Saturday, September 8, 2018

Thomas Rutherford Bacon (185o-1913): Noted Clergyman, Professor, Mugwump

Thomas Bacon (Illustration: Oakland Tribune)

PLOT 43, Grave 20

Thomas Rutherford Bacon was a member of the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley for over 25 years, where he taught European history. He was considered one of the leading experts on the French Revolution. He also was an American Congregational clergyman and a noted Mugwump.

Bacon came from a long line of New England clergymen, which included his father and three brothers, Leonard, Edward and George. He graduated from the Yale Divinity School in 1877, where he edited The Yale Record, which was run by the son of famed politician James Blaine, who served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine and Secretary of State. 

The elder Blaine, who was known for corruption, ran as the Republican nominee for President in 1884. Bacon and other reform-minded Republicans broke away to support the Democratic Party Presidential nominee Grover Cleveland in 1884, becoming known as the Mugwumps. The jocular word mugwump is from the Algonquian word mugquomp,  an important person or kingpin, which implied that they were "holier-than-thou" in holding themselves aloof from party politics.

After the election, he resigned his position as the pastor at the Dwight Place Church in New Haven, Connecticut after scurrilous rumors were spread about him. The whisper campaign was allegedly led by supporters of James Blaine. In 1887, Bacon moved to California to take over the pastorship of the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, replacing his brother who had died. He left in 1890 to teach at Cal, where he solidified his reputation as a historian and lecturer.

He died of heart disease in 1913.

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