Edward Beecher was a famous pastor and president of Illinois College for 14 years. Beecher was a leader in Illinois’s anti-slavery society and actively shared his beliefs with others.
Beecher was raised as a strong Christian by his father, Reverend Lyman Beecher. Beecher studied theology at Yale and Andover Seminary. Beecher preached at several churches throughout his life, and his journey as a pastor began in 1826 at Park Street Church in Boston. Fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison also gave his first speech against slavery at this church while Beecher was the pastor.
Beecher left his pastoral position to become the first president of Illinois College. Illinois College was the center of the abolitionist movement in the state. It was founded by anti-slavery advocates and had close ties with the Underground Railroad. Beecher, along with two other trustees, formed the first anti-slavery society in Illinois in 1837.
Beecher supported the immediate freedom (emancipation) of slaves. Beecher’s sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famous author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” His brother was Henry Ward Beecher, another well-known pastor and abolitionist. Beecher was also close friends with Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a prominent minister and newspaper editor who was killed by an anti-slavery mob in Illinois in 1837.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Beecher, a devout Christian, believed that slavery and owning slaves were sinful. In the “Declarations of Sentiments” for the Illinois Anti-Slavery Convention in 1837, Beecher stated that the sin was committed by the entire nation, not just slave owners.
In “Narrative,” Beecher demonstrated his anger with the church regarding slavery. Beecher wrote, “The fact is, there is but one possible ground:—adherence to God and the immutable principles of right. And if any man, or any community is offended at this, the fault is their own. This course is wisdom. This course is prudence...there is no doubt: we have the right to discuss this subject; the great movements of the age demand it; and wisdom and prudence enforce the command.”
Beecher wrote several other books about the Christian faith. In one book, “Secret Societies,” Beecher stated, “There is access to the true God only through Christ: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but through me’... [T]he center and culmination of their [the church’s] worship is this recognition of Christ in the Sacrament as the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. Christ, too, is the center of the worship of heaven.”