Age of Reason (1848-1851)

Age of Reason, A Liberal and Independent Paper (1848-1851)[1]

“The World is my country and to do good my religion.” – Paine.

Prospectus: [The Age of Reason aims to be] a useful and instructive journal- the uncompromising advocate of Truth and Justice wherever found- the opposer of error that has grown venerable with the rust of ages; and a superstition that has entwined its serpentine folds through every vein and fibre of the body politic; blighting with its envenomed touch the very germs of Liberty; and infusing its dangerous influence in the legislation of our country, the education of our youth, and the dearest and most sacred relations of private life.

Examined: 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849) – 5:8 (Jan. 15, 1851).

Editor: P. Eckler, 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849) – 5:8 (Jan. 15, 1851).

Publication Information: P. Eckler, New York, New York. 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849) – 5:8 (Jan. 15, 1851).

Frequency: Semi-monthly, 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849) – 5:8 (Jan. 15, 1851).

Contributors: Charles S. Rowley, William W. Swinson, and Ira Wanzer.

Features/Subjects: Liberal Communications, Ethnology, Principles of Nature, Astronomy, Geology, Unity of the Human Race, Knockings/Spirits, and Poetry.

Reprints and extracts from: T. Simmons Mackintosh, Electrical Theory of the Universe; Voltaire, The Ignorant Philosopher; E.G. Squier & E.H. Davis ,Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley; and Robert Dale Owen, Address on the Influence of the Clerical Profession and Address on the Hopes and Destinies of the Human Species.

Periodical Reprints: Boston Investigator, N.Y. Daily Herald, True Wesleyan (Lowell, Mass.), The Reasoner (London), and The Regenerator (Fruit Hills, Ohio).

Selections:

The Movement

 A.H. Letter to the editor. 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849): 3. Requesting that his subscription be renewed, the author reports that “The neighborhood I live in [in East Nottingham, Pennsylvania] is very full of religion; hence the people are ready to denounce all reform as dangerous. Temperance, anti-slavery, anti-war, and infidelity are all classed together- all at war with religion.”

 “The Age of Reason.” 2:25 (Feb. 4, 1849): 43-45. Under this title appears an editorial from the True Wesleyan which describes the editor of the Age of Reason as a “believer in universal nothing” and a “disciple of Almighty Chance.” Eckler replies, in part, by saying, “As we contemplate the events which compose both the moral and material universe, we behold an uninterrupted chain of causes and effects; we cannot conceive of an action or of an event which could be caused by chance, for chance is nothing; and we charitably leave to our Christian brother the Herculean task of reconciling his Christian doctrines with common sense- of showing how an effect can be produced independent of a cause.”

 A Lover of Truth. “Letters to a Clergyman.” 2:28-31 (Mar. 18-Apr. 29, 1849): 85-86, 100-01, 116-17, 134-35. The author reviews and comments upon David Nelson’s The Cause and Cure of Infidelity.

“The Infidel’s Heaven.” 3:6 (Sept. 30, 1849): 93-95. This article features the reprinting of a series of questions concerning infidelity originally published in the True Wesleyan, followed by Eckler’s responses.

Lectures and Tours

 Charles S. Rowley. “Journal of a Liberal Lecturer.” 2:23-24, 27, 29 (Jan. 7-21, Mar. 4, Apr. 1, 1849): 5-6, 20-22, 69-70, 101-02. This series chronicles Rowley and George Simmonds’ travels throughout Ohio, lecturing on topics such as, belief in an arbitrary sovereign, doctrine of rewards and punishments, doctrine of faith, authenticity of the scriptures, geology and astronomy.

“Liberal Lectures.” 2:31 (Apr. 29, 1849): 139-40. This article provides an account of a lecture on entailment delivered by Mr. Foster before the Society of Liberals.

Henry Hetherington. “The Influence of Habit on the Human Character.” 3:7 (Oct. 15, 1849): 102-05. An essay originally delivered before the London Mechanics’ Institution.

William Allen. “Necessity.” 5:6 (Oct. 1, 1850): 81-85. A discourse delivered before the Society of Liberals at Eagle Hall, New York, September 9, 1850.

Debates

 “Report of the Discussion Between G. Vale and the Rev. Dr. West.” 2:28 (Mar. 18, 1849): 89-92. Eckler provides a brief summary of six meetings between George Montgomery West and Gilbert Vale. Of Mr. Vale’s position, Eckler reports that “He admitted the existence of God- a God of Nature- and his views on this question appear to be substantially the same as those advanced by Thomas Paine. . . . He introduced the revelations of astronomy . . . . the unchanging laws and universal order of the heavenly bodies . . . . and when the minds of his hearers were lost in wonder and astonishment at this sublime and poetic conception, he compared this mighty Power that governs and controls the universe, with the wretched and contemptible description of God recorded in the bible.”

Objects, Initiatives and Status

“The Society of Liberals.” 4:7 (Apr. 1, 1850): 105-06. Eckler contends that the society of liberals is the most useful and beneficial organization to the industrial classes which New York City can boast and commends it for procuring talented lecturers on social reform, political economy, astronomy, geology, theology, etc. and most importantly for encouraging free discussion among the attendees.

“Increase of Skepticism.” 5:2 (July 15, 1850): 25-27. Eckler alleges, “That after a careful perusal of the accounts, we are led to the conviction, that the open and professed infidels in the different states of the union are already numerically stronger than any one sect of professing Christians; and if we add to this the immense number of sly infidels, who profess an indefinite regard for Christianity, but privately and effectually throw their influence against it- who are found in churches, legislative halls, in the various learned professions, and among the public in general- we shall undoubtedly have at least one half of the entire male population.”

Biographical Sketches

“The Death of a Liberal.” 2:32 (May 13, 1849): 146-47. This article, reprinted from an English paper, provides an account of the death of Lord Seldon, who refused his wife’s attempts to obtain a deathbed conversion.

“Death of Henry Hetherington.” 3:7 (Oct. 15, 1849): 109-10.

Church and State

“The Church Opposed to Liberty.” 3:3 (Aug. 12, 1849): 44-45. Responding to Christian claims that the U.S. government was founded on Christian principles, the author notes “The liberties we enjoy were not won by the aid, but in defiance of the power of the church. And the fact that this government recognizes no religion, acknowledges no faith, subscribes to no creed- that it is in fact an atheistic government- should teach reasonable minds that it was not founded upon bible doctrines.

Fast Proclamations

 “The [Zachery] Taylor Cure [for Cholera].” 3:3 (Aug. 12, 1849): 49. The author concludes, “Pure air, suitable exercise, and wholesome food, are not only preventatives to cholera, but to every other disease; and if Gen. Taylor had but recommended these, instead of his twattle about humiliation, prayer, and fasting, he would have deserved the respect and not the contempt of thinking minds.”

Judicial Oaths

Edward Livingston. “Religious Tests of Witnesses.” 2:32 (May 13, 1849): 148-49. Reprinted from System of Penal Law for the State of Louisiana, Livingston argues in favor of allowing atheist to testify in court proceedings.

Sabbath Observance

 “The Church and the Press.” 4:4 (Feb. 15, 1850): 56-59. Eckler reports that 15,000 people congregated in front of city hall to oppose efforts to prevent the publication and distribution of newspapers on Sundays and reprints a series of resolutions read by Michael Madden on behalf of the newsboys of New York including a resolution thanking New York papers for freely publicizing the meeting and thereby enabling the newsboys to “maintain our constitutionally guaranteed rights, against fanaticism, intolerance and bigotry which know no law but that of despotism, and are controlled by no principle but that of hypocrisy and selfishness.”

Religion

 Christianity

 James E. “The Bible – Land Reform, &c.” 2:30 (Apr. 15, 1849): 116. In this short letter, the author asks, “Seest thou the legal robbery that is carried on under the sanction of Christianity by land monopoly?”

“Venerable Errors.” 2:34 (June 10, 1849): 186-87. The author observes, “Notwithstanding the rapid advance of science and the arts, it is still true, that the great masses of mankind are born in error, bred in ignorance, and natured in folly. Their minds are chained by custom- their understandings warped by prejudice- and their intellects governed by superstition. They dare not investigate- they dare not enquire- they dare not reason. They are slaves to tyrants- slaves to demagogues- and slaves to priests. They are alarmed by imaginary existences- they are frightened by delusive phantoms- and they are terrified by bewildering chimeras.”

“Root and Branch Society.” 3:2 (July 29, 1849): 28-29. The editor reports on the recent formation of a Christian organization whose object is to “extract all the roots, and cut off all the branches” of “modern infidelity.”

Paradise Lost. Or, The Great Dragon Cast Out: Being a Full, True, and Particular Account of the Great and Bloodless Battle that was Fought in the Celestial Regions about 6000 Years Ago. By the author of the “Yahoo.”” 3:9 (Nov. 15, 1849): 137-40, 151-53.

“Marvellousness.” 4:2 (Jan. 15, 1850): 27-28. Eckler contends, “The more absurd and revolting systems of religion meet, as a general rule, with the greatest success. The impositions of Matthias, the phrenzied rantings of the prophet Miller, the dropsical Shiloh of Joanna Southcote, the stupendous fraud of Joe Smith, and the thousand minor visionaries and dreamers who are fulminating their sacred mysteries on every side, admonish us of this fact. . . . The instruction which Christians receive from their chosen priests, eminently fit them for becoming the dupes of knaves and imposters.”

Religion and Morality

 “Jesus.” 2:24 (Jan. 21, 1849): 24-25. The author remarks that Jesus’ “theological dogmas, which are intolerant, arbitrary, and oppressive, have arrayed man against his fellow man, kindled the spirit of fanaticism, and deluged the earth in blood! His moral teachings, which contain many truths (borrowed from Plato, Pythagoras, and Confucius) are highly extolled but never practiced; while the explanation of his obscure and unintelligible sophisms, forms a pretence by which thousands of indolent, unscrupulous, and designing men contrive to live in idleness and luxury, upon the toil and honest but credulous and duped believers.”

“Reply to a Christian.” 2:26 (Feb. 18, 1849): 57-60. Reprinted here is an editorial from the True Wesleyan in which the author argues that “Those nations are most enlightened, refined and virtuous, where the Scriptures are most circulated and read.” To which Eckler points out, “When the people have struggled for liberty against the power of their oppressors, the priests of the bible have ever exclaimed, “people obey your rulers.” When the friends of freedom war with slavery, the priests reiterate the assertion, “that it is an institution founded by God.” The gallows, war, slavery, and degrading superstition are all upheld by professors of the religion of the bible; while every improvement in science, every discovery in art, every victory of liberty, every advancement in knowledge and happiness, has been opposed by all the power and malignity of religious bigotry.”

“The Satanic Press and Pulpit.” 2:28 (Mar. 18, 1849): 88-89. Responding to an article from the Christian press entitled “The Satanic Press,” Eckler remarks, “If the Satanic Press rake the gutters for accounts of revolting crimes, is it not imitated by the Satanic Pulpit? If one deals in narratives of rape, murder, incest and parricide, does not the other thrive by tales of an Omnipotent god who creates millions to be damned- who condemns innocent infants to burn forever in the torments of hell-fire- and who permitted the murder of his own son to appease his Royal anger? Is not the Bible, like the political press, filled with descriptions of rape, incest and gross- bestial licentiousness? It most assuredly is, and the influence of both is equally demoralizing.”

“Skepticism Among Young Men.” 3:2 (July 29, 1849): 30-31. Commenting on an article found in the Goshen Whig and Democrat, the editor clarifies that “skeptics do not object to the morality which the bible contains. It is the immoral, vile, and obscene portions to which they object. As a class they respect morality wherever found.”

J.S.W. “Whatever is, Is Right.” 3:6-7 (Sept. 30- Oct. 15, 1849): 97-99, 111-12.

W.W. Swinson. “Longevity.” 4:1 (Jan. 1, 1850): 1-2. Swinson remarks, “To have primitive and natural men, who would live, and die according to the dictates and laws of Nature, we should effect a revolution in the world of institutions of government: we should abolish and demolish them; and in lieu hereof institute upon their ruins a new moral world, whose institutions would be based upon the salutary laws of Nature; in which mankind would be rationalized, fraternized, and humanized; and flourish in perpetual spring- in which they would not only be taught to avoid a violation of the laws of Nature, but to preserve their health and happiness- in which they would not only be taught the art of self-government, but to dispense with kings, tyrants and governors; and to live without war- in which they would die without disease, as though relapsing in a calm, profound sleep, unaware of the approach of the “king of terrors,” from hence such would have neither the sting nor “terror,” of which mankind are now susceptible.”

“Reflections on the Late Murder of Dr. Parkman by Prof. Webster.” 4:8 (Apr. 15, 1850): 120-21. Eckler notes, “Had professor Webster, instead of being a member of a Christian church, been known as an Infidel, what an outcry of indignation and abuse would have been raised throughout the Christian community. Homily after homily, sermon after sermon, and discourse after discourse would have been delivered by the American clergy, and it would have been their endeavor to demonstrate that Infidelity necessarily leads to crime. But reverse the case and all is silence. A Christian has been convicted of murder, but no one hints that Christianity tends to make men murderers.”

Religion and Science

“Bro. Lee [2]– His Ideas of God.” 2:30 (Apr. 15, 1849): 121-23. The editor contends that Lee’s argument in favor of the existence of God is nothing but “the old argument of design and a designer, which Paley borrowed from a celebrated German writer, and which has been so frequently quoted by Christians.”

“Men with Tails.” 3:7 (Oct. 15, 1849): 105-06. This is an extract from a scientific report to the French Academy by Col. Du Couret concerning a caudated race, the Ghilanes, encountered in the interior of Africa.

“The Ghilanes.” 3:7 (Oct. 15, 1849): 112-13. The editor concludes, “If Christians assert that this caudated race are a degenerate scion of the Adamic stock, how will they reply to those skeptical writers who advocate the theory of regular gradation, which supposes that distinct races have successfully arisen? If on the other hand they affirm that different races were created in the beginning, they directly contradict the “inspired word,” and open the door to heresy and unbelief. For the sake of Christianity, therefore, our pious friends are compelled to claim kindred with this curious race – and we will not dispute their claim. The subject is really very annoying, very vexatious, and very funny. What a pity that “the truths of inspiration” should be called in question, because a few negroes exist with short, flexible-tails!”

Josiah C. Nott. “Unity of the Races.” 4:2 (Jan. 15, 1850): 17-20. An extract of a lecture on “the connection between the Biblical and Physical History of Man,” delivered December 1848.

“The Unity of the Human Race – Black Jews, &c.” 4:3 (Feb. 1, 1850): 40-41. Eckler exclaims, “The striking contrast between the more elevated specimens of the Caucasian race and the sooty, degraded inhabitants of Africa, is in itself a sufficient refutation of the Mosaic history. The influence of food, of habits, or of climate, falls infinitely short of accounting for the physical and consequently mental differences which exist between the different races; and none but those whose minds are warped by prejudice and fanaticism will contend for a common origin. But this doctrine- the doctrine of the unity of the human race- is distinctly taught in the “holy bible,” and therefore those who venerate this book feel called upon to demonstrate its truth.”

William Chilton. “Influence of Lord Rosse’s Telescope on Theology.” 4:6 (Mar. 15, 1850): 81-85. Reprinted from The Reasoner. Discussing how deep into space Rosse’s telescope has reached, Chilton encourages, “Reader! Try to frame some idea of these distances and periods. You are certain to fail- but try! It will expand your mind- it will make you feel the magnitude of the material universe, and the consequent immensity of the power of the being, whether material or immaterial, who should be competent to the creation and government of it. It will correct your self esteem, and show you the insignificance of human works and pursuits when compared with the merest fraction of nature which this telescope has brought to light.”

“Genesis and Geology- The Bible Against Philosophy, Facts, and Fossils.” 4:6 (Mar. 15, 1850): 88-90. Eckler writes that, “Geology discards all authority. It calls upon the votaries to penetrate the bowels of the earth- to lay bare the hidden secrets of nature- to rely upon the evidence of their own senses- to investigate and judge for themselves” and later points out that “The common interpretation of the Bible assumes that, before the fall of man, death did not exist among the inferior animals; but geology teaches us in unmistakable language, that ages anterior to the human race, myriads of brute animals suffered painful deaths.”

“Prof. Agassiz on the Origin of the Human Race.” 5:1 (July 1, 1850): 8-9. Eckler observes, “Every new truth, every new discovery must fight the battle for victory with those antiquated and obsolete records of Jewish superstition. . . . and although science ever triumphs over error, and the unchangeable word of God is constantly undergoing corrections and amendments, yet the priests seem incapable of learning by experience, or they would at once resign the battle with philosophy, instead of stubbornly yielding inch by inch as they are now compelled to do.”

“Smyth on the Unity of the Human Race.” 5:3 (Aug. 1, 1850): 40-41. Reviewing the case made by Rev. Thomas Smyth in defense of the mosaic account of the common origin of humans, Eckler writes, “we must confess that we lack terms to express the contempt we feel for the advocates of a religious system of slavery, who declare that mankind by their common origin are placed on a social equality, and then turn round and assert that the master and slave “are united to each other in mutually beneficial relations” – and further still, that these relations “restrain both from licentious, immoral, and cruel purposes.” Oh, Christianity! Where is thy blush of conscious shame? Where, oh! Where is the lowest point of thy degradation?”

Wm. W. Swinson. “The Order of Nature; or the Ultimity of Man Philosophically Considered.” 3:2 (July 29, 1849): 26-27.

“Spiritual Existences.” 3:8 (Nov. 1, 1849): 125-26. This article attempts to expose some of the sophistries of “natural theology.”

Other Religions

“Jugglery of the East.” 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849): 9-12. The author suggests that Jesus was a “successful and expert juggler” then recounts witnessing the resurrection of an Indian fakeer who had been buried alive for six weeks and concludes, “In regard to believing this narrative, the reader is left to his own discretion- there is no penalty attached to disbelief, for the Hindoo juggler does not assert, like the Jewish imposter, that those who believe not his doctrine shall be damned.”

“Superstitions of the Ancient Mound Builders.” 3:6 (Sept. 30, 1849): 92-93. The author remarks, “the enormous amount of labor that must necessarily have been expended in their [monuments of the Mississippi valley] construction, proves to us, that although these people had become cultivators of the soil, and had made some progress in the arts of civilization, yet their minds must have been held in bondage, and borne down by the thralldom of an oppressive and absurd superstition.”

Slavery

“Anti-Slavery Society.” 2:33 (May 27, 1849): 171-73. The editor comments on the “religious agitations” of the society, highlights Wendell Phillips contention that the American church constitutes the bulwarks of American slavery, and provides some remarks of Parker Pillsbury on the Orthodox Church.

Women’s Rights

Judge E.P. Hurlbut. “The Rights of Woman.” 2:30, 35 (Apr. 15, June 24, 1849): 118-20, 197-98. Extracts from E.P. Hurlbut’s Essays on Human Rights.

Thomas Paine

William M. Allen. “An Oration.” 2:25 (Feb. 4, 1849): 38-42. This address was delivered January 28, 1848, at a meeting of liberals, in celebration of Thomas Paine’s birthday. Allen limits his oration to Paine as theologian and designates him as “St. Thomas of our Church.”

“Birthday Celebration of Thomas Paine.” 2:26 (Feb. 18, 1849): 54-56. This report features an address by Edward J. Webb based on the following quotation from St. Augustine: “The suppressor of a useful truth is as guilty as the propagator of an injurious falsehood.”

“The Paine Farm.” 4:4 (Feb. 15, 1850): 60-61. In a series of critical remarks, Eckler opposes Gilbert Vale’s proposal to purchase the Paine Farm for the purpose of establishing an asylum for infirm liberals and cemetery, and contends that the purchase of a Hall of Science in New York City would be of infinitely greater benefit to the liberal cause.

Conventions (Non-Infidel)

“The Peace Congress [at Paris].” 3:3 (Aug. 12, 1849): 45. The author recommends “each delegate to go well armed, and instead of wasting time in useless deliberations at Paris, to join the European republicans, and assist in establishing European Liberty.”

Elihu Burritt. “Congress of Nations.” 3:8-9 (Nov. 1-15, 1849): 122-24, 133-35. Extract of an address delivered at the Paris Peace Conference.

“Fifth Industrial Congress.” 5:1 (July 1, 1850): 6-7. This is a condensed report of the proceedings of the Industrial Congress assembled in Chicago and adjourned on June 11, 1850.

Socialism

“Opposition to Socialism.” 5:2 (July 15, 1850): 24-25. Criticizing the New York Herald for its opposition to socialism, Eckler states, “If the poor, then, would be elevated, they must elevate themselves; and to incite, encourage, and aid them in this endeavor, is the great object of socialism. And this great object will be accomplished when those who now provide food shall eat it- when those who manufacture clothing shall wear it- and when those who build palaces shall reside in them.”

Notes:

Age of Reason was not issued in Nov. or Dec. of 1850.

Date in the title block is according to the “Year of the Nation.”

Worldcat Accession Number: 8658452.

New York Historical Society Library owns one bound volume Jan. 7 – Dec. 1, 1849.

Center for Inquiry Library, Amherst, New York owns one bound volume Jan. 1, 1850 – Jan. 15, 1851.

End Notes:

[1] Eckler notes that the Age of Reason had been suspended for a period due to poor health, that Mr. Priest had withdrawn his interest, that, consequently, Eckler assumed the role of publisher, and that the Age of Reason had been changed to book form and will now appear every two weeks, rather than weekly, on the “holy Sabbath.” “Resumption of the Age,” 2:23 (Jan. 7, 1849): 8.

[2] Editor the True Wesleyan.

Advertisements