February 20, 2024

A Paper Worthy of the Cause

Despite struggles, the little paper becomes a connecting link.

Merle Poirier

Infants become toddlers. Ten-year-olds become teens. And with each advancement comes what we describe as “growing pains”—transition, change, and challenges. Organizations have many similarities with growing children. There is the thrill and labor of bringing forth a new entity, but as that organization matures, grows, and spreads, the zeal begins to fade as reality and struggles set in.

In 1865 James White was elected General Conference president. White pushed himself hard in those early years, wearing several hats simultaneously. He held a high standard, not only for himself, but for everyone who worked with him. For James White, “the cause” was everything, and he willingly put himself on the line for it. But the relentless schedule took its toll. Three months after his election he suffered his first stroke. Although incapacitated, he remained president.

Once White was elected, Uriah Smith stepped fully into the editor’s role. Smith began to experiment with the Review to encourage more readership. A weekly eight-page publication since 1856, the Review’s number of pages was increased to 12 in 1866, with a subscription increase to $2.50 per year. This was done so secular news could be added for those who couldn’t afford two papers. Of course, it was assumed they would subscribe only to the Review.1

Departments were also added in 1866 with the following headings: The Sermon; The Commentary; Editorial; News and Miscellany; Conference; Obituary Notices; Publication; Appointments; and Business.2

By 1867 it was clear that because of his tenuous health situation, James White would not be able to continue in his leadership positions. John Nevins Andrews was elected General Conference president, Uriah Smith served as secretary and Review editor, and J. M. Aldrich was president of the publishing association. Great changes had taken place in the past six years: the church had organized, a health institution had been established, the Review was joined by several other publications, and the first church school opened. In addition, the work had spread with “missionaries” John Loughborough and D. T. Bourdeau leaving Michigan for California.

Keeping the Church Together

The little paper that began in 1849 with 1,000 copies had increased its circulation. While exact numbers aren’t known for each year, we do know that by 1872, 5,310 copies were mailed each week.3 The paper acted as the connector for scattered members, some living in isolated areas with no other believers. Thus, the role of the paper functioned sometimes more as a community newsletter. There were articles for edification with heavy emphasis on doctrine and theology, but there were also news notes, and updates where leaders might be preaching. James White frequently used the paper to communicate his own personal messages, sometimes in very direct terms.

We find a communication from White in the Review in 1867 related to camp meeting appointments. Many members expected that camp meeting would include the Whites as speakers. One can imagine the schedule if they attended all of them. He writes:

“And now we wish to say to our brethren, we are both worn, and must labor under the most favorable circumstances. We cannot ride in a springless open wagon. We cannot be up to late evening meetings. We cannot sleep on hard beds, or sit on hard seats. We cannot, when weary from preaching, converse upon different subjects of little or no interest all the time we are out of meeting. Most of the brethren know how it is with me. Some do not know that I am but a shadow of what I once was. . . . Pray for us. If the Lord be with us, I can be a fraction of a laborer, and Mrs. W. one and the remaining fraction.”4

Despite his precarious health situation, White pushed himself to support the cause in whatever way he could. This along with his candor often resulted in conflict. While things appeared to be going well, trouble was brewing in Battle Creek, Michigan, where the church was headquartered.

Trouble in the Ranks

Accusations were made against James White in 1869. The criticism included Ellen White as well. John Andrews, Uriah Smith, and Goodloe Harper Bell were asked to investigate the charges. A request was made for all who had a testimony about James White, positive or negative, to submit them to the committee. This led to the publishing of a 151-page “pamphlet” with a defense of White’s dealings, including 54 positive testimonies that vindicated him of all rumors and charges. No negative evidence was received.

Despite this, James White was again elected president of both the General Conference and the publishing association in 1869. During his two-year absence the publishing house, in particular, had gone deeply into debt. White’s zealousness for the cause, along with his desire for integrity and transparency compounded by his sharp words, made for some serious conversations that began with J. M. Aldrich, then president of the publishing association. At the end of their exchange, Aldrich resigned. White then proceeded to criticize Andrews, General Conference president at the time, for the accrual of debt, and Smith, secretary and editor, for remaining neutral and not speaking up when detrimental financial decisions were being made. In response, although Smith defended his position, he chose to leave the editor’s role. In 1869 John Nevins Andrews, also Smith’s brother-in-law, became editor, albeit reluctantly.

