Thomas Wentworth Higginson : biography
Thomas Wentworth Higginson (December 22, 1823 – May 9, 1911) was an American Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist, and soldier. He was active in the American Abolitionism movement during the 1840s and 1850s, identifying himself with disunion and militant abolitionism. During the Civil War, he served as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally authorized African-American regiment, from 1862-1864. Following the war, Higginson devoted much of the rest of his life to fighting for the rights of freed slaves, women and other disfranchised peoples.
Higginson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 22, 1823. He was a descendant of Francis Higginson, a Puritan minister and emigrant to the colony of Massachusetts Bay. His father, Stephen Higginson (born Salem, Massachusetts, 20 November 1770; died Cambridge, Massachusetts, 20 February 1834), was a merchant and philanthropist in Boston and steward of Harvard University from 1818 until 1834. His grandfather, also named Stephen Higginson, was a member of the Continental Congress. He was a distant cousin of Henry Lee Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a great grandson of his grandfather.
Education and abolitionism
Higginson attended Harvard College at age thirteen and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at sixteen.Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 119. ISBN 0-618-05013-2 He graduated in 1841, and was a schoolmaster for two years and, in 1842, became engaged to Mary Elizabeth Channing.
He then studied theology at the Harvard Divinity School. At the end of his first year of divinity training, he withdrew from the school to turn his attention to the abolitionist cause. He spent the subsequent year studying and, following the lead of Transcendentalist minister Theodore Parker, fighting against the expected war with Mexico. Believing that war was only an excuse to expand slavery and the slave power, Higginson wrote anti-war poems and went door-to-door to get signatures for anti-war petitions. With the split of the anti-slavery movement in the 1840s, Higginson prescribed to the Disunion Abolitionists, who believed that as long as slave states remained a part of the union, Constitutional support for slavery could never be amended.
Selected list of works
- Outdoor Papers (1863)
- Malbone: an Oldport Romance (1869)
- Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870)
- A Book of American Explorers (1877)
- Life of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (in American Men of Letters series, 1884)
- A Larger History of the United States of America to the Close of President Jackson's Administration (1885)
- The Monarch of Dreams (1886)
- Travellers and Outlaws (1889)
- The Afternoon Landscape (1889), poems and translations
- Life of Francis Higginson (in Makers of America, 1891)
- Concerning All of Us (1892)
- The Procession of the Flowers and Kindred Papers (1897)
- Cheerful Yesterdays (1898)
- Old Cambridge (1899)
- Contemporaries (1899)
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (in American Men of Letters series, 1902)
- John Greenleaf Whittier (in "English Men of Letters" series, 1902)
- A Readers History of American Literature (1903), the Lowell Institute lectures for 1903, edited by Henry W Boynton
- Part of a Man's Life (1905)
- Life and Times of Stephen Higginson (1907)
Higginson's deep conviction in the evils of slavery stemmed in part from his mother's influence. He greatly admired abolitionists, who, despite persecution, showed courage and commitment to the worthy cause. The writings of William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Child were particularly influential to Higginson's abolitionist enthusiasm during the early 1840s.
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