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William Ladd, the Apostle of Peace

William Ladd, Minot, ca. 1830
William Ladd, Minot, ca. 1830
Maine Historical Society

Text by Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society

William Ladd (1778-1841) lived during a period of intense reform activity in America – temperance, women's rights, abolition, prison and mental health reforms. Ladd took up the reform impulse, too.

He was interested in a number of causes of the day and saw them linked – by Christian religious principles of love and of charity. But Ladd's primary interest was the cause of peace.

A newspaper article about Ladd noted that once he took up Christianity in a serious way, in about 1816, his life became "an exemplification of applied Christianity."

He stopped drinking wine, stopped smoking or chewing tobacco, earned a license to preach, and began speaking and writing about peace and other causes.

Born in New Hampshire to a wealthy merchant family, he graduated from Harvard College at age 19 in 1797, then decided to go to sea on one of his father's ships. He became a noted sea captain.

Then, he worked for a while in Georgia before moving to Florida and operating a cotton plantation. He became concerned about the condition of slaves – his and others – and attempted unsuccessfully to institute a scheme to free them.

In 1806, Ladd returned to New England after his father's death to run the family business. He moved to Minot in 1813.

Ladd went to Brunswick in 1819 to talk with Jesse Appleton, the president of Bowdoin College, who was on his deathbed at the time. Appleton talked about the work of various peace societies. Ladd had never heard of them, but was inspired to find out about them.

He began reading publications of the Massachusetts Peace, and, in 1823, started the Minot Peace Society.

A later newspaper story about Ladd stated that regardless of whether he was preaching on temperance, slavery, or other issues, he "always ended with an impassioned exposition of the horrors of war and the blessings of universal peace. So pronounced were his views that he became known far and wide as 'Peace' Ladd."

On May 8, 1828, Ladd brought together existing peace groups into the American Peace Society. Besides being the founder, he served as the first president – a job he did not want. He also started a publication, the Harbinger of Peace.

One of the goals of the society and a personal goal of Ladd's was to initiate an International Congress and a High Court of Nations to resolve disputes between countries without their resorting to warfare.

Ladd said he wanted to spend his time on "the diffusion of light respecting the evils of war, and the best means for effecting its abolition." While the goal might sound benign, Ladd's views were not always popular.

For instance, he was outspoken in his opposition to the Bunker Hill monument, calling it a "monument to "barbarism and anti-Christian spirit."

Ladd said, "I know that patriotism, gratitude, and , above all, glory will be arrayed against me, and I shall be branded as a penurious wretch, a fanatic, and a misanthrope. Nevertheless, I refuse to follow the multitude."

He added, "Such things encourage military glory, and thereby endanger the peace of the world. Because it is as vainglorious for a nation to erect a monument of her own victories as it is for an individual to trumpet his own fame…"

He opposed both defensive and offensive war, and argued that pacifism and feminism were related. In a letter that was part of a series of exchanges with Bowdoin College President William Allen, Ladd wrote, "What war in modern times has not been called defensive by both sides?"

He also wrote to Allen, "If I had not considered war a soul-destroying sin, I never should have sacrificed so much of my life and my property for its extinction."

Ladd spoke before peace societies and other audiences and published a series of "Essays on Peace and War" in the Christian Mirror in Portland.

Ladd died while giving a speech, delivering some of it on his knees.