Alonzo Ames Miner by Rev. George H. Emerson

The subject of this sketch owes his name to the grace of one of England's greatest kings. In the wars between England and France, to which belongs the renown of Cressy and Poictiers, the English sovereigns accepted such assistance in munitions and men as their subjects could proffer. Henry Bullman of Mendippe Hills, Somersetshire, was a miner. He fitted out a company of one hundred, armed with battle-axes, many of them laborers in his mines, and presented the same to Edward III. for his use in Continental conquest. In his gratitude Edward conferred upon him a coat of arms and gave him the name of "Miner." This honored subject, and the first of the name of Miner, died in 1359. From him descended Thomas Miner, who came to Boston with the elder Winthrop in 1630. Charles Miner, of the fifth generation from Thomas, was a Revolutionary soldier. At the close of the war he removed from Connecticut to New Hampshire.

A descendant of King Edward's friend, seventh in descent from Thomas, the grandson of Charles, Alonzo Ames Miner was the son of Benajah Ames and Amanda (Cary) Miner,—an only son and the second of five children. He was born at Lempster, Sullivan county, N. H., Aug. 17, 1814.

Grace Miner, granddaughter of Thomas, above named, married Samuel Grant, Jr., of Windsor, Conn., April 11, 1688. From that union descended Ulysses S. Grant, ex-President of the United States.

The subject of this sketch inherited neither fortune nor even health. Mental powers, a constitutional integrity, and a lack of the lower ambitions came as his only birthright. All else is his by conquest. Till the years of late boyhood he was an invalid. His opportunities for education in the village school were very intermittent. His feeble health and a grave uncertainty as to his ever reaching mature manhood constantly broke in upon the systematic training of the school. He filled out the school studies in the invalid's chair at home. None predicted for him length of days. Even the cautious physician made thirty years the utmost limit of life allotted him. He, however, supplemented his broken studies with academic training at Hopkinton, Lebanon, and Franklin, N. H., and at Cavendish, Vt. Beginning public life as a school-teacher at the age of sixteen, he took charge of the village school, alternating this labor with his studies at the academies. His pupilage at Cavendish was soon followed by promotion. Mr. John Garvin was the principal. He was a very zealous Calvinist. Young Miner was a no less zealous Universalist. It was at a time when sectarian lines were sharply drawn. It was then a custom with zealous Calvinists to regard Universalists, not simply as unsound in doctrine, but also as wicked in life and conduct! But Mr. Garvin saw something in the young pupil that dispelled the prejudice. He took him into partnership in the management of the school in 1834. In this position young Miner served a year.

In 1835, certain gentlemen of Unity, proposing to establish an academy at that village, saw in Mr. Miner, now near his majority, their man. He accepted their proposition. The school, named the "Scientific and Military Academy," was for both sexes, with military training for boys. Four years of his principalship were successful beyond expectation. In some of the terms the number of scholars reached one hundred and fifty. August 24, 1836, he was married to Maria S. Perley of Lempster, who entered the school as preceptress. She has ever been his faithful and devoted helpmeet.

Not a few of those who have strong sympathy with Dr. Miner's theological belief are persuaded that there was something providential in his call to the ministry of the Universalist church,—the service he has rendered that body being so great, in several regards so exceptional. He does not appear to have been converted to Universalism. He literally was a "born Universalist." While anxious friends assigned but a narrow limit to so frail a constitution, the invalid felt that his place was to be in the ministry of the Universalist church. Of this he made no secret. It became a matter of course that on reaching maturity he would become a preacher of the faith he so deeply cherished.

The success of the Unity school might have fixed another in the profession of teaching. It had no weight in diverting Mr. Miner from what he deemed a higher call. Several of his patrons solicited him to begin his ministry in Unity in connection with his school duties. He complied. In February, 1838, he preached his first sermon in Chester, Vt. In the following May he began a regular ministry, preaching half of the time in Unity, and devoting the other half to a circuit which included about twenty of the neighboring villages. After six months of this twofold labor he resigned his principalship; but he was persuaded to remain yet another year,—all the time filling his appointments on Sunday. At the New Hampshire convention of Universalists, held at Nashua, June, 1839, he was ordained to the sacred office. In the November succeeding he was called to the pastorate of the Universalist church at Methuen, Mass. Such was the success of his new labors that a reputation for very exceptional gifts as an orator, logician, and preacher, spread. It was seen that his call to a larger and more exacting field of duty was but a question of early time.

In the city of Lowell, the Rev. Abel C. Thomas had met with extraordinary success as pastor of the Second Universalist church. After a pastorate of little less than three years he resigned to accept a call to Brooklyn, N. Y. Certain of his parishioners said to him, in the hearing of the writer of this sketch, that his withdrawal would be a calamity to the Lowell parish. Grateful for this tribute he replied: "Put into the pulpit the man I will name, and I pledge you that the church shall go on prospering and to prosper." There was a pause and all ears were both curious and anxious. Mr. Thomas added: "That man is A. A. Miner." A unanimous call of the committee and of the congregation was extended. On the first Sunday of July 1842, the Rev. A. A. Miner preached his introductory sermon as pastor of the Lowell Second Universalist parish. The prediction of Mr. Thomas proved true. In a pastorate of six years Mr. Miner greatly strengthened, materially and spiritually, the church to which he ministered. In cordial co-operation with the pastor of the First Universalist church,—at first Rev. Thomas B. Thayer, and afterwards Rev. E. G. Brooks,—he labored with eminent success. The citizens soon discovered that the new minister was of "many-sided talents." Then began that drain upon his strength, branching off, according to his specialties, into as many channels, whereby he has been, perhaps, as thoroughly and as variously "utilized" as any man of this period. Then began trusts, official positions on school boards, charity boards, and every other conceivable board, the faithful performance of any one of which would have made an average reputation,—all discharged by one person, and he never having a thoroughly healthy day, presents simply a marvel.

During an early year of his Lowell ministry, a crisis came in the career of the Universalist church; and Lowell happened to be its turning point. There was a Universalist paper published at Lowell, the Star of Bethlehem. It was edited by the Universalist pastors. A third parish had been founded, and the Rev. H. G. Smith became its pastor. He was associated with Messrs. Miner and Brooks in the management of the paper, each contributing over his own signature. About the year 1842 the Unitarian ministry was suddenly rent by one of its ministers, in ability, magnetism, and rhetorical skill without a peer among his brethren,—the Rev. Theodore Parker. He had adopted German rationalism in regard to the Bible and Christianity, and by the boldness of his utterances and the felicity of his manner was rapidly forming that radical wing which to-day appears to dominate in the Unitarian body. Such a leading was not likely to be restricted to any one sect. Was it to enter and change the character of the Universalist movement? The Rev. Mr. Smith showed that he was thoroughly imbued with the new doctrine; and he was rapidly making converts among the younger members of his ministerial fraternity. Rev. Messrs. Miner and Brooks, fully persuaded that the new idea was a false one, thought that they foresaw that its free acceptance by the Universalist ministry and people would at an early day endanger the stability of their church. They met the issue without reserve and with no regard to consequences personal to themselves. In the pulpit and in the paper they vigorously protested against the course of Mr. Smith. An anxious discussion followed, and it spread. It was taken into the ecclesiastical body, the Boston Association, where a resolution deprecating and protesting against the "deistical innovation" was passed by a strong majority. This was in 1847. A few years later the writer of this inquired of the Rev. Thomas Whittemore in regard to that rationalistic excitement. His answer was, "Miner and Brooks took it in hand at Lowell and the Association killed it." This episode apparently weakened the Universalist cause in Lowell. The writer is one of the large number who have no doubt that the promptness and thoroughness of the Lowell pastors averted a calamity.

May 1, 1848, Mr. Miner was called to the pastorate of the School-street church, Boston. Having the entire confidence of his renowned senior, the Rev. Hosea Ballou, he rapidly worked disaffection out of the parish, thoroughly organized it, got the more than confidence of its leading members; and he has carried it forward to the present day with a degree of high success seldom paralleled in any denomination. In the early part of the year 1851 his people decided to enlarge the edifice. The closing of services while the reconstruction was in progress gave Mr. Miner an opportunity to recruit his wasted strength by European travel. In June, 1852, Rev. Hosea Ballou died full of honors. Another call upon his administrative ability as president of Tufts College led to the settlement of associate pastors. But, apart from these interludes, Dr. Miner has been the sole pastor since the death of Mr. Ballou.

In the movement to found Tufts College, of the very small number of devoted friends, Dr. Miner has not occupied a second place. Subscribing himself liberally, a few of his parishioners felt the contagion of example and made generous pledges. The Rev. Otis A. Skinner, D. D., was the first agent for collecting funds, and with heroic perseverance in this pioneer work he raised the larger part of $100,000,—the minimum upon which the work could begin. This, however, was but a beginning. The assets to-day are not far from one million dollars. The influence of Dr. Miner in reaching this result has been pre-eminent. The corner-stone was laid in 1853. Mr. Miner giving the address. On the death of its first president, Rev. Hosea Ballou, 2d, D. D., Mr. Miner was constrained to accept the presidency. He was inaugurated, July 9, 1862. Previous to this, the principal trust, he had served the college as trustee, secretary, and treasurer. It was largely by his devices that the money was raised to meet the current expenses during the infancy and the poverty of the institution.

