This July, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Archives highlights the evangelistic ministry of Eugene Blackstone (1841-1935), a self-educated American businessman, evangelist, and author, perhaps best known as the creator of the Blackstone Memorial, a petition calling for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
A fervent dispensationalist, Blackstone’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ spurred his interest in Jewish evangelism and commitment to Christian Zionism. Blackstone played a prominent role in founding the Chicago Hebrew Mission (later American Messianic Fellowship) and became its first superintendent in 1889. He also served as the sole trustee of the Milton Stewart Evangelistic Fund, which financially supported Jewish evangelism efforts in far-flung corners of the globe. Recipients of the Milton Fund include Bible colleges, seminaries, and parachurch organizations, stretching from Poland to Palestine and New York City to Korea. Blackstone’s correspondents included professors, evangelists, missionaries, and administrators serving with the likes of the American Bible Society; All Russian Union of Evangelical Christians; Barbican Mission to the Jews; China Inland Mission (Blackstone’s parents were missionaries to China); Mount Carmel Bible School, Haifa; New York Gospel Mission to the Jews; and Women’s Bible Institute, Korea, among many others. In addition to his evangelistic efforts, Blackstone also authored multiple works, including Satan: His Kingdom and its Overthrow, The Millennium, and the the best-selling Jesus is Coming, which was translated into multiple languages.
Blackstone’s personal papers are described in Collection 540: Papers of William Eugene Blackstone. and include a variety of materials, including correspondence, sermons, manuscripts, reports, and periodicals.
Blackstone took a keen interest in the status of marginalized Jewish communities around the world, particularly those inside Tsarist Russia, and played a key role in galvanizing American civic and religious leaders around the Zionist cause, becoming one of the first American evangelicals to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then under Turkish rule.
In 1891 Blackstone played a leading part in crafting a petition on behalf of a Jewish state in Palestine. Sometimes called “Palestine for the Jews” but better known as The Blackstone Memorial, the petition underscores the current program of persecution, including expulsion, against Russian Jews, and outlined humanitarian arguments for the United States to use its influence to create a new Israel in Palestine. As Blackstone summarized in the Memorial, “We believe this is an appropriate time for all nations, and especially the Christian Nations of Europe, to show kindness to Israel. A million exiles, by their terrible suffering, are appealing to our sympathy, justice and humanity. Let us restore them to the land of which they were so cruelly despoiled by our Roman ancestors” [CN 540, Box 6, Folder 9].
The Memorial is notable for the wide range of signatories attached to it—hundreds of religious (both Christian and Jewish), civic, business, and political leaders, including John D. Rockefeller Sr., Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, Wheaton College President Charles Blanchard, Cyrus McCormick, D. L. Moody, and John Pierpont Morgan. Blackstone personally presented the Memorial to President Benjamin Harrison in March 1891, and while the document received no official response from the Harrison administration, it garnered widespread publicity in the United States and sparked further inter-religious debate about the possibility of a future Jewish state.
Blackstone continued to agