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Revelation, Slavery, and America’s Dragon Heart

The Lamb-like Beast of Revelation 13

Recently, a number of Seventh-day Adventist ministers, evangelists, and laity have publicly claimed that early Adventists’ identification of the United States of America as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy had nothing to do with race-based slavery. Denying that the pioneers—specifically James and Ellen G. White—ever supported this notion, they assert that the United States showed no signs of “beastliness” until very recently (circa the election of former president Barack Obama in 2008). These Adventists primarily set their sights on an impending national Sunday law. Their thinly veiled Christian nationalism protects an idealized—not embodied—notion of America (though they fully expect persecution from the country they love). The needed clarification on these issues can be provided easily because the evidence is stark and plentiful.

Since 1850, Adventists have identified America as the lamblike beast of Revelation 13:11–18 that “spake as a dragon” (KJV). They identified the beast’s two horns as the desirable principles of civil and religious liberty that the pioneers treated synonymously with “republicanism” and “Protestantism.” In contrast to its lamblike qualities, the two-horned beast’s draconic nature, showed in America’s denying civil liberties to racial minorities and religious liberties to religious minorities. Throughout the antebellum and Civil War periods, Adventist pioneers including James and Ellen White believed that slavery served as paramount proof that America fit the lamblike beast’s profile, though they frequently denounced America’s other hypocrisies as well.1

While the pioneers often expressed appreciation for America, they recognized the nation’s dragonlike character from its inception. They saw the United States as increasingly oppressive, and expected it to target Seventh-day Adventists as dangerous subversives. Particularly after the early-to-mid 1880s, the pioneers described a biphasic development, anticipating phases of intensifying oppression rather than two juxtaposed periods of imagined lamb-like purity at the nation’s founding followed by draconic developments.

Ellen White approved this clearly in an appendix which appears in The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4 (1884)—an early edition of The Great Controversy. It states: 

The two-horned beast appears in two phases,—with the gentleness of a lamb and the fierceness of the dragon. This has, to some extent, already been shown, in the inconsistency of sending forth to the world the doctrine of the equality of all men in respect to natural rights,—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,—and the upholding by law all the evils of American slavery. Also, by professing to grant the privilege to all to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and then persecuting the Baptists and Quakers for following their conscientious convictions. But this will be shown more fully in the future, when Congress shall be called upon to make laws concerning religion.2

As this statement indicates, America was dragonlike “to some extent” prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and up to the present (1884). This is evident in references to American slavery—which was established in North and South America by the first European colonizers in the 16th century—and the oppression of Baptists and Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Adventist pioneers predicted a second, harsher phase than the martyrdom of colonial Baptists and Quakers, one more tyrannical than the inestimable horrors of race-based slavery. So, the pioneers believed that America had emerged as a dragon and expected its brutality to intensify.3

Ellen White’s appendix establishes that the pioneers viewed slavery as proof of America’s inherent draconic character. To further illustrate the point, I offer a representative list of statements (in chronological order) from Adventist pioneers that demonstrate the depth and breadth of their understanding. Please note that this is only a small sampling of documentary evidence.

J. N. Andrews (May 1851):

“It [the United States] is in appearance the mildest form of power which ever existed, but it is after having deceived the world with its wonders, to exhibit all the tyranny of the first beast. Are the pretentions of this power well founded? Let us examine. If ‘all [sic] men are born free and equal, how do we then hold three millions of slaves in bondage? Why is it that the Negro race are reduced to the rank of chattels personal, and bought and sold like brute beasts?”4

Uriah Smith (June 1851):

“Lamb-like in form, is there no dragon-voice/Heard in our land? no notes that harshly grate/Upon the ear of mercy, love and truth?/And put humanity to open shame?/Let the united cry of millions tell,—/Millions that groan beneath oppression’s rod,/Beneath the sin-forged chains of slavery,/Robbed of their rights, to brutes degraded down,/And soul and body bound to other’s will,—/Let their united cries, and tears, and groans,/That daily rise, and call alound on Heaven/For vengeance, answer; let the Slave reply./O land of boasted freedom! thou hast given/The lie to all thy professions, fair,/Of justice, liberty and equal rights;/And thou hast set a foul and heinous blot/Upon the sacred page of liberty;/And whilst thou traffickest in souls of men,/Thou hurl’st defiance, proud, in face of Heaven/Soon to be answered with avenging doom.”5

J. N. Loughborough (September 1853):

“The government of the United States requires us to deliver up to his master the slave that is escaped from him, whether we believe God on the point or not, and a heavy fine if we do not do it. God says, ‘Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant that is escaped from his master unto thee.’ Deut. xxiii, 15.”6

J. N. Loughborough (March 1854):

“Protestants and Republicans, both unitedly and separately, speak as a dragon. We inquire, Who are Republicans? To a greater or less extent they are Protestants. Protestants aid in making and carrying out laws, that hold men in slavery. Protestants are also slave-holders. If the church of the North does not hold slaves, she fellowships those of the South, who do. Her ministry argue, that there is no moral wrong in holding them. For an illustration of the acts of both Protestants and Republicans, we make the two following quotations from the New York Tribune . . .”7

J. N. Loughborough (March 1854):

“We learn that this work [receiving the mark of the beast as described in Revelation 13:16] is performed where there are ‘bondmen.’ The position of the world in regard to slavery, may be learned from the following quotation from an article on the Nebraska bill, in the New York Tribune, of Feb. 18th 1854 . . . Bondmen and free are under the dominion of the two-horned beast. Let the above quotation [from the Tribune] settle the question firmly as regards the locality of the two-horned beast. We see all other nations have abolished slavery, or declared it to be piracy, and the traffic is dying away. In the United States it still exists, with a fair prospect of an increase of slave territory.”8

Edwin R. Seaman (June 1854):

“It may be proper to refer to one [a riot] which lately occurred in the city of Boston, the cause of which was the arrest of a fugitive slave [named Anthony Burns]. A man made in God’s own image is torn from friends and society and all that is dear in life, and dragged back into slavery by the power of that atrocious bargain, the fugitive slave law, the foulest stain that ever blotted the history of any nation, especially one whose professions are entirely of an opposite character. . . . The mouth-piece of the two-horned beast, (the president) must show his power and dragon authority. Hear him speak to the U. S. Marshall: ‘Your course is approved. Enforce the law at any expense.’ But what has God said to these slave-catchers? ‘Thou shalt not deliver to his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in the place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.’ Deut. xxiii, 15, 16. This is God’s fugitive-slave law to-day; although not repeated in the New Testament. Thus we see the character of the beast developed which has affirmed that all men are created free and equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If this nation would not be the most hypocritical nation on the face of the earth, it should amend this declaration thus: All white men are created free and equal &c. Has not this two-horned, lamb-like beast corrupted the commandment as well as the Roman dragon? Verily it has.”9

Uriah Smith (June 1856):

Consider “the character which the prophetic pencil has given to the two-horned beast, [Rev. xiii, 11] a symbol of our country, is that he shall speak as a dragon! Not that slavery alone constitutes the dragon voice; but we must take with it its prime mover, that infernal spirit that is even now, on the plains of Kansas, burning the homes of freemen to the ground, and driving out their inmates robbed and insulted, and which but recently prompted a brutal assault upon a senator in the very halls of congress. Prophecy gives us no ground to hope from reform here: the beast speaks like a dragon.”10

James White (January 1857):

“How much of the prophecy relating the two-horned beast remains to be fulfilled? It has arisen with its lamb-like horns. Its dragon voice has been heard speaking forth sentiments of oppression, the reverse of its lamb-like profession of freedom and equal rights among all men. We believe his voice is yet to be heard denying the true christian his right of conscience in the service of God. His wonders and miracles, to a great extent at least, are in the past. There remains therefore only those oppressive acts to be put forth against the people of God, for keeping the Commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus Christ.”11

Uriah Smith (March 1857):

“[T]he animal has a dragon’s heart. His disposition, his motives, intentions, desires, are all like a dragon; his outward appearance, his horns, which must of course be prominent objects to the beholder, his open profession, are all lamb-like. His appearance is good enough and we might be led to look upon him as a whole, as quite an amiable creature, were it not that when he raises his voice his in acts of authority, he speaks like a dragon: like the old fable of the ass in the lion’s skin; if he only had not brayed, his fellow-beasts would have taken him for a lion. . . . Is the inquiry now raised wherein the two-horned beast has spoken like this? wherein our government has issued unrighteous decrees contrary to its profession? We will notice We do not claim that the dragon voice is yet fully developed, and the prophecy fully carried out in this respect. But enough has been heard to identify the beast, and to establish a precedent which we are justified in expecting almost any result. Says the Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;’ and yet the same government that utters this sentiment, in the very face of its declaration, will hold in abject servitude over 3,200,000 of human beings, rob them of those rights with which they acknowledge that all men are endowed by their Creator, and write out a base denial of all their fair professions in characters of blood. In the institution of Slavery is more especially manifested, thus far, the dragon spirit that dwells in the heart of this hypocritical nation. The fearful strides which this government has made on this question up to the present, afford small ground of hope for the future.”12

J. N. Loughborough (July 1857):

13“Instead of carrying out his lamb-like profession, ‘he speaks as a dragon.’ Yes, that very national executive body, who have before them this Declaration of Independence, and profess to be carrying out its principles, can pass laws by which 3,200,000 slaves can be held in bondage. The Declaration of Independence was professedly based on self-evident truth. [Truths that needed no reasoning to establish them.] But it is a self-evident truth now that a large number of our race are born into slavery. To produce a harmony between our laws and their professed basis, the Declaration of Independence should have a clause supplied, and should read, All men are created equal except 3,200,000. As these things exist in our Union at present, we can look upon the above as only a lamb-like profession, while the action, [voice, or laws of the government,] is dragon-like. . . . It may be clearly seen and cannot be doubted that our government answers the description of the two-horned beast, given in the prophecy. Lamb-like in profession, but dragon-like in its laws.”

