PALMER, ELIHU (1764–1806).

Deist preacher. Born in Canterbury, Connecticut, Palmer graduated from Dartmouth College in 1787 and studied theology with John Foster at Pittsfield, Massachusetts. After only six months (1788–1789) as minister at the Presbyterian Church of Newtown, Long Island, Palmer left because the congregation rejected his unorthodox thinking. He moved to Philadelphia to join the Baptists and finally the Universalists, but his teaching against the deity of Jesus outraged his parishioners so that he had to leave town in 1791.

In 1793 Palmer studied law in Philadelphia, but after a yellow fever epidemic left him blind, he returned to preaching as a free-lance deist speaker. He settled in New York City, where he founded a deist society known successively as the Philosophical Society, the Theistical Society and the Society of the Columbian Illuminati. Palmer preached at this gathering every Sunday night, as well as to similar groups in other cities. As editor of two short-lived weeklies, Temple of Reason (1801–1803) and Prospect: View of the Moral World (1803–1805), he attempted to publish his ideas to a broader audience as well.

Palmer’s religious views evolved into a militant, anti-Christian deism. He attacked the Bible as immoral and claimed that Moses, Mohammed and Jesus “were all of them impostors; two of them notorious murderers in practice, and the other a murderer in principle.” Joining his own form of natural religion and rationalism with ardent republicanism, Palmer’s goal was the overthrow of both superstition and tyranny. The most complete statement of his thought appeared in his Principles of Nature; A Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery among the Human Species (1802).

Bibliography. DAB VII; E. Palmer, Posthumous Pieces … To Which Are Prefixed a Memoir of Mr. Palmer … (1826).

T. P. Thigpen

Fuente: Dictionary of Christianity in America