THE National Convention of the American Sunday Union met in the Foundry M. E. Church, Washington, D. C., December 11-13. The auditorium was draped with long strips of red cotton, on which were pasted the petitions of about fourteen millions of alleged petitioners—over six millions of Protestants, and seven million two hundred thousand Catholics—and decorated with large and handsomely-printed copies of the cost of arms of each State in the Union.
The first meeting was presided over by Mr. Elliott F. Shepard, of the New York Mail and Express, and was addressed by Dr. J. H. Knowles, editor of the Pearl of Days, and Secretary of the National Sunday Union, Mrs. Josephine C. Bateham, of the W.C.T.U., Mr. A. S. Diven, ex-Director of the Erie Railroad, and Mr. Shepard, the presiding officer.
Dr. Knowles’s address was a brief account of the origin of the National Sunday Union, which was this: In 1887 Dr. W. F. Crafts suggested to Dr. Knowles that such a thing ought to be, and Dr. Knowles agreed with him. In May, 1888, Dr. Crafts addressed a memorial to the General Conference of the M. E. Church assembled in New York City, asking that body to take the initiative in the organization of a National Sunday Union. That body heartily responded, appointed a committee, and laid upon Dr. Knowles the duty of bringing the matter before other bodies. He did so, and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church North, and of the Presbyterian Church South, the Baptist Union, the United Presbyterian Church, the Congregationalists, the Methodist Protestant Church, and fifteen others, all cordially entered into the plan of organization. In addition to these, the W.C.T.U., the National Reform Association, the Knights of Labor, and the Catholic Church as embodied in Cardinal Gibbons, are to be counted.
Mrs. Bateham pointed to the festoon of petitions and said she was reminded of the scripture which says we are “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” and announced that there were fourteen millions of these witnesses in the petitions hanging upon the pillars of the building. She declared that these fourteen million witnesses refuse to surrender the richest boon granted of God and our fathers. She said that undoubtedly this was the largest petition ever presented to any Government, and that it was not yet complete; for since she had come into the room she had opened one letter containing nine hundred, and others from colleges, seminaries, etc., containing smaller numbers. She said the Blair Sunday Bill had been specifically indorsed by hundreds of thousands; but the majority of the fourteen millions had asked in general terms for a Sunday law. Through Dr. Crafts they had secured the indorsement of two hundred and forty thousand. She stated that all the States have Sunday laws, while the nation has none, which is much needed to throw the Government on the side of the Sunday. In favor of the Sunday law she reported:—
“1. The leaders of thought everywhere.
“2. All Christians except the very small sect of Seventh-day Baptists.
“3. The Roman Catholics, because Cardinal Gibbons indorsed for all his people.
“4. The laboring classes.
“5. Nearly all intelligent people except those who are blinded by business interests.”
In opposition to it she reported:—
“1. Sunday papers.
“2. Railroad managers—probably.
“3. Steamboat companies and managers of Sunday resorts.
“4. Saloonists and their abettors and allies.
“5. Business men who make much money.
“6. Seventh-day Baptists—not large in numbers.”
Then she said: “In the face of this opposition, can the law be secured? Certainly it can. It would be absurd to think that fourteen millions of people could not yet get what they desire. Morality must be upheld. God is behind and in it all.”
The object of General Diven’s address was, as a railroad expert, to show the total absence of any necessity for Sunday trains. His plan is that live-stock trains shall stop over Sunday so as to allow the stock to be let out and obtain relief from the crowding of the cars. In the case of passenger trains from ocean to ocean he would have the most attractive places fitted up at the proper points where the trains should stop over Sunday, and have the railroad companies give to each passenger a free ticket to hotel accommodations, meals, and the pleasures of the attractive resort. But the general did not explain just how a free ticket to an attractive resort will promote the observance of the Sabbath.
As for milk trains, he said that as a rule milk supplies were not over one hundred miles from the city; that Saturday’s milk would supply on Sunday; and the whole of Sunday’s milk could start after sundown and reach the cities in good time for Monday morning’s delivery, for said he: “I am only contending for the suspension of trains during the day-time of Sunday.” But he did not explain how a train is any more sinful in the day-time than it is in the nighty-time of the Sabbath. Mr. Diven himself, however, was willing to justify Sunday trains in the day-time “for the accommodation of church goers,” but he said it had been suggested that he “had better leave out that part of his address.” At this there was such a clapping of hands that he concluded that he “had better leave it out.”
The chairman next introduced Dr. Crafts as pastor of the First Union Church, New York City, which he explained by saying that it was the first church organized after the union of the Old School and New School Presbyterians. Mr. Craft’s gave way for a few minutes to allow Mrs. Bateham to answer a question that had been sent up. In the announcements that had been made before the meeting, it was stated that the church in which the Convention was to be held would be festooned with the names of six millions of petitioners; but at the very beginning of this, the first meeting, it was stated that there were fourteen millions of them. The question was how the number could have grown so much larger so suddenly. This was explained by the fact that Cardinal Gibbons had written a letter indorsing the Blair Bill, and solely upon the strength of his name seven million two hundred thousand Catholics were counted as petitioners.
This was not an entire answer to the question, because the Cardinal’s letter did not authorize any such use of it as they had made, at least so much of it as was made public did not. The whole of the letter was not made public, because, Dr. Crafts said, it was for the Senate Committee. But so much of it as was read merely referred to the action of the Baltimore Council in commanding a stricter observance of Sunday, and said:—
“I am most happy to add my name to those of the millions of others who are laudably contending against the violation of the Christian Sabbath by unnecessary labor, and who are endeavoring to promote its decent and proper observance by judicious legislation.”
This was all. He said, “I am happy to add my name,” etc. He did not say that he added, or that he wished to add, seven million two hundred thousand others with his name, or in his name. But the over-weening anxiety of these Christian, Protestant (?) Sunday-law workers for petitions was so great that, without a twinge, they could and did multiply one  Catholic name into seven million two hundred thousand and one. Yet this was not so much to be wondered at, because the same principle had been acted upon before throughout the country, and when five hundred petitioners could be made out of one hundred, and two hundred and forty thousand out of two hundred and forty, it was perfectly easy and entirely consistent to make seven million two hundred thousand and one out of one.
This thing was perfectly consistent also with the principle in another point. The petition read, “We, the undersigned, adult residents of the United States, 21 years of age or more, hereby petition,” etc. In counting these seven million two hundred thousand petitioners in behalf of Sunday law, they thereby certified that all these were Catholics “21 years of age or more.” But there is not a woman in the W.C.T.U., who does not know that there are not that many Catholics in the United States “21 years of age or more.” They virtually certified that all the Catholics in the United States are “21 years of age or more,” for they distinctly announced that “all the Roman Catholics” were petitioning for the Sunday law. But when they had virtually certified the same thing of the Protestant churches throughout the country, why should they not go on and swing in “all the Roman Catholics” in the same way? They could do the one just as honestly as they could do the other. When men and women professing themselves to be Protestant Christians will do such things as that to carry the Catholic Church with them, it is time they ceased to call themselves Protestants. And when they will do such things for any purpose, it is time they should cease to call themselves Christians. Christianity means honesty.
There was a question handed in on this, as follows: “Is it consistent with either Protestant principles or American principles to recognize the propriety of one man’s absorbing into himself the personality of seven million two hundred thousand people, as you have granted to Cardinal Gibbons in this case?” The question was not even read to the audience, much less was it answered.
Mr. Shepard, the presiding officer, was the next to speak, and he was “glad to welcome the Roman Catholics in any work in which they could be induced to join.” He said the fourth commandment is the first commandment with blessing, and, very truly, that it would be a blessing to everyone who would keep it. But, said he, many will ask, “How shall I find out whether I shall be blessed?” Answer: “Why, by keeping it, to be sure. Keep the Sabbath, and you will get the blessing, and you can’t get it in any other way.”
All this is true enough, but Mr. Shepard did not tell how this blessing can come upon those who will not keep it without being compelled to by the civil law, which they are seeking to have enacted. Can they compel men to receive the blessing of God?
