Social and Religious Vagaries of Western New York

the New-York Herald, June 16, 1869:

We published yesterday, from our special correspondent, a full account of the twenty-first anniversary of the “Friends of Human Progress,” at Waterloo, Seneca county, New York.  The platform of these people is expressed in the title they give themselves—the friends of human progress—and no one can complain that it is not comprehensive or broad enough.  In fact, it is too broad to be specific and comprehensive enough to embrace all the isms of the day.

The “Friends of Human Progress” do not appear to have any particular organization for social, communist, or co-operative purposes as regards labor or property, but seem to be idealists only, composed of men and women of various opinions and isms, who meet together periodically to ventilate their theories.

Social and Religious Vagaries of Western New York

On this occasion there were about one hundred and fifty, white, black and gray, and of both sexes.  Some of the names are familiar as connected with abolitionism in times past, with the women’s rights movements, with Spiritualism, and with other vagaries, and conspicuously among them was that of Fred Douglass.  There was a great deal of flowery talk about progress, humanity, a new age, and a new philosophy and religion, but no ideas or definite object.

As it is at the gatherings of the Spiritualists, the talk was mere rhapsody, stringing together big sounding words without thought or meaning.  The only practical common sense address was that of Fred Douglass, in which he sarcastically and humorously touches up the spiritualism of a Mr. Mills.  But it was evident that the hifalutin trash of this Mills and his Spiritualistic notions were favorably received by the assembly.  It is utterly impossible to bring such a set of people down to the level of common sense, or to any clear ideas, even upon the theories they pretend to advocate.

One remarkable fact is again brought before us in this gathering of these idealists and fanatics, and that is, that Western New York is the birthplace, home and refuge of the wildest theories and of all the isms that spring up to agitate society.

Abolitionism, which has cost so much blood, brought upon us such a stupendous debt and jeopardized our republican institutions, grew up to be a mighty power there.  Mormonism and its author, Joe Smith, were born there.  John Brown was from that region.  Communism at Oneida, on Lake Erie and at other points springs into life and flourishes only in that part of New York.

Bloomerism sprung up there.  It was at Rochester that the Fox family commenced their knockings and laid the foundation of modern Spiritualism.  Indeed, there is hardly a phase of socialism, communism, religious fanaticism, political theory or agitation or of infidelity that is not either born or receives its growth in Western New York.

This is a curious fact, and the philosophy or reason of it is a matter of interesting speculation.  It has been said that this peculiar state of things may be attributed to the Welsh character of a great portion of the population, a great many Welsh people having settled there originally.  But there is a large New England and old Puritan element there, and we all know that the Welsh were not more superstitious, theoretic and dogmatic than the Puritans.

Western New York is a rich country naturally, is central, and when once certain isms were started there one followed another as a natural consequence until that region has become the hotbed of them all, and of every new one that springs up.  The only way to treat them is to let them alone, unless they become dangerous to the morals or peace of society, and they will die out in time through the progress of intelligence and march of a higher civilization.

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