“Failure of an Infidel Experiment” as published in the Boston Daily Globe, May 8, 1885

“Failure of an Infidel Experiment” is given as first published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 1 1885. It was also published in The Boston Daily Globe on May 8, and I thank my friend Nina, and Syd for locating it and sending it to me. This would be an abbreviated version of an article from an April 22 interview with Sam Keller, who worked with the Globe Democrat of St. Louis. It was published in the Post Dispatch on May 2nd under the title of “An Infidel Experiment”.

At any rate, below is what the people in Boston read about Liberal on May 8th 1885.

It would be good, first, to know a little about Clark Braden. Born in 1831, he came from abolitionist stock and was himself an abolitionist. A Christian minister, he served at 35 churches (one has to wonder why so many) and made a career of giving lectures, a reported over 6000 in total though I’ve seen Braden admit to 3000. The famous freethinker, Robert G. Ingersoll, refused to debate him, saying, “I’m am not such a fool as to debate, he would wear me out,” which is often taken as proving Braden’s powers, but I instead think witnesses a lack of respect for his technique.

Actually, Braden quoted Ingersoll a bit differently in October 1909 at the Disciples of Christ Centennial Convention.

Here is Braden’s history in his own words:

I will endeavor, ladies and gentlemen, brethren and sisters, to answer so many questions that have been asked me by every one that I meet in the time that is allotted to me, and I give it to you in this form. Clark Braden was born Aug. 8, 1831, in Gustavus, Trumbull Co., O. He was immersed by Calvin Smith, Feb. 28, 1855, in Rome, Ashtabula Co., O. He has been preaching nearly fifty-five years. He has been what is called “pastor” for twenty-five congregations, and has been regular preacher for as many more. He has taught school sixty-nine terms of three months. He has been president of Elgin College, Abingdon College, Southern Illinois College and Southern Illinois Christian College. He edited a Christian paper, the Herald of Truth. He is author of the “Braden-Hughey Debate,” the “Braden-Kelly Debate,” the “Problem of Problems,” “Ingersoll Unmasked,” “Errors in Regard to the Trial and Crucifixion of Christ.”

He has delivered more than three thousand lectures in nearly every State in the United States and Provinces of Canada. He can give time, place, proposition and opponent of more than 130 regular debates that had moderators and two written debates. He has held more debates than any other member of the churches of Christ. J. S. Sweeney comes next with 113 debates. He has held forty debates with champions of both wings of infidelity, materialism and spiritism—more debates than any other man living or that has lived. He has met in debate B. F. Underwood, the American champion; Charles Watts, the British champion of materialism, and Moses Hull, the champion of spiritism. He has debated the action, subjects and design of baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit, human creeds, justification by faith only, church organization, soul-sleeping, klngdom-come-ism, Seventh-day-ism, and Universalism. He has held eighteen debates with Mormons. He was challenged three times to debate with Ingersoll. Ingersoll was challenged three times to debate with Clark Braden. And six times Ingersoll backed out. He gave as his reason, and I beg your pardon for saying this, “I’ll be G___ d___ if Bob don’t know what he’s doing. I am not such a G___ d___ fool as to place myself on the platform for six nights of debate with that fellow. Why, d___ it, he would wear me out.” When S. P. Putnam, president of the Infidel Leagues of America, refused to debate with Clark Braden, Clark Braden chased him and replied to him until infidels, disgusted with Putnam’s cowardice, forced him to quit the field. Charles Watts backed out of defiant challenges and left the Maritime Provinces of Canada when Clark Braden was selected to meet him. The Infidel Leagues of Canada backed out of challenges when Braden was selected to meet them. In 1889, in the last of eleven debates with Clark Braden, B. F. Underwood backed out in the middle of the debate, and took the first train next morning. Infidels withdrew their indorsement of Jamieson and closed the last debate with Jamieson. Last August, Elbert Hubbard, whom infidels regard as the successor of Ingersoll, and their champion, in the most cowardly and disgraceful manner backed out of a positive agreement, when he learned that he would have to meet Clark Braden.

