Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 8—International Attempt to Destroy Society Fails
LATER in February, 1918, the United States Army Intelligence Bureau at New York city began an investigation of the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn headquarters. False reports had circulated that the Society had installed upon the Bethel home a powerful wireless station capable of sending messages across the Atlantic, and that this instrument was used to communicate with the German enemy. The facts are that in Pastor Russell’s lifetime a brother had presented to him a small wireless receiving set. There was no transmitter. There never was any message sent from the Bethel home by wireless. This was in 1915, before the day of radio broadcasting, when even wireless telegraphy was in its infancy. In 1918 when two Army Intelligence men were going through Bethel they were taken to the roof and shown the penthouse where the wireless receiver had been; and then, in a lower storeroom, they were shown the instrument itself, packed away. By consent the receiving set was taken away by these army men.a
On Thursday, February 28, 1918, following J. F. Rutherford’s lecture the previous Sunday at Los Angeles, California,b the Army Intelligence Bureau there took possession of the headquarters of the Los Angeles congregation of Bible students, confiscating many of the Society’s publications. The following Monday (March 4, 1918), at Scranton, Pennsylvania, several associates of the Society were arrested, charged with conspiracy, and were put under bond for their appearance for trial in May. Already more than twenty others had been forcibly detained in army camps or military prisons because of the war draft.c Outside pressure against the Society was piling up fast.
Courageously carrying forward their work against mounting odds, the band of valiant ones on March 15, 1918, released a new, newspaper-size, two-page tract, Kingdom News No. 1, headed “Religious Intolerance—Pastor Russell’s Followers Persecuted Because They Tell the People the Truth—Treatment of Bible Students Smacks of the ‘Dark Ages.’” Millions of this tract were distributed, exposing the clergy-inspired persecution of these zealous preachers in Germany, Canada and the United States.d This tract furthermore advertised the historic lecture to be delivered March 24, 1918, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music by the Society’s president, entitled “The World Has Ended—Millions Now Living May Never Die!” Three thousand heard this important lecture.e For 1918 a report shows there were 7,000 engaged in placing bound books from door to door, besides uncounted others who were distributing tracts and handbills and giving personal verbal witness.f In April further clergy-inspired attempts to intimidate these preachers of the Kingdom message occurred. On April 15, 1918, however, Kingdom News No. 2 appeared, being distributed by the millions of copies, with bold headlines: “The Finished Mystery and Why Suppressed—Clergymen Take a Hand.” The facts of suppression in Canada and the United States up to April 15 were laid bare to the public, exposing the clergy’s efforts to destroy the Society’s activity. In connection with such distribution a petition was circulated, addressed to United States President Wilson:
“We, the undersigned Americans, hold that any interference by the clergy with independent Bible study is intolerant, un-American and un-Christian; and that any attempt to combine Church and State is radically wrong. In the interest of liberty and religious freedom, we solemnly protest against the suppression of The Finished Mystery, and petition the Government to remove all restrictions as to its use, that the people may be permitted without interference or molestation to buy, sell, have and read this aid to Bible study.”g
On May 1, 1918, began the distribution of millions of Kingdom News No. 3, which carried the headlines “Two Great Battles Raging—Satanic Strategy Doomed to Failure—The Birth of Antichrist.”
On May 7, 1918, warrants were issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York to arrest eight brothers connected with the Society’s management and editorial committee. They were J. F. Rutherford, W. E. Van Amburgh, A. H. Macmillan, R. J. Martin, C. J. Woodworth, G. H. Fisher, F. H. Robison and G. DeCecca. The next day, May 8, those warrants were served at Bethel by United States Marshal Power. Shortly after their arrest the eight were arraigned in the federal court, Judge Garvin presiding, and all were met with an indictment previously returned by the grand jury, chargingh that the eight above named—
“unlawfully and feloniously did conspire, combine, confederate and agree together, and with divers other persons to the said Grand Jurors unknown, to commit a certain offense against the United States of America, to wit: the offense of unlawfully, feloniously and wilfully causing insubordination, disloyalty and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States of America when the United States was at war . . . by personal solicitations, letters, public speeches, distributing and publicly circulating throughout the United States of America a certain book called Volume VII Bible Studies The Finished Mystery, and distributing and publicly circulating throughout the United States certain articles printed in pamphlets called Bible Students Monthly, Watch Tower, Kingdom News and other pamphlets not named.”i
Following the arraignment the defendants were released on bail bond of $2,500 each and the trial was set for June 3, 1918. In its issue of May 11, 1918, The Tablet (Roman Catholic), Brooklyn, revealingly said:
“Kingdom News Spread Around—Some May Go to Jail. Joseph F. Rutherford and some of his colleagues are likely to pass their summer months in a villa where they will be protected from mobs who insult them by asking them to buy Liberty Bonds. . . . It is quite interesting to note that Rutherford and all their ilk who take delight in going into convulsions over the [Catholic] Church are always being pursued by government officers. Anti-Catholicism and anti-Americanism seem to be twins.”
The trial began on Monday, June 3, in the federal court in Brooklyn. Affidavits were filed by the eight defendants stating their reasons for believing that Judge Garvin was biased against them and their work, which action automatically adverted the case to Judge Chatfield, who in turn referred it to United States Judge Howe, specially brought to Brooklyn from Vermont to preside at the trial.j After a fifteen-day trial (later shown to contain over 125 errors, a mere few of which the appellate court ultimately chose to condemn the entire procedure as unfair)k on Thursday, June 20, at 10 p.m., the jury returned a verdict of “guilty.” The next day, June 21, just after noon, Judge Harland B. Howe pronounced the sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia.l The court reserved sentence as to Brother DeCecca until later. The New York Tribune of June 22, 1918, said:
“Joseph F. Rutherford and six of the other ‘Russellites’, convicted of violation of the Espionage Act, were sentenced to twenty years in the Atlanta Penitentiary yesterday, by Judge Howe. ‘This is the happiest day of my life,’ said Mr. Rutherford, on his way from the court to the jail, ‘to serve earthly punishment for the sake of one’s religious belief is one of the greatest privileges a man could have.’ One of the strangest demonstrations that the Marshal’s office in the Brooklyn Federal Court has ever seen, was held by the families and intimate friends of the convicted men soon after the prisoners had been taken to the Grand Jury room. The whole company made the old building ring with the strains of ‘Blest be the tie that binds.’ ‘It is all God’s will,’ they told each other, with faces almost radiant. ‘Some day the world will know what all this means. Meanwhile, let us be thankful for the grace of God that has sustained us through our trials, and look forward to the Great Day that is to come.’”
Twice illegally denied bail requested by them at New York, and before completion of a third effort to arrange bail through co-operation of the Supreme Court at Washington, the prisoners were removed from New York on July 4 to the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia. Rutherford, on July 3, 1918, mentions the following in a letter later published:
“We are advised that seven who opposed the Society and its work during the past year attended upon the trial and lent aid to our prosecutors. We warn you, beloved, against the subtle efforts of some of them to fawn upon you now in an attempt to get hold of the Society.”a
An executive committee was appointed to head the Society during absence of its imprisoned officers and an editorial committee of five functioned to continue writing The Watch Tower, an issue of which did not fail during these years of crisis.b Throughout the country in succeeding months persecution against the Bible Students continued. There were more imprisonments, indignities at the hands of mobs, raids on meeting places, burnings of books and constant vilifications from the press and pulpit.c Due to wartime pressures that prevented obtaining needed operational supplies, it was necessary on August 26, 1918, to close the Brooklyn headquarters. The removal was made to an office building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at Federal and Reliance Streets.d The Brooklyn Tabernacle office and shipping center had been sold and the Bethel home closed. Thus by the summer of 1918 the once loud organized voice of the witnesses for Jehovah and his kingdom was silenced, their organized work figuratively killed, and deathlike inactivity came over the once energetic band of Christians. They came to be firmly held in bondage by their Babylonish captors.
