Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012 Page: 18
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Dr. David Mackay was a founder and dominant force in
the Dallas Freethinkers organization from 1885 until his
death in 1904.
"by endeavoring to convince his audience that
religious revivalism was produced by abnormal
brain action."13 Shoemaker Will Hunstable
concurred with Mackay, declaring that he
thought revivalism had a "tendency ... to strain
[the brain] and produce insanity."14 Another
member, identified by The Dallas Morning News
as "Give-a-Damn" Jones,15 agreed, observing
that the $600 spent by Moody and Sankey
"for the use of the rink" could have been put
to better use by spending "it on a hospital."
Jones further opined, "that if Christ were to
come into the world to-day, Moody and Sankey
would probably be the first to crucify him."16
Offended by these comments, a Dallas Morning
News editorialist remarked that he thought it
was a "rather ... daring deed for forty atheists
who have not more than skimmed the surface of
philosophy to impute insanity to four thousand
people equally as well informed, on the simple
ground that they believe in a deity."1
Although the newspaperman was correct
about the Freethinkers' minority status in their
community, the group was not unique. During
the post-Civil War era, Freethought societies
existed not only in other Texas towns and cities
but also throughout the United States. There
was even a national organization, the American
Secular Union, which had Robert Ingersoll,
the most famous non-believer in America, as its
Locally, Dr. David Mackay, who in 1886 was
fifty-four years old, seems to have been held in
the same esteem as Robert Ingersoll enjoyed
nationally. Mackay also appears to have been the
glue that kept the Dallas Freethinkers together.
Born in Scotland in 1832, Mackay was
graduated from the University of Glasgow in
1855. After serving as an assistant surgeon in
the Royal Navy during the Crimean War, he
immigrated to the United States, where he
completed four years of medical training.18
During the Civil War, Mackay served as a
field surgeon in the Union Army, attending the
wounded "in many noted battles of the war."
At "the close of the national contest," he went
to live in New Orleans, where he was Surgeon
of the Marine Hospital before being appointed
City Physician--a post he held for three years.19
During Reconstruction, Mackay and his
wife Maggie removed to Dallas. In 1871, when
Texas got its first free public schools under the
administration of Governor Edmund J. Davis,
the bearded Scotsman was appointed supervisor
of the education district that included Dallas.
During this period, Mackay later recalled, "The
people of Texas were not in a frame of mind to
embrace the free school system along with a great
many other Northern importations." Texans
were likewise "slow to adjust themselves to the
novel idea of a negro being on the same plane
as a white person, insomuch as both imbibing
learning from teachers of uniform ability and
intelligence." Consequently, wrote one observer,
"Dr. Mackay and the other supervisors of the
free public school districts of the state did not
18 LEGACIES Fall 2012
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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/m1/20/: accessed October 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.