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Fellowship

“A Somewhat Noted Controversialist, of Baltimore”: The Reform Career of the Reverend Andrew B. Cross, 1810-1889

Andrew Boyd Cross was a strongly polarizing figure in the divisive public issues confronting the United States, the state of Maryland, and the city of Baltimore in the nineteenth century. Following his death in 1889, his alma mater Princeton Theological Seminary eulogized Cross in its annual alumni report:

“He was a man of decided character, of clear and strong convictions, which he was ever ready to maintain in the face of any opposition. He was scrupulously faithful to every obligation; careful of the welfare of his family; yet ever ready, with a tender heart, at the cost of great self-denial, to help and comfort the poor and distressed; a man of strong faith, high resolves, and abundant toil; a decided friend of Negro education, and many years a Trustee of Lincoln University.”(1)

Unlike their Presbyterian brethren in New Jersey, Catholics in Maryland held a decidedly different view of the character and convictions of Andrew B. Cross. For example, at the height of Cross’s anti-convent petition campaign in 1856, The Metropolitan, the monthly magazine published under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, editorialized:

“We knew that there were rancor and bitterness in the minds of a few, quite sufficient to lead them to speak against Catholics, and even to traduce their institutions, but we scarcely believed that there was in our midst a single individual with hardihood and effrontery enough to become the bearer of a petition to the Legislature of our State, invoking that body to violate the sacred rights of its citizens, and invade the home of defenseless females.”(2)

My on-going project for the Lord Baltimore Fellowship investigates the life and writings of the antebellum reformer and anti-Catholic agitator, the Reverend Andrew B. Cross.  This report represents my preliminary efforts to outline the key events of his life, to identify the major signposts in his long reform career, and to formulate relevant research questions to understand this interesting, civically-active, nineteenth-century Marylander.

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The Constitution and Address of the Baltimore Temperance Society, cover, 1850, MdHS.

Andrew B. Cross was an ordained Old School Presbyterian minister from Baltimore whose public life comprised many overlapping careers—church pastor, home missionary, journal editor, public lecturer, and pamphleteer. He used his pen to promote numerous antebellum causes, including the temperance, colonization, public school, and nativist movements. Cross became a charter member of the Baltimore Temperance Society in 1829 when he was just an eighteen-year-old college student. From the 1830s through the 1860s, the time period when he was most active and prolific, he railed against various social “sins” that he believed endangered American society, whether those sins were drink, slavery, ignorance, Popery, or secession. During the Civil War, Cross strongly supported the Union cause and served as a member of the Christian Commission which provided medical, social and religious services to Union soldiers. In the Reconstruction era, he became a promoter of higher education for African Americans and for women, connecting the latter concern with his long-standing opposition to the Catholic Church.  Until his death in 1889, Cross remained an active member of both the Presbyterian synod in Maryland and of the Maryland State Temperance Alliance.

Despite the fact that Cross had his finger in many reform pies for most of his long adult life, no biography of him has been published. His multifaceted career permits reassessing the classic interpretations about the roots of reform that are drawn from a focus on evangelicals in the North.  As the “Middle Ground” between the North and South, study of reform in Maryland offers the opportunity to revisit the historiography about antebellum reform by examining a region that is less featured in the literature to see how its example may challenge or complicate standard interpretations.  Some questions this project seeks to answer are: What motivated Cross to become an activist?  How did his religious beliefs shape his reform agenda?

For example, although a Presbyterian clergyman like Rev. Charles G. Finney, Cross was at odds on a number of theological issues with that famous preacher whose revivalism in the “Burned-Over District” of Western New York State spurred his converts to some of the more radical reform movements of the era. In contrast, the reform goals supported by Cross tended to be more conservative in its social purpose, especially on matters of race and gender. What were the connections between Cross’s involvement with temperance, colonization, public education and his anti-Catholicism?  Why was the state of Maryland more receptive to reform activity than most other slave states? In answering such questions, my goal is to examine Cross’s life and career as a case study of a moral and social reformer in the Upper South. Like many, perhaps most, antebellum reformers, Cross usually failed to achieve his ultimate goals.  What interests me about Cross is less his lasting accomplishments as a reformer than his seeming ubiquity in local reform circles. From his base in Maryland, he participated in and commented on many of the most divisive cultural issues confronting Americans in the antebellum and Civil War eras.

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Presbyterian Pioneers. A Settlement, cover, Andrew Cross, 1886, MdHS.

Although Cross left a large collection of public writings, there is no extant cache of personal papers and correspondence, at least not one that I have discovered.  Neither are there any extant issues of the Maryland Temperance Herald, the monthly organ of the Maryland State Temperance Society, for the years (1845-1849) that Cross served as both the editor of the magazine and the Corresponding Secretary and Agent of the society.  Such gaps in the record not only make examination of the private man problematic but also leave important aspects of his public life sketchy, and may explain why no biographical study of him has yet appeared.

In March 1855, The Washington Star described Cross succinctly as a “somewhat noted controversialist, of Baltimore.”(3) This is an accurate characterization of him on all counts. First, Andrew Cross was a native of Baltimore and lived nearly all of his life in the city and surrounding county. He was born on November 12, 1810, to William Stuart, a prominent lumber merchant of the city, and Jane (Boyd) Cross. After attending school in Nottingham, Maryland, for a year, Cross completed his primary education at Dr. Craig’s Academy in Baltimore.  A key turning point in his life occurred in May 1827, when Cross was sixteen and attended a religious revival held by the Rev. John Breckinridge, which led to Cross becoming a member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. That fall, after briefly enrolling at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he entered the College of New Jersey in Princeton. Following graduation in the spring of 1831, Cross entered the Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of that year. In fall 1833 a year before graduation, Cross left seminary for unknown reasons. Nevertheless, in January, 1834, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Baltimore, and ordained to the ministry in August, 1837. Cross then accepted a call to Bethel Church, Harford County, where he served as pastor until June 1845. After leaving Bethel, Cross devoted himself to missionary work, preaching widely and establishing new churches in the Baltimore area.

