Temple of Reason (1835-1837)

Temple of Reason;

Devoted to Free Inquiry, Moral Science, Universal Education, and Human Happiness.

Prospectus: Here, Theological Dogmas will be met by Reason;- the Sacred Books, by Facts and Arguments;- fanciful Theories, by Science. The tricks of religious jugglers will be exposed, superstition stripped of its meretricious allurements, the veil of hypocrisy rent in twain, and man taught to respect himself.

Examined: 1:1 (May 9, 1835) – 1:52 (May 14, 1836).

Editor: Russel Canfield. 1:1 (May 9, 1835) – 1:52 (May 14, 1836).

Publication Information: Russel Canfield, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1:1 (May 9, 1835) – 1:52 (May 14, 1836).

Frequency: Weekly.

Contributors: Martin Bucer, Observer, Papirus Cursor, and Scrutator.

Subjects/Features: Atheism, Biblical Criticism, Infidelity versus Christianity, Judicial Oaths/ Competency of Witnesses, Quackery, Phrenology, Universalism, Anti-Catholic/Immigrant Sentiment, Education, and Poetry.

Reprints/Extracts from: Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Percey B. Shelley, Queen Mab; Volney, The Ruins; Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary; and The Gospel, According to Richard Carlile.

Periodical reprints from: Free Enquirer (New York), Albany Argus, Western Examiner (St. Louis), Ohio Watchman (Ravenna), Citizen of the World (New York) and the Boston Investigator.


The Movement

Observer. “Scepticism and Infidelity.” 1:15-21 (Aug. 15- Sept. 26, 1835): 113-14, 122-24, 131-32, 137-38, 147-48, 153-55, 161-62.  The author provides critical commentary on Lyman Beecher, Lectures on Scepticism, and G.S. Faber, The Difficulties of Infidelity.

“To Free Inquirers of the United States.” 1:22 (Oct. 3, 1835): 173-74. Canfield reports, “Those who have leisure to watch the motions of religionists, perceive that their camp is in terrible disorder, and that clashing opinions and opposing dogmas, threaten them with a protracted theological warfare. Their fears are awakened for the church, from the growing numbers of Catholics and Sceptics. This then is the time to follow their panic by reiterated thrusts at their dogmas, through the means of a free press. The simple question now is . . . . whether those who are ready and willing to meet opponents, and exhibit unhallowed pretensions of an all-grasping priesthood, shall be supported? Whether those who profess to be with us, are ready and willing to second the mental efforts of fearless champions?”


 A. “The Meaning of Words.” 1:1 (May 9, 1835): 6. The author writes, “Infidel, has been defined, “want of faith.” It is mostly used as a term of reproach; but promises to become, like that of rebel, a badge of honor.”

“A Kneelandite.” 1:32 (Dec. 26, 1835): 251. Reprinted from the Saturday Courier. The author describes the Kneeland and Fanny Wright gang as atheistical agrarians, or “men who propose to re-organize society anew by abolishing all religion, dividing all property, dispensing with the marriage institution, so that men and women might cohabit promiscuously like brutes, and the children run at large like young partridges, knowing no more of their parents than a horse does of his grandfather.”

G.V. “A Sermon. On Lying and Slandering, addressed to Editors, and especially to the Editor of the Sunday Morning News.” 1:32 (Dec. 26, 1835): 252-54. Reprinted from Citizen of the World. Vale responds to accusations that the Citizen of the World is the official paper of atheists and agrarians. Vale first defines atheism as “the denial of a Supreme Being, or of any superior controlling intelligence to man” and “the reverse of Deism” and then insists that he has never advocated Atheism.


 E.L. Finley and Benjamin Offen

“Affray at Tammany Hall.” 1:6 (June 13, 1835): 41-43. The editor provides an account of Finley’s visit to Tammany Hall on May 24, 1835.

E.L. Finley. “Col. Finley’s Address.” 1:6-7 (June 13-20, 1835): 47, 52. Finley begs, “Let public opinion awaken in all its energy, and tell these moral incendiaries, that they shall not be permitted to throw their firebrands in your community, and reduce to one moral ruin, your altars, your temples and your domestic hearths. Infidelity is a weed which is not congenial to our soil. It is an exotic. Do not transplant it into our garden; it will extirpate every wholesome and beautiful plant, until it grows into a tree, which overshadowing your noble city, will wither and destroy everything within its influence.”

Benjamin Offen. “Moral Philanthropists. To the Corporate Authorities, and Citizens of New York.” 1:7 (June 20, 1835): 51. Offen replies that “the Col. will be disappointed if he expects to lay the foundation of an American Inquisition in New York, and dictate successfully to its enlightened citizens the best method of sustaining morality by confining conscience within legal boundaries.”

Dr. William W. Sleigh and the New York and Philadelphia Free Enquirers

“Christianity Victorious!” 1:27-28 (Nov. 21-28, 1835): 209-11, 221-22. This was the title of an article circulated by Dr. Sleigh in which he contended that after six nights of public discussion with Free Inquirers, at the Temperance Hall in Philadelphia, the audience unanimously agreed that he had shown Christianity to be of divine origin and that the infidels’ attacks on sacred scriptures were without support. Canfield shows Sleigh’s claim to be absurd by producing statements of support. He also provides a brief account of some of the arguments he made during the last night of the discussion.

“Editorial.” 1:29 (Dec. 5, 1835): 225-28. Canfield presents some additional point and counterpoints of his discussion with Sleigh and additional evidence supporting his claim that Sleigh violated virtually every rule of conduct mutually agreed to prior to the commencement of the discussion.

“Selected.” 1:33 (Jan. 2, 1836): 258-59. A letter from Origen Bacheler, reprinted from the New York Transcript. Bacheler volunteers to aid the skeptics in “bringing forth infidelity in all its strength, thereby giving the former [Christianity] the opportunity  to annihilate it, root and branch, thus rendering a lasting service to the Christian cause, and conferring an incalculable benefit on mankind.”

“Christianity in New York. Comprising Mr. Bacheler’s attack on Dr. Sleigh- Dr. Sleigh’s Reply,- and Mr. Bacheler’s Rejoinder.” 1:33-34 (Jan. 2-9, 1836): 260-63, 269-72. Bachelor’s attack on Sleigh is in the form of a letter to a handful of prominent doctors of divinity who testified “their high approbation of the judicious and able manner in which [Dr. Sleigh] has defended Christianity.” Bachelor provides examples of how, during the debates, Dr. Sleigh “repeatedly made unfounded statements,” “left numerous infidel objections standing in their full strength,” and consequently failed to establish the authenticity of the Bible. Dr. Sleigh replies that Bachelor’s attack on him is “not the first time that I have been persecuted and slandered by pseudo-Christians, who ever were worse than Infidels.”

Origen Bacheler and Russel Canfield

“Public Discussion.” 1:44-51 (Mar. 19- May 7, 1836): 345-51, 353-55, 361-65, 370-72, 378-81, 386-90, 394-97, 402. A synopsis of the six day discussion between Bacheler and Canfield at Commissioner Hall in Philadelphia, covering, among other things, the challenge of finite minds comprehending the infinite, prayer, man’s duty, foreknowledge and free will, divine inspiration, corruption of the Bible, sacrificial victims, John the Baptist – Elias, and the creation of evil.

R. Canfield. “The Discussion.” 1:44 (Mar. 19, 1836): 352. Canfield credits Origen Bacheler and Alexander Campbell  for possessing “sincerity not often found in a paid, or at least a salaried clergy. Such men should therefore be always well received, and treated with courtesy by our sceptical friends as the champions of free discussion. Their very works furnish an appearance of sincerity in their favor.”

“Editorial.” 1:45, 47-48 (Mar. 26, Apr. 9-16, 1836): 355-56, 373-74, 381-82. Under this heading, Canfield notices “arguments to which he had paid but little attention during the oral discussion, or to which attention has not been sufficiently called, in the synopsis.”

Objects, Initiatives, and Status

G.R. “Society of Free Inquirers.” 1:2 (May 16, 1835): 13-14. The author asks, “Why is it that societies, such for instance as the Association of Free Inquirers, which during four years has experienced the alternations of bright and clouded prospects – now full of active, zealous members, promising a rich harvest of future usefulness; and anon, on the verge of dissolution? Why is it that such societies are so much neglected by the mass of those who claim to be the advocates of Free Inquiry?” To which the editor remarks, “But all Free Inquirers are not remiss in duty; all are not lukewarm. Witness the multitude of liberal works published and purchased within the last thirty years. Witness the fearless periodical papers now extant. . . . look at Tammany Hall, New York, more than four years ably filled, and three thousand dollars in expenses ably paid, by the mechanic, the philanthropist – Benjamin Offen, one of Nature’s handy work.”

Church and State

Judicial Oaths

Thomas Herttell. “Rights and Competency of Witnesses.” 1:7-9, 11-14 (June 20- July 4, 18- Aug. 8, 1835): 52-54, 60-61, 69-71, 85-86, 94-95, 103,  Reprinted from the Albany Argus; speech delivered before the New York Assembly on May 7, 1835. Herttell pledges to show that the rights of conscience, opinion and speech are inalienable rights, expressly guaranteed by provisions of the Constitution of New York, and that the existing law, which  assesses a witnesses competency to testify in court based on their belief or unbelief in certain religious doctrines violates those inalienable rights and the provisions of the Constitution by which they are intended to be secured, specifically Article VII, Sections 3 and 7.

“Judicial Oaths.” 1:9 (July 4, 1835): 65. The editor recalls how Enoch Winkley was deemed incompetent as a witness in a court in Salem Massachusetts “on account of his disbelief in the true god, and a future life.”

Thomas Herttell. “Reply, To Mr. (Speaker) Humphrey’s remarks against [Herttell’s proposed] Bill, and in Support of the Religious Test Act.” 1:17, 19-21 (Aug. 29, Sept. 12-26, 1835): 135, 151, 159, 164-66.

Freedom of Speech

Common Sense. “Law of Libel.” 1:20-21 (Sept. 19-26, 1835): 158, 163-64. Reprinted from the Boston Morning Post. The author writes, “Courts have made a great error by confounding in these cases the principles and objects of our institutions with those of the mother country. They have drawn their law from the usages in Great Britain. . . . . But we put it to the common sense of the common people, those who constitute the juries of the country, a body that has the right to decide this question, whether when the constitution guarantees the unrestrained liberty of the press, it be possible to make the exercise of that right a crime?”

“Liberty of the Press.” 1:21 (Sept. 26, 1835): 166-67. Canfield criticizes the post-office for its censorship of abolitionist newspapers.


Julian. “Belief and Punishment.” 1:16 (Aug. 22, 1835): 121-22. Julian observes that “Beliefs the most absurd and contradictory are held by men of talents and good sense, though they may be consistent in other matters, and I have often observed and expressed, that men, however talented and well informed in their business, and in the arts and sciences, seem to possess a degree of insanity when they talk and act on religion.”

J.R. “The Belief in a God.” 1:25-27 (Oct. 24- Nov. 21, 1835): 194-96, 202-03, 214-15. The author argues that belief in God “is a belief that enervates the mind, tends to pusillanimity, creates a slavish awe, makes man afraid of man, fosters a submissive spirit to the “powers that be,” . . . . rears obstacles to the progress of useful knowledge, restricts science, and crushes reason. It is a belief admirably calculated to subjugate the human species, and make them mental and physical slaves.”


Russel Canfield. “The Ostracism.” 1:1-4, 7, 11 (May 9-30, June20, July 18, 1835): 1-2, 9-10, 19-20, 26-27, 49-50, 81. The editor explains that, “My object . . . . is to examine the Jewish and Christian books. They will be arraigned at the bar of Reason, and carefully investigated, by the same legitimate rules of criticism which are applied to other writings. Should they bear this scrutiny, and pass the ordeal in safety, well; should they be found utterly wanting in value- should the trial exhibit them as not merely worthless, but deleterious, the result shall be laid before my readers with the same faithfulness which shall mark the progress of inquiry.”

E.P.D. “Extracts from a Correspondence.” 1:11 (July 18, 1835): 84. The author writes, “To believe in the eternity of the universe, according to [priests and doctors of divinity], is one of the greatest absurdities; but to believe in the eternal existence of an immaterial God, capable of creating it, is perfectly reasonable. Oh profound reasoners, do you not perceive that to assert the existence of a being superior to man, presupposes a knowledge which man does not possess? Would it not be more honest to say you know nothing about supernatural existences, than to assert their existence, when you cannot give the least proof?”

G.R. “Ignorance of the Law Excuseth No Man.” 1:15 (Aug. 15, 1835): 114-15. The author concludes, “There is nothing better calculated to destroy belief in this book [The Bible] than a knowledge of its contents; a simple perusal by a person of common sense . . . . is sufficient to destroy forever the sanctity which its pretended divine origin and Latin name have thrown around it; and to all men I would say in conclusion, “Search the Scriptures.””

“Signs of the Times.” 1:15 (Aug. 15, 1835): 116-17. Speaking of the Protestant’s smear campaign against Catholics, Canfield states, “With Catholics, as mere religionists, we have no sympathy; but as men, as republicans, and as a persecuted sect, we have much- and as such, we extend to them the tokens of fellow feeling, and so far as power extends, of protection.”

Scrutator. “What is Christianity.” 1:19 (Sept. 12, 1835): 145-47. The author begins, “If we carefully peruse the history of the various contradictory doctrines of the different sects and denominations of the christian world, we shall find every contrariety of opinion maintained, and also opposed and denounced as repugnant to sound religion, and detestable in the eyes of God.”


“An Angel Caught.” 1:10 (July 11, 1835): 79. This is a short story uncovering the fraudulent conduct of Joe Smith, reprinted from The Magazine and Advocate. Canfield remarks, “Joe Smith, his book, his pretensions, and his miracles, are in perfectly good keeping with all other pretended prophets and their various impostures. If, in this enlightened age, when the race of ghosts and witches is nearly extinct, Americans have been duped by the Mormon cheat – what might not be accomplished in by-gone ages?”

G.R. “Mormonism and Christianity.” 1:12 (July 25, 1835): 90-91. The author concludes, “What a melancholy theme for reflection is here opened to the contemplative mind: that in this day of light, in this country where the mind of man is free to inquire into all subjects, so ridiculous a scene should be enacted, so silly a doctrine should find believers and advocates, and so shallow an impostor, dupes and followers. Let us hope that it will serve at least this one useful end: to cause the adherents of other superstitions to look to the foundation of their faith, and see how much firmer they stand than this which they are so ready to stigmatize as a delusion; and when they see, as they cannot fail to see, the striking similarity in the origin of all religions, that they will seek in Free Inquiry a solution of their doubts. Then will the Sun of Reason dawn on their minds, and the mists of superstition will flee at his approach; Mormonism and Christianity will shrink into their native insignificance, and the mind of man, freed from the shackles of ignorance and priestcraft, will be free to roam untrammeled through the beautiful and boundless fields of knowledge.”


C. “Education.” 1:8-9 (June 27-July 4, 1835): 59, 67. The author contends that, “the fundamental error of education, is to occupy the mind with antiquated authorities, and then to try the principles of the present day, by the authorities and maxims of the past.”

Women’s Rights

“The Marriage Law.” 1:37, 40 (Jan. 30, Feb. 20, 1836): 293, 315-16. Speaking of marriage vows, the author writes, “Each party is to engage as with the solemnity of an affidavit, to take the other “for better or worse,” to be his or her constant companion, whom to love, honor, and obey, till parted by death! What a jaw-breaker! What an oath! What a wild plunge! What a headlong hazard! I do not conceive that any person of good sense can be very sincere, or honest, in making such an asseveration. Now if any person were to make so rash a bargain about any other sort of transaction, our laws would rate him non compos mentis, and from thence make the obligation void.”

Maria Monk

“Villany Exposed.” 1:42-43 (Mar. 5-12, 1836): 331-332, 338-39. Reprinted from the Montreal Courier.

“Maria Monk’s Slanders of the Catholics.” 1:42 (Mar. 5, 1836): 335. Canfield remarks, “From the first which I have seen or heard of the falsehoods of Maria Monk, no doubt has existed that the object was to excite the prejudices and malicious propensities of the multitude against Catholics, reckless of the means, as regardless of the consequences. . . . For the Catholics, as religionists merely, I have no sympathy – but as men and as citizens, I have much. If their convents are sources of evil, of which I have little doubt, put them down by public opinion, not by mobs and riots, nor yet by the false representations of impostors and knaves.”


“Fourth of July.” 1:9-10 (July 4-11, 1835): 67, 74. This commemoration notes that “The projectors of the revolutionary struggle have been termed infidels. If any doubt the propriety of this appellation, an examination of the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, will dissipate doubt. But, not only was the principle on which the revolution was founded, infidel; but the principal actors were unbelievers in the Christian books. Hence . . . . they voted God out of the Constitution.”

J.C.P. “Do the Vices and Misery which Afflict Society, Originate in the Innate Constitution of Human Nature.” 1:30, 32, 35, 42-43 (Dec. 12, 26, 1835; Jan. 16, Mar. 5-12, 1836): 235-36, 249-51, 273-74, 329-30, 337-38. The author asserts, “Science is trifling, and, yet it could perform wonders, did it but deign to shed some light upon those relations which constitute the intellectual, moral and physical existences of human nature, and thus assist mankind in discovering the laws and condition of human association; whereas it appears to aim at nothing loftier than puzzling us with high sounded words, and making mankind forget that all human knowledge which does not materially increase the comfort and happiness of the masses, is at best an object of idle curiosity and vain luxury, under serving their confidence.”

Accession Numbers: 1767252, 191122275, 477413878.


The title became Temple of Reason, and National Messenger with the 27th number issued November 21, 1835. This title change appears to be due to the absorption of Jesse Torrey Jr.’s Herald of Reason and National Messenger by the Temple of Reason. See, Jesse Torrey Jr. “To the Patrons of the Herald of Reason.” 1:28 (Nov. 28, 1835): 222-23.

The Temple of Reason had Agents in the following states: Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia.