The Great Immigration

At the taking of the first census of the United States, in 1790, the

country contained a population of about four millions in its territory

of less than one million of square miles.

Sixty years later, at the census of 1850, it contained a population of

more than twenty-three millions in its territory of about three millions

of square miles.

The vast expansion of territory to more than threef
ld the great

original domain of the United States had been made by honorable purchase

or less honorable conquest. It had not added largely to the population

of the nation; the new acquisitions were mainly of unoccupied land. The

increase of the population, down to about 1845, was chiefly the natural

increase of a hardy and prolific stock under conditions in the highest

degree favorable to such increase. Up to the year 1820 the recent

immigration had been inconsiderable. In the ten years 1820-29 the annual

arrival of immigrants was nine thousand. In the next decade, 1830-39,

the annual arrival was nearly thirty-five thousand, or a hundred a day.

For forty years the total immigration from all quarters was much less

than a half-million. In the course of the next three decades, from 1840

to 1869, there arrived in the United States from the various countries

of Europe five and a half millions of people. It was more than the

entire population of the country at the time of the first census;--

A multitude like which the populous North

Poured never from her frozen loins to pass

Rhene or the Danaw, when her barbarous sons

Came like a deluge on the South and spread

Beneath Gibraltar to the Libyan sands.

Under the pressure of a less copious flood of incursion the greatest

empire in all history, strongest in arts and polity as well as arms, had

perished utterly. If Rome, with her population of one hundred and twenty

millions, her genius for war and government, and her long-compacted

civilization, succumbed under a less sudden rush of invasion, what hope

was there for the young American Republic, with its scanty population

and its new and untried institutions?[316:1]

An impressive providential combination of causes determined this great

historic movement of population at this time. It was effected by

attractions in front of the emigrant, reinforced by impulses from

behind. The conclusion of the peace of 1815 was followed by the

beginning of an era of great public works, one of the first of which was

the digging of the Erie Canal. This sort of enterprise makes an

immediate demand for large forces of unskilled laborers; and in both

hemispheres it has been observed to occasion movements of population out

of Catholic countries into Protestant countries. The westward current

of the indigenous population created a vacuum in the seaboard States,

and a demand for labor that was soon felt in the labor-markets of the

Old World. A liberal homestead policy on the part of the national

government, and naturalization laws that were more than liberal,

agencies for the encouragement of settlers organized by individual

States and by railroad corporations and other great landed proprietors,

and the eager competition of steamship companies drumming for steerage

passengers in all parts of Europe--all these coöperated with the growing

facility and cheapness of steam transportation to swell the current of

migration. The discovery of gold in California quickened the flow of it.

As if it had been the divine purpose not only to draw forth, but to

drive forth, the populations of the Old World to make their homes in the

New, there was added to all these causes conducive to migration the

Irish famine of 1846-47, and the futile revolutions of 1848, with the

tyrannical reactions which followed them. But the great stimulus to

migration was the success and prosperity that attended it. It was

success that succeeded. The great emigration agent was the letter

written to his old home by the new settler, in multitudes of cases

inclosing funds to pay the passage of friends whom he had left behind


The great immigration that began about 1845 is distinguished from some

of the early colonizations in that it was in no sense a religious

movement. Very grave religious results were to issue from it; but they

were to be achieved through the unconscious coöperation of a multitude

of individuals each intent with singleness of vision on his own

individual ends. It is by such unconscious coöperation that the

directing mind and the overruling hand of God in history are most

signally illustrated.

In the first rush of this increased immigration by far the greatest

contributor of new population was Ireland. It not only surpassed any

other country in the number of its immigrants, but in the height of the

Irish exodus, in the decade 1840-50, it nearly equaled all other

countries of the world together. The incoming Irish millions were almost

solidly Roman Catholic. The measures taken by the British government for

many generations to attach the Irish people to the crown and convert

them to the English standard of Protestantism had had the result of

discharging upon our shores a people distinguished above all Christendom

besides for its ardent and unreserved devotion to the Roman Church, and

hardly less distinguished for its hatred to England.

After the first flood-tide the relative number of the Irish immigrants

began to decrease, and has kept on decreasing until now. Since the Civil

War the chief source of immigration has been Germany; and its

contributions to our population have greatly aggrandized the Lutheran

denomination, once so inconsiderable in numbers, until in many western

cities it is the foremost of the Protestant communions, and in Chicago

outnumbers the communicants of the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, and

the Methodist churches combined.[318:1] The German immigration has

contributed its share, and probably more than its share, to our

non-religious and churchless population. Withal, in a proportion which

it is not easy to ascertain with precision, it added multitudinous

thousands to the sudden and enormous growth of the Roman Catholic

Church. But there is an instructive contrast between the German

immigrations, whether Catholic or Protestant, and the Irish immigration.

The Catholicism of the Irish, held from generation to generation in the

face of partisan and sometimes cruelly persecuting laws, was held with

the ardor, if not of personal conviction, at least of strong hereditary

animosity. To the Germans, their religious sect, whether Catholic,

Lutheran, or Reformed, is determined for them by political arrangement,

under the principle cujus regio, ejus religio. It is matter of course

that tenets thus acquired should be held by a tenure so far removed from

fanaticism as to seem to more zealous souls much like lukewarmness.

Accustomed to have the cost of religious institutions provided for in

the budget of public expenses, the wards of the Old World state-churches

find themselves here in strange surroundings, untrained in habits of

self-denial for religious objects. The danger is a grave and real one

that before they become acclimated to the new conditions a large

percentage will be lost, not only from their hereditary communion, but

from all Christian fellowship, and lapse into simple indifferentism and

godlessness. They have much to learn and something to teach. The

indigenous American churches are not likely to be docile learners at the

feet of alien teachers; but it would seem like the slighting of a

providential opportunity if the older sects should fail to recognize

that one of the greatest and by far the most rapidly growing of the

Protestant churches of America, the Lutheran, growing now with new

increments not only from the German, but also from the Scandinavian

nations, is among us in such force to teach us somewhat by its example

of the equable, systematic, and methodical ways of a state-church, as

well as to learn something from the irregular fervor of that revivalism

which its neighbors on every hand have inherited from the Great

Awakening. It would be the very extravagance of national self-conceit if

the older American churches should become possessed of the idea that

four millions of German Christians and one million of Scandinavians,

arriving here from 1860 to 1890, with their characteristic methods in

theology and usages of worship and habits of church organization and

administration, were here, in the providence of God, only to be

assimilated and not at all to assimilate.

* * * * *

The vast growth of the Roman Catholic Church in America could not but

fill its clergy and adherents with wonder and honest pride. But it was

an occasion of immense labors and not a little anxiety. One effect of

the enormous immigration was inevitably to impose upon this church,

according to the popular apprehension, the character of a foreign

association, and, in the earlier periods of the influx, of an Irish

association. It was in like manner inevitable, from the fact that the

immigrant class are preponderantly poor and of low social rank, that it

should for two or three generations be looked upon as a church for the

illiterate and unskilled laboring class. An incident of the excessive

torrent rush of the immigration was that the Catholic Church became to a

disproportionate extent an urban institution, making no adequate

provision for the dispersed in agricultural regions.

Against these and other like disadvantages the hierarchy of the Catholic

Church have struggled heroically, with some measure of success. The

steadily rising character of the imported population in its successive

generations has aided them. If in the first generations the churches

were congregations of immigrants served by an imported clergy, the most

strenuous exertions were made for the founding of institutions that

should secure to future congregations born upon the soil the services of

an American-trained priesthood. One serious hindrance to the noble

advances that have nevertheless been made in this direction has been the

fanatical opposition levied against even the most beneficent enterprises

of the church by a bigoted Native-Americanism. It is not a hopeful

method of conciliating and naturalizing a foreign element in the

community to treat them with suspicion and hostility as alien enemies.

The shameful persecution which the mob was for a brief time permitted to

inflict on Catholic churches and schools and convents had for its chief

effect to confirm the foreigner in his adherence to his church and his

antipathy to Protestantism, and to provoke a twofold ferocity in return.

At a time when there was reason to apprehend a Know-nothing riot in New

York, in 1844, a plan was concerted and organized by a large Irish

society with divisions throughout the city, by which, in case a single

church was attacked, buildings should be fired in all quarters and the

great city should be involved in a general conflagration.[321:1]

The utmost that could have been hoped for by the devoted but inadequate

body of the Roman Catholic clergy in America, overwhelmed by an influx

of their people coming in upon them in increasing volume, numbering

millions per annum, was that they might be able to hold their own. But

this hope was very far from being attained. How great have been the

losses to the Roman communion through the transplantation of its members

across the sea is a question to which the most widely varying answers

have been given, and on which statistical exactness seems unattainable.

The various estimates, agreeing in nothing else, agree in representing

them as enormously great.[321:2] All good men will also agree that in

so far as these losses represent mere lapses into unbelief and

irreligion they are to be deplored. Happily there is good evidence of a

large salvage, gathered into other churches, from what so easily becomes

a shipwreck of faith with total loss.

It might seem surprising, in view of the many and diverse resources of

attractive influence which the Roman Church has at its command, that its

losses have not been to some larger extent compensated by conversions

from other sects. Instances of such conversion are by no means wanting;

but so far as a popular current toward Catholicism is concerned, the

attractions in that direction are outweighed by the disadvantages

already referred to. It has not been altogether a detriment to the

Catholic Church in America that the social status and personal

composition of its congregations, in its earlier years, have been such

that the transition into it from any of the Protestant churches could be

made only at the cost of a painful self-denial. The number of accessions

to it has been thereby lessened, but (leaving out the case of the

transition of politicians from considerations of expediency) the quality

of them has been severely sifted. Incomparably the most valuable

acquisition which the American Catholic Church has received has been the

company of devoted and gifted young men, deeply imbued with the

principles and sentiments of the High-church party in the Episcopal

Church, who have felt constrained in conscience and in logic to take the

step, which seems so short, from the highest level in the Anglican

Church into the Roman, and who, organized into the Order of the Paulist

Fathers, have exemplified in the Roman Church so many of the highest

qualities of Protestant preaching.

He is a bold man who will undertake to predict in detail the future of

the Roman Church in America. To say that it will be modified by its

surroundings is only to say what is true of it in all countries. To say

that it will be modified for the better is to say what is true of it in

all Protestant countries. Nowhere is the Roman Church so pure from

scandal and so effective for good as where it is closely surrounded and

jealously scrutinized by bodies of its fellow-Christians whom it is

permitted to recognize only as heretics. But when the influence of

surrounding heresy is seen to be an indispensable blessing to the

church, the heretic himself comes to be looked upon with a mitigated

horror. Not with the sacrifice of any principle, but through the

application of some of those provisions by which the Latin theology is

able to meet exigencies like this,--the allowance in favor of

invincible ignorance and prejudice, the distinction between the body

and the soul of the church,--the Roman Catholic, recognizing the

spirit of Christ in his Protestant fellow-Christian, is able to hold him

in spiritual if not formal communion, so that the Catholic Church may

prove itself not dissevered from the Church Catholic. In the common

duties of citizenship and of humanity, in the promotion of the interests

of morality, even in those religious matters that are of common concern

to all honest disciples of Jesus Christ, he is at one with his heretic

brethren. Without the change of a single item either of doctrine or of

discipline, the attitude and temper of the church, as compared with the

church of Spain or Italy or Mexico, is revolutionized. The change must

needs draw with it other changes, which may not come without some jar

and conflict between progressive and conservative, but which

nevertheless needs must come. Out of many indications of the spirit of

fellowship with all Christians now exemplified among American Catholics,

I quote one of the most recent and authoritative from an address of

Archbishop Ryan at the Catholic Congress in Chicago in 1893. Speaking on

Christian union, he said:

If there is any one thing more than another upon which people

agree, it is respect and reverence for the person and the

character of the Founder of Christianity. How the Protestant

loves his Saviour! How the Protestant eye will sometimes grow

dim when speaking of our Lord! In this great center of union

is found the hope of human society, the only means of

preserving Christian civilization, the only point upon which

Catholic and Protestant may meet. As if foreseeing that this

should be, Christ himself gave his example of fraternal

charity, not to the orthodox Jew, but to the heretical

Samaritan, showing that charity and love, while faith remains

intact, can never be true unless no distinction is made

between God's creatures.[325:1]

Herein is fellowship higher than that of symbols and sacraments. By so

far as it receives this spirit of love the American Catholic Church

enters into its place in that greater Catholic Church of which we all

make mention in the Apostles' Creed--the Holy Universal Church, which

is the fellowship of holy souls.

* * * * *

The effect of the Great Immigration on the body of the immigrant

population is not more interesting or more important than the effect of

it on the religious bodies already in occupation of the soil. The

impression made on them by what seemed an irruption of barbarians of

strange language or dialect, for the most part rude, unskilled, and

illiterate, shunning as profane the Christian churches of the land, and

bowing in unknown rites as devotees of a system known, and by no means

favorably known, only through polemic literature and history, and

through the gruesome traditions of Puritan and Presbyterian and

Huguenot, was an impression not far removed from horror; and this

impression was deepened as the enormous proportions of this invasion

disclosed themselves from year to year. The serious and not unreasonable

fear that these armies of aliens, handled as they manifestly were by a

generalship that was quick to seize and fortify in a conspicuous way the

strategic points of influence, especially in the new States, might

imperil or ruin the institutions and liberties of the young Republic,

was stimulated and exploited in the interest of enterprises of

evangelization that might counter-work the operations of the invading

church. The appeals of the Bible and tract societies, and of the

various home mission agencies of the different denominations, as well as

of the distinctively antipopery societies, were pointed with the alarm

lest the great West should fall under the domination of the papal

hierarchy. Naturally the delineations of the Roman system and of its

public and social results that were presented to the public for these

purposes were of no flattering character. Not history only, but

contemporary geography gave warnings of peril. Canada on one hand, and

Mexico and the rest of Spanish America on the other, were cited as

living examples of the fate which might befall the free United States.

The apocalyptic prophecies were copiously drawn upon for material of

war. By processes of exegesis which critical scholarship regards with a

smile or a shudder, the helpless pope was made to figure as the

Antichrist, the Man of Sin and Son of Perdition, the Scarlet Woman on

the Seven Hills, the Little Horn Speaking Blasphemies, the Beast, and

the Great Red Dragon. That moiety of Christendom which, sorely as its

history has been deformed by corruption and persecution, violently as it

seems to be contrasted with the simplicity of the primeval church, is

nevertheless the spiritual home of multitudes of Christ's well-approved

servants and disciples, was held up to gaze as being nothing but the

enemy of Christ and his cause. The appetite of the Protestant public for

scandals at the expense of their fellow-Christians was stimulated to a

morbid greediness and then overfed with willful and wicked fabrications.

The effect of this fanaticism on some honest but illogical minds was

what might have been looked for. Brought by and by into personal

acquaintance with Catholic ministers and institutions, and discovering

the fraud and injustice that had been perpetrated, they sprang by a

generous reaction into an attitude of sympathy for the Roman Catholic

system. A more favorable preparation of the way of conversion to Rome

could not be desired by the skillful propagandist. One recognizes a

retributive justice in the fact, when notable gains to the Catholic

Church are distinctly traced to the reaction of honest men from these

fraudulent polemics.[327:1]

The danger to the Republic, which was thus malignantly or ignorantly

exaggerated and distorted, was nevertheless real and grave. No sincerely

earnest and religious Protestant, nor even any well-informed patriotic

citizen, with the example of French and Spanish America before his eyes,

could look with tolerance upon the prospect of a possible Catholicizing

of the new States at the West; and the sight of the incessant tide of

immigration setting westward, the reports of large funds sent hither

from abroad to aid the propagation of the Roman Church, and the accounts

of costly and imposing ecclesiastical buildings rising at the most

important centers of population, roused the Christian patriotism of the

older States to the noblest enterprises of evangelization. There was no

wasting of energy in futile disputation. In all the Protestant

communions it was felt that the work called for was a simple, peaceful,

and positive one--to plant the soil of the West, at the first occupation

of it by settlers, with Christian institutions and influences. The

immensity of the task stimulated rather than dismayed the zeal of the

various churches. The work undertaken and accomplished in the twenty

years from 1840 to 1860 in providing the newly settled regions with

churches, pastors, colleges, and theological seminaries, with

Sunday-schools, and with Bibles and other religious books, was of a

magnitude which will never be defined by statistical figures. How great

it was, and at what cost it was effected in gifts of treasure and of

heroic lives of toil and self-denial, can only be a matter of vague

wonder and thanksgiving.

The work of planting the church in the West exhibits the voluntary

system at its best--and at its worst. A task so vast and so momentous

has never been imposed on the resources of any state establishment. It

is safe to say that no established church has ever existed, however

imperially endowed, that would have been equal to the undertaking of it.

With no imposing combination of forces, and no strategic concert of

action, the work was begun spontaneously and simultaneously, like some

of the operations of nature, by a multitude of different agencies, and

went forward uninterrupted to something as nearly like completeness as

could be in a work the exigencies of which continually widened beyond

all achievements. The planting of the church in the West is one of the

wonders of church history.

But this noble act of religious devotion was by no means a sacrifice

without blemish. The sacred zeal for advancing God's reign and

righteousness was mingled with many very human motives in the progress

of it. Conspicuous among these was the spirit of sectarian competition.

The worthy and apostolic love for kindred according to the flesh

separated from home and exposed to the privations and temptations of the

frontier, the honest anxiety to forestall the domination of a

dangerously powerful religious corporation propagating perverted views

of truth, even the desire to advance principles and forms of belief

deemed to be important, were infused with a spirit of partisanship as

little spiritual as the enthusiasm which animates the struggles and the

shouters at a foot-ball game. The devoted pioneer of the gospel on the

frontier, seeing his work endangered by that of a rival denomination,

writes to the central office of his sect; the board of missions makes

its appeal to the contributing churches; the churches respond with

subsidies; and the local rivalry in the mission field is pressed,

sometimes to a good result, on the principle that competition is the

life of business. Thus the fragrance of the precious ointment of loving

sacrifice is perceptibly tainted, according to the warning of

Ecclesiastes or the Preacher. And yet it is not easy for good men, being

men, sternly to rebuke the spirit that seems to be effective in

promoting the good cause that they have at heart.

If the effect of these emulations on the contributing churches was

rather carnal than spiritual, the effect in the mission field was worse.

The effect was seen in the squandering of money and of priceless service

of good men and women, in the debilitating and demoralizing division and

subdivision of the Christian people, not of cities and large towns, but

of villages and hamlets and of thinly settled farming districts. By the

building of churches and other edifices for sectarian uses, schism was

established for coming time as a vested interest. The gifts and service

bestowed in this cause with a truly magnificent liberality would have

sufficed to establish the Christian faith and fellowship throughout the

new settlements in strength and dignity, in churches which, instead of

lingering as puny and dependent nurslings, would have grown apace to be

strong and healthy nursing mothers to newer churches yet.

There is an instructive contrast, not only between the working of the

voluntary system and that of the Old World establishments, but between

the methods of the Catholic Church and the Protestant no-method. Under

the control of a strong coördinating authority the competitions of the

various Catholic orders, however sharp, could never be allowed to run

into wasteful extravagance through cross-purposes. It is believed that

the Catholics have not erected many monuments of their own unthrift in

the shape of costly buildings begun, but left unfinished and abandoned.

A more common incident of their work has been the buying up of these

expensive failures, at a large reduction from their cost, and turning

them to useful service. And yet the principle of sectarian competition

is both recognized and utilized in the Roman system. The various

clerical sects, with their characteristic names, costumes, methods, and

doctrinal differences, have their recognized aptitudes for various sorts

of work, with which their names are strongly associated: the Dominican

for pulpit eloquence, the Capuchin for rough-and-ready street-preaching,

the Benedictine for literary work, the Sulpitian for the training of

priests, and the ubiquitous Jesuit for shifty general utility with a

specialty of school-keeping. These and a multitude of other orders, male

and female, have been effectively and usefully employed in the arduous

labor Romanam condere gentem. But it would seem that the superior

stability of the present enterprise of planting Catholicism in the

domain of the United States, as compared with former expensive failures,

was due in some part to the larger employment of a diocesan parish

clergy instead of a disproportionate reliance on the regulars.

On the whole, notwithstanding its immense armies of immigrants and the

devoted labors of its priests, and notwithstanding its great expansion,

visible everywhere in conspicuous monuments of architecture, the

Catholic advance in America has not been, comparatively speaking,

successful. For one thing, the campaign was carried on too far from its

base of supplies. The subsidies from Lyons and Vienna, liberal as they

were, were no match for the home missionary zeal of the seaboard States

in following their own sons westward with church and gospel and pastor.

Even the conditions which made possible the superior management and

economy of resources, both material and personal, among the Catholics,

were attended with compensating drawbacks. With these advantages they

could not have the immense advantage of the popular initiative. In

Protestantism the people were the church, and the minister was chief

among the people only by virtue of being servant of all; the people were

incited to take up the work for their own and carry it on at their best

discretion; and they were free to make wasteful and disastrous blunders

and learn therefrom by experience. With far greater expenditure of

funds, they make no comparison with their brethren of the Roman

obedience in stately and sumptuous buildings at great centers of

commerce and travel. But they have covered the face of the land with

country meeting-houses, twice as many as there was any worthy use for,

in which faithful service is rendered to subdivided congregations by

underpaid ministers, enough in number, if they were wisely distributed,

for the evangelization of the whole continent; and each country

meeting-house is a mission station, and its congregation, men, women,

and children, are missionaries. Thus it has come about, in the language

of the earnest Catholic from the once Catholic city of New Orleans, that

the nation, the government, the whole people, remain solidly

Protestant.[331:1] Great territories originally discovered by Catholic

explorers and planted in the name of the church by Catholic missionaries

and colonists, and more lately occupied by Catholic immigrants in what

seemed overwhelming numbers, are now the seat of free and powerful

commonwealths in which the Catholic Church is only one of the most

powerful and beneficent of the Christian sects, while the institutions

and influences which characterize their society are predominantly


In the westward propagation of Protestantism, as well as of Catholicism,

the distinctive attributes of the several sects or orders is strikingly


Foremost in the pioneer work of the church are easily to be recognized

the Methodists and the Baptists, one the most solidly organized of the

Protestant sects, the other the most uncompact and individualist; the

first by virtue of the supple military organization of its great corps

of itinerants, the other by the simplicity and popular apprehensibleness

of its distinctive tenets and arguments and the aggressive ardor with

which it inspires all its converts, and both by their facility in

recruiting their ministry from the rank and file of the church, without

excluding any by arbitrarily imposed conditions. The Presbyterians were

heavily cumbered for advance work by traditions and rules which they

were rigidly reluctant to yield or bend, even when the reason for the

rule was superseded by higher reasons. The argument for a learned

ministry is doubtless a weighty one; but it does not suffice to prove

that when college-bred men are not to be had it is better that the

people have no minister at all. There is virtue in the rule of

ministerial parity; but it should not be allowed to hinder the church

from employing in humbler spiritual functions men who fall below the

prescribed standard. This the church, in course of time, discovered, and

instituted a minor order of ministers, under the title of colporteurs.

But it was timidly and tardily done, and therefore ineffectively. The

Presbyterians lost their place in the skirmish-line; but that which had

been their hindrance in the advance work gave them great advantage in

settled communities, in which for many years they took precedence in

the building up of strong and intelligent congregations.

To the Congregationalists belongs an honor in the past which, in recent

generations, they have not been jealous to retain. Beyond any sect,

except the Moravians, they have cherished that charity which seeketh not

her own. The earliest leaders in the organization of schemes of national

beneficence in coöperation with others, they have sustained them with

unselfish liberality, without regard to returns of sectarian advantage.

The results of their labor are largely to be traced in the upbuilding of

other sects. Their specialty in evangelization has been that of the

religious educators of the nation. They have been preëminently the

builders of colleges and theological seminaries. To them, also, belongs

the leadership in religious journalism. Not only the journals of their

own sect and the undenominational journals, but also to a notable extent

the religious journals of other denominations, have depended for their

efficiency on men bred in the discipline of Congregationalism.

It is no just reproach to the Episcopalians that they were tardy in

entering the field of home missions. When we remember that it is only

since 1811 that they have emerged from numerical insignificance, we find

their contribution to the planting of the church in the new settlements

to be a highly honorable one. By a suicidal compact the guileless

Evangelical party agreed, in 1835, to take direction of the foreign

missions of the church, and leave the home field under the direction of

the aggressive High-church party. It surrendered its part in the future

of the church, and determined the type of Episcopalianism that was to be

planted in the West.[333:1] Entering thus late into the work, and that

with stinted resources, the Episcopal Church wholly missed the

apostolic glory of not building on other men's foundations. Coming with

the highest pretensions to exclusive authority, its work was very

largely a work of proselyting from other Christian sects. But this work

was prosperously carried on; and although not in itself a work of the

highest dignity, and although the methods of it often bore a painfully

schismatic character, there is little room for doubt that the results of

it have enriched and strengthened the common Christianity of America.

Its specialties in the planting work have been the setting of a worthy

example of dignity and simplicity in the conduct of divine worship, and

in general of efficiency in the administration of a parish, and, above

all, the successful handling of the immensely difficult duties imposed

upon Christian congregations in great cities, where the Episcopal Church

has its chief strength and its most effective work.

One must needs ascend to a certain altitude above the common level in

order to discern a substantial resultant unity of movement in the

strenuous rivalries and even antagonisms of the many sects of the one

church of Christ in America in that critical quarter-century from the

year 1835 to the outbreak of the Civil War, in which the work of the

church was suddenly expanded by the addition of a whole empire of

territory on the west, and the bringing in of a whole empire of alien

population from the east, and when no one of the Christian forces of the

nation could be spared from the field. The unity is very real, and is

visible enough, doubtless, from the circle of the heavens. The sharers

in the toil and conflict and the near spectators are not well placed to

observe it. It will be for historians in some later century to study it

in a truer perspective.

* * * * *

It is not only as falling within this period of immigration, but as

being largely dependent on its accessions from foreign lands, that the

growth of Mormonism is entitled to mention in this chapter. In its

origin Mormonism is distinctly American--a system of gross, palpable

imposture contrived by a disreputable adventurer, Joe Smith, with the

aid of three confederates, who afterward confessed the fraud and perjury

of which they had been guilty. It is a shame to human nature that the

silly lies put forth by this precious gang should have found believers.

But the solemn pretensions to divine revelation, mixed with elements

borrowed from the prevalent revivalism, and from the immediate adventism

which so easily captivates excitable imaginations, drew a number of

honest dupes into the train of the knavish leaders, and made possible

the pitiable history which followed. The chief recruiting-grounds for

the new religion were not in America, but in the manufacturing and

mining regions of Great Britain, and in some of the countries,

especially the Scandinavian countries, of continental Europe. The able

handling of an emigration fund, and the dexterous combination of appeals

to many passions and interests at once, have availed to draw together in

the State of Utah and neighboring regions a body of fanatics formidable

to the Republic, not by their number, for they count only about one

hundred and fifty thousand, but by the solidity with which they are

compacted into a political, economical, religious, and, at need,

military community, handled at will by unscrupulous chiefs. It is only

incidentally that the strange story of the Mormons, a story singularly

dramatic and sometimes tragic, is connected with the history of American


To this same period belongs the beginning of the immigration of the

Chinese, which, like that of the Mormons, becomes by and by important to

our subject as furnishing occasion for active and fruitful missionary


In the year 1843 culminated the panic agitation of Millerism. From the

year 1831 an honest Vermont farmer named William Miller had been urging

upon the public, in pamphlets and lectures, his views of the approaching

advent of Christ to judgment and the destruction of the world. He had

figured it out on the basis of prophecies in Daniel and the Revelation,

and the great event was set down for April 23, 1843. As the date drew

near the excitement of many became intense. Great meetings were held, in

the open air or in tents, of those who wished to be found waiting for

the Lord. Some nobly proved their sincerity by the surrender of their

property for the support of their poorer brethren until the end should

come. The awful day was awaited with glowing rapture of hope, or by some

with terror. When it dawned there was eager gazing upon the clouds of

heaven to descry the sign of the Son of man. And when the day had passed

without event there were various revulsions of feeling. The prophets set

themselves to going over their figures and fixing new dates; earnest

believers, sobered by the failure of their pious expectations, held

firmly to the substance of their faith and hope, while no longer

attempting to know times and seasons, which the Father hath put within

his own power; weak minds made shipwreck of faith; and scoffers cried

in derision, Where is the promise of his coming? A monument of this

honest delusion still exists in the not very considerable sect of

Adventists, with its subdivisions; but sympathizers with their general

scheme of prophetical interpretation are to be found among the most

earnest and faithful members of other churches.

Such has been the progress of Scriptural knowledge since the days when

Farmer Miller went to work with his arithmetic and slate upon the

strange symbols and enigmatic figures of the Old and New Testament

Apocalypses, that plain Christians everywhere have now the means of

knowing that the lines of calculation along which good people were led

into delusion a half-century ago started from utterly fallacious

premises. It is to the fidelity of critical scholars that we owe it that

hereafter, except among the ignorant and unintelligent, these two books,

now clearly understood, will not again be used to minister to the panic

of a Millerite craze, nor to furnish vituperative epithets for

antipopery agitators.

To this period also must be referred the rise of that system of

necromancy which, originating in America, has had great vogue in other

countries, and here in its native land has taken such form as really to

constitute a new cult. Making no mention of sporadic instances of what

in earlier generations would have been called (and properly enough) by

the name of witchcraft, we find the beginning of so-called

spiritualism in the Rochester rappings, produced, to the wonder of

many witnesses, by the Fox girls in 1849. How the rappings and other

sensible phenomena were produced was a curious question, but not

important; the main question was, Did they convey communications from

the spirits of the dead, as the young women alleged, and as many persons

believed (so they thought) from demonstrative evidence? The mere

suggestion of the possibility of this of course awakened an inquisitive

and eager interest everywhere. It became the subject of universal

discussion and experiment in society. There was demand for other

mediums to satisfy curiosity or aid investigation; and the demand at

once produced a copious supply. The business of medium became a regular

profession, opening a career especially to enterprising women. They

began to draw together believers and doubters into circles and

séances, and to organize permanent associations. At the end of ten

years the Spiritual Register for 1859, boasting great things,

estimated the actual spiritualists in America at 1,500,000, besides

4,000,000 more partly converted. The latest census gives the total

membership of their associations as 45,030. But this moderate figure

should not be taken as the measure of the influence of their leading

tenet. There are not a few honest Christians who are convinced that

communications do sometimes take place between the dead and the living;

there are a great multitude who are disposed, in a vague way, to think

there must be something in it. But there are few even of the earnest

devotees of the spiritualist cult who will deny that the whole business

is infested with fraud, whether of dishonest mediums or of lying

spirits. Of late years the general public has come into possession of

material for independent judgment on this point. An earnest

spiritualist, a man of wealth, named Seybert, dying, left to the

University of Pennsylvania a legacy of sixty thousand dollars, on

condition that the university should appoint a commission to investigate

the claims of spiritualism. A commission was appointed which left

nothing to be desired in point of ability, integrity, and impartiality.

Under the presidency of the renowned Professor Joseph Leidy, and with

the aid and advice of leading believers in spiritualism, they made a

long, patient, faithful investigation, the processes and results of

which are published in a most amusing little volume.[338:1] The gist of

their report may be briefly summed up. Every case of alleged

communication from the world of departed spirits that was investigated

by the commission (and they were guided in their selection of cases by

the advice of eminent and respectable believers in spiritualism) was

discovered and demonstrated to be a case of gross, willful attempted

fraud. The evidence is strong that the organized system of spiritualism

in America, with its associations and lyceums and annual camp-meetings,

and its itinerancy of mediums and trance speakers, is a system of mere

imposture. In the honest simplicity of many of its followers, and in the

wicked mendacity of its leaders, it seems to be on a par with the other

American contribution to the religions of the world, Mormonism.