The Seventh-day Adventist movement, which has now grown to world-wide proportions, had its beginnings in New England. There the first believers were gained. In Middletown, Connecticut, in 1849, there was issued a small journal, the Present Truth, which marked the beginnings of our publishing endeavors. From this point, it will be of profit and of interest to trace the shifting centers of our work.
For three years the pioneers had no printing plant of their own. Elder James White and his wife were directed in the providence of God to various places, where favorable conditions obtained for their work as leaders, especially for the publishing of their paper. Following the very modest beginning at Middletown, Connecticut, they carried forward their work at Oswego, New York, then at Paris, Maine, and later at Saratoga Springs, New York. During this period, they prepared the copy, and hired newspaper offices to publish for them.
In April, 1852, the work was moved to Rochester, New York. A small press, with type and other equipment for printing, was purchased, and for two years they conducted their enterprise in rented houses. During this time there were but few Sabbath-keeping Adventists in the East. The cause was meeting with greater success farther west. Several groups of believers were raised up in Michigan. These new converts were warmhearted, loyal, and earnest. They heartily invited the leaders to come to Michigan, and offered liberal inducements to enable them to establish their printing plant on a larger scale. This led to the establishment of the headquarters of our work at Battle Creek, Michigan, in November, 1855.
This removal to Michigan brought sorrow to the hearts of the believers in New York and New England. Elder and Mrs. James White, Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith, Samuel Rhodes, and others, who had brought the message to them and whom they had
learned to love, had now gone to what was then known as the West. They felt that they had been deserted. About a year after the settlement in Battle Creek, Mrs. White had a message for these disappointed, sorrowing believers, not only assuring them that God had led in the move, but giving reasons why that move was for the best interests of His work. A few sentences from this message will set forth some of these reasons:
Dear Brethren: The Lord has shown me in vision some things in regard to the East and the West, which I feel it my duty to set before you. I saw that God has been opening the way for the spread of present truth in the West. It requires much more power to move the people in the East than in the West .
The people in the East have heard the proclamation of the second coming of Christ, and have seen much of the display of the power of God, and have fallen back into a state of indifference and security, where it is almost impossible to reach them at present .
I saw that the people in the West could be moved much more easily than those in the East. They have not had the light of the truth, and have not rejected it, and their hearts are more tender and susceptible to the truth and the Spirit of God .
I saw that tenfold more has been accomplished in the West than in the East with the same effort, and that the way is opening for still greater success.Testimonies for the Church, Vol. I, pp. 146, 147.
This definite guidance of the Lord, through the gift of prophecy, in connection with the establishment of the work in Battle Creek, should be fully appreciated. The location of the central office is a very important factor in determining the success of a movement. The Lord did not leave this important question to the unaided, finite judgment of men, with their limited vision and possible sectional prejudices. He gave positive, definite instruction.
The burden of the work is in the West, they were told, and it is of the greatest importance that the servants of God should move in His opening providence.Id., p. 149.
In harmony with the outline given in this message, our work seemed to take wings in speeding forward from the time the
headquarters were located in Battle Creek. It went westward, farther and farther, crossing rivers, plains, and mountains, until it reached the Pacific Coast. Believers were added in far greater numbers than had ever been experienced in the East. So great has been the development of the work in the West that one third of all our believers in the United States and Canada are west of the Rocky Mountains. Just as the message predicted, the work grew rapidly, and developed into strength all through the Western States.
But there is another remarkable statement in this same message that pointed out the reasons for the move westward in 1855. This statement is predictive, and therefore must take its place in testing the truthfulness of such predictions. Immediately following the last-quoted statement are the words:
I saw that when the message shall increase greatly in power, then the providence of God will open and prepare the way in the East for much more to be accomplished than can be at the present time [Italics mine].Id., p. 149.
These words greatly comforted the brethren in the East. During the few years prior to the move to Michigan, they had seen the center of the work moved a number of times; and, in their limited vision, they thought that it would be only a short time until the return that was promised.
But nearly half a century passed without any indication of a return to the East, as indicated in the message given by Mrs. White in 1856. During this time, not only had there been remarkable growth of the work, especially in the West, but a great institutional work had been built up in Battle Creek. Besides the headquarters of the General Conference, there were a large printing house, a mammoth sanitarium, and an excellent college. More than two thousand Sabbathkeepers attended Sabbath services in the great Tabernacle.
This was the situation in 1903, when, at the time of the General Conference held in Oakland, a number of the brethren were
so impressed with the counsels that had been coming from Mrs. White regarding our duty to move out of Battle Creek that a resolution was drawn up for discussion by the Conference:
That the General Conference offices or headquarters be moved from Battle Creek, Michigan, to some place favorable for its work on the Atlantic Coast.
After some discussion, and before final action was taken, Mrs. White was asked publicly for her counsel regarding such a serious move. The following statement was made to her:
We have felt from what has occurred during the last two years, and the counsels you have given, that the time had come to move from that place. But we do not want to do this unless it is right, and we felt that we would like to place the matter before you, and receive any counsel and light you could give us.General Conference Bulletin, Vol. V, No. 6.
In no uncertain language Mrs. White spoke in response to this inquiry. She referred to the recent burning of the Review and Herald publishing house, and said:
The very worst thing that could now be done would be for the Review and Herald office to be once more built up in Battle Creek.Idem.
She was no less specific regarding the transfer of the General Conference headquarters. She said:
In reply to the question that has been asked in regard to settling somewhere else, I answer, Yes. Let the General Conference offices and the publishing work be moved from Battle Creek.Idem.
The decision to leave Battle Creek came as a great surprise and as a shock to many residents of the city, especially to some who owned homes of their own. Some of these rented rooms to employees in the sanitarium and the publishing house, or to teachers and students in the college, and were largely dependent for their support upon the rent they received. The property owners were especially perturbed at the prospect of the financial losses that would accrue to them. Some of them entered into a
campaign of active opposition. They declared the proposal to be folly, and openly declared their disbelief that it was the Lord who was calling for the move.
Other communications were received from Mrs. White after the Conference, encouraging us to carry forward as quickly as possible the plans for removal. Those who recognized the divine source of the messages accepted them despite the adverse outlook, and did all they could to inspire confidence in others. Meetings were held in the Tabernacle at Battle Creek, and while we were unable to secure a unanimous agreement, yet a majority voted to follow the counsel received through Mrs. White.
A committee was appointed to search for a location in the East. We wrote to Mrs. White of this action, and asked her if she could give us specific light as to the exact place we should go. To this she responded that she had not been shown the locality, but made special reference to our duty to work the large cities in the East.
We had all thought of New York City as the most likely place that would be suitable; for that was the port from which we were sending practically all our missionaries at that time. So we began our search, and spent a number of weeks investigating various properties that were brought to our attention. But we found nothing that seemed satisfactory.
One day, a number of us, weary and nearly disheartened, came to the office of the Pacific Press Branch, in New York City. There we found a letter from Mrs. White, addressed to the General Conference Committee, dated May 20, 1903, in which she said:
In regard to establishing the institution in New York, I must say, Be guarded. I am not in favor of it being near New York. I cannot give all my reasons, but I am sure that any place within thirty miles of that city would be too near. Study the surroundings of other places. I am sure that the advantages of Washington, D. C., should be closely investigated.E. G. White Letter 106-1903.
Up to this time, we had not thought of the advantages of Washington, D. C. Many of our brethren on the committee thought it would be a great blunder to locate so far from the port of New York. Elder H. W. Cottrell and I said: We are counseled to investigate, and we shall go to Washington, D. C., and see what we can find.