On November 11, 1918, the first world war suddenly ended. Numerous war prisoners were being released, but no freedom was in sight for the many Bible Students still in prisons and camps throughout the country. While in the Atlanta penitentiary, Rutherford and his seven associates were busy preaching on the inside. They were permitted to conduct Bible classes each Sunday in prison, attended by about a hundred of their fellow prisoners.e At Pittsburgh on January 4, 1919, a combination convention and corporation meeting attended by a thousand energetic workers was held to reconfirm the election of Rutherford and the others as officers and directors. They also passed a resolution expressing confidence in the innocence of the eight imprisoned officials.f In February, 1919, country-wide agitation was started by certain newspapers for the release of Rutherford and his associates.g Likewise the imprisoned men’s friends wrote thousands of letters to newspaper editors, congressmen, senators and governors, urging action. Many were aroused to express themselves in favor of the release.h Then in March those friends got busy circulating a nationwide petition, which within a short time was signed by 700,000, asking the government to render justice as to these falsely accused and imprisoned men.i Though never presented, this petition was “a witness to the truth”—an outstanding sign of the resurgence of the falsely accused preachers of Jehovah’s kingdom.j
On March 2, 1919, Harland B. Howe, the federal district judge who was the first to deny bail after sentencing them to imprisonment, telegraphed Attorney General Gregory in Washington, at his request, ‘recommending immediate commutation’ of the sentences of the eight he named in his telegram.k (Gregory’s resignation as attorney general became effective March 4, 1919.) But this maneuver to cause withdrawal of their appeal failed. Instead, on March 21, 1919, under direction of United States Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, bail for the eight was ordered by a three-judge federal circuit court at New York that also ordered them to be returned forthwith from Atlanta to New York for the hearing of their appeal on April 14. The next Tuesday, March 25, they left Atlanta by train for Brooklyn where, on March 26, they were formally admitted to bail, $10,000 each, and released.l Banquet receptions awaited them, first, upon their arrival in Brooklyn, and, later, when they rejoined the happy Bethel family, then temporarily at Pittsburgh.
(To be continued)
If God is for us, who will be against us? Who will separate us from the love of the Christ? Will tribulation or distress or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . To the contrary, in all these things we are coming off completely victorious through him that loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Rom. 8:31, 35-39, NW.
a Watch Tower 1918, page 77; W 1919, p. 117; Kingdom News, Vol. 1, No. 1.
b On Sunday, February 24, 1918, at Los Angeles, there was delivered for the first time the lecture that later became entitled “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” See W 1924, p. 358.
c W 1918, p. 25.
d W 1918, p. 82.
e W 1918, p. 110. In substance this was the same lecture as given in Los Angeles February 24, 1918.
f W 1919, p. 281.
g Kingdom News No. 2, p. 2.
h W 1918, p. 171.
i Rutherford v. United States (May 14, 1919), 258 F. 855, Transcript of Record, Vol. 1, p. 12.
j W 1918, p. 178.
k The Case of the International Bible Students Association, p. 4.
l W 1918, p. 194.
a W 1919, p. 58.
b W 1918, pp. 242, 255.
c The Case of the International Bible Students Association, p. 4.
d W 1918, p. 290.
e W 1919, p. 116; Consolation, August 23, 1939, p. 8.
f W 1919, p. 23.
g National Labor Tribune, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, February 20, 1919.
h W 1919, p. 101.
i W 1920, p. 162; W 1919 p. 93.
j W 1919, p. 194.
k W 1919, p. 117; Consolation, September 6, 1939, pp. 5, 6.
l W 1919, pp. 98, 118; W 1925, p. 71.
[Picture on page 237]