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Andrew Peabody Preached Against War in 1847

 

Ridiculous for peace

Despite his enormous popularity, Peabody had his detractors. After his sermon against the war in Vera Cruz, the Dover, NH newspaper announced: “The Rev. Andrew P. Peabody, of Portsmouth, N.H. has made himself particularly ridiculous.”

Peabody_Andrew_DaugPeabody continued to be ridiculous all his long life. He championed the end of slavery at any cost, favored the education of women, campaigned for better treatment of the mentally ill, served on committees advocating peace, espoused temperance and denounced mysticism. He taught at Harvard, served at the Perkins School for the Blind and was a trustee at Phillips Exeter Academy. He wrote on every imaginable topic – from manners and conversation, to essays on taxation and the Hebrew language.   His writings in the North American Review alone totaled over 1,600 published pages.

A person’s religious beliefs, according to Peabody, are not simply a set of rules and rituals. He saw them, instead, as a flexible guide for every day living. Why bother to participate in a religious faith, he might ask, if that faith isn’t evident in everything one does?

A culture of violence

The American landing and siege at Vera Cruz was this nation’s first major amphibious attack on another country – although the landing was unopposed by the Mexican army.  What Peabody read in the newspaper frightened him.  While he openly honored America’s Revolutionary War heroes and those who defended America against British attacks in the War of 1812 – Mexico, he said, was different. It was, Peabody feared, the beginning of a culture of violence in this country.

Indeed, historians have described the Mexican American War as the training ground for our own Civil War that preceded a century of unspeakably bloody foreign wars. Consider these names from our history books -- Zachary Taylor, Stonewall Jackson, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis, George McClellan, and Winfield Scott. Every one served in the Mexican War. You won’t find the name Andrew Peabody among the heroes there. American history textbooks  inevitably focus on battles won and battles lost.

The fog of war

History, however, is more complex than even the textbooks imply. Patriotism does not always wear a uniform. While this city is, perhaps, best known for its warships and jet fighters, it is also remembered for the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the bloody Russo-Japanese War. All-American Daniel Webster, once a Portsmouth lawyer, loudly decried President James Monroe’s declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812. Webster went as far as to suggest that New England should secede from the Union in protest. Portsmouth’s “Copperhead” newspaper publisher Joshua Foster called on Abraham Lincoln to end the American Civil War. Local activists have protested our involvement in foreign wars from Viet Nam to Afghanistan.

It is easy to imagine Rev. Peabody taking his familiar stand against war in the old South Church today. We should refuse to rejoice, he often said, in the misery of others. If our efforts abroad succeed, according to Peabody, we should ring no bells.

“I confess,” Peabody said in 1847, “my sympathies are with the bereaved, suffering homeless Mexicans – of the multitudes that, without fault of their own, have been made to feel the direst of earthly calamities, and have been given over to the wasting of the war-fiend, whose tender mercies are cruelty. They are our brethren.”

 

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson writes and lectures on NH history. His books are available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Robinson is also editor and owner of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com where this column appears exclusively online.

 

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