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From the Publisher"This is a creative, well-constructed book. I found every single essay to be unexpectedly provocative, informative, or both."
—Mark A. Noll, Wheaton College
This volume is the first to examine at length and in detail the impact of the missionary experience on American cultural, political, and religious history.
This collection of 15 essays provides a fully developed account of the domestic significance of foreign missions from the 19th century through the Vietnam War. U.S. and Canadian missions to China, South America, Africa, and the Middle East have, it shows, transformed the identity and purposes of their mother countries in ...
This volume is the first to examine at length and in detail the impact of the missionary experience on American cultural, political, and religious history.
This collection of 15 essays provides a fully developed account of the domestic significance of foreign missions from the 19th century through the Vietnam War. U.S. and Canadian missions to China, South America, Africa, and the Middle East have, it shows, transformed the identity and purposes of their mother countries in important ways. Missions provided many Americans with their first significant exposure to non-Western cultures and religions. They helped to establish a variety of new academic disciplines in home universities—linguistics, anthropology, and comparative religion among them. Missionary women helped redefine gender roles in North America, and missions have vitalized tiny local churches as well as entire denominations, causing them to rethink their roles and priorities, both here and abroad. In fact, missionaries have helped define our own national identity by influencing our foreign, trade, military, and immigration policies over the last two centuries.
Topics in the collection range from John Saillant's essay on the missions of free African Americans to Liberia in the 19th century to Grant Wacker's essay on the eventual disillusionment of noted writer Pearl S. Buck. Kathryn T. Long’s essay on the “Auca martyrs” offers a sobering case study of the missionary establishment's power to, in tandem with the evangelical and secular press, create and record the stories of our time. William L. Svelmoe documents the improbable friendship between fundamentalist Bible translator William Cameron Townsend and Mexico’s secular socialist president Lázaro Cárdenas. And Anne Blue Wills details the ways many American groups—black, Protestant, Catholic, and Mormon—sought to convert one another, stead-
fastly envisioning “others” as every bit as “heathen” as those in far-off lands.
The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home is an insightful, provocative collection that will stimulate much discussion and debate. It is valuable for academic libraries and seminaries, scholars of religious history and American studies, missionary groups, cultural historians and ethnographers, and political scientists.
At an 1861 meeting of the New York State Colonization Society, Alexander Crummell, a black Episcopal minister, then a U.S.-born Liberian traveling in the United States, recalled that when he first landed in Monrovia in 1853, his "views and purposes were almost entirely missionary in their character." He had, Crummell attested, nothing "civil or national" around him then. However, in the course of "three days"-here Crummell was surely alluding to the time from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection-he saw in Liberia such "manliness, ... thrift, energy, and national life" that his "governmental indifference at once vanished." He became a new man as feelings of "citizenship and nationality" swelled within him. He swore an "oath of allegiance" to the Republic of Liberia, becoming for the first time a "citizen." He assured his audience that in Liberia, even "the most casual observer can perceive strength, confidence, self-reliance, development, increase of wealth, manliness, and greater hardiment of character." "The acquisitive principle," up to that point "latent" in black men, was surfacing in Liberia. The "freed black man of America," he argued, possessed "clearer knowledge of free government" and a "nobler fitness for its requirements" than did many white Europeans. Finally, Liberia's "Black Yankees," Crummell argued, would as governors soon advance to their "master aim," "the evangelization and enlightenment of heathen Africa."
Born in New York in 1819, tutored privately in theology, ordained in 1844, and graduated from Queen's College of Cambridge University in 1853, Crummell became a farmer, businessman, schoolmaster, colonizationist spokesman, and Episcopal missionary in Liberia. Perhaps impelled by the Union victory in the Civil War, perhaps weary of Liberia, Crummell returned to the United States for good in 1872, settled in Washington, D.C., and spent the rest of his life working for the uplift of African Americans. He wrote and lectured, as well as leading in the establishment of institutions like St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Washington, D.C., and the American Negro Academy. He died in 1898. Although he spent only nineteen years of a long life in Liberia, he has been remembered invariably as an African missionary and civilizationist.
