2. New Series

The Beacon (1839-1842)

Examined: New Series: 1:1 (Nov. 23, 1839) – 3:52 (Nov. 12, 1842).

Editor: Gilbert Vale.

Publication Information: New York, New York.

Frequency: Weekly.

Contributors: John Fellows, H., B. Offen, J.A.P., and Delazon Smith.

Subjects/Features: Education, Religion and Science, Geology, Mechanics (Bio), Astronomy, Zoology, Natural Theology, Political Economy, Phrenology, Legal Reform, Socialism, and Liberal Missionary Work, Lectures and Book Reviews.

Reprints/Extracts: Writings of Thomas Paine and Robert Dale Owen; Baron D’Holbach, Le Bon Sens and Letters to Eugenia; Condorcet, Progress of the Human Mind; Lady of Isis, On the Word of God and other Words as devoid of Meaning; William MacClure, Opinions on Various Subjects, dedicated to the Industrious Producers; Anonymous, Doubts of Infidels, or Queries Relative to Scriptural Inconsistencies and Contradictions; Benjamin Silliman’s Appendix to Bakewell’s Introduction to Geology; Jesse Higgins, Sampson against the Philistines or the Reformation of Lawsuits; Thomas Hood, School Mistress Abroad; and Pigault-Lebrun L,e Citateur.

Periodical Reprints: Boston Investigator, Star in the East (London), Disseminator (New Harmony, Ind.), The Diamond (New York, N.Y.), and Kendall’s Expositor (Washington D.C.).


The Movement

“Prayer of the Free Enquirers.” 1:47 (Oct. 10, 1840): 372-73. This “prayer” was originally delivered at Tammany Hall, New York, and addressed to Rev. Linus Smith Everett, author of the “Rise and Progress of Infidelity in America.” Included is a brief introduction by John Bull.


“Proceedings from U.S.M. & P. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.” 1:45 (Sept. 26, 1840): 359-60.

Lectures and Tours

“Missionaries – Mr. Delazon Smith – The Watchman.” 1:13 (Feb. 15, 1840): 103-04. This article features extracts from a letter from Delazon Smith in which he advocates the employment of liberal missionaries to “extend the patronage of liberal papers; promote the spread of liberal intelligence . . . . [and] give boldness, energy, confidence and rapidity to the liberal public pulse; effect and cement the union of friends, and finally, obtain the requisite means for the establishment of the proposed [liberal] institution.”

“Missionary Objects.” 1:19 (Mar. 28, 1840): 151-52. Vale identifies the following as objects of a traveling liberal missionary: deliver liberal lectures, promote subscriptions to the U.S. Moral and Philosophical Society, promote the sale of liberal books and subscriptions to liberal papers, and assist in organizing libraries.

“Missionary Concerns.” 1:21 (Apr. 11, 1840): 166-67. This article presents the deliberations and resolutions of the Rochester Society of Free Enquirers, who “are persuaded that through the proposed missionary plan, personal appeals might and would be made to reach and arouse to energetic, united, and efficient action, the friends of freedom throughout our land, and be the happy and successful means of turning many from superstitious cruel darkness to natures joyous light.”

“Liberal (Traveling) Lectures.” 1:22 (Apr. 18, 1840): 174. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator, the editor pledges the Investigator’s support.

“Liberal Traveling Lectures.” 1:23 (Apr. 25, 1840): 182-83. Extract from a letter by Delazon Smith.

E.B. Woodworth. “Liberal Traveling Lecturer.” 1:24 (May 2, 1840): 191-92. Woodworth recommends Delazon Smith as liberal traveling lecturer.

“Appointment of a Missionary or Traveling Liberal Lecturer.” 1:24 (May 2, 1840): 192. This is an announcement of Delazon Smith’s appointment as traveling lecturer and agent by the U.S. Moral and Philosophical Society.

G.V. “An Essential Part of the Missionary Project.” 1:25 (May 9, 1840): 199.

“Dr. [Charles] Knowlton on the Missionary Enterprise.” 1:25 (May 9, 1840): 200.

“Mr. D. Smith on his Missionary Tour, About to Commence – The Watchman.” 1:26 (May 16, 1840): 207 In preparing for his tour, Smith transfers his list of subscribers to the New York Watchman to Vale for him to offer The Beacon as a substitute.

“Mr. Del. Smith’s First Missionary Letter – His Success.” 1:31 (June 20): 247-48. Smith reports on his activities in Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

“Mr. Del. Smith’s Tour.” 1:34 (July 11, 1840): 271-72. Smith reports that his health is poor and details his travel plans through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Michigan.

“Complete Success of Mr. Smith’s Mission.” 1:35 (July 18, 1841): 278-79. Smith reports his activities in Mt. Eaton, Canal Dover, Columbus, Springfield, and Dayton .

G.V. “Mr. Del. Smith a Liberal Lecturer.” 1:37 (Aug. 1, 1840): 295.

“Letter from Delazon Smith.” 1:40 (Aug. 22, 1840): 317-19. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator, Delazon provides an account of probable numbers of free enquirers in the cities he has visited. Delazon reports “tens of thousands of skeptics and liberalists throughout the western country.”

“Letter from Delazon Smith.” 1:41 (Aug. 29, 1840): 325-27. Smith reports on delivering lectures in Ohio, meeting William S. Bailey, the death of his son, being sick with cholera, and the upcoming annual convention of the U.S. Moral and Philosophical Society.

G.V. “Projects to be Carried Out.” 2:16 (Mar. 6, 1841): 127-28. Vale announces that Benjamin Offen will commence a liberal lecturing tour in the summer and says of Offen, “As a lecturer he has wit, judgment, knowledge, and when he has delivered a studied subject, we have seldom heard one more eloquent, or delivered in chaster language.” Vale also announces that the U.S. Moral and Philosophical Society are no longer active.

“Mr. B. Offen to G. Vale.” 2:39 (Aug. 14, 1841): 311-12. Expressing the need for greater financial support and firmer traveling arrangements before a liberal lecturing tour can be commenced, Offen concludes, “I think the time is fast approaching when the intolerant spirit of all sects will be checked, and the high raging fever of fanaticism much lowered down. The glorious cause is already in rapid progression.”

G. Vale. “Missionary Project.” 2:43 (Sept. 11, 1841): 344. Vale reports that Offen has declined to serve as a traveling lecturer over the summer and that Vale will conduct a month long lecture tour of upstate New York discussing science, politics, and religion, separate or combined.

G.V. “Our Projected Journey through the State of New- York.” 2:44 (Sept. 18, 1841): 352.

Vale. “Our Tour.” 2:46 (Oct. 2, 1841): 368. Vale reports his intention to visit Saratoga Springs, Utica, Syracuse, Auburn, Rochester, the Falls, Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and announces that the care of The Beacon in his absence has been entrusted to John Fellows.

The Editor’s Tour.” 2:48-51, 3:1-2 (Oct. 16-Nov. 6, Nov. 20-27, 1841): 384, 391-92, 400, 407-08, 7-8, 12. Vale reports on his activities in Hudson, Albany, Saratoga, Utica, Syracuse, Auburn, Sing Sing prison, Rochester, Pittsburgh, and reports delivering lectures on the following topics: astronomy and its application to revelation, ancient superstitions and modern science, life and writings of Thomas Paine, geology, and physiology.

Objects, Initiatives and Status

“Boston Free Discussion Society.” 2:2 (Nov. 28, 1840): 15-16. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator, features the society’s preamble and constitution, which begins, “Because public opinion sits like an incubus on men’s boldest thoughts and best exertions; makes cowards of the brave- slaves of freemen.”

“First Quarterly Report of the Boston Free Discussion Society.” 2:14 (Feb. 20, 1841): 111-12. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator, William West reports that the society has conducted thirteen public discussions, including on “whether the Christian religion has an immoral tendency” and has provided a forum where “skeptics may advance their opinions, and no one can call them to account.”

“Tract Society.” 2:17 (Mar. 13, 1841): 135-36. Vale agitates for the organization of a society “to furnish every family in New York with at least one liberal tract.”

“Home Mission – Distribution of Tracts.” 2:19 (Mar. 27, 1841): 149-50. This is a notice regarding the revival of a Liberal Tract Society; included is a letter from George H. Evans in support of the endeavor.

“Progress of Liberal Principles and Feelings. A Letter from Philadelphia.” 2:30 (June 12, 1841): 239-40. Writing on behalf of the Society of United Friends of Human Progress, Robert M. Kerrison reports that his society, operating principally on Sundays, delivers original lectures, conducts public debates and has begun to form a library.

“Principles of the Deistical Society of the State of New York.” 2:50 (Oct. 30, 1841): 395. The statement begins, “The object in forming this society is the promotion of moral science and the religion of nature – having in view the destruction of superstition and fanaticism – tending to the development of the principles of a genuine natural morality – the practice of a pure and uncorrupted virtue – the cultivation of science and philosophy – the resurrection of reason, and the renovation of the intelligent world.”

G.V. “A Liberal Hall.” 3:3 (Dec. 4, 1841): 23-24. Vale identifies the Hall of Science, Concert Hall and Tammany Hall as past liberal halls and solicits support for a new liberal hall – possibly Thompson Hall.[1]

“A Movement in Baltimore.” 3:38 (Aug. 6, 1842): 302-03. Under this title is the prospectus for the Temple of Reason, a forthcoming paper to be edited by John Alberger, and devoted to morality, science and humanity.

G.V. “New Projects.” 3:50-51 (Oct. 29- Nov. 5, 1842): 399, 407-08. Vale reports the formation of the Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge (and Free Enquiry), notes they have “taken a very pretty Hall in the Bowery,” and that a series of lectures will commence at the Hall on “The Advantages of Free Discussion in Science, Theology, and Morals,” and “Strauss’ The Life of Jesus” by B. Offen and Gilbert Vale respectively. In the second article, more details about the nature of the venue and how it might be sustained are provided.

Biographical Sketches

“Madame Roland.” 1:50 (Oct. 31, 1840): 397-99. Reprinted from the London Saturday Journal.

G.V. “Mr. B. Offen’s late Address to the Liberals of the United States, especially to those who formerly attended Tammany Hall.” 2:4 (Dec. 12, 1840): 31-32. Vale nicely summarizes some of Offen’s contributions to the liberal movement, including, commencing the annual celebration of Thomas Paine’s birthday, forming the Free Press Association, whose principal fruit was G. Houston’s Correspondent, and his years of work as a liberal lecturer.

J.F. “The French Revolution – Robespierre.” 2:34-35 (July 10-17, 1841): 265-67, 273-75.

“Posthumous Works of Junius, to which is prefixed an Inquiry respecting the Author, and a sketch of the Life of John Horne Tooke.” 2:40-41 (Aug. 21-28, 1841): 313-17, 321-25. Vale presents a series of comments and criticisms of this work, compiled by John Fellows, from the New Monthly Magazine, N.Y. Evening Journal, New York American, Boston Bulletin, Gentleman’s Magazine, Dr. Thomas Cooper and Rev. C.C. Colton.

“Elihu Palmer.” 2:49-50 (Oct. 23-30, 1841): 387-88, 394-95. A biographical sketch of Palmer written by John Fellows as a letter to Richard Carlile, originally published in Carlile’s paper, The Republican.

Church and State

“Government and Religion.” 2:21 (Apr. 10, 1841): 163-65. Under this heading is reprinted a pamphlet by P.S.V. Hamot and Mont. P. Young entitled Vindication of a Petition to the Legislature of Pennsylvania, asking for the Repeal of certain laws interfering with religious Rights.


G.V. “Judge Herttell and Prayers in the Assembly.” 1:12 (Feb. 8, 1840): 94-95. Vale provides a summary of Herttell’s argument against legislative prayer delivered before the New York Assembly in opposition to a resolution to invite the clergy to pray.

Judicial Oaths

“Religious Disqualifications. Mr. [Nathaniel] Hinckley’s Report.” 1:20 (Apr. 4, 1840): 155-59. This is a special committee report from the Massachusetts House of representatives which examines various petitions and memorials relating to the competency of jurors and witnesses.

“Believers’ Privileges.” 2:1 (Nov. 21, 1840): 4-5. The author points out, “The fact is, a man who believes in future punishments, may gamble, drink, defraud, and oppress, and his testimony be admitted in a court of judicature; while a man who cannot believe in future punishment, yet is honest and virtuous, must not have justice and the benefit of the law.”

Freedom of Speech


“Free Enquiry in England.” 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.

“The Trial of Mr. Hetherington.” 2:26 (May 15, 1841): 202-05. This article features the indictment which accuses Hetherington of “most wickedly, blasphemously and profanely” vilifying the Old Testament, and extracts from the defense.

“Curious Document. Published in Hetherington’s Trial. [From the Life of the Rev. John Wesley, published in 1792.]” 2:27 (May 22, 1841): 213.

Publicola. “To Lord Denman, on the Late Prosecution for Blasphemy [of Henry Hetherington].” 2:27 (May 22, 1841): 213-16. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch.

Publicola. “The Recent Prosecution for Blasphemy [of Edward Moxon]” 2:42 (Sept. 4, 1841): 332-35. Reprinted from the London Weekly Dispatch.

G.V. “Persecution in England – Charles Southwell and the Oracle of Reason.” 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.”


Samuel Underhill. “A Lecture on Mysterious Religious Emotions.” 3:46 (Oct. 1, 1842): 361-68.


S.E. Curtis. “The Translation and Interpretation of the Bible.” 1:5, 7 (Dec. 21, Jan. 4, 1839): 35-36, 51-52.

G.B.C. “Heathenism vs. Christianity.” 1:9, 12, 18, 29 (Jan. 18, Feb. 8, Mar. 21, June 6, 1840): 68-69, 90-91, 140-41, 227-28.

S.E. Curtis. “Review of the Doctrines of the Bible.” 1:10, 13 (Jan. 25, Feb. 15, 1840): 75-76, 100-01.

G.V. “The Effects of Christianity on Society.” 3:15, 21 (Feb. 26, Apr. 9, 1842): 113-15, 163-64.


“The Mormons.” 2:38 (Aug. 7, 1841): 297-300. Under this title, Vale provides a brief history of the book of Mormon and reprints extracts from the revelation, given to Joseph Smith, “as evidence of the gullibility of mankind on the subject of a divine revelation.”

“Documents for Preservation on Mormonism.” 2:39, 41 (Aug. 14, 28, 1841): 306-07, 325-27. The documents include extracts from Ezra Booth’s letters on Mormonism and the testimony of P. Ingersoll.

Religion and Science

“Wreathings of Superstition under the Discoveries of Science.” 2:13 (Feb. 13, 1841): 97-100. Remarks and extracts as reported for the New York Herald on Dr. John Griscom’s lecture entitled “An Exposition of the Connection between the discoveries of modern geology, and the account given by the Bible of the creation of the World.”

W.S. “Geology and Theology.” 2:19 (Mar. 27, 1841): 146-47. Having recently read the lectures of Griscom and the writings of Buckland, the author remarks, “I say then that learned lecturers who would attempt to make us believe that the science of geology proves the truth of the Mosaic account of the creation, are compelled to distort the account from its plain construction, in such a manner as nothing can justify; and no one who reflects can belief but that the continuance of such a course can only lessen them in the estimation of men of common sense, and hasten the downfall of a faith founded on such palpable absurdities.”

G.V. “Astronomy. Dr. [Dionysius] Lardner at Niblo’s.” 3:4 (Dec. 11, 1841): 25-26. Reporting on Lardner’s lecture, Vale notes, “He asserted that it was agreeable to the laws of matter that the planets should revolve about the sun, and the satellites about their primaries; but that it was not a law of matter that these planets should turn on their axes, and therefore he inferred an interfering power to bless us with day and night.” Vale adds, “By introducing the power of deity, where the laws of nature or of matter are sufficient, we make of a great God, a little one: just as our forefathers thought that God thundered in the clouds, that he hurled his bolt and his lightening, and stirred up every storm.”

