A Fair Piece of Prophesying

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The Reverend Peter Akers
The Reverend Peter Akers

On August 13, 1837, in a sermon he preached at the Spring Creek Campground, six miles west of Springfield, Illinois, the Reverend Peter Akers predicted that a great civil war would put an end to human bondage in America.

He declared there would come “a time when slave-ships, like beasts of prey, shall no longer prowl along the coast of helpless Africa; a time when we shall no longer trade in ‘slaves and the souls of men,’ but the whip, the manacle, and unrequited toil shall be banished from our fair land.”

Francis Grierson
Francis Grierson

It was a pretty courageous prediction to make in Illinois in 1837, because Akers’ audience included many Southerners, and most Illinois settlers, while they opposed slavery, also opposed abolition. Later that year the abolitionist writer and publisher Elijah Lovejoy, also a minister, was shot to death in Alton, Illinois, by a pro-slavery mob.

But Akers, the superintendent of a nearby Methodist Seminary, charged right on, as Francis Grierson relates in The Valley of Shadows:

“I am not a prophet,” [Akers] said, “but a student of the Prophets; American slavery will come to an end in some near decade, I think in the sixties.” These words caused a profound sensation. In their excitement thousands surged about the preacher, but when at last he cried out: “Who can tell but that the man who shall lead us through this strife may be standing in this presence?” 

Sure enough, not 30 feet away, was a lanky young lawyer from Springfield, who had come to the meeting with a group of young men in a ‘bandwagon’, who would be elected to Congress ten years later, and elected president 23 years later.

I’d say that’s a fair piece of prophesying.

I’m reading Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson, a summary of American literature at the time of the Civil War. Wilson thinks a lot of Francis Grierson, who as a young virtuoso pianist toured the capitals of Europe and later returned to America and wrote Valley of the Shadows.,a description of the American West in the 1850s.

For a full discussion of Akers’ sermon see an article by Robert Bray for the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association.