Thursday, April 1, 2010

Romanus Emerson- Part 5- A few words from the Infidels

Boston Investigator, 20 October 1852, Issue 25, Col. A

“At a special meeting of the Boston Infidel Relief Society, the following Resolutions were read and adopted:

Whereas, in the course of Nature we are called upon to part with our Brother, Counsellor and Friend, ROMANUS EMERSON, who has been associated with us since the commencement of our society, was its first Presiding Officer, and always a faithful and active member, we would express our regret and sympathy in the following Resolutions:-

Resolved, 1st, That we deeply sympathise with the Widow of our late Brother in her painful bereavement, knowing his exalted worth, his benevolent disposition , and his strong mind, but hope that she and us will find consolation in the thought that his character through life was that of an honest, upright man, and a valuable citizen. We also sympathise with his children, who have lost a noble father; and likewise with all the relatives of the deceased in the loss they suffer.

Resolved 2nd, That in the death of our worthy and lamented Brother, this Society has met with an irreparable loss; and that the best tribute we can pay him now is to revere his memory, cherish his many virtues, and imitate his pure example.

Resolved 3d, That in his death the friends of Social Reform have lost an able supporter, and a zealous and constant friend- one who gave freely and labored faithfully for the promotion of the best interests of humanity, and the memory of whose virtues and actions deserve to live in the affections of grateful thousands.

Resolved 4th, That is proportion as the number of such wise philanthropists is small, does it become the duty of every friend of his race to strive to rescue from oblivion the names of all who are thus distinguished by active and enlightened benevolence, to redeem from forgetfulness their virtuous deeds and beneficent actions , and, meting out to each the praise that his virtues demand, hold up before the public eye their honorable example as a combination of these excellent equalities which exalt and ennoble human nature.”

Boston Investigator, November 10, 1852, Issue 28 Column C

Letter to the Editor

“Death of Romanus Emerson

Mr. Editor:- I received, by a late No. of The Investigator, the sad intelligence of the death of our old and worthy friend EMERSON. He was an uncommon man. I think I never formed an acquaintance with a person who seemed to me to possess more good qualities than he did. About two years since he come to our town (Plymouth) to attend an Anti-Slavery Meeting; and during his stay here, I had the pleasure of his company at my house for part of a day.

I was much interested in his conversation, which exhibited excellent judgment, strong common sense, and the most unlimited philanthropy. His whole soul appeared to manifest an ardent disposition to promote the welfare of all classes of human beings. Upon the subject of religion, on which he also dwelt at much length, I thought his views were very correct. He regretted to see the extent and influence of religious thralldom- it chained and enfeebled the human mind, making it timid and subservient, and thereby prevented it from enquiring and advancing in the path of knowledge. This mental slavery was, in his opinion, one of the greatest obstacles with which reformers and philanthropists had to contend in carrying forward their objects.

In regard to the subject of Education, Mr. Emerson expressed himself strongly in its favor, but sincerely regretted the deleterious effects produced on the minds of children by teaching them sectarian doctrines incapable of demonstration. He contended that nothing could be worse, in the way of teaching, than to forge mental fetters to prevent the human mind from embracing demonstrated truths.

All denominations had done this. He pointed to us the Sunday Schools of New England, and asked us to look for ourselves and see how the scholars of these institutions were by their false guides led to abandon reason and give the reins to imagination, and so approach the north pole of mystery where the needle of human reason veered all around the compass and pointed to nothing certain. He said all religionists were addicted to the practice of throwing in the pathway of human progression obstacles of this sort; and that it was on account of such influences that the moral, social, and intellectual improvement of the human race has been so retarded. Many other topics were conversed upon, all of which he was familiar with, and his manner of illustrating them showed much thought and observation.

Mr. Emerson’s high moral and social qualities were, in my opinion, in a very great measure to be sectarian bigotry would have so bridled his thoughts as not to have allowed him to become a free inquirer. He entertained some sentiments which were at variance in some respects with many who profess to be friendly to Liberal views. He expressed to me, while conversing upon the freedom of the human will and moral accountability of man, that erroneous vies had been advocated by persons who professed to be great benefactors to the human race by arguing that mankind can think and act independent of society or nature; that the great human family have it in their power to be virtuous, benevolent, vicious, charitable, grateful, &c. This doctrine, he thought , had done infinite mischief; it produced rewards and punishment, and also had a tendency to deprive mankind of charity, the exercise of which did more to fill up the cup of human happiness than any other quality desirable. When we behold (said he) one of our fellow men fall a victim to vice and bring misery upon himself and family, we as rational human beings should pause and inquire into the circumstances that surrounded and governed him before we exercised upon him the strong arm of the law. By ascertaining the cause of his misconduct, and removing it, we can reclaim him and prevent his transgression in future. It was as plain (continued Mr. Emerson) what caused virtue and vice as that two and two made four. Man has to think and act according to his nature and the influence of society; he can no more go counter to this, than he can forego the sensation of hunger when he has not eaten for days any food.

I think these sentiments of our venerable friend (of which I have given but a brief and imperfect sketch) are not easily refuted, but few reformers at the present day endorse such doctrines. The fact is, Mr. Emerson was a philanthropist of the right kind- a man of remarkable purity in his daily life, of a benevolent disposition, and enlarged and liberal views (If all “Infidels” as they are called are as good as he was, they are not far from perfection.) I presume his funeral was conducted as was thought best under the peculiar circumstances – I find no fault with anyone – but I regret very much, knowing his views upon the subject, that a clergyman should have officiated upon the occasion. It seems to me entirely out of place to have religious exercises at the funeral of such a man, as all present knew what his sentiments were, and they could see of course the inconsistency of burying him as if he were a Christian. Reading the Scriptures and praying may be proper enough at the funeral of a religious person, but where the deceased is an anti-religionist these services are out of character.

I agree with you, Mr. Editor, that “seldom if ever does the grave close over a better man than ROMANUS EMERSON”- and I could wish, for the good of society, and the honor of humanity, there were more like him.


Plymouth, Oct. 2, 1852”

For More information on Romanus Emerson, please see the rest of this week's series of stories:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Tomorrow I will post the Emerson lineage for Romanus Emerson, stay tuned!

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. What a great series, Heather! Romanus was an interesting man. Born in earlier century, he'd have been burned at the stake; in a later century, he'd have gotten the funeral he wanted. I think we're very fortunate to have had our history of religious rebels in this country.

  2. It is amazing how much you have found on him. His name was all over the newspaper, eh?