“Difficulties are God’s errands; and when we are sent upon them, we should esteem it a proof of God’s confidence, – as a compliment from God.” Henry Ward Beecher, as quoted in A Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers by J.H. Gilbert
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Henry Ward Beecher (1813 – 1887) was a relatively liberal clergyman in America, son of a famous preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Henry Ward Beecher grew up in Connecticut, attended Amherst college and the Lane seminary in Ohio. He accepted posts as minister in Indiana and New York as well as widely traveling the U.S. and England as a lecturer. His fame for being humorous (sermons were not usually humorous in the 19th century) and relatable was eclipsed later in life by scandal. A known womanizer, Beecher was taken to trial by a husband of one of his mistresses.
In his lectures Henry Ward Beecher supported abolition of slavery, splitting with his denomination. He spoke publicly in support of abolition, supported abolitionist fighters in territories by sending rifles dubbed “Beecher’s Bibles”, then sided with the union when Civil War broke out. Abraham Lincoln sent him on a speaking tour of Europe to raise support for the Union. His contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson, spoke against slavery, as well.
Beecher also left behind calvinist beliefs of predestination in favor of what he called a “Gospel of Love” emphasizing God’s love and doubting the existence of hell. He was a leader in the Woman’s Suffrage movement, serving as president of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and a believer that Darwin’s theory of evolution and Christianity were compatible, authoring the book Evolution and Religion.
Unhappy in his marriage, and frequently traveling, Henry Ward Beecher’s extramarital affairs were frequent and came out over time, some even including rape accusations from a long time mistress Edna Dean Proctor. He publicly spoke against “free love” and so was called out for his hypocrisy by Victoria Woodhull in her publication Woodhull and Clafin’s Weekly in 1972. A trial against Beecher in 1875 ended without a verdict, and Beecher was exonerated by his church. He continued to travel, preach, and write until his death of a stroke in 1887.