(October 12, 1775–January 10, 1863), was a renowned Presbyterian clergyman in New England. He preached in Boston and Cincinnati, where he later became President of Lane Theological Seminary. He was the father of both Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most eloquent preachers of his time, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which greatly precipitated the abolition of slavery.
In 1831, Lyman Beecher wrote in the newspaper, The Spirit of the Pilgrims:
The Government of God is the only government which will hold society, against depravity within and temptation without; and this it must do by the force of its own law written upon the heart.
This is that unity of the Spirit and that bond of peace which can alone perpetuate national purity and tranquility—that law of universal and impartial love by which alone nations can be kept back from ruin. There is no safety for republics but in self-government, under the influence of a holy heart, swayed by the government of God.1729
Commenting on the purpose of America, Lyman Beecher noted:
If this nation is, in the providence of God, destined to lead the way in the moral and political emancipation of the world, it is time she understood her high calling, and were harnessed for the work. For mighty causes, like floods from distant mountains, are rushing with accumulating power to their consummation of good or evil, and soon our character and destiny will be stereotyped forever.1730
As quoted in McGuffey’s Eclectic Sixth Reader, 1907, Lyman Beecher stated:
We are called upon to cherish with high veneration and grateful recollections, the memory of our fathers. …
Both the ties of nature and the dictates of policy demand this. And surely no nation had ever less occasion to be ashamed of its ancestry, or more occasion for the gratulation in that respect; for while most nations trace their origin to barbarians, the foundations of our nation were laid by civilized men, by Christians.
Many of them were men of distinguished families, of powerful talents, of great learning and of preeminent wisdom, of decision of character, and of most inflexible integrity. And yet not unfrequently they have been treated as if they had no virtues; while their sins and follies have been sedulously immortalized in satirical anecdote.
The influence of such treatment of our fathers is too manifest. It creates and lets loose upon their institutions the vandal spirit of innovation and overthrow; for after the memory of our fathers shall have been rendered contemptible, who will appreciate and sustain their institutions?
The memory of our fathers’ should be the watchword of liberty throughout the land; for, imperfect as they were, the world before had not seen their like, nor will it soon, we fear, behold their like again.
Such models of moral excellence, such apostles of civil and religious liberty, such shades of the illustrious dead looking down upon their descendants with approbation or reproof, according as they follow or depart from the good way, constitute a censorship inferior only to the eye of God; and to ridicule them is national suicide.
The doctrines of our fathers have been represented as gloomy, superstitious, severe, irrational, and of a licentious tendency. But when other systems shall have produced a piety as devoted, a morality as pure, a patriotism as disinterested, and a state of society as happy, as have prevailed where their doctrines have been most prevalent, it may be in season to seek an answer to this objection.
The persecutions instituted by our fathers have been the occasion of ceaseless obloquy upon their fair fame. And truly, it was a fault of no ordinary magnitude, that sometimes they did persecute. But let him whose ancestors were not ten times more guilty, cast the first stone, and the ashes of our fathers will no more be disturbed.
Theirs was the fault of the age, and it will be easy to show that no class of men had, at that time, approximated so nearly to just apprehensions of religious liberty; and that it is to them that the world is now indebted for the more just and definite views which now prevail.
The superstition and bigotry of our fathers are themes on which some of their descendants, themselves far enough from superstition, if not from bigotry, have delighted to dwell.
But when we look abroad, and behold the condition of the world, compared with the condition of New England, we may justly exclaim, “Would to God that the ancestors of all the nations had been not only almost, but altogether such bigots as our fathers were.”1731
Lyman Beecher wrote in his autobiography:
The enemy employs influential friends of Christ to wound one another, and to propagate distrust, alienation, and acrimony. …
The strength of the Church depends upon our concentrated action. …
Whatever, therefore, propagates suspicion and distrust among brethren who have long acted together, paralyzes their power. …
Of this, the great enemy of the Church is perfectly aware, and has never failed, when the concentration of forces against him had become too formidable for direct resistance, to ease himself of his adversaries by dividing them.1732
Lyman Beecher commented concerning his life:
I was made for action. The Lord drove me, but I was ready. I have always been going at full speed … harnessed to the Chariot of Christ, whose wheels of fire have rolled onward, high and dreadful to His foes and glorious to His friends!1733