"Like the Leaves of Autumn:" The Utilization of the Press to Maintain Millennial Expectations in the Wake of Prophetic Failure

Ginger Hanks Harwood, LaSiera University


When prophecies concerning the end of the world failed in 1844, Millerite millennialism was in disarray. While prominent leaders tried to regroup and salvage the movement as a whole, a small group of the "disappointed" banded together to promote their understanding of the events. As they struggled to gain recognition for their views, they found themselves in conflict with both society at large and those who had been their co-enthusiasts in the expectation of the return of Christ. Numerically insignificant and financially limited, they turned to the printed page to present their ideas and press their conclusions. While initially joining the dialog in established millennial journals, they soon determined the need to print their own periodical to promote their theological ideas. Between 1850 and 1863, The Sabbath Review and Advent Herald, provided the group with a voice and base of power that eventually culminated in the establishment of an institutionalized version of the Millerite movement. This paper explores the periodical’s crucial contributions to the formation of sectarian Adventism, the perpetuation of millennial expectations in a new and institutionalized form.


Introduction to Historical Context

In the early 1830’s, a Vermont farmer/justice of the peace made a decision to reveal the startling results of his decade long study of the Bible: the second coming of Christ would occur in about 1843. He had produced "a coherent chronology of events leading inexorably to the apocalypse,"(Doan). With Christ’s coming, the world would end, the sheep would be separated from the goats, the earth would be cleansed and the millennium would begin. While millennial expectations had risen and fallen almost cyclically among the descendents of the Reformation, and at least nineteen other exegetes had calculated 1843 to be a significant year based on their work with Biblical prophesies, William Miller’s discovery was the one that would spark a mass movement with the explosive power to split churches and create new denominations.

Hardly a charismatic figure, the middle-aged farmer was ambivalent about disclosing his views, yet concerned that failure to share his discovery would jeopardize his neighbors’ opportunities to prepare for the event. Reluctantly, he agreed to share his studies in August of 1831 when invited to preach at a neighboring church for an absent clergyman. His initial presentation resulted in profound interest and additional invitations to preach and lecture (Rowe). By 1832, the demand for his material outgrew his ability to personally meet the requested appointments and he was urged to publish his series of eight lectures on "Biblical prophecy and the Advent Near" in the Vermont Telegram, a local newspaper. The next year, these were published in a pamphlet for further distribution and by 1835, Miller could note that his understandings were "making no small stir in these regions." While the views were passed from Vermont to New York State and gained increasing interest among Baptist, Methodist and Congregationalist clergy and laity, they remained a largely rural or small-town phenomenon until the editor of the Christian Palladium, a journal published in Utica New York by the Christian Connexion, began to publicize Miller’s views. The endorsement added credibility and provided a medium to circulated the message. Once it reached the wider audience, a plethora of volunteers took up the cry of the Advent Near and began to preach and evangelize ever-increasing circles (Gaustad; Cross).

Of the new disciples drawn into the movement through the journal’s net, none was to have a more dramatic effect on the nascent movement than Boston’s own radical reform minister, Joshua Himes, friend and co-worker of William Lloyd Garrison (Knight). After weighing the evidence presented, the ultraist Himes determined that this was the reform to end all reforms, and placed himself squarely in the middle, or perhaps even at the head, of the movement. An individual with years of political experience, he brought his knowledge to bear to the problem of obtaining the widest possible hearing for Miller’s views. He arranged to have Miller personally bring the message to Boston and then New York, to republish his book, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, and to start publishing a weekly journal, the Signs of the Times as well as pamphlets by other leading ministers. The new journal, as well as giving movement its own voice in the public sphere, created a place where detractors and objectors could be answered and challenged. Soon, other millennial journals such as the Advent Harbinger, The Voice of Elijah and the Midnight Cry emerged to join the conversation on the Advent Near. In short, Himes began a very successful media blitz, a modern advertising campaign designed to capture the attention of the American religious public. His sophisticated use of the press transformed a backwoods regional phenomenon into a mass movement.

