including the seventh-day variety, drew upon more than 300 years of Protestant
historicist interpretation in identifying the first two beasts of Revelation
13 with pagan and papal Rome. Protestants from Martin Luther and the English
Reformers through seventeenth-century American Puritan writers such as John
Cotton, John Eliot, and Cotton Mather had laid the groundwork. A long interpretative
tradition identified a historical succession in the prophetic symbolism of John's
"beastly powers" by which the military tyranny of imperial Rome became
the political and ecclesiastical tyranny of the medieval and Reformation-era
the book of Revelation with the Old Testament prophecies of Daniel had led Protestant
authors to identify the predicted reign of the papal "second beast"
with a period of 1260 years. Millerite Adventists, along with other Evangelicals,
had concluded that this 1260-year period had ended in 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte's
armies invaded the Papal States and made Pius VI a prisoner, inflicting the
"deadly wound" predicted by the apostle. The logic of their approach
now dictated that they look for a contemporary political power, symbolized by
the third or "lamblike beast" of Revelation 13, that would help the
wounded papal authority reestablish its worldwide hegemony. The new political
power would persecute God's true saints who "keep the commandments of God
and hold the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17),* especially including the
By so doing, that
political power would demonstrate its predicted true character: it would "speak
like a dragon," (Rev. 13:11) and cause "all, both small and great,
both rich and poor, both free and slave" to be "marked"
indicating submission to papal authority (verse 16). Even more ominously, it
would exercise almost total economic control: "No one can buy or sell who
does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its
name" (verse 17).
Adventists weren't the first to identify America with the "two-horned beast"
of Revelation 13. Ebenezer Frothingham, a leading minister of the eighteenth-century
Great Awakening, had made the connection explicit more than a century earlier.5
The contribution of the Review authors and editors was to identify the
United States as the third beast because it mandated submission to papal
authority, tolerated (and even embraced) a culture both "free and slave,"
and dominated an economic system built on these evils. Slavery wasn't only morally
reprehensible, and thus a "foul blot"6 on the national character of
the United States: it also identified the United States as the predicted oppressive
power that would exercise control immediately before the second coming of Jesus.
Like all detailed prophetic interpretation, this is complicated stuff. But for
the editors who assembled the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald from 1853
to 1861 it wasn't simply speculative inquiry. They were as convinced of their
identification of the United States as the predicted persecuting power as they
were of the necessity of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath or of the nearness
of the Second Coming.7 It was the apparent contradiction between appearance
and character that fascinated them: the third beast appeared "lamblike"
and mild, but acted like a dragon. It was only a short step to an identification
with a young nation that purported to embrace the republican and "mild"
principles of toleration and freedom of conscience, but was already enslaving
more than three and a half million of its own inhabitants.
So it was that
a succession of Review authors and editors during this eight-year span
lined up to indict the United States for failing to live up to its first principles.
According to E. R. Seaman the Fugitive Slave Law was "the foulest stain
that ever blotted the history of any nation, especially one whose professions
are entirely of an opposite character."8 A year later J. N. Andrews would
write, "If 'all men are born free and equal,' why then does this power
hold three millions of human beings in the bondage of slavery? Why is it that
the Negro race is reduced to rank of chattels personal, and bought and sold
like brute beasts?"9 James White expected little in the way of reformation:
"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."10
Uriah Smith pressed the indictment even more pointedly:
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
this 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."11
also came in for thinly-disguised scorn in the pages of the Review. A
reprinted article from The Wesleyan confidently asserted, "The
Bible no where lends its high and solemn sanction to any form of moral evil."12
argued that proslavery clergy ought at least to apply Scripture consistently:
of these churches South argue that there is no moral wrong in slavery; for it
is a patriarchal institution, and was sanctioned by the Lord in the ceremonial
law. If they contend that it is morally right to hold slaves now because they
were held in patriarchal times, then it must be morally right to use them as
they were used then. Then every one could go free at the jubilee every
seventh year, unless he loved his master and wanted to abide with him. Let those
who contend for patriarchal slavery here, carry it out fully and give the slaves
one jubilee, and what would be the result?"13
Breadth of Evil
Articles and editorials appearing in the magazine also castigated specific institutions
that appeared to be tolerating the fundamental wrong that Review writers
believed slavery to be. The Methodist Episcopal Church and the American Tract
Society, both of which endured protracted debates about slavery, were frequently
cited for a lack of moral courage. John Wesley's description of slavery as "the
sum of all villainies" was regularly quoted,14 and significant space was
given to reprints from other journals that were critical of the Methodist equivocation
A reprinted article
also scorned the American Tract Society, one of the most influential of the
interdenominational movements of the era, for its unwillingness to denounce
that dares not rebuke stealing, adultery, and blasphemy, under the general name
of slavery, is a whited sepulchre, and is in alliance with the bitterest foes
of Christ. If the American Tract Society, through a squeamish conservatism,
a most unmartyr-like fear and liberalism has been betrayed into this sin, let
it repent, and bring forth works meet for repentance."16
The drumbeat of
Adventist opposition to slavery only increased as the 1850s progressed. The
Fugitive Slave Law was routinely lambasted, both for its inherent moral depravity
and for the evidence it provided of how the proslavery forces were controlling
the national political agenda.17 Lengthy accounts of the capture of fugitive
slaves in Northern cities were printed, and their captors were regularly denounced.
