Civil War Era Studies; History
The Reverend Mr. James Dana, the pastor of the First Church in Wallingford, Connecticut, had never before attempted to pick a quarrel with his old friend and ally, Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale College. But in the winter of 1782 what was happening at Yale passed all the bounds of propriety and friendship. "I have understood that Mr. Edwards's book on fatality was laid aside some years since at your university," Dana wrote (not stopping to add what he surely must have thought, and good riddance too); but now, "it gave me pain to hear lately" that the divinity professor, the epileptic Samuel Wales, "particularly recommends this book to the young gentlemen who are studying divinity under his direction." Have you forgotten, Dana irritably asked, what kind of damage Jonathan Edwards and his Careful and Strict Enquiry in the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, which is supposed to be essential to Moral Agency, Vertue and Vice, Reward and Punishment had done since the book appeared in 1754? "I need not say to you, sir, that it has been the root of bitterness which has troubled us...like Achan in the camp of Israel, Hopkintonianism, Westianism, and Schism are grafted upon it." It promoted fatalism and mechanism, "and if mechanism doth not explode moral good and evil, I have not the slightest pretence to any mental discernment." Not only mechanism and fatalism, "Murrayism, Deism, and atheism" also sprang indiscriminately from the head of Edwards's book; Dana even blamed the sensational murder-suicide of William Beadle that summer on "the principles" of "Mr. Edwards's system." Suppress the book, Dana pleaded, "interpose your good influence, that so dangerous a book be not introduced into college again." [excerpt]
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Guelzo, Allen C. "Calvinist Metaphysics to Republican Theory: Jonathan Edwards and James Dana on Freedom of the Will." Journal of the History of Ideas (July 1995) 56(3): 399-418.
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