Thursday, May 14, 2015

American Reform Tract and Book Society

This has been updated.and is now reposted. I originally posted it in November of last year.

Well, going 2 weeks since my last post is not something about which I am happy, but the one I post here tonight will lead me to a couple more entries, though I still need to finish up a bit more research and editing on them. I doubt I finish them during this holiday week, but hopefully it won't be much longer until I finish at least the next one, and then I can work on another.

I have an antique book called Walter Browning, Or,  The Slave's Protector. It does not list an author but states it was "revised by the committee of Publication," presumably referring to the committee of the publishing company. The publisher was the American Reform Tract and Book Society, who published it in Cincinnati in 1856. The title page claims that the book is "founded on fact."

I have not read it yet, though I might. I usually do not read such old books, but this one is in good shape, maybe good enough to be a reading copy, though it appears to be a children's book. Time will tell what I decide to do.

While looking through it, however, two sections caught my eye and I thought they would be worth exploring here. Each of these sections mentions something about the purpose for the book or the reasons for the society's existence, and I thought these ideas deserved attention, especially since this was published in the midst of such a turbulent decade. Anger and violence were becoming almost common responses  to the many controversies that popped up so frequently in this era. In just the year this book was published, Preston Brooks clubbed Charles Sumner over the head in the Senate, leaving Sumner seriously injured, while Kansas was earning the sobriquet "Bleeding Kansas," in part due to events such as the attacks led by John Brown and his family. See one of my early entries on this blog in which I discussed the 1850s a bit.

The 1850s as a Volcano

My eyes opened wider when I noticed that this book listed the society's President as John Rankin, a fascinating man who I believe will make a good subject for a future post or two. His association with this organization should not have surprised me, but I did not expect to see his name listed there.  I'll start writing a post on his life soon, once I do some more research to gather and organize more details on his long anti-slavery career. 

The first section of this book that I will transcribe is the Preface.

The narrative recorded in the following pages is not without foundation. In the main points at issue, it is little else than the autobiography of one whose childhood was spent in those balmy regions, whose paradise of pleasure, bears, stamped in indelible characters, the impress of broken hearts, and the mournful existence of a race doomed to wander, despised and forgotten, through the dark mazes of a life of ignominious slavery.

With the hope, perchance, of arresting the attentions of some youthful readers, and fixing them upon the reality of that which perhaps they little dream exists in our own land, the scenes, herein depicted, drawn from actual life, are presented. They shadow forth the features  of an institution whose monuments are sundered ties, bleeding wounds, blasted hopes, the lash, the shriek, the groan, the grave.

Ye who rest in the easy lap of fortune, with scarce a wish delayed, or hope deferred, cast not aside these pages with the presumption that an idle breath of fancy gave them birth. Should they create within you sighs of pity for the lowly and oppressed, or arouse you to a sense of your own long forgotten duty, the highest wish of the Author will have been gained.

At the end of the book is a section about the publisher, explaining its reason for being and for creating publications like this book. It seems strange to think they expected a "healthful" agitation on slavery at that time, though on the other hand I suppose that financial troubles being part of their issue is not surprising. Even over 150 years ago, money mattered,even for a company in the publishing industry.

Cincinnati, February 1, 1856
The AMERICAN REFORM TRACT AND BOOK SOCIETY, it is believed, is the offspring of necessity, brought into existence to fill a vacuum left unoccupied by most other Publishing Boards and Institutions - its object being to publish such Tracts and Books as are necessary to awaken a decided, though healthful, agitation on the great questions of Freedom and Slavery. This is its primary object, though its constitution covers the broad ground of "promulgating the doctrines of the Reformation, to point out the application of the principles of Christianity to every known sin, and to show the sufficiency snd adaptation of those principles to remove all the evils of the world and bring on a form of society in accordance with the Gospel of Christ." To spread these principles of the Society broadcast over the land, it was at first thought a weekly newspaper was indispensable and the Christian Press was sent abroad, as on the wings of the wind, and we doubt not has done its mission for good. But, as funds were not furnished in sufficient amount to carry on a weekly issue, and add the number of Tracts and Books demanded, a year since, the Press was reduced in size, and issued only monthly. This change in policy has enabled the Society to relieve itself of a debt which, a year since, threatened its existence, and to add to the number of Tracts and Books, and, at the late annual meeting, to show assets in Stereotype Plates, Books, and Tacts, of over $2,500, including $1,184 in cash on hand, and clear of liabilities. This favorable change in the affairs of the Society, it is hoped will restore confidence, and lead the  active friends of Freedom and Reform to come forward in voluntary co-operation with the Directors, and add largely to our number of Tracts and Books, and to commission Colporteurs.

The offer of $100, for the best manuscript for an Anti-Slavery S.S. Book brought to our hands forty-eight competitors, and, although the prize was awarded to but one, there are a number worthy of publication; and thus, many useful books will be added to our list, if the means for publishing are provided. Besides these "competitors," we have other manuscripts for Tracts and Books, which we wish to publish without delay.

It is the aim of the present Directors to use all possible economy, and bring out a larger series of 
Tracts, and especially to increase the number of Sabbath School Books, so that Sabbath Schools may 
be furnished with Christian Anti-Slavery Literature, in connection with other subjects, without unnecessary delay.

At the late annual election, there was some change in the Officers (though not In the Principles) of the Society, it may be satisfactory to give them. They are  as follows:
President: Rev. John Rankin, Ripley, O.
A. A. Guthrie, Esq., Putnam, O.;
Rev. G. G. W. Perkins, Chicago, Ill.;
Rev. E Goodman,        " "          ";
Rev. J. Blanchard, Galesburgh, Ill.;
Rev. J. A. Thome, Cleveland, O.;
Rev. C. B. Boynton, Cincinnati, O.

Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer:
Dr. Geo. L. Weed

Recording Secretary:
A. S. Merrill

Rev. H. M. Stores, Congregational;
Prof. M. Stone, Baptist Theo. Sem'y,
Rev. H. Bushnell, Congregational,
Rev. R. H. Pollock, Associate Prebyt'n,
Rev. J. J. Blaisdell, Presbyterian,
Levi Coffin, Friend
Dr. J. P. Walker,
Wm.  Lee,
A. E. D. Tweed,
A. S. Merrill,
G. S. Stearns,
S. C. Foster.

In this Board of Directors, the active Friends of Freedom and Reform, and all others have a guaranty that the funds contributed will be judiciously expended, and the Society, now in a prosperous condition, will go forward, adding to its Tracts, Books, and Stereotype Plates, and its influence for good spread throughout the land.

This will be accomplished just in accordance with the amount of funds received; and contributors should recollect that the free-will offering, inclosed and sent by mail, will accomplish more than the same sum called for by an Agent.

The "Society Record" will hereafter be published monthly and sent free to all contributors and friends who will send us their address.

Geo. L. Weed,
Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer

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