authors and writers routinely scorned the celebrated "national reconciliations"
of the pre-Civil War era-the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise
of 1850-as Northern acquiescence to Southern political domination.18 The costs
of slavery in human and economic resources were deplored as well. Review
editors read the recent his-tory of their country as the outworking of slave-holding
power upon the national government:
not to say that this government has been so administered, for the last quarter
of a century, as to be destructive of the lives, the liberties and the happiness
of a portion of the people; in short, it has become destructive of the very
objects for which it was established. Its influence and its powers have been
exerted to extend the most barbarous system of human bondage known to mankind.
Three distinct and separate wars have been waged to uphold and maintain the
system of American slavery. More than three hundred millions of dollars have
been drawn from the pockets of our laboring people, and paid out by government
for that purpose, and more than five hundred thousand human victims have been
sent to premature graves to uphold and maintain the interests of an institution
which the present administration and its supporters are seeking to extend and
Even presidents were criticized for dillydallying about slavery. "At this
critical moment [March 28, 1854, during the presidency of New Hampshire native
Franklin Pierce] the astounding proposition comes from the citizen who is now
president," a reprinted piece opined, "to repeal the statute which
secures the immeasurable blessings of freedom to Nebraska, and to establish
therein the dire institution of African Slavery."20 A reprint from the
London Freeman, general paper of English Baptists, criticized the 1856
election of James Buchanan and tweaked freedom-loving Americans at the same
of Mr. Buchanan was a great triumph of the worst of causes; of slavery and slaveholders
over Christianity and Christian churches; and it was gained by the defection
of the great Quaker State, Pennsylvania, from the principles of its founder!
America is the most degraded, at pres-ent, morally and religiously, of all free
and Protestant countries. It is the reproach of evangelical christendom. Her
slaveholders defy both God and man, and the freemen of the free states sacrifice
their own political freedom and the personal rights of the negro, to a low and
noisy political party! The United States are to us a greater grief than heathendom
and popery, for the names of Christianity and Protestantism, of civil and religious
liberty, are blasphemed through them. Oh, that the free states may burst their
fetters, get rid of the accursed thing, and join the mother country in heading
the march of Christianity and civilization!"21
The Supreme Court's
Dred Scott decision (which allowed for the re-enslavement of a previously
freed slave) was denounced by Uriah Smith22 and again in a lengthy extract of
a speech by Abraham Lincoln from the celebrated Lincoln-Douglas debates of the
1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. The increasing agitations and violence in
Kansas were also duly noted. While the Review editors were clearly favorable
to the antislavery forces attempting to settle in Kansas, they printed an article
that deplored the northern Evangelical ministers who endorsed violence as a
solution to the territory's crisis:
men following Jesus? Are they harnessing themselves and followers with gospel
weapons? Are they exhibiting implicit confidence in the perfect law of God?
Do they acknowledge that there is but one Lawgiver for the Christian? Do they
hear Paul say, 'The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through
God, to the pulling down of strongholds?' 2 Cor. 10:4. Are they finally heeding
the scriptures that they professedly teach?"23
In light of what today would be regarded as the increasing "politicization"
of the Review's content through the 1850s, it is remarkable how firmly
most Review authors and editors avoided direct political involvement.
