All three of my pamphlets, “Why a Baptist,” “Prayer and its Relation to Life” and “The Christian Idea of Education,” are religious tracts produced by The American Baptist Publication Society. The definition of a tract is a brief treatise or pamphlet for general distribution, usually on a religious or political topic. Although tracts are referenced as something that were used as both political and religious propaganda since the rise of the printing press, all reputable sources seem to say that the modern era of tracts began in the the early 1800’s and in earnest during the Civil War, but has continued into the modern day.
This definition alone tells us that these tracts were meant for the general public. But the pamphlets themselves also offer textual and physical evidence that this is the case. “Why a Baptist” is simply a reprinting of an oral sermon and includes a preface that contextualizes the current age of Christianity. This frames the work for a reader of any background to understand its purpose and context in Christian society. There is also an ad in the back for buying more copies of the pamphlet that says it is “a good greeting to go with the hand of fellowship.” This tells current readers that it is meant to be shared as a good greeting, something that is given to all of the people in your life, not only those who share your religious beliefs. The text itself is also an argument of why the Baptist denomination of Christianity is the most Biblically sound. While this would be a useful tool in raising the spirits of people who were already Baptists, it was written to persuade others to come to their way of beliefs, and therefore must be read by those outside of their belief system. It also has a simple print and layout with wide margins that would make the book easy to read.
“Prayer and its Relation to Life” is also the print version of an oral sermon and has the same format of “Why a Baptist,” although it does not include a preface or an add. In both of these pamphlets, we see a small and thin structure that would not suggest a desire to show the book off. “Prayer and its Relation to Life” does have a cover, but it is flimsy and shows evidence of use. These structural clues give the idea that these pamphlets were made to be portable and cheap. Something that a reader could carry with them, and potentially give away. On a content level, both of these pamphlets go from beginning to end without any chapter breaks or reference points. This suggests that these to pamphlets were meant to be read the same way the sermons were given, straight through, and also that they were not intended to be referenced in the future. This format would have helped with the idea that these pamphlets were supposed to be spread, not kept.
“The Christian Idea of Education” is a little different from the previous two pamphlets both structurally and textually. While it is still small and thin, it has a hard and slightly decorated cover, with the title written in gold ink, that gives it a presence that is much closer to a book than the previous two works. This seems to make the work less of an item that looks cheap or disposable, and more of an item that could be kept on a shelf. It was also written as a pamphlet, not the printing of an oral talk. It includes chapter breaks that are very short, generally only 1-3 paragraphs that suggest that this book was written to be a reference point in the argument for the importance of a Christian Education. It also includes an envelope in the back with book reviews from reputable sources, such as the Presidents of colleges and government employees. There book reviews would hold the most weight with educated people, which suggests that this book was not for the masses, but for the specific group of people involved in the arguments concerning a Christian education. All of this evidence seems to suggest that this pamphlet was meant to be used not only to convince people on its own of the argument, but also as a tool of reference for those defending it.
The structures of these three pamphlets, along with the content and historical context, let us know that they were produced as tools to persuade people in religious ideals, and were meant to persuade as many people as possible.