of the benevolent mind, it calls innocence and virtue into a scene of suffering, and reputed guilt, in order to destroy the injurious effects of real vice. It pretends to free the world from the fatal effects of a primary apostacy, by the sacrifice of an innocent being. Evil has already been introduced into the world, and in order to remove it, a fresh accumulation of crimes becomes necessary. In plain terms, to destroy one evil, another must be committed.”

—-Elihu Palmer, Principles of Nature; or, A Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery among the Human Species, 1801

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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