Fines, Imprisonment, the Chain-gang and Death Follow Faithfulness to the Law Of God.
IT is evident that the liberty-loving people of this country are not aware of the extent to which the principles of religious liberty are being violated in the United States, in the persecution of seventh day observers.
Not long since, the facts became known to the Baptist Examiner, of this city, and it was led to remark in its issue of February 7, in connection with a brief summary of the cases, that “in not a few of our States religious liberty is grossly, wickedly, and infamously violated.”
We are certain that were the facts regarding these cases generally known, there would be thousands whose sense of justice and right would revolt at the injustice now practiced upon an inoffensive, conscientious people, whose only fault, their enemies themselves being judges, is that they observe the seventh day and work the “six working days” according to the commandment of God.
These persecutions began in Georgia in 1878, with the imprisonment of a Seventh-day Adventist by the name of Samuel Mitchell, for the offense of plowing his field on Sunday. Mr. Mitchell’s age and feeble health were not able to resist his thirty days’ imprisonment in a damp and loathsome cell. He contracted disease from which he died after a lingering illness.
Arkansas followed Georgia in 1884, and perpetrated some shameful crimes against religious liberty and humanity. In most cases the offense was doing common farm labor on Sunday. In some cases the only horse or the only cow was seized by the State to satisfy the fine and costs. In one case a father and son were imprisoned and made to sleep on the bare floor with only a Bible for a pillow. In 1887 the Arkansas Bar Association espoused the cause of liberty and recommended the enactment of a clause in the Sunday statute exempting seventh-day observers. Senator R. H. Crockett, grandson of Davy Crockett, championed the measure in the legislature, and it passed the Senate with but two dissenting votes, both cast by preachers, but in the face of a strong opposition lobby representing the churches of the State. However, notwithstanding the exemption, a member of this church was recently fined for doing farm labor on Sunday, and the case is now pending on appeal.
Tennessee began persecuting Adventists in 1885, and has continued with slight interruptions until now. Respected citizens, born and reared in the State, against whose character there could be found no stain, men whose hairs were whitened and whose forms were bent with the care and toil of sixty winters, were taken from their farms hidden amid the groves of Tennessee, fined, imprisoned and driven in the chain-gang with criminals, and made to work as common felons on the streets of their county seat. It was from this State that the King case was carried to the Supreme Court of the United States, but terminated by the sudden death of the defendant. Justice-loving citizens of the States, like ex-Senator William P. Tolley, and ex-Governor Porter now United States Minister to Chili, have entered noble protests against these persecutions, but with no permanent result. The attitude of the popular churches was strikingly illustrated when the King case was before the Supreme Court of the State, and the Attorney-General was prevented by disinclination to prosecute, or from some other cause, from attending court. When this was learned, the Ministers’ Association of Memphis called a meeting, and as a result, hired an attorney to appear and prosecute the humble farmer. The white-cap notice and the shot-gun mob have been utilized to intimidate these inoffensive people.
Maryland was the next State to fall in line with the backward march. The first case, that of Mr. Judefind, was tried in 1892, and the accused committed to jail for thirty days for husking corn in the shock on Sunday. The complaining witness was Mr. Rowe, pastor of the M. E. Church of Rock Hall. Since the imprisonment of Mr. Judefind, five of his brethren have been imprisoned in most cases for longer terms, while others have been prosecuted but released on technical blunders in the lower court proceedings. In one case an aged father was spied upon, arrested and prosecuted by his own son, the constable, and, astonishing to relate, imprisoned for setting out tomato plants in his own garden on Sunday.
To illustrate the character and spirit of these imprisoned men, we print below a letter written from jail to Mr. Moon, President of the International Religious Liberty Association, by one of the “criminals“:—
Centerville Jail, Centerville, Md., Nov. 28, 1893.
ELDER ALLEN MOON—Dear Brother: It is with pleasure I received your kind and most welcome letter. I thank God he is filling our hearts unutterably full of glory and of God. And we know that if our earthly house be dissolved we have a building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We will not murmur nor complain beneath His chastening rod, but in the hour of grief or pain will lean upon our God. And God has promised to withhold nothing from them that walk uprightly, and he knows our every need better than we do. And how precious are these truths when received in the heart with thanksgiving unto Him who is the author of our faith, and will be the finisher. I know, dear brother, you are suffering with me, for we are knit together in bonds of love. Now, brother, I thank God he let his children have a test of faith and thank and praise his holy name, we do not think strange of the fiery trials which are to try us as though some strange thing had happened unto us, but rejoice inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. 1 Peter 4:12, 13. O, you know, dear brother, just how it is. It is because Christ is working in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure: that is the problem solved.
Now, Brother Moon, I shall close my letter to you as it is about my bed time, and I have been reading and visiting all day, and I feel tired. Do not think the hours go slowly. Why, time is rapidly flying and I want to improve the few precious hours in cheering those that may be cast down. I am daily drinking of salvation’s well, and I want every one to come to the fountain. Write soon again. I love to hear and read words from you. I am in no way discouraged, but I am happy in the Lord. I have a precious wife and eleven children, and I have given them all to the Lord. Though shut up in prison from them by the hand of the dragon, I can rejoice still. Pray for me. Write soon.
Your brother in Christ,
The last State to join the crusade against the Adventists is Massachusetts. Mr. Gibson, of Everett, Mass., was recently fined fifty dollars and costs, on complaint of the mayor, for selling a half pound of candy to the mayor’s spy sent to get evidence against him. His case has been appealed and is still pending.
There have been, in the States named, fifty-three Seventh-day Adventists, convicted of violating the Sunday laws. Thirty of these have suffered imprisonment. The universal testimony of their persecutors is that they are good neighbors, and aside from Sunday work, they are law-abiding citizens.
Seventh-day Adventists have never been prosecuted for an actual disturbance of any person’s Sunday rest. Of the hundreds of witnesses against them in the fifty-three cases, only two have sworn that they were disturbed by the work. One swore that though he did not see the work done, he was disturbed by the mere knowledge that it was being done. The other disturbed witness swore that he was “shocked” on seeing the Seventh-day Adventist hoeing in his field, while acknowledging under oath that at the same time he was so “shocked” with the seventh-day observer’s Sunday hoeing, he, with his hired hand, was driving home a cow which they had gone to a neighbor to procure.
The whole situation is thus briefly summed up in a candid statement by Chief Justice Rafin, of North Carolina, in the case of the State vs. Williams:—
“The truth is that it [Sunday labor] offends us, not so much because it disturbs us in practicing for ourselves the religious duties, or enjoying the salutary repose or recreation of that day, as that it is itself a breach of God’s law, and a violation of the party’s own religious duty.”