Arguments on the Breckinridge Sunday Bill



Mr. Corliss.—MR. CHAIRMAN: I have little time for preliminaries, and none for personalities. I have, however, some arguments to present against the bill under consideration, merely pausing to say that I thank the last speaker [Mr. Crafts] for his confession of lack of argument in support of the bill, which he has shown in the fact of his having indulged in personalities the most of the time allotted to him. I can use my time to better advantage. I will use only a half hour, then yield a half hour to Mr. Jones, of New York. Mr. McKee, also, has a brief; which he will present for consideration. ABSB 5.2

The Chairman.—We desire to know in whose behalf you appear. ABSB 5.3

Mr. Corliss.—I reside in this city, sir, with my family. I speak in behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Washington, of which I am, at present, the pastor; as a citizen of the United States, end as a resident of this District, I appear, not, as has been affirmed before you, to speak in behalf of a Saturday Sabbath. Far from it, gentlemen of the committee. If this bill, No. 3854, were to have incorporated in it, instead of “Sunday, or the first day of the week,” the words “Saturday, or the seventh day of the week,” there is no one who would oppose it stronger than I. And I would oppose it just as strongly as I do in its present form, for the reason that it is not sectarianism that calls us here to-day; but we see in this bill a principle of religious legislation that is dangerous, not to our liberties in particular, but to the liberties of the nation. For, as you perceive, this bill has an exemption clause providing that “this act shall not be construed to apply to any person or persons who conscientiously believe in, and observe, another day of the week than Sunday as a day of rest.” This fact gives us more courage to oppose the measure, because we know that all fair-minded people will be able to see that our opposition arises from a broader and higher motive than that of self-interest. There are then, sir, good reasons why we maintain the attitude in which we are found to-day, and which we will shortly proceed to lay before you. ABSB 5.4

But before doing this I desire to call your attention to this roll of petitions which I hold in my hand. Here are 7,649 personal signatures, obtained in this city, praying that this bill, or any one of similar import, shall not become the law of this District. But, in order to belittle the efforts against this proposed Sunday law, the statement has been made in your hearing that these signatures were gathered on the street corners and other public places, in a hurried manner, and, in many instances, from people who were deceived as to the nature of the document to which they were giving their signatures; but, gentlemen of the committee, these names have not been thus gathered. On this roll appear the autographs of the leading citizens and business men of Washington men whose intelligence and business capacity are well known. And what method has been adopted by which to secure these names? Well, sirs, in most cases petitions were placed in their hands, accompanied with printed slips giving sixteen reasons why the petitions should have their signatures. These were left with them a week or more, according to circumstances, thus giving them ample time to weigh the matter carefully. When they were waited on, to receive the petitions from their hands, many have said they would gladly sign them. Now if these people were deceived, it must be because their intelligence is below the average, and I am not prepared to say that of the citizens of Washington and the District of Columbia. If the gentleman whose criticism I am now noticing, wishes to assume that such is the condition of the people here, let him bear the responsibility. But this is enough on that point. I will now pay attention to the bill itself. ABSB 6.1

The title of it is, “A bill to prevent persons from being forced to labor on Sunday.” This title is an incongruous one, because the bill makes no provision whatever to prevent one person from forcing another to work on Sunday. Neither does it propose to punish for doing such a thing. It does, however, propose to punish by a fine anyone who works on that day, whether forced or not. There must be some reason for giving the bill so misleading a title, and that reason will, perhaps, be shown before we get through with this discussion. The fact is, no one in the District of Columbia, or in any other part of the United States, is being forced to labor on Sunday. If he were, he has redress already, without the enactment of this bill into law, and that by the Constitution of the United States. Article 13 of amendments to that instrument, declares that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” But it was claimed by Mr. Crafts that a man is compelled to labor on Sunday, when he is asked to do so, or give up his position, if he refuses. It is true that in such a case a man has to take his choice between two things offered him, but if he chooses to do that which he believes to be wrong, the act is entirely voluntary on his part. If any man has not the courage to do right under such temptation, his love of right and faith in Christianity are, to say the least, so very weak that such a law as this bill contemplates could not help him any. Gentlemen, you cannot make a man a Christian by law. ABSB 7.1

But no case has been stated where a man ever lost a position by refusing to work on Sunday. On the contrary, Mr. Crafts himself says in this document [holding it up] just published, entitled “Addresses on the Civil Sabbath”— ABSB 8.1

“I have searched the world over in vain for an affirmative answer to the question, Did you ever know a man financially ruined by refusing to do Sunday work? I have found scores of instances where courageous conscientiousness in this matter led to promotion, none where it led to poverty.” ABSB 8.2

Mr. Crafts.—Read on. That is not a fair quotation. ABSB 8.3

Mr. Corliss—I will; the next word is, “Applause!” and that is all there is in this little document on the point. The rest will be found in Mr. Crafts’ book entitled “The Sabbath for Man,” p. 428, which will be further quoted from before the hearing is through. But I have heard the gentleman say repeatedly, in his public lectures, that he has written to every nation under heaven except Afghanistan, asking this question, but always with the same result. It is, therefore, not true to say that anyone is forced to labor on Sunday, or suffer pecuniarily. Then, the title of this bill is grossly misleading. ABSB 8.4

“But,” it is asked, “has not Congress the same right to pass a law making six days a week’s work as it has to make eight hours a legal day’s work?” That may be done, but it would not be in the same line with the legislation this bill proposes. This bill enforces a penalty upon him who works on Sunday, but Congress does not say that the man who works more than eight hours a day shall pay a hundred dollars’ fine. If this bill were only to make six days constitute a week’s work, permitting anyone to, labor more if he choose, there would be a similarity; but, as the bill reads, you all recognize the difference between the two points. ABSB 9.1

This bill, instead of having a civil character, is a purely religious document, as you will notice by an examination of it. A civil bill can make provision for only civil matters, but this one enjoins the observance of a day, the non-observance of which is no incivility to anyone. Sunday observance originated in religious worship, and has ever been regarded as a purely religious rite. Civil offenses are those which invade the rights of property or person, but if one labors on Sunday, he invades the rights of no human being. He robs no one of any property or of a single personal right. His neighbor may observe the day if he chooses, just the same as if the other man were doing so. It is not the day on which an act is performed which makes it civil or uncivil. It is just as wrong to strike a man on Monday as to do it on Sunday. It is just as wrong to drink whisky on Monday as to drink it on Sunday. If it were true that the day itself could constitute an act a civil offense, then it might be argued that labor on Sunday is a civil offense. But just as soon as the position is assumed that labor is a civil offense (no matter on what day it is performed) then labor is made a crime. Therefore, by the terms of this bill, honest labor becomes a crime, for it expressly forbids anyone to perform honest labor. It may be said that labor only becomes a crime by being performed on Sunday; but if labor is a crime when done on one day of the week, it is a crime on every day of the week, since it is not the day on which a deed is done that constitutes a crime, but the deed it-self must be the crime (if crime it is) on whatever day it is performed. So, then, if the courts of the country recognize the principle that labor done on one day of the week is a crime, when on all other days of the week the same labor would be lawful, then they really legalize crime on every day of the week except that one. This shows the falsity of the claim that this bill is a civil one. ABSB 9.2

But it may be said that it is the disturbance to others, by the performance of Sunday labor, that constitutes it a crime. But why should Sunday labor disturb another any more than that which is done on any other day of the week? Manifestly, only because it is thought to be religiously wrong. In other words, such disturbance can only be of a mental character. For instance, when I go out into my garden and quietly work, or even go out on the street and work on Sunday, I have taken nothing from any man. I do not deprive him of his right to keep the day. Then wherein is the disturbance?—Certainly not in the deprivation of rights. It must then only be in a mental disturbance. Upon this point allow me to cite the decision of Judge Walton, of Lewiston, Maine, in a case where a man was prosecuted for drawing cord-wood through the streets on Sunday. In his charge to the jury, the Judge said that his impression was that the complaint could not be maintained, for the defendant had quietly and in an unobtrusive manner hauled his wood, without coming into the immediate neighborhood of a meeting. The prosecuting attorney suggested that it might have been where people were returning home from church. But the Judge decided that that would be but a mental operation, a matter of the mind, of conscience, because they thought it wrong, that it did not look right. “For my part,” he says, “I do not see why anyone driving quietly along with his load on one day of the week should cause any more disturbance than on any other day of the week. It only disturbs people because they think it wrong.” And this is the basis of all Sunday legislation. People think Sunday work to be wrong, and are therefore disturbed because someone else does not believe just the same as they do in the matter. ABSB 10.1

But if mental disturbance constitutes a civil offense, then the preaching of opinions diverse from those of the majority of people is also a civil offense, and is indictable in the courts of the country, for, as you have seen to-day by the personalities indulged in, there are men who are more or less disturbed by such work. It is thus easy to see that such reasoning would quickly deprive the minority of all their religious rights. Let such a bill as this pass, and it would be but another step to make all mental disturbance on Sunday a crime. Then woe betide the man who dared publicly to proclaim any religious views on that day, not in harmony with his neighbor. There is danger in taking the first step in religious legislation. It is everyone’s privilege to keep the Sabbath—not as a civil duty but as a religious duty. That is, however, a matter belonging wholly to individuals, as a right of conscience, with which the courts have nothing to do except to protect each one from disturbance in his devotions. But this bill is not necessary for that purpose, for every State and Territory in this Union has already a law providing that religious meetings held on any day of the week shall be protected from disturbance. ABSB 11.1

