The most famous man in america the biography of henry ward beecher by debby applegate, kindle edition 5 star review
The Most Famous Man in America:
The Biography of Henry Ward
Beecher by Debby Applegate
No one predicted success for Henry Ward Beecher at his birth in 1813.
The blithe, boisterous son of the last great Puritan minister, he seemed
destined to be overshadowed by his brilliant siblings—especially his sister,
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the century’s bestselling book Uncle
Tom’s Cabin. But when pushed into the ministry, the charismatic Beecher
found international fame by shedding his father Lymans Old Testament–
style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New
Testament–based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one
of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. By the 1850s, his
spectacular sermons at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights had made
him New York’s number one tourist attraction, so wildly popular that the
ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed ―Beecher Boats.‖
Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era—
among them the antislavery and women’s suffrage movements, the rise of
the entertainment industry and tabloid press, and controversies ranging
from Darwinian evolution to presidential politics. He was notorious for his
irreverent humor and melodramatic gestures, such as auctioning slaves to
freedom in his pulpit and shipping rifles—nicknamed ―Beecher’s Bibles‖—
to the antislavery resistance fighters in Kansas. Thinkers such as
Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain befriended—and sometimes
And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused by feminist
firebrand Victoria Woodhull of adultery with one of his most pious
parishioners. Suddenly the ―Gospel of Love‖ seemed to rationalize a life of
lust. The cuckolded husband brought charges of ―criminal conversation‖ in
a salacious trial that became the most widely covered event of the century,
garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher
survived, but his reputation and his causes—from women’s rights to
progressive evangelicalism—suffered devastating setbacks that echo to
Featuring the page-turning suspense of a novel and dramatic new
historical evidence, Debby Applegate has written the definitive biography
of this captivating, mercurial, and sometimes infuriating figure. In our own
time, when religion and politics are again colliding and adultery in high
places still commands headlines, Beecher’s story sheds new light on the
culture and conflicts of contemporary America.
From the Hardcover edition.
This book is not only a thorough exploration of a remarkable man, but a
marvelous tour through 19th century America.
Recently, I asked two people in their 30s if they had ever heard of Henr y
Ward Beecher. They had not. They did recognize the name of his sister,
Harriet Beecher Stowe. How time erases celebrity! H.W. Beecher was
deeply involved in the major issues of his times, was credited by both
Lincoln and Robert E. Lee with determining the outcome of the Civil War
and became involved in a legal case over adultery that easily equals the
O.J. Simpson spectacle in our own time. Yet, he is almost entirely
forgotten - I would not have been able to properly identify him before
reading this book.
Henry, the son of a Calvinist preacher, Lyman Beecher, ended up
repudiating Calvinism and bridged the time between the fire and brimstone
school of preaching and the modern era of American Christianity that he
initiated, in which God is equated with love and forgiveness. An emotional
man enraptured by the effect of adoring audiences, Henry Ward Beecher
lived to address the multitudes. The other duties of a minister paled by
comparison; he never cared to be a pastor visiting his flock and listening to
their troubles. Rather, he enjoyed mingling with the public at large from the
elite of Manhattan to the workers toiling on the docks, Christians and
pagans alike. With his long hair, open collar and idea that nobody was
sinless or could be, he made a distinct impression wherever he went.
Working his way up through churches near Cincinnati and in Indianapolis,
Beecher ultimately had a church in Brooklyn, NY built specifically for him in
1859 (Plymouth Church that still stands today) and from there he ruled the
roost until his death, consistently pulling in packed audiences.
A member of a large and famous family and husband to a prolific (literally)
wife who viewed herself as a martyr, his chilly marriage resulted in long
periods of separation in which his open and understanding manner could
lead to complications with the opposite sex. The last quarter of the book is
filled with the details of the Beecher - Tilton affair that led to a trial that
filled the newspapers of America; well over 100 stories on the matter
appeared in the New York Times alone.
This book is enjoyable on many levels, from an investigation of the
psychology of Beecher and those closest to him, through an analysis of the
religious and political movements of the time, to the issue of how the
preservation of what a man represents can be more important to the public
than the actual personal actions of that man. In other words, if you are an
icon, much will be forgiven before those who treasure the icon will allow it
Beecher could lead on the issues, such as the right of women to vote, but
he more often took the pulse of his public and moved in the direction to
which they pointed. Contradiction was part of the man, as it is with all of
us, but Beecher never looked back and never tried to maintain that he was
always right as so many do. His conversation with individuals was
uninhibited and open-hearted and the emotional transport he achieved in
his sermons could lead him to say things he later found hard to defend.
Perhaps this was a large part of his attraction; he expressed the emotional
freedom for which his straight-laced listeners longed, even if they would
never dare to say so.
Read this book and you will understand why Henry Ward Beecher
deserved his fame. No less a critic of humanity than Mark Twain claimed
Beecher was a Gulliver among Lilliputians. Every chapter will leave you
eager to find out what happens next!?
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