Blasphemy

Blasphemy

“Blasphemy.” The Correspondent, 3:23 (June 28, 1828): 362-64. Houston opines on a Pennsylvania Commissions recommendation to the Pennsylvania legislature that Pennsylvania enact a penal code prohibiting blasphemy. Houston notes, “It is easy to understand how one man may injure the character or person of another man. But no such contact or intercourse exists between deity and man, as between man and man. It is therefore, a mere bugbear of the priesthood to talk of blaspheming God. It is themselves they mean. Exposing their deceptions affects their interest, and makes them tremble for their salaries and luxuriant fare.”

Aristides. “Blasphemy.” The Correspondent, 3:25 (July 12, 1828): 385-86. The author concludes, [T]here is no man, or set of men, on earth, that has a right to make laws respecting the religious opinions of individuals- let those opinions be what they will. The law should take cognizance only of immoral actions, leaving to each individual the absolute right of modifying his theological ideas according to the best judgment which human reason can form on the subject.”

“Intolerance.” The Correspondent, 5:12 (Apr. 11, 1829): 187-89. The editor reports that the New Hampshire legislature enacted a law prohibiting the willful blaspheming of the name of God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost and the cursing or reproaching of any of the canonical scriptures of the old and new testaments.

“Prosecutions in England for Blasphemy; or Speaking Evil of the Bible and the Christian Religion.” The Correspondent, 5:14-15 (Apr. 25-May 2, 1829): 221-23, 238-40.

John Reznor. “Letter to the Editor.” The World as it Is, 1:46 (July 2, 1836): 3. Reznor reports on the trial of Cornelius M’Vicker of Penn Yan, New York, who was charged with blasphemy for allegedly declaring that the Virgin Mary was a whore and Jesus a bastard.

Charles Knowlton. “Extracts from an Address.” The Boston Investigator, 384 (Aug. 3, 1838): 1. Knowlton endeavors to answer the following question, “Why it is, that inasmuch as legislators may with propriety enact laws to restrain certain acts or crimes, they may not, also, with propriety enact laws to restrain the expression and promulgation of opinions which they or a majority of their constituents fully believe tend to a commission of these same crimes?”

“[Blasphemy] Case of Mr. [Flavel] Patterson.” The Boston Investigator, 394 (Oct. 12, 1838): 2. Patterson was tried for denying the omniscience of Jesus.

“Free Enquiry in England.” The Beacon (New Series), 2:25 (May 8, 1841): 198-99. Under this heading, appears a letter from London bookseller, J. Watson. Watson reports a renewal of prosecutions for blasphemy and the cessation of the Star in the East.

Trial of Mr. Henry Hetherington.” The Boston Investigator, 521 (May 12, 1841): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Chronicle.[1]

“Publicola[2], To Lord Denman, on the Late Prosecution for Blasphemy.” The Boston Investigator, 524 (June 2, 1841): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch.

“Blasphemous Libel- Queen’s Bench- Special Juries.” The Boston Investigator, 530 (July 14, 1841): 2. This editorial examines the trial of Henry Hetherington.

“Another Prosecution in England for Blasphemy!” The Boston Investigator, 532 (July 28, 1841): 2. The editor reports that Mr. Edward Moxon, a bookseller in London, was found guilty of having published a “‘blasphemous libel’ in an edition of the poetical works of Shelley.” The editor states, “Cannot Christianity be supported without these foolish, absurd, and contemptible prosecutions? Has it no merit of its own, no goodness, no virtue, that it cannot be vindicated and advanced only by law?”

Publicola. “The Recent Prosecution for Blasphemy [of Edward Moxon].” The Boston Investigator, 536 (Aug. 25, 1841): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch. The author analyzes “parts of Lord Denham’s disgraceful charge to the jury, which ought to be held up to public shame.”[3]

Publicola. “Mr. Serjeant Talfourd Upon Blasphemy.” The Boston Investigator, 559 (Feb. 2, 1842): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch. Publicola critically examines Sergeant Talfourd’s court statement in defense of Mr. Moxon.

Publicola. “Is a Jury a Tribunal Competent to Try Cases of Libel, Religious or Political?” The Boston Investigator, 541 (Sept. 29, 1841): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch. Publicola pledges to prove that “few things can be more absurd, malevolent, fraudulent, and pernicious, than submitting to the decisions of juries, questions of opinion upon speculative subjects.”

Editor. “Prosecution for “Blasphemy”!” The Boston Investigator, 556 (Jan. 12, 1842): 2. The editor reports Artemas Rogers was indicted and tried in Otsego, New York for asserting that God had had “carnal connexion with a woman.”

“Prosecution for Blasphemy.” The Boston Investigator, 567 (Mar. 30, 1842): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch. The author reports Charles Southwell was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for blasphemous libels found in his work – The Oracle of Reason.

Publicola. “Another Prosecution for Blasphemy.” The Boston Investigator, 568 (Apr. 6, 1842): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch. Publicola argues that, “No man in a free state ought to be prosecuted in any shape for any offence that does not admit of a definition.”

G.V. “Persecution in England – Charles Southwell and the Oracle of Reason.” The Beacon (New Series), 3:25 (May 6, 1842): 198-200. Vale opines, “The man who would deprive another of his liberty, break up his family, by depriving the husband of the means of supporting them, and thus expose them to suffering, and even starvation, for expressing his opinions, or the exercise of any other inalienable right, deserves death at the hands of the victim.”

“Freedom of the Press.” The Boston Investigator, 574 (May 18, 1842): 1. The author asks, “In which of our States is not the offence called blasphemy indictable? In which of our States dare you speak of Jesus Christ in the contemptuous terms that all good Christians speak of the Jews, and of Mahomet?”

Publicola. “Trials for Blasphemy. To Judge Erskine, of the Common Pleas.” The Boston Investigator, 598 (Nov. 2, 1842): 1. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch. This letter concerns the trials of Adams and Holyoake.

“The Blue Laws of 1846.” The Boston Investigator, 766 (Jan. 28, 1846): 3. Reprinted from the Life in Lowell. The editor of the Life in Lowell reports on his upcoming trial “for the alleged crime of blasphemy.”

“The Constitution and Religion.” The Boston Investigator, 1239 (Feb. 21, 1855): 2. The editor demonstrates why “the Statute of Blasphemy in Massachusetts cannot stand consistently with the Constitution of the United States and the Laws of Naturalization under that Constitution.”

“Christianity is Maintained by Law.” The Boston Investigator, 1371 (Sept. 2, 1857): 2. The editor reports a new case of blasphemy indicting Thomas Pooley, a fifty year-old laborer, “for  having blasphemously spoken against God, and profanely scoffed at the Holy Scriptures, and exposed them to contempt and ridicule.

Abner Kneeland – Blasphemy Case

 Editorial. The Boston Investigator, 146 (Jan. 10, 1834): 1-2. Kneeland reports that he has been indicted for blasphemy for the publication of three articles found in the December 20, 1833 issue of the Boston Investigator.

 Editorial. The Boston Investigator, 147 (Jan. 17, 1834): 2. Kneeland announces that he is to be “tried in the Municipal Court, for the alleged crime of witchcraft! Or what is as absurd as witchcraft, blasphemy!!”

“Re-Establishment of the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition in Boston, Mass., in the Year of Our Lord, 1834!!!” The Free Enquirer, 1:13 (Jan. 19, 1834): 97. The editor begins his remarks, “Ephemeral scribblers are incessantly occupied in praising or censuring countries of which they know nothing; and such are a majority of the small fry of politicians who shout of the Government of this country Holy! Holy! Holy! Not a book is printed, not a journal circulated, not a conversation ever entered upon descriptive of the laws of each United State, but all are enthusiastic in praising a land whose proudest boast is liberty and where, “every man may follow in matters of religion the dictates of his own conscience, protected by that Constitution which is cemented by the lives, the fortunes, and the sacred honours of the venerable heroes of the Revolution.” Pompous trash!”

