Liberal Advocate (1832-1834)

Liberal Advocate (1832-1834)

 Know then thyself, presume not God to scan! The proper study of mankind is man – Pope

Prospectus: “Equal Rights” and “Free Discussion,” will be fearlessly advocated and maintained. Sectarian dogmas or tenets will be investigated and compared. The spirit of Ecclesiastical, Ancient, and Modern History, will be briefly illustrated. Mythology, and Ancient and Modern Biographical Sketches, will receive due attention, while Science and the Useful Arts will occupy a portion of our columns . . . . Principles, and not individuals, will be the subjects of animadversion, unless individual vice or folly shall have such bearing upon the public morals, as to make the measure necessary.

Examined: 2:3:1 (Feb. 23, 1832) – 4:1:16 (Nov. 22, 1834).

Editor: Obediah Dogberry.

Publication Information: Independent Press, Rochester, New York.

Frequency: Intended as a weekly but Irregular.

Contributors/Correspondents: Burdon, Carlos, Clotair, Francois, Harold, Looker On, Seneca, and W.A.P.

Subjects/Features: Free Expression, Priestcraft, Christianity, Infidelity, Revivals, Religious Excitement/Fanaticism, Burchardism, Sunday Schools, Cholera, Mormonism, Mythology (Greek, Roman, Eastern), E.K. Avery Case, Temperance, Poetry, and Letters.

Periodical Reprints from: Western Examiner (St. Louis, Mo.), Working Man’s Advocate (New York), Citizen of the World (New York), Free Enquirer (New York), Herald of Freedom (Bethel, Ct.), Mohawk Liberal (Little Falls, N.Y.), and Priestcraft Exposed (New Haven, Ct.).


The Movement

“To Our Patrons.” 2:3:1 (Feb. 23, 1832): 2. The editor declares that “Our columns will be open for communications that may have for their object public utility and the advancement of useful knowledge. Politics will be excluded, while free discussion and inquiry in relation to our civil and religious institutions, will be steadily and fearlessly maintained, and it is most ardently desired that the true friends of liberal principles will come forward and lend us all the support, our feeble exertions in this great cause of mental emancipation may deserve.”

“Our Closet.” 2:3:9 (Apr. 21, 1832): 68. The editor remarks, “Let no human creature pretend to possess reason, who has neither the ability or courage to exercise it, and let none pretend to be wise, who have abandoned the privilege of investigating subjects, and examining for themselves. If reason was given to man as a blessing, let him duly appreciate such a favor: if for a curse (as many contend) let it be altogether discarded, and let “the noblest work of God,” sink to a level with the brute.”

“Mental Liberty Opposed to Tyranny and Priestcraft.” 2:3:16 (June 9, 1832): 125-26. The author begins by observing that, “An examination, however slight, of the principles upon which this pretended science [theology] is founded, forces us to acknowledge, that these principles, formerly judged incontestable, are only hazardous suppositions, imagined by ignorance, propagated by enthusiasm or knavery, adopted by timid credulity, preserved by custom, which never reasons, and revered solely because not understood.”

“Liberal Men.” 3:1:10 (Sept. 29, 1832): 75. Speaking about the term liberal, the editor explains, “Few words convey an idea, more ennobling to our natures; yet there is a terror in the sound. The man who dares to exercise his reason and judgment and think for himself, is supposed by many to be alien to God and the community, and if he does not fall down and worship, at the shrine of every calf, which is set up, he is immediately denounced, and turned over for safekeeping, into the hands of a set of important personages, who dwell in a pit without a bottom where he is regaled to all eternity, with sulphuric acid; simply because he is too honest to subscribe to that which no one can understand.”

“Our Closet.” 3:1:12 (Oct. 13, 1832): 91. The editor begins, “There appears to be a strange anomaly in nature, that makes men so tenacious of their present opinions, when every day’s experience teaches them, that it is the easiest thing in the world to be mistaken, and that in the eyes of the wise and virtuous, it is much more creditable to confess the truth, when our senses are once convinced, than to adhere pertinaciously to even, long cherished errors.”

