August 1, 1895
IT was the evening of the third of July, that the eight Seventh-day Adventists, now in the chain-gang in Rhea County, Tenn., went to prison.
Court had adjourned until the following Monday, and the judge, before whom they had been tried, the attorney-general, who prosecuted them, and the jurors, who found them guilty, had all gone home to spend the Fourth—with their friends.
But not so with the convicted Adventists. Their wives and children, a number of whom had been in court to hear the judge’s sentence, had bidden them a sorrowful good-by, and had gone to their now lonely homes. Most of their friends who had been with them through the trial had also gone home and left them—prisoners.
It was then the sheriff said, “Come on,” beckoning them to fall into line for the march to the jail, which was to be their prison until the temporary workhouse should be ready for the occupancy of—the chain-gang.
A few moments sufficed to reach the prison, and then came the registration of their names with a detailed description of each man, so that should they escape they might be easily identified. But the eight Adventists had no thought of escape. They would not resist wrong and oppression even to the extent of seeking freedom in flight.
As the sheriff registered their names, some, earnest of the patriotic demonstrations of the morrow—“the glorious Fourth”—attracted their attention and reminded them that it was the even of the National Independence Day; and one of them said, with a smile and yet sadly, and with just a touch of irony in his tone: “Sheriff, won’t you please erect a liberty pole to-morrow where we can see it?”
Oh, what a train of thought is started by that question! What! a liberty pole and a flag for convicts? What could “Old Glory,” the “Star Spangled Banner,” the emblem of Freedom, the flag of both the State and the Nation, mean to men who had violated the “law” of the land, who had braved the power which wears the flag? What comfort could chain-gang convicts, “law” breakers, possibly derive from looking upon the banner unfurled by the power that enslaves them—that power that brands them as enemies of the State, and drives them to the stone pile with the vilest criminals, that locks them in loathsome cells or works them ten hours per day under a broiling sun, for no other offense than worshiping God according to the dictates of their own consciences? In short, What is the flag of the Union to Seventh-day Adventists to-day?
Ah! thrilling memories cluster around that flag; for while Seventh-day Adventists have no taste for war or carnage, while they as followers of the Prince of Peace are opposed to war, even as are the Quakers, they remember that it was in the providence of God that this land became an asylum for the oppressed of other lands; and they love the old flag because under its folds their forefathers found that liberty to worship, which was denied them in the Old World, and which is to-day denied Adventists in “free America;” not because of the flag nor of that for which it stands, but in flagrant violation of the principles represented by every fiber of that noble banner; principles for which patriots died in 1776, and for which in this year of our Lord, 1895, men toil in the chain-gang in Tennessee. And in the language of the poet these men can to-day look upon that flag and say—
“Thou art Freedom’s child, Old Glory,
Born of Freedom’s high desire.” 304
The flag had its birth in the days of Washington, and Jefferson, and Madison, and Patrick Henry; in the days when men knew the value of liberty because they had known what it was to be denied freedom of conscience; in the days when humble Quakers, patient Mennonists, noble Baptists, and warmhearted Methodists and staunch Presbyterians alike claimed as an inalienable and God-given right, freedom to worship their Creator according to the dictates of conscience, and challenged the right of any man to dictate to them in matters of religion, or in any manner to come between them and their God.
Those stars and stripes stand for the immortal Declaration of Independence and for that noble charter of liberty, the Constitution of  the United States; not as perverted by the Supreme Court decision of February 29, 1892, but as it stood when our fathers had written into it: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And just as men deprived of water, love to think of “parting streams and crystal fountains,” of roiling rivers and wars-swept lakes, so Christian patriots, men who, living in all good conscience, render to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, love to look upon the banner of civil liberty, even though that which it represents has been denied them; yes, even though their hearts bleed for the wrongs which they suffer, and for the violence done to that freedom once cherished, but now lightly esteemed by so many who know not its worth; for they know that religious rights are as lasting as the rock-ribbed hills or snow-capped mountains, yea, that they are as eternal as the Everlasting King who gave them; that such rights “are not exercised in virtue of governmental indulgence, but as rights, of which government cannot deprive any portion of citizens however small;” and that though despotic power may invade those rights, “justice still confirms them.” And they with the poet can say:—
Knaves have stolen thee, Old Glory,
For their Babylonians lovers,
From their festal walls and towers
Droops the flag that then was ours;
O’er their crimes thy beauty trails,
And the old-time answer fails
When from chain-gangs, courts and jails
Men appeal to thee, Old Glory. 305
The flag is not a god, but in the providence of God it stands as the high water-mark of human liberty. But alas! as the sacred name of Christ has been made the cloak of most unchristian acts, so this providential symbol of liberty has been made the covering for most revolting crimes against the most sacred rights of men. And as Madame Roland, on her way to the guillotine, bowed before the clay statue of Liberty erected in the Place de l? Revolution, exclaimed: “Liberty! Liberty! how many crimes are committed in thy name;” as Seventh-day Adventists can to-day raise the stars and stripes with these words: “O banner of liberty, what crimes are committed under thy ample folds! what wrongs are done in thy name! what injustice and oppression is practiced by those who are sworn to maintain the principles by which thou wast begotten!”
“Corrupted freemen are the worst of slaves;” and we have fallen upon evil times, when men know not what true liberty means. Some in the mad pursuit of wealth, others in the fierce struggle for existence, have forgotten that he who fails to protest against the persecution of his neighbor, thereby virtually forfeits the right to protest when he is himself persecuted. Channing has well said: “The spirit of liberty is not merely, as multitudes imagine, a jealousy of our own particular rights, but a respect for the rights of others, and an unwillingness that any man, whether high or low, should be wronged.”
It was the purpose of the founders of this Government to erect, if possible, impassable barriers against religious bigotry and intolerance. As remarked by the compiler of “American State Papers Bearing on Religious Legislation“:—
Both Jefferson and Madison were opposed to the States having anything whatever to do with regulating religious observances of any kind; and the liberal spirit supported them. But as this spirit is supplanted by self-interests, the intolerance of State Courthouses again manifests itself in reviving the old religious laws, and prosecuting Sabbatarians for Sunday labor, etc. Jefferson, foreseeing this, designed to have all religious laws swept from the statute books, not willing to have them remain as a dead-letter, which might, at any time be revived by the partisan zealot. In his “Notes on Virginia,” query, xvii, Jefferson says:—
“Besides, the spirit of the time may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecution, and better ones be his victims. It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis, is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall … or expire in a …”
In the light of current events, Jefferson’s words seem almost prophetic. The spirit of the times have altered; our rules have, many of them, become corrupt; and the question has been repeatedly asked of petitioners for justice, “How many are there of you? Have you political influence?” Our people have become careless, and in scores of cases a few bigots have commenced persecution and better men have been their victims. But neither the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, nor the banner which represents them in any nor in all of these. The fault lies at the door of fallen human nature, and the remedy is the power of God; for such things will be until He comes, whose right all dominion is, for his alone is a righteous rule. And the divine promise is: “At that time shall thy people be delivered; every one that shall be found written in the book.”