Oneida Community And The Crusade For Public Morality

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ministers warMichael Doyle’s new book The Ministers’ War: John W. Mears, The Oneida Community, and the Crusade for Public Morality (Syracuse University Press, 2018) takes a look at Hamilton College philosophy professor and Presbyterian minister John W. Mears and his fight against every sin and carnal lure, from liquor to free love.

In The Ministers’ War, Doyle explores the ways in which Mears’ multipurpose zeal reflected the passions behind the nineteenth-century temperance movement, the fight against obscenity, and the public animus toward unconventional thought. As an speaker, author and political candidate, Mears was a prominent moralizer.

At New York’s famed Oneida Community Mears encountered a stiff 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.

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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