“The Temperance Cause.” 3:3:6 (Dec. 30, 1833): 46-47. The editor reveals, “Our motto is suum cuique – let every man mind his own business, and let every sect look to themselves, and not, in the name of “Temperance,” be thrusting their peculiar tenets under the doors and into the very noses of their neighbors. Thoroughly reform yourselves, and do not be in too great a hurry to make the whole world conform to your doctrines as well as your rules of regimens.”

“Our Paper.” 3:3:16 (April 6, 1834): 124. The editor explains, “As to our religious creed, (if we have any,) we have never said a word about it; but in the spirit of true liberality have been willing to give publicity to the opinions of others, firmly believing that error is never dangerous when Truth is left free to combat it, and little doubt remains in our mind, that the later will finally reign triumphant.”

“Our Object.” 3:3:16 (April 6, 1834): 125. The editor states, “We would have mankind, instead of quarreling about doctrinal points of religion, engage themselves in the search of Truth. We would have them think how much they are carried astray by impositions of the grossest nature, and instead of being taught Virtue, are only swindled out of their money, and for a good part, out of their senses also. Men’s minds will find employ sufficient on this great subject, and no greater excitement can be necessary than unraveling the tangled skein of Priestcraft, and viewing, astonished at each new development, how crooked, how united, how puzzling and deceptive, are the contrivances of the schemers of false religions.”

Objects, Initiatives and Status

“National Tract Society.” 2:3:1 (Feb. 23, 1832): 1-2. This article features extracts from the society’s declaration.

An untitled article, reprinted from the National Republican, which features an address and resolutions drawn up by the friends of liberal principles residing in the towns of Chili, Wheatland and Riga “for the purpose of taking into consideration the dangerous tendency of the prevailing religious excitement.” 2:3:2 (Mar. 3, 1832): 11-12. The friends of liberal principles resolved, among other things, “That the perpetuity of our Civil and Religious Liberty is intimately connected with the liberty of the press, and the perfect freedom of enquiry, and that we will strenuously resist every attempt to overawe the one or circumscribe the other.”

Church and State

“To the Legislature of the State of New York.” 2:3:2-5 (Mar. 3-24, 1832): 10-11, 18-19, 26-27, 33-34. Under this heading is a memorial arguing that Sabbath laws, laws exempting churches and priests from taxation and the appointment of priests to civil and military office are unconstitutional.


A letter from “Carlos” which begins, “The minority of the present Legislature of the State, are richly deserving the gratitude of their constituents, for the manly stand which they took against paying the people’s money, for the prayers of the Albany Clergy. If our representatives wish to make a display of religion; or “acknowledge their dependence on a divine being” in making laws; let them pay the fiddler with their own money.” 3:2:5 (Feb. 23, 1833): 25.

Sabbath Observance

“Sunday Mails.” 2:3:5 (Mar. 24, 1832): 40. Reprinted from the Planter’s Gazette (Montgomery, Al.); a petition from the Alabama Baptist Association opposing the suspension of the transportation of the mails on Sunday.

On this page is a report concerning Rochester city council’s attempts to adopt a Sabbath day law. 4:1:8 (July 26, 1834): 61.

Freedom of Speech

Abner Kneeland – Blasphemy Case

“The Persecution of Abner Kneeland.” 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.”

Communications. 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.”


“Triumph of the People.” 3:2:2 (Jan. 12, 1833): 10-11. This article reports the release from prison of P.T. Barnum, editor of the Herald of Freedom, who served sixty days in a common jail in Danbury for allegedly libeling Seth Seelye. The article features a statement by Barnum delivered upon his release.



Objections to Modern Revivals.” 2:3:6-8 (Mar. 31-Apr. 14, 1832): 41, 49, 57. Reprinted from the Herald of Truth.

“Thoughts on Reason and Orthodoxy.” 3:1:11 (Oct. 6, 1832): 84-85. The author of this letter contends that, “When God, of whom I hold my reason, demands of me to sacrifice it, he becomes a mere juggler, that snatches from me, what he pretended to give.”

A letter from Burdon regarding a “future state.” 3:1:13 (Oct. 20, 1832): 98-99. The author notes, “The system of the Universe shows human life to be of so little value: we know not what we were once in our life; we know not what we shall be; and hardly what we are. One would think that these things might learn us to be content with our lot (as fretting and worrying ourselves will do no good) to improve our present state of existence and not to soar so high; so much, about, and after, an uncertain being, of whom it is said to “know aught is life eternal” and also it is said “is incomprehensible, and his ways past finding out.”

L.D. “Sunday School Celebration.” 3:1:13-14 (Oct. 20- Nov. 3, 1832): 102-03, 108-09. This is a report of the “Genesee Sunday School Union” meeting in Rochester.

Q. “Spiritual and Godly Warfare.” 3:2:6 (Mar. 19, 1833): 42-44.

An Observer. “Protracted Meetings.” 3:2:7 (Mar. 30, 1833): 50-51.

Reflector. “Clerical Oppression and Religious Excitement.” 3:2:8 (Apr. 9, 1833): 60.

“4th of July.” 3:2:13 (July 3, 1833): 101. Besieged by revivalism, the editor warns, “A new race of men have come upon the stage; they appear to have degenerated;  the noble and high minded spirit which enabled their ancestors to achieve our independence, at every risk and hazard, is either already extinguished or becoming dormant and inactive, while attempts are daily making, by a designing few to bring our free institutions and their founders into disrepute, and to raise up a civil and religious tyranny, equal if not more horrid than that which disgraced the dark ages.”

“Religion and Politics.” 3:3:4 (Dec. 9, 1833): 26. Reprinted from the Mohawk Liberal, the author postulates that the movement to establish Sunday schools is part of a greater scheme to organize a “Christian party in politics.”

“Lying for the Good of the Church.” 3:3:11 (Feb. 11, 1834): 83. Reprinted from the Western Examiner, the author presents quotations in support of lying to layman from Eusebius to modern apologist, Bishop Burnet.

Porphyry. “Burchard’s Revival.” 3:3:12 (Feb. 20, 1834): 95-96. Reprinted from the Buffalo Bulletin, the author reports, “Our citizens generally have treated Burchard and his attending companions as they usually do straggling mountebanks; they have gone to his exhibitions, listened to his anecdotes, laughed at his ranting and pitied his hallucinations.”

Ben Krapac. “Lecture on the Soul.” 3:3:14 (Mar. 7, 1834): 105-06. Reprinted from the Free Enquirer.

H. “Origin of Mankind.” 3:3:14 (Mar. 7, 1834): 106-07. Reprinted from the Philadelphia Liberalist.

Communications. 4:1:4 (June 14, 1834): 29. Another letter, signed “Carlos,” who argues, “The man who asserts that there is a heaven, or a hell, such as are represented in the bible; where the souls of men will go after death, to receive their reward or punishment, asserts that which he knows no more about than does the Orang-outang; and which he cannot prove to the satisfaction of any inquiring mind, that seeks for truth and truth alone.”

On this page appears a letter to the editor signed by “Truth” in which the author warns, “Think not that the Sunday School System is harmless. It is the most deep laid plan ever put into operation to subvert the liberties of man. 4:1:16 (Nov. 22, 1834): 126.


“Mormonism.” 3:1:4 (July 28, 1832): 28. The editor exclaims, “A more stupid, ignorant vagabond can seldom be found, than Jo Smith Jr., and all his first converts (Martin Harris excepted) were like their prophet, “idle, lazy and illiterate.” The whole farce grew out of a “money digging” operation and will in all human probability swallow up many of the puny sects of the day. They appear to meet with the greatest success among the Baptist, and other “Fresh Water” Christians.”

“Mormonism.” 3:2:16 (Sept. 3, 1833): 125. The editor reports the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, Missouri and states, “They may be composed of a group of knaves and fools, and in all human probability the later outnumber the former. But be that as it may, the people of Jackson County have set a lawless example of intolerance, and deserve the execrations of all friends to civil and religious liberty. If we live under a government of laws- let them govern.”


“A Systematic Effort Throughout the United States.” 3:2:14 (July 25, 1833): 110-11. Reprinted from the Mohawk Liberal, the author asks, “Ought children to be taught religious tenets while their judgments are immature? Or ought they not rather to be educated in the ways of virtue, morality, and intelligence , and left to form their religious notions after they arrive at an age when they are capable of judging for themselves?

Preceding Titles: The Reflector (1829-1831); The Reflector, and Liberal Advocate (1831- ?).

Accession Number: 17968354

The New York Historical Society Library owns all the numbers which I examined.