The three pamphlets I am working with, “Why a Baptist,” “Prayer and its relation to life,” and “The Christian Idea of Education” are all connected by being produced and distributed by the American Baptist Publication Society. The authors of these texts are given, their names are only presented once on the title pages of the texts in much smaller font than The American Baptist Publication Society. There is also very little traces of them to be found on the internet, so I will be focusing on the The American Baptist Publication Society for the sake of this blog.
The American Baptist Publication Society was originally the Baptist General Tract Society and was founded in 1824 to serve as the first national tract society in the United States. These pamphlets, also known as tracts, were published as missionary tools to help spread the Christian gospel. Bibles were being circulated by the American Bible Society but were expensive and large, conversely:
“Tracts by their cheapness, their simplicity, point, variety and brevity, were seen to be adapted to an unlimited circulation – reaching the most secluded dwelling, — arresting the most careless traveler by land or by sea with words of warning and of salvation – and acting as pioneers both to the missionary and the Bible” (Brown 12)
One of the main founders, Rev. Noah Davis “[felt] very much the necessity of having tracts to scatter into the waste places” (Brown 14). Both of these ideas reveal the purpose of the tracts that I am working with, and especially reveal the purpose behind the construction of “Why a Baptist” and “Prayer and Its Relation to Life.” They are both small, thin, and could be easily travelled with, along with the cheap prices this creates an ideal situation for a text to go into “unlimited circulation” (Brown 12). The text within these pamphlets are transcripts of sermons, which are given to explain and expound upon religious texts and ideals, so the reader would not need to prior knowledge to understand the contents, so that they could be given to “the most careless traveler” that a person met. This also reveals even more of the motivation behind the advertisement in the back of “Why a Baptist” that offers a way to cheaply buy more copies as “a good greeting to go with the hand of fellowship.” The Society was pushing towards the goal of having these tracts all over the world and created a vessel that was up to this challenge.
In the initial pamphlet put out by The American Baptist Publication Society, there is a list of the groups of people who could use these tracts. It includes Sabbath schools, domestic missionaries, destitute churches, ministers of the gospel, and ever individual (Brown 22). This list essentially boils down to children, adults, people who attend church, people who lead church, and everyone. From their inaugural publication they established the idea that their tracts where for everyone, and they backed this up with structures and contents that were accessible to all levels of understanding and portability. They took this even further with the idea that “this society will be useful both to our own body, and beyond it” (Brown 24). They extended the publication beyond the Baptist denomination to encompass the Christian faith as a whole. This opened even more doors for a wide circulation as they could be used by any church in the United States despite denominational boundaries.
This also potentially reveals the motivation behind the structural differences of “The Importance of a Christian Education.” I had originally assumed that the structural differences were due to the different time of publication, but the more I looked into the American Baptist Publication Society, the more I realized the way that the content of this book was different from the other sermons they were circulating. Tracts were intended for practicing Christians to buy and handout to people the met, not to be read themselves. However, the content of this pamphlet seems to be intended as reading material for practicing Christians. If tracts were considered to be cheap and simple, then the structure that seems more like a book and less like a pamphlet could have helped to distance it from these ideas and make it seem more legitimate. It also could reveal the intentions of the quotes in the back of the book, which are predominantly from the Presidents of Christian colleges or government officials , and help to provide some academic esteem for the piece in contrast to the otherwise easily understood tracts. The history and intentions of the American Baptist Publication Society provide context that allows the structural differences of this book to be seen as a way to fight the stereotypes and reach a different audience.
The intentions of the American Baptist Publication Society can be seen in different ways through all three of the pamphlets, and the historical context gives clarity behind some of their contents such as the advertisement and the envelope full of quotes.
Brown, John Newton. History of the American Baptist Publication Society : from its origin in 1824 to its thirty-second anniversary in 1856. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1856.