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Peacemaking Heritage Series: “Victims of an Absurd Theory” Yet Advocates of the “Great Radical Reforms”

I’m pleased to announce a new weekly series of blog posts on Adventist history by Columbia Union College professor, Doug Morgan. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is the author of Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (2001). These are cross-posted at his Peace Messenger blog. — Alexander

Welcome to the Peacemaking Heritage Series


The plan is to post a document around once per week, proceeding in a roughly chronological fashion, beginning with Millerite Adventism (ca. 1831-1844). In addition to posting comments, readers are encouraged to propose documents for inclusion in the series.

Our first document, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s assessment of the Millerite movement and leaders, raises a question that no doubt will remain central throughout the series: Has Adventism’s intense focus on the soon return of Jesus Christ and deep skepticism about the ability of human governments to eradicate social problems in the meantime made Adventists apathetic and passive with regard to building shalom in society? On the other hand, what is the significance of Garrison’s characterization of all three of the foremost leaders of the Advent movement as staunch advocates of all the advanced reforms of the era?

Near the beginning of 1843, the year that Miller had initially proclaimed be the one during which Christ would appear, Garrison editorialized about Adventism and its leaders in the February 10 and 17 issues of The Liberator.

On William Miller: With Mr. Miller I have no personal acquaintance; but my convictions are, from information received from others, and from a careful survey of his career, that he is sincere in his convictions, honest in his intentions, and disinterested in his labors. He seems to be a frank, bold, single-hearted man, — one who is not afraid to say just what he thinks, what he regards as eternal truth, whose object is the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men. One secret of his unpopularity with the priesthood is, he applies to them the scourge of justice with an unsparing hand, and exhibits them in their true character as spiritual usurpers of God’s heritage. His is particularly odious to the selfish conservatism of the day, on account of his hearty espousal of the great radical reforms which are now shaking the land. The cause of temperance, of anti-slavery, of moral reform, of non-resistance, finds in him an outspoken friend. In short, I respect the motives and admire the zeal of Mr. Miller, though I utterly dissent from his views of the Second Advent, and regard them as equally pernicious and untenable.

On Joshua V. Himes: I am somewhat intimately acquainted with Mr. Himes, one of the editors of the Signs of the Times, and have always found him true to his convictions of duty. At a very early period, he avowed himself an abolitionist, and has been a faithful supporter of the anti-slavery movement, never ashamed to show his colors, never faltering in the darkest hour of its history. He is a remarkably active and zealous man in whatever he undertakes, doing with all his might whatsoever his hands find to do. I am sorry that he has become the victim of an absurd theory, but I still regard him as a sincere and worthy man.

On Charles Fitch: Mr. Fitch (another whole-hearted supporter of Mr. Miller) is well known to the abolitionists of the United States. No one who knows him can doubt his honesty or ability; but his mind appears to be impulsive, and it is, perhaps, fortunate for his consistency, that with the expiration of the present year, will cease all necessity for hi to tax his concentrativeness on the subject of ‘the Second Advent near.”

For a thorough analysis of the relationship between the Millerite and abolitionist movements, see Ronald D. Graybill, “The Abolitionist-Millerite Connection,” in Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, eds., The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 139-152.

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