Persons in American history who were members of Unitarian congregations or held Unitarian ideas or affiliations, organized by date of birth when known. The list includes deprecated Unitarians with the symbol ±.
COLONIAL & REVOLUTIONARY
Benjamin Franklin (6 Jan 1706 – 17 Apr 1790)
Founder and “First American” who had a Unitarian (but unaffiliated) theology and proposed the motto “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God” for the seal of the United States.
Jonathan Mayhew (8 Oct 1720 – 9 Jul 1766)
America’s first great Unitarian minister, who coined the battle cry “No taxation without representation” and wrote A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers which president John Adams later called the “spark that ignited the American Revolution.”
William Emerson Sr. (? – 1776)
Grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson and chaplain of the Continental Army during the Revolution.
Paul Revere (Dec 1734 – 10 May 1818)
Most famous of the many post riders who founded the American Intelligence Community.
John Hancock (12 Jan 1737 – 8 Oct 1793)
Famously conspicuous signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson (13 Apr 1743 – 4 Jul 1826)
President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence who, although never a declared Unitarian ecclesiastically, had clear Unitarian theological leanings.
Abigail Adams (11 Nov 1744 – 18 Oct 1818)
Primary influence on Revolutionary and President John Adams, Abigail was the first Second Lady of the United States and the second First Lady. Abigail was the most influential woman in the American Revolution.
John Adams (30 Oct 1745 – 4 Jul 1826)
Unitarian president of the United States and, according to Thomas Jefferson, the “ablest advocate and champion” of American Independence, who died the same day as Thomas Jefferson, July 4 1826, fifty years to the day after the signing of their Declaration of Independence. It was John Adams who nominated George Washington to command the Continental Army, and who nominated Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence.
John Brooks (4 May 1752 – 1 Mar 1825)
Doctor, Captain of the Reading Minutemen and in the Continental Army during the Revolution, he served at the battles of Concord, Bunker Hill, White Plains, Valley Forge, and Long Island. Brooks completed his military career as Major General of the Middlesex Militia during Shay’s Rebellion. He was also seven-term governor of Massachusetts.
John Quincy Adams (11 Jul 1767 – 23 Feb 1848)
Unitarian president of the United States and opponent of slavery, who conceived of the wartime abolition later implemented by Lincoln, was one of the designers of the Monroe Doctrine, and represented the Amistad Africans before the U.S. Supreme Court.
William Emerson, Jr. (6 May 1769 – 12 May 1811)
Father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, minister, and founder of the Boston literary society The Anthology Club.
William Ellery Channing (7 Apr 1780 – 2 Oct 1842)
The most influential Unitarian theologian of the era, author of the sermon “Unitarian Christianity” in 1819.
± John Caldwell Calhoun (18 Mar 1782 – 31 Mar 1850)
Vice President of the United States and unfortunate advocate for slavery and secession.
Andrews Norton (31 Dec 1786 – 18 Sep 1853)
Unitarian theologian and opponent of Transcendentalism, Norton unfortunately held to the material accuracy of the Bible.
William Austin (1788 – 1841)
Chaplain aboard the U.S.S. Constitution, protégé of Alexander Hamilton, attorney, and author of the Peter Rugg horror stories (under the pseudonym Jonathan Dunwell) which influenced Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.
Edward Everett (11 Apr 1794 – 15 Jan 1865)
Minister, educator, and politician who served as U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, President of Harvard University, Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Minister to Great Britain, U.S. Secretary of State, and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Everett delivered the speech preceding Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, and campaigned vigorously for Lincoln’s re-election before his death at 70.
William Cullen Bryant (3 Nov 1794 – 12 Jun 1878)
Poet, attorney, and editor of the New York Evening Post. At age 14, Bryant published a best-selling political essay against the politics of Thomas Jefferson called The Embargo, but is most famous for the poem “Thanatopsis,” which Bryant translated from Spanish as a teenager and his father sent off for publication, possibly without his knowledge.
Jesse Chickering (31 Aug 1797 – 29 May 1855)
Minister, doctor, and political economist.
Millard Fillmore (7 Jan 1800 – 8 Mar 1874)
Unitarian president of the United States, founder of the White House library, and last president who was neither Democrat nor Republican.
Lydia Maria Child (11 Feb 1802 – 20 Oct 1880)
Abolitionists, women’s rights advocate, opponent of expansion into Native American lands, novel, and author of the famous Thanksgiving poem “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
Adin Ballou (23 Apr 1803 – 5 Aug 1890)
Abolitionist, advocate of women’s suffrage, and proponent of Restorationist Universalism, Ballou was also unfortunately a utopian socialist who founded one of the many failed communes of the era. Also, despite promoting “Practical Christianity” that called on Christians to put their convictions into action to create a new civilization, Ballou was an adamant pacifist.
Edmund Hamilton Sears (6 Apr 1810 – 14 Jan 1876)
Unitarian minister and influential theologian among 19th Century Protestants, Sears is famous for writing the Christmas Carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”
Theodore Parker (24 Aug 1810 – 10 May 1860)
Minister and sympathizer with Transcendentalist schismatics, Parker nevertheless pressed for Unitarianism’s abolitionist position to move beyond the impotent pacifism of the era. Parker popularized the John Wycliffe phrase “of all the people, by all the people, for all the people” in a translation of the Bible, which influenced Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” He also influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountain Top” speech with his assertion that the long arc of the moral universe “bends toward justice.”
William Greenleaf Eliot (1811 – 1887)
Educator, minister, supporter of women’s suffrage, author of several books on religion and morality, and founder of Washington University in St. Louis.
CIVIL WAR & SCHISM
Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865)
While his religious views remain controversial, the influence of Unitarianism on his views is obvious in his reference to Unitarian minister Theodore Parker’s “of all the people, by all the peopl, for all the people” in the “Gettysburg Address,” which was introduced by a speech by prominent Unitarian minister William Greenleaf Eliot. Lincoln’s assertion that the question whether God was on the Union’s side was not as important as whether “the nation should be on the Lord’s side” is in perfect keeping with AUR’s Gethsemanian soteriology.
Julia Ward Howe (17 May 1819 – 17 Oct 1910)
Abolitionist and author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Herman Melville (1 Aug 1819 – 28 Sep 1891)
Member of All Soul’s Unitarian in New York (although perhaps skeptical of the Church itself), author of the famous Moby Dick as well as many other novels, short stories, and poems, described as “America’s Shakespeare.”
Susan B. Anthony (15 Feb 1820 – 13 Mar 1906)
Abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights.
Joseph Henry Allen (21 Aug 1820 – 1898)
Religious scholar and author of several books on Christian history.
James Smith Bush (15 Jun 1825 – 11 Nov 1889)
Lifelong Episcopalian minister and theologian who converted to Unitarianism in 1888.
Person Colby Cheney (25 Feb 1828 – 19 Jun 1901)
Governor and U.S. Senator for New Hampshire, Cheney had served in the Civil War as a First Lieutenant.
Emily Dickinson (10 Dec 1830 – 15 May 1886)
Reportedly raised Unitarian, Dickinson was a revolutionary poet whose life opus is justifiably an American Book of Psalms.
William Francis Allen (5 Sep 1830 – 9 Dec 1889)
Educator who co-edited Slave Songs of the United States, the first book of its kind, and held various teaching positions including running a school for emancipated slaves on the Carolinian barrier islands.
Martha Gallison Moore-Avery (6 Apr 1851 – 8 Aug 1929)
A socialist activist who rejected socialism for its anti-religious stance, among other reasons. She eventually converted to Roman Catholicism, and in light of this can be seen as a precursor to American Unitarian Reform’s return to deeper Christian roots after the Free Religionist Schism.
20th CENTURY ONWARD
William Howard Taft (15 Sep 1857 – 8 Mar 1930)
Unitarian president of the United States and chief U.S. Supreme Court justice, the only American ever to lead both the executive and judicial branches of government.
James Luther Adams (12 Nov 1901 – 26 Jul 1994)
Unitarian minister, Professor of Christian Ethics at Harvard Divinity School, and most influential Unitarian theologian in the 20th Century. Deeply influenced by anti-Nazi activism in 1930s Germany, Adams is known for his criticism of extreme liberal theology, which he argued leads to “fissiparous individualism” that undermines social action. After retirement from Harvard, he taught at the joint Baptist – United Church of Christ Andover Newton Theological School and UUA’s Meadville Lombard Theological School.