C. W. Stewart, Freethought Speaker and One of the Original Freethinkers at Liberal

Who was the touted debater, C. W. Stewart, of Liberal, Missouri? One account gives him as being brought in from outside, by Walser, to speak at Liberal, but J. P. Moore, in “The Strange Town – Liberal, Missouri” states he was first among “the original hard core of Freethinkers” in Liberal.

However, after J. P. Moore’s first mention of Stewart on page 14 of his book, he becomes vague on the subject of Stewart. When he next refers to him, Moore instead identifies C. C. Stewart as the “strong debater” who went ten times against the aggressive Christian debater Clark Braden, then in another chapter refers to the debater who countered Braden as a “citizen named Stewart”.

O. E. Harmon instead specifically gives C. W. Stewart as the individual who debated Braden.

So often, only initials are used in 19th and early 20th century accounts and that makes things not very easy in trying to track a person’s identity without access to early town records. Stewart is not to be found in the 1900 census, which I suspected he wouldn’t be, as Moore was in Liberal by 1896 and one is given the impression he never met the man. With only initials, he’s impossible to locate in 1880. I have searched all through the internet using even just Stewart in conjunction with terms such as Missouri and Kansas and freethinker, spiritualist etc., and have only come up with a few references not associated with already known Liberal accounts, neither of which provides a given name, and both of which lead me to believe there should be a good deal more information available on him.

The following is from “The Radical Review”, published out of Chicago on September 15, 1883. The account gives mention of C. W. Stewart’s persuasiveness as a speaker. C. W. Stewart was also a speaker in Liberal, Missouri.


Friday morning, the 31st ult., found us riding from the tranquil village of Valley Falls en route for the state gathering, but the beauty of the pastoral scene, consisting of rolling prairie, swaying corn, waving fields of flax, dotted here and there with neat residences, while from the sylvan grove we approach arose the song of birds and tinkling bells, coupled with a cloudless sky and a considerate sun, made it difficult to realize that this was really ” bleeding Kansas”— Kansas whose internecine political struggles, whose hail and hot winds, drought, cyclones and grasshoppers, border ruffians^and daring bandits still conjure up a mental condition that mars the placid landscape which meets our vision. Those evils belong to bygone tradition, and this state now lays claim to unparalleled prosperity. Not far from this neighborhood John Brown inaugurated the great political drama in the warfare for liberty, and his uncompromising spirit still animates the majority of Kansas liberals who are determined to carry on the struggle to its logical realization in all the affairs of life.

Arriving at the grounds, every detail was found faithfully attended to that could enhance the comfort of attendants—the arrangements for seating, lighting and refreshments being admirable, showing the prodigious labor performed by that indefatigable worker, E. C Walker, and his efficient staff of sterling co-laborers, Messrs. M. Harman, John Ernst, J. Reicherter, M. Schaff Bauer, and Mrs. Susan Reicherter, of whom one speaker remarked: ” Mrs. Reicherter possesses the finest executive ability of any person I have ever known in my life.”

As The Review can give but a cursory glance, it must be confined to the work accomplished,subjects treated, merit and manner of acceptance. As music occurred on the program repeatedly, it kept our friend W. F. Peck very busy, especially as his songs, parodies and satires, were continually encored.

The first day (Thursday) had been occupied by conference, appointment of committees and address by C. W. Stewart, L. L. B., on ” Philosophy of Good and Evil.” Friday morning, O. Olney, editor of The Thinker, gave a scathing lecture on the orthodox god. Mr. O., who is also a lawyer, made an ingenious legal argument against this deity, whom he tried, found guilty, and executed through due process of law.

