Potter, Alonzo, Dd, Lld
Potter, Alonzo, D.D., LL.D.
bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, was born in the town of Beekman (now La Grange), Duchess County. N. Y., July 10, 1800, this parents, who belonged to the Society of Friends, were country-people of good blood, honestly devoted to the best interests of home and friends. They were remarkably well educated for their times and surroundings, and highly esteemed in the vicinity. After securing a good elementary training at the district school, Alonzo went, at twelve years of age, to an academy in Poughkeepsie, and three years after was admitted to Union College, where he at once took the highest rank in his class. Upon the completion of his college course he connected himself with the Episcopal Church, and soon after decided to prepare for holy orders in that communion. He commenced his theological studies under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Turner, but before Potter was one-and-twenty years old he reluctantly accepted the appointment of tutor in his alma mater. Within a twelve month he was promoted to the professorship of mathematics and natural philosophy, and at the age of twenty-three first appeared in print as the author of a treatise on Logarithms, which is said to have been a highly creditable scientific performance. He still continued his studies for the ministry, was admitted to deacon's orders by bishop Hobart, and was advanced to the priesthood by bishop Brownell in 1824. In the year 1826 he quitted the college to become rector of St. Paul's Church. Boston, a position in which he gained a wide influence by the simplicity and earnestness of his character, the fidelity of his ministrations, and the contagious fervor of his religious sympathies. The preaching of Dr. Potter opened a new era. With no spirit of dogmatism or controversy, he set forth the cardinal doctrines of the Church, appealing equally to the intellect and the heart, and drawing many within a new circle of religious associations. "He was always ready," says his biographer, "to aid in promoting the interests of education and sound learning. He was an advocate of scientific pursuits. He gave his influence both by precept and example to the cause of temperance. Each of these subjects he advanced with great ability, sometimes by a course of public lectures, sometimes by a written discourse, but more frequently an extempore address, in all which he was pre-eminently successful. His engagements in these various objects, with his incessant parochial duties, constituted a vast amount of labor too great to be borne for a long time. Exhaustion from this amount of work, together with other causes not under his control, compelled him to resign his rectorship in 1831. No rector was ever more deeply loved by the people of his charge, or mourned with a deeper sorrow when he left them. Taken in all its aspects, his ministry in Boston was a marked success. It gave an impetus to vital religion which is still felt and will extend to the distant future." In 1831 Dr. Potter accepted the chair of moral and intellectual philosophy in Union College, which was urged upon him as soon as it was known that he would consent to sever his pastoral relations. He at once identified himself with the college as one who looked for nothing beyond it. He applied himself to study and instruction with the cheerful earnestness which was an attribute of his nature. He was eminently an educator, calling out the power of thought and language in his pupils and exerting his own. He was distinguished for his rare power of analysis, and his peculiar terseness and felicity of expression. He had a wonderful power of impressing himself upon those with whom he had to do. He transfused himself into their nature, took possession of their minds and wills, and imbued them with his own ideas and principles of action. In 1838 he was appointed vice-president of the college, and, with the advanced age of Dr. Nott, who had become his father-in-law, Dr. Potter naturally took a leading share in the administration. He had an inborn aptitude for government, and. though more rigid and uncompromising in his measures than president Nott, understood the art of graciously blending suavity with decision. On the suspension of bishop It. U. Underdonk (q.v.) in 1845, and after a protracted balloting between the supporters of the Rev. Drs. Boowman and Tyng, Dr. Potter was elected bishop of Pennsylvania on May 23, and consecrated in the month of September of the same year. Henceforth his life is thoroughly identified with the interests of the Church he served. Says bishop Stevens:
"His idea of the office and work of a bishop was very high; regarding him not merely as an ecclesiastical officer, but as one who, from his position and opportunities and influence, had vast means, within and around him, of guiding that Church and shaping great institutions of charity or learning, molding the clergy and being a leader of the Israel of God in its attacks upon the stronghold of sin, Satan, and death. Few men cared less for the honors of the episcopate; few used the office more as the instrument of largest good, and, as a necessary consequence following the divine law of God, who has said, 'Them that honor me I will honor few men were more honored in their episcopate; not by his own Church alone, but by all denominations of Christians, and by all the good and intelligent classes of the state.' He made no show of power; it rather emanated from him than was wielded by him."—Funeral oration.