Second, Cross began his career as a “controversialist” at age twenty-four in January 1835, with publication of the first issue of The Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine, a monthly journal he co-edited with the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge for the next seven year.  The title of the periodical is somewhat misleading because its actual purpose was to monitor the progress of “Romanism” in Protestant America in general and to report on “the Papal Controversy in Baltimore” in particular, a cause to which Cross would be dedicated for the rest of his life.(4) In 1853, for example, Cross would be a leader in the “Friends of the Schools,” an ad hoc committee of local Protestant clergymen formed in opposition to the Kerney Bill which sought tax money for Catholic schools in the state. Most notoriously, he would single-handedly galvanize a state-wide grass-roots petition campaign for government inspection and regulation of Roman Catholic convents, or “priests prisons for women,” a crusade he first championed two decades before in the Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine.(5)

Third, it is also fair to call Cross a “somewhat noted” public figure, for it must be admitted that he never became national personality like some of his better-known colleagues in the Presbyterian ministry.  For example, Cross never gained the renown or influence within the church or in the larger society as did John and Robert Breckinridge, his mentors in theology and in journalism, respectively. Nor did Cross attain the national notoriety of two of his former classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary: the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy, an anti-Catholic and anti-slavery editor martyred in Illinois; or the Rev. Nathan L. Rice, an anti-Catholic editor and colonizationist from Kentucky, who was called to the pulpit of the prestigious Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City

If Cross was less known nationally, however, that does not mean he lacks historical significance.  He was a ubiquitous figure in church and reform circles in Maryland and the District of Columbia from the 1830s through the 1860s, and he remained active in those fields for two decades thereafter.  The causes he championed at the state and local level reflected and sometimes helped shape developments in the national level.  Rather than a professional reformer, Cross was more an “amateur,” in the best nineteenth-century sense of that term. For Cross his reform activity was more an avocation, an outgrowth of his religious commitment and ministry, rather than a vocation in itself. His reform activities were coupled with but also subordinate to his primary duties as a pastor and a missionary. In this way, Cross’s career as a “part-time” reformer was perhaps more typical of his fellow civic-minded clergymen rather than that of full-time reformers like the radical abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

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Woman – Man’s Help-Meet, cover, Andrew Cross, 1867, MdHS.

Surprisingly, for one otherwise so prolific Cross never produced a full-length book. Instead, he favored the pamphlet form, expressing his strongly held opinions on public questions in over a dozen, usually lengthy, publications, Cross published his earliest known pamphlet in 1838 when he was twenty-seven years old, and his last one appeared nearly a half century later when he was seventy-five. Most of them began as sermons delivered in various churches or public halls in the Chesapeake region, and copies of all but two of them can be found in the Maryland Historical Society Library.

Ever quick to seize upon some current event—be it publication of Maria Monk’s notorious Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery at Montreal (1836), the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, or the Battle of Gettysburg (1863)—Cross sought to instruct his readers on the larger social, political, historical, and especially, theological, truths it demonstrated.  Many adjectives might justly describe his prose style, especially when he targeted the Roman Catholic Church—erudite and pedantic, self-righteous and humorless; extreme and outrageous, but seldom dull. In his roles as a magazine editor and a pamphleteer, he took full advantage of the new technology of the communications revolution of his own time to spread his message.

Were he were alive today, I have no doubt that Andrew B. Cross would embrace twenty-first-century social media to the same end. He would be an inveterate blogger on the Internet, and probably a frequent contributor to the Maryland Historical Society’s Underbelly. I wish to express my gratitude to the entire staff of the Maryland Historical Society for their assistance during my time on the premises. Special thanks in this regard go to Damon Talbot, Special Collections Archivist, and to Pat Anderson, Director of Publications & Library Services. (Joseph G. Mannard, Lord Baltimore Fellow, 2014)

Dr. Joseph Mannard is a Professor in the History Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is a specialist in 19th-century U.S. social history, with strong interests in the antebellum reform period and in religious history. His research deals with the lives of Roman Catholic nuns in the 19th century, a topic that illuminates the histories of charitable work, education, immigration, and women.


Sources and Further Reading:
(1) Necrological Reports and Annual Proceedings of the Alumni Association of Princeton (Theological Seminary) Vol. 11 1890-1899, By a Committee of the Association (Princeton, N J: C. S. Robinson & Co., 1899), 27-28.
(2)  “Our Legislature and the Convent Petition,” The Metropolitan [Baltimore] 4 (March 1856): 135-36.
(3) “Spirit of the Morning Press,” Washington Evening Star, March 12, 1855.
(4) “The Papal Controversy and Papal Influence in Baltimore,” Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine I (February1835): 49-50; The editors explained the purpose of their journal : “We intend, that every number shall contain an original sermon; and one or more, leading articles on the Papal controversy. For the rest, we feel free, and ask our correspondents to use perfect liberty, in drawing from the entire field embraced in the title of our paper,” “Notice,” Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine I (February1835): 64.
(5) Andrew B. Cross, Priests’ Prisons for Women: or, a Consideration of the Question, Whether Unmarried Foreign Priests Ought to Be Permitted to Erect Prisons … in Twelve Letters to T. Parkin Scott, Esq. (Baltimore: Sherwood & Co., 1854).
Andrew B. Cross, Young Women in Convents or Priests’ Prisons to Be Protected by Law, or the Prisons to Be Broken Up. A Lecture Delivered at the Maryland Institute (Baltimore: Sherwood & Co., 1856).

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