“In Jail for Conscience’ Sake” American Sentinel 10, 15, pp. 113, 114.

April 11, 1895

OUR forefathers sought to lay broad and deep the foundations of religious liberty in this favored land.

Having themselves felt the heavy hand of oppression, they the better understood the value of liberty, and sought by declarations of rights and by constitutional guarantees to make it sure to all future generations.

The founders of this Government held that rights exist independently of government; that men are endowed with these rights by their Creator, and that they are inalienable.

In harmony with this fundamental principle of our Government, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the First Amendment to the National Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The constitutions of most of the States of the Union contain similar guarantees of freedom of religious faith and practice: and of these guarantees none is more ample than that contained in Section 3, Article 1, of the Declaration of Rights of the State of Tennessee, which declares—

That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no man can, of right, be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any minister against his consent; that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.

But notwithstanding this seemingly ample guarantee of religious liberty, persecution for conscience’ sake is to-day rife in Tennessee. Three weeks ago we published in these columns a picture of the Seventh-day Adventist academy at Graysville, closed by religious bigotry and intolerance under color of the Sunday law of Tennessee. In this issue we present to our readers a picture of the jail at Dayton, Rhea County, where eight Seventh-day Adventists, including the principal of the closed academy and his first assistant, were imprisoned, March 8, for no other offence than doing ordinary secular work in a quiet and orderly manner, and permitting it to be done upon the school premises, on Sunday.

The indictments under which these men were convicted, were (varying only in names and dates) as follows:—


Rhea County
Circuit Court, November Term, 1896

The Grand Jurors for the State aforesaid, being duly summoned, elected, impaneled, sworn, and charged to inquire for the body of the country aforesaid, upon their oath present: That Elder Colcord, heretofore to wit on the 30th day of September, 1894, in the county aforesaid, did unlawfully do, exercise and carry on the common avocations of life, the same not being acts of real necessity of charity, on Sunday, to the common nuisance, against the peace and dignity of the State. A. J. FLETCHER.


The following is the warrant for the arrest of Elder Colcord, President of the academy [114] who is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination:—


To the Sheriff of Rhea County, Greeting [115]

You are hereby commanded to take the body of Elder Colcord, if found in your country, and him safely keep, so that you have him before the judge of our Circuit Court for the County of Rhea, at the Courthouse in the town of Dayton, on the first Monday in March next, then and there to answer the State on an indictment for violating Sabbath. Herein fail not, and have you then and there this writ.

Witness: C. G. GILLESPIE.

Clerk of said Court at office in Dayton, first Monday in November, A.D., 1894.

C. G. GILLESPIE, Clerk. [114]

The “nuisance” charged in the indictment is simply a legal fiction. It is purely mental, and not physical. The annoyance felt is of the same kind that might be felt by a Protestant seeing a Catholic making the sign of the cross, or going to mass or to confession; or that the pedo-Baptist might experience in seeing a Baptist minister immersing candidates for church membership, or that a Baptist might feel in seeing the pedo-Baptist sprinkling infants. It is simply the annoyance of intolerance.

None of the work complained of in these cases was of a nature to actually disturb anyone on account of the noise made by it. In connection with the academy closed by the persecution, was a boarding home under the direct charge of Elder Colcord and his wife. Here such students as so desired were permitted to board. They paid a certain rate per week for their board and tuition, and assisted in the work of the house, which was shared alike by all in the family. Five days in the week were devoted to school work; one, the seventh day, was observed as the Sabbath-day “according to the commandment;” and Sunday was devoted to such work as is often done under like conditions in other families upon Saturday. The young men attending the school would saw and split wood, while the young women did the washing under the supervision of a matron. It was for permitting such work as this that Elder Colcord was indicted and imprisoned.

Only a single act of Sunday work was proved against Prof. I. C. Colcord, the first assistant, and that was carrying a few boards a short distance on Sunday. What the boards were for was not stated by the witness.

Three of the men were convicted for digging a well on Sunday; one cut some wood, another was seen “pulling fodder” [stripping the blades from cornstalks], while another was arranging some wire netting around a vegetable bed to keep the chickens from destroying it. It was for such heinous(?) offenses that the eight Seventh-day Adventists were imprisoned in a Tennessee jail, Marach 8, where five of them are to-day.

As our readers well known, Seventh-day Adventists observe the seventh day as the Sabbath, according to the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” They believe that this commandment not only requires rest upon the seventh day, but that it likewise establishes a difference between the Sabbath and all other days of the week, and that it is a religious duty to respect that difference. Therefore it is with them a matter of conscience not to rest habitually upon two days of the week, because to do so would be to ignore the distinction which God has made between the Sabbath and “the six working days.” (Ezekiel 46:1). That this is a question of conscience with the Adventists, is admitted by his honor, Judge Parks, before whom the cases were tried, in the following language:—

Their position is not that of the person who claims that as a matter of personal liberty, he has the right if he chooses, to run an open saloon on Sunday, or do any like act. That is not a matter of conscience—that is.

In his defense before the court Elder Colcord said:—

It is a sad feature in human life that we are divided. The saddest divisions that occur are those arising from differences in religious opinion.

