Francis Ellingwood Abbot

On this date in 1836, freethought writer Francis Ellingwood Abbot was born into a family of Transcendentalists. Educated at Harvard and Meadville Theological School, Abbot became a Unitarian minister. By 1868, he was forced to leave the pulpit because of his too-radical views. Abbot was taken to court for using a meeting house to form a more liberal society, and eventually was barred by the New Hampshire Supreme Court from ever preaching in any Unitarian Church in the state without the consent of all members. He moved to Toledo, Ohio, to found the Independent Society and its journal, the The [Free Religious] Index, initially described as a journal of "free religious inquiry" or "scientific theism." Abbot continued editing the very fine newspaper from Boston until 1880. (B.F. Underwood and and a co-editor replaced Abbot as joint editors of The Index and published it through 1886, when Underwood went on to found another great freethought journal of record, The Open Court in Chicago.) Abbot was a noted freethought lecturer who also wrote Impeachment of Christianity in 1872. He became the first president of the American National Liberal League in 1877. He parted company with many fellow Liberals by preferring to push for the amendment of the Comstock Law, rather than its complete repeal, after D.M. Bennett was arrested by Anthony Comstock in Syracuse in 1878. Abbot, known as a dedicated family man, died at his wife's gravesite on the tenth anniversary of her death. D. 1903.

“That great and growing evils render it a paramount patriotic duty on the part of American citizens, who comprehend the priceless value of pure Secular government, to take active measures for the immediate and absolute secularization of the state, and we earnestly urge them to organize without delay for this purpose.”
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—Francis Ellingwood Abbot, from "Nine Demands of Liberalism," The Index, April 6, 1872. Source: Four Hundred Years of Freethought edited by S.P. Putman.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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