Mr. Bennett was a man wholly extraordinary, and his
career was not less so. He embraced an unpopular
cause; he made it less difficult for others to do so...
D. M. Bennett died on December 6, 1882, a few
months after returning home from abroad. Obituary writers expressed varied opinions. The New York Times
minimized Bennett's free-speech advocacy writing that he was a "pronounced free-thinker" who "obtained some notoriety in 1878
by reason of his arrest upon the charge of sending indecent publications through the mails." Like most "secular" newspapers
in the nineteenth century, the Times was Christian, conservative, pompous, and essentially a guardian of repressive
Victorian morality. Other newspapers characterized him as "the leader of Atheism in the United States" and the "Luther
of the 19th century." According to The Dictionary of American Biography, Bennett was "an amalgam of quack,
crank, and idealist" and "an effective popular spokesman for liberal ideas in religion and ethics."
Two years after Bennett's death, a thousand friends erected a massive and controversial monument to "The Defender of Liberty
and Its Martyr" in New York. The granite memorial is inscribed with Bennett's
DEMONSTRATED SCIENCE MAY BE REGARDED AS THE ONLY TRUE SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE. WHAT IS CALLED REVELATION IS A SNARE, A DELUSION, A FALSEHOOD.
THOSE WHO CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR THE GODS SIMPLY SPEAK THEIR OWN THOUGHT. THE GODS DO NOT SPEAK, THEY ARE AS DUMB AS THE
ROCKS, THEY ARE AS SPEECHLESS AS THE GRAVE. WITH NATURE IT IS NOT SO. TO KNOW HER IS TO KNOW THE TRUTH, AND TO
STUDY HER IS TO BE WISE.
THE OBJECT OF OUR LIVES SHOULD BE TO MAKE THE
WORLD AS BEAUTIFUL, AND OURSELVES AND OUR FELLOWS AS HAPPY, AS IS IN OUR POWER. I CAN HARDLY YIELD MY CONSENT THAT THIS
IS THE LAST OF OUR INDIVIDUALITY; AND I FONDLY THINK THAT FATHER AND MOTHER NATURE ARE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THE BEST, GREATEST,
AND MOST DESIRABLE OF ALL PROBLEMS – A CONTINUED INDIVIDUAL EXISTENCE. BUT I AM BORROWING NO TROUBLE ABOUT
I BELIEVE IN THE ETERNAL POWERS AND PRINCIPLES
OF NATURE, IN THE SUPERIORITY OF GOOD LIVES, IN ACTS OF KINDNESS TOWARD OUR FELLOW-BEINGS, AND IN EFFORTS TO SPREAD THE LIGHT
OF TRUTH OVER THE DARK SPOTS OF THE EARTH. EACH PERSON MUST BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE GOOD OR ILL HE DOES. HERE IS
OUR DUTY, HERE IS OUR ALLEGIANCE, AND NOT IN THE SKY ABOVE US. WE MUST MAKE OUR HEAVEN ON THE EARTH, AND NOT IN THE
ABOUT THE MONUMENT. The memorial stands
13 feet 6 inches and the total cost was $1,465.65. The bronze medallion, designed by renowned sculptor Wilson Macdonald
(who also created the Thomas Paine bust in New Rochelle) is a uniquely designed relief. Beneath the heroic-size image
of D. M. Bennett appears the sword of persecution, cracked by the pen. Coiled around the sword is the serpent of superstition,
also broken by the weapon of thought. The hilt of the sword is adorned with a cross and the ornamentation contains a
popish tiara. The design symbolizes the forces of the church shattered by the forces of freethought.
The D. M. BENNETT Memorial is located at the Green-Wood
Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. It is about a ten-minute walk from the main entrance and is easily recognized due to its
massive size and dignified simplicity. The memorial also marks the resting-place of Mary Wicks Bennett.