Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years: 1862-1876 (vol. 2)


Chapter 8—(1864-1865) The War and Its Unexpected Close

In mid-1864 problems related to the war accelerated. Under the draft law passed by Congress on March 3, 1863, there was provision that those conscientiously opposed to bearing arms could be assigned “to duty in the hospitals, or to the care of freedmen,” or could, by the payment of $300, be excused from the draft (“The Views of Seventh-day Adventists Relative to Bearing Arms,” pp. 3,4). Under these liberal provisions, Seventh-day Adventists generally, if drafted, paid $300 and were excused from serving. In the light of the counsel given by God through Ellen White, it seemed consistent to take this course and thus escape the many problems of military service. But the law was amended on July 4, 1864; the $300 commutation provision, was revoked, but with Quakers seemingly in mind, the amendment declared: 2BIO 99.1

“Nothing contained in this Act is to be construed to alter, or in any way affect the Law relative to those conscientiously opposed to bearing arms.”—The Review and Herald, 4 July, 1864. 2BIO 99.2

This meant that the $300 commutation provision now applied only to those officially recognized as noncombatants. Up to this point Seventh-day Adventists, although firmly of that persuasion, had not publicly declared this fact, nor was their position officially recognized. The church must act quickly to obtain official noncombatant status. Church leaders, working through proper channels, took immediate steps to achieve this. The first step was to gain the endorsement of the governor of Michigan, Austin Blair. Hence the following communication was taken to him August 3, 1864, by the three members of the General Conference Committee: 2BIO 99.3

We the undersigned, Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, respectfully beg leave to present for your consideration the following statements: 2BIO 100.1

The denomination of Christians calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists, taking the Bible as their rule of faith and practice, are unanimous in their views that its teachings are contrary to the spirit and practice of war; hence, they have ever been conscientiously opposed to bearing arms. If there is any portion of the Bible which we, as a people, can point to more than another as our creed, it is the law of ten commandments, which we regard as the supreme law, and each precept of which we take in its most obvious and literal import. 2BIO 100.2

The fourth of these commandments requires cessation from labor on the seventh day of the week, the sixth prohibits the taking of life, neither of which, in our view, could be observed while doing military duty. Our practice has uniformly been consistent with these principles. Hence our people have not felt free to enlist into the service.... 2BIO 100.3

We would further represent that Seventh-day Adventists are rigidly anti-slavery, loyal to the government, and in sympathy with it against the rebellion. 2BIO 100.4

But not having had a long existence as a distinct people, and our organization having but recently been perfected, our sentiments are not yet extensively known. The change in the law renders it necessary that we take a more public stand in the matter. For this reason we now lay before your Excellency the sentiments of Seventh-day Adventists, as a body, relative to bearing arms, trusting that you will feel no hesitation in endorsing our claim that, as a people, we come under the intent of the late action of Congress concerning those who are conscientiously opposed to bearing arms, and are entitled to the benefits of said laws. John Byington General Conference J. N. Loughborough Executive Committee George W. Amadon of Seventh-day Adventists Battle Creek, August 2, 1864. 2BIO 100.5

This communication addressed to the governor was accompanied by letters of introduction and commendation from the mayor and the leading citizens of Battle Creek. 2BIO 101.1