My convictions have undergone a change since I was first converted. Then, I believed it was right to keep Sunday—now I know that it is my duty to keep the seventh day, the Sabbath of the Lord. This thing is a part of my very being. You might just as well think to compel me to take the name of my God in vain as to imagine that I could for a moment consent to any compromise in this matter. The third commandment guards the sacredness of God’s name; the fourth commandment guards his sacred day. Many in this house would not let judge or jury come between them and their God in the matter of the third commandment; no more can I in the matter of the fourth. I have no desire to set at naught the laws of my country, or to show disrespect to those who administer them. I honor earthly rulers, but I honor my God more. As I said, the fourth commandment defends God’s holy day, and in obedience to that commandment I respect that day, and cannot show a like regard for another day.

This is a religious question. There is nothing in nature that gives rise to the Sabbath except the revolution of the earth upon its axis, but even then we know of the Sabbath only by revelation—only as it is revealed in the blessed Bible. This is therefore a Bible question, and I have a right to argue it from the Bible; and that Book tells me that the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord my God, and commands me to keep it holy. This I cannot do unless I treat it differently from all other days; but this the State of Tennessee forbids me to do, and demands that I shall outwardly at least, pay the same respect to another day; but this I cannot do, for I must with the apostles “obey God rather than men.” Now I am called to answer for my faith before an earthly tribunal: but I say to the court and jury that there is a time coming when there will be a change, and God, and not man, will be the Judge—and in that Court questions will be decided not by the statute books of Tennessee, but by the law of God.

Not only have I a natural, God-given right to worship my Creator according to the dictates of my own conscience, but I have a constitutional right that ought to be respected by the courts of this State. Section 3, Article 1, of the Declaration of Rights, says, “that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” No jury, no judge, no court, according to that law, has any right to come between me and my conscience in any matter whatever. I leave the case with you.

As stated in a previous issue of the SENTINEL, the pleas of all the Adventists were very similar in nature—all defending their right and asserting their duty to keep the Sabbath, and not to show like respect to another day. But in harmony with the decision of the Supreme Court of the State, his honor, Judge Parks, charged the jury that it was not a religious question, but simply a question of law. “What is the law? and has it been violated?” said his honor, “are the only questions before this court.” The law, he declared, was that secular work should not be done on the first day of the week, “the Sabbath recognized by the law.” Whether or not that law had been violated was a question of fact to be decided by the jury. Of course, as there was no denial on the part of the defendants, the jury had no option but to convict, and the judge had no legal option but to pronounce judgment in accordance with the law, as laid down in the statute books, and as defined by the Supreme Court of the State.

As previously stated in these columns, the judge imposed a fine of two dollars and a half in each case, and then immediately remitted the fine, expressing his regret that he could not also remit the costs, declaring that his sympathies were with the defendants, but that it was his duty to administer the law as he found it, and not as he might think that it ought to be. Elder Colcord and one other of the defendants were convicted on four indictments, two others upon two indictments each: the others upon one each. This makes their terms of imprisonment range from twenty to seventy-six days. One and all refused to pay the costs, because to do so would be to recognize the justice of their conviction and to encourage further prosecution under the same unjust law.

Adventists are not the enemies of law and order. They are as far removed from anarchists as it is possible for men to be. They are in all points not touching their conscientious convictions, a most law-abiding and exemplary people. Their enemies can find nothing against them, except that touching the law of their God. (Daniel 6:5). They are subject to civil rulers in civil things, not from fear, but for conscience’ sake; but in all matters of religion they choose to “obey God rather than men.” Nor is this an exhibition of religious fanaticism. The principle thus stated is known and recognized by the best and mot enlightened thinkers everywhere. In his work on moral philosophy, President Fairchild, of Oberlin College, says:—

It is too obvious to need discussion, that the law of God, the great principle of benevolence, is supreme, and that, “we ought to obey God rather than men,” in any case of conflict between human law and the divine. There are cases so clear that no one can question the duty to refuse obedience. In all times and in all lands such cases have arisen. In a case of this kind, either of two courses is possible; to disobey the law, and resist the government in its attempt to execute it, or to disobey and quietly suffer the penalty. The first is revolutionary, and can be justified only when the case is flagrant and affects such numbers that a revolutionary movement will be sustained…. The second course will, in general, commend itself to considerate and conscientious men. It is a testimony against the law as unrighteousness, and, at the same time, a recognition of government as a grave interest.

The Baptists and Quakers of New England acted upon the same principle. They disobeyed the laws which interfered with their religious liberty, and quietly submitted to the penalties imposed upon them; but did not resist the rulers, and the measure of religious liberty enjoyed in this country, to-day, is due largely to their fidelity to principle. Their disobedience of the unjust law, and quiet submission under unjust punishment, witnessed so loudly against injustice and oppression, that men were enabled to see the real principles involved, and were led to recognize them to some degree. When Elder Holmes, the Baptist minister of Massachusetts, was sentenced to pay a fine or be whipped, in 1651, he said:—

I would not give my body into your hands upon any other account, yet upon this I would not give a hundredth part of a wampum-peague to free it out of your hands, and I make as much conscience of unbuttoning one button of my coat as I do in paying the thirty pounds in reference thereunto.

On the same principle the Adventists refuse to pay a single penny. They have defrauded no man, they have corrupted no man, they have offended against no just law; they will not resist when they are put in prison; they will not seek freedom by flight; but they will not become parties to the wicked thing by voluntarily paying money as the price of their liberty; in other words, they will not purchase freedom by the payment of fines. [115]

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