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Edwin Wilson Manifesto Ch10


The Search for Signers – Round Two

With the editorial process completed, "A Humanist Manifesto" was ready to submit to a wider group of signers as a finished document. The considerations that went into deciding who to invite and who not to invite to endorse it were many. After much discussion, a list of prospective signatories was drawn up by at least three of the editorial committee (Bragg, Reese, and myself) and serves as a key to our outlook in 1933 on the scope of the emerging humanist movement in the United States, as seen from Chicago.

The initial handwritten list was drafted at a meeting, then supplemented with other names including James Harvey Robinson, C. Hartley Grattan, Walter Lippman, Clarence Darrow, T. V. Smith, Irwin Edman, Charles Beard, and Lewis Mumford, among others. With the exception of some very minor changes in punctuation, the final draft went out to approximately sixty-five persons in essentially the same form in which it was ultimately published. Thirty-four of those persons signed in time for publication (the Reverend Alson Robinson’s signature came in late).

A 54 percent return was not bad for a movement that had not yet crystallized into a formal organization. It wasn’t until 1935 that the Humanist Press Association, Inc., was formed to finance The New Humanist, the humanist movement’s primary vehicle for outreach. Humanism was a movement just beginning to surface as an explicit position in American religious thought, and the thirty-four who signed the manifesto-and indeed the viewpoint of the manifesto itself-did not fully measure the dimensions of humanism in 1933. In time, adjectives other than religious would be applied to humanism, and many other emphases would be brought forward.

The reader should remember the haste involved in the selective process necessitated by the pressure of the press release and publication deadline. Clearly, the limitations of the editors’ personal attitudes, contacts, reading, and experience were a factor in selecting the list of potential signers.

One Woman

Examination of the list of invited signers raises many questions. One is the absence of women’s names, which, from today’s perspective, seems shocking. But it reflects the limitations of awareness in the 1930s. The humanist movement-like culture in general-reflected a male chauvinist climate from which, more than six decades later, American society has not fully emerged.

There was one exception to the male-dominated list of potential signers: Mary MacDowell, a contemporary of Jane Addams involved in Chicago social work. That her name was included, and in the handwriting of Dr. Curtis Reese, is entirely understandable; Reese was dean of the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago, a social welfare agency with informal ties to the Western Unitarian Conference, where he had become influential in his leadership of social workers. Mary MacDowell’s inclusion as the sole female on the list may indicate that in 1933 humanists were perhaps vaguely aware of feminism and its affinity to humanism. It does indicate the high regard we felt for her. Recently, we came into possession of a picture of thirteen Unitarian ministers, including Lester Mondale, Raymond Bragg, Curtis Reese, and myself, with Mary MacDowell as an honored guest.

The Unitarians

Why some persons were not on the list of invited signers is as significant as why some were. I’ve already covered several people who sent us their comments on the early draft, declining to sign. And although we had no direct personal contact with some who were omitted, no doubt we were guided by their published writings.

Over half of those who signed "A Humanist Manifesto" were Unitarians. However, there were Unitarians who did not sign, including Robert J. Hutcheon, a professor at the Meadville Theological School. Both Bragg and I had studied under him, and he was obviously asked as a courtesy. (Hutcheon is not to be confused with Robert Maynard Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago.) Professor Hutcheon’s views are expressed in his 1929 book, Frankness in Religion, in which he affirmed a "conviction concerning the eternal worth and the cosmic support of values." It was his aim "to save for humanity the essential spiritual values which religious faith, and especially the Christian form which it creates." He declared: "We must lay hold on something outside ourselves to lift ourselves to the height of our spiritual being. . . ." This was in contrast to the temper and conviction of the religious humanists of the time that there was no cosmic guarantee of their values and that it was, to coin a phrase from Erich Fromm, "man for himself." Throughout his teaching career at Meadville, Dr. Hutcheon struggled vigorously with classes of students in a school that regularly graduated a good percentage of humanists.

If Dr. Hutcheon was asked to sign the manifesto as a matter of courtesy, you may wonder why Professor Charles H. Lyttle, another member of the Meadville faculty, was not also invited. After all, he contributed to the development of humanism through his book Freedom Moves West, which includes a sympathetic review of the rise of humanism in the context of liberal religion. As well, he encouraged a number of students to write their theses on phases of the humanist position and development. As his former students, Bragg and I were aware of his unwavering wish not to label himself and of his opposition to anything that might become a creed, and I suspect we did not invite Lyttle to sign as a gesture of courtesy.

Another Unitarian minister whose name was included on the list, although at the time he had left the active ministry, was Everett Dean Martin. He and Curtis Reese had both had churches in Iowa. Dr. Reese felt that Martin had pioneered for democratic religion in essentially humanist concepts, although without the label. Martin, however, was unresponsive and, from about that time, was not heard of again in Unitarian circles. Within any denomination, mystery often surrounds the departure of a minister from the profession.

Another person appearing in Unitarian pulpits as a lecturer and using the unpatentable label humanist was Edward Howard Griggs. His book The New Humanism: Studies in Personal and Social Development was first copyrighted in 1899 and, by 1922, had reached its eighth edition. Griggs was on the list to receive an invitation to sign, but there is real doubt as to whether he was ever located. He belonged to the background from which the 1933 "Humanist Manifesto" emerged, but the influence of science was not obvious in his writings. His work seems more like a foreshadowing of the backward- and inward-looking "new humanism" (or literary humanism) of Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, but with an added perspective derived from the always culturally rich and socially conscious Unitarianism of eastern United States.

The Reverend Alfred Cole was on the list of invitees; however, he declined to sign. The Unitarian minister was later identified with the humanist movement through his creative work in collating and publishing service material consonant with the humanist outlook. He later signed Humanist Manifesto II.

It’s a mystery why some other Unitarians were not asked to sign "A Humanist Manifesto." Despite devoting his life to the gathering and writing of humanistically oriented liberal service material, especially hymns, the Reverend Vincent Silliman was not asked. Neither was the Reverend Frank Waring, who was an outspoken humanist. Raymond Bragg wrote to me in 1973 that he remembered Waring vividly, that Waring had visited his Chicago office, but that he could not recall which churches Waring had served.

Others equally outspoken by 1933 whose names were not on our list of invitees include the Reverend Rupert Holloway, later minister at Madison, Wisconsin, who authored several early articles in The New Humanist. In fact, one of his articles, "The Mystical Mood 9 " appeared in the same issue in which "A Humanist Manifesto" was published.

And George G. Davis, an official of the American Unitarian Association, was not on the original list but was subsequently asked to sign the manifesto. He declined.

The Reverend Walton E. Cole of Toledo, Ohio-at that time considered a humanist-was also sent the confidential draft. He had been minister of the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago; I succeeded him when he left to go to Toledo. I cite Cole as typical of the success-minded career preachers, including a number of humanist ministers who reverted to theism, sometimes departing from Unitarian pulpits for Congregational or Methodist settlements. "You’ll see, Ed, who gets the big churches one careerist told me. I felt that in certain cases these apostates were rationalizing a new technique for success.

Among these former humanists there were undoubtedly others who cherished the richness of the Christian tradition, including its music, art, and liturgy. Walton Cole liked expensive oil paintings and imported sports cars. He went from a Unitarian ministry in Toledo to the Second Church of Boston, with its modified Episcopal service, a processional of eight robed choir members, as well as a flag bearer and a cross bearer. The records show no response from Cole to the invitation to sign, but as he described his career change later, he "went where the people were" and tried to fulfill the needs of a large Congregational Church in Detroit, including the symbolism that clergy and ritual so often provide. In later correspondence, Cole wrote that he had finally come back into Unitarianism and was at the humanist position again.

The Reverend Hugh S. Tigner of Oneonta, New York, was another Unitarian with reportedly humanist views whom Bragg had contacted early on. In an April 5, 1933, letter Tigner wrote Bragg:

I wish to thank you for the Humanist Manifesto and for the opportunity of signing it. But I am not taking advantage of that opportunity for several reasons, a few of which I will take the trouble to briefly indicate. In the first place, the manifesto-particularly the first five or six affirmations-is repugnant to me, not because I directly disagree with it, but because it does not contain the proper sense of humility. For example, it is asserted that "the nature of the universe depicted by modern science. . . ." That’s utterly ridiculous. Granted that the findings of science are of the greatest significance, these findings only scratch the surface of the universe, and certainly they do not tell us what the nature of the universe is. I know of no scientist who makes such a preposterous claim. The nature of the universe is just as much a mystery today as it was 20,000 years ago, and it looks as though man will never devise an instrument for prying into the mystery.

