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William Ellery Channing

William Ellery Channing was born on April 7, 1780, in Newport, Rhode Island. His grandfather, William Ellery, has signed the Declaration of Independence. Channing attended Harvard and graduated in 1798. Channing was a Unitarian and rejected the Calvinist doctrines of complete depravity and divine election. Not long after graduation, he became pastor of the Federal Street Congregational Church in Boston. His sermon on Unitarian Christianity, delivered in Baltimore in 1819, established him as one of the intellectual founders of the Unitarian movement. Although he initially felt that his views were compatible with orthodox Congregationalism, he eventually understood that a new denomination would be necessary and was instrumental in the conference of liberal ministers which led to the founding of the American Unitarian Association in 1825. Channing was dismayed at the prospect of Texas being annexed to the United States and wrote a well-known letter to Henry Clay in 1837, opposing annexation for a variety of reasons. In the 1830's, despite the principle of the Separation of Church and State, blasphemy was against the law in Boston. Abner Kneeland, a publisher and Jacksonian Democrat, was indicted in 1834 for blasphemy. After a series of trials and appeals, the Massachusetts Supreme Court sentenced Kneeland to 60 days in jail. Channing wrote a letter, which he signed along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and others, petitioning for a pardon. The petition was rejected and Kneeland served his sentence. The petition ended, "Because we regard with filial jealousy the honor of this Commonwealth and are unwilling that it should be exposed to reproach, as clinging obstinately to illiberal principles, which the most enlightened minds have exploded." In 1838, some people in Massachusetts were worried that their state would be viewed by others as belonging to the "Bible Belt!" William Ellery Channing assumed responsibility for the education of his newphew, William Henry Channing, upon the death of the latter's father during his infancy. William Henry Channing, although less well known than his uncle, became a Unitarian minister of some note. Among the Transcendentalists, he was one of those urging involvement in social issues. He pressed Ralph Waldo Emerson on this point to such a degree that Emerson wrote Ode Inscribed to W.H. Channing in 1847 to explain his reluctance. William Ellery Channing died on October 2, 1842, in Bennington, Vermont.