Evangelical Do-gooding by the Tappan Brothers

  • Religion
  • 1827

Arthur and Lewis Tappan first imbibed their evangelical Protestant beliefs at the Northampton, Massachusetts, church where Jonathan Edwards had preached. They were apprenticed to Boston merchants and soon began a lifetime of keen business dealings, but never lost their religious fervor. Lewis dabbled in Unitarianism for a while, but in 1827 Arthur drew him back to orthodox Christianity.

As they made money, the brothers poured large sums into a wide range of religious and social causes. Most famously these included their brave leadership in the movement to abolish slavery and improve the lot of freedmen. (See 1833, 1841, and 1846 entries on the list of achievements in Public Policy.)

But, sparked by their Christian convictions, the Tappans were also active in many other causes. They subsidized the Sunday School movement, supplied Bibles and other resources for new churches in the West, and funded religiously infused colleges. They defended Christian Cherokees against forced removal by the federal government. Before the Civil War they shipped Bibles to slaves, and after the war they backed schools and colleges charged with increasing literacy and prosperity among African Americans. And the Tappan brothers subsidized many missionaries who brought the Gospel, education, and health care to poor countries abroad.

  • Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan and the Evangelical War Against Slavery (LSU Press, 1997)