The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XXII. Divines and Moralists, 1783–1860

§ 6. The Buckminsters

The Rev. Joseph Buckminster (1751–1812) of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a strict Calvinist, from first to last was doomed to lift up his voice against the liberal movement in vain. He protested against the Rev. Mr. Foster’s Sermon at New Braintree (1788), which, he thought, offered salvation upon too easy terms; in a series of letters (1811) to the Rev. Hosea Ballou (1771–1852) he protested against that pioneer Universalist’s preaching the final salvation of all mankind; and above all he protested against the defection of his own son, the Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784–1812), whose ordination sermon (1805) he nevertheless preached, not without a note of fatherly foreboding.

The Buckminsters were of the Edwards stock. The staunch and earnest father was a contemporary of Dwight, Barlow, and Trumbull at Yale; the scholarly, eloquent, and saintly son was an immediate predecessor of Andrews Norton, and a contemporary of W. E. Channing, Charles Lowell, and Washington Allston at Harvard. But for his father’s opposition, he might have become assistant to James Freeman, whom he heard with admiration at King’s Chapel. He taught Daniel Webster Latin at Phillips Exeter, and tried to persuade his pupil to take part in the school exercises in public speaking. His work, in fact, is full of seeds which the future brought to fruition. Its new note of secular culture, against which his father had warned him—its allusions to art, to foreign books and travel (he was abroad in 1806–07), and to classical philosophy and literature—becomes increasingly characteristic of nineteenth-century clerical writing. In quietly removing emphasis from the staggering conditions of salvation to the process of religious training, Buckminster anticipates Jacob Abbott and Horace Bushnell. He anticipates Andrews Norton both in attaching prime importance to philology and history, as evidences of Christianity, and in a large conception of theology as including the widest range of scholarship,—as bounded, in fact, only by the limits of human knowledge. Buckminster realized Norton’s idea of a “learned and able theologian—disciplined in habits of correct reasoning—[and] informed by extensive learning.” Norton seems to have laid upon himself the task of continuing the work that his admired friend had “died too young to do.” “Hearing Buckminster,” said Norton, “one seemed to be walking in the triumphal procession of Truth.”

Despite warning and opposition, then, “liberal Christianity” continued to flourish, until in 1805 the Rev. Henry Ware, an outspoken Unitarian, was appointed to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity in Harvard College. This invasion of the school whose initial purpose had been the production of Congregational ministers roused the Congregationalists of every shade of opinion to the defence of their discipline; and from extreme Hopkinsians to moderate Calvinists, they combined to establish at Andover a new theological seminary, which was opened in 1808.