Clergy from several denominations warned their congregations of Christ’s soon appearing, lay preachers obtained prophetic charts and rented halls to preach the Advent Near, and small bands prayed for the conversion of friends and families. General Conferences of Believers in the Second Coming of Christ at the Door were called where special committees were elected, strategies for reaching the unevangelized conceived, leaders appointed, and the business of operating a campaign was conducted. A trans-church movement was organized, structured and invested with authority without assuming the burdens of buildings, bureaucracy or salaried clergy. Theologians entered into the debate concerning dates while notable reform leaders such as Henry Ward Dana, Charles Fitch, George Storrs, Joseph Bates and Josiah Litch joined Joshua Himes writing and speaking for the movement. By 1842, thousands arrived for Millerite camp meetings and were convicted that they needed to be ready to meet the Lord of the Universe. Miller’s rationalist approach to the Bible was complimented by Methodist camp meeting revivalism and the Holy Spirit worked wonders while penitents wept on the mourners’ benches, and those overwhelmed by the Presence of the Spirit shouted or perhaps swooned or even entered ecstatic states or trances (after which some brought messages to fellow believers directly from God). Social walls were dissolved and individuals proleptically experienced the sweet community promised by the millennium. They stood together, saved by the grace of God, happily awaiting His appearance when all pain and death would be vanquished and tears wiped from every eye. Debts were settled, reconciliation accomplished between the estranged, personal piety was examined and excess property was distributed to the poor in proof of faith in Christ’s coming (Nichols).

1843 failed to bring the expected cataclysm, and some drifted away from the movement, but Miller’s prophecy had been vague intentionally: he had said in about 1843. Additional study by respected leaders of the group suggested they needed to allow for calendar differences, etc. Hopes were refocused first on the spring of 1844, and then, under the insight (and insistence) of Samuel Snow that he had "new light," October 22, 1844 was selected as the day to expect Christ’s arrival. Interest increased as a definite date was set. William Miller was extremely reluctant to endorse it, but finally, a few days before the predicted parousia, the leader caught up with his followers. Miller conceded that he was "beginning to see a light in that day that I haven’t seen before." And so the ready awaited the arrival of Jesus until the last stroke of midnight on Oct. 22, 1844.

Post-Disappointment Adventism

When prophecies concerning the end of the world failed in 1844, Millerites suffered the "Great Disappointment." Men wept all night as they realized that the world was going to continue, "as it had from the beginning:" Millennial hopes were dashed and the movement was in disarray. Individual believers faced public disgrace, destitution, and personal despair as neighbors ridiculed the hapless and threatened clergy deemed responsible for the fiasco. William Miller, in his noteworthy Public Apology and Defense of William Miller renounced the process of date setting and dismissed the enthusiasm of the previous few months. He made his own peace with the failed event and settled into looking for Christ’s return without a definite date, although he retained the conviction that the end was nigh. As he stated, "I am not yet cast down or discouraged…. my mind is perfectly calm and my hope in the coming of Christ as strong as ever…" He settled on a new eschatology, where he would look for Christ’s return, TODAY, and TODAY, until he comes, and I see HIM for whom my soul yearns" (Miller). His experience was not representative of the masses that had expected to enter the kingdom on October 22.

Joshua Himes and other prominent Adventist leaders tried to regroup and salvage the movement as a whole. They moved quickly, owned the mistake of date setting, organized charity to relieve the most desperate financial situations, and arranged a forum to sort the eschatological failure and review the prophecies that had lead them out so far. Himes was greeted with responses that ranged from cooperation to outright hostility, as movement leadership had lost much of its credibility. Clearly, these ministers, with all their scholarly training and study, could be dead wrong and blind guides. In a movement that already stressed the ability of the average person to access the intent of Scripture for him/herself, the failure of clergy leaders to correctly ascertain what the Bible was saying about end times demonstrated that sophisticated scholarship obviously provided no benefit over lay reading and interpretation. There was no reason to privilege their interpretation of the October 22 disappointment. While Himes and others retained leadership among the elite on the basis of individual status and prominent roles played in the movement, numbers of former followers rejected their authority. (It may be noted that Christianity itself lost credibility for numbers of people. If sincere students of the Bible who were leading earnest Christian lives could be this mislead by following what had seemed the clear testimony of the Scripture and the impression of the Holy Spirit, neither Scripture nor spiritual experience were trustworthy guides or provided functional mazeways. As has been noted, after the Great Disappointment, the movement lost its momentum: large numbers sheepishly returned to their former churches (or connected with other millenarian movements such as the Shakers), some became infidels, some took to drink, and some migrated to the West.

