Benjamin Underwood

On this date in 1839, Benjamin Underwood was born in New York City, the second of seven children. Largely self-educated, he served in the Civil War and was imprisoned at Richmond after being wounded in the right leg. After being released through a prisoner exchange program, Underwood reinlisted and served through the war, receiving a commendation for bravery in action. After working as a reporter, lecturer and author, Underwood became a noted promoter of Darwin and evolution. He was appointed co-editor, with William J. Potter, of the Index in 1881, a weekly newspaper founded by a Unitarian. In 1887, the atheist founded The Open Court in Chicago, a well-respected journal which published the writings of many freethinkers. Underwood wrote, lectured and debated as a major 19th century advocate for the freethought movement. His books include The Influence of Christianity on Civilization (1871) and The Crimes and Cruelties of Christianity (1877). Underwood chaired the "Congress of Evolution" at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. Underwood was a supporter of feminism. His wife, Sara Underwood, wrote Heroines of Freethought (1876). D. 1914.

"There is no argument worthy of the name that will justify the union of the Christian religion with the State. Every consideration of justice and equality forbids it. Every argument in favor of free Republican institutions is equally an argument in favor of a complete divorce of the State from the Church. History in warning tones tells us there can be no liberty without it. Justice demands it. Public safety requires it. He who opposes it is, whether he realizes it or not, an enemy of freedom. ”

—Benjamin Underwood, "The Practical Separation of Church & State," an address to the 1876 Centennial Congress of Liberals

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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