Henry Whipple vs. Jackson Kemper

Welcome to Midwestern Missionary Mahem! Today in the Saintly Smackdown Henry Whipple takes on Jackson Kemper. Two outward-looking nineteenth century American bishops who helped shape the future of the Episcopal Church.

Yesterday, Rita trounced Zita (or was it the other way around?) No, we're pretty sure it was Rita over Zita 79% to 21%. Actually, upon further review, it was Zita over Rita!

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Henry Whipple

The westward expansion of the United States in the nineteenth century due to belief in Manifest Destiny carried with it an unstoppable tide of cruelty, dishonesty, and corruption toward Native Americans. Often, we whitewash past actions by arguing they should be judged “in the standards of their time;” yet much like how  Bartolomé de las Casas held the Spanish to account for atrocities in the time of Columbus, Henry Benjamin Whipple reminds us that well over a century ago, brave saints spoke boldly against the degradation and maltreatment of indigenous people in the name of Jesus.

Henry Whipple was born in upstate New York in 1822, and became an Episcopalian under the influence of his grandparents and wife. After attending Oberlin College, he worked for a brief time in his father’s business until he was ordained priest in 1850. He would serve parishes in upstate New York and Chicago, gaining a reputation for service to immigrants. It was from Chicago that Whipple was elected as the first bishop of Minnesota in 1859 at the age of thirty-seven, a see he would occupy for 42 years until his death in 1901.

Whipple would eagerly set about planting the church in his diocese, making regular trips across Minnesota, including in the harsh winter. After his first visitation in the nascent diocese, he returned with a commitment not only to establish missions among the Ojibwe and Dakota peoples, but also to advocate for their welfare and well-being.

Bishop Whipple made fierce pleas for clemency for native warriors who fought against the United States in the Dakota War of 1862. On December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota were hanged for supposed war crimes in the largest mass execution in American history. Their “trials” lasted mere minutes; the accused were afforded no lawyers. Whipple decried these show trials in the press, pleading for clemency, and opposing mass executions, deportations, and genocide of native people. Whipple’s defense of indigenous people earned him scorn from his white peers; many of his fellow bishops deemed him mad. Whipple would even call to account his own cousin, Henry Sibley, the architect of punitive treaties with native peoples and of the war against the Dakota. Whipple’s pleas had an impact: while 303 had been condemned to hanging, President Lincoln commuted the sentence of 265 of those in a fiercely unpopular decision.

Bishop Whipple’s moral clarity when the powers around him resisted his judgment remains the foremost marker of his ministry, and among his legacies is the ordination of the first Native American priest in the Episcopal Church, Enmegahbowh. His legacy is reflected in the Pauline motto of the Diocese of Minnesota: Pax Per Sanguinem Crucis – peace by the blood of the cross.

Collect for Henry Whipple

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Henry Whipple, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP)

David Sibley

Jackson Kemper

The influence and impact of Jackson Kemper reaches across the centuries. His mark on the Episcopal Church – from evangelism and education to the support of Native Americans – still reverberates today.

Kemper, the first missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church, is known as “The Bishop of the Whole Northwest.” And for good reason – most of his ministry years were devoted to the Midwest at a time when settlements were stretching westward.

Descriptions of Kemper range from being kind to being a zealot. Nonetheless, he maintained one focus - to spread the word of God throughout the new regions of this burgeoning country.

Born in New York state on December 24, 1789, Kemper’s father was an assistant to General Washington in the Continental Army and his mother came from an important Dutch family in New Amsterdam. At Columbia College (now University), Kemper studied theology with Bishop Henry Hobart, graduating in 1809. After his ordination in 1814, he served as Bishop William White’s assistant in Philadelphia. Ordained a bishop in 1835, no sooner had a bishop’s miter been placed on his head that he headed west for new regions.

Kemper’s original territory was today’s Indiana and Missouri. From there, he expanded his ministry into neighboring areas: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, as well as points south.

Life was not easy on the frontier, but nothing deterred Kemper. Despite hardships, Kemper trekked thousands of miles utilizing all available travel modalities – ships, horses, and walking.

His accomplishments were astonishing: organizing dioceses, planting churches, ordaining priests and deacons, confirming thousands, founding schools and a seminary.

Dedicated to education and training of much-needed clergy, he founded Kemper College in St. Louis, Missouri. Although financial difficulties closed the school in 1845, his determination was not stymied. His next school was Nashotah House in Wisconsin in 1842, still operating as one of the seminaries of the Episcopal Church. In 1852 he founded Racine College, which closed in 1933.

He was a tireless advocate for Native Americans and promoted mission work among the Potawatomi, Seneca, Oneida, and Huron Tribes. Of significance, Kemper ordained Enmegahbowh, of the Ottawa Tribe, as a deacon in 1859. Later, Enmegahbowh became the first Native American Episcopal priest.

When the Diocese of Wisconsin was formed, Kemper was named provisional bishop from 1847 until 1854, then bishop until his death in 1870.

Kemper was married twice; he and his second wife Ann had three children. He died on May 24, 1870, in Nashotah where he is buried.

His legacy lives on. In addition to Nashotah House, the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, founded in 2013, is a joint venture of the Dioceses of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, West Missouri, and Western Kansas. Kemper’s feast day is May 24.