In the second place, I am tired of signing manifestoes [ sic]of this sort. I am in full agreement with the aims of Humanism; but what is Humanism’s program for achieving these aims? That is what I am interested in. So long as Humanism remains in the armchair stage seeing visions in its pipe-smoke (and I see no indications of it doing anything else) it does not inspire me enough to say that I am interested in it. I fail to see how Humanism is more worthwhile than liberal Christianity-the last word in ineffectuality.

In the third place, Humanism is an academic religion. It emerges from no vital social experience, no vital social movement. It is, therefore, not the answer to modern man’s spiritual needs. It may please a few anemic professors, and it is well suited to the more thoughtful and honest adherents of liberal religion, but it has not yet succeeded in finding the new pattern of spiritual life which the present world is instinctively crying out for. I regard Humanism as Mr. Hoover did Prohibition, as "a noble experiment."

These remarks are critical, but I assure you that they are made in a friendly spirit. Several years ago I called myself a Humanist. I think I understand Humanism. I do not flatly disagree with any of Humanism’s assertions or denials, but I cannot see that Humanism leads anywhere. It does not contain what I am looking for. I admit that I am still looking. I find Humanists more congenial to my viewpoint than liberal Christians, but I confess that both bore me.

One wonders what the other earlier manifestos were that had made Tigner tired of signing.

The Philosophers

Philosophers-particularly Roy Wood Sellars, Edwin A. Burtt, Max C. Otto, John Dewey, and John H. Randall, Jr. were prominent among the signers of "A Humanist Manifesto" in 1933. One distinguished name that was on the list of invitees but missing from the signers was Dr. Corliss Lamont. When asked in 1972 why he had not signed the manifesto, Lamont replied, "I have no idea. I wish I had." There clearly must have been a breakdown in communication.

Dr. Lamont’s books have been widely read within the humanist movement. Among the most prominent are The Philosophy of Humanism (for which I wrote the foreword in the 1965 fifth edition), The Illusion of Immortality (for which John Dewey wrote the preface), and Freedom Is As Freedom Does, a volume expressing Lamont’s views as a consistent proponent of civil liberties. (Lamont also consulted with me in Chicago concerning the publication in 1936 of his excellent volume, Man Answers Death: An Anthology of Poetry, which included a few poems added at my suggestion.)

Another philosopher who had his feet firmly planted on the earth and was completely oriented toward democratic values and method was Thomas Vernor Smith. Although Smith most certainly contributed to the stream of thought that surfaced in "A Humanist Manifesto," he never formally labeled himself a humanist. In his 1926 book The Democratic Way of Life, he presented a vague concept of a humanmade deity not unlike the concept of his distinguished colleague at the University of Chicago, Edward Scribner Ames. This deity was, according to Smith, a projection of the ideals, values, and experience of the group. Smith wrote: "Where two or three are gathered together in friendship, their deity arises among them; if they add to their number, deity is expanded, and if they can include all men in the charmed circle of their friendliness, they have created a world-God as citizens of the world." One can only assume that Smith was not asked to sign because of the 1933 manifesto’s compilers’ sharp break with "God language." I believe that Smith’s books were humanistic in the broader sense and certainly they were influential. Among those which I reviewed were Beyond Conscience and Creative Skeptics, both published in 1934.

Smith and I kept in touch intermittently. I am still impressed with the prediction he made when he came through Salt Lake City sometime shortly after 1946. He said to me: "The church-state issue will make the front pages of the American press again and again for a hundred years." Apparently, he knew the lesson of history concerning the Roman church: "Le plus ce change, le plus c’est le meme" (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Later in his career, Smith was elected to the U.S. Congress as a representative.

Dr. Harry Overstreet was asked to sign the manifesto, but his wife, Bonaro, was not. I suspect this oversight is a result of the male insensitivity of the day. Eventually they both belonged to the American Humanist Association. After 1941, when the publication of The New Humanist was resumed as The Humanist and I was editor, Dr. Overstreet and Dr. Edwin A. Burtt called on me in Schenectady to encourage my work.

