The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

"Preeminently a Good Hater": Lucius Manlius Sargent

The MHS is celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation, signed into law 150 years ago last month, through two exhibitions, “Forever Free: Lincoln & the Emancipation Proclamation,” and “Lincoln in Manuscript & Artifact.”  While myriad considerations were taken into account during the planning and passage, it is also important to not lose sight of the many people that staunchly opposed the action for an equal number of reasons. Not just the southern slaveholders but also their northern counterparts who worked to justify and maintain institutional slavery, often belittling those against it. It is important to remember this other side of the debate, not to revile them through the polished lens and brilliant clarity of hindsight, but to see how even such a seemingly sensible and morally upright idea can carry such fierce opposition by so many well-educated people.

One such person was Lucius Manlius Sargent, author, antiquary, temperance advocate, and member of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Born in Boston in 1786, the youngest of seven children, Sargent attended Phillips Exeter Academy until 1804 when he moved on to Harvard. At Harvard he produced one of his first publications, No. 1 of the New Milk Cheese, or, The Comi-heroic Thunderclap: a Semi-globular Publication Without Beginning and Without End. Quite a title! This work heaped scorn on a college official for a dispute Sargent had with him about the quality of the food served at the commons table. The backlash prevented Sargent from completing his course at Harvard. Harvard would eventually grant him a degree, in 1842, acknowledging his public services and excusing his earlier behavior.

Sargent studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1811. He never practiced the profession to any extent, though, thanks in part to an inheritance and some conservative speculation. Instead, he turned to literature and published translations of Virgil into English verse, produced a volume of poems, and even penned an ode, “Wreaths for the Chieftain,” sung at the Boston peace celebration in 1815. Later, he took up the temperance banner and produced dozens of writings on the issue, including a series of 21 Temperance Tales created between 1833 and 1843. His writings and speeches on the topic were so vigorous that he became one of the most conspicuous leaders in the fight against liquor.

In the 1850s he leveled his criticism at prominent Bostonians who favored abolition. In August and September 1857 Sargent, writing under the pen name Sigma, sparred with William Lloyd Garrison in a series of newspaper columns. Published in the Boston Transcript, Sargent attacked abolitionist Parker Pillsbury, accusing him of, among other things, baptizing dogs. He also slammed ‘the infidel Garrison’ as a ‘brazen-faced blasphemer and slanderer,’ stating that Garrison was ‘slimy and slippery’ and seemed ‘to have an almost congenital diathesis towards falsehood and prevarication.’ When Garrison tried to respond the Transcript would not publish his comments so he resorted to publishing the retorts in his own Liberator

Sargent carried his contempt with him publishing an item titled Ballad of the Abolition Blunder-buss (1861), again as Sigma. The pamphlet was a criticism of Govenor John A. Andrew, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the entire Massachusetts legislature, for a ‘high love-feast’ they held in January of that year and, more generally, for their anti-slavery views.

For a lengthier look at the life of Lucius Manlius Sargent, a man who  “was preeminently a good hater, but ... a conspicuous man in his day ... making rather valuable contributions to local history.”[1] see John Sheppard’s reminiscence of him in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and Antiquarian Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 3 (July 1871).



[1] Sidney Gunn, “Sargent, Lucius Manlius,” Dictionary of American Biography, XVI (1937): 367.

permalink | Published: Friday, 8 February, 2013, 8:00 AM