Collect for Jackson Kemper

O God, who sent your son Jesus Christ to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that we, like your servant Jackson Kemper, may proclaim the Gospel in our own day, with courage, vision, and perseverance; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, now and for ever. Amen. (LFF 2022)

Neva Rae Fox

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118 comments on “Henry Whipple vs. Jackson Kemper”

  1. Geez... this was a very difficult one to pick! When I first read the bio for Whipple I was "yes, Whipple all the way". Then today reading about Kemper... you make this hard! LOL!
    Thank you its very educational and super fun.

  2. Reading the bio of Henry Whipple I am reminded that not much has changed since then in our treatment of our indigenous populations. We still don't see them as people and children of God. Stories abound that from health care, to education, to honoring our treaties with them, to caring when one of them dies or disappears, we pretend they don't exist. We, as Christians, need to stand up for these peoples who are very much on the margins.

    As an aside, best of luck to David Sibley as he progresses through the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. His very impressive win in the quarter finals proves he belongs in this competition.

  3. OK - there's some confusion. Both bios claimed their respective saint ordained Emmegahbowh! So which is it?

  4. The very idea of sentencing 303 people to die by hanging is breath taking. The fact that Lincoln pardoned the vast majority just enhances his reputation too

  5. When I worked for P&G, 25 years ago, a marketing executive told me the name Henry Whipple was the inspiration for the fictional character Mr. Whipple. Mr. Whipple was one of P&G most successful characters for "Don't Squeeze the Charmin." The executive said he just like how the name sounded when heard about Henry Whipple in Sunday School. I did laugh like a little boy when the two of us shouted Whipple several times in row. I never forgot that feeling of joy that day.

  6. I especially like that Whipple went to court and denounced the trials of Native Americans. His social justice example is a good one.

  7. How interesting to discover two missionary bishops of the episcopal church. Hard to choose between them, but I cast my vote for Whipple because he was fierce in his advocacy and earned the scorn of his peers. We need courageous bishops willing to stand up for justice today.

  8. With all due respect to today's nominees, today I will cast a write-in ballot for Aaron Bushnell.
    "The souls of the just are in God's hand, and there no torment shall ever touch them."

    1. A better gesture would be to nominate Bushnell for the 2025 Lent Madness bracket. The holy spirit moves through healthy institutional procedures as well.

  9. I'm delighted to learn more about Bishop Whipple (and to vote for this saint and prophet). Twenty years ago I was teaching theology at Concordia College, Moorhead MN--and my office was in Bishop Whipple Hall. Wikipedia reports: "His name is also found on a building on the campus of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, called Bishop Whipple Hall, a building which was originally a prep school built by Episcopalians but which was purchased by Norwegian Lutherans in 1891 as the main building of their newly founded Concordia College." A great ecumenical connection!

  10. Kemper was a dedicated man but Whipple stood up for "Indians" when the time was right. Whipple it is.

  11. As a Minnesotan, I had to support Bishop Whipple. His work and legacy are still remembered here. We even have a federal building named in his honor.

  12. Whipple gets my vote for doing the right thing despite the opinions and beliefs of his peers and the dominant culture. This sentence from today's write-up says it all: "Whipple’s defense of indigenous people earned him scorn from his white peers; many of his fellow bishops deemed him mad." As we have seen all too recently when figures like Liz Cheney and Adam Kizinger spoke the truth and were summarily voted out of office, standing against your own group/peers/cohort takes extraordinary courage. It also takes extraordinary courage and a deep attunement to God's voice to hear and speak for justice against the dictates of the ethics and culture of one's own era. Whipple gets my vote! We live in a time where it is very difficult for folks on all sides of many many issues to speak difficult truths, particularly when they go against the perceived or most vocal majority in the group to which they identify. We need Whipple's courage now more than ever.

  13. Both worthy contestants, good men. I chose Kemper as he seems to be the underdog and because of his roots in Dutch America, with which I have some abiding ties. I am glad they both participated in the support of the ministry of Enmegahbowh.

  14. I admire Jackson Kemper's dedication and zeal, but I have to vote for Henry Whipple today. His defense of the Dakota warriors still matters. The U.S. has so many stains on its collective conscience: Manifest Destiny in the Americas and in Gaza and the West Bank, McCarthyism, Jim Crow, internment of Japanese, military invasion of Iraq based on lies, confiscation of children at the border . . . where does it end? So it is heartening to see a figure like Whipple inhabit the public space to speak out. I vote for Whipple in the name of Paul Jones, another Episcopal bishop who was thought "mad" by his fellow bishops for opposing war as a socialist during World War I. Plus a top hat over a dog collar is dope.

  15. henry whipple had the courage to speak out against injustice and put himself in the position of being considered crazy. but both he and Kemper worked hard to help Native Americans.

  16. Enmegahbowh was ordained a deacon first -- by Kemper. Later Enmegahbowh was ordained a priest second -- by Whipple. If you read the bios carefully it is there.

  17. Anybody else surprised that the "Bishop of the Whole Northwest" didn't make it to Oregon Territory? Just me? Oh, well.

  18. “Welcome to Midwestern Missionary Mahem!“ There’s a typo in the spelling of “Mayhem”
    When I was checking I found this on Wikipedia:
    “The Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition (MAHEM) is a weapon being developed by DARPA of the United States Department of Defense…”

  19. I lead a parish founded by Jackson Kemper, and have always ben thankful for his ministry, but when I read about Whipple today, I knew I had to cast my vote for him, much as it grieves my heart not to vote for Jackson Kemper!

  20. In my opinion, Whipple and Kemper are both great candidates. I voted for Whipple because of his devotion, commitment, and actions to help the Native Americans.