The first speaker on Wednesday was Dr. Conrad, editor of the Lutheran Observer. His subject was, “The Reaction against the Continental Sunday.” He described the Sunday in European countries, and especially in Germany. He said in Europe the Sunday afternoon and evening were devoted to the theaters, which at those times have especially attractive programs, and to the beer gardens.
Bishop Hurst, on the same subject, said that in Germany the finest theatricals are played on Sunday afternoons, and “the pastors are there with their flocks;” and there the people often meet their pastor, whom they in the forenoon had heard preach.
Dr. Fernley, Secretary of the Philadelphia Sunday Association, next spoke, and heartily wished that our National Constitution “had God, and Jesus Christ, and the Bible, in it;” and complained that our foreign population demanded a Continental Sunday instead of the American Sabbath.
The statements of these last three speakers about the Continental Sunday called out the following question:—
“The Continental countries are Roman Catholic countries. The Continental Sunday is the Roman Catholic Sunday. In the petition for this National Sunday law you have six million Protestants, and seven million two hundred thousand Catholics. Now suppose the law should be passed, would you then have a Continental Sunday or an ‘American Sabbath’? In other words, can the six million Protestants compel the seven million two hundred thousand Catholics to keep Sunday in the Protestant way?”
This question was likewise neither read nor answered.
Mr. George May Powell said that in this matter of Sabbath reform “there is nothing so much needed as a better observance of the Sabbath by the ministry and the laity of the churches. When the clergy and the laity come up to the scriptural observance of the Sabbath, and not till then, will the land enjoy her Sabbaths—not till there is a reform of the evangelical clergy and laity.”
All of which is true. But if the clergy and laity will not reform without the power of civil law which they themselves must enforce, how in the world shall this much desired reform ever be accomplished.
Senator Hawley, of Connecticut, was to have presided over the meeting Wednesday night, but being hindered by business at the Capitol, he sent a letter in which he expressed his indorsement of the work, and his general concurrence in it.
Congressman Dingley, of Maine, was present at this meeting, and made a speech strongly indorsing the movement, and saying that “there are few more important National questions than that which had called this assembly.”
Dr. Crafts next opened the question box, and answered such questions as he could. He said: “The greatest trouble on this question in this country is in the churches and among the preachers. They do not observe the Sabbath. There are some preachers in the pulpit who do not observe it.”
One question was: “In view of the large number of Catholic petitioners, why was there no Catholic elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Union?” The Doctor replied that a member of that church—a Mr. Hickey—had been that day chosen upon the Executive Committee. But Mr. Crafts did not tell the audience that he himself had done his best to prevent this. He did not tell how he in executive session had repeatedly tried to adjourn the meeting to defeat the election of a Catholic upon the Board. He was perfectly willing to use all the Catholics upon the strength of the Cardinal’s name, but he was not willing to grant them representation on the Executive Committee. Mr. Hickey was elected, though, in spite of Dr. Craft’s opposition.
In further talk Mr. Crafts exposed the spring of the whole movement by saying that “taking religion out of the day takes the rest out.”
Meetings were held Thursday afternoon and evening, but there was nothing of importance said more than has been already reported in this, or in the report from the Chicago Convention. Dr. Herrick Johnson repeated his Chicago speech on the “Sunday Newspaper.”
Thursday forenoon they had a second hearing before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, Senator Blair chairman, to present the petition of their six million Protestants and their seven-million-two-hundred-thousand-times-multiplied Cardinal. There was nothing said by them there materially in addition to what was said in Convention, except the statement of Dr. Sunderland, of Washington City—President Cleveland’s pastor—who, in explaining to the Senate Committee how the change of the Sabbath came about from the seventh day to the first day of the week, declared that “Sunday is the seventh day of the Christian week”!
The managers of the movement were greatly encouraged by the work of the Convention, as they have good reason to be, and expressed themselves as very hopeful of getting the National Sunday Bill enacted into a law, and signed by President Cleveland before the expiration of the term of his office, on March 4. And it is certain that if fallacious arguments, deceptive statements, and dishonest practices can accomplish it, their hope is not groundless.
The American people not only do not half realize the danger that there is in this movement if the law should be secured, but they do not half realize the chicanery that is being employed to secure it. The greatest danger of all is that the people will not realize it till it is everlastingly too late.
A. T. J.