During the Buchanan-Fremont presidential contest of 1856, Uriah Smith pronounced
both the Democratic and Republican candidates unsuitable because they weren't
committed to the eradication of slavery. Just one week before the November election,
corresponding editor R. F. Cotrell reiterated the futility of voting:
can vote against slavery, says one. Very well; supposing I do, what will be
the effect? In the last great persecution, which is just before us, the decrees
of the image will be against the 'bond' as well as the free. Bondmen will exist
then till the last-till God interposes to deliver His saints, whether bond or
free. My vote then cannot free the slaves; and all apparent progress towards
emancipation will only exasperate their masters, and cause an aggravation of
those evils it was intended to cure. I cannot, therefore, vote against slavery;
neither can I vote for it."24
Not all Review
readers appreciated the non-political approach of the editorial team. Because
the magazine also functioned as a kind of billboard for isolated Seventh-day
Adventists, strongly-worded letters to the editor were a regular feature. Anson
Byington, a New York relative of the man who would become the first president
of the denomination when it officially organized in 1863, complained that the
Review was abandoning the moral high ground by not advocating more direct
I have taken the Review some six or seven years and have been much edified
with its contents. Having been engaged for the last twenty-five years in the
antislavery cause, I have regarded the Review as an auxiliary until the
last two or three years, in which it has failed to aid the cause of abolition.
And as I want my money for abolition purposes, I must discontinue the paper
when the three dollars herein enclosed are expended.
"I dare not
tell the slave that he can afford to be contented in his bondage until the Saviour
comes however near we may believe his coming. Surely the editor of the Review
could not afford to go without his breakfast till then. If it was our duty to
remember those in bonds as bound with them eighteen hundred years ago, it must
be our duty still. 'When saw we thee hungry or athirst, sick or in prison, and
did not minister unto thee.'"25
"Alas! we saw the slave in prison, but on reading the prophecy that there
will be bondmen as well as freemen at Christ's coming, we have excused ourselves
from any efforts for his emancipation."26
The editors clearly
felt the need to defend themselves from the implication that they weren't completely
serious about their opposition to slavery. With more than a touch of indignation,
they answered Byington by stressing their inability to do anything practical
about the social evil:
in regard to slavery could hardly be mistaken by any who are acquainted with
our position on the law of God, the foundation of all reform, the radical stand
point against every evil. Slavery as a sin we have never ceased to abhor; its
ravages we have never ceased to deprecate; with the victims locked in its foul
embrace, we have not ceased to sympathize. But what is to be done? The tyranny
of oppression secludes them from our reach."27
editors must have realized that such protests of helplessness rang hollow in
a magazine that had frequently celebrated the courageous acts of those resisting
the Fugitive Slave Law and had condemned institutions that refused to declare
themselves forthrightly against slavery. Nonetheless, they reaffirmed their
belief that political activity was shortsighted and distracting in light of
the imminent end of the world predicted in Bible prophecy. Then, and only then,
would slaves experience the emancipation that Byington and other more radical
Adventists sought to achieve for them now:
this, we do not tell the slave that he can afford to be content in slavery,
nor that he should not escape from it whenever he can, nor that all good men
should not aid him to the extent of their power, nor that this great evil should
not be resisted by any and all means which afford any hope of success. All this
should be done. And we rejoice when we hear of one of that suffering race escaping
beyond the jurisdiction of this dragon-hearted power. But we would not hold
out to him a false ground of expectation. We would point him to the coming of
the Messiah as his true hope. We would proclaim to him the near approach of
the great Jubilee, and bid him not despair under his accumulated woes."28
No Golden Millennium
With a fundamentally pessimistic view about human progress and the uplift of
the race that grew out of their eschatological vision, the "seventh-day"
Adventists of the 1850s set their faces like flint against the prevailing optimism
of their Evangelical subculture about the future of the American nation. Their
repeated tirades against American iniquities made apparent that they shared
no optimism that a "golden" millennium might begin in America and
move eastward to bless the Old World.29 Not only was the nation not, as some
Protestant clergy were proclaiming from influential pulpits, "destined
to lead the way in the moral and political emancipation of the world,"30
but the United States was prophesied to play a profoundly malignant role in
the world crisis that preceded the Second Advent.
When the Civil
War commenced in April 1861, the Review saw little reason to alter its
pessimistic assessment of America's future. As Southern states seceded from
the Union and prepared for war, the editors denounced the pro-slavery sentiments
of "traitors and thieves"31 even as they lamented the inevitability
of the coming conflict.
Four months after
the shelling of Fort Sumter, Uriah Smith wrote an editorial introduction to
a reprinted article from the abolitionist journal American Missionary
entitled "The National Sin." While the article itself at least implied
that America, purged of the evil of slavery, might again become the object of
God's special affection, Smith offered no such positive prediction. His editorial
note is an apt summary of the consistent position that he and his Review
colleagues had articulated during the previous eight years.
following article it appears that we are not alone in our views of the hypocritical
and wicked character of this nation. . . . Though in appearance it is innocent
and 'lamb-like,' it 'speaks like a dragon.' Well does the writer remark that
the 'Almighty has a controversy with this nation;' and not only with this nation,
we may add, but he has a controversy with all nations [Jer. 25:31], upon which
he is evidently now about entering [Luke 21:25, 26]; and of the cup of God's
fury from which all nations will be required to drink [Jer. 25:15] we believe
the dregs will be administered to our own [Jer. 25:26; Ps. 125:8]; for the guilt
of any people is in proportion to the strength and brightness of the light which
they reject; and how much light has been rejected by this government may be
learned from the fact that a black and revolting iniquity which all other nations
pretending to any degree of civilization have repudiated, and from which they
are hastening to cleanse their hands, is still hugged by our own with a sottish
tenacity, the people in one portion of the country blasphemously endeavoring
to defend it by the Bible, and too many of the rest conniving at both its existence
and its arrogant claims."32
As the Review's
editors saw it, the Almighty's controversy with the nation wouldn't end with
either a blood atonement offered from the veins of its young men or with a grant
of divine forgiveness. Only the second advent of Jesus, whose announced mission
was "to proclaim release to the captives" and "to let the oppressed
go free" (Luke 4:18) would finally erase all distinctions between "slave"
and "free." Their passionate opposition to the moral wrong of slavery
was part and parcel of their Adventism, and an illustration of the truth that
persons completely committed to the reality of God's new world often make the
best citizens of this one.
*Bible texts in this article are from the New Revised Standard Version.
"The Warning Voice of Time and Prophecy," Advent Review and Sabbath
Herald, June 23, 1853.
2Oliver Jacques, "Driven by a Dream," Adventist Review, May
4The journal now known as the Adventist Review.
5Ebenezer Frothingham, "The Articles of the Separate Churches," in
The Great Awakening: Documents Illustrating the Crisis and Its Consequences,
ed. Alan Heimert and Perry Miller (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1967), p.
6James White, "True Reforms and Reformers," Advent Review and Sabbath
Herald, June 26, 1856.
7A new archival resource, Words of the Pioneers, produced by the Adventist Pioneer
Library, allows a full-text search of all content in the Advent Review and
Sabbath Herald in this period.
8E. R. Seaman, "The Days of Noah and the Sons of Man," Advent Review
and Sabbath Herald, June 13, 1854.
9J. N. Andrews, "The Three Angels of Rev. XIV, 6-12," Advent Review
and Sabbath Herald, Apr. 3, 1855.
10James White, "Revelation Twelve," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,
Jan. 8, 1857.
11Uriah Smith, "The Two-Horned Beast-Rev. XIII," Advent Review
and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 19, 1857.
12"The Decalogue," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 13,
13J. N. Loughborough, "The Two-Horned Beast of Rev. XIII, a Symbol of the
United States," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 2, 1857.
14Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 6, 1855; "Methodism and
Slavery," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 27, 1858.
15"Methodism and Slavery," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,
May 27, 1858.
16In Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 21, 1857.
17"The Nebraska Bill," Foreign News, Advent Review and Sabbath
Herald, Mar. 7, 1854; J. N. Loughborough, "The Two-Horned Beast,"
Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 21, 1854.
18Loughborough, "The Two-Horned Beast of Rev. XIII," Advent Review
and Sabbath Herald, July 9, 1857.
19J. R. Giddings, reprinted in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Feb.
20New York Tribune, Feb. 18, 1854, in Loughborough, "The Two-Horned Beast,"
Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 28, 1854.
21"What Is Said of Us," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Apr.
22Smith, "The Two-Horned Beast-Rev. XIII," Advent Review and Sabbath
Herald, Mar. 19, 1857.
23E. Everts, "Follow Me," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,
Aug, 14, 1856.
24R. F. Cottrell, "How Shall I Vote," Advent Review and Sabbath
Herald, Oct. 30, 1856.
25Anson Byington in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 10, 1859.
27Editorial note, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 10, 1859.
29Jonathan Edwards, "The Latter-Day Glory Is Probably to Begin in America,"
in God's New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny, ed.
Conrad Cherry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), p. 55.
30Lyman Beecher, "A Plea for the West," in God's New Israel,
31William S. Foote, "Notes on Men and Things," Advent Review and
Sabbath Herald, Apr. 16, 1861.
32Smith, "The National Sin," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,
Aug. 20, 1861.
Bill Knott is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.