A year later we find Uriah Smith back in the editor’s chair, although his position varied from editor to resident editor, trading positions with James White. With White serving as president of both the General Conference and publishing association, even though he was frequently listed as editor, Smith bore the heavy responsibilities for the Review.

Awakening the Members

Smith was a prolific writer and soon became one of the major contributors and scholars among the pioneer leadership. He began a commentary on the book of Revelation, writing in the evening after work at the office was completed. The first nine chapters of what would eventually become a book were published in the Review, beginning in 1862 through 1863. In 1869 he began a series on Daniel. This, too, was printed in the Review, beginning in January 1869 through July 1871.

As editor, Smith desired to awaken within the readership an awareness that the end-time was near. He urged them to examine their readiness for the judgment and Second Coming. To this end, topics in the Review included the labor movement, railroad strikes, the Ku Klux Klan, the rise of spiritualism, the increasing strength of the Papacy, communism, and political corruption. He continually emphasized doctrinal beliefs, particularly the Sabbath (a favorite topic), the sanctuary, and the state of the dead—all doctrines that distinguished Adventism from other Protestants. Both Smith’s and White’s desire was that the Review “should be the best religious paper in the world.”5

More experimenting was done with the size of the Review. The paper was enlarged to 11 x 16.5 inches, nearly doubling the space for reading material, but remained eight pages. Smith wrote:

“We want all of this space filled with living, flaming words of truth, something that will arrest the attention of the unthinking, instruct the ignorant, convince skeptics, establish the wavering, stir up the backsliding, comfort believers, strengthen the weak, cheer the desponding, and bring us all nearer to Christ, and more into sympathy with His will, and into the spirit of His work. . . . And while we try to have a paper worthy of a cause, we want a cause worthy of the paper. A living cause is worthy of a living paper. But the paper cannot long retain its life, if the cause is in a feeble, languishing condition.”6

Out of Office

Yet troubles were still ahead for James White and Uriah Smith. The two families along with the Andrews family had been close and worked together from almost the beginning. Tensions arose among the Smiths and Andrewses (related by marriage) pertaining to the acceptance and support of Ellen White’s visions. Eventually things came to a head, and James White was informed that on May 15, 1873, Uriah Smith had been fired as editor because of his lack of support for the Whites. While Smith gave a defense, he seemed to accept the decision without much protest. He moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he took a position as an engraver. It was reported that he was happy, content, and making twice the salary he did at the Review.

James White was again editor and stayed in this position for the next four years, even as he also served as president and in other capacities. George Butler, president of the General Conference, stepped in to attempt a reconciliation between the factions. By November 29, Smith was back in the office; and the December 9 issue listed him as an additional editor again. So that readers might know that unity among leaders prevailed, each party wrote an article for the paper extolling their partnership in the cause.

What appears to be a turning point for Smith and the Review came in 1877 when he shifted the burden for maintaining the cause from the leaders to the magazine itself. “There are truths for this time clearly developed, sharp and well defined, to which the people must be aroused or perish. In such truths as these the Review undertakes to deal. It will give the trumpet no uncertain sound.”7

It was the beginning of a steady editorship that continued another 26 years.8

1 This lasted until September 1, 1868, when subscriptions dropped because of the increased price. Secular news was eliminated, and the paper returned to eight pages per week with a price of $2 per year. Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 31, 1919, p. 12.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Aug. 27, 1867.

5 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 6, 1870.

6 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 20, 1870.

7 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 28, 1877.

8 I’m indebted to biographers Virgil Robinson, Gerald Wheeler, Eugene Durand, and Gary Land. For an in-depth read, check out James White (Wheeler) and Uriah Smith (Land), part of the Adventist Pioneer Series.