Traverse City Record-Eagle

Record-Eagle 150th Anniversary

April 3, 2009

Editorial reflects nations anger

Merritt Bates retired from his pulpit in 1862, during the second year of the Civil War, but the twin brother of Grand Traverse Herald founder Morgan Bates never gave up his strong anti-slavery views.

He maintained them just as stoutly, even after he moved to northern Michigan to spend his last years of life as a Whitewater Township pioneer farmer.

His editorial on the Lincoln assassination reveals more than his strong sentiments. It reflects the national furor over slavery that by the 1830s and 1840s forged abolition and pro-slavery movements into powerful political forces.

The editorial also sheds light on the paper's strong anti-Ku Klux Klan position in the latter half of the 1800s. It explains why his son, Thomas T. Bates, who owned and published the Grand Traverse Herald from 1876-1912, tracked and attacked lynchings nationwide in the early 1900s, and wrote strong editorials calling for an end to violence against blacks.

Descriptions of Merritt Bates flicker and flare throughout memoirs and biographies from that era. Friends called him ardent, dauntless, fervent.

Indeed, he was "a mild, kind, Christian minister, yet a firm and decided abolitionist," Catherine Brown observed in an 1849 biography of her husband, the Rev. Abel Brown, also a staunch abolitionist. All three had faced down an angry, rioting crowd at an anti-slavery gathering in Troy, N.Y., in the 1840s.

"Rev. Merritt Bates ... spoke about 10 minutes and commenced showing the people their political connection with slavery," Mrs. Brown wrote. "That was too much for the politicians to bear, and immediately, a dreadful howl was heard from about 20 persons who were there for that purpose.

"There was no effort made by the police officers to quell the rioting, although the mob threatened to tar and feather the speakers."

His enemies called Bates rabid. Thomas Lamont, one of his young Methodist congregation members in the mid-1800s, was a little kinder a half-century later when he remembered Bates as "what we called then an uncompromising anti-slavery 'crank.'"

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