James White (August 1862):

“For the past ten years the Review has taught that the United States of America were a subject of prophecy, and that slavery is pointed out in the prophetic word as the darkest and most damning sin upon this nation. It has taught that Heaven has wrath in store for the nation which it would drink to the very dregs, as due punishment for the sin of slavery. And the anti-slavery teachings of several of our publications based upon certain prophecies have been such that their circulation has been positively forbidden in the slave States.”14

During the antebellum period, slavery served as the Adventists’ paramount proof that America was the two-horned beast of Revelation 13. The pioneers undeniably viewed this beast (America) as draconic, its lamb-like qualities merely a façade. They identified the United States as an oppressive power because they witnessed the nation targeting minorities as internal threats to majority rule. As Trevor O’Reggio, chair of the department of Church History at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, explained regarding the Adventist pioneers, “The distinct feature of the nation was its deceitful and hypocritical nature. It gave the impression of a gentle, harmless lamb, but beneath that lamb-like pretension was a fierce dragon heart. It was a dragon beast at its core; it did not evolve into one.”15

About the author

Kevin M. Burton is the director of the Center for Adventist Research. He is also an assistant director of the Ellen G. White Estate and an assistant professor in the Church History Department at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He earned his PhD in religion at Florida State University with a primary emphasis in American Religious History and a secondary emphasis in Race Studies. His doctoral dissertation focuses on Adventist involvement in the abolition movement. He has also published several book reviews, encyclopedia entries, monograph chapters, and journal articles on Millerite and Seventh-day Adventist history. He has previously taught at Florida State University and was an instructor in American History at Southern Adventist University. More from Kevin M. Burton.
  1. Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2001); Kevin M. Burton, “Adventists and the Military,” in The Oxford Handbook of Seventh-day Adventism, Michael W. Campbell, et al. eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2024), 527–528. ↩︎
  2. E. G. White, The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan from the Destruction of Jerusalem to the End of the Controversy, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4 (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1884), 502n6. ↩︎
  3. For an introduction to the history of American slavery, see Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014); Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016). For an introduction to religious intolerance in America, see John Corrigan and Lynn S. Neal, eds., Religious Intolerance in America: A Documentary History, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2020); John Corrigan, Religious Intolerance, America, and the World: A History of Forgetting and Remembering (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020). ↩︎
  4. J. N. Andrews, “Thoughts on Revelation XIII and XIV,” Review and Herald, May 19, 1851, 84; cf. J. N. Andrews, “The Three Angels of Rev. XIV, 6–12. The Two-Horned Beast,” Review and Herald, April 3, 1855, 201–204. ↩︎
  5. Uriah Smith, “The Warning Voice of Time and Prophecy, Part II,” Review and Herald, June 23, 1853, 18. ↩︎
  6. J. N. Loughborough, “The Image of the Beast,” Review and Herald, September 20, 1853, 85. ↩︎
  7. J. N. Loughborough, “The Two-Horned Beast,” Review and Herald, March 21, 1854, 65–67. ↩︎
  8. J. N. Loughborough, “The Two-Horned Beast,” Review and Herald, March 28, 1854, 73–75. ↩︎
  9. The emphasis is in the original. E. R. Seaman, “The Days of Noah and the Son of Man,” Review and Herald, June 13, 1854, 156–157. ↩︎
  10. [Uriah Smith], “True Reforms and Reformers,” Review and Herald, June 26, 1856, 68. Please note that the brackets appear in the original in this quotation. Also note that the reference to Kansas refers to “Bleeding Kansas” and the reference to a senator refers to “Bleeding Sumner”—both references to the slave power. See also, [Uriah Smith], “The Dragon Voice,” Review and Herald, February 5, 1857, 106. ↩︎
  11.  J[ames] W[hite], “Revelation Twelve,” Review and Herald, January 8, 1857, 76. ↩︎
  12. [Uriah Smith], “The Two-Horned Beast–Rev. xiii. Are the United States a Subject of Prophecy?,” Review and Herald, March 19, 1857, 156–157; cf. Uriah Smith, “The National Sin,” Review and Herald, August 20, 1861, 94. ↩︎
  13. The emphasis and brackets are in the original. J. N. Loughborough, “The Two-Horned Beast of Rev. xiii, a Symbol of the United States,” Review and Herald, July 2, 1857, 65–66; cf. J. N. Loughborough, “The Two-Horned Beast of Rev. xiii, a Symbol of the United States,” Review and Herald, July 9, 1857, 73–76; J. N. Loughborough, “The Two-Horned Beast of Rev. xiii, a Symbol of the United States,” Review and Herald, July 16, 1857, 81. ↩︎
  14.  [James White], “The Nation,” Review and Herald, August 12, 1862, 84. ↩︎
  15. Trevor O’Reggio, “Slavery, Prophecy and the American Nation as Seen by the Adventist Pioneers, 1854–1865,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 17, no. 2 (Autumn 2006): 158. ↩︎
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