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AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION
PRESSWORK BY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.
"Historic Americans," a book containing the first four lectures printed in the present volume, was published in 1870. Later in the same year it appeared as Volume XIII of Miss Cobbe's English edition of Parker's works. The manuscripts were prepared for the press by the devoted labor of Parker's literary executor, Mr. Joseph Lyman, and an introduction was furnished by Mr. O. B. Frothingham.
The lectures on Franklin, Washington, Adams and Jefferson were written in the latter part of the summer of 1858, the last productive season of Parker's hard-working life. Owing to his increasing ill-health his society had requested him to extend his usual summer vacation to six months. This he would not do, but he did not return to his duties until later than usual. He preached his last sermon on January 2d, 1859. Only two of the four lectures were delivered. Mr. Chadwick [Theodore Parker, page 349] intimates that the Washington lecture was also given, but he was deceived by the statement in Mr. Frothingham's introduction to the original edition of "Historic Americans that three of them were delivered." Four years later, however, Mr. Frothingham in his Life of Parker [page 502] wrote that only the Franklin and the Adams were publicly given.
Parker's themes were well chosen. It is interesting to note the testimony of Sir George Trevelyan in his "History of the American Revolution " [Vol. II, page 121] that "the four men who, in the earlier sessions of Congress had most share in guiding its deliberations
and molding its actions, were Washington and Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams." Sir George points out the curious fact that three of the four seldom or never spoke in public and adds that "the power of these men lay in what they knew and did."
As in all of Parker's work the lectures on the "Historic Americans " had a didactic purpose and were intended to convey something more than information. They were designed not only to portray the characters of the great men delineated but also to instruct people in the principles upon which the American Republic is founded. By the virtues of the heroes, the writer wished to inspire his countrymen and by their faults to warn them. When Parker selected these themes, "his object," said Mr. Frothingham in his introduction, 66 was not to amuse an audience for an hour; it was not to convey biographical information in a popular form; it was not to do good in a general sense; much less was it, in a specific sense, to do evil by affronting the reverence of his contemporaries or diminishing the reputation of eminent men whom people far and near had lifted to a pedestal of honor. His design was to trace back to their sources, in the creative minds of the nation, the principles that have exerted a controlling influence in the nation's history and are still active in the institutions and politics of the hour."
This purpose was amply accomplished. Had Parker been able to add equally conscientious studies of the three remaining statesmen who were the founders of the republic, Hamilton, Madison and Marshall, he would have completed in biographical form a real history of the origin and principles of the American commonwealth. In the absence of such studies there have been added to this volume the sermons preached by Parker