During the last twenty years, every prominent champion of infidelity has backed out of debating with Clark Braden. So have champions of Mormon ism, soul-sleeping, Seventh-day-ism, spiritism and kingdom-come-ism. The speaker does not make these statements in a spirit of personal vainglory, but simply to demonstrate the invincibility of the truth in fair contest with error.

And now let me say to you, brethren and sisters, that I do rather avoid giving a challenge, but 1 have been selected by brethren; they have called upon me and I have responded and done my best in discussion. And another thing, when you get so very good and so very refined and cultured that you are unwilling to debate, you will know more than God Almighty, you are better than Jesus Christ, purer than the Holy Spirit. The last six weeks of the Saviour’s life was one stormy debate, and he did some pretty plain talking, too. [Applause.] I want to say to you this, that just so long as there is error in the world, just so long as truth has to be defended, there will be discussion. Every reform was born in debate, rocked in the cradle of discussion, and grew strong in the battle for that which is right; and when you become so cultured that you won’t debate anything any time, you will be a saint among saints, and then leave the result of it to God. I have the divine example of the Son of God for pursuing the course I have. I feel I am doing that which is right. It is said that the apostle John in his old age was carried in a chair into the church at Ephesus and placed upon the platform, and at the close of the services they turned to the old patriarch and he would stretch out his trembling hands and say, “Little children, love one another.” And after this long, stormy, strenuous life, I sum it all up in this, that the supreme work of the followers of Christ is to learn the Christ teaching, live the Christ life, and grow in the Christ character in this life and in the eternal life, where we shall be like him. where we shall see him as he is. [Applause]

In 1908, The Philistine, published the following satire on Braden’s tactics:

Not long ago a gentleman calling himself the Reverend Clark Braden arrived in East Aurora. He was sincere, serious, highly educated and wore long patriarchal whiskers.

He announced that he had come to engage with me in a six-days’ debate as to the truths of Revealed Religion. He plainly stated that he considered me an arch-infidel, and his purpose was either to convert me, or else to humiliate me in my own town, in the presence of my neighbors. If we didn’t get thru the debate in six days, he was willing to stay a month. When would we begin?

I tried to excuse myself on the plea of work, other engagements, etc. He demanded that I should cancel all other engagements; and if I was a sincere lover of truth as I professed to be I would now stand by my colors. In fact, this I must do, or he would brand me before the whole village as a coddling coward and a Number Six agnostic jackanapes. I then took a little hand myself at questioning. And it seems that, altho I had never had any communications with this reverend gentleman—which fact he acknowledged—he came as the representative of another man, and he flashed up a lengthy letter from an unknown, fully authorizing me to argufy with Brother Braden six nights and days together, or else come off my psychic perch. In the meantime Braden had gone up to the
“Blizzard” office, and had gotten out five hundred handbills, scattering them all over town, denouncing me as this, that and the other.

About this time there came to me a bright idea, thus: If Braden could act as the substitute for another to orate with me in a theological gabfest, then I, too, could appoint a substitute, and the two could have it out. Accordingly, I appointed Ali Baba to reason with my friend with the lilacs.

I ran Ali up against the adversary, and they got at it quick, with no preliminaries. In five minutes they were calling each other all the names in the Billingsgate Calendar.And in ten minutes, by the stop-watch, Ali had the reverend one by the scruff, pushing him toward the front gate, both talking loudly and fast. Their conversation was heard for half a mile.

The last I saw of the zealous one, he was going down the road, stopping now and then to shake his fist at the Seat of Infidelity, and uttering remarks in italic.

God must dearly love the fools, otherwise He would not have made so many of us.

Now, for the article:


Failure of an Infidel Experiment – A Town Without a Church, Where Profanity is Almost Universal

(St. Louis Post-Despatch)

LEXINGTON, Mo., May 1 — Rev. Clark Braden has been in the city for several days, arranging for a visit to Liberal, Mo. His visit there was to engage in a debate similar to the one held in February last. He introduced the subject by reading the following standing advertisement of the place, published in the Liberal:

Liberal is a thriving town of about 500 people, all of whom are sober, trustworthy and industrious. It is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell or devil…All that is required to insure a new citizen is for some Liberal to come and stay with us over Sunday, and it is certain to bring out a transaction at the land office. This fact speaks for itself too plainly to need much comment…

Mr. Braden said:

“Before the war there was a little knot of infidels in the town of Paris in eastern Illinois. Their leader was the notorious D. M. Bennett, a renegade preacher, who had been kicked out of church for misconduct. G. H. Walser, one of Bennett’s associates in Paris, some years ago tried to make an infidel community out of Lamar, the county seat of Barton county. Finding there was too much religious influence in the community to be crushed out, he laid off the town of Liberal on a portion of a large tract of land on the Kansas City & Memphis railroad, which passes through Barton county. Flaming announcements of the new infidel paradise were made, and all infidels were invited to flock to this infidel Canaan, flowing with the milk and honey of infidelity. The two hotels in Liberal are cheap dens of the lowest character–one is vacant and the other soon will be. Of those who have visited the place prospecting more have left without locating than have remained. Full as many as those who did locate have left as now remain. Nine-tenths of those now in town would leave if they could sell their property. Public schools and infidel meetings have been held in rented buildings, except what were held in the Universal Mental Liberty Hall, the stupendous title of a building about the size of a smokehouse, which it closely resembles.

The present Liberal normal institute is one of the wonders of the age. Reading lessons of a religious character were carefully skipped; if the text-books contained the name of Deity or any religious sentiment, teachers were very careful to explain that all such ideas were absurd, and that no Liberal would believe such nonsense. The teachers were careful to instruct the pupils to write God with a small g. Profanity was the common speech of pupils of both sexes, old and young, and no steps were taken by the teachers to check the vile habit.

“Walser has been able to gratify his intolerance by persistent efforts to keep all believers in Christianity out of Liberal. He organized a secret society like the Mormon Danites, which he calls the Sacred Brotherhood. From among these a committee of three was selected to interview all strangers as they got off the trains. If they learned that a stranger was prospecting, and concluded that he was not an infidel, Walser and his infidel Danites went to work to drive him off.

“The Liberals of this infidel town have always taken special delight in surrounding Christians who come into the town on business and assailing Christianity and Christians in the most abusive manner. The worst of social ostracism has been practised, and special pains taken to throw out insulting remarks when passing believers in Christianity, in their houses, business places, or on the streets.

“For some time after the town started, no place could be obtained in which to hold religious meetings. The first meeting was held in an unfinished elevator, when a small house was erected. The infidels would flock into the meetings and break them up, interrupting the exercises with infidel abuse. Such has been the boast of liberality of this infidel paradise called Liberal.

“The boast about the sobriety of the town is false. But few of the infidels are total abstainers. Liquor can be obtained at three different places in this town of 300 inhabitants. More drunken infidels can be seen in a year in Liberal than drunken Christians among one hundred times as many church members during the same time. Lack of reverence for parents and of obedience to them is the rule. There are more grass widows, grass widowers and people living together who have former companions living than in any other town of ten times the population. Sundays are turned into dancing and fishing picnics, interspersed with braying brass bands and blasphemous harangues, called literary exercises.

“About one year ago the decent skeptics and the Christians of Liberal, feeling that they could endure the intolerance of infidelity no longer, moved into a town plot west of Liberal and started the town of Denison. A movement backed up by the farmers of the surrounding country has been started to move the post office to Denison, and change the name. Assurances have been received from the Post Office Department that it will be successful. With the present revival of business Denison will be the town of the surrounding country. The sense and the morality of Christianity will conquer the illiberality, fanaticism and immorality of infidelity.

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