The Early Life of Orestes A. Brownson, 1803-1829
Lynn Gordon Hughes
Orestes Augustus Brownson — religious and philosophical explorer, political theorist, pioneer of personal journalism, Transcendentalist, and champion of American Catholicism — lived a colorful and varied life.
His contemporaries likened him to a weathervane, changing direction with every puff of wind.
He preferred to think of himself as a seeker after truth, never contented with yesterday’s answers.
The roots of his varied career were sent down in his youth. He grew up, largely self-educated, in rural Vermont,
encountered social inequality first-hand in the fashionable resort town of Ballston Spa, New York, and came of age
as an apprentice journalist in the midst of controversy over the role of money and influence in politics.
After a brief stint as a schoolteacher on the outskirts of Detroit — then a frontier settlement populated largely
by French-speaking Catholics — he settled in New York as a Universalist minister and editor, only to be driven from
his pulpit by fellow Universalists who considered him an “infidel.”
Becoming Brownson is not only the story of Brownson’s formative years, but an essential key to the problem
of reconciling the many dimensions of his mature and fruitful life.