This chapter situates Crummell's first three days in Africa-when his transfiguration from missionary to citizen took place-in two contexts. First, beginning in 1822, in the context of four decades of missionary, colonizationist, and settler activity in Liberia. Second, in the context of U.S. race relations from the Revolutionary War to the "uplift" decades of the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. Crummell was prompted to his transfiguration in these contexts. In general, missionary, colonizationist, and settler activity (as reported in periodicals, sermons, missionary tracts, and letters) were the strongest sources of a modern, postslavery understanding of blacks as citizens, an understanding found in virtually no other source in the Atlantic world at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In relation to the missions in Liberia, missionaries had an intermittent insight into the disruption of native life caused by the settlement of that country. Although colonization was initially envisioned as a means of expatriating African Americans, it became a tool of coexistence (though not of true integration) as news of blacks as citizens and missionaries-and, indeed, as Crummell's example shows, as Americo-Liberians themselves-flowed westward across the Atlantic. Together, the missionaries, colonizationists, and settlers provided a convincing model of blacks for the postslavery era.
This model rests on the notion of "manhood." Scholars have noted the ubiquity of this word in discourse about U.S. race relations from the time of Frederick Douglass onward. But the notion of manhood-men as participatory citizens, freewill Christians, individual achievers in commerce, and governors of subordinate people like the indigenes of North America and Africa as well as women, children, and servants-was affixed to Americo-Liberian settlers beginning in the 1820s. This idea of black manhood answered a question about African Americans that arose in the 1770s and that was articulated in its fullest and clearest form in missionary and colonizationist reports about Liberia beginning in the 1820s. U.S. slavery and oppression produced doubts about black manhood; missionary, colonizationist, and settler activity overcame those doubts; black social thought-and, indeed, the liberal tradition in race relations, beginning with Frederick Douglass-grew from that idea of black manhood.
Although Douglass denounced both colonization and Liberia, colonizationists had articulated many of the elements of his thought long before he began writing for the public. Famously, Douglass claimed that his autobiography revealed the way in which a man was made a slave, then a slave a man. Crummell, for his part, interpreted the establishment of Liberia to mean for blacks that "the manhood of our race has been won," since in Liberia was possible "a manly, noble, and complete African nationality" in which black men need not act as "ladies' maids." Not fully aware of the sources of their ideas and values, Douglass and Crummell believed that there was a universal manhood to which neither African Americans (because of U.S. slavery) nor Africans (because of African "barbarism") had advanced. Far from being beguiled ourselves by a notion of universal "manhood," we should understand the cultural and historical specificity of masculinities-in this case, the way colonization and missions in Liberia formed a notion of black manhood.
For the first U.S. proponents of the expatriation of free blacks to West Africa (the West Indies and the North American West were also occasionally mentioned as possible destinations), the paramount question was whether black men could function as citizens of an American nation-state. White colonizationists like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Hopkins, James Madison, Henry Clay, Leonard Bacon, and Robert Finley reflected the ethnocentrism of their times, but they were not racist in the sense of believing that black men and black women were innately inferior in body, mind, or morals to whites. Rather, they believed that a combination of natural and historical circumstances had so separated whites from blacks that the two races could never live equally and happily in one society. "Distinctions of color" and the obvious cruelties and inequities of the slave trade and of slavery implied to a critical mass of whites of the Revolutionary War generation that blacks and whites could never be co-citizens. The "race problem," as late-eighteenth-century republicans saw it, was essentially civic, not biological.
One important strain in republican thought instructed that if a dissenting part of a society's population were too dangerous to the well-being of the society, it should be either enslaved or banished. French writers like Montesquieu and Brissot were invoked in favor of colonization because they asseverated the injustice of slavery yet emphasized both the necessity of a unifying "spirit" in society and their corollary belief, in Brissot's words, that "there can never exist a sincere union between the whites and the blacks, even on admitting the latter to the rights of freeman." (We may call this strain of Euro-American thought "racist" since it encourages fear and dislike of blacks, but we should recognize that it was antiblack only insofar as it opposed many forms of difference, diversity, and dissent that are accepted, even welcomed, in the early twenty-first century.) Beginning with the endorsement of prominent figures in the 1770s, solidifying with the formation of the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1817, and reaching momentum with the establishment of Liberia on land gained from local leaders by the ACS in 1822, colonization influenced U.S. race relations. Between 1822 and 1865, only about thirteen thousand African Americans emigrated to Liberia, but the role the settlement played in U.S. culture was in great disproportion to this number, which represented only a small fraction of North American blacks.
White colonizationists expressed in words and in actions some of the ugliness of a dominant group that had long and heavily utilized the productive labor of most members of a subordinate group. Colonizationists proclaimed that free blacks were lazy and vicious, but, in fact, most free African Americans worked at whatever trades were open to them, and many sought the benefits of church and school, as black opponents of colonization like Samuel Cornish noted. Emigration, colonizationists proclaimed, was to be entirely voluntary, when, in fact, leading colonizationists were plotting privately to force free blacks to emigrate. Even traces of genocide appear in colonizationist proposals. In the 1820s, for instance, it became apparent that the mortality of the Americo-Liberian settlers was extraordinarily high (probably the highest ever recorded), yet that caused only little erosion of white support for colonization. Some proposals (such as shipping infants to Africa while their mothers, whose labor was more valuable than that of newborn children, remained on U.S. plantations) seem to be genocidal, made in full knowledge of the fact that "African fever" (malaria) was especially pernicious for those born in the temperate zone as well as for children. The idea of providing a "natural" site for blacks was often the excuse for executing a death sentence.
Yet colonizationists black and white did not believe that the United States was merely casting off a bothersome, dysfunctional class but was, rather, placing black men in a context in which they could thrive as individuals, citizens, and governors of their own society. Indeed, free blacks, once expatriated, were believed to be fine representatives of democracy, Christianity, and civilization. Thus Clay could write with no feeling of inconsistency that, on the one hand, "Of all classes in our population the most vicious is the free colored" and, on the other, "Every emigrant to Africa is a missionary carrying with him credentials in the holy cause of civilization, religion, and free institutions." Without equivocation, Jefferson considered blacks to be natural republicans who would inevitably be free.
This notion of free blacks as degraded and vicious beings yet paragons of civilization, Christianity, and democracy did not jar the United States's sense of consistency. 12 Indeed, the notion appeared everywhere in political culture, from the highest levels of discourse to the homeliest commentaries in the colonizationist effort. As a national political figure, Clay was articulating ideas that an anonymous writer in the African Repository and Colonial Journal, the periodical of the ACS, expressed in 1825: the "restoration of thousands of free, though degraded people of colour to their own native land, and there exalting them to the rank, intelligence, and enjoyment of rational beings, is an object which must commend itself to a nation of freemen as worthy of their vigorous support." By the early 1830s, officers of the ACS were confident that Liberia proved that even the most "debased" and "ignorant" blacks could become "intelligent, industrious, and competent, in every point of view, for all the offices of an independent, social, and civil community.... The slave, when he leaps a free man upon the shore of his own ancient land, seems to throw off his very nature with his chains."
