Communicator of the Month: William Ladd

Communicator of the Month original artwork, William Ladd

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.

“If I had not considered war a soul-destroying sin, I never should have sacrificed so much of my life and my property for its extinction.” — William Ladd

May 10, 1778 — April 9, 1841

New England native William Ladd showed his pacifistic nature during the early stages of his career. His antiwar ideologies would come during a time of heightened reform in America – women’s rights, abolition, mental health and prison reforms. Ladd’s efforts toward unanimity in America quickly established him as the Apostle of Peace.

Ladd was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, to a wealthy sea captain and shipbuilder. He graduated from Harvard College in 1797 and quickly took command of several of his father’s ships. By the age of 20, Ladd was an experienced captain throughout New England, having seen much of the world through his travels.

Ladd briefly owned a cotton plantation in Florida, which later failed as he refused to use slave labor. In 1814, he settled with his wife in Minot, Maine, where he shed his seaman identity and became a farmer due to the outbreak of the War of 1812, when the British blockade temporarily stopped commerce.

A disbeliever in war for any purpose, in 1823 Ladd wrote the first of 32 “Essays on Peace and War,” which laid out a Christian case for pacifism. These essays were published pseudonymously as a book in 1825 under the title “The Essays of Philanthropos on Peace and War.” The essays that followed criticized the slave trade and the raising of the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Massachusetts, as a memorial to war. He famously said, “Such things [monuments] encourage military glory, and thereby endanger the peace of the world. Because it is as vainglorious for a nation to erect a monument of her own victories as it is for an individual to trumpet his own fame….”

On May 8, 1828, upon the initiative of Ladd, the American Peace Society was founded with Ladd as its first president. The Society organized peace conferences and regularly published a periodical titled “Advocate of Peace.”

Ladd made sure that The Society stayed the course when it came to opposing war. One of his goals was to initiate an International Congress and a High Court of Nations to resolve conflicts between countries. The intensive work of the American Peace Society would spawn the creation of world peace groups such as the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.

Dedicating his entire life to the advancement of peace, Ladd died at home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shortly after returning from his most recent lecture tour.