Editorial on the Prosecution of Abner Kneeland for Blasphemy. Mohawk Liberal, 1:35 (Jan. 23, 1834): 1. The editor contends that, “The spirit of our constitution recognizes not the crime of blasphemy, nor any crime against God, but only civil offenses; and they who assume to punish such crimes, are unconstitutional usurpers and oppressors, and impious intermeddlers with the prerogatives of their own God.”

“The Indictment of the Editor for Blasphemy.” The Boston Investigator, 149 (Jan. 31, 1834): 2. This article surveys the indictment against Kneeland, concedes that at least one of the three articles the indictment was based on was vulgar and obscene (but not blasphemous) and reports that the jury found Kneeland guilty and sentenced him to three months in the common jail.

The Defense of Abner Kneeland.” The Boston Investigator, 149 (Jan. 31, 1834): 2. This article celebrates Andrew Dunlap’s defense of Kneeland despite abhorring the editor’s opinions. [4]

“Abner Kneeland’s Sentence.” Mohawk Liberal, 1:37 (Feb. 6, 1834): 3. The editor announces Kneeland’s sentence of three months imprisonment for blasphemy and asks, “Is this the freedom of speech and religious opinion which our national constitution guarantees to us? . . . . Oh, what are paper constitutions where tyrants and priests bear rule in the land, by corrupting and enslaving the mind.”

Abner Kneeland. “My Philosophical Creed.” The Free Enquirer, 1:16 (Feb. 9, 1834): 126. Kneeland professes, “I believe that the whole universe is nature, and that the word nature embraces the whole universe, that God and nature, so far as we can attach any rational idea to either, are perfectly synonymous terms. I am not an atheist, but a pantheist, that is, instead of believing there is no God, I believe that in the abstract, all is God; and that all power that is, is in God, and that there is no power except that which proceeds from God.”

B.W. “The Item.” The Free Enquirer, 1:16 (Feb. 9, 1834): 127. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator. W challenges the “Christian party in politics” to provide a legal definition of blasphemy that does not violate the constitution which declares “that no religious preferences shall ever be granted to any corporate body or set of men whatever.”

“The Persecution of Abner Kneeland.” Liberal Advocate, 3:3:11 (Feb. 11, 1834): 87. Reprinted from the Working Man’s Advocate. The article begins, “That the antiquated foolery of a charge of “blasphemy” should have been resorted to, to sustain this prosecution, by a priesthood dependent for a livelihood on their success in suppressing freedom of opinion, was not so much a matter of wonder, as that a jury of twelve men could be found so bigoted, so knavish, or so ignorant, as to be the instruments of that priesthood.”

“The Indictment of the Editor for Blasphemy.” The Free Enquirer, 1:17 (Feb. 16, 1834): 134. Reprinted and abridged from The Boston Investigator.

A Sceptic. “To the Hon. Judge Thatcher.” The Boston Investigator, 152 (Feb. 21, 1834): 2. The author questions Thatcher’s right to express, in court, his hope that Kneeland would disavowal atheism and cease publication of The Boston Investigator.

 “Kneeland’s Sentence.” The Free Enquirer, 1:18 (Feb. 23, 1834): 134. Announcing that Kneeland was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the county jail, the author exclaims, “That a jury of full grown men, in this day, could be found to convict a man of blasphemy, for avowing his disbelief in the existence of a god, is truly astonishing; and that a judge should be suffered to pass a sentence as the above, without being laughed to shame by an insulted and indignant people is still more so. Is this the freedom of speech and of religious opinion which our national constitution guarantees to us!”

