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character worthy of notice, and I am happy that you are disposed to give them publicity; and could only wish that some more able hand were employed to second your views. I shall, however, state a few prominent facts, which I hope will prove acceptable, without the ornaments of style to recommend them.
Elihu Palmer was born in or near Norwich, in the state of Connecticut*, about the year 1763. He wrought with his father, at the farming business, till be arrived at the age of twenty one years. He then availed himself of a small charity, connected with a school and college at Dartmouth, in New Hampshire, under Doctor Wheelock, which enabled him to enter, and afterwards to graduate at, that college. In order, however, to procure means to defray a part of his expences, he taught in a school during the vacations of that institution. The charity fund belonging to this college was established by private donations, and a grant of the legislature of the state in which it was located, for the ostensible purpose of educating the aborigines of this country, to enable them to spread the knowledge of the gospel among their respective tribes. But generally, they who were induced to submit to be taught in the Christian manner soon became tired of the study of the Greek and Latin languages, and left the college in disgust. I knew of but one, named Occum, who held out to the last and obtained a degree. He became a Presbyterian minister, but, having learnt the use of strong liquors from bis Christian associates, was much addicted to drunkenness. The object for which this fund was obtained, having been but partially effected, a part of it was applied to the education of some of the white inhabitants. To this circumstance, Mr. Palmer, probably, owed his academic honours. So that folly, in this case, was productive of good.
Within a month after Mr. Palmer graduated, he commenced preaching at Pittsfield, in Massachusetts; where he continued for some months. He then had a call, as it is termed, at Newtown, on Long Island. On his way there, he preached at Sheffield, in Massachusetts, on a thanksgiving day. Upon which occasion, instead of expatiating upon the horrid and awful condition of mankind in consequence of
We, in this country, have been in a sad mistake, in supposing him to have been a Scotch Emigrant Priest. The error must have arisen from the Mr. Fysche Palmer who was transported from Scotland with Muir, Skirving, Gerald, Margarot and others at the close of the last century.
the lapse of Adam and his wife, he exhorted his hearers to spend the day joyfully in innocent festivity, and to render themselves as happy as possible. He was lectured by an attorney, a sound believer, at whose house he stopped, for giving such liberal advice. Before arriving at his place of destination, he also preached at New York, for a respectable old Presbyterian clergyman, Doctor Rodgers, and he was here reproved by the Doctor for the liberality of his sentiments. Which shews that he was but ill adapted for a Presbyterian pulpit. At Newtown, he became acquainted with a Doctor Ledgyard, a physician of that place, a man of talents and a freethinker; who used to amuse himself by attacking Mr. Palmer ou doctrinal points of religion; which he found very irksome, as he could not conscientiously defend them. And, having ascertained that the Doctor was trust-worthy, he begged a truce with him, stating, that there was no disagreement in their opinion. In his discourses, he avoided entering upon the peculiar and mysterious doctrines of the Christian religion, confining himself to its moral precepts. In his circumstances, when a good was sought in the then only feasible way of obtaining it, I can see no well founded objections to its being effected under the mantle of superstition.
He resided about six months at Newtown, and then removed to the city of Philadelphia, which presented a more extensive field for the display of his talents. But, although he taught a benevolent doctrine himself, he, at length, became disgusted with preaching from pulpits, where the morose, vindictive, and uncharitable tenets of Calvin were generally inculcated, and expected by the bearers. And it is probable also, that he failed to give satisfaction to those pious souls, whose ears bad become habituated to the awful denunciations of the Christian God. He, therefore, joined the society of Universalists, whose principles were more congenial to his benevolent feelings, and more creditable to the character of the supreme Being. But still the childish and impious presumption of supposing the Deity capable of requiring the murder of Jesus Christ, called his son to atone for the trifling faux pas of a woman, committed some thousand years before, was too revolting for his honest and manly mind long to brook; and, having obtained the assent of a part of the elders of his congregation to that effect, he advertised, in a public paper, the Aurora, that, on the succeeding sunday, he would deliver a discourse against the divinity of Jesus Christ. This was an act of imprudence, at that
time, that nothing but his inexperience, and impetuous zeal in the cause of truth can palliate or account for. Universalism itself was then hardly tolerated in this country. It bad just began modestly to bring forward its claims to indulgence. In consequence of this advertisement, the society of Universalists were in an uproar; and being joined by people of other denominations, instigated probably by their priests, an immense mob assembled at an early hour before the Universalist Church, which Mr. Palmer was unable to enter. In fact, it is stated, that he was in personal danger, and was induced to quit the city, somewhat in the stile of the ancient apostles upon similar occasions. He retired to the residence of a brother of his, an attorney, in the western part of Pensylvania. With him, he read law, the usual time required, and returning to Philadelphia was admitted as a pleader at the bar. He had now a wife and two childrenboys. Three months after his return, in the summer of 1793, the yellow fever occured in that city; which caused the death of his wife, and deprived him of sight. Doctor Rusb, the physician who attended him, informed me, that Mr. P. was opposed to being bled, which, had he submitted to, the Doctor thinks would have prevented the melancholy result. He was now left blind, and without resources to aid him to grope his way in darkness; with little sympathy or disposition in the sectarians of any denomination to lend a helping hand to soothe his misfortune. Indeed, some did not scruple to pronounce it a judgment of God for his unbelief. But his courageous mind rose superior to the obstacles that appeared to have closed his usefulness for ever. He often said, that the accident had fallen upon the right person, upon one that was able to bear it; that many would have sunk under it; but that he could submit with firmness.
