Watch Tower History

by vienne 30 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • vienne

    We've posted updated and new research on our history blog.

    This is rough draft material for a chapter in vol. 2 of Separate Identity. As rough draft it will probably change before publication. The post is temporary because of copyright issues. [People steal our stuff sometimes. Bad boys all.]

    Comments that are on point are welcome.

  • Listener

    It seems to me that there is a lot of discussion about what Russel was teaching but much of it is left out. In particular, what he was professing would soon occur and the dates he put forward. Much of the focus is on his teachings which do have a lot of Biblical backing for them but little or no discussion on his false teachings. For instance, what exactly was this upcoming 'gospel age' that he was advocating and did he set a date for this or for Armageddon?

    As side issues, this presents us with interesting fare. The tracts were free, paid for primarily out of Russell’s pocket and secondarily by contributions to the Tract Fund. The modern Watchtower Society declined to allow us access to the ledger book from this period, which still exists. We do not know why.

    Do you have any proof that the tracts were primarily paid for from Russell's pocket primarily? This is especially in view of the fact that you admit to not having access to the ledgers of that time.

    It is possible that what was printed in publications about the funding at that time was deceptive, just as the current Watchtower is today. So much discussion is made about the free tracts and little on the publications/bibles he sold.

    The tracts served the purpose of advertising and it was through them that individuals were encouraged to purchase more substantial publications.

    But in terms of income levels in the 1880s, an immense amount of money was expended to provide evangelizers with free tracts. This gives the lie to the claims of some former-adherents that the Watch Tower was founded by Russell as a money making scheme. It was a money-losing proposition

    The fact that the tracts were distributed at no cost in no way proves that Russell was not establishing a money making scheme. In many businesses you've got to create a market who is ready and willing to part with their money for more of your products. Many businessmen expect a loss in the initial years in order to reap profits in the following years. There are various methods that businesses use to encourage people to purchase their products. Providing free samples or advertising in brochures are just two, both methods being used by Russell and who knows what else because there is little discussion about this.

    His venture into his Photo-Drama of Creation was another innovative project which he was prepared to gamble on.

    The message of God’s Love contrasted with the message of fear preached in Christendom. In Russell’s view God would save the bulk of humanity, in what some call “near-universal salvation.”

    I cannot see any substantiation regarding the claim that his message did not include a measure of fear, just as Christendom's does. If the idea is that more humans would be saved under Russell's idea's than under Christendoms, this doesn't mean you can claim there was no fear being taught through his doctrines. To also claim that all of Christendom were preaching fear is not proven and may well be false.

    His passion for individual and public testimony shows through despite his questionable punctuation and grammar. And to his readership it was the passion that mattered. They saw it as founded on Biblical “truth.”

    I find this comment intriguing. It would have been more correct to claim "His passion for individual and public testimony shows through despite his questionable teachings of Biblical 'truth'." And then you follow on with a significant comment in saying that it was his passion that mattered to his readers. That seems to be very much the case because his teachings could not hold water on their own.

    In conclusion, I find the blog very biased and it seems that the writer has been moved by his passion.
  • vienne

    Dear Listener,

    You misapprehend the nature of what you read. We do not write either a polemic or defense of the Watch Tower. We write history based on the original documents. What you read is a partial of a much larger work, not even a complete chapter. We deal with Russell’s predictive failure elsewhere. For instance in volume one of Separate Identity we included a chapter entitled Aftermath of Failure. That chapter discusses the 1878 failure. We have another that will appear in volume two [the extract you read is part of vol. 2] that discusses Russellite expectations for 1881.

    You ask about the Gospel Age, calling it “up-coming.” Our text makes it clear that in Russell’s dispensationalist view it was ending. He thought it would end at or near 1914. We deal with that in another chapter.

    Do we have proof that the tracts were primarily paid for by Russell? Yes, we do, and we include a chapter [vol. 2, nearing completion] entitled Organizing and Financing the Work. Put briefly, in the 1880s Russell’s readers were relatively poor due to a series of post-Civil War recessions and depressions. We have some pages from the Watch Tower ledger, sent to us by someone connected to the Watchtower’s writing department and by the Watchtower itself. Most of these list expenses. One lists the major contributors by name and amount. Russell leads the list by far. We include the full text of that page in a later chapter. Additionally, over his lifetime Russell contributed a quarter million dollars to the WTS. WT ‘shares’ were issued if requested for each ten dollars in contributions. The number of Russell’s shares reveals the amount he contributed. He was majority share-holder until his death, and outstanding shares did not pass his in number until near his death.

    Court testimony (Russell v. Russell and Russell v. Brooklyn Eagle] shows that Society publications were sold at a loss or simply given away. The partial chapter you read concentrates on the years 1879-1886. All publications were given away free except for a few remaining copies of Object and Manner which were available in large lots for ten cents. Colporteurs got everything for free, keeping money from subscriptions obtained to defray expenses. In this period there were no “more substantial publications.” Money for Paton’s Day Dawn went to Paton and A. D. Jones, his publisher; not to Russell. Russell paid for copies and gave them away at no cost to those who would circulate them. This was at a financial loss to Russell.

    He offered a few Bibles and concordances at a break-even discount. From 1881 when Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was founded until 1887, the cut off year for Separate Identity, our book, the Society was deeply in debt. A donation of Florida lands by the Russells reduced the debt but did not put the Society in the black.

    You write: “It is possible that what was printed ... about the funding at that time was deceptive.” Historians shouldn’t speculate. And that’s what this is. Ethically, we can’t make things up. We must be guided by available documentation – by that I mean original material, not secondary sources – unless there is a compelling reason to reject the original claims. If you can find proof that the WTS financial statements are deceptive, we will happily include it in this chapter. But ‘proof’ isn’t speculation; it is something in a trustworthy contemporary document.

    In the period on which we concentrate [to 1887] ZWT operated at a loss. Later when forced to open the books in the two court cases I mentioned earlier, it was demonstrated that even Studies in the Scriptures circulated at a net loss. The books did not pay their way.

    By message of “fear,” Russell meant Hell-Fire doctrine. We should clarify that. You wrote: “This doesn’t mean there was no fear being taught through his doctrine.” You mistake current Watchtower practice with Russell era practice. Your statement exemplifies a common logic fault. You presume something was true because you want it to be true. At this point you give us unfounded speculation. Speculation drives research, but alone it is unsound. If you can find in something Russell wrote some form of fear mongering, point me to it. We’ll happily use it in the next volume of Separate Identity.

    Simply because the narrowly focused extract from this chapter leads to a conclusion differing from a commonly expressed opposition narrative is no reason to call us biased. We present in footnotes our sources. You have no sources except personal opinion. “Could be” and speculation are not a refutation. Evidence from original sources would be.

  • ragingmad


  • vienne

    I should add that admission to the Photo Drama was free, at considerable expense to the Watch Tower Society. So, how does it contribute to your belief that Russell made money off of it?

  • TD

    Put briefly, in the 1880s Russell’s readers were relatively poor due to a series of post-Civil War recessions and depressions.

    Were these the "Panics" of the latter 19th century? (Crop failures, financial speculation, unemployment, etc.)

  • betterdaze
  • vienne

    Dear TD,

    This in answer to your question is an extract of a different chapter that will appear in volume 2 of Separate Identity:

    Contributions were not as forthcoming as he wished. The January 1885 Zion’s Watch Tower reported on the state of the tract fund for the two previous years, starting with the deficit of $2571.34 that existed at the start of 1883. Expenditures for the period from January 1, 1882 – December 31, 1884, totaled $2,366.10. The fund remained in deficit nearly twenty-five hundred dollars. The loss of ‘two or more’ significant contributors unquestionably affected the work, as did an economic downturn that started in 1884 and continued into the next year. Russell commented on it and its effects:

    The opening year finds the whole world in a state of financial depression which will doubtless be worse before improvement comes. Since we are advised in Scripture that the Day of the Lord’s presence will be a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation, some may be inclined to anticipate too much, too speedily. This is a tendency which all need to guard against. We should not for a moment lose sight of the apostles striking illustration of the trouble of this day, as recorded in 1 Thes. 5:3. From this illustration we should expect spasmodic trouble and distress of nations: and that these will become more frequent and more serious until they reach the climax stated by the prophet, and result in the death of present systems and the delivery of the children of this world into the New and better, the ‘golden’ Millennial age, in which the King of righteousness shall rule and reign Lord of all, blessing all the families of earth.[1]

    The financial depression of 1885 was the culmination of several years of compounding problems in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Edwin Earl Sparks, a contemporary historian, summarized the complex crisis this way:

    The crops of 1883 although surpassing the unfortunate yield of 1881 were scarcely up to the average, and the corn crop fell nearly four hundred million bushels behind. Large quantities of stocks and bonds had been watered by extensions and consolidations which could not be expected to yield immediate dividends, and they declined steadily during the year. Northern Pacific threw on the market in October 1883 an issue of twenty million dollars and created a mild panic. More than ten thousand firms became bankrupt during 1882, a larger number than marked any year since 1873. Causes for the depression were found in over-production, financial troubles abroad, over-railroad building, and capital lying idle because rates of interest were unattractive.[2]

    This dry summary doesn’t contribute as much to our understanding as does Russell’s caution against seeing in the world’s financial travail a prophetic fulfillment. People were hurting financially. Many Watch Tower readers were not well off, and even those who were had to watch their pennies. The basics, food to eat and coal to heat with, were scarce and expensive. Jobs dissipated. A United States government report said:

    Out of the total number of establishments, such as factories, mines, etc., existing in the country, about eight per cent were absolutely idle during the year ending July 1, 1885, and perhaps five per cent more were idle a part of such time; or, for a just estimate, seven and a half per cent of the whole number of such establishments were idle, or equivalent to idle, during the year named. . . . Making allowance for the persons engaged in other occupations, 998,839 constituted ‘the best estimate’ of the possibly unemployed in the United States during the year ending July 1, 1885 (many of the unemployed, those who under prosperous times would be fully employed, and who during the time mentioned were seeking employment), that it has been possible for the Bureau to make. ... A million people out of employment, crippling all dependent upon them, means a loss to the consumptive power of the country of at least $1,000,000 per day, or a crippling of the trade of the country of over $300,000,000 per annum.[3]

    If God supported the work, he supported it out of the pockets of believers who were in straightened circumstances. Contributions lagged. With the publication of The Plan of the Ages in 1886, Russell changed his approach to circulating Watch Tower publications. It soon became apparent that The Plan of the Ages would not pay its own way. The volumes of Millennial Dawn were sold at a loss through most of their printing life. This was a result of philosophy and practicality. Russell turned to a colportage to circulate Millennial Dawn and the Tract Society’s books and booklets. The booklets were often given away freely, and the agreement with the colporteurs allowed them as much support from the circulation of books as the Watch Tower Society could manage.

    [1] View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1885, page 1.

    [2] E. E. Sparks: The American Nation: A History. National Development, 1877-1885, Harper & Bros. New York, 1907, pages 328-329.

    [3] Report on Industrial Depression, United States Bureau of Labor, 1886, as quoted in David A. Wells: Recent Economic Changes and Their Effect on the Production and Distribution of Wealth and the Well Being of Society, D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1899, page 18.

  • vienne

    Dear Betterdays,

    I've read that, though not recently. It's interesting but not always accurate. Should note here, I think, that the claim that there was a secret gold mine made by some is false. The mine was not a gold mine. It was not secret, and it's on the Federal register of historic places. It was a soda ash mine that did not prosper.

  • eyeuse2badub

    WT history is like the bible. It can be interpreted any way one wants to. it can be changed , updated, parts deleted, urban legends added in, fictional stories always add color and of course jehober sees to it that it is accurately preserved down thru the ages! Of course it's of divine origin!

    just saying!

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