Abner Kneeland. “To the Learned Clergy of the United States of America, One and All.” The Boston Investigator, 153 (Feb. 28, 1834): 2. Seeking the clergy’s assistance in interpreting the blasphemy statute under which he was indicted, Kneeland asks: what is the meaning of the word God; who, or what, was Jesus Christ; who, or what, is the holy ghost; and are all parts of the canonical scriptures equally the word of God?

Untitled editorial, reprinted from the Prov. Microscope. The Boston Investigator, 156 (Mar. 21, 1834): 1. The editor observes, “The trial of Abner Kneeland for Atheism, appears to have excited no inconsiderable interest, and we have no doubt that the final issue of the persecution will tend to produce a belief which we believe will ultimately become general, that the civil tribunal is not the proper one for the cognizance of any speculative religious notions, however preposterous and erratic.”

“Trial for Blasphemy.” The Free Enquirer, 1:23 (Mar. 30, 1834): 181. Reprinted from the American Manufacturer. The author asserts that, “The trial and conviction of Mr. K for publishing [an extract from Voltaire’s writings] show clearly that Massachusetts has not advanced a step in liberality or tolerance since the days of witchcraft, when she burnt and drowned honest Quakers for their religious opinions.”

Communications. Liberal Advocate, 3:3:16 (April 6, 1834): 126.  Features a letter, signed “Carlos,” addressing the imprisonment of Abner Kneeland for “publicly expressing an honest opinion on the subject of religion.” Carlos quips, “Impotent indeed must that religion be, that needs the aid of law to sustain it.”

“Trial of the Editor.” The Free Enquirer, 1:33 (June 8, 1834): 264. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator.

An Honest Unbeliever. “To the Hon. Judge Wilde.” The Free Enquirer, 2:4-9 (Jan. 25- Mar. 1, 1835): 30-31, 37-38, 45-47, 52-53, 62, 70. The author attempts to show that the Massachusetts’s blasphemy law “is a violation of the Constitution, and the natural rights of man,” that Judge Wilde’s charge to the jury was “inconsistent and dictatorial,” and that “law makers are frequently as ignorant as their fellow citizens.”

“Fourth Trial for Alleged Blasphemy.”and “List of Jurors on the Fourth Trial of the Editor.” The Boston Investigator, 243 (Nov. 20, 1835): 2.

An editorial commenting on Judge Wilde’s instruction to the jury during Kneeland’s trial for blasphemy. The Boston Investigator, 244 (Nov. 27, 1835): 2.

“Kneeland’s Case.” Ohio Watchman, 1:12 (Dec. 26, 1835): 2. The editor opines, “It’s hard to believe that civilly expressing one’s opinions, is punishable as blasphemy, in any state of this republic. And if there is such an antiquated law in the books, it is singular if in this age of the world, in the very cradle of liberty, men can be bigoted and foolish enough to suppose they are doing Gods service, and advancing the cause of religion by raking up such an old law from its slumbers in the old statute book, and using it to persecute for years, an aged man . . . .”

“The Morning Post.” The Boston Investigator, 251 (Jan. 15, 1836): 1-2. Featured here is an article entitled “Libel Law,” reprinted from the Morning Post (Boston). The author demonstrates the “invidious nature” of the libel law by pointing out that Kneeland’s indictment for blasphemous libel was based on the republication of a piece written by Voltaire and freely circulated by every large bookseller within the United States for the last sixty years without impunity. [5]

“Mr. Kneeland’s Prosecution and Judgment.” The Beacon, 2:25 (Apr. 21, 1838): 196-97. Reprinted from the Boston Advocate, includes Vale’s remarks.

S.U. “Blasphemy of Abner Kneeland.” Cleveland Liberalist, 2:31 (May 5, 1838): 247. Underhill exclaims, “That God has been injured by this Reverend old man, is the sentence of . . . . enlightened Massachusetts . . . . region of equality of rights and privileges . . . . We have not yet heard the sentence, if it has been pronounced, but we hope it will be imprisonment, and that no pardon will be granted. We hope this that thousands of the dupes of superstition may be awakened; and, that truth may move ahead with accelerated vigor.”