The Great Disappointment created a spiritual and religious crisis for believers who did not renounce their affiliation with the movement. What was to be done with the personal experience of seeing the effects of the movement on individual spiritual development and community revitalization? Individuals trying to make meaning of their experience and redeem their hope, reexamined their belief set, the material from which their conclusions had been derived, and pressed varying interpretations of October 22 failure. A variety of explanations, ranging from group mesmerism to the misunderstanding of ancient calendars to the spiritual arrival of Christ on October 22, were offered based on reappraisal of the texts, further study or individual visions. Prominent movement ministers suggested that Adventism was correct in understanding that Christ was returning, but had simply miscalculated the date and so offered a score of new dates: 1845, 46, 47, 48, and as these dates passed, 1850’s date were offered as attempts were made to keep the movement from collapse. Some individuals attempted to resolve the dilemma on the basis of the revelations given to them in trances, visions and dreams from God. Each clamored for a public hearing and competed for movement endorsement.

Joshua Himes was so overwhelmed with the numbers of ecstatic revelations that he claimed he was "knee-deep" in them and would hear no more. In the midst of this disarray, small groups of the "disappointed" banded together to promote their understanding of the events. Some lived together communally refusing to labor as a sign of their faith that they were now in the new kingdom. Another understanding was based on the vision of one Hiram Edson who, paralleling the reflections of Day Star editor Emily Clemmons, had in vision seen that Miller’s calculations regarding the 2300 day prophecy were correct, it was his understanding of what would happen on October 22 that was wrong. The cleansing of the sanctuary did not, as they thought, refer to the earth, it referred to the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus had entered into the most holy place to perform a special cleansing action for his people, and when he came out, he would come to earth and claim his own. The faithful must continue and wait for his imminent return. Edson would find a hearing for his views.

While Himes was unimpressed by ecstatic visions and labored to keep the movement focused on exegesis, faith in the former movement leadership had been shaken by the failure of the prophecy they had endorsed. The prestige and religious eminence initially ascribed to educated, prominent clergy in the movement (and allowed them to assume leadership status) faded in light of the fact that their training had not provided an advantage in prophetic discernment. Himes and the other theological elites were just as flummoxed by the Advent failure and just as uncertain about how to interpret it (and the future) as the laypersons in the group. The crisis in authority created an opportunity for individuals with strong convictions to offer alternative interpretative schemas (Numbers and Butler).

Ellen Gould Harmon and the Post-Disappointment Millerism

The discussion of this phase would be incomplete without a reference to Ellen Gould Harmon. She had been impressed with the message of the Advent Near at twelve when she first heard Miller speak in her hometown of Portland, Maine in 1840. She entered into a period of anxiety over her own readiness, a spiritual state cultivated by the Methodist Millerite milieu in which she was immersed. (The second General Conference of Believers in Christ at the Door was conducted in Portland. Her father was an exhorter at the Chestnut Street Methodist Church, whose minister was removed eventually from office by the Methodist hierarchy because of his aggressive support for the Millerite Adventism.) She and her family were expelled from membership subsequently over the same issue. The experience within the movement during the anticipatory period was extremely positive. A spiritually intense person, she revealed in the community of believers pressing towards the goal of sanctification. Even as an elderly woman, she would remember 1843-44, the time spent waiting expectantly for the return, as "the best year of my life." Devastated by the Great Disappointment, she was among those who struggled to integrate the "truth" of the message (as revealed through its fruits) with the failure of expectations. A major breakthrough came to her while praying with a small band of young women in a home prayer meeting in Portland, Maine about two months after the Disappointment. She was caught up in vision and shown that the believers in the advent near were on a journey toward heaven with Christ leading the way. The path was steep and led away from the world of darkness, and pilgrims must not turn back or suffer eternal loss. Thus, whatever disappointment or hardship suffered by Adventists, they must not question the correctness of the advent message or turn away from preparations to stand in the presence of God.

Although barely seventeen, tubercular and unknown in the movement outside the small circle in her own community Ellen Harmon was convicted that her vision must be communicated to her former associates, many of whom were struggling to retain their faith. As she began to share her vision, she caught the attention of a young teacher turned Adventist lay preacher, James White. White heard in Ellen Harmon’s vision a reassurance of God’s presence and leading that was needed to reestablish forward momentum after the Great Disappointment. He believed that her message was genuine and supplied the Divine directive needed by the movement to unite and maintain the confused and wavering masses. He became both her protector and promoter, providing her, on a smaller scale, the kind of support Joshua Himes contributed to William Miller. James White affirmed Harmon’s conviction that the vision was important and assisted her in achieving a hearing, supplying transportation and introduction to wider groups of Adventists. Most significantly, he helped her to commit her vision to a written form and get it published for distribution. While neither William Miller, who largely withdrew from the leadership function post-Disappointment, nor Joshua Himes, who dismissed her as one of a number of the Portland fanatics, was willing to endorse or provide Harmon with an entry into the formal circles of movement dialog, White persisted in his determination to forward her vision. When social disapproval followed their traveling together unchaperoned to take the message to scattered groups, White married Harmon so that the work could proceed unhampered.

White was correct in perceiving that direct communication from God could serve to bolster wavering enthusiasm and suggest a rationale for continuing as a group after prophesy had failed. Evidence of God’s leading (through visions) provided the cement needed to unite a group with diverse religious backgrounds and conflicting doctrinal understandings, who had been tied together only by a belief in the soon Advent of Christ and corporate spiritual experiences. In light of the dashed expectations, a manifestation of God’s endorsement was necessary to convince many that the Advent Near was legitimate Biblical exposition rather that the product of human enthusiasm or imagination. As they struggled to gain recognition for their views, White and Harmon found themselves in conflict with both society at large and those who had been their co-enthusiasts in the expectation of the return of Christ. James White continued to work towards creating a coalition of those who willing to maintain their millennial expectations and hammer out a new understanding of their place in apocalyptic time. Over the next five years, he labored to redeem millennial expectations by engaging former associates in conversation about the eschaton both in person and in print, preparing broadsides and answering detractors in various Advent periodicals. Numerically insignificant and financially limited, the group he convinced turned to the printed page to present their ideas and press their conclusions. While initially content to join the dialog in established millennial journals, they soon discovered the difficulty in receiving access to space in a journal maintained by those with opposing and competing interpretations. Frustrated at every turn, it seemed impossible for the small band to break past the obstacles that surrounded them.

While it was largely through James’ efforts that Ellen received an opportunity to add her voice to the post-Disappointment dialog, it was Ellen’s prophetic visioning that set the course for James career as the definitive voice and leader for what would eventually evolve into a separate organization: the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She provided the definitive breakthrough for the small group that James White had assembled around him: the directive to print a periodical to promote their theological ideas. Ellen White communicated a vision to her husband in which she was shown that he should devote himself to publishing a periodical. As she noted, "After coming out of a vision, [Dorchester, Mass., November 1948] I said to my husband: I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you the means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world" (E. White, Sketches, p.125). The truths of God (as captured on the printed page) should be spread about "like the leaves of autumn"(E. White).

Based on the instruction given from the vision, James White did commit himself to creating a newspaper that was first regularly published in November of 1851: The Sabbath Review and Advent Herald. The creation of the newspaper was to determine the course and future of this small Advent band. The Whites’ benefited from the recent technology that allowed quick, inexpensive printing: newer techniques made it economically feasible for even the poor to publish and broadcast ideas, breaking the earlier monopoly over the printed word held by the social, political and religious (formal church bodies) elites. The rest of this paper analyzes the way this periodical provided the group with a voice and base of power between 1851 and 1863 and contributed to the formation of sectarian Adventism, the perpetuation of millennial expectations in a new and ultimately institutionalized form.

