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Francis Ellingwood Abbot (Boston, November 6, 1836 – Beverly, Massachusetts, October 23, 1903) was an American philosopher and theologian who sought to reconstruct theology in accord with scientific method.



As a spokesman for "free religion", he asserted that Christianity, understood as based on the lordship of Christ, is no longer tenable. He rejected all dogma and reliance on Scriptures or creeds, teaching the truth is open to every individual.

Abbot graduated from Harvard University and the Meadville Theological School. He served Unitarian churches in Dover, New Hampshire, and Toledo, Ohio, but his ministry proved controversial, and in 1868 New Hampshire's highest court ruled that the Dover, New Hampshire, First Unitarian Society of Christians' chosen minister was insufficiently "Christian" to serve his congregation. See Hale v. Everett, 53 N.H. 9 (1868). The Rev. Abbot had, it said, once preached that:

Whoever has been so fired in his own spirit by the overwhelming thought of the Divine Being as to kindle the flames of faith in the hearts of his fellow men, whether Confucius, or Zoroaster, or Moses, or Jesus, or Mohammed, has thereby proved himself to be a prophet of the living God; and thus every great historic religion dates from a genuine inspiration by the Eternal Spirit.

In another sermon, the court noted, Rev. Abbot had even declared that

America is every whit as sacred as Judea. God is as near to you and to me, as ever he was to Moses, to Jesus, or to Paul. Wherever a human soul is born into the love of truth and high virtue, there is the "Holy Land." Wherever a human soul has uttered its sincere and brave faith in the Divine, and thus bequeathed to us the legacy of inspired words, there is the "Holy Bible."

"If Protestantism would include Mr. Abbot in this case," New Hampshire's highest court concluded,

it would of course include Thomas Jefferson, and by the same rule also Thomas Paine, whom Gov. Plumer of New Hampshire called "that outrageous blasphemer," that "infamous blasphemer," "that miscreant Paine," whose "Age of Reason" Plumer had read "with unqualified disapprobation of its tone and temper, its coarse vulgarity, and its unfair appeals to the passions and prejudices of his readers."

Hale v. Everett, 53 N.H. 9, 87-88 (1868).

But opinions concerning Abbot diverged widely. Frederick Douglass, for example, praised Frank Abbot for doing "much to break the fetters of religious superstition, for which he is entitled to gratitude." Letter from Hon. Frederick Douglass to Rev. M.J. Savage (June 15, 1880), published in Farewell Dinner to Francis Ellingwood Abbot, on Retiring from the Editorship of "The Index" 48 (George H. Ellis, 1880).

Following the controversy in New Hampshire, Abbot left the ministry in 1868 to write, edit, and teach. Abbot's theological position was stated in "Scientific Theism" (1885) and "The Way of Agnosticism" (1890).

He committed suicide by taking poison at his wife's gravesite in Central Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts, on the 10th anniversary of her death.

See also

External links

  • Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889
  • Brief biography and sources
  • Papers of Francis Ellingwood Abbot : an inventory (Harvard University Archives)
  • Works by Francis Ellingwood Abbot at Project Gutenberg
    • Abbot, F. E. (1891), A Public Appeal for Redress to the Corporation and Overseers of Harvard University, Geo. H. Ellis, 141 Franklin Street, 48 pages, Gutenberg Eprint.
  • Bishop Quaid and Abbot, F. E. (1876), The Public School Question, as Understood by a Catholic American Citizen and a Liberal American Citizen: Two Lectures before the Free Religious Association in Horticultural Hall, Boston, Free Religious Tracts No. 5, The Free Religious Association, Boston, 100 pages, Eprint via Google Book Search Beta.[1]
  • Abbot, F. E. (1885) Scientific Theism, University Press, John Wilson and Son, Cambridge (MA). Third Edition (1888) xvii + 219 pages.
  • Abbot, F. E. (1906), The Syllogistic Philosophy or Prolegomena to Science, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, two vols., vol. 1, xiii + 317 pages, vol. 2, vi + 374 pages.
  • Eprint of vol. 1 via Internet Archive.
  • Eprint of vol. 2 via Internet Archive.
  • Peirce, C. S. (1903), "To the Editor of The Nation" (obituary for F. E. Abbot), dated Oct. 27, 1903, published Nov. 5, 1903, Eprint (scroll down)


  1. ^ a b c d Users outside the USA may not yet be able to gain full access to editions linked through Google Book Search Beta. See official Google Inside Google Book Search blog post "From the mail bag: Public domain books and downloads", November 9, 2006, 11:19 AM, posted by Ryan Sands, Google Book Search Support Team, Eprint


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