Samuel Porter Putnam
Putnam, Samuel Porter (23 July 1839 – 1896)
Putnam, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was born in New Hampshire. He became a student at Dartmouth in 1858 and enlisted as a private in the Civil War, where, after two years of service, he was promoted to the rank of captain.
He became a Congregationalist minister in 1868 after three years at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Three years later he broke with that denomination and joined the Unitarians. After serving in various congregations, he then "gave up all relations whatsoever with the Christian religion, and became an open and avowed Freethinker," as he recorded in his opus, Four Hundred Years of Freethought.
During the Hayes Administration he was appointed to the Civil Service. He left that work in 1887, when he became president of the American Secular Union, and "devoted himself entirely to the Freethought work," later becoming president of the Union.
He was elected president of the California State Liberal Union in 1891 and the Freethought Federation of America in 1892. One of its accomplishments was keeping the World’s Fair in Chicago (1893) open on Sunday, for at that time all public “amusements” had to be closed on Sundays.
Putnam established the San Francisco Freethought (1887-1891). He noted that he visited all but four of the existing states and territories in his work for freethought, traveling more than 100,000 miles giving freethought lectures.
His history of freethought and rationalism, Four Hundred Years of Freethought, was published in 1894 and included over 140 portraits.
His other writings include: Prometheus; Gottlieb: His Life; Golden Throne; Waifs and Wanderings; Ingersoll and Jesus; Why Don't He Lend a Hand?; Adami and Heva; The New God; The Problem of the Universe; My Religious Experience; Religion a Curse; Religion a Disease; Religion a Life; and Pen Pictures of the World's Fair.
In San Francisco from 1888 to 1891 he edited Freethought with George E. Macdonald, the brother of the editor of the Truth Seeker who later became editor of that publication himself.
In My Religious Experience (1891), Putnam declared,
- The last superstition of the human mind is the superstition that religion in itself is a good thing, though it might be free from dogma. I believe, however, that the religious feeling, as feeling, is wrong, and the civilized man will have nothing to do with it. . . . [When the] shadow of religion disappeared forever . . . I felt that I was free from a disease.
He added, “The moment that one loses confidence in God, or immortality in the universe, [one becomes] more self-reliant, more courageous, and the more solicitous of aid where only human aid is possible.”
“On the night of December 11-12, 1896,” Gordon Stein has written (The American Rationalist, September-October 1995),
- freethought lecturer and author Samuel Porter Putnam and rising freethought star May Collins were found dead in her guest room in Boston. Immediately, rumors began circulating in the religious press that there had been some sort of ‘hanky-panky’ going on between the 58-year-old Putnam and the 20-year-old Miss Collins, who was on her first freethought lecturing tour away from her native Kentucky.
Both, however, were found fully clothed. A coroner found their deaths were due to accidental asphyxiation by illuminating gas. For some unexplained reason, Putnam took pains to conceal from friends that he was a divorced man with two children.