Spectrum Magazine published two articles on the enigmatic 1864 amalgamation statements by Ellen White. The first was written by Gordon Shigley: Amalgamation of Man and Beast: What did Ellen White Mean? The second appeared twenty-eight years later by Ronald Osborn: Race, Science, and Early Adventist Amalgamation Theory.
Shigley reported on a debate that took place September 8, 1947 between Dr. Frank L. Marsh and Dr. Harold W. Clark at the invitation of James McElhany, president of the General Conference. The two Adventist bio-theologians had published opposing views and were asked to defend their positions. After the debate, Francis D. Nichol editor of the Review, requested Marsh to send him all of his written materials on the subject. Under sponsorship of the church’s Defense Literature Committee Nichol prepared the chapter on amalgamation in Ellen G. White and Her Critics. Nichol’s misleading intermarriage theory between the righteous and the unrighteous became the “official” interpretation for the Ellen G. White Publications’ position on amalgamation.
Osborn’s article summarized more recent reiterations including a “bazaar novel” approach by a California lawyer⎯turned geneticist and biological technocrat. David Read in Dinosaurs: An Adventist View, believed that antediluvians possessed advanced scientific knowledge, and with the help of Satan, orchestrated hybridization of animals, including man, possibly using high-powered electron microscopes and genetic engineering techniques that we are just beginning to fathom. Read also believed that White did not comprehend what she wrote under divine inspiration since she did not possess superior knowledge of DNA and genetic engineering.
Osborn made a relevant point by asking the question: “How did her readers understand White at the time, and how did White respond to criticism of her amalgamation statements?“ With this in mind, we must try to understand human variations as White saw them by speculating that amalgamation created the variations. This will be the principal focus of the present discussion.
WHAT RACIAL OPINIONS GUIDED ADVENTISTS DURING THE CIVIL WAR?
For reasons that were never fully explained, Ellen White abandoned amalgamation after the statements appeared twice in her publications over the course of twenty-five years, by incorporating and modifying a biblical derivation using Noah’s Curse that took shape in Patriarchs and Prophets. But it brings little comfort to a historian if you read how Ham was condemned to endure the humility of bondage in perpetuity after the flood.
Adventist biologists, historians, critics and apologists, for reasons that seem obvious, have all failed to investigate the historical context during the presidential campaign of 1864 when these statements appeared. The historical context is the most likely motivating force that aggravated White to take a firm position against amalgamation implying inter-racial sex between man and beast? The lens (or vision) through which White viewed this “base crime” implicated God’s anger against the sin of race mixing that grew out of the cultural hysteria associated with emancipation and amalgamation promoted by the abolitionists during the election. In 1864 the direct and fearless advocacy of amalgamation and emancipation was an “idea which the American people were more afraid than any other.“
And the second important historical context left out in all previous interpretations was a twenty-seven-page pamphlet published in 1866 by two apostate Adventist evangelists entitled: The Visions of E. G. White Not of God. They were in direct contact with White and her visions. In fact, this was the first instance that Ellen White was publicly criticized for her position on amalgamation of man and beast. Both authors, B. F. Snook (a former Methodist preacher) and Wm. H. Brinkerhoff (lawyer and teacher), had been ordained by James White and served as president and secretary of the newly formed Iowa conference.
After attending a spring meeting of the General Conference in Battle Creek in 1865 they withdrew their membership in the church. Among the fifty objections to the visions, Snook and Brinkerhoff included amalgamation as antagonistic to the teachings of the Bible⎯absurd and contradictory. This pamphlet should be the starting point in understanding White’s assertions on race and her theological teachings on human origins. Was the “beast” some kind of animal or human?
On page nine of the pamphlet is a summary of Snook and Brinkerhoff criticism of amalgamation:
“These visions teach that the Negro race is not human. This charge they deny, but we will let the reader decide for himself ... But what are we to understand by certain races of men? She (Mrs. White) has not informed us in her writings, but left us to fix the stigma of amalgamation where we may see fit. But the interpretation has come to light. She told it to her husband, and he made it known to Eld. Ingraham (William Ingraham), and he divulged the secret to the writer (Snook), that Sister White had seen that God never made the Darkey … Oh shame on such visions! Is not the poor Negro debased low enough with chains and shackles, without depriving him of the honor of being a creature of God, a human being.”
This heterodoxy pamphlet launched Uriah Smith’s immediate defense of Ellen White in 1866 and 1868. Osborn found it interesting that he could not find any mention of Smith’s The Visions of Mrs. White in early history by George Knight or Herbert E. Douglass or for that matter, searchable documents of the White Estates. The reason may have been because Smith’s defense, aimed at refuting the absurd charge that the Negro does not belong to the human family, would lead back to full-on-front criticisms of the visions by Snook and Brinkerhoff. Like F. D. Nichol, Smith was editor of the Review when he wrote this defense of the prophet, but more relevant because he was in personal contact with James and Ellen White. Smith’s pamphlet was designed for wide circulation and James and Ellen White took two thousand copies to a Michigan camp meeting in 1868 for distribution.
Smith pointed out that the effects of amalgamation were still visible in certain races of men⎯”no one can deny this and if they did they could easily be silenced by reference to Hottentots and wild Bushmen from Africa and Digger Indians in America.” But, he remarked, as long as these varieties had original Adamic blood in their veins they were human. Under this scenario, Smith confused the issue without hesitation when he argued, “naturalists affirm that the line of demarcation between human and animal races is lost in confusion. Can we suppose that this was so ordained of God in the beginning?” Smith’s defense apparently stifled further analysis on the amalgamation statements until a biologist (George McReady Price) entered the field in 1931 and started a cascade of speculative bio-theological interpretations that preceded Marsh and Clark.
THE RE-ELECTION OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
During the re-election of Abraham Lincoln in 1864 no topic was more passionately discussed in America than amalgamation (by then called miscegenation) and the emancipation of the slaves. Mrs. White statements appeared in August when blacks were viewed as inferior and by many anti-slavery activists to be a different species from whites. Facing emancipation Northerners were fearful of amalgamation and felt hardpressed to prove an absolute and immutable species difference to avoid inter-racial sex as a deviant, unnatural practice. This is apparent in White’s writings when earlier in Spiritual Gifts she referred to amalgamation as “one sin above another which called for the destruction of the race by the flood.”
Supernatual authority was attached to these writings in Spiritual Gifts. Mrs. White claimed “that the Lord has made me his humble instrument in shedding some rays of precious light upon the past.” But if we are to accept that “amalgamation of man and beast” carries some kind of divine knowledge about the ambiguous origin of “certain races of men” it makes God’s original Adamic creations suspect of manipulation by Satan or some other unknown biological laws (i.e., Ellen White embraced both the doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characteristics & underscored degeneration). Biblical literalists, although they believe that all men are of one species, are still not able to account for the physical diversity of the races.
Ellen White did not invent the word “amalgamation.” Nor for that matter, did she come up with the idea that the Flood represented God’s reaction to the sin of race mixing or amalgamation. By this time, amalagmation linked back to Noah’s Flood had a common and profane usage and her Adventist readers would understand what she meant by these statements. Abolitionists were often attacked by labelling them amalgmationists (individuals who encouraged inter-racial marriages, immediate emancipation and racial equality, as the best means to eradicate race prejudice). Because of prejudice against the slaves, the abolutionists were reviled for the specter of amalgamation. Leading up to the Civil War the radical abolitionists continued to champion the right to inter-racial marriage. For example, the anti-slavery women of Massachusetts between 1838 and 1843 petitioned their state legislature to overturn the law banning inter-racial marriage as part of their effort to obtain equal civil and political rights and privileges with the whites. So powerful was the rhetoric around amalgamation that as many as 165 anti-amalgmation riots broke out in the North with the destruction of property and life.
White was not championing amalgamation or emancipation (thus she was not an abolitionist). Without explaining her opinions, decades later she revealed her lingering prejudical views; “No one is capable of clearly defining the proper position of the colored people. Men may advance theories, but I assure you that it will not do for us to follow human theories. So far as possible the color line question should be allowed to rest.”
Adventists may have sounded like abolitionists during the Civil War, but they shared none of their hands-on political activism, inter-racial ideology, or in seeking emancipation by political means. Demanding immediate emancipation risked endangering the slow and delicate process of elevating slaves to the point where emancipation would be feasible. Doubts existed as to whether the slaves were ready to be free men and women. To the Adventists the great reform would come in God’s own time⎯the Second Coming. Though they recognized slavery as profoundly evil, the only change Adventism sought was religious, not political. American slavery revealed just how hopelessly sinful society had become. Their Advent hope prompted them to prepare spiritually for Christ’s soon coming.
In his essay “War, Slavery, and Race,” in Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet, Eric Anderson notes that Ellen White did not pay attention to the events and issues in this period that you would expect of a political activist or social reformer. Anderson writes:
Her commentary on the Civil War and slavery is, in fact, surprisingly spotty. She had nothing to say about the Fugitive Slave Law until nearly a decade, after its enactment, when the law was already a dead letter in key areas of The North. Her private correspondence yields not a single reference to the name of Lincoln, a leader about whom the historian expects her to have definite and quotable opinions. After a flurry of comments about slavery and disunion between 1858 and 1863, she drops the subject, giving no evaluation of the Emancipation Proclamation, the employment of black troops, or the decisive victories of Grant and Sherman. She does not return to the Civil War issues until the 1890s.
IN THE WORLD, NOT OF THE WORLD
As the Civil War intensified in 1863 and 1864, Adventist pioneers and Ellen White seemed less like the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and more like the domestic feminist Catherine Beecher. Following White’s health vision in June of 1863, and the loss of two sons, John Herbert (1860) and Henry Nichols (1863), James and Ellen White visited James Caleb Jackson’s health institute, Our Home on the Hillside, in Dansville, New York. White’s newfound interest in health reform was a world removed from the harrowing events of the war and the ardent debate over Lincoln’s re-election. By the autumn of 1864, she launched her major writings on health and faced criticism from outsiders for concentrating on hoops and hemlines—the dress reform aspect of the subject—rather than the critical political events of the times. John Loughborough remembered:
While from the year 1863 to the spring of 1865 the terrible war in the United States interfered with any great success in our public efforts to advance the message; it seemed to be the Lord’s time for instruction in Health reform—that which afterwards should be “as the right arm and hand to the body, in the rapid advancement of the work.”
Perusing White’s major publications in this period, one can tell that these were Civil War times, but, in sharp contrast to the abolitionists, the prophet hardly lets freedom and slavery preoccupy her. In 1858, she published her first version of The Great Controversy in Spiritual Gifts, vol. I. In a chapter on “The Sins of Babylon,” she excoriated the nation for the fact that “human beings, the workmanship of God, [were] reduced to the lowest depth of degradation, and placed on level with the brute creation by their fellow man.” [p.191] But her brief, if intense, jeremiad on slavery covered only one page of the 219-page volume. In Spiritual Gifts, Volumes III and IV, which appeared in 1864, the reader would not have known there was a Civil War. The Important Facts of Faith, In Connection with the History of Holy Men of Old (Vol. III) foreshadowed Patriarchs and Prophets as well as Prophets and Kings. Testimonies for the Church, Nos. 1-10 (vol. 10 1864) dealt with topics like “Dangers of the Young,” “Walk in the Light,” “The Cause in the East,” “The Prayer of David,” “Extremes in Dress,” and “Communications to Elder Hull,” etc. The one testimony on her “Perilous Times” involved problems for Sabbath-keepers, not slaves. In Testimonies for the Church, vol. I (1862), White couched slavery in eschatological terms and suggested no hope of a political solution to the grave problem. In vision, it looked to her “like an impossibility now for slavery to be done away. God alone can wrench the slave from the hand of his desperate, relentless oppressor.” [1T, p. 266] White was devoted to preparing her people to meet Jesus.
In the Review and Herald of 1862, James White created quite a stir with an editorial entitled “The Nation.” He noted that the anti-slavery sentiments of the Review, “based on certain prophecies,” resulted in the unfortunate fact that “circulation has been positively forbidden in the slave states.” He also commented, “Those of our people who voted at all in the last Presidential election, to a man voted for Abraham Lincoln.” But he followed this with an equivocation that disturbed many Adventists. He admitted that church members had largely stayed out of the military (this would imply favoritism to secessionism). To be drafted would have meant violating the fourth commandment (the Sabbath) and the sixth commandment (on murder). In what may have been, however, the most controversial line ever printed in the Review, James White wrote, “But in the case of drafting, the government assumes the responsibility of the violation of the law of God.” After outraged Adventists inundated the Review with letters to the editor, Ellen White tried to defend her husband. For her, his “plain statements were distorted and made to mean what the writer did not intend.” She blamed the letter-writers, not her husband. “I was shown that some moved very indiscreetly in regard to the article mentioned.” But later in the same testimony, she revealed her underlying concern that if Adventists became controversial during the Civil War period, they could invite the persecution of Sabbath-keepers. In case supporting her husband’s editorial might be misunderstood, however, she wrote, “I was shown that God’s people, who are His peculiar treasure, cannot engage in this perplexing war, for it is opposed to every principle of their faith.”
THE REVIEW AND HERALD OF 1864
If early Adventist leaders were active in the anti-slavery and abolitionist movements, if they were crusading for the emancipation and freedom of the slave, it should have been most apparent in 1864. In that year, the Civil War had reached an intense and turbulent crescendo. Abraham Lincoln sought re-election in a field of condemning public orators and newspapers. Yet the Adventists, newly organized as a church in 1863, seemed to have been paying little attention to the social and political turmoil swirling around them. Unlike other Protestant ministers the Adventists did not recruit volunteers in the Union Army from the pulpit. White and other Adventists sporadically condemned the system of slavery in the pages of the Review, but mostly they barely touched on the critical events of the time. Nor did they pursue an activist agenda. The fears and concerns that seized the country at large earned no space and only a little amount of editorial commentary in the Review.
By 1864, the draft became an important issue for Adventists, but the matter reflected the church’s disengagement from the war, not its involvement. Adventists sought exemption from the military draft as conscientious objectors, but this required their being recognized as a peace church, like the Quakers. Another way to opt out of military service was for an individual to pay $300, a sum equivalent to the average annual income. They could also pay someone else to substitute for them in the military; thus turning the Civil War into a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” Adventists availed themselves of all these means of avoiding military service. Unhappily for them, however, on July 4, 1864, Congress passed an amendment abolishing the opportunity, by financial means, of dodging the draft. In August, J.N. Andrews represented the General Conference in Washington, D.C., pleading the church’s claim to noncombatant status. Andrews was successful, and Adventist draftees could thereafter enter the army and work in a hospital or assist the Freedmen’s Bureau without bearing arms.
When Adventists referred to the Civil War, they did so in their own distinctive way. They were not abolitionists. They were not even their fellow travelers in the conflicts of the times. They saw themselves as ascending a path toward heaven, not travelling the road to free the slaves. In their worldview, as Ellen White depicted it, the rebellion of the South recreated the “rebellion of Satan and his angels” in heaven. Now residing on earth, Satan and his hosts were “at war with commandment-keepers and will work to bring them into trying positions.” Unlike the abolitionists, Adventists by and large did not view the Civil War as a holy crusade to emancipate slaves. Though like the abolitionists, however, they did criticize the war as an attempt merely to preserve the Union.
In this period, the Review published materials on the evils of smoking tobacco and on women’s wearing of hoops and on Sabbath-keeping. In the obituary notices, one Adventist soldier was reported killed in the battle at Chickamauga, Tennessee in September of 1863. “While a soldier, he did not join in the sinful amusements of his comrades but tried to obey as far as he could the teaching of God’s word.” Another “brother,” drafted into the army, served in Virginia and passed around the Review to his fellow soldiers; he requested extra copies. A young preacher from Wisconsin was drafted and, with “no means of his own,” attempted to raise the $300 to avoid service. Able to raise only half the amount, he was assured that church members would make up the rest. Brother C. Brooker, a former slave living in Ohio and unable to read, became a Sabbath-keeper when a friend read to him about the Sabbath from the Review. In a small column on slavery, J.N. Andrews recommended reading “The Bible Against Slavery.” Throughout 1864, however, the Review devoted no space to the presidential campaign. It did not report military successes or failures, except in the case of difficulties the South was having in provisioning its army. No evidence in the Review indicated that Adventists believed the national crisis called for participation in nursing wounded soldiers, sewing and rolling bandages, providing charitable assistance to slaves escaping to the North, providing chaplains, handing out anti-slavery literature, or attending women’s suffrage or anti-slavery meetings. As an indication of their insularity from Civil War politics, there was no evidence that Adventists joined with Sojourner Truth in providing clothing, food and shelter to black volunteer troops near her Battle Creek home.
LINCOLN, RACE, AND POLITICS
Abraham Lincoln was up for re-election and no second-term president had been elected since Andrew Jackson in 1832. There was great opposition to Lincoln’s re-election. The press was calling for Lincoln to step aside. In England, a stuffed gorilla went on display, standing upright, holding a walking stick, and wearing a placard around its neck that read, “Am I a Man and a Brother?” Southerners adopted the habit of calling Mr. Lincoln “the Gorilla.” First described by American anatomist Jeffries Wyman in 1847, the gorilla instantly became a man-beast cultural analog invoking comparisons to “inferior blacks.” Throughout 1864, newspapers and public speakers on the nation’s oratorical circuit continued to predict the failure of Lincoln’s re-election. The famous orator Wendell Phillips from Massachusetts, for example, vowed he would “cut off both hands before saying a good word for Lincoln.” During these raging national controversies, Ellen White did not mention Lincoln or the issues at campaign at all.
In this charged climate, pervaded by worries about the possible consequences of freeing the slaves, racist demagogues were prolific and vociferous. In newspapers, by all accounts after emancipation, Northerners feared that Southern freed blacks would migrate northward, attract their women, compete for jobs and eventually become dependent upon taxpayers. Because of rampant fears in both the North and the South, the question of the origin of the black “race” came to the forefront. Were they or were they not inferior? A small minority of scientists and ministers vigorously promoted polygenesis, a theory suggesting multiple creations of the different human species, including the Negro, by God at different times and places, to account for the existence of dark-skinned humans. This supported the beliefs of those who opposed mixing the races⎯as did the biblical view of the curse on Noah’s son Ham.
These scientific and theological unorthodox discussions on the origins of race and types of mankind in weekly religious press probably incited White to express her views on amalgamation between man and beast as the base crime “which finally provoked God to destroy the inhabitants of the earth by a flood. She further stated, “Since the flood there has been amalgamation of man and beast as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men.” This was how she accounted for diversity of humans with different characteristics.
White was up against the polygamists who claimed as many as a dozen separate creations for mankind. It is evident that this sort of reasoning opposed a literal reading of the Bible. In broaching the matter of amalgamation to account for species diversity, White expressed herself on a subject that had been highly controversial as far back as the 1830s. For abolitionists, who were polar-opposites of White amalgamation of the races promised to produce a racial blend, neither white nor black, that improved the human race, not worsened it. Literate Africa-Americans also opposed amalgamation. “We are often both provoked and amused at hearing so much fuss about amalgamation. Our pale-faced brethren, certainly, must be very “conceitly (sic) set of beings.”
At the end of December 1863, two Democratic newsmen, David Goodman Croly and George Wakeman, coined the word “miscegenation” to function as a replacement for “amalgamation.” Both were anti-Lincoln writers to the New York World. Writing anonymously, they created a 72-page satirical pamphlet, entitling it, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the White Man and the Negro. The authors surreptitiously mailed it to newspapers, abolition leaders, other reformers, and to Lincoln and his cabinet members. Among a sizeable public, they saw their pamphlet embraced as though it were legitimate. To form the new word, “miscegenation,” the journalists had combined two Latin root words, miscere, “to mix,” and genus, “race.” Though it was a hoax, the pamphlet was cleverly written, full of faux scientific facts, mock arguments, and learned quotations that gave it an air of authenticity.
The authors proclaimed that the mingling of the two races, white and black, was not only desirable but also essential. It is a fact “that miscegenation or mixed races are much superior, mentally, physically, and morally to those pure or unmixed.” They went on to state that the present war was not a war for the Negro but “if you please, a war of amalgamation looking at the final fruit of the blending of white and black.” The pamphlet was written to appear as if it were coming from abolitionists and was endorsed by Republicans. It cleverly attempted to tie miscegenation to Lincoln and hurt his chances of re-election. The copperhead wing of the Democratic Party, who sought peace with the Confederates, quickly leapt on the content of the pamphlet and used it as a campaign tool with which to bludgeon Lincoln and the Republicans, as, no doubt, the writers had intended. A follow-up pamphlet (circa 1864-65) entitled, What Miscegenation Is! And What are We to Expect Now that Mr. Lincoln is Re-elected? predicted that, in the future, a black man, the product of interracial coupling, would “occupy public positions, from policemen up to the president.”
On March 21, 1891, in connection with the General Conference session at Battle Creek, Ellen White made an appeal to church leaders on the duty to the colored people in the South. She pointed out that other denominations had advancing work and the Adventist had little. More than fifty years had gone by since the amalgamation statements entered the isolationists’ disposition of the church along with, as she pointed out, “prevailing prejudice against the colored people.” It was hard to throw off prejudice because as she explained in a letter to her son James Edson White; “the white people who have the slave master’s spirit, with the slave master’s cruelty in exercising the same, as if the blacks were no more than beasts; and to be treated worse than the dumb animals because they are in the form of a man, having the marks of the black—Negro—race.” As it turned out the amalgamation statements bore the consequences of this beast prejudice longer than it should.