THE first annual meeting of the Illinois Sunday Association was held in Farwell Hall, Chicago, November 20 and 21, 1888. This Association was organized at Elgin about the same time last year. Of that meeting we gave an account at the time. This meeting was the genuine successor of that in every way. It was addressed by Doctors Mandeville, Everts, Foster, Henson, and Herrick Johnson, of Chicago; Doctor Knowles, of New Jersey, editor of the Pearl of Days and secretary of the National Sunday Association; Dr. Wilbur F. Crafts, and Dr. John Hall, of New York; Mitchell, of Sycamore, Ill.; Post, of Springfield, Ill.; Mills, of Wheaton; and Hon. J. C. Lord, of Elgin, Ill.
The two points that were emphasized above all others throughout the Convention were: (1) Christians do not keep Sunday as they ought; and (2) other people do not go to church as they ought.
First: In the first speech that was made, even in the opening exercises, it was said: “We remember the corporations; the great railroads which compel their men to work and so to desecrate the holy day. But we remember that back of the officers of the companies are the stockholders who belong to the churches, sit in the pews, and bow down and pray in the house of God—these are equally guilty.”
If, then, the railroads compel their men to desecrate the day, and the owners of the railroads are church-members, then who is it but the church-members that are compelling people to desecrate the day?
Doctor Knowles said that by the influence of William E. Dodge, even after his death, the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad Company had resisted the temptation to run trains on Sunday until the present year. But five hundred ministers met in conference in New York and used the hands of the Sunday Observance Committee have been tied ever since. After that when the Delaware and Lackawanna directors were asked not to run Sunday trains, they replied, “How can you come to us pleading for us to run no trains on Sunday, when your preachers by the hundreds, on Sunday, use our rival lines, which do run on Sunday. If your preachers ride on Sunday trains on other roads, we cannot see why they and other people cannot ride on our trains on Sunday. And if it is all right for these other roads to run trains on Sunday, and certainly ministers of the gospel would not ride on them if it were wrong, then we cannot see how it can be such a great wrong for us to run Sunday trains.”
That is a very proper answer. No wonder the Sunday Committee’s hands are tied by it. And yet that very conference of five hundred preachers, assembled in New York last summer, too the first decided step toward the organization of the National Sunday Association, of which Doctor Knowles himself is secretary.
Another speaker, whose name I did not get, said that not long ago a railroad president said to him, “We get more requests for Sunday trains signed by preachers than we do from other people.”
By these facts there is presented the following condition of things: (1) Church-members own the railroads; (2) preachers sign requests for Sunday trains; (3) the church-members grant the request of the preachers for Sunday trains, and the preachers ride on the Sunday trains, and other church-members go on Sunday excursions; (4) then the whole company—preachers and church-members—together petition Congress and the State Legislatures to make a law stopping all Sunday trains! That is to say, they want the Legislatures, State and National, to compel these railroad-owning church-members for Sunday trains. In other words, they want the civil power to compel them all—preachers and church-members—to act as they all say that Christians ought to act. And they insist upon quoting all the time the commandment of God, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” But if they will not obey the commandment of God, which they themselves acknowledge and quote, what assurance have we that they will obey the law of Congress or State Legislature when they get it, especially as it will rest entirely with themselves to see that the law is enforced? Will they compel themselves by civil law to do what they themselves will not otherwise do?
Second: In complaint that people do not go to church, Doctor Crafts said: “The post-office is open at the very hour of church, and a man must choose between going to church and going to the post-office to get his mail.”
And in the Association’s address to the public it is said: “At this rate the time will come when our wage-workers will have to work seven days in a week, and the churches will be deserted. But let a law be enacted in favor of the Sabbath, and it will give back to hundreds their day of rest, and to the churches tens of thousands of attendants.”
Dr. Herrick Johnson delivered an intense Philippic against the Sunday newspaper. He  said: “It creeps into our homes on Sunday. It can be put into the pocket, and taken into the parlor and read.” Then he named the matter with which he says the Sunday papers is filled, “crime, scandal, gossip, news, and politics,” and said: “What a mélange? what a dish to be set down before a man before breakfast and after breakfast to prepare him for hearing the word of God. It makes it twice as hard to reach those who go to the sanctuary, and it keeps many away from the house of worship altogether. They read the paper, the time comes to go to church, but it is said, ‘Here is something interesting I will read it and not go to church to-day.’” He then spoke of the Inter-Ocean special Sunday news train, and how the people would flock to the station to see the train, and said: “In the Sabbath lull from politics, business, etc., the people would go to church were it not for the attraction of the Inter-Ocean special train.” And then he exclaimed, “Oh, for the breath of the Puritan! Oh, for a little of the Puritan Sabbath!”
Dr. John Hall followed this in a five minutes’ speech, in which he emphasized one of Dr. Johnson’s statements thus: “If the family make the Sunday paper a study, it will be difficult for them to get to the house of worship, and when there it will be harder for them to get the word of God. There is nothing better to mar worship and deaden the mind to the worship of God. And it is this sensationalism that makes up the attractions of the Sunday paper.”
All these statements and arguments plainly show that the secret and real object of the whole Sunday-law movement is to get the people to go to church. The Sunday train must be stopped, because the church-members ride on them and don’t go to church enough. The Sunday papers must be abolished, because the people read it instead of going to church, and because those who read it and go to church too are not so well prepared to receive the preaching. But is it right for the church authorities to wield the civil power in the interests of the church? Is that a legitimate exercise of the function of civil government? If it is, why should they stop with this? Will they stop with this? They will not. This is only the first step in an unlimited course of legislation in the interests of the churches and at the expense of everybody else. If these men are allowed to take the first step, they will be sure to take all the others that they want.
And how much more will satisfy them? Doctor Post seems to have given a pretty good idea of this. His address was upon “Sabbath Recreation.” It was an effort to define what is proper recreation on Sunday. And after a good deal of discussion, and what he said was a careful study of the literature and history of the subject, he laid down as the sound principle the following:—
“There is no kind of recreation that is proper or profitable on Sunday outside of the home or the sanctuary.”
Only let such laws be enacted as are demanded by National Reformers, laws for bidding any recreation “to the disturbance of others” on Sunday, then anything done on Sunday outside of the home or the sanctuary, in the neighborhood of this preacher, will disturb him, and whoever does it will be prosecuted. Dr. Herrick Johnson cried for a breath of the Puritan; it seems that Doctor Post is fully disposed to give it to him.
Doctor Everts said: “The Sabbath is the test whether a man believes in God or not. It is atheism or the Sabbath.” And the secretary in his report said: “The Sabbath is the dividing line between Christianity and heathenism.”
According to these propositions, therefore, to compel men to observe the Sabbath is to compel them to accept Christianity and to serve God. But such service is not the service of God, and such recognition of Christianity at all.
The influences in favor of the National Sunday law reported in this Convention are the following:—
1. More than 50,000 blank petitions have been sent out to be signed.
2. The Society of Friends, of Iowa, numbering 10,500 people, has indorsed the petitions and the work.
3. The Society of Friends in Indiana, numbering 20,000 members, has done the same.
4. Ministers and churches in forty States and Territories have indorsed the petitions.
5. May 21 Senator Blair introduced a bill into the U. S. Senate providing a National Sunday law.
6. Petitions were sent to Canada, and Sir John Macdonald replied that they had introduced the matter into the Canadian Parliament.
7. The Methodist General Conference, two Presbyterian General Assemblies, and one Baptist Association, have all appointed committees for the organization of a National Sunday Union.
8. October 18 the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, “with much enthusiasm and with great applause,” indorsed the petition in favor of the Blair Sunday Bill.
9. November 16 the Knights of Labor general Convention also indorsed it, and this action, said Doctor Crafts, carried the petitioners beyond the five million line.
With all this array in its favor, it is no wonder that Doctor Crafts reported that there is good prospect for the passage of the bill. Dr. Crafts said: “The labor unions and the churches were never before united. If the labor unions alone can get what they want, and if the churches alone can get what they want, how much more, and more easily, can this be accomplished when all these are united together.”
The petitions are still being circulated and signed by the thousands. If that bill shall pass, that will show that this nation is ready and willing to commit itself to an unlimited course of religious legislation, and which can end only in the destruction of that liberty, both civil and religious, which has been our heritage for a hundred years. Are our readers ready to give their influences, either by signing these petitions or otherwise, to such a work? Are our readers not rather ready to sign petitions everywhere praying the National Legislature to let religion and religious observances forever alone?
A. T. J.