Reason, Religion, and Morals


Originally published as Course of Popular Lectures, the works collected in this volume display the gift for oratory and range of progressive ideas that made Frances Wright (1795-1852) both a sought-after lecturer and a controversial figure in early 19th-century America. Born in Scotland, this pioneering freethinker and abolitionist emigrated to America in her twenties and became friends with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

In 1828, she joined Robert Dale Owen’s socialist ...

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Reason, Religion, and Morals (Classics in Women's Studies)

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Originally published as Course of Popular Lectures, the works collected in this volume display the gift for oratory and range of progressive ideas that made Frances Wright (1795-1852) both a sought-after lecturer and a controversial figure in early 19th-century America. Born in Scotland, this pioneering freethinker and abolitionist emigrated to America in her twenties and became friends with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

In 1828, she joined Robert Dale Owen’s socialist community at New Harmony, Indiana, and helped him edit his New Harmony Gazette. The next year she and Owen moved to New York City, where they published Free Enquirer, which advocated liberalized divorce laws; birth control; free, state-run, secular education; and organization of the disadvantaged working class.

It was at this time that she began delivering the popular lectures here collected. Some persistent themes that run throughout these well-argued pieces are: the importance of free, impartial inquiry conducted in a scientific spirit and not influenced by religious superstition or popular prejudice; the need for better, universal education that trains young minds in scientific inquiry rather than religious dogma; the advantage of focusing on the facts of the here-and-now rather than theological speculations; and the failure of American society to live up to its noble ideals of equality and justice for all.

With an insightful introduction by Wright scholar Susan S. Adams (Emeritus Professor of English, Northern Kentucky University), these stimulating lectures by an early and little known feminist and freethinker will be of interest to students and scholars of women’s studies, humanism, and freethought.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591022084
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Series: Classics in Women's Studies
  • Pages: 386
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Table of Contents

Introductory address to the course, as delivered for the second time in New York 39
Lecture I On the nature of knowledge 45
Lecture II Of free inquiry 73
Lecture III Of the more important divisions and essential parts of knowledge 99
Lecture IV Religion 123
Lecture V Morals 147
Lecture VI Opinions 171
Lecture VII On existing evils and their remedy, as delivered in Philadelphia, on June 2, 1829 197
Address I Delivered in the New Harmony Hall, on the fourth of July, 1828 221
Address II Delivered in the Walnut-street Theatre, Philadelphia, on the fourth of July, 1829 235
Address III Delivered at the opening of the Hall of Science, New York, Sunday, April 26, 1829 259
Reply to the traducers of the French reformers of the year 1789 287
Address on the state of the public mind and the measures which it calls for 307
Review of the times 329
Address to young mechanics 351
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2004

    Poetic Power of Frances Wright

    Frances Wright is one of those important historical figures that many people know about but whose works they have rarely read. They might recall that she was an outspoken activist for woman¿s rights and antislavery. They might remember that she was involved in experimenting with a utopic community. In the book¿s foreword by Susan S. Adams, Emeritus Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University, John Stuart Mill is quoted as deeming Wright ¿one of the most important women of her day.¿ Adams emphasizes her influence on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. Urging radical reform in education, treatment of children, employment practices, equal rights for women, birth control, divorce and property rights, and elimination of slavery, Wright was the first woman in America to lecture throughout America (Adams 12). After having visited Robert Owen¿s New Harmony in Indiana, she bought land near Memphis, Tennessee, purchased slaves, and thus began her own Nashoba. Wright attempted to educate these slaves so that they could work and pay for their freedom. Malaria and other diseases caused the project to fail, so Wright emancipated the slaves and reestablished them in Haiti where she thought they could have a chance for equality. As Adams points out, Frances Wright was the first woman in America to publicly denounce slavery. Many of her other ideas, such as on marriage and science instead of religion, were incendiary. Most history students can learn all of this in a textbook, but as Walt Whitman said, Wright was ¿one of the best [women] in history though also one of the least understood¿ (qtd. in Adams 9). Susan Adams¿ introduction provides some intriguing insight into the controversies that surrounded Wright¿s lectures and life that make this book well worth reading. Moreover, contemporary thinkers ought to know why Wright was so persuasive and what specific problems she identified in the early republic. Besides the historical importance of Reason, Religion, and Morals, the eloquence of her writing is pure literature, i.e., ¿Who speaks of liberty while the human mind is in chains? Who of equality while the thousands are in squalid wretchedness, the millions harassed with health-destroying labour, the few afflicted with health-destroying idleness, and all torments by health-destroying solicitude?¿ (205). Perhaps a more pressing reason to read Wright¿s lectures is because they speak to problems that still plague America. Wright can continue to help us understand the ideals that make America strong and can make America even stronger if realized. Wright¿s statement, ¿And have Americans yet to learn that the interests of all are compounded of the interests of each?¿ should be a slogan for America¿s 2004 presidential campaign. Frances Wright spoke out and did what she felt she had to do for the ¿cause of human improvement, staking it ¿on my reputation, my fortune, and my life¿ (109; words which also appeared on her headstone, 7), which indeed she did and America was the better for it. The lectures, however, will not simply substantiate her place in history; as Adams puts it, they ¿still have the ability to inspire admiration and lead us forward.¿

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