In 1863 Harvard College conferred upon him the honorary S. T. D. He had received the honorary A. M. from Tufts in 1861; and that of LL. D. was conferred by Tufts in 1875. His presidency continued till 1875, at which date he acceded to the urgent call of his parish, and resigned the presidency of the college and took the sole pastorate of his church, which, in 1872, had dedicated the large and costly temple at the corner of Columbus avenue and Clarendon street, in which it has worshiped from that date to the present. Again his labor was effective. Out of the pulpit as well as in it, giving his heart and energy to its interests, the old parish entered upon a new era of prosperity. A pastor does well who holds to himself one generation. Dr. Miner now has under his influence a third generation, and the "spell" is not weakened. In the period of his pastorates, he has conducted more than one thousand eight hundred funeral services, and solemnized more than two thousand five hundred weddings.

On removing to Boston, in 1848, Mr. Miner found himself in the center of new calls upon his "many-sided" talents. He was seen to be financier, organizer, popular leader, platform orator. Thence "missions" multiplied and increased. The limits of this sketch permit but the baldest statement of his labors, all of which he has rendered with singular skill. Of course he was put upon the school board of the city. Then the state made demands, and he is now serving a second term of eight years on the state board of education. At a dinner given in his honor on occasion of his departure for a short period to California, the then Gov. Washburn bore testimony to the inventiveness and far-reaching wisdom with which he was aiding to advance the educational interests of the commonwealth. He has been six years chairman of the board of visitors of the state normal art school. He has served as one of the overseers of Harvard College. He is one of the "hundred orators," having delivered the Fourth of July oration in Boston in 1855. Add to such duties constant lecturing before lyceums, temperance meetings, and peace societies, his frequent addresses at academic commencements, and membership of various associations which we have not space to mention,—how so many offices can be discharged, and all with acknowledged fidelity, is a question that perplexes. In the way of duty he has made enemies. But neither friends nor foes ever accused him of seeking any of these high responsibilities. In every instance the position sought the man. His pre-eminent gift has seemed to the writer to consist in speaking to a point and with a view to a particular effect. When he appeared before the legislative committee to plead for a state grant to Tufts College, the committee unanimously reported in favor,—one of the members adding that the eloquence with which the claim had been urged had convinced the committee that it was a claim. The late Samuel Burbank of Lowell gave the writer this incident: Dr. Miner had occasion to address a meeting of stockholders of an insurance company whose affairs had got into a bad way. When he was through, the late Samuel Lawrence, turning to Mr. Burbank, said: "That is the Universalist minister,—well, if he will abandon his pulpit he may have charge of any of our manufactories at any salary he may ask."

Like his faith, Dr. Miner's interest in the temperance reform is a "born conviction." From his youth to his present hour, he has never wavered in his belief that the drinking curse is the giant evil. In the pulpit, the lyceum, the caucus, on the platform, he has labored to create and enforce law to resist the ever threatening danger. In politics he makes it the chief state issue, and in 1878 was the candidate of the Prohibition party for governor of Massachusetts. In 1867 he led before the legislative committee the protest against the repeal of the prohibitory law, in opposition to the efforts of Gov. Andrew. His speech on that occasion has become an arsenal of facts pertaining to the ethics and the practicability of the statute. Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, D. D., said to the writer of this: "Your Dr. Miner has made a great speech,—a very great one: it will never be answered." For ten years he has been the president of the Temperance Alliance. In token of his great service before the legislature, the Alliance presented him a costly Dore Bible. He also had another "token" in the shape of threatened violence and the defacement of his house. This was meant as dishonor. Dishonor? Could the apostle articulate his thought, for what titles Jerusalem could have conferred would he exchange the "forty stripes save one?"

But in all these varied toils, his church and faith have had the uppermost place. By instinct and habit an extemporaneous speaker, the one field he has least worked is that of literature with the pen. An occasional article for the church periodicals and a Sunday-school manual have at times occupied him. But most of his published works were spoken, and taken down by reporters. He is one of some half-dozen Boston preachers who are favorites with the reporters of the Boston dailies. "Old Forts Taken," his latest publication, was the rhetoric of his "off hand" speaking, save as the transcript of the reporter may have been revised. But, whether laboring by speech or pen, he has never permitted any duty or position to hold other than a second place beside his duties to the church of his love.

In the movement which has transformed the once scattered societies of his denomination into a compact, organized, and working church, no one has rendered a more effective service. Of its first Home Mission he is literally the pioneer. No one more faithfully represents the controversial and aggressive spirit of the doctrines of his Church; but no one has done more to make that church effective for practical righteousness and Christian worship. He has now reached the decline, not of his powers, nor of his zeal, nor of his work, but only of his years. May the evening of his days be as serene and pleasant as his youth and maturity have been industrious, faithful, and true.