From the outset, missions were an essential part of the colonization effort. One of the pioneering monographs in African-American history, George W. Williams's History of the Negro Race in America, reported the nineteenth-century judgment that Liberia was "a missionary republic." From its first issue, in 1825, the African Repository and Colonial Journal noted the convergence of the goals of the missionaries and the colonizationists. A characteristic comment reads: "Whether the population of Africa is to remain under the power of its dark superstitions, or to be enlightened and saved by Christianity, will not be regarded by any religious mind as a question of small importance. We have long hoped, and believed, that the establishment of the African colony, would afford rare facilities for the operations of those noble Institutions which are directly engaged in the holy cause of missions." When a minister from Basel, Switzerland, inquired in 1827 about establishing a mission in Liberia, the ACS agent, Jehudi Ashmun, assured him that "a large portion of our settlers are by profession, the devoted servants of the Redeemer.... A deep, lively, and I hope, sincere and lasting interest is felt by many, for the salvation of their pagan African brethren." In 1830, the Young Men's Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York announced that, "feeling deeply impressed with the solemn importance of the great cause in which the friends of African Colonization are laboring," the Society was planning "the establishment of a mission in Liberia." When Liberia was investigated by the League of Nations and condemned for slave-trade-like practices, the old idea of Liberian missions allowed an ACS spokesman, who conceded the export of unfree laborers, to recall a religious golden age in Liberian history: "Mission work and Liberia have always gone hand in hand." Indeed, he cast the first U.S. missionary to West Africa, Samuel Mills, as "the father of foreign missionary enterprise in America."
Almost immediately arose the question of the effectiveness of black missionaries to Africa. It is possible to name the individual black missionaries-Daniel Coker (African Methodist Episcopal [A.M.E.], Liberia, 1820); Lott Cary and Colin Teague (Baptist, Liberia, 1821); James Temple (Presbyterian, Liberia, 1833); Mr. and Mrs. James Thompson (Episcopal, Liberia, 1836); A. P. Davis (Baptist, Liberia, 1834, appointed missionary 1847). And it is possible to stress that black missionaries were the "natural" evangelists for Africans, as was argued in the early nineteenth century. In 1828, for instance, one commenter on the African Mission School Society argued that "men of colour should be educated and sent forth without delay to this glorious work. These are, doubtless, destined to be the principal agents in communicating the arts of civilization and the ever-blessed Gospel, to the long neglected and degraded tribes of Africa."
We should, however, look beyond the individuals and transcend the belief in "natural" evangelists so that we can examine the function of missionary work in Liberia. The existence of black missionaries in West Africa and African-American governors and citizens in Liberia forced into public discourse the notions of educability and competence of blacks in a way that had never before occurred in the United States. In the 1780s, Jefferson initially thought that blacks might be educated for "agrarian" pursuits in a new colony, while in the 1790s Samuel Hopkins tried to prepare two black men for missionary work in Africa but, in his own view, failed. From such small beginnings grew the idea of black men as governors of a new nation in Liberia.
The keynote was the civic competence of black men. Blacks and whites agreed on this point. An 1828 "Address by the Citizens of Monrovia, to the Free Coloured People of the United States" (probably white-authored and published as an alternative to a black-authored address that had been sent from Monrovia) elaborated on this point. The Americo-Liberian settlers claimed to have migrated voluntarily in search of "liberty, in the sober, simple, but complete sense of the word:-not a licentious liberty-nor a liberty without government.... But that liberty of speech, action, and conscience, which distinguished the free, enfranchised citizens of a free state." Lacking liberty, property, suffrage, and other rights in the United States, the settlers emigrated and created their own government and laws and gained their own "community," "commerce," "soil," and "resources" in Liberia. Without the "debasing inferiority, with which our very colour stamped us in America," the settlers reached "moral emancipation- ... liberation of the mind." Understandably, the address continued, "the white man" can never associate with slaves and freedmen and freedwomen in the United States "on terms of equality." But "which is the white man who would decline such association with one of our number [that is, the settlers], whose intellectual and moral qualities are not an objection? ... There is no such white man." The "industrious and virtuous" can achieve "independence and plenty and happiness," can rule themselves, and can establish "Christian worship ... in a land of brooding pagan darkness" if they will remove to Liberia. North and South, such ideas were continually reiterated in U.S. publications. There was little doubt that the civic advances of the settlers were paving the way for a bright future. One traveler, the Reverend William B. Hoyt, wrote that although recently freed blacks were uncivilized, in Liberia "the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty by the parents results in a marked mental improvement in their offspring."
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