Wilbur F. Crafts, founder, American Sabbath Union. 

Credit: Center for Adventist Research

The American Sabbath Union

By Dennis Pettibone

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Dennis Pettibone, Ph.D. (University of California, Riverside), is professor emeritus of history at Southern Adventist University. He and his first wife, Carol Jean Nelson Pettibone (now deceased) have two grown daughters. He is now married to the former Rebecca Aufderhar. His published writings include A Century of Challenge: the Story of Southern College and the second half of His Story in Our Time.

The American Sabbath Union was an interdenominational religious body promoting the enactment and enforcement of strict Sunday legislation. Its leading spokesperson frequently attacked Seventh-day Adventists, and the legislation they promoted drew Adventists into the arena of political agitation.

The organization consisted largely of Christian ministers.1 Its founder, chief spokesperson, and most prolific writer during its early years was Wilbur F. Crafts (1850-1922), who had been a minister for the Methodists and Congregationalists before switching to Presbyterianism in 1883.2 He believed that a national Sunday law would be tantamount to "national recognition of divine sovereignty" while the act of liberalizing Sunday laws was "legislative rebellion against the Supreme Court of the Universe."3 Besides organizing the petition campaign that led to the introduction in Congress of the Blair Sunday Bill, he supported other bills proposing congressional Sunday legislation, and campaigned for passing new state Sunday laws and retaining without modification previously enacted legislation.4 Other American Sabbath Union spokespeople argued that the government had an obligation to encourage church attendance by eliminating competition from saloons, theaters, baseball games, cigar stands, ice cream stores, soda fountains, excursions, and newspapers.5

Adventist Opposition

Seventh-day Adventist lobbyists in Washington, D.C., worked to defeat the Blair bill and the other congressional Sunday legislation that the American Sabbath Union proposed. Adventist representatives also appeared before legislative committees in several states to oppose Sunday bills. Confronting the Blair bill, they obtained 658,000 signatures on a petition against any legislation regarding Sunday observance or "any other religious institution or rite." They also petitioned against other proposals for either state or congressional Sunday legislation.6

A major vehicle for publicizing Adventist opposition to national Sunday legislation was the American Sentinel, a forerunner of Liberty: A Magazine of Religious Freedom. As early as June 1888, the Sentinel began quoting statements made by Crafts and other American Sabbath Union leaders in order to demonstrate what its editors considered the fallacy of their facts and logic. Foremost among the writers attacking the organization' s views was Sentinel co-editor Alonzo T. Jones.7

Crafts versus Jones

The conflict between Crafts and Jones turned ugly after Crafts canceled a scheduled debate with Jones. Crafts had initially challenged him to a debate, and Jones had not only accepted, but had publicized the upcoming meeting in the Sentinel and even anticipated publishing a verbatim transcript afterward.8 When Jones complained that Crafts had arbitrarily canceled the debate, stating that the challenge had been made unconditionally, Crafts swore out an affidavit calling for civil and religious penalties against Jones for allegedly lying, claiming that the challenge to debate had been conditional upon its acceptance by the Illinois Sabbath Union.9 Jones thereupon published photographic copies of the letters he had received from Crafts, demonstrating that there had been no such stipulations.10 The Pacific Press Publishing Association followed with an 80 page pamphlet to substantiate the charge that Crafts was guilty of "willful and malicious slander"11

After Crafts cancelled the debate, Adventists adopted a strategy of following him around the country, sometimes before his speeches and sometimes after them, delivering their own lectures opposing Sunday legislation and passing out copies of the American Sentinel and other religious liberty publications.12 At times they even packed Crafts' meetings so much that they were able to defeat the pro-Sunday resolutions that he proposed in them.13 In order to throw its opponents off-track, the American Sabbath Union began trying to confuse them by listing up to seven locations for each date that Crafts was scheduled to speak.14

Crafts began spending a major portion of his lectures attacking Seventh-day Adventists.15 He said "seventh day people" had made a fetish of Saturday and that only "a little insignificant set of harebrained woolly headed fanatics of about a hundred men"16 actually opposed Sunday legislation. Charging that they were guilty of "slanders" and "malicious statements and misquotations,"17 he complained that in order to silence Saturday keepers they would have to be "knocked on the head with a club and then transported while unconscious to some uninhabited island where they would be compelled to remain, cut off from all intercourse with others for the remainder of their natural lives."18

A Kinder, Gentler Era

As the twentieth century dawned, the cast of characters changed, and kinder and gentler leadership emerged in both organizations. Having alienated the other leaders of the organization by his bellicose approach,19 Crafts had turned his attention away from the American Sabbath Union and organized a rival body, the International Reform Association.20 Jones, in turn, became estranged from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.21 The American Sabbath Union changed its name to the Lord's Day Alliance, 22and the time would come when James P. Wesberry, the executive director of the organization, would write a glowing foreword for Divine Rest or Human Restlessness by Adventist theologian Samuel Bacchiocchi23 and even invited him to address an annual meeting of the Lord's Day Alliance on February 18, 1979.24 Wesberry himself spoke at the Andrews University Theological Seminary. He said of Adventists, "In spite of differences of opinion in reference to the Sabbath question we had clasped hands across these differences and denominational lines and felt the warm, sincere grip and gracious friendship among brothers and sisters in Christ."25 What a far cry from Wilbur Crafts!

Sources

American Sabbath Union. First Annual Report; Third Annual Report; Document no.6, May 1889.

American Sentinel, June 1888-December 22, 1892.

Bacchiocchi, Samuele. Divine Rest for Human Restlessness. Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, sixth printing, 1988, foreword.

Bacchiocchi, Samuele. "Lord's Day Alliance Hears Sabbath Scholar," Ministry, July, 1979.

http://ldausa.org/about/. Accessed February 6, 2020.

Jonas, Manfred. "The American Sabbath in the Gilded Age." Jahrbuch Für Amerikastudien 6 (1961): 89-114. Accessed February 6, 2020. Www.jstor.org/stable/41154776.

Knight, George R."Jones, Alonzo Trevier," In The Ellen G White Encyclopedia, ed. Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2013.

(New York) Mail and Express, December 26, 1890.

Pettibone, Dennis. "Caesar's Sabbath: the Sunday-Law Controversy in the United States, 1879-1892" (PhD diss., University of California, Riverside, 1979.

"The Lord’s Day Man: James Pickett Wesberry." Sunday, Spring, 1992, quoted in Waymarks, June 2001.

Washington Post, December 13, 1888; May 16, 1892.

Notes

  1. American Sabbath Union, First Annual Report (1889), 54. Accessed November 14, 2019.

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wilbur_F._Crafts_obituary_in_The_New_York_Times.pdf.

  3. Quoted in Dennis L. Pettibone, "Caesar's Sabbath: the Sunday-Law Controversy in the United States, 1879-1892." (PhD diss., University of California, Riverside, 1979), 22.

  4. Ibid.

  5. American Sabbath Union, First Annual Report, 39-40, Third Annual Report, 48; Washington Post, December 13, 1888, 1, May 16, 1892, 1; Michigan Sabbath Watchman, October 1891, quoted in American Sentinel, January 14, 1892, 9; (New York) Mail and Express, December 26, 1890, 5; American Sabbath Union Document, no.6 (May, 1889), 3.

  6. Pettibone, "Caesar's Sabbath," 91, 92.

  7. Unsigned article, "A Dangerous Combination"; A. T. J[ones]," The Plea for National Sunday Legislation," American Sentinel, June, 1888,41, 42.

  8. Unsigned, untitled articles, American Sentinel, May 15, 1889, 128; May 29, 1889, 144.

  9. American Sentinel, June 5, 1889, 152; A. T. J., "Mr. Crafts and His Oath," American Sentinel, September 5, 1889, 249-253. Crafts even wrote to the Battle Creek Seventh-day Adventist Church, requesting that they disfellowship Jones on the basis of his alleged falsehoods.

  10. A. T. J., “Mr. Crafts and His Oath.”

  11. Advertisement, American Sentinel, October 9, 1889, 295.

  12. Pettibone, 92.

  13. "Elder Crafts's Surprised Party," Oakland Daly Tribune, August 7, 1889, reprinted in American Sentinel, August 28, 1889, 242; N. J. Bowers, “Sunday-law Meetings in Fresno," American Sentinel, September 25, 1889; W. A. Colcord, "An Interesting Mass Meeting in Chicago," American Sentinel, December 22, 1892, 393- 395.

  14. Untitled in unsigned, ask, June 26, 1890, 208.

  15. N. J. Bowers, “An Interesting Mass Meeting in Chicago”; unsigned and untitled, American Sentinel, December 8, 1889, 376; A. O. Tait, "The Secret of Abolishing the Saloons," American Sentinel, August 14, 1890, 251.

  16. E. J. W[aggoner], "Dr. Crafts at Pittsburgh," American Sentinel, May 29, 1889, 139; untitled, American Sentinel, June 5, 1889, 152.

  17. "Mr. Crafts and the Seventh-Day Christians," American Sentinel, October 9, 1889, 289.

  18. "A Knock down Argument," American Sentinel, January 1, 1891, 7.

  19. C.P.B[ollman]," The Pittsburgh Convention," American Sentinel, April 14, 1892, 118. Accessed November 14, 2019.

  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wilbur_F._Crafts_obituary_in_The_New_York_Times.pdf.

  21. George R. Knight,"Jones, Alonzo Trevier," in The Ellen G White Encyclopedia, ed. Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon (Hagerstown, MD.: Review and Herald, 2013), 431.

  22. http://ldausa.org/about/, accessed February 6, 2020.

  23. Foreword, Samuele Bacchiocchi, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, sixth printing, 1988, 7-9.

  24. Samuele Bacchiocchi, "Lord's Day Alliance Hears Sabbath Scholar," Ministry, July, 1979, 8-11.

  25. "The Lord’s Day Man: James Pickett Wesberry," Sunday, Spring, 1992, quoted in Waymarks, June 2001, 1.

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Pettibone, Dennis. "The American Sabbath Union." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed June 18, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=58VC.

Pettibone, Dennis. "The American Sabbath Union." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access June 18, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=58VC.

Pettibone, Dennis (2021, January 09). The American Sabbath Union. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=58VC.