In what could be a very long thread, this installment in the Just Because You're Smart Doesn't Make You Smart series takes place on the ethically/morally suspect creator of the single-wire electrical telegraph, Samuel F.B. Morse.
Some of this could have been learned at a young age via his "militant" Congregationalist minister father, who created "a household temper...of the deepest animosity against other faiths"1. And then again, perhaps not--but even weighing the spirit of the times in which he lived (1791-1872), Morse had a particularly long-lived, deep, and very public hatred of the Catholic Church and "Popery", finding it a creeping abomination that was setting out to destroy the United States via the churches propagandist agents in the Jesuits and through mass immigration.
Morse's book on this subject, Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States (1835), became a much-reprinted guidebook for Catholic-haters and immigration conspiracy types, curling itself around the impending priest-ridden despotism of the Vatican and (whatever was left of) the Holy Alliance.
“Surely American Protestants, freemen, have discernment enough to discover beneath them the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy. They will see that Popery is now, what it has ever been, a system of the darkest political intrigue and despotism, cloaking itself to avoid attack under the sacred name of religion. They will be deeply impressed with the truth, that Popery is a political as well as a religious system; that in this respect it differs totally from all other sects, from all other forms of religion in the country."2
Morse also found slavery to be an ordained right and a creation of God for right, wise, benevolent and disciplinary purposes,3 writing about it publicly in his pamphlet An Argument on the Ethical Position of Slavery in the Social System, and its relation to the Politics of the Day4 in the middle of the Civil War, 1863.
"Slavery or the servile relation is proved to be one of the indispensable regulators of the social system, divinely ordained for the discipline of the human race in this world, and that it is in perfect harmony ... with the great declared object of the Savior's mission to earth." (Morse, Ethical Position of Slavery, 1863, page 10.)
"My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having per se nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler." (Morse, Ethical..., page 13.)
The Yale website also goes on to point out that Morse thought it sacrilegious to oppose slavery and support Abolition (citing Samuel F.B. Morse, Letters and Journals, ed. E. L. Morse, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914, 2:416):
"Conscience in this matter has moved some Christians quite as strongly to view Abolitionism as a sin of the deepest dye, as it has other Christian minds to view Slavery as a sin . . . Who is to decide in a conflict of consciences? If the Bible is to be the umpire, as I hold it to be, then it is the Abolitionist that is denounced as worthy of excommunication; it is the Abolitionist from whom we are commanded to withdraw ourselves, while not a syllable of reproof do I find in the sacred volume administered to those who maintain, in the spirit of the gospel, the relation of Masters and Slaves"
This goes on and on, a distribe with Scriptural and distanced-moral support, on into a cold dark night of extraordinary egotism and ethical despotism. And it is a fine example of people with some great abilities and high intelligence could be correct in some things and wrong in so many others.
1.Gustavus Myers, A History of Bigotry in the United States, Random House, 1943, p. 160.
2. Wikipedia article on SFB Morse.
3.. Edward Lind Morse, editor, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, His Letters and Journals, vol 2, pp 19, 46-8, 531.
4. An Argument on the Ethical Position of Slavery in the Social System, and its relation to the Politics of the Day (New York, Papers from the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, no. 12, 1863)