Andrew Peabody Preached Against War in 1847
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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All too often our history is a booming catalog of war. But there are quiet struggles too. This one is for Edith Pierson and all those who stand silently for peace. Portsmouth history tells us, you are not alone. In 1847 the city’s best-loved minister took a stand against the first American invasion of a foreign land. (Continued below)
In early April 1847, the bells of all but one Portsmouth church rang out in celebration. The United States had bombed the city of Vera Cruz into surrender in the Mexican-American War. Only the bells of the South Church remained silent in protest. In his sermon that Sunday, Rev. Andrew Peabody said this:
“I pity, from the bottom of my heart, the man who can have so much as a momentary feeling of exultation at such horrors. What! rejoice at the explosion of those infernal missiles in those late peaceful homes, -- at the scattering of those dissevered limbs and mangled corpses of those hundreds of women and children?”
Though a pacifist at heart, Peabody was not protesting the defense of America here, but rather the aggressive campaign bombing of a foreign nation where innocent natives could be killed. He could not, in his study of the New Testament, he said, find any way to rationalize this systematic killing with the fundamentally peaceful teachings of Christ. His sermon that day continued:
“Suppose our whole population surrounded by the engines of war -- our wives and children forbidden egress -- witnessing day after day spectacles of the utmost agony…The groans of the wounded, the wild shrieks of the dying rises from house to house above the roar of the artillery.”
Beloved pastor and teacher
The South Church where Rev. Peabody delivered this sermon still stands. It's the dark, stone Greek-revival building on State Street, better known today as the Unitarian Universalist church. While Peabody's stance may have been controversial, he was incredibly popular among his parishioners. Considered one of the wisest clerics of his time, Peabody became the youngest graduate of Harvard when he was just 15. By age 22 in 1833 he was appointed Junior Minister in Portsmouth, and a year later took over the congregation when Rev. Nathan Parker died.
Peabody openly opposed the Annexation of Texas and was still just 36 years old when he spoke out against the Mexican-American War. His published sermons, collected at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, show a prolific nature. He also fathered eight children, preached at the Isles of Shoals, and traveled to Russia. After serving 27 years in South Church Peabody became one of the most admired preachers and teachers at Harvard in Boston. He died just short of his 83rd birthday in 1893. In account after account, he is considered one of the most beloved ministers in Portsmouth history, because, it appears, he loved people back.
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