What were Eddy’s political views?
Updated February 1, 2021
According to biographer Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy “was brought up a Jacksonian Democrat, switched her sympathies to the new Republican Party at the time of the Civil War, managed to sound remarkably like William Jennings Bryan in some of her public pronouncements at the turn of the century, but in general stayed clear of partisan judgments and commitments in her later years.”1
However, to properly put Eddy’s political views in context, it’s important to understand how the political environment changed during her lifetime (1821–1910). Slavery, and its expansion into the territories of the rapidly growing United States, was an issue that divided the country for decades. After the Civil War (1861–1865), defining and defending (or demolishing) the civil rights of the freed Black Americans dominated the political arena until the late 1870s. Economic equality, the nation’s growing importance on the international scene, temperance, and women’s rights were also hotly debated during her long life.
As Peel noted, Eddy was a supporter of the Republican Party and of Abraham Lincoln; she was an abolitionist. This can be seen in the conclusion of an article she wrote, published in the Portland Daily Press in 1864: “As the exponent of government, we hope our faithful Abraham will continue to blend justice with victory, that the rebellious States may be saved for a few just and loyal ones which may be found in them. This, we think, would be genuine politeness without a bow.”2
Eddy wrote this of Lincoln and his tragic assassination in a poem titled “To the Old Year—1865”:
Chill was thy midnight day,
While Justice grasped the sword to hold her throne,
And on her altar our loved Lincoln’s own
Great willing heart did lay.3
Eddy had pictures of the former president in her home. She also owned an etching of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation before the presidential cabinet, when she lived at Pleasant View in Concord, New Hampshire, and at 400 Beacon Street in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. It’s interesting to note that Lincoln’s daughter-in-law, two of his granddaughters, and one great-granddaughter all had an interest in Christian Science.
From the beginning of the Civil War, the Republican Party controlled the presidency for the rest of Eddy’s life, with the exception of Democrat Grover Cleveland’s two terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897). Based on an 1895 letter from Eddy to her son, George Glover II, it would appear that she was not a fan of Cleveland. She wrote, “All business is suffering great depression because of the administration of our national government.”4 Here she was referring to the Panic of 1893, a severe economic crisis that was followed by an economic recession lasting through Cleveland’s departure from office. Given that the Democratic Party was, in the late nineteenth century, primarily associated with the South, it’s not entirely surprising that Eddy, a Northerner, did not support it. It’s only fair to note, however, that as stated above, she did support William Jennings Bryan—a Democrat, lived for a brief time in North Carolina, and on a number of occasions expressed a love of the South.
Two letters show Eddy’s views on the involvement of Christian Scientists in politics. Judge Septimus Hanna, a Christian Scientist who would become Editor of The Christian Science Journal and a Christian Science teacher, wrote to Eddy in a letter dated June 8, 1892. In it he explained that he had left the Republican Party and allied himself with the Prohibition Party, as it was “based upon a higher and better human principle than any other.” The Prohibition Party was dedicated to banning the consumption of alcohol. Hanna was asked to speak at the party’s state convention in Pennsylvania—and did so. But later he felt conflicted about his involvement in the process. He asked this:
Shall we as Scientists cease to vote? Shall we retire from the active duties of citizenship, and cease to interest ourselves in the affairs of our country? Can we better bring about the desired condition as well in the political world, as in other departments of mortal mind, by keeping aloof from all participation in the ordinary affairs of life, or can we better advance the cause of Truth by commingling with our fellow mortals somewhat on their plane of consciousness and activity?5
Hanna went on to ask whether the opportunity to be involved in the Prohibition Party was a gift given from God or a serpent trying to draw him away from “Truth” [God]. He closed his letter to Eddy stating, “My only purpose is to do that which is best for our grand cause.”6
Eddy was herself a longtime supporter of prohibition; it had been on the way to a temperance meeting in February 1866 that she had her life-changing fall on the ice in Lynn, Massachusetts. She responded to Hanna on June 11, 1892, noting the importance and weight of his question:
There is more present good done by being in the midst of error and neutralizing the old with the new. The old bottle of dishonesty in politicians needs emptying, and it needs your purpose poured into it, purpose to accomplish the most good for the largest number. If you are now sufficiently rooted and grounded in Christ, Truth, and all its sweet savors of patience, wisdom, grace, to bear the strain, you can do more good by occasionally working among politicians than to taking yourself away from them.7
Fifteen years later, Eddy offered another opinion about the place of Christian Scientists in politics. On April 30, 1907, her student Augusta Stetson wrote to her, saying that she had recently met President Theodore Roosevelt and was concerned with his position on peace and the military arms race taking place at that time around the world.8 She responded the next day:
Avoid being identified pro or con, in politics. If you do otherwise it will hinder our cause, remember this. Keep out of the reach of such subjects. Give all your attention to the moral and spiritual status of the race. God alone is capable of government; you are not, I am not, but God has governed through His anointed and appointed one in the way of divine Science; — not politics nor the making or breaking of national laws or institutions. He, God, alone is capable of this.9
Eddy’s most succinct statement about her political beliefs came the following year. It was published in the Boston Post:
Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy has always believed that those who are entitled to vote should do so, and she has also believed that in such matters no one should seek to dictate the actions of others.
In reply to a number of requests for an expression of her political views, she has given out this statement:—
I am asked “What are your politics?” I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself.10
- Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1977), 420, n. 24; Jacksonian Democrats supported more rights for the “common man,” that is, white males. This political philosophy was forwarded by President Andrew Jackson, who served from 1829 to 1837. Bryan was the thrice-nominated Democratic Party candidate for president, known for his populist views.
- M. M. Patterson, “Way-side Thoughts,” Portland Daily Press, 7 January 1864, 1.
- Mary M. Patterson, “To the Old Year, 1865,” Lynn Weekly Reporter, 13 January 1866.
- Mary Baker Eddy to George W. Glover, 19 February 1895, L02113.
- Septimus J. Hanna to Eddy, 8 June 1892, IC033a.13.011.
- Eddy to Hanna, 11 June 1892, L04928.
- Augusta Stetson to Eddy, 30 April 1907, IC092f.20.037.
- Eddy to Stetson, 1 May 1907, L13516.
- Mary Baker Eddy, “Politics,” The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 276.