Why was Rutherford sent to prison?
Well that was 93 years ago so we’ll probably never know all the facts. But the WT claims that Russell and others were falsely accused of “sedition”. The May 9, 1918 New York Times article that covered these arrests and sedition charges states that they were charged with spreading doctrines calculated to promote unrest and disloyalty among the men of the army and Navy. The article concludes that the indictment was based largely upon matter published in the Watch Tower (magazine), Kingdom News and the book Finished Mystery.
So I looked up “sedition” on Wikipedia and found this definition (in part)…
“In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition. […]”
It might interest current and ex-JWs to know that Rutherford ordered the Bible Students to rip out pages 247 through 253 in a last ditch attempt to avoid jail time. Surprisingly the Proclaimers book partially admits this (that the pages were removed… not that it this was done to avoid jail time).
A couple of days ago, I posted some bullet points based on my recent reading of the Finished Mystery book. What I forgot to mention at the end of my post were the notes I took from pages 247 through 253 (the seditious pages that Rutherford later ordered to be ripped out in an effort to avoid jail time). So here are my notes about these pages and I’ll let you decide whether the “Sedition” charges were false or not…
1. People who display patriotism are delusional murderers acting in the very spirit of the devil. Patriotism is narrow-minded hatred of other people.
2. Prince Bulow, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannermann, Mr. H. H. Asquith, Mr. John Jay and Mr. Elihu Root were peace-loving statesmen under a sky filled with clouds of war.
3. While 10,000 children in Tokyo were singing loving greetings to our naval officers, the US was gearing up for a war with the Japanese.
4. The naval experts of Russia are planning a billion-dollar navy even though millions of its people are on the verge of starvation.
5. The first expenditure of the United States government in the world war (WWI) was $7 Billion which is 27% in excess of the value of all the crops harvested in the US.
6. The Germans denounce war, with the exception of the present conflict with England. England condemns war but excludes from their indictment the present fight against central empires.
7. This war (WWI) is the natural product of our unchristian civilization. Its soldiers are grown from greed, imperialistic ambition and dynastic pride. Our participation in in this war in unethical.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I believe that this is as seditious as it can possibly get. On the other hand, as absurd as these pages in Finished Mystery were, I seriously doubt that any of these pages had any effect on the war (ripped out or not). But the fact that Rutherford didn’t stand firmly behind these statements found in Finished Mystery and ordered these removed in a cowardly attempt to avoid prison says a lot about his character…
One can't dismiss the hysteria of the time. During WW I people were
caught up in patriotic fervor that made anyone not supporting the
war effort as suspect. (Citizens of Germanic descent experienced
the blind hatred of their fellow citizens.) Since Rutherford was outspoken
in his denunciation of the war, he made the whole
organization a target for persecution. And, no doubt, the clergy
encouraged the authorities as a way to get rid of opponents.
Eventually, reason prevailed. Rutherford and the Watchtower leaders
were released from prison. And the Watchtower now had their own
I thought it was for bootlegging....
Rutherford was a blowhard and anti-establishment. If the established churches said "right" he'd say "left" on principle. Why did he go to prison? He provoked too far.
The WTBTS was a pioneer with the new technology of radio, by the way, and Rutherford butted heads with the regulators about that, too.
Here's a contemporary article from 1927.
Nice write up. I liked it a lot
Thanks, Alfred. Good - no, EXCELLENT work and research. I'll keep in touch.
Thanks for the bulletpoints. Interesting stuff but these are generally viewed as admissable under the freedom of speech clause. But as I recall from the court proceedings, the book was only a minor detail. What the thing was really about was their way of producing letters to their brothers called under arms to deflect, to disobey direct orders, etc.
Alfred, I appreciate your research and the excerpts, but these are hardly tantamount to sedition, and are admissable as freedom of speec. Borgia is correct in pointing out the more egregious examples of incitement to rebellion in the letters, etc. sent to members of the US miliary in the field.
Rutherford had no problem sending his followers to jail but he was going to do everything he could to protect his own a$$ from sittig in one.
Rutherford if you recall hated politics and religion. Many of his booklets denounced politics, the war, the Catholic Church (although he did include all "Christian" religions as spawn of Satan), and everything else he didn't like.
in 1915-16 it seems he delivered a talk called How Will Militarism be Destroyed? Present Day Events Reviewed in the Light of Divine Prophesy. by the Hon. J. F. Rutherford no less. and yes it says Hon. on the title page. He pretty much castigates the US government for even considering getting involved in the conflict.
Don't forget too that in 1918 he fully expected to be taken to heaven and for the world to be destroyed. A war was just prrof that God was goiong to destroy them all. Rutherford seemed to think it was wise to thumb his nose at them. And in the end he got sent to jail instead of going to heaven.