There are no records in the files to indicate evidence that Dr. Overstreet ever responded to the invitation to sign the first manifesto. Later he dropped out of the AHA as he had become preoccupied with the threat of Stalinism. He seemed to feel that any publication that did not align itself in the Cold War was suspect.

Irwin Edman, whose 1938 Philosopher’s Holiday, has delighted many people, was considered by Curtis Reese to be a humanist. To our knowledge he never made a humanist commitment organizationally but was part of the humanistic influence stemming from Columbia University.

One of the most caustic letters we received came from British Professor F. C. S. Schiller. In 1927, I audited Schiller’s lectures at Oxford University. Reese, who left many of his books to me, had obviously read, marked, and inwardly digested Schiller’s writings on humanism, including Studies in Humanism and Humanism: Philosophical Essays. Schiller’s books contain valuable material on the beginnings and background of humanism, especially concerning Protagorous. I can still hear Schiller’s sonorous pronouncements on "The Confounding of the Absolute."

Biting sarcasm came through Schiller’s letter, written from California on University Club of Los Angeles stationery in response to our invitation to sign the manifesto. I’ve often wondered whether Schiller was adopting the attitude "L’humanisme c’est moi." Might he have been defending his assumption that he was at the top of the pecking order in humanist history and that new voices on the topic were invading his field? The views of George Sarton, Will Durant, J. A. C. F. Auer, and others on this would have been valuable but, alas, they died too soon like many pioneers in the field, including Schiller. I was deeply disappointed at the tone of Schiller’s refusal to sign, particularly because he was someone I had admired and respected. Schiller wrote on April 16:

You sent me your invitation to sign your Humanist Manifesto on Apr. 6 with an invitation "that signatures had to be received by not later than Apr. 10th", so presumably you merely wished to inform me of its contents or perhaps expected me to express an opinion about it. Now I have expressed my opinion about your sort of "Humanism" in the article I have contributed to the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. VII, and there is, I think, nothing in your Manifesto which requires me to modify it. I note that your manifesto has 15 articles, 50 % more than the Ten Commandments and one more even than President Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Its general attitude is that of what was formerly, and adequately, described as Positivism, and seems to be a form of Naturalism. So the propriety of the name Humanism is not apparent to me. Regarded as a religious program it seems to me to suffer from vagueness and weakness on its constructive side, and it seems difficult to understand why any one holding its views should wish to associate himself in an organization with others holding similar opinions. But undoubtedly man is a very social and sociable animal! Believe me.

The Social Scientists

From the perspective of more than fifty years later, we wonder now that there were not more social scientists invited to sign the manifesto. One reason may be that, in their effort to be scientific, some social scientists in the 1920s and early 1930s were trying to mimic the objectivity of the physical scientists and became dehumanized in the process. Some sociologists were expressing disinterest in or irresponsibility toward the uses to which the knowledge produced by their research and experiments was to be applied. After taking six graduate sociology courses at the University of Chicago, with an eye to a career in sociology, I turned my thoughts back to the liberal churches and ministry because there I found concern for human well-being and development that I had not found among sociologists.

There was one social scientist, William Amberson, who was asked to sign "A Humanist Manifesto." He had been editor of the Journal of Social Psychology; however, just like the journal, he just seemed to have dropped out of sight.

James Harvey Robinson’s stance, as expressed in his The Mind in the Making, was one of openness to new ideas and change. "Nothing is going to be settled in the way in which things were supposed to be settled, for the simple reason that knowledge will probably continue to increase and will inevitably alter the world in which we have come to terms." Written in 1921, these words characterize the temper of the years preceding "A Humanist Manifesto." In his little book, The Humanizing of Knowledge, Robinson held it necessary to resynthesize knowledge and pointed to its uses in the interests of human welfare. He was a leading protagonist of precise thought and exact knowledge and its widespread dissemination in contrast to "modes of thinking repugnant to scientific intelligence" as found in traditional supernaturalism. Not forgetting the publishing influence of the British-based Rationalist Press Association, no single book inspired me more as editor and disseminator of humanist publications and literature for nearly half a century than this small volume. But James Harvey Robinson did not sign "A Humanist Manifesto," nor did he respond to the letter of invitation.

The Spectrum Widened

Among the others asked to sign but who did not were an economist, a judge, an attorney, two historians, a literary critic, a journalist, and Paul Blanshard-who fits several of these categories. The variety of individuals who were invited to sign clearly demonstrates that we editors were at least attempting to achieve a certain breadth to the spectrum of signatories.

Frank H. Knight, an economist at the University of Chicago, declined to sign, entering a vociferous objection to the inclusion or the endorsement of language that stated a need for "a radical change in methods, controls, and motives" of "an acquisitive and profit-motivated society." Point fourteen was then and is now controversial. Its inclusion in 1933 is easy to understand given the ongoing economic depression of that decade, particularly since the New Deal had not yet been proposed.

Judge Ben Lindsay was on the list to be asked, but no response from him is in the record. In about 1925, Judge Lindsay had lectured on his proposed "compassionate marriage" in a Methodist church in Meadville, Pennsylvania, with the entire student body from Meadville Theological School in attendance. The judge-fifty years ahead of his time-was something of a hero to that group.

Literary critic C. Hartley Grattan was asked to sign the manifesto because of his editing of a broadside against the literary humanism. The Critique of Humanism, published in 1930, examined the work, Humanism and America, edited by Norman Foerster and also published in 1930 and containing essays by Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmore More, an T. S. Eliot. Among those aligned with Grattan in his counterattack were Mumford, Malcolm Allen Tate, Kenneth Burke, Lewis Cowley, and Edmund Wilson.

Grattan did not respond to our invitation to sign the manifesto. My theory is that the title of The New Humanist publication sponsoring "A Humanist Manifesto" repelled these critics of reactionary literary humanism, which also clamed to be the "new humanism." It took a decade and a simplified title for the journal (dropping the word new) for naturalistic humanists-both scientific and religious-to clear away the confusion over the word humanism caused by the literary struggle of the time.

Another who did not reply was Walter Lippmann. His 1929 book A Preface to Morals, which dealt with the "acids of modernity" that were eroding belief in the Judeo-Christian theology, was widely read by humanists.

Why Paul Blanshard did not sign the manifesto is also a mystery. I can only speculate that his political activities as a comptroller of the City of New York prevented him from responding. His collaboration with me at The Humanist dates from the late 1940s when The Nation was excluded from New York City’s high school libraries by the board of education because of Blanshard’s series on Roman Catholic clericalism and its demand for public subsidy of parochial schools. Paul Blanshard took over my column in The Humanist entitled "The Sectarian Battlefront" and continued to write for the magazine almost until his death in January 1980. He also lectured extensively on behalf of both the magazine and the American Humanist Association.

Clarence Darrow was an obvious person to ask for his signature. In his The Story of My Life, he wrote of his parents move to Meadville, Pennsylvania:

On one hill in Meadville stood Allegheny College, sponsored by the Methodist Church. On another elevation was a Unitarian seminary, and in the town was a Unitarian Church. Both my parents must have stayed to this church, for when my father’s time had come to take a theological course he went to the Unitarian school in Meaville, on the other hill from the Methodist College, where he took his first degree. In due time he completed his theological course, but when he had finished his studies he found that he had lost his faith. Even the mild tenets of Unitarianism he could not accept. Unitarianism, then, was closer to Orthodoxy than it is today, or he might have been a clergyman and lived an easier life. In the Unitarian school he read Newman and Channing, but later went on to Emerson and Theodore Parker. His trend of mind was shown by the fact that his first son was Edward Everett. When it came my turn to be born and named, my parents had left the Unitarian faith behind and were sailing out on the open sea without a rudder or compass, and with no port in sight, and so I could not be named after any prominent Unitarian.

At the time of Darrow’s death, rumor of his alleged (but false) deathbed conversion to Christianity was promptly circulated by Christian zealots. When I called on his widow as a Unitarian minister, Mrs. Darrow told me, in effect, that her husband would not enter a church. However, there are reports of Darrow having lectured at a Universalist church. He did not respond to the invitation to sign the manifesto. Eventually, his law partner, William H. Holly (when a judge), joined the American Humanist Association.

I have tried to demonstrate in this sampling of people asked and not asked to sign that the scope and influence of humanism was far wider than indicated by the manifesto signers. However, the fact that thirty-four widely dispersed and unorganized humanists agreed upon the document would seem to make it a real achievement in consensus by a small volunteer committee with no budget.


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