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Blue-grass Blade (Lexington, Kentucky)
The Blue-grass Blade was irregularly published in Lexington, Kentucky, from 1884 through 1910. One of several rare free-thought newspapers in the United States, it was Kentucky’s most controversial turn-of-the-century newspaper by far. According to its irreverent editor, Charles Chilton Moore (1837-1907), the Blade was published on Sundays to give the public thoughtful reading material on a day when it was most needed.
Moore’s editorial voice was outspoken to the extent that he used “I” rather than “we” and touted the paper as “edited by a heathen in the interests of good morals.” The grandson of Barton W. Stone, a founder of the Disciples of Christ, Moore studied at Bethany College in West Virgina and was ordained by noted religious leader Alexander Campbell. Yet, the church’s stand on slavery, an institution Moore adamantly opposed, caused his faith to waiver. Moore’s travels as an itinerant preacher in the mountains of Kentucky, where he observed geological formations that did not jibe with Biblical chronology, further sowed the seeds of disbelief. The final blow struck when Moore was visited by a friend skeptical of the Bible’s inspiration. The men exchanged views for weeks, the ultimate result being Moore’s loss of faith and his friend’s baptism into Christianity. Leaving his church in Versailles, Kentucky, Moore would henceforth devote himself to reason and the Blue-grass Blade.
So opposed was Moore to what he regarded as the mystifications of religion that the Blade’s publication date eschewed the Julian calendar in favor of years dated since 1 E.M. (i.e., A.D. 1600), suggestive of “enlightened mind” or “enlightened man.” A mildly progressive paper in the beginning, the Blade quickly evolved into an outright freethinking pulpit with a strong emphasis on the separation of church and state. The Blade openly supported other controversial causes of the time as well, from women’s suffrage to free trade to “special National legislation to improve the condition, financial and educational, of Negroes and Indians,” while always remaining devoted to atheism, rationalism, temperance, vegetarianism, and any other issue that seemed to cause unrest among the paper’s antagonists.
Moore was jailed twice for his controversial views. He served two months in a Paris, Kentucky, jail in 1894 when he raised the ire of the Christian Church by declaring “If there is a devil, Bourbon County is nearer and dearer to his heart than any place of its size on earth.” The Blade was published for a time in Cincinnati (1898-99), and it was during this period that Moore was incarcerated a second time. He served five months of a two-year sentence in an Ohio federal prison for blasphemy and the promotion of free love, though he was charged with delivering obscene material through the mail. Moore was pardoned by President William McKinley and returned to Kentucky with the Blade in tow.
Charles Chilton Moore died in 1907. The Blue-grass Blade was subsequently published by James Edward Hughes who retained the newspaper’s devotion to rationalism and free thought, but moderated its tone, curbed its acerbic humor, and acceded to the use of the Julian calendar until the paper’s end in 1910.
Provided by: University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY