Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State), One Hundred Years in the Union, 1820-1921, By Walter B. Stevens

To no avail, I’ve attempted to discover what community of freethinkers had been living in the below mentioned Paris, Illinois.

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Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State), One Hundred Years in the Union, 1820-1921, By Walter B. Stevens

Community Experiments

Missouri has had its share of community experiments. Perhaps the most notable of these was the town of Liberal in Barton County. George H. Walser was a lawyer and a well-to-do business man who had lived with a colony of free thinkers at Paris, Illinois. He moved to Missouri near the close of the Civil war and lived at Lamar. Land was very cheap in Barton county; some of it was classed as swamp land and held at twelve and a half cents an acre. It proved to be very productive and also to have underlying it coal measures. Walser bought several sections of this land and gradually organized a settlement which he called Liberal. He gave town lots on long time to those who believed, or disbelieved, as he did. A hall was constructed for Sunday meetings to which Walser gave the name of Universal Mental Liberty Hall. A building was erected for educational purposes and that was called “Drake Normal Liberal Institute.” A paper was started with the title of “The Liberal.” Many followers of Ingersoll settled in Liberal and it was advertised as the only town on earth where there was no church, no saloon, no God and no hell. In time, however, some of the people wanted Sunday preaching. They built what they called Union church and met there on Sunday to hear the Bible read, to sing and to have preaching. Walser insisted on taking the pulpit and criticizing the sermon. This resulted in trouble; the community divided into factions. The free thinkers organized a secret society which they called “The Brotherhood.” A rival town was started adjoining Liberal on ground not controlled by Walser. This was given the name of Jennison. For years there was friction between the communities. The experiment was not successful. Gradually religion and irreligion ceased to be an issue.

The original motive for the founding of Liberal was set forth in a prospectus: “To give an asylum for those noble men and women who are willing to sacrifice the comforts of life and joys of social intercourse, rather than live a life of deception and falsehood, was the incentive which actuated us in starting the town of Liberal, where we could enjoy the full benefits of free American citizens without having some self-appointed bigot dictate to us what we should think, believe, speak, write, print or send through the mails.”

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