A World Apart: The American Antislavery Issue #Ohio #History #FBF

The following is an excerpt from James Lawrence‘s essay, “A World Apart: The American Antislavery Issue” from the forthcoming volume, The Moment is Now, ed. Anders Hallengren, Swedenborg Foundation Press.

William Cooper Howells (1807-1894), the father of the eminent American literary lion William Dean Howells, was a career Ohio newspaper publisher and editor in small cities and large towns, including a stint as co-editor of the Ohio State Journal in which he vigorously penned pieces in support of John Brown, the radical abolitionist in Kansas. Howells also served as manager and possibly as founder of the Ohio branch of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Due to his Quaker upbringing, he had been anti-slavery before his Swedenborgian conversion in 1834, but never living close enough to a Swedenborgian church to attend regularly his relations with organized Swedenborgianism appears cordial but distant. Yet, Swedenborgianism was a faith commitment that would sustain him for his remaining six decades, as he was vocal about his spiritual persuasions and kept a large lithographic picture of Swedenborg in the family parlor room, as attested to by his son’s fond memories.[1] His fusion of Swedenborgian thought and anti-slavery politics centered in his interpretation of Swedenborg’s doctrine of love as an obvious paean to selflessness and egalitarianism.[2]

[1] Kenneth S. Lynn, William Dean Howells: An American Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970), 35-41.

[2] For more on the father’s anti-slavery commitment, see Susan Goodwin and Carl Dawson, William Dean Howells: A Writer’s Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 12-3, 284.

James F. Lawrence, D.Min., Ph.D.

Center for Swedenborgian Studies

Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California


Read more about William Cooper Howells’ “Recollections of Life in Ohio, from 1013-1840” at Librivox.


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