In the afternoon Mrs. H. S. Lake delivered her lecture on “The Effect on Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief,” which has justly received many encomiums. A large attendance was drawn forth to hear the debate between Rev. J. S. T. Milligan, who had the temerity to defend Presbyterian orthodoxy against the assaults of freethought and the eloquence of C. W. Stewart, who so completely confounded him at every point, that there was more or less sympathy felt for our crestfallen foe, as his blind zeal might endanger his bread and butter. Saturday morning a report favoring the organization of a State League was adopted. Permanent officers of the meeting were then elected, as follows: Ex-Gov. Chas. Rohinson, president; O. Olney, Ezra Carpenter, Hon. R. A. Van Winkle, J. E. Sutton, W. W, Frazer, vice-presidents; E. C. Walker, secretary; Mrs. Susan Reicherter, treasurer. Hon. Alfred Taylor was introduced by Gov. Robinson as the most unswerving champion of the oppressed when in the legislature, and his address evinced that earnest devotion to justice— that exalted humanity—so seldom found in legislators of our day. A lecture on “Constructive Liberalism,” by the writer, and an excellent discourse, on “What is Truth,” by Mr. Peck, proving that divine revelation fails to give a just conception of what truth is, concluded the afternoon. In the evening, Mrs. Lake gave a brilliant lecture on “Women’s Rights,” the male persuasion receiving a bitter scoring, as it contained some of the keenest irony we ever heard. Gov. Robinson’s lecture on “The Fallacy of Prohibition,” showed that Christians were inconsistent in trying to prove prohibition from the bible, and that sumptuary laws do not now, nor ever have, prohibited. The lecture was largely statistical, and will soon appear in pamphlet form and be widely read.

Sunday, the State League was perfected, and the following officers chosen: President, J. M. Hagaman, Concordia Blade; Vice-Presidents, Hon. A. Taylor, Maj. J. L. Furguson, J. A. Remsburg, Mrs. C. R. Doster; Secretary, E. C. Walker; Treasurer, Dr. R. Raymond. Delegates to the Liberal League Congress: J. M. Hagaman, E. C. Walker, W. J. Hurd, Mrs. H. S. Lake, B. W. Cook.

After a fitting inaugural by the president, Mr. 0. A. Phelps gave a forcible speech on liberty of thought and action. The afternoon was well employed, Mr. Peck giving a clear and lucid exposition of “Evolution vs. Creation,” followed by C. W. Stewart on “The Philosophy of Life,” wherein he plead for an allsided culture — the development of the physical, mental and moral being, paying a timely tribute to E. H. Heywood for his labors in this direction and a resolution of sympathy, in the persecution now being visited on him, was adopted.

In the evening, “The Social Situation ” was my theme, and Mrs. Lake concluded the meeting with a trenchant lecture on “Individualism.” Financially, the gathering was a complete success, all expenses being fully paid, and the weather throughout was admirable. This meeting will long be a memorable epoch in the calendar of Kansas Liberalism.

Resolutions of thanks were tendered Messrs. Harman and Walker, of Lucifer, for their extraordinary efforts, “without which the meeting could not have been held.” Though not a year in Kansas, Walker seems to have imparted his electrifying energy and enthusiasm to those with whom he comes in contact. No other missionary of freethought can show such splendid results, while adhering devotedly to unpopular radical principles.

A word of explanation. In The Review of September 1st, the writer severely took Mr. Walker to task for his apparent “pusillanimous back down” on a political matter. A circumstance occurred during; the above meeting which totally dispelled any idea one might have of his lack of moral vertebrae, and conclusively proved that his utterance, however we may regret it, was based on his honest conviction; so, having impugned his integrity, I haste to make the amende honorable. It gave me great pleasure to greet Mr. Harmon whose editorial conduct of the Kansas Liberal (now Lucifer) is equaled by few men on metropolitan journals, and whose sturdy blow for liberty are only matched by his brilliant collaborator, Walker. That Lucifer (light bearer) may long live to “flash the torch of freedom on,” is the wish of

E. A. Stevens.

A C. S. Stewart is mentioned in James Claude Malin’s “A Concern About Humanity: notes on reform 1872-1912, at the National and Kansas Levels of Thought”, published 1964, but I suspect this individual may be instead C. W. Stewart. A Google snippet view gives:

Again, apparently, the project failed as no further notices appeared. The Associate Editor, C. S. Stewart, spoke, however, at Burlingame to an Osage county Liberal meeting, with A. O. Phelps and Charles Robinson as scheduled speakers. September and October 1884 was not a favorable time to hold anything…

A photo of a C. W. Stewart appears in the “Light of Truth Album, Containing the Photographs of Prominent Workers in the Cause of Spiritualism” issued by The Light of Truth Publishing Company, Columbus, Ohio, 1897. The book also contained a photo of George Walser. Bios on the individuals were included at the end of the book, excepting C. W. Stewart. There was no bio of him.

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