He sent his children to his father in Connecticut; and boldly attempted to stem the difficulties attending the practice of law in his circumstances. But he found the impediments insurmountable: that the profession required, at least, all the sight that nature had bestowed to investigate its intricate subtilties, and he was obliged to abandon the undertaking. Having received favourable reports of the liberality of the people of Augusta in Georgia; or being invited by some gentlemen to try his fortune there, he set out alone for that place. Here be obtained liberty to deliver discourses in the court-house, and he commenced upon the broad base of Deism, It is said that he had a more numerous auditory than the parson of the parish, an honest good sort of man, an epis
copalian. He had remained in Augusta about twelve months, when he undertook a visit to his friends in Connectieut; and stopping in his way at New York, the writer, for the first time, became acquainted with him, in the year 1796 or 97. It was immediately proposed to him to deliver lectures in this city, which he assented to without hesitation; and a large assembly room being obtained for the purpose, he commenced the following Sunday. A small society was formed in aid of his exertions; which assumed, without disguise, the name of Deistical Society. This appellation was advocated by Mr. Palmer, although some others were in favour of that of Theophilanthropist, as being less frightful to fanatics, not many of whom would understand the term. Although his lectures were generally pretty numerously attended, there were not many who were disposed to contribute for the support of the principles, and those, for the most part, limited in means. It became necessary, therefore, for him to make occasional excursions to other populous towns to recruit his funds. Which he frequently did, to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Newburg, on the North River. These journeys he took without any attendance. His last was to Philadelphia, in an inclement season, in the winter of 1805. Soon after his arrival there, he was attacked with pleurisy, which, in a few days terminated his existence, in the fortysecond year of his age. He left a second wife, before alluded to, a very amiable woman, who survived him about eight years. By her he had no children.
Mr. Palmer, as a public speaker, was equalled by few; his delivery was graceful, his voice strong and sonorous, and he never hesitated for words to express his ideas. Tenacious of the justness of his principles, and that their propaga tion tended to promote the best interests of society, no difficulties could discourage him, no opposition damp the ardour of his persevering mind. Had he, however, been more indulgent to weak inquirers after truth, he would probably have gained more proselytes. The bold and positive manner in which he attacked popular prejudices wounded the self-pride of some, who could not bear to hear their darling scheme of revelation so roughly handled, and frightened others, who, like invalids, required to be nursed with food more tender, and better adapted to their digestive faculties. As a man, he was rigidly moral, a philanthropist, and of course a zealous advocate for the liberties of mankind. No temptation could induce him, for a moment, to swerve from what he thought right.
I inclose the principles of the Deistical Society of the State of New York, drawn up by Mr. Palmer, which will show the purity of the motives which induced its formation. It existed some years after the death of its founder; but at length was discontinued for want of zeal in the members. Some of whom have returned to the slough of superstition. Whilst others, influenced, probably, by less interested motives, or who have taken a more enlarged view of the evils inflicted upon mankind by their tamely succumbing to the domination of ignorance and fanaticism, rigidly adhere to the tenets formerly promulgated by the society.
During his residence in New York, Mr. Palmer wrote (or rather dictated, his wife generally writing for him) the Principles of Nature, and View of the Moral World. The former you have published, and, I understand, by Mr. Car-. ver, that you have lately procured a copy of the latter. He intended to have continued this work, making comments upon every book and chapter of the Bible. He dictated as fast as a quick writer could copy, and in language that required little or no alteration.
Religion, which means nothing but the belief of idle fantastic stories, owes its origin to the ignorance and fears of mankind in remote and barbarous ages. And, being found admirably adapted to the support of despotism, has been sedulously cultivated, and rigidly enforced among nations, the enlightened part of which have long since ceased to be the dupes of its extravagant vagaries. Hence, in order to continue the deception, cruel and vindictive laws have been enacted to oblige men to believe, or say they believe, what their reason contradicts. In short, it has been made a cheating, money-making business, and kings and priests, both equally useless, have divided the spoil. Kings could not exist without priests. Their trades exactly fit each other. First enslave the mind, and the slavery of the body follows as natural as the shadow its object. But, after so many ages of bloodshed and every species of persecution, it is to be hoped, that the time is near at hand, when the people of those portions of the globe, which have been favoured with the light of science, will arise in their might, and put an end to this nonsensical jargon and oppression. You, and your friends, have made a glorious stand in England, which surprises even us in America, who agree with you in sentiment. For, although we are more at liberty to express our thoughts, there are few who have the boldness to do it with that freedom which you and your supporters have done.