S•x Education

“Your body is a temple,” our ancestors told their pubescent youngsters. ‘Now go take a cold bath”

Standards of propriety were lofty indeed

Something called delicacy overtook Americans soon after our successful Revolution. Like an incoming tide, it flowed all over the nineteenth century, reaching its high-water mark about a hundred years ago. From that point it slowly receded, leaving behind rock pools of what came to be identified as prudery.Read more »

Paladin Of Purity

Anthony Comstock spent a lifetime on a crusade to clean the nation’ Augean stables of smut, vice, and nudity. Sometimes it seems as if he pried in vain

Anthony Comslock made it his life’s work to purify this nation, to protect the young from such sights as might lead them into paths that would corrupt their souls and eventually lead them into the yawning pit. He was very certain that he was doing the work of the Lord, and almost singlehandedly for more than forty years he conducted a campaign against wickedness that not only swept in many real offenders against decency but also landed some pretty small fry whose sins appear almost nonexistent to a less discerning eye than Comstock’s.Read more »

Liberty And Disunion

Three Centuries of Divorce, American Style

Appearances may be deceiving, but marriage in the United States looks as if it is in trouble. More couples—primarily young—are living together without the formality of marriage, and more couples—somewhat older and sadder—are ending their existing marriages in the courts. Some see in this the onset of American morality’s decline and fall. “Are we the last married generation?” asked columnist Harriet Van Home in a 1969 essay.Read more »

“Mad Jack” And The Missionaries

The Pacific Ocean is vast and lonely. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, when the American whaling industry was expanding rapidly in that great sea and American merchant ships plied the lucrative China trade, they ventured in an area where no nation’s law extended. The United States naval force in the Pacific totalled at most three vessels, all well occupied in protecting American interests on the coasts of Peru and Chile in the midst of Bolivar’s revolution. Read more »

A Man For All Souls

THE EARNEST QUAKER JOHN WOOLMAN PREACHED AND ACTUALLY PRACTICED THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN

On October 19, 1720, was born one of the few saints and prophets this country has produced. John Woolman, the Quaker, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, is still relatively unknown in his own land though his Journal is extensively read in England, Germany, and France. That he lacks fame in his own land is not surprising. Too many of his ideas ran counter to those held by a majority of the population in his own time. His greatness lay in his compassionate humanity, a quality that is only rarely in fashion. Read more »

Pentecost In The Backwoods

Shocking, exuberant, exalted, the camp meeting answered the pioneers' demand for religion and helped shape the character of the West.

The Great Revival in the West, or the Kentucky Revival of 1800, as it was sometimes called, was a landmark in American history. It was not some accidental outburst of religious hysteria that crackled through the clearings. Rather, it was one of many answers to a question on which America’s destiny hung during Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency. Which way would the West go?Read more »