Abner Kneeland. “Last Scene of the Grand Drama of Superstition- Consummation of Religious Folly.” The Boston Investigator, 378 (June 22, 1838): 2. This feature includes three letters: a letter addressed to Chief Justice Shaw prior to being sentenced to sixty days in jail, followed by two jailhouse letters.

Tyler Parsons. “The Persecution.” The Boston Investigator, 379 (June 29, 1838): 2. Parsons exclaims, “By this decision freedom of enquiry, of speech, and of the press, must be silenced- the jails enlarged- the pillory and the gallows erected and made stationary. This has been the result wherever force has been used to control opinion. If a man can be imprisoned for not believing or for even denying his belief in the God of his neighbor, where is the prison large enough to accommodate them all, or strong enough to retain them?”

A.K. “[Letters from the] Boston Jail- Alias Hades- Alias Hell.” The Boston Investigator, 379-384 (June 29- Aug. 3, 1838).

Untitled editorial. Cleveland Liberalist, 2:39 (June 30, 1838): 307. Commenting on Kneeland being sentenced to sixty days imprisonment for blasphemy, Underhill writes, “See the old grey-headed man brought in to Court with his wife, children, and friends, to receive a sentence which is to atone for an injury done god! See the old man dragged to prison and confined – for simply publishing what he sincerely believes- and then ask yourselves if you wish to be counted among such Christians.”

G.V. “Mr. Kneeland and the City of Boston, in the State of Massachusetts.” The Beacon, 2:34 (June 30, 1838): 269. Vale states, “Now is the time for agitation; now is the time to fix the bigot’s brand on the brow that deserves it; and to separate the liberal (whatever be his profession) from the scoundrel: let public meetings be held, remonstrances published, societies formed for the protection of equal rights and religious liberty: and above all, let these be preserved in.”

Viator. “Prosecution of Mr. Kneeland.” The Beacon, 2:35 (July 7, 1838): 277. Reprinted from the Ohio Statesman. The author remarks, “That prosecution, I venture to predict, will prove to have been one of the expiring spasms of theological domination in that State – and not unlikely in the whole land. . . . It was instituted professedly to arrest the progress of Atheism – but in reality to suppress not merely unbelief in a Supreme Being, but also in Christianity. Now, although there may not be much Atheism in this country, yet it is perfectly well understood by intelligent men, that a very large proportion (some say a majority) of the male adults in the United States are unbelievers in Christianity.”

S.U. “Abner Kneeland.” Cleveland Liberalist, 2:41 (July 14, 1838): 322. Underhill writes, “The incarceration of Kneeland shall be the Alamo of the Liberalist. Let the bigot rage in our presence, we will think of thee, and draw the sword of truth, and hurl the scabbard. Let a mortal in our presence be spurned for his opinions, the memory of thy name shall rouse us to action.”

 S.U. “The Blasphemy Case.” Cleveland Liberalist, 2:43 (July 28, 1838): 343. Underhill begins, “There never was a time when the friends of Liberal principles had so much reason to put forth all their energies, as at the present. We can now give an unanswerable reason for our exertions. The imprisonment of Abner Kneeland proves what we have long asserted, but which has been constantly denied, to wit: That the spirit of persecution even unto bonds, lives and flourishes among us. The pretences of the church that it is not her wish to persecute, is proved false, and what we have often declared, to wit: That had the church the power, her principles would make it her duty, to put to death and imprison Infidels, is fully proved true.”

“F.W.D. to A.K. on the Subject of his Prosecution, Trial and Imprisonment. Causes which Instigated to the Same.” The Boston Investigator, 384 (Aug. 3, 1838): 3. Frances Wright observes, “I have seen some marvelous things during a life of attentive and extensive political observation, yet I know not that anything more marvelous – if we consider time, place, persons, the opinion of the epoch and the evident inclination of events – has come to my knowledge than your incarceration in the common jail, in the city of Boston, State of Massachusetts, United States of America, of the year of their Independence and of human liberty 62!”

