Happy Birthday John Bigelow!

Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
John Bigelow (November 25, 1817– December 19, 1911) was an American statesman who, as an ambassador to France, helped to win the Civil War for the Union, and later served as Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant. He was also, at various times, editor of the New York Evening Post and one of the founders of the New York Public Library. In August 2001, the intersection of 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, directly in front of the famous main branch of the New York Public Library, was renamed “John Bigelow Plaza.”

After encountering one of Swedenborg’s books on a boat journey to the West Indies in 1853, he became a passionate, lifelong Swedenborgian. Speaking of that momentous occasion in his life, Bigelow writes, “[A fellow traveler] lent me one of Swedenborg’s books. I became so interested that I read it without ceasing from ten o’clock in the morning until six o’clock that night. For twenty days thereafter I read Swedenborgian books for an average of fifteen hours a day…I felt as if my eyes had opened to a world of which till then I had only seen the reflection or shadow.” In 1893 Bigelow wrote The Bible that was Lost and is Found, which chronicles his discovery of Swedenborg’s ideas and journey of spiritual growth. Other publications include The Wisdom of the Haitians, which, before the Civil War, was one of the few American works to take a positive view of Haitian independence, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in 1868, and The Life of Samuel J. Tilden in 1895.

Explore an interactive repository of Bigelow’s correspondence held at Union College.

The NYPL also holds an extensive collection of Bigelow’s writing on politics, history, and religion, as well as his correspondence and diaries.

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