“Mr. Lyell’s . . . . Lecture[s] on Geology,” [2] 3:20-21 (Apr. 2-9, 1842): 154-57, 161-62. Reprinted from the New York Herald, reports on Lyell’s lectures delivered at the New York Lyceum in the Broadway Tabernacle.

“Bennett’s Remarks. New and important movement in philosophy and religion – Lyell’s Geological Lectures upheaving the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures.” 3:20 (Apr. 2, 1842): 157-58. The author contends, “Heretofore, Professor Silliman of New Haven, Professor Griscom of this city, and others have attempted to give lectures on the same wonderful science, but their facts were meager, their views narrow, their deductions incomplete, and their influence of little or no account. Prof. Lyell, of London, is the great chief and master spirit of the new geological philosophy of the age that is to revolutionize men’s opinions in historical religion as much as the great Luther did in political religion.”

O. “Scripture, New Interpretations, Science.” 3:35 (July 16, 1842): 276-77. The author contends, “Had God ever made a revelation to man, it would have been so intelligible and universal that all men, even the wayfaring man, though a fool, could have read and understood it; and we should be under no necessity to seek new interpretations to force it to coincide with known facts in nature, for there would be an harmonious agreement between revelation and nature, and all would be as perfect as God himself is perfect; and the developments of science would receive from revelation their best proof and support.”

Other Religions

Lewis Masquerier. “Specimens of the Theology of the Sac Indians.” 1:2-3 (Nov. 30- Dec. 7, 1839): 11-12, 19.

Thomas Paine

Birthday Celebrations

“Thomas Paine Celebration” and “The Late Paine Celebration in New-York.” 1:11-12 (Feb. 1-8, 1840): 88, 91-94. This article includes a summary of proceedings, toasts, song by John Lawton and a poem by J.E. Webb. Among the toasts was the following, ”Commerce – A source of national wealth and intelligence under proper regulations, but when inflated by the blow-pipe of the bankers gas-works, like a patient in a dropsy, the more rapid the swelling the quicker the dissolution.”

“Celebrating of Paine’s Birth-Day at Philadelphia.” 1:14 (Feb. 22, 1840): 108-09. This article features mostly toasts including “The Boston Quarterly Review, Boston Investigator, New York Beacon, New York Watchman, and all public prints faithfully engaged in promoting mental and moral improvement; May they jog on harmoniously, their object being one; and may their paying subscribers efficiently sustain them whilst refuting error and diffusing truth, regardless of the oppressor or bigot’s cry of “stop my paper.”

“Paine Anniversary at Cincinnati.” 1:14 (Feb. 22, 1840): 111-12. This article features mostly toasts including, “Our trinity – free enquiry, democracy and liberty: “These three are one, the same in substance, equal in power and glory,” “Legislative chaplains – church and state in practice – a stain on America’s escutcheon – an insult to the Constitution,” and “geology – “an ever blooming garden” to the disciples of mental freedom – a quagmire to priests and bigots: the more they struggle the quicker they sink.”

The Introduction to an Address, by Mr. Jas. Underwood, at the Cincinnati Paine Anniversary.” 1:15 (Feb. 29, 1840): 113-15.

“The Anniversary of Thomas Paine.” 2:12 (Feb. 6, 1841): 94-96. This article features a summary of the proceedings, the president’s address, and regular and volunteer toasts.

“Paine’s Celebration at a Private Residence in Tennessee.” 3:16 (Mar. 5, 1842): 121-24. This article reports that more than 60 persons gathered to commemorate Paine’s birthday, features an address by Robert W. Thomas and regular and volunteer toasts including this toast from John Long, “The laboring classes all over the world; like the industrious bee; they are robbed of their stores by idle moths and cockroaches, and in return are promised treasures in an unexplored country.”

