March 5, 1891
Following a conference of Christians and Jews held in Chicago in November 1890, William E. Blackstone (shown in the photo), a Methodist lay leader, evangelist and wealthy real estate investor, petitions President Benjamin Harrison and Secretary of State James Blaine on behalf of creating “a home for these wandering millions of Israel,” in Palestine.
Blackstone was attracted to missionary work after being “saved” at a revival meeting near his birthplace in New York State. After getting married, he moved to Chicago, eventually leaving his successful business work to concentrate full time in his work as an evangelist. Blackstone was a dispensationalist, a missionary who believed that the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel was necessary for the return of Jesus Christ.
As part of his missionary work, he visited Palestine with his wife in 1888 where he was impressed with the efforts of the small Jewish community there. Upon his return, he organized the first conference between Christians and Jews in Chicago. Participants at the conference included three Reform rabbis, a number of Christian clergy and a wide range of others. The major issue that was discussed was the plight of Russian Jewry, who had been suffering under a wave of pogroms and a renewal of the anti-Jewish May Laws. While there was no consensus on a solution to the problem, many of the Jewish leaders were against the idea of a return to the land of Israel. A unanimous resolution was passed concerning displeasure of the treatment of Jews in Russia; it urged the American administration to “use their influence and good offices with the authorities of all lands to accomplish this humane and righteous end” (Paul Charles Merkley, The Politics of Christian Zionism 1891-1948, London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1998, p. 68).
Building on the momentum of the conference and motivated by his beliefs in the restoration of the Jews as well as his visit to the Holy Land, Blackstone sought to merge his two goals into a petition to American leaders. The petition asked, “Why not give Palestine back to them again? According to God’s distribution of nations it is their home, an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force. Under their cultivation it was a remarkably fruitful land sustaining millions of Israelites who industrially tilled its hillsides and valleys. They were agriculturists and producers as well as a nation of great commercial importance — the center of civilization and religion.”
He secured the signatures of 413 notables of nineteenth century American life, including a number of well-known clergy, major newspaper editors, and public officials such as the mayor of New York, Hugh Grant, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed and Congressman and future President William McKinley. The list also included luminaries like JP Morgan, Charles Scribner and John D. Rockefeller. Upon receiving the petition, the President, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “promised to give the subject serious consideration.”
Despite the President’s promise, little came of the Blackstone Memorial Petition. Many American Jewish leaders were not in favor of what it offered.
The Blackstone Memorial is available here: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Blackstone_Memorial