The next morning we took the train for the national capital. We searched the district thoroughly, tramping for miles from one spot to another. Brethren living in the city rendered valuable assistance in looking for suitable places. We priced land in various sections, but without much satisfaction. Finally we fixed a date for closing our investigations; but, as we reached that date, we felt strongly impressed that we should continue our search.
Soon we met with encouragement. We were most favorably impressed with the suburban town of Takoma Park, seven miles from the heart of the city of Washington. About a mile from the village, we found a fifty-acre block of land, which we felt would meet our requirements, and which could be obtained at a very low price. We also found about five acres in the village that could be secured for the General Conference office, Review and Herald plant, and homes for our people.
While we were still there, we received another message from Mrs. White, speaking more favorably and definitely of Washington, and encouraging diligent search. Elder Cottrell and I had become satisfied that the capital of the nation truly possessed important advantages for the headquarters of our work.
In reply to this letter, we wrote Mrs. White about our search and findings, and also of our favorable impressions. Then we returned to our homes. Soon a positive message came from her, saying:
From the light given me, I know that, for the present, the headquarters of the Review and Herald should be near Washington.E. G. White Letter 120-1903.
A few days later another letter was received, saying:
The Lord has opened this matter to me decidedly. The publishing work that has been carried on in Battle Creek should for the present be carried on near Washington. If after a time the Lord says, Move away from Washington, we are to move. We are pilgrims and strangers in this earth, seeking a better country, even a heavenly. When the Lord tells us to move, we are to obey, however inconvenient and inconsistent such a command may seem to us to be.E. G. White Letter 140-1903.
No one but those who passed through this very trying experience can appreciate the relief brought to us by that word of certainty. A large committee was called to Washington, and the men examined the location more carefully. Inspection, prayer, and counsel from the spirit of prophecy led to the conviction that we had come to the right place. The decision was made to purchase the fifty-acre block, and the deal was closed.
We soon undertook the difficult task of moving the General Conference offices to Washington. We decided to take enough type and equipment from the Review and Herald office to print the Review and Herald and the Youth's Instructor. At this point we met with most determined opposition from a few stockholders in the Review and Herald Association. They forbade the removal of any of the printing material, and threatened court proceedings. They demanded an amount of money, which we felt was unjust and which would practically strip us of the small amount of cash we had in our treasury. But they were unyielding, and finally with heavy hearts we paid the price.
This left us so short of funds that I found it necessary to attend a camp meeting or two on my way to Washington, in order to solicit and borrow the money we would need to pay the freight bills and other expenses we should incur in settling in our new location.
The arrival of our staff in Washington on the tenth day of August, 1903, is an event never to be forgotten. Here were about a dozen of us in a strange city, with very little money, and with
no buildings and no equipment to carry on the world-wide work which was then in operation, and was to be greatly enlarged. We rented a large dwelling house, No. 222, North Capitol Street N. W., in the city of Washington. The printing office was located in the dining room and kitchen, and other departments were placed in the different rooms of the building.
Under the editorial management of Prof. W. W. Prescott, the Review and Herald was issued from our new location without missing a single number. The last issue came from the press in Battle Creek on Tuesday, August 11, and the next paper was printed in Washington on Thursday of the following week. The same was true of the Youth's Instructor. The first that many of our people knew about the final action was gathered from these two issues of the Review, containing the account of our removal.
A remarkable and unlooked-for effect attended this transfer of our headquarters. For nearly fifty years, Battle Creek had been the center to which all eyes had turned, to which a great volume of correspondence had poured in from all parts of the world, and to which the streams of money for the general work had flowed from thousands of sources.
It was but natural to anticipate more or less dissatisfaction throughout the field, and considerable confusion in correspondence and delay in turning the streams of monetary support to the new location. But none of this followed. Scarcely a complaint came to us. From all parts of the world the change was hailed with deep satisfaction. It seemed as if a mighty hand turned the great tide of correspondence and money to Washington. Very few letters and scarcely any money intended for the General Conference or the Review and Herald were delayed by going to Battle Creek. To our surprise and joy, everything soon moved along as if we had been in Washington all the years of our history.