“Paine Celebration at Cincinnati.” 3:17-18 (Mar. 12-19, 1842): 129-33, 143-44. This article features an address from M.R. Miller.


G.V. “The Paine Monument Now Erected.” 1:1 (Nov. 23, 1839): 7-8.

G.V. “Visit to the Paine Monument.” 1:3 (Dec. 7, 1839): 22-23.

“Funds for the Paine Monument, Enclosure, and Appurtenances.” 1:6 (Dec. 28, 1839): 47-48.

“A Brief History of the Paine Monument.” 1:48 (Oct. 17, 1840): 383-84.

“The Paine Monument.” 2:28 (May 29, 1841): 222-23. This article features a letter from Mr. Frazee in which he reports the cost of the monument, foundation, wall and ground, approximately $1241. Frazee also requests that Vale solicit additional subscriptions as the money raised fell $71 short of the cost and has fallen on him.

“Subscribers to the Paine Monument.” 2:35 (July 17, 1841): 279-80.  Vale presents the list of all subscribers to the Paine monument, including the amount each donated.


“R. Owen at New Lanark; With a Variety of Interesting Anecdotes – By One Formerly a Teacher at New Lanark.” 3:2, 6-7 (Nov. 27, Dec. 25, 1841; Jan. 1, 1842): 12-14, 46-47, 53.

“Mr. Owen and the Church in Lanark (By a Teacher at New Lanark).” 3:4 (Dec. 11, 1841): 30-31.

G.V. “Robert Owen and Socialism.” 3:43 (Sept. 10, 1842): 337-38.

Delazon Smith and the New York Watchman [3]

“New York Watchman.” 1:3 (Dec. 7, 1839): 23-24. Reprinted from the New York Watchman. Delazon Smith details “to the readers, patrons and friends of the New York Watchman,” a brief history of the paper and its principles, current number of subscribers, amount of debt, and Smith’s future plans on behalf of the cause of Free Inquiry.

“New York Watchman – Extra.” 1:29 (June 6, 1840): 230-31. Delazon announces that the Watchman will not again be resumed and cautions Free Enquirers to not “fall into those errors which they condemn, viz.; too much animosity, dogmatism, denunciation, &c. The Liberalist should regard every man as a friend and brother who concedes to others, in matters of opinion what he claims for himself, and who is willing to read, investigate, and “hear all sides.””

“Delazon Smith. Extract of a letter from Rochester, dated April, 1841.” 2:22 (Apr. 17, 1841): 175. Smith reports his determination to go to the far west, “for I have tried my hand at getting my “bread and butter” in this priest ridden city and country quite long enough. And I am quite sure that I am doomed to go supperless to bed so long as I remain here, unless I will consent to get down emphatically upon my “marrow bones,” and a “feat of the ring” I am very far from being prepared for. ”


Charles Knowlton. “Death not a Painful Process.” 1:42 (Sept. 5, 1840): 329-30.

“Professor Rymer Jones’s Lecture on the Natural History of Birds.” 2:2, 4 (Nov. 28, Dec. 12, 1840): 9-11, 25-27. A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution, Manchester.

Theodore Parker.“The Pharisees.” 2:38 (Aug. 7, 1841): 300-02. This is an extract of an article originally published in The Dial. The original article identifies six classes of Pharisees, this extract only deal with the Pharisees of the press and of the pulpit. (available online)

G.V. “Our own affairs, in connection with our subscribers, Liberals, and the Public.” 3:36 (July 23, 1842): 286-87.

Worldcat Accession Number: 8506409.

Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division and the New York Historical Society Library own the full run of the Beacon (1836-1846).

American Antiquarian Society’s Historical Periodicals Collection, series 3 has scattered issues from January 26, 1839 to May 10, 1845.


[1] Sunday morning scientific lectures were held at Thompson Hall for the first quarter of 1842, then briefly at Warren Hall and then removed to Monroe Hall in May 1842.

[2] Account of Lyell’s second and third lectures on geology.

[3] I have been unable to locate a single issue the New York Watchman.