Channing, William Ellery

Channing, William Ellery,

1780–1842, American Unitarian minister and author, b. Newport, R.I. At 23 he was ordained minister of the Federal St. Congregational Church in Boston, where he served until his death. He was a leader among those who were turning from Calvinism, and his sermon at Jared Sparks's ordination in Baltimore (1819) earned him the name "the apostle of Unitarianism." In 1820 he organized the Berry St. Conference of Ministers, which in 1825 formed the American Unitarian Association. Channing's plea was for humanitarianism and tolerance in religion rather than for a new creed. Not only a great preacher but a lucid writer, Channing influenced many American authors, including Emerson and other transcendentalists and Holmes and Bryant. Channing was not by nature a controversialist and never allied himself with the abolitionists, but his writings on slavery helped prepare for emancipation. In his denunciations of war, his discussion of labor problems, and his views on education, he was ahead of his time. His works (6 vol., 1841–43) passed through many editions.


See his Life … with Extracts from His Correspondence (ed. by W. H. Channing, 3 vol., 1848); biographies by J. W. Chadwick (1903), M. H. Rice (1961), and J. Mendelsohn (1971); R. L. Patterson, The Philosophy of William Ellery Channing (1952, repr. 1972).

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Channing, William Ellery

(1780–1842) Unitarian theologian; born in Newport, R.I. He graduated from Harvard in 1798 and was tutor for 18 months to a Richmond, Va., family, where he became an opponent of slavery. Ordained in 1803, he accepted the pulpit of the Congregational Federal Street Church in Boston; he retained this pastorate until his death. Broadly liberal, he took part from 1815 on in the controversy over Calvinist doctrine and became a leader of the newly emerging Unitarians, calling their doctrine "a rational and amiable system"; he, as much as any single man, brought about the founding of the American Unitarian Association in 1825. Channing Unitarianism, as his beliefs came to be called, influenced the intellectual development of Emerson and many others in the English-speaking world. A pacifist and proponent of public education and labor reforms, he threw his considerable prestige behind the temperance and antislavery causes. Among his published works were an Essay on National Literature and Negro Slavery.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.