Samuel F.B. Morse was born on April 27, 1791 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the first child of geographer and Pastor Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) and Elizabeth Ann Breese (1766-1828). Jedidiah was a great preacher of the Calvinist faith and supporter of the American Federalist party. He not only saw it as a great preserver of Puritan traditions (strict observance of the Sabbath), but believed in its idea of an alliance with English in regards to a strong central government. Jedidiah strongly believed in education within a Federalist framework alongside the instillation of Calvinist virtues, morals and prayers for his son. After attending Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Samuel Morse went on to Yale College to receive instruction in the subjects of religious philosophy, mathematics and science of horses. While at Yale, he attended lectures on electricity from Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day. He earned money by painting. In 1810, he graduated from Yale.
Morse's Calvinist beliefs are evident in his painting the Landing of the Pilgrims, through the depiction of simplistic clothing as well as the austere facial features. This image captured the psychology of the Federalists; Calvinists from England brought to the United States ideas of religion and government thus forever linking the two countries. More importantly, this particular work attracted the attention of the famous artist, Washington Allston. Allston wanted Morse to accompany him to England to meet the artist Benjamin West. An agreement for a three- year stay was made with Jedidah, and young Morse set sail with Allston aboard the Lydia on July 15, 1811 (1).
Upon his arrival in England, Morse diligently worked at perfecting painting techniques under the watchful eye of Allston; by the end of 1811, he gained admittance to the Royal Academy. At the Academy, he fell in love with the Neo-classical art of the Renaissance and paid close attention to Michelangelo and Raphael. After observing and practicing life drawing and absorbing its anatomical demands, the young artist successfully produced his masterpiece, the Dying Hercules.
To some, the Dying Hercules seemed to represent a political statement against the British and also the American Federalists. The muscles apparently symbolized the strength of the young and vibrant United States versus the British and British-American supporters. During Morse??s time in Britain the Americans and English were engaged in the War of 1812 and division existed within United States society over loyalties. Anti-Federalists Americans aligned themselves with the French, abhorred the British, and believed a strong central government to be inherently dangerous to democracy.(3) As the war raged on, his letters to his parents became more anti-Federalist in their tones. In one such letter Morse said, "I assert that the Federalists in the Northern States have done more injury to their country by their violent opposition measures than a French alliance could. Their proceedings are copied into the English papers, read before Parliament, and circulated through their country, and what do they say of them... they call them (Federalists) cowards, a base set, say they are traitors to their country and ought to be hanged like traitors."