The Passionate Beechers: A Family Saga of Sanctity and Scandal That Changed America

Wiley, 12 2003 - 373
When Abraham Lincoln first met Harriet Beecher Stowe in the 1860s he greeted her by saying "So this is the little lady who started this big war"referring to her wildly popular and influential novel, Uncle Toms Cabin, which had galvanized Northern opposition to slavery. He could have made similar comments about her brother, Henry Ward Beecher and, indeed, many of the eleven sons and daughters of the fiery Presbyterian minister and abolitionist, Lyman Beecher. In The Passionate Beechers, veteran journalist, biographer, and novelist Samuel Schreiner tells the true, larger-than-life story of the nineteenth centurys most famous, influential, and controversial American family.

Revered by millions and reviled by millions more for their outspokenness, revolutionary thinking, and personal idiosyncrasies, the Beechers seemed to be everywhere in American life. As Harriets novels inspired the nation, Henry, Edward, Charles, and Thomasall preacherselectrified their congregations with powerful sermons. Catharine crusaded for womens education, and James served as both commander and chaplain to his all-black regiment, the Thirty-fifth United States Colored Troops. The youngest daughter, Isabella, was a fiery leader of the womens suffrage movement and a spiritualist who received messages that she was related to Jesus and sent to rule the world. Virtually all of the Beechers were, like their father, accomplished writers whose ardent opinions were published in countless books, newspapers, and magazinesmany of them published or edited by Beechers.

Written with the power, scope, and intimacy of a blockbuster novel, this sweeping family saga explores the extraordinary accomplishments, public acclaim, private tragedies, and national scandals that kept the Beechers in the public eye for nearly a century. It assesses their impact on the abolitionist movement, womens suffrage, the Reconstruction, and the transformation of mainstream Protestant doctrine from fire and brimstone Calvinism to the gospel of love, charity, and good news. It also recounts numerous family tragedies, including the early death of their mother, worn out from childbirth; the disappearance of Harriets alcoholic son; and the scandalous adultery trial of Henry Ward Beecher.

Like the Adamses before them and the Kennedys later on, the Beechers made a profound impact on American culture, an effect which can still be felt today. The Passionate Beechers tells the story of this exceptional family with an energy and enthusiasm worthy of the Beechers themselves.

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 (2003)

SAMUEL A. SCHREINER, JR., a veteran journalist and former senior editor at Readers Digest, is the author of several novels and nonfiction works. His previous books include The Trials of Mrs. Lincoln and Henry Clay Frick: The Gospel of Greed. Schreiner lives in Darien, Connecticut.