The Beacon (1845-46)
“Follow that philosophy which is according to Nature.”
Prospectus: Intended to be a Liberal, Literary, and Scientific work, abounding in useful and pleasing information, unsullied by superstition. It is addressed to the common sense of mankind, and not to their passions or prejudices; it opposes error, not from interest, but principle, and holds nothing as truth which cannot be proved: it fears no investigation, for it has nothing to conceal; and in religion and philosophy has no object but truth.
In its tone, it may differ something from the former Beacon, for we think the time has come when it may be assumed that the learned and wise are generally unbelievers in the Divine origin of the Bible, and that they only wait a proper opportunity to declare this openly; and for this reason we think it unnecessary to twice or thrice slay the slain; our readers will seldom need convincing of the false assumptions of theology, or of the baneful tendency of superstition, or of the horrors of bigotry; or of the fact that superstition is not necessary to keep a man honest, sober and chaste – all these things they know.
Examined: Fourth Series, 1:1 (Dec. 27, 1845) – 1:52 (Dec. 19, 1846).
Editor: Gilbert Vale.
Publication Information: New York, New York.
Subjects/Features: Legal Reform, N.Y. Constitutional Convention, Mormonism, Mesmerism, Animal Magnetism, Infidel Conventions, Book Reviews, Water Cure, and Electricity.
Reprints/Extracts: David Hume, Of Miracles; Colonel John Fellows’ Papers; Robert Chamber, Explanations: A Sequel to Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation; T. Simmons Mackintosh, Electrical Theory of the Universe, or the Elements of Physical and Moral Philosophy; and the writings of Emma Martin.
Periodical Reprints: Boston Investigator, and the N.Y. Herald.
“The Boston Investigator – The (Infidel) Convention,” “Brief History of the Late Convention,” “Brief History of the Last Convention as a Guide to the Next.” 1:16-21 (Apr. 11- May 16, 1846): 127-28, 143-44, 149-51, 158-60, 166-68. In response to an accusation that Vale is opposed to the “Infidel Society for the Promotion of Mental Liberty,” Vale clarifies, “This is untrue. I did all I could to promote it; but I am opposed to those who risked its harmony, who formed a clique, put themselves into office, and set up an exclusive New-York-Boston interest . . . . I am opposed to Mr. Tho[ma]s Thompson, Mr. O[liver] White, and your [Boston Investigator] agent Mr. John Morrison.” Vale proceeds to exhaustively detail his objections to this “clique” by examining the secret history of past conventions.
“The Convention – Boston Investigator.” 1:22 (May 23, 1846): 172-75. This is an exchange of letters between J.P. Mendum and Vale concerning the late convention.
“A Convention.” 1:24 (June 6, 1846): 191. This is an announcement of a convention to be convened in Palmyra, Ohio to, among other things, “establish a school, on a permanent basis, for the teaching of science and morals, to be forever disconnected with priestcraft and its influences.”
Objects, Initiatives and Status
“Object of Free Enquiry.” 1:12-13 (Mar. 14-21, 1846): 92-93, 98-101. This is a lecture delivered by the president of the “Friends of Mental Liberty and of Truth” in North Haverhill, New Hampshire.
G.V. “The Spirit of the Times.” 1:16-17 (Apr. 11-18, 1846): 123-24, 131-33. Reprinted from the first issue of the Quarterly Beacon, Vale contends, “We believe that the spirit of our journal is not too far before the age. We believe there are millions who long for free enquiry; who wish to see science free; who desire no standard but truth; and who pant for the exercise of that natural religion, which breathes good will to all men – not a few, not a sect – and who find in the common rights of man, a bond of union.”
“The Infidel Society.” 1:30 (July 18, 1846): 238-40. Under this title appears the first annual report of the society’s board of managers.
Church and State
“Oaths.” 1:6 (Jan. 31, 1846): 46. Reprinted from the Sun, reports Judge Ulshoeffer of the Court of common pleas who was asked to decide whether a witness was competent to testify in the case of Alex McCrum v Francis Hewitt, the judge stated, “From the evidence against the witness it seems that he disclaims believe in the Bible or a hell, yet if he believes in God and punishment for false swearing in this life, he is a competent witness. The witness also evidently disbelieves in Christianity, still he may be competent, as has been often held.”
“Thoughts on Natural Religion.” 1:33 (Aug. 8, 1846): 259-60. In introducing this extract from Edward Palmer’s pamphlet by the same title, Vale remarks, “It is one of many pamphlets and books, now pressing on the public mind, in all parts that are civilized; not addressed to believers or unbelievers, but to the public: unoffensive in its character, and manifest the transition state of society in which we now exist: for in spite of public appearances, the number of churches, extent of religious efforts, and manifest zeal &c., of many, the spirit of our popular religion is gone; the clergy are infected with doubt; the learned are unbelievers; and all men of sense and observation with very few exception are skeptics, but hang to the church in some way from sympathy, friendship, and because the female mind is not yet developed with the male.”
“John Ronge, The Leader of the New German Reformation.” 1:8-9 (Feb. 14-21, 1846): 57-62, 65-67. Reprinted from the Westminster Review.
“Mr. Offen’s Book.” 1:24 (June 6, 1846): 187-89. Reprinted here is the preface and introduction to Benjamin Offen’s A Legacy to the Friends of Free Discussion: being a Review of the Principal Historical Facts and the Personages of the Books known as the Old and New Testaments; with remarks on the Morality of Nature.
Extracts from John Fellows’ Papers
“Christianity Accommodated to Heathen Rites.” 1:22 (May 23, 1846): 171.
“Dr. Cooper on the Pentateuch.” 1:22 (May 23, 1846): 171-72.
“The Writings of Moses.” 1:23 (May 30, 1846): 181.
“Fall of Man.” 1:26 (June 20, 1846): 203-04.
“The Dialogue of the Woman and the Serpent.” 1:29 (July 11, 1846): 229-30.
“Curse Denounced Against the Serpent.” 1:30 (July 18, 1846): 236-38.
“Curse on Adam.” 1:31 (July 25, 1846): 247.
“God Makes Clothes for Adam and Eve – Tree of Life Guarded.” 1:34 (Aug. 15, 1846): 268-69.
“Religion of the Indians of Central America.” 1:35 (Aug. 22, 1846): 275-76.
“Original Sin and Its Imputation to Adam’s Posterity.” 1:37 (Sept. 5, 1846): 291-92.
“Awakenings – Ability in Man to Know Good or Evil.” 1:38 (Sept. 12, 1846): 298-99.
“Creation of the World.” 1:44 (Oct. 24, 1846): 347-48.
“Michael.” 1:45 (Oct. 31, 1846): 354-55.
“The Paine Celebration in New York.” 1:7 (Feb. 7, 1846): 53-55. This article features the chairman’s address and regular and volunteer toasts, including “Liberty- A firebrand stifled under the atmosphere of European aristocracy; may the wind of Revolution arouse its energy, and discretion guide its flame, until it destroys the baubles of Monarchy, and the emblems of superstition.”
“Party Violence and Special Christian Morality.” 1:47 (Nov. 14, 1846): 374-75. Reprinted from a Goshen, N.Y. paper, this is a notice to electors warning them that John Ledyard, a candidate for a seat in the New York Assembly, “is an Infidel – an atheist” and as such “cannot be a witness in any case, in any court of justice, in our state . . . . He takes one of the rankest infidel papers, called ‘The Beacon,’ and extols it highly: he keeps the portrait of Tom Paine hanging over his mantel-piece, where it has held its place for years, and considers him one of the best of men: he has not darkened the doors of any church for fifteen years, and prides himself upon so doing.”
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).