Thirty-two years have passed since the headquarters of our world-wide work were moved back to the East. What has been
our experience? We have had constant evidence that it was assuredly the providence of God that led us to Washington, D. C. Very soon after we settled in the national capital there appeared in the Washington Post a report of a Sunday bill that had been introduced into the House of Representatives the day before. We got busy immediately, and sent out messages to our people all over the States. In a short time protests began to pour in from all parts of the country. The bill was defeated. Nearly every year since that time some Sunday bill has been introduced, but so far not one has ever gotten through Congress. We have been able to get acquainted with many of our Congressmen and Senators. We have had a number of them at our sanitarium. They have formed personal acquaintance with us, and have come to understand our position regarding the relation of church and state. Therefore, many of them are with us in our opposition to the Sunday laws.
When the United States entered the World War, our stand as noncombatants brought us into conflict with the military authorities. We faced great perplexities, and it became necessary to appeal to the civil arm of the Government. We found that our presence at the national capital was of inestimable value to our work. Men in high office gave attention to our position, made favorable decisions, and did all they could to protect and relieve us. We cannot imagine what our lot would have been if we had not had ready access to these men of great authority.
In later years we have been sending missionaries to foreign lands in increasing number. Our national capital in the United States affords us marked advantage in the matter of passports and of ready access to embassies and consulates representing all lands, when problems connected with their countries arise. The National Congress sits in Washington, where our representatives may appear before committees, and even before the President, with memorials or appeals on legislative matters that affect our work. Our correspondence goes out from a national capital well
known in all parts of the world. All such advantages assure us continually of the wisdom of having our headquarters in Washington, D. C.
As already stated, we were in such a desperate condition financially when we moved to Washington that we had to borrow money even to pay our moving expenses.
We started our printing work in the dining room and kitchen of a dwelling house. There we set the type for the Review and Herald and the Youth's Instructor, made up the forms, and took them in a hand cart to a printing house for printing and folding. We had no office building for the General Conference staff, no school, and no sanitarium.
What a truly wonderful work has been wrought in this new location! For the first time in our history a building was provided for the offices of the General Conference Committee and the staff of helpers, located in Takoma Park. Since we came to Washington, the staff of ten has increased to more than one hundred in these offices alone.
The Review and Herald office, which was at first housed in a dining room and kitchen, has become a great institution with a large building of its own, well equipped with machinery, and doing a far greater volume of denominational work than was ever done while located in Battle Creek. It has an investment of over $500,000, and it is entirely free from debt. For years this institution has donated tens of thousands of dollars to our foreignmission enterprises. The General Conference and Review and Herald buildings are located in the village of Takoma Park. On the outskirts, on the fifty-acre block purchased in 1903, are located the Washington Sanitarium and the Washington Missionary College.
The Lord has surely placed the seal of His approval upon the removal from Battle Creek to Washington. The limits of this statement make it impossible to recount, in all their fullness and meaning, the blessings that have come to us through being located
at the national capital. The Lord foresaw the issues that would arise; He foresaw that our missionary activities would extend to all lands; He foresaw the advantages that would be ours at the headquarters of the nation; and He led us there. This we recognize now. Even many of those who at first saw no light in the proposal now recognize that the hand of the Lord was truly in it.
But what led us to decide to make this removal, to attempt
this gigantic task? The answer must be: A message through the spirit of
prophecy. How came we to locate at Washington, D. C.? Through conviction that
the messages that came to us through the spirit of prophecy were from God. Has,
then, this gift been of value to this people and this cause? Most assuredly it
has; indeed, of greater value, in many ways, than we can fully realize. Such
providences should lead us to hold this precious gift of the spirit of prophecy
in the high esteem and sincere appreciation that it deserves.