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Chapter VI “The American Unitarian Association”
by George Willis Cooke
in Unitarianism in America
(American Unitarian Association, 1902), pp. 124-54
Cooke’s history ends in 1900, the 75th anniversary of the American Unitarian Association. While dated, the chapters have a completeness and an immediacy of event that later, more objective histories, do not carry.
The chapter on the AUA covers the original development of a wider association among Unitarians and this serves as an underpinning to a consideration of polity issues.
The ambivalent nature of William Ellery Channing on the formation of the AUA is notable, particularly because of the cryptic nature of Channing’s remarks on the matter. Beyond all personal disinclination to become involved, could it be that Channing feared any ecclesiastical organization? Do such attitudes continue today and if so, how are they made manifest?
Usually historians agree that the AUA was a failure until 1865. Conrad Wright in Walking Together notes the tremendous growth in the number of Unitarian churches between 1825 and 1840. Cooke tells of many efforts at mission. Was Unitarian growth due to denominational efforts or mainly the result of New England Unitarians moving elsewhere? (See Ron Clark, “Our Church, As Seen by Religious Geography”.)
The text of “The American Unitarian Organization” is available online here.