I wish here to reiterate the statement that Sunday was set apart only for a religious reason; and I will submit on this point an extract from the argument of Rufus King, made before the Superior Court of the Cincinnati Board of Education, which was tried to decide the question as to whether or not the Bible should be taught in the public schools of that city. Mr. King was attempting to show, in support of having the Bible taught as part of the public education, that it was the province of the State to enforce religion. And to prove his position true he cited the Sunday law of that State, saying:— ABSB 12.1

“The proviso of the Sunday law exempts those only who conscientiously observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. Why are they exempted? Why, but because they religiously observe mother Sabbath? Why then does the law of Ohio enforce the observance of Sunday?—Manifestly because it is religious.” ABSB 13.1

Then he says upon the same point: “The same law makes it a penal offense to profanely swear by the name of God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost.” This last statement of his is to show that the Sunday law of Ohio is wholly religious. ABSB 13.2

In this connection let me say, gentlemen, that the District of Columbia has just the same kind of a Sunday law as that of Ohio. This law of the District of Columbia was in force when this book was issued which I hold in my hand, which was April 1, 1868; and I am told that this law (which I will read) was re-enacted in 1874. I now quote from the law. Section 1 provides that— ABSB 13.3

“If any person shall deny the Trinity, he shall, for the first offense, be bored through the tongue, and fined twenty pounds; ...and for the second offense, the offender being thereof convict as aforesaid, shall be stigmatized by burning on the forehead with the letter B, and fined forty pounds; and for the third offense, the offender being thereof convict as aforesaid, shall suffer death, without the benefit of the clergy.” ABSB 13.4

Section lo of the same law has this:— ABSB 13.5

“No person whatever shall do any bodily labor on the Lord’s day, commonly called Sunday, .. and that every person transgressing this act, and being thereof convict by the evidence of one sufficient witness, or confession of the party before a civil magistrate, shall forfeit two hundred pounds of tobacco.” 1 ABSB 13.6

Now, gentlemen, that law has never been repealed— ABSB 14.1

Mr. Grout—Don’t you think that law ought to be repealed? ABSB 14.2

Mr. Corliss—I think all Sunday laws are unconstitutional, and should not exist. But I was about to say that this law does still exist, and, by reference to the statutes of the District of Columbia, it will be seen that the police of the city of Washington are obliged to enforce that law. I read:— ABSB 14.3

“It shall be the duty of the board of police, at all times of the day or night, within the boundary of said police district, to see that all laws relative to the observance of Sunday are promptly enforced.” ABSB 14.4

Now why has not this law been enforced? Certainly not because there is no such law, but because it is a part of a statute savoring so strongly of the Dark Ages as to make everyone ashamed of it. But it is this kind of company in which Sunday laws were originally found, and that is where they belong, for they are but a relic of the old system of Church and State. Indeed this law now in force in the District is as near to representing a Church and State power as it could well be. ABSB 14.5

Again: If this bill contemplates only a civil law, what right has it to exempt from its penalty a person simply because he may hold a certain religious faith. According to the provisions of this bill, a man who has a certain religious faith may do what another man without such a religious faith cannot do? This shows that it is religious and not civil. It matters not what a man’s religious faith is, it cannot exempt him from the penalties provided by law against civil offenses, for the reason that man’s religious faith cannot determine his innocence in such a case. It is just as wrong for a professed Christian to be found fighting in the street as for an avowed infidel; and it is no greater offense for an infidel to be thus engaged than for a Christian. These things are recognized by the courts. Take for example the law against polygamy; it does not exempt a man who happens to have a peculiar religious faith in relation thereto. Not by any means. One who believes it is right, religiously, to violate that law, gets no mercy because of his religious belief. Why is this?—Simply because the law against polygamy is held to be purely a civil law. In fact, a civil law can do nothing else than to hold every offender guilty, whoever he may be, or whatever may be his religious faith. Any exemption in a law, in favor of a certain religious belief, immediately stamps that law as religious. But, according to this bill, a law may be enacted which will recognize one man as a criminal because he lacks certain elements in his religious belief, while another man having these elements may be considered a good citizen, even though he has done the very same act by which the other man was adjudged guilty; and the framers of this bill must be marvelously dull of comprehension not to see it. ABSB 14.6

The Chairman—When was this old law enacted, to which you refer? ABSB 15.1

Mr. Corliss—In 1723. ABSB 16.1

The Chairman—Before the formation of the District? ABSB 16.2

Mr. Corliss—Yes, sir; and it was re-enacted in 1874. ABSB 16.3

A Member of the Committee—Yes, and a man was tried under that law six years ago. ABSB 16.4

Mr. Corliss—More than this, it is admitted by many of the friends of this measure, that it is for a religious purpose. I will here read a few extracts, in proof of this, from a verbatim report of a convention lately held in the Foundry Church in this city, expressly to work up favor for this bill. The first extract is from the speech of Hon. Mr. Dingley, of Maine, which shows how he regards this measure:— ABSB 16.5

“You know, yourselves, something of the influence of the observance of the Sabbath upon physical conditions and welfare. No man or woman can defy God’s law, as laid down far the observance of the Christian sabbath, in a physical direction, without having, ultimately, to pay the penalty. The Christian sabbath has been appointed for man, and for man’s highest welfare. Any business man who defies God’s law, who thinks that by working seven days in the week instead of six, who claims for himself the seventh day, and who thinks he can secure larger material returns, sooner or later finds that he is wofully mistaken. The highest results in every direction are secured by the observance of the Christian Sabbath.... I believe that it is the cause of man, and of man’s highest interests, as well as the cause of God—for there can be no separation. I believe that, in the-steps which we are taking in this District, it will develop a higher regard for, and a better observance of, the Christian sabbath, and that what we are doing for this beautiful city, the capital of the nation, is more than we can appreciate at this time.” ABSB 16.6

The next quotation is from Mr. Inglis, in which you will notice that he takes substantially the same position:— ABSB 17.1

“The basis, then, of Sabbath observance, is the command of God and the welfare of man. Now, to maintain a distinction between these principles is to maintain a distinction without a difference.” ABSB 17.2

This last statement is true, and I have heard Mr. Crafts (who is really the Sabbath Union) say many times in the desk, by way of illustration: “Here are my two arms. This [pointing to one arm] represents the civil sabbath, and this [touching the other] rep-resents the religious. It is not the religious sabbath we want enforced, but the civil one.” But I submit, gentlemen, do not these both come on Sunday? Are they not both one? Can you separate them?—No. Then in enforcing a civil sabbath, as they are pleased to term it, will not that be the enforcement also of a religious day? The fact is they are after a religious rest—a religious rite—and, while I believe in every man having a religion of his choice, I believe that God has never given credentials to anyone, to enforce a religious rite upon another. But that is what the promoters of this measure wish to do. I quote further from Mr. Inglis. After saying that the church should lead the way in this matter by its example, he said, “To all this must be added the restraining power of the law.” There! that makes their design plain enough, that we should enforce by-law a religious rite. ABSB 17.3

The Rev. Mr. Bates argued in nearly the same strain. Here is what he said in reference to people who live nearly opposite the post-office in George-town, the place of his residence:— ABSB 17.4

“On Sunday I see crowds going down to the post-office and getting their letters, and I am sure that there is not a single letter delivered on Sunday that could not have been delivered on Monday, and a great many of the church members read their letters while going to church, and when they get there they try to worship God with their minds filled with the contents of that letter. We must bring a ‘Thus saith the Lord to bear upon the church itself, so that they shall observe the day as it was intended that it should be observed by the fourth commandment, for that obligation stands firm upon the world.” ABSB 18.1

Now, to seek the enforcement by law of a day of rest, which he says has its obligation in the moral law of God, shows that he wants to restrain men from becoming so demoralized that they cannot worship God properly. The whole force of his argument is, to make men better religiously. ABSB 18.2

I next give a quotation from Rev. Mr. Power, of this city:— ABSB 18.3

“Shall the sorrows of the cross, and the joys of the resurrection, go uncommemorated? Shall we sing of earthly heroes and of earthly deliverers, and sing no psalm, and keep no feast, and celebrate no day in honor of the risen Lord? Shall this day, which is the Lord’s day, be as any other day to us? Shall it be devoted to pleasures, desecrated by secularism, and broken into a thousand fragments by the iconoclastic spirit of our time, and leave nothing remaining of this prophecy of eternity and the judgment?” ABSB 18.4

I ask you, gentlemen, to consider these words. This speech was made in behalf of the Breckinridge bill, which we are considering here to-day. The whole strength of the remarks just quoted goes to show that they are after a religious observance of the Sunday. To show that the gentleman last quoted has no idea of the Sunday being a civil day, we quote further from this speech:— ABSB 18.5

