Conviction and Courage: Father and Son
The Father, Robert L. Stanton (1810-1885)
Why Robert L. Stanton left Lane Seminary in 1834 without his degree in theology remains a mystery. His calling, however, remains clear. A firm (though conservative) abolitionist, he traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers into the Deep South to address the problem of slavery as a man of the church, first in New Orleans and then in Mississippi. While a pastor in Woodville, Mississippi, he married a widow, Anna Maria Stone Blackford, from Washington, D.C., and became a stepfather to her son, Frank. With his new family, Robert returned to New Orleans in 1843 to serve as a missionary among whites and blacks and to form the Second Presbyterian Church ("Reminiscences"). Robert's sermons in New Orleans consistently warned of the destruction that lay ahead for a society that refused to acknowledge its sins (Reilly 44). In 1846, Robert and Anna had one son of their own, Robert Brewster (Bob) Stanton.
In the winter of 1851, Robert L. Stanton accepted the presidency of Oakland College in southwestern Mississippi. This was a brave act. The founder and first president of Oakland, Jeremiah Chamberlain, who had been loved and respected there for twenty years, was brutally murdered in front of his own home on the Oakland campus by "a community resident as a result of a dispute over slavery" (Posey 6). Chamberlain, like Stanton, was anti-slavery and pro-Union. Stanton's inaugural address extolled the value of a classics-based liberal education to enlighten the mind. At this time, Stanton received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton University.
In 1854, after working to improve finances and morale at Oakland College, the Rev. Robert L. Stanton, D.D. resolved to take his family North. They lived for a year with his wife's family in Washington, while he preached in Baltimore. In 1855, he accepted a call to pastor the First Presbyterian Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. His son Bob, tutored at home until then, entered school for the first time in Chillicothe.
The Stanton family was happy in that Ohio town, but when the Civil War began, Bob and his mother returned to Washington and his father again went South. The Rev. Robert L. Stanton, D.D. joined the faculty of Danville Theological Seminary on the campus of Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. There, he had a widely disseminated anti-slavery and pro-Union voice in the Danville Quarterly Review, to which he contributed as a writer and editor. There, he wrote his most important book, The Church and the Rebellion, in which he condemned the Southern clergy's disastrous role in fomenting popular support for secession.
In these perilous times, Robert L. Stanton traveled frequently to Washington. He and his son Bob stood together to hear Lincoln's first inaugural address. Stanton became a friend to the President. Bob, too young to enlist in the Union Army, served as a volunteer nurse in Army hospitals in Washington and saw Mrs. Lincoln visiting the wounded. On more than one occasion, Bob accompanied his father on visits to President Lincoln's office. Later in life, Bob published his impressions of Lincoln. He wrote of his sorrow at the assassination and of his walking behind the hearse that took Lincoln's body from the house where he died to the White House.
The year 1866 was momentous for Robert L. Stanton and his family. He was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the highest office in that church. After successfully executing his duties as Moderator in St. Louis, he resigned from the Danville Theological Seminary to become president of Miami University.
The Stanton family arrived in Oxford in September 1866. Finding no president's house at the university, Robert L. Stanton decided to build one at his own expense and in doing so took on heavy debt. He bought six acres immediately south of the campus on which to construct an appropriate dwelling, one that would graciously welcome students and visitors, similar to the president's house at Oakland College. Completed in 1868, Robert Stanton's beautiful brick home still stands on the corner of Spring and Oak Streets.
Stanton had high hopes for Miami University, but he was unable to save it from post-Civil War financial difficulties. He resigned in 1871. Among his deep disappointments was that his "magnificent dwelling," the President's House, seemed destined for the auction block and not for the university. Miami closed in 1873 and did not reopen until 1885. After leaving Oxford, the Rev. Robert L. Stanton, D. D., worked as a journalist and editor in New York and Cincinnati. He remained an influential voice in church publications and deliberations until his death in 1885 while on a voyage to England. He was buried at sea.