freethinking professors. The annual conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church once again condemed those who were responsibl e for "the prostitution of the State Univetrsity to the propagation of modern infedelity," The Methodists asked the regents asked the regents "to make such changes in the faculty as will protect our children from being perverted by influence and example from the Christian faith which is so dear to us." A historian of Nebraska Methodism, writing at the turn of the century, praised the Methodist women of Lincoln for "counteracting the influence of certain infidel professors . . . and suppying the requisite moral and religious enviroment for the students." While endorsing Fairfield's administration and pledging continured support for his efforts to maintain Christian principles in the University, Methodist leaders continued to think seriously about establishing their own school in Lincoln.
By the fall of 1879 the religious dispute had reached unprecedented intensity. The election of the regents seemed to be a matter of gravest consequence, and as if the religious contention was not enough to stir voter interest, the Omaha Herald raised the cry of dirty politics. Fairfield was accused of appealing to "the organized force of the [Republican] party to uphold him against damgerous pressure." The Herald said that Fairfield was using his University position as a stepping stone to the United States Senate by forging an alliance between the broad-gaugers and the Republican party. The Chancellor, according to this line of reasoning, had encouraged the University controversy in order to pose as the champion of "true Christianity and pure Republicanism." The argument went on for weeks, culminating on October 30, 1879, with the appearance of an unsigned circular on the streets of Lincoln:
To the Voters of the State, Regardless of Politics:
Our children's welfare should be nearer and dearer to us than party ties.
Their education, moral and intellectual, is our highest duty. The question is,
shall it be entrusted to infidel, or broad guage hands? Such are seeking the
entire control of our public institutions of learning. Shall they succeed?
Next Tuesday will, in a great measure, determine. If you favor it, vote for J.
W. Gannett, for Regent of the State University. If opposed, vote for A. J.
Sawyer. Gannett is an outspoken infidel and agitator. Mr. Sawyer, while not
a religious fanatic, is an educated gentleman, of large experience, and
while he is not in favor of having any religious dogmas taught or inculcated
in our public schools or University, he is, nevertheless, in favor of a high
standard of morals, and believes that the Bible affords such a standard; and
we take pleasure in recommending him for your suffrages, to the very
responsible position for which he has been nominated. Vote for him and
you will never regret it.
Who had written the anti-Gannett broadside? Every editor and citizen had his theory. Then a second edition of the circular appeared on the streets, this one bearing the names of five leading Lincoln ministers: James Kemlo, Presbyterian; B. F. Bush, Christian; Lewis Gregory, Congregational; H. T. Davis, Methodist; and W. S. Gee, Baptist. Immediately the five pastors issued a statement in which they denied any connection with the handbill and denounced political rogues who would sink to such methods. The next rumor spread over Lincoln had it that the plot had been hatched in the editorial offices of the Lincoln Democrat as a last desperate measure to defeat Gannett, the Republican candidate. The Herald said that Fairfield, the ambitious politician, had engineered the whole thing. At any rate, the circular did not have its desired effect. Gannett was re-elected to the Board of Regents.
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