The Sabbath Review and Advent Herald

While James White and Joseph Bates managed to attract a small core of believers to their combined views on "present truth," and even launch a number of "messengers" with prophetic charts and Sabbath pamphlets to pursue self-supported itinerant lectures, The Sabbath Review and Advent Herald became the life-blood and central core of the new Sabbatarian millennial movement. The Review provided this tiny band, excoriated in the popular press and excluded from other Adventist journals, with access to the minds and opinions of the public. The printed page proved to be instrumental in overcoming the limitations of numbers and finances (which restricted their ability to personally present arguments, rent halls or support lecture tours). It is important to note that the Review provided Sabbatarian Adventists with a place to stand in the religious marketplace, a space not voluntarily granted by the recognized "groundskeepers." From this space, Sabbatarian Adventists could "hawk their doctrinal wares" and establish themselves as a known participant in the public sphere. This was essential in an environment where their identity was contested. On these points, their history relives that of Millerism as a whole and their strategies reflect those that had proved to be successful for the larger millenarian movement.

From the very first volume in November 1851, the Review served as a vehicle to promote Sabbatarian Adventism’s "peculiar doctrines." The initial pages of the magazine were devoted (almost without exception for the first ten years) to an expository review of the beliefs that, when taken as a set, separated this group both from established Christian groups and the other Millerite offspring: Advent Christians. While the presentation of the seventh-day Sabbath dominated the pages, the state of the dead (conditional immortality), the sanctuary, the United States in prophecy and Christ’s imminent return also appeared as significant issues. Present, though much less frequently explored, topics were spiritual gifts, hermeneutics, and eventually the question of organizing as a church. Review articles answered specific and general questions posed by interested Bible students, clergy of competing doctrinal interpretations and movement detractors. These concerns, and their significance, are re-emphasized by the letters published in a section of the paper. The paper provided a place where these discussions could be presented in an assertive manner with the leisure and prerogative to develop the issues in a style chosen for maximum effectiveness. By selecting the topics discussed and the arguments presented, the Review editor(s) created public dialog in the areas they thought were important. Independence from editorship by unsympathetic or competing viewpoints allowed the group the opportunity to communicate their priorities and create a public face sculpted by their own initiatives rather than pastiched together from the agendas and responses of others.

The Review established William Miller’s approach to prophecy and Bible study that had produced the doctrine of the Advent Near as the authoritative hermeneutic. Using his model as the legitimate way to understand and interpret texts gave them the claim to being the authentic carriers of the Millerite millennial message. They characterized faithful response to Miller’s message as preserving the central message that Christ was going to return very soon and each Christian needed to be ready to meet Him.

In addition to doctrinal presentation, the Review served as a resource for spiritual education, presenting spiritual growth materials gathered from a variety of Christian sources. Sections of each publication were devoted to exhorting individuals to continue or commence spiritual disciplines and practices: Bible study, private and public prayer, renunciation of "the world," attendance and participation in "social meetings," and the articulation of personal spiritual experience in testimony. It encouraged personal, charismatic religious experience by including reports of meetings where the testimonies were cited as key evidence of God’s presence and the success of the meeting, and by printing those and other testimonies. As James White noted in the October 22, 1857 edition of the paper, "Sabbath, the 17th, we spent with the church at Battle Creek, and enjoyed freedom and a blessed season in speaking upon the unity of the church of Christ and perpetuity of the Gifts. We gave it as our opinion that instead of undervaluing what Gifts are manifested among us, it would be better to thank God for what we have, and pray for more."

The Review editors encouraged each individual to develop and exercise his or her spiritual voice. The pages of the journal frequently carried appeals to readers to forward an account of their spiritual experiences. The stress on spiritual growth and development connected the Adventist movement with accepted religious concerns in the pietistic and emerging holiness revivalism of the day. It also served as an ongoing witness to God’s active endorsement of the group through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Again, this portion of the newspaper served a significant function in identity presentation and self-affirmation in the midst of a hostile and negating environment.

There are several significant organizational functions performed by the Review that are central to group success. Control over the paper allowed James White and the group most closely associated with him to establish its agenda as the central concern and determinative face of Adventism. This was vital in a time when Himes’ Adventist circle characterized them as fanatics and other visionaries made alternative claims of religious authority. The Review established the authority of White and his cohort that was denied to them everywhere else, as they had the power to decide who spoke within the pages of the periodical and retained the right to the last word on any issue. This was a significant gain for individuals who were marginalized or even excluded from the conversation in the more established Christian press.

The Review became the vehicle of communication for the loose coalition of scattered Sabbatarian Adventists. In the closest thing available to a formal gate-keeping role in a voluntarist, non-organized group, the Review asserted its authority by becoming the place Sabbatarian advent lecturers (messengers) sent their reports and proposed itineraries. It became the clearinghouse for movement activities as it posted the local requests for speakers and lecturers. While many requests are represented by the 1853 letter in which a Sister M.A.E. Townsend soulfully pled, "I have never had the privilege of hearing one of our faith preach. O, that some might be directed this way, that we may be taught more perfectly in the way of life," other applications were more direct. In response to an article James White published concerning the need to communicate desire for a preacher and a general complaint as to the lack of support for the needs of ministers, the plain-spoken Brother W.S. Higley, Jr. announced, "By request of the church, I respond to our invitation (in the article headed "A Complaint") to "the churches to send in their claims for a preacher." We do not pretend any claim. We are grateful for the past, and hope for the future. We should be very glad to have a messenger’s family, and himself when not engaged elsewhere …"These requests became the basis for messengers to plan their evangelistic tours. The journal became key to the itinerant messengers who needed to ascertain where they might support for their labors and an entry to local communities: Brother Higley, after asserting the humility of their request for a preacher, added, "We shall be happy to do duty in preparing for his reception and comfortable stay among us." Traveling lecturers depended on such hospitality for their shelter and board, and planned their tours around the location of identified movement sympathizers who could create opportunities for religious dialog and assist them to gather funds to proceed on the tour. James White epitomized the plight of the Adventist messengers when in 1859 he penned a note published in the Review announcing, "All my purse amounts to $15.00. On this I must live while I spend a few weeks in Parkville. Unless I should receive something, I have no means to get to Lapeer, unless I borrow."

The early Review also created a locus of authority in the editorial cohort in that it provided a place for the endorsement of messengers: both from the office and in feedback printed of reports of work in diverse locales. The testimonials published about the various preaching efforts named the "messengers" who successfully divided the Word and moved the congregation toward heaven. In a letter to readers of the Review, for example, a Brother G.W. Holt reported, "The power of God was manifest in our first meeting. The preaching of Brother Cornell was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." The information published about the various workers created an audience for the preachers, established their reputations and gave them name recognition. Based on reports in the Review, the vision of an active millennial movement was projected and desire was created in various locales to import the reported religious experiences. Additionally, it was through the newspaper that resources were mobilized to support the spread of millennial expectations.

The Review functioned as the broker of funds for expansion of the public evangelism. It solicited funds for literature to provide to the messengers for distribution, reported projects needs for the acquisition of tents and equipment, and assisted messengers in funding their trips. The paper identified itself as the appropriate place to send money dedicated to religious purposes and published the report of monies received for the literature sent and various ongoing projects. James White functioned through the paper as group fund-raiser, frequently noting the needs of the newspaper to sustain its mission, marketing fund-raisers (such as charts, hymnals tracts and pamphlets). The back pages of the magazine typically listed tracts and books available for purchase. In his efforts to obtain funds for the evangelism, he repeatedly called attention to the fact that many who claimed to be unable to contribute to the cause financially were able to afford tobacco for their pipes, a case of misplaced priorities in his pronounced estimation.

Accounts of congregational disciplinary activities also appear in the pages of the Review. Such reports established community authority and boundaries. Whether the offense be one of appearance, such as the unchaperoned travel of a gender-mixed pair of messengers, or one of grave moral offense, the sanctioning process asserted the movement’s religious authority. Thus, while an individual might be the sole Adventist in his or her local area, through the newspaper one participated in the ordinary functions of an ecclesiastical community. In order to be regarded as a church, even in the sense of the spiritual church of God, the group had to provide the established functions of a legitimate religious body. In an age where the church functioned (for many) as a major organizing force in individual and community life, asserting this authority was a major step in transitioning from a marginalized assembly of individuals into a congregation with recognized legitimacy.