By his prudence and discretion he fused together elements of strife that had long wrangled with each other. He inaugurated great schemes of Christian benevolence and education, and carried them forward to almost complete success. He was diligent in cultivating all portions of the diocese, laboring when he should have been resting, and not sparing himself when the providential warnings of God were calling to him to pause and recruit. Although endowed with an admirable physical constitution, he was at length compelled to abstain entirely from intellectual exertion, and decided to accept an invitation from the Pacific Steamship Co. to take passage in one of their vessels for San Francisco by the way of the Strait of Magellan. He arrived in the harbor of that city on the 1st of July, 1865, but was already prostrate with a fever which he had contracted by landing on the Isthmus and passing a night at Aspinwall, and was too weak to be removed from the ship. He died July 4.
Sincerely attached to the Church in which he held a position of eminent honor and dignity, bishop Alonzo Potter was singularly free from ecclesiastical prejudice and narrowness. He was a man of no less conspicuous mark as a citizen than as a churchman. He was a friend of wholesome reforms, without the tenacious adherence to the past which dreads the progress of light in novel manifestations. He was a patriot of the purest type, a man of the antique virtue which seasoned our republic with salt in the days of her noblest development. In the darkest hours of our great national struggle he was always decided and hopeful. He took strong ground in behalf of the government, and never cherished a doubt of the justice or the success of the national cause. From his youth he took a lively interest in the welfare of the African race, and was ever ready to recognize the manhood of the Negro and his claims to advancement to a higher sphere, and he was forced to a public declaration of these principles in order to silence the pro-slavery assumptions of bishop Hopkins of Vermont. The zeal, however, which bishop Potter exhibited on these occasions for the extension of equal rights to all orders and conditions of men, was no sudden impulse of feeling, but a conviction which was formed in his early days, and strengthened by subsequent experience and reflection. His influence, which extended to a wide circle, was due, in a great measure, to his weight of character rather than to any extraordinary brilliancy of intellectual endowment. He possessed talents of a solid and masculine order. His mind was eminently discriminating, clear in its perceptions, and sound in its deductions. He had great powers of reasoning, his judgment was almost unerring, and his habits of thought remarkable for justness and accuracy. His gifts of imagination were subordinate to the intuitive and logical faculty. He never sought to produce illusions by the pomp of words, but to generate convictions by the power of argument and illustration. But it was the singular probity of his nature, the temperate candor of his judgments, and the purity and elevation of his purposes which inspired such universal confidence in his character, and gave him such marked eminence among the eminent men of his day. Bishop Potter was especially identified with the organization of the hospital of the Protestant Episcopal Church and the establishment of the Divinity School of the Church in Philadelphia. He published, The Principles of Science applied to the Domestic and Mechanic Arts (1841): — Political Economy (1841): Handbook for Readers and Students (1847): — Discourses, Charges, Addresses, etc. (1858): — Religious Philosophy (1870): — Plan of Temperance Organization for Cities: — and, with Geo. B. Emerson,
The School and Schoolmaster (1844), which was widely distributed, especially in New York and Massachusetts, and greatly aided the cause of popular education. He edited six vols. of Harper's "Family Library;" Wilkes's Christian Essays (1829); Maria James's Poems (1839), and Fifteen Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity by Clergymen of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1855, 8vo). Between 1845 and 1853 he delivered five courses of "Lowell Institute Lectures" on subjects connected with natural theology. Of these efforts bishop Stevens takes occasion to say:
"As a philosopher he would have been known with a European reputation had he published but one of the unfinished volumes which lie in the seclusion of his library. I refer to his 'Lowell Institute Lectures. These lectures showed that he had studied deeply the physiology and psychology of man; that he comprehended the varying forms of philosophy, and the profound ethics of the old masters of that science. They evinced his boldness and his -ability in grappling with the great questions that grow out of man's relations to God, to man, and to a fallen world. They were full of thoroughly digested thought, calm and logical reasoning, expressed with almost aphoristic terseness, illuminated by the most apt and forcible illustrations, and rose at times to a degree of eloquence which, even as read in the printed pages of a newspaper report, makes the mind glow and tingle with delight. These sixty lectures, ranking in the public mind as among the lest of the many good ones which that institution has called forth, were delivered without any written page, and only occasionally did he use brief notes to guide his course." See Memoirs of the Life and Services of the Rt. Rev. Alonzo Potter. D.D., LL.D., by M. A. De Wolfe Howe, D.D. (Phila. 1871, 12mo); Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Auth. s.v.; Drake, Dict. of Amer. Biog. s.v.; Church Rev. 1865, p. 499, 500. (J. H. W.)