Dean, Paul

Paul DeanPaul Dean (March 28, 1783-October 1, 1860) was a prominent Universalist evangelist and minister in the early 19th century, a rival of Hosea Ballou, a leader of the Restorationists, and the only Universalist preacher of his generation to remain a trinitarian. He was long an active Freemason and held some of the highest Masonic offices in the country.

Born in Barnard, Vermont, Paul was the eldest son of Seth and Molly (Bicknell) Dean. As a young man Seth had become a Universalist in his home town, Hardwick, Massachusetts and influenced many others in his family, including his wife, to convert as well. His children were brought up in the faith. The Deans claimed membership going back to 1792 in the Universalist society in nearby Woodstock, Vermont. In 1802 Seth and others founded the Universalist society in Barnard and shortly afterwards called Hosea Ballou to be their minister.

1805 was a year of significant beginnings for young Paul Dean. In January he was initiated into the Mason’s Center Lodge in Rutland, Vermont. In June he married Frances Dennison with whom he had 8 children, 4 of whom lived to adulthood. In September the Universalist General Convention accepted him into fellowship. He was ordained in 1806 at the meeting of the Convention in Hoosick, New York.

Dean lived in Montpelier, Vermont, 1805-10, and was an itinerant preacher in central Vermont and New Hampshire. In this period Dean became acquainted with William Farwell of Barre, Vermont, an experienced Universalist preacher from whom he learned to debate non-Universalists in a conciliatory, not confrontational, way. In 1810 Dean moved to New Hartford (later Utica), New York to join Nathaniel Stacy in evangelizing central New York State. Stacy called Dean “the most successful preacher we ever had among us.” A polished speaker and a skilled controversialist, Dean successfully debated Methodist and Presbyterian ministers. He much weakened objections to the doctrine universal salvation by conceding punishment in the afterlife. One day, while he and Stacy were riding their circuit, Dean confessed to Stacy that he meant in a few years “to be able to preach as well as brother Ballou; I can spin as fine a thread now as he can, if it is not quite so strong.”

Because he was the only other trinitarian in Universalist fellowship, in 1813 Dean was called by the First Universalist Society in Boston as the associate and probable successor of the paralyzed and ailing John Murray, the recognized leader of the Universalist movement. For two years Dean performed all Murray’s preaching and pastoral duties. When Murray died in 1815, the church called Dean to be the minister of the most prestigious Universalist pulpit in the land.

Meanwhile, Hosea Ballou, settled in Salem, Massachusetts, was negotiating with Universalists in Boston. Dean was concerned. Detractors said he did not effectively promote Universalists’ distinctive doctrines. The charismatic and eloquent Ballou might supplant him. Ballou tried to reassure Dean that his coming to Boston would not damage his ministry. In 1817 Ballou was called to a newly-formed Second Universalist Society, in part made up of members from Dean’s church. Both churches were assisted by the rapid growth of Boston. In a few years Dean had drawn so many new members that First Universalist was larger than it had ever been.

Both opponents and allies found Dean’s theology baffling. He held that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was required to satisfy God’s justice, and that Jesus was God manifest in a form that humanity could understand. He preached that God, living for the first time as a human being, became more understanding as a result of the incarnation. Dean believed in justification by faith. He understood “the elect” as a growing group of Christians dedicated to the task of saving the rest of humanity. Most could not achieve salvation during a mortal lifetime. People would experience educative punishment during an intermediate state between their death and Judgment Day, when all would be brought before God. An extended process, easy for those already prepared and more difficult for others, would ultimately bring universal restoration.

Dean and Ballou differed greatly over the best way to spread the good news of universal salvation. Dean hoped to persuade other denominations to accept the doctrine of universal salvation. He thus adopted an ecumenical and conciliatory style of preaching. Ballou held that the Universalist denomination was quite distinct from all others. From his pulpit he relentlessly criticized all other groups as in error. These very different understandings of the Universalist mission, promulgated at close quarters, led to rivalry and conflict. Ballou’s attacks on all who preached future punishment, including Restorationist Universalists, undermined Dean’s apologetic strategy. Dean became bitter towards Ballou and the Second Universalist Society. He let it be known that he thought Ballou’s Christianity nominal. Ballou and his friends charged Dean with envy and ambition. The store of personal grievances mounted.

Edward Turner was minister in neighboring Charlestown, Massachusetts. Turner, several younger ministers and Dean worked to oppose Hosea Ballou’s no future punishment, “death and glory” theology. Harsh words written and spoken in the Restorationist controversy brought division in the First Universalist Society. In 1822-23 Dean led members loyal to his ministry to a new site on Bulfinch Street in Boston. After a year of interim, members remaining at the old church called Sebastian Streeter as minister.

During 1823-24 the Southern Association of Universalists, a regional body subordinate to the General Convention representing southern New England, disciplined Dean and other Restorationists for publishing statements that appeared schismatic. Dean and Ballou unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a settlement of personal differences. At the 1823 annual meeting of the General Convention, complaints were drawn up against Ballou and Dean. Officially, they were both cleared but, unsatisfied, Dean resigned from fellowship with the Convention. The following year, at a meeting of the Southern Association, Dean agreed to sign a statement of reconciliation. Ballou welcomed him back into fellowship, but Ballou’s disciple and Dean’s persistent enemy, Thomas Whittemore, opposed his readmission.

In 1825 the General Convention met in Hartland, Vermont, very near Dean’s family’s home. Dean was chosen moderator and also chosen to preach at the meeting. Whittemore was scandalized. “Mr. Dean in his sermon avowed distinctly Trinitarian opinions, attempting to maintain from his text (Acts 20:28) that it was God himself who suffered upon the cross. This, we believe, was the last time the doctrine of the Trinity ever was preached before the convention.”

In 1827 Dean brought to the General Convention at Saratoga Springs a proposed constitution for a United States General Convention of Universalists. His plan met with general approval, but was later rejected on a technicality by a study committee. Needed reform was postponed for six years. Dean never again tried to exercise leadership of the whole denomination. Instead he devoted efforts to forming a specifically Restorationist organization.

During 1828-29 Dean helped David Pickering, a Universalist minister in Providence, to form the Providence Association. Not simply a new regional meeting, the organization was created for Restorationists who felt themselves in danger of being disciplined by the Southern Association for their theological views. In 1830 the Southern Association condemned the Providence Association and issued an ultimatum declaring membership in the new group inconsistent with fellowship in the General Convention. Feeling themselves disfellowshipped, in 1831 Dean, Pickering, Adin Ballou and other Restorationists organized a new denomination, the Massachusetts Association of Universal Restorationists (MAUR).

In the winter of 1830-31 Dean made a trip to the South. He preached in Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia and helped to organize a society of trinitarian Universalists of Charleston, South Carolina. The Charleston Universalists, impressed with Dean’s preaching and guidance, elected him their Bishop, or Superintending Pastor. Dean was afterwards criticized for accepting such a title. The Charleston church later modified the constitution he wrote for them, along with its too restrictive creed.

Although Dean’s relationships with his Universalist brethren were troubled by the Restorationist controversy, he derived increasing satisfaction from the ecumenical fellowship of the Masons. Many prominent early Universalists were Masons, including John Murray, Hosea Ballou, Edward Turner, Nathaniel Stacy and Adin Ballou. None had so distinguished a Masonic career as Dean. From 1814 to 1836 he often served as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and Chaplain of the Columbian Lodge. In the 1830s he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and Grand General High Priest of the United States.

Masonry was entering a time of troubles, however. In 1826 there was a highly publicized incident of alleged Masonic wrongdoing in New York State. A national anti-Masonic party was founded, and many churches pressured their ministers to repudiate Masonry. In 1831 Dean was among the signatories of the Boston Declaration which proclaimed that Masonic obligations were never inconsistent with the dictates of law, morality and religion.

Adin Ballou had long edited the Restorationist newspaper, The Independent Messenger. In 1835 Dean took over as editor. A few years later the MAUR split into two factions. Those siding with Adin Ballou advocated temperance, abolition, and pacifism. Dean did not want Restorationists aligned with any political or reform cause. In an 1837 editorial he warned against the tendency of churches to make their stand on abolition a test of faith and fellowship. “Why this demand for free discussion,” he asked, “and at the same time, this resort to coercion? Why this making the question of slavery vital to religion; and yet, this appeal to political men to decide it?”

Dean believed the moral dimensions of such issues as slavery, war and capital punishment could be discussed by an appeal to the Bible. It was, however, up to each Christian to decide what scripture meant in these cases and that one should do this “without disturbing the state.” Attempts to change laws or forms of society, he thought, should be made by purely political means and without putting the churches into turmoil. His reform-minded colleagues did not heed his advice. A few years later Adin Ballou took a significant portion of MAUR’s members with him into the utopian Hopedale community. Remaining Restorationists were too few and too discouraged to continue. Dean wrote a letter to Ballou, telling him his community scheme was a “bursting bubble,” that “people were too selfish, weak, capricious, untrustworthy, to do right and live together voluntarily in any such way as that proposed.”

Restorationist churches of the 1830s often had Unitarian connections. In 1839 the Bulfinch Street Church adopted the Unitarian designation and called a Unitarian associate minister, Frederick T. Gray. Within months Dean was forced into retirement, ostensibly for health reasons. He served at least two other churches in an interim capacity, the First Universalist Society (Restorationist) in Westminster, Massachusetts, 1842-44, and the First Congregationalist Church (Unitarian) of North Easton, Massachusetts, 1845-50. Ironically, the trinitarian Dean ended his career serving a Unitarian church.

Dean was one of the most impressive Universalist preachers. Restorationists and many other Universalists preferred his preaching over Hosea Ballou’s. According to Adin Ballou, “the moderation of his sectarian zeal, the candor with which he treated other denominations, . . . elevated him in the esteem of the clergy and respectable laity generally outside of his own denomination, but lowered him in that of many insiders.” Adin Ballou thought him “a preeminently just, magnanimous and conciliatory man.”

Dean died in Framingham, Massachusetts and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dean’s letters to Edward Turner are in the Edward Turner Papers, Universalist Special Collections, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Andover-Harvard also has microfilms of the Universalist MagazineTrumpet and Universalist MagazineIndependent MessengerChristian RepositoryChristian TelescopeThe Universalist, and the Universalist Quarterly, all of which contain material by or relevant to Dean. Records of First Universalist Society of Boston are split between the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts and the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. There is information on Dean’s Masonic career at the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library, Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts and in the library of the Grand Lodge of Vermont, Barre, Vermont.

A Course of Lectures in Defence of the Final Restoration (1832) was Dean’s only book. His most popular work was a pamphlet, 120 Reasons for Being a Universalist (1827, and much reprinted). A number of his printed sermons are extant, including A Discourse Delivered before the First Universalist Society in Boston, on the Character and Death of the Rev. John Murray, their Late Senior Pastor (1815), installation sermons for Hosea Ballou (1817) and Hosea Ballou 2d (1821), an election sermon before the Massachusetts legislature (1831), and The Instability of Ministerial Life: A Discourse Delivered at Bulfinch Street on Taking Leave of the Society (1840). He wrote pseudonymous pro-Restorationist letters to the Universalist Magazine in 1822. The bulk of his published writing is in the columns of the Independent Messenger, especially during the years of his editorship, 1835-39.

There are several short biographical sketches of Dean: in John T. Heard, An Historical Account of Columbian Lodge (1856); Lemuel Willis, “Paul Dean,” The Universalist (Apr 10, 1875); in John G. Adams, Fifty Notable Years (1883); and in Peter Hughes, “A Different Treatise on Atonement: The Theology of Paul Dean,” Unitarian Universalist Christian (Spr/Sum 1994). Sources for information on various stages of Dean’s career include “Letter from Br. Andrews,” Southern Pioneer and Gospel Visiter (Dec 7, 1833); Stephen R. Smith, Historical Sketches and Incidents, Illustrative of the Establishment and Progress of Universalism in the State of New York, vol. 1 (1843); Nathaniel Stacy, Memoirs of the Life of Nathaniel Stacy (1850); Thomas Whittemore, Life of Rev. Hosea Ballou, vols. 1 and 2 (1854); Adin Ballou to John T. Heard, Abstract of Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Dec. 30, 1873); Alonzo Ames Miner, “Historical Discourse,” An Account of the Celebration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Second Society of Universalists, Boston (1893); Adin Ballou, Autobiography of Adin Ballou (1896); Elmo Robinson, “The Universalist General Convention: From Nascence to Conjugation,” Journal of the Universalist Historical Society (1969-70); William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 1630-1883, vol. 2 (1971); and Peter Hughes, “The Origins and First Stage of the Restorationist Controversy” and “The Second Phase of the Restorationist Controversy: Disciplinary Crisis and Schism,” Journal of Unitarian Universalist History (2000 and 2001, part 2).

Article by Peter Hughes
Posted June 30, 2002