“It is not our day, much less is it the world’s day, or the devil’s day. It is the Lord’s day, as enforced by the analogy of the primitive; as imposed by the laws of our intellectual and spiritual being; as enforced by the example of Christ and his disciples, and the primitive church; as enforced by the highest social and religious interests of human society; as enforced by the natural desire of man to commemorate the greatest event in human history; as in commemoration of the great hero of human redemption.” ABSB 19.1

In these words we find it stated that “it is not man’s day.” Then, I ask you, what right has man to legislate concerning that over which he has no control? ABSB 19.2

I will call attention to one more speech made at that convention, and that is one by the Hon. Elijah A. Morse, M. C., of Massachusetts. He said:— ABSB 19.3

“To-day, the grandest people on earth are found in Scotland, because of their observance of this day. True to the ancient traditions of Massachusetts, I propose, if I have the opportunity, to stand in my place and vote for any law that will prevent the desecration of the holy sabbath-day— ABSB 19.4

“Day of all the week the best! ABSB 19.5

Emblem of eternal rest!” ABSB 19.6

If it is a purely civil enactment that they want, why do they, in their harangues to the people, continually point to the Bible and to the command of God, and denominate the day, “The holy sabbath-day,” “the prophecy of eternity and of the judgment,” and the “emblem of eternal rest”? Do they not, by this, betray the design of their own hearts? It is useless, gentlemen, to deny that the promoters of this bill desire a religious observance of the Sunday. And, could they get such a law as this bill contemplates, they are ready to take the next step, and degrade everyone who will not yield to their ideas of how the sabbath should be observed. This is not a freak of fancy. I turn to this little book again, entitled “Addresses on the Civil Sabbath.” [Exhibiting book.] Do you see these words, in large black letters here, which say, “To be hung on the breast of every man”? Mark it, gentlemen, it does not say it ought to be hung there, but it is “to be hung on the breast of every man who buys anything on Sunday.” This proposes to hang upon the breast of every man who buys anything on Sunday, a placard with these words upon it, “I am blind, selfish, shiftless.” Is not that similar to the old law of Maryland, wherein it required the blasphemer to be branded with the letter “B” in the forehead? This is what they propose to do with the men who shall buy a postage-stamp on Sunday—or even medicine for his sick family—for this says, “To be the breast of every man who buys postage-stamps, provisions, cigars, clothing, or what not, on the sabbath.” “What not,” in that connection, means anything whatsoever, and that includes medicine in case of sickness. ABSB 19.7

I would like to make a quotation from one other Fac-simile of Page in a Sunday law Document, issued by the American Sabbath Union. SABBATH REFORM LIBRARY, Vol. 1, No. 5, JAN. 16, 1890.
Issued quarterly and semi-monthly by
speech that was made at the convention previously spoken of, and that is from the Rev. George Elliott, in which he says, in speaking of their efforts in behalf of the Breckinridge bill:—
ABSB 20.1

“I do this with the greater confidence, because of the members of Congress there is but a scant half dozen who do not come from constituencies which have Sunday laws, and they will give us the same sanctities of legislation that their constituencies have.” ABSB 22.1

Rev. Geo. Elliott—The word was “sanctions.” ABSB 22.2

Mr. Corliss—That means the same thing—and more too—for, if they should give us the same “sanctions” of legislation that their constituencies have, they would give us the sanction of a Sunday law based upon the old theory of Church and State, for this is the foundation of all Sunday law. ABSB 22.3

Now, gentlemen, to show you that the sum of it all is that these people want a religious law, I quote from the official document which I hold in my hand, containing the “Notes of a Hearing before the Committee on Education and Labor of the United States Senate, December 13, 1888.” At that hearing Mr. Crafts submitted a paper which purports to be “questions” by workingmen to himself, and his answers. One of these workmen asks him the question, “Could not this weekly rest-day be secured without reference to religion, by having the workmen of an establishment scheduled in regular order for one day of rest per week, whichever was most convenient, not all resting on one day?” Answer—“A weekly day of rest has never been permanently secured in any land, except upon the basis of religious obligation. Take the religion out, and you take the rest out. Greed is so strong that nothing but God and the conscience of a man can keep him from capturing all the days for toil.” That settles the question, gentlemen. ABSB 22.4

Time expired. ABSB 23.1

Mr. Corliss—I call upon Mr. Jones. ABSB 23.2

The Chairman (to Mr. Corliss)—Here is a gentleman who wants three minutes in which to speak. If you will grant it, it shall not be taken out of your time. ABSB 23.3

Mr. Corliss—Very good. ABSB 23.4