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His name was Henry Ward Beecher.
A graduate of Amherst College, Henry Ward Beecher had thousands attend his enormous Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, including Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., wrote a limerick about him; a Sherlock Holmes mystery novel mentioned him; and Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mount Rushmore, sculpted a statue of him.
To highlight the evils of slavery, Henry Ward Beecher held simulated auctions in which his congregation donated money to buy freedom for actual slaves. One young slave girl, Pinky, was liberated by Beecher’s congregation, which collected her purchase price of $900.
Prior to the Civil War, the Kansas-Nebraska Act let the issue of slavery be determined in the Kansas territory by popular sovereignty. This unleashed a wave of bloody violence, as pro-slavery Democrats flooded in. From 1854 to 1858, Beecher and his church bought hundreds of the new Sharps Rifles and shipped them to anti-slavery Free Soil supporters and Republicans in Kansas. These had the new 1850 patented innovations of breech-loading and self-priming, which offered quick loading, speed in firing and accuracy in distance.
Recommending them as effective weapon to fight slavery, The New York Tribune printed Feb. 8, 1856, that Henry Ward Beecher “believed that the Sharps Rifle was a truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles. You might just as well … read the Bible to buffaloes as to those fellows who follow Atchison and Stringfellow; but they have a supreme respect for the logic that is embodied in Sharp’s rifle.”
The Sharps Rifle soon became known as a “Beecher’s Bible.” As federal and state authorities forbade shipping arms to the region, rifles were packed in wooden crates marked as “books.” When some pro-slavery Democrats intercepted a case and took the guns, Beecher began to personally pass out rifles to abolitionist settlers who were headed to Kansas.
When the Civil War started, Beecher raised and equipped a volunteer Union infantry regiment. He became largely responsible for pressuring Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. When Union forces retook Fort Sumter in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln selected Henry Ward Beecher to give the speech commemorating the event. Immensely popular, Beecher has been viewed as second only to Lincoln in shaping post-war America’s public opinion.