Through the 12 years between the beginning of the Review and the formal organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Review cohort maintained its image as a non-formal, non-coercive entity by facilitating the local initiatives guided by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. While simply maintaining editorial control of the paper and assuming the responsibilities of group co-ordination, White and his assistants steadily accumulated power and through the functions the paper performed for the advent movement. These years were foundational to the acquisition of sufficient recognition, legitimacy and corporate will to assume a fixed identity and become a church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church emerged after years of consensus building, identity formation and community development through the pages of the Review.


To appreciate the significance of the Review for the successful formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is necessary to remember that it stood as the one identifiable connector of a scattered people primarily without physical churches or even local Adventist associations. The isolation occurred at a time when the church was the civic center of many communities, providing not only a place to worship and receive religious instruction and the sacraments, but serving as the main source of affirmation and consolation in life crises or states of transition, community and national news and integration in social life. The separation of Adventists from their former congregations, and then Sabbatarian Adventists from even the remnant that clung to millennial hopes after the Great Disappointment, created an overwhelming sensation of otherness and isolation.

When seen in this context, the contribution of the newspaper to the identity formation and movement continuation must be recognized as pivotal. The Review created a "face" and persona with which to identify in a time when the group stood without buildings, headquarters, recognized leadership or even a name. It regularly articulated the "who" as well as the "we" of "who we are," the basic self identification that must be clarified and asserted by every group The level of discourse in the Review, its use of classical texts, demonstrations of familiarity with leading arguments around the issues addressed, the tone of articles, etc. provided evidence that one’s religious commitments were part of a reasoned and reasonable spiritual pilgrimage however disparate from the privileged cultural traditions and conventions. The reports of the progress of the "cause," obstacles faced, enemies overcome and progress made located one’s story into a larger narrative of faith at the end of time. Similarly, reports of threats to the group (everything from hostile actions by opposing clergy to and the progress of competing religious messages) and the articulation of official defenses of the community (particularly against charges of mesmerism, fanaticism, and spiritualism) clarified the boundaries and the integrity of the group and therefore, its desirability. Corporate identity as the "Scattered Remnant" enabled individualism to overcome the tyranny of localism and identify with a community that transcended place even as God transcended human limitations of space and time. It allowed them to participate in the dialogue of the community of saints that existed as a community only the spiritual sense. As the Review facilitated communication between geographically distant individuals, it created a "we" among persons who would never meet face-to-face and gave voice to those who were voiceless in their geographically determined communities.

Reviewing the role of the journal in shaping and maintaining millennial expectations and community for one hundred and fifty years, it seems clear that James White’s confidence in Ellen Harmon as the Lord’s messenger has been justified at least on this point: the fate of the incipient movement was dependant upon being able to gain a voice in the public arena. Ellen Harmon White was right: Adventism needed to harness the power of the press if it were to succeed in building a bridge to the New Jerusalem.

Works Cited.

Cross, Whitney. (1950). The Burned-Over District: The Social and Religious History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York 1800-1850. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Doan, Ruth. (1987) The Miller Heresy: Millennialism and American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Hewitt, Clyde C. (1983) Midnight and Morning. Charlotte, NC:
Venture Books.

Knight, George R. (1993) Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study in Millerite Adventism. Boise, ID: Pacific Press.


Miller, William. (1845) William Miller’s Apology and Defense. Boston: J.V. Himes.

Nichols, Francis D. (1944) The Midnight Cry. Washington, DC: RHPA.

Numbers, Ronald L. and Jonathan M. Butler, eds. (1986) The Disappointed: Millerism and Millennialism in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Rowe, David. (1974) Thunder and Trumpets: The Millerite Movement and Dissenting Religion in Upstate New York, 1800-1850. Chico, CA: Scholars Press.

White, Ellen Gould Harmon. (1915) Life Sketches of Ellen G. White. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press.


Return to Journal Page