In this as in everything else, Russell and his associates interpreted current events as fulfilled or fulfilling prophecy. He said that he had been doing that since 1875 which seems perfectly plausible. Russell’s interpretation of social and labor movements derived entirely from Adventist and Millenarian belief. During the Worchester Conference in 1872, organized to examine date specific predictions including Barbour’s, the Paris Commune was presented as a Last-Times event.
If one looked to social unrest as a sign of Christ’s impending judgment, they were easy to find. A riot or insurrection occurred in the United States nearly every year since 1850. Some were anti-immigrant, some had underlying religious elements, some were over restrictions on liquor and beer sales; many were over labor and social injustices. Most often historians write about difficulties between large employers such as the railroads or meat packers, but the problems extended to small business and farm employment. A correspondent for The Restitution sermonized: “How about the profession of honesty which withholds from your poor neighbor, year after year, the ten, fifteen or twenty dollars due him for labor, under the flimsy plea of hard times, when the price of your tea, coffee and tobacco for one year would more than pay the debt.”
Wages and working conditions were deplorable. Shop girls turned to prostitution to supplement wages that did not cover their basic needs. The forty-hour work week was a distant dream, worker safety was nonexistent. Labor grievances often turned violent. In April 1859, striking brickyard workers in St. Louis, Missouri, armed themselves and fired on police. Two officers and some of the strikers were wounded. The mob reassembled the next day, and the Army was called in to quell the strike. A pattern of labor violence was established, and it escalated until labor unrest was seen as an element of Last Time events. Russell and his associates saw the Railroad Insurrection of 1877 in that light. world calls as such) is commendable if practiced with a view to paying what we owe.”d more than pay the debt. buisines ormune
Relation to secular society
They viewed world conditions through the lens of prophecy. It is not an uncommon phenomenon for someone to see the era in which they live as worse than other ages. Writers have quoted Hesiod, Socrates, and Aristotle as believing similarly. However, those quotations are of recent manufacture. As unethical as this is, they did so to support the view point that the current age is worse than past ages. Greeks looked backwards to a Golden Age. New Testament Christians and believers through successive ages look forward to a restored paradise. The New Testament view is that the last days are crisis years. So Russell and his associates looked to contemporary events for proof they were living at the end of the age.
Their response to what they saw can be parsed into three areas: Christian behavior; behavior of non-believers; and world affairs.
Christians were to be holy and take the Gospel message to their neighbors. They were to maintain a correct relationship to the state. Russell discussed a Christian’s relationship to governments in 1886. Writing in The Plan of the Ages he said:
Man’s extremity will become God's opportunity, and “the desire of all nations shall come” – the Kingdom of God, in power and great glory. (Hag. 2:7) Knowing this to be the purpose of God, neither Jesus nor the apostles interfered with earthly rulers in any way. On the contrary, they taught the Church to submit to these powers, even though they often suffered under their abuse of power. They taught the Church to obey the laws, and to respect those in authority because of their office, even if they were not personally worthy of esteem; to pay their appointed taxes, and, except where they conflicted with God's laws (Acts 4:19; 5:29), to offer no resistance to any established law. (Rom. 13:1-7; Matt. 22:21) The Lord Jesus and the apostles and the early Church were all law-abiding, though they were separate from, and took no share in, the governments of this world.
Though the powers that be, the governments of this world, were ordained or arranged for by God, that mankind might gain a needed experience under them, yet the Church, the consecrated ones who aspire to office in the coming Kingdom of God, should neither covet the honors and the emoluments of office in the kingdoms of this world, nor should they oppose these powers. They are fellow citizens and heirs of the heavenly kingdom (Eph. 2:19), and as such should claim only such rights and privileges under the kingdoms of this world as are accorded to aliens. Their mission is not to help the world to improve its present condition, nor to have anything to do with its affairs at present. To attempt to do so would be but a waste of effort; for the world's course and its termination are both clearly defined in the Scriptures and are fully under the control of him who in his own time will give us the kingdom. The influence of the true Church is now and always has been small – so small as to count practically nothing politically; but however great it might appear, we should follow the example and teaching of our Lord and the apostles. Knowing that the purpose of God is to let the world fully test its own ability to govern itself, the true Church should not, while in it, be of the world. The saints may influence the world only by their separateness from it, by letting their light shine; and thus through their lives the spirit of truth reproves the world. Thus – as peaceable, orderly obeyers and commenders of every righteous law, reprovers of lawlessness and sin, and pointers forward to the promised Kingdom of God and the blessings to be expected under it, and not by the method commonly adopted of mingling in politics and scheming with the world for power, and thus being drawn into wars and sins and the general degradation – in glorious chastity should the prospective Bride of the Prince of Peace be a power for good, as her Lord's representative in the world.
The Church of God should give its entire attention and effort to preaching the Kingdom of God, and to the advancement of the interests of that Kingdom according to the plan laid down in the Scriptures. If this is faithfully done, there will be no time nor [sic] disposition to dabble in the politics of present governments. The Lord had no time for it; the apostles had no time for it; nor have any of the saints who are following their example.
The early Church, shortly after the death of the apostles, fell a prey [sic] to this very temptation. The preaching of the coming Kingdom of God, which would displace all earthly kingdoms, and of the crucified Christ as the heir of that Kingdom, was unpopular, and brought with it persecution, scorn and contempt. But some thought to improve on God's plan, and, instead of suffering, to get the Church into a position of favor with the world. By a combination with earthly powers they succeeded. As a result Papacy was developed, and in time became the mistress and queen of nations. – Rev. 17:3-5; 18:7.
By this policy everything was changed: instead of suffering, came honor; instead of humility, came pride; instead of truth, came error; and instead of being persecuted, she became the persecutor of all who condemned her new and illegal honors.
In the early 1880s most Watch Tower comments on social issues reflected events in the United States. Writing in the May 1882 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower, J. C. Sunderlin used social conditions as proof that they were living in the Last Days. Many American intellectuals adopted Darwinism without understanding it. They suggested that evolution meant improvement; the world was improving, and so were the people living in it. Sunderlin disagreed:
The wise (of this world) say the world is growing better and better. Let us look at that for a moment ... . We will ask the questions, and you can answer them for yourselves. Can men leave their buildings open now more safely than formerly? Are there less locks and safes sold? Is there less murder and bloodshed than usual? Are there fewer prisons and convicts, less theft and arson? Are the instruments of war fewer and less formidable, are there less revolvers sold? [sic] Do men, by their actions, show that they love each other better than formerly? Do they legislate to benefit the poor more? Do capitalists make it easier for the laborer? Do they love the laborer (or his labor) and give him a nice, large slice from the loaf? Does the laborer love the capitalist, and do they work for each other’s interest? Are the churches purer and better and less worldly, plainer and more simple, and true and good, so that the worldly man is rebuked by their good works and has he confidence more than formerly in church members? Are there no grasping monopolies; if so, are there less of them, and are they working for the general good of mankind?
There is much here that is undeniable, though American intellectuals, including clergy continued to parrot the idea of social progress into the 20th Century, often to their embarrassment. One of these was Ephraim Llewellyn Eaton, a Methodist clergyman. Eaton and Russell debated in 1903, and Eaton did not fare well. He published a book in 1911 to defend his beliefs, writing:
Before the birth of Christ the world was a military camp, and wars were waged for conquest and reprisal. The Christian spirit has so far permeated the world that it would not to-day tolerate another war for either of these causes. Japan yielded to the Christian moral sense of the world when she relinquished her demand for indemnity of Russia; and America wrote the parable of the Good Samaritan into the law of nations when it espoused the cause of Cuba. If there shall be any war in the future, its only cause can be fear, distrust, or misunderstanding; and Christianity is rapidly making it impossible for one nation to fear, distrust or misunderstand another.
Japan did not “yield to the Christian moral sense of the world.” It yielded to political influence. Justifying the Spanish American War as writing Jesus parable into international law seems disingenuous. In any event, the events of 1914 proved Eaton wrong. The entire philosophy of social improvement either by religion or evolution was and is false.
He was correct. Locks and safes had proliferated. Many were exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1876. The official report said:
Viewing the best American safes, with their massive casework, heavy bolts, and ingenious lock-construction, we find a wonderful contrast with the American safe of fifty years ago. What was then called a safe was little more than a box with a hollow frame of heavy sheet-iron, between the outer and inner walls of which was deposited either (so-called) asbestos, plaster, or some other preparation deemed sufficient for protection in an ordinary fire. It was commonly made with corner- and edge-bands, which were riveted with ordinary rivets, and the whole outer surface of the safe, except the bottom, laid at regular intervals with cast-iron knobs, to add to the appearance of weight and strength. The locks were of the plainest character; and it is believed an expert burglar of the present day could enter them with very ordinary tools in a very few minutes. One of these “safes” is occasionally brought to light at public sale, where they are so little esteemed for their powers of protection as to make their price not greatly above that of a wooden box of similar dimensions.
The proliferation of more secure locks and safe testify to an increase in burglary, not to an increase in Christian morality. Neither was that of arson. Sunderlin would have read many reports of arson and other crimes. A single example will do, since we’re not writing a history of American social troubles. One of the New York papers from the era reported: ““Wednesday, the grand jury presented nine indictments, viz.: Assault with intent to ravish [ie: rape], one; burglary, first degree, one; burglary, second degree, one; burglary, third degree, three; arson, second degree, one; maltreatment of a girl under ten years of age, one.”
Sunderlin included gun issues as a sign of the last days and proof that the world was not improving. This was the era of wild-west gunfights. They are overblown by media presentations and cowboy movies which owe more to 19th Century dime novels than accurate history. But they did happen. On October 26, 1881, a few months before Sunderlin wrote, Tombstone, Arizona Territory, walked into history over events at the O. K. Corral. But we think this is not what Sunderlin had in mind. Gun violence, especially with a pistol, was much closer to home. In a speech dated to October 20, 1880, Emery A. Storrs [1835-1885], a noted Republican politician and orator, touched on the gang and political violence in New York City, blaming it on corrupt Democrat operatives:
All parties represent some interest. What does that party represent? Not the manufacturing interest. They have sought the destruction of it since 1832. It is not the financial interests of the country. They would overturn our entire system. Is it the educational interest? [Laughter.] That’s a solemn question. I grieve to see it treated with so much levity. [Laughter.] Is it the moral interest? As representatives of great moral ideas, how does the average Democratic procession in the City of New York look? [Prolonged laughter.] I am constrained to think they don't represent any interest. [A Voice – The whiskey interest.”] My friend is mistaken; that’s not an interest. That is a calamity. They represent every single one of the calamities. They represent a stuffed ballot-box; they represent the assassination of revenue officers.
New York gangs were part of the Democrat machine in the 1880s and full of violence. This is history, not a modern political statement, though similarities to contemporary issues found in Sunderlin’s remarks are self-evident. Civil War Reconstruction, really the military occupation of former Confederate States, ended in 1877. Violence erupted in the South. Democrats were free to reassert political dominance and abuse and marginalize former slaves. At the end of the Reconstruction Era the South was in the hands of Republican voters most of whom were former slaves. Democrats did not end that, couldn’t not end that, without turning to violence. In Alabama, ninety thousand Republican votes were cast in 1872; there were almost none in 1878. Emery Storrs pointed to the cause: “Terrorism did it, fraud did it, the false count and the no-count did it, the flaming cabin did it, the shot-gun did it.” In 1872 there were 41,000, Republican voters in Arkansas, and in 1878 they cast 115 votes. Storrs said: “The shot-gun, terrorism, fraud, violence, did it.” In 1872 Republicans in Mississippi, Republicans cast 82,000 votes, but in 1878 they cast 1,168. Storrs said: “The shot-gun reduced it; the bludgeon reduced it; the gentle ministrations of the White Leaguers and the Ku-Klux reduced it. His remarks were partisan, made in a political year, but they are accurate.
 C. T. Russell: God's Chosen People - Part II, Overland Monthly, March 1910, page 323.
 J. I . Wince: Christian Conduct and Conversation, The Restitution, May 21, 1879.
 The expression “Man’s extremity will become God’s opportunity” traces back to at least 1629 and is found in Adam’s Works published that year. Defoe used it, and in a 1798 George Whitfield described the phrase as “an old saying.” [An Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman in Ireland; to Mr. William Thompson, London, page 8.] It was still in common usage in the late 19th Century.
 C. T. Russell: The Plan of the Ages, Millennial Dawn, volume 1, Tower Publishing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1886, pages 266-268.
 F. A. Walker: United States Centennial Commission, International Exhibition, 1878. Reports and Awards – Group XV. , J. B. Lippencott, Philadelphia, 1877, page 4.
 Circuit Court and Oyer and Terminer, The Saratoga, New York, Sentinel, October 7, 1880.
 The Great Republican Speeches of the Campaign of 1880, Staten Island Publishing Company, Stapleton, New York, 1881, pages 38ff.