"The first close-up examination of an interesting clash of moralities in central New York during the 1870s: a minister’s crusade led by Professor John Mears of Hamilton College against the nearby Oneida Community, a utopian commune infamous for free love."—Anthony Wonderley, author of Oneida Utopia: A Community Searching for Human Happiness and Prosperity
"Many books have been written about the Oneida Community, but to my knowledge, this is the first that examines the anti–Oneida Community movements that sprung up during the nineteenth century. Doyle has done a tremendous job of coloring in the personalities of the huge number of clergymen, politicians, Oneida Community members, and reporters that pepper the narrative."—Christian Goodwillie, director and curator of special collections and archives at the Burke Library, Hamilton College
"Michael Doyle’s biography of Dr. John W. Mears offers a detailed and fascinating portrait of the life and times of one of nineteenth-century America’s lesser-known moral crusaders. Doyle’s lively and often humorous narration of Mears’s life-long campaigns to get the nation’s house in order— in particular, by ridding it of the free-love abomination of the Oneida Community— illuminates the philosophical and religious ferment that marked this period of American history. Doyle’s patient and meticulous use of extensive archival material brings the story and its characters alive, making for a compelling read."—Ellen Wayland-Smith, author of Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table
"Offer[s] readers a new point of view of the well-known story of the Oneida Community....The Minister's War is about exploring this period of time through the context of the era."—Casey Rose Frank, The Post Standarad
"Michael Doyle’s The Minister’s War weaves together the stories of two zealous religious figures who become entwined in a battle between their beliefs in the public and private sphere. The focus is on John W. Mears, a stodgy, prudish preacher and professor at Hamilton College who fought against many things, including the Oneida community. John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida community which practiced communalism in all things, including sexual relationships, becomes Mears’ greatest target. The Minister’s War offers biography as a pathway into viewing the multifaceted issue of religious freedom, or lack thereof, in 19th century United States."—Reading Religion
"Doyle’s small gem of a book should prove invaluable in facilitating discussions of ante- and postbellum America. Undergraduates will appreciate its clarity and brevity; general readers will find it fascinating."—Northeast Popular & American Culture Association
"A well-told story that will certainly be of interest to students of Oneida and others seeking a tightly focused case study of nineteenth-century moral reform."—Journal of American History
"In The Ministers’ War Doyle provides a detailed account of the anti-Oneida campaign of the 1870s. Although the book is specifically about the Oneida Community, it is likely to also be of interest to scholars and students of nineteenth-century reform movements and American religious history."—Journal of the History of Sexuality
Unbridled passions threatened nineteenth-century America, a vulnerable young nation already feeling beset by foreigners, corruption, and disease. Purifying crusaders like Hamilton College philosophy professor and Presbyterian minister John W. Mears mobilized to fight every sin and carnal lure, from liquor to free love. In Upstate New York’s famed Oneida Community, Mears encountered his stiffest challenge. Oneida’s founder and patriarch, John Humphrey Noyes, oversaw a radical Christian commune where men and women sexually mingled through the practice of “complex marriage.” While others struggled to dislodge the community that had evolved since 1848 into a successful business venture and congenial neighbor, it was Mears who, after years of trying, rallied New York’s church and university leaders for a final, concerted anti-Oneida campaign.
In The Ministers’ War, Doyle traces the full story of Mears and the crusade against the Oneida Community. He explores the ways in which Mears’s multipurpose zeal reflected the passions behind the nineteenth-century temperance movement, the fight against obscenity, and the public animus toward unconventional thought. As an author, political candidate, and controversialist, Mears was a prominent moralizer at a time when public morality seemed to be most at risk.
Michael Doyle is a reporter in Washington, DC, for E&E News, covering environmental issues. He formerly reported on the Supreme Court and California for the Washington bureau of the McClatchy newspapers. He has won awards for his reporting from the National Press Club and the Washington Press Club Foundation, among others. Doyle is the author of Radical Chapters: Pacifist Bookseller Roy Kepler and the Paperback Revolution and The Forestport Breaks: A Nineteenth-Century Conspiracy along the Black River Canal.
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