“Public Spirit at Flint Creek, N.Y.” The Beacon, 2:44 (Sept. 8, 1838): 351-52. This is a report on a meeting of “friends of Equal Rights and Liberal Principles, who adopted a series of resolutions in light of the recent Kneeland case. The preamble read in part, “Whereas, Free Enquiry is the only sure and direct way to the discovery of truth, and the more universal happiness of man; and whereas, perfect Liberty of Speech, and Freedom of the Press are essentially necessary to the perfection of universal, bold, free, and fearless enquiry; and whereas these inalienable rights, liberties, and blood bought privileges, have been set aside, wholly disregarded and trampled upon in the case of Abner Kneeland; and whereas, this same disposition- and the influences which have given birth and sustenance to it- are still at work; and whereas, prompt and efficient action is highly requisite on our part, to quench the raging spirit of bigotry, and its offspring intolerance, with the view to the preservation of our own peace and rights, and the future wellbeing of posterity.” Signed by D.S. Titus and E.P. Averill.

James Watson. “Letter from a London Bookseller.” The Beacon, 2:46 (Sept. 22, 1838): 362-63. Reflecting on Kneeland’s case, Watson writes, “I was in hopes that this barbarous method of retaliating on an antagonist to the superstition of the day, was at an end, and especially in America. The fierce and savage spirit of religious intolerance is as strong as ever, and whatever freedom the freethinker in America or England enjoys, is attributable rather to the want of power to enforce uniformity of faith, than to any disinclination to prosecute, on the part of the followers of a religion said to be sent from God, but which, in more truth, its whole history proves to be the parent of discord, hatred, and blood.”

 “Valedictory Address of Abner Kneeland to the First Society of Free Enquirers in Boston.” The Boston Investigator, 419 (Apr. 3, 1839): 1. Reflecting on his imprisonment for blasphemy, Kneeland asks, “Why should the opinions of Christians be protected by law, any more than the opinions of other men? Why should the opinions of anybody be protected by law? If people do not wish to see their opinions ridiculed, they must not hold opinions which are in themselves ridiculous. The whole world is at full liberty to ridicule my opinions as much as they please. I will never ask for any law to protect them. I only ask the privilege of propagating them the same as others. And I am willing to accord to each and every individual the same liberty and the same privilege which I claim for myself.”

“The Civil Rights of Atheist.” The Boston Investigator, 1274 (Oct. 24, 1855): 4. Reprinted from the London Reasoner. Features the “Loring-Channing Petition for the Unconditional Pardon of Abner Kneeland” originally circulated in 1839. The petitioners argue in favor of a pardon on, among other grounds, “Because the freedom of speech and the press is the chief instrument of the progress of truth and of social improvement, and is never to be restrained by legislation, except when it invades the rights of others, or instigates to specific crimes. . . .”

Endnotes:

[1] Hetherington was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for publishing a “blasphemous libel” entitled, “Haslam’s Letters to the Clergy of all Denominations.” Also published in The Beacon (New Series), 2:26 (May 15, 1841): 202-05.

[2] Pen name of David Williams. “Death of “Publicola” of the London Dispatch,” The Boston Investigator, 780 (May 6, 1846): 3. Also published in The Beacon (New Series), 2:27 (May 22, 1841): 213-16

[3] Also published in The Beacon (New Series), 2:42 (Sept. 4, 1841): 332-35.

[4] Also published in The Free Enquirer, 1:16 (Feb. 9, 1834): 125.

[5] In his introductory remarks, Kneeland reports that over the past nine months, The Boston Investigator had gained 898 subscribers, and “more than double that number since the [blasphemy] prosecution commenced!”

 

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