Isaac Newton Arnold

Isaac Newton Arnold and Hartwick Seminary

Born in 1815 in Hartwick, New York, Isaac Newton Arnold was a student at Hartwick Seminary in 1831-1832, where he joined the Philophronean Society, whose members debated important social and political questions of their day. In 1832, the Philophroneans debated whether the immediate abolition of slavery would be beneficial to the United States. In the future, Arnold would be a strong and ultimately successful advocate for abolition, revisiting the debate the Philophroneans had on a much larger stage, as a member of the House of Representatives.

In 1836, Arnold moved to Illinois and studied law, and through his practice became a friend and associate of Abraham Lincoln. He served as a Republican congressman of Illinois from 1861 to 1865. In 1864, he introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, which was adopted by the House in February of that year, calling for a constitutional amendment ending slavery throughout the United States. The resolution stated that "the Constitution should be amended, as to abolish slavery in the United States, wherever it now exists, and to prohibit its existence in every part thereof, forever."

Thirty-two years after the Philophronean’s had debated the question of immediate the abolition of slavery, Arnold raised the issue before the House of Representatives with great urgency and eloquence:

"You can have no permanent peace while slavery lives ..... Your contest with it is to the death. Your implacable enemy now reels and staggers. Strike the decisive blow. You could not if you would, and you ought not if you could, make terms of compromise with slavery."

(Excerpted from "The Power, Duty, and Necessity of Destroying Slavery in the Rebel States" Speech of Hon. Isaac Newton Arnold of Illinois, delivered in the House of Representatives, January 6, 1864.)

Arnold's resolution was the first step taken by a member of Congress towards the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Arnold retired from public life after serving two terms in Congress, and in 1867, he wrote the History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery. In 1880, he completed his lengthy Life of Benedict Arnold: His Patriotism and His Treason. He died in 1884.

The following images are of pages from the Philophronean Society Minutes, which are in the collections at the Paul F. Cooper, Jr. Archives, at Hartwick College, Oneonta NY. These pages are among the earliest surviving documentation of Isaac Newton Arnold's life.

Page from the minutes of the Philophronean Society in which a debate regarding the immediate abolition of slavery was recorded.

While a member of the Philophronean Society, Arnold, like many other members, was charged an overdue fine for keeping a book by John Stuart Mill "over time".

In this page from the Philophronean Society minutes for June 24, 1831, Isaac Newton Arnold is listed as one of the officers of the Society.

Paul F. Cooper, Jr. Archives, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY.