Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012 Page: 17
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val I a - XRas.
Terms. 81.00 per Year.
JOHN R. SPENCER, Publisher.
Devoted to the rise of Reason and the down-
fall of Superstition.
A limited space devoted to select advertlse-
ments. The extensive circulation attained
by THe Aexosro renders It especially worthy
the attention of advertisers.
Dallas printer John Spencer began publishing The Agnostic in 1879.
Afterward, a lively discussion ensued, highlighted
by an impassioned plea on behalf of atheism by
a young man named Rufus Edmonds and an
attempt by Dr. Carl Murray, who admitted he
was a Christian-albeit a liberal one-to rebut
Mackay's thesis. An unnamed "stranger" also had
a brief exchange of words with Mackay when the
doctor declared there "is no Creator." Observing
this heated dialogue, the News reporter concluded
that he was "satisfied from what he heard and
saw that the Spiritualists and the Atheists will not
mix." In "some of the membership of the order,"
he remarked, "the religious principles seemed
deeply planted, while others became as inflamed
at the mention of a Creator as the Comanches at
a war dance."6
At their second meeting, which was held on
Sunday,January 10,1886, at the Knights of Labor
Hall,' the Freethinkers signified their agreement
to form a "permanent organization" by electing
officers. J. C. Hart was chosen to serve as
President. Rufus Edmonds, the same outspoken
atheist who had held forth at the first meeting,
was elected Vice-President. Barber and former
La Reunion colonist George Cretien was elected
Secretary-Treasurer. "President Hart," reported
The Dallas Morning News, "says the organization
will soon include a membership of one hundred,
of whom about seventy-five will be atheists."8
The group's precise name or title is uncertain. In
most newspaper reports of the time, they were
simply called "The Dallas Freethinkers" or the
"Dallas Secular Society." Occasionally, the title
"Dallas Secular Union" was used.9
Whatever the group's actual title, none of
the Freethinkers' initial meetings seem to have
caused their fellow citizens much uneasiness. In
all likelihood, most people were either unaware of
these gatherings or at worst, dismissed the group
as a harmless bunch of cranks. One reporter
even complimented the "infidels," saying, "It
is certain that the order has more than average
intelligence."10 This seemingly tolerant attitude is
remarkable in light of the treatment that at least
one Texas Freethinker received. On the night
of October 7, 1877, some of Levi J. Russell's
less-than-tolerant Baptist neighbors took the
president of the Association of Freethinkers of
Bell County "from his bed to the woods" and
after calling on God to help them end his "career
of infidelity," laid "a hundred lashes on his bare
back," although ironically they acknowledged
before doing so that Russell was "an honest man
and a good physician."11 If there was anyone in
Dallas who felt that the Freethinkers in their
city might likewise deserve such treatment, they
seem to have restrained themselves.
Such restraint was almost certainly tested
however, after the Freethinkers held a meeting
on March 7, 1886, during which they not only
poured scorn on the then-popular traveling
evangelists Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, who
for the past two days had been holding a series
of religious revivals at the Elm Street Skating
Rink, but also questioned the good sense of the
thousands of their fellow Dallasites who attended
Dr. Mackay opened the March 7 meeting
Fall 2012 LEGACIES 17
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012, periodical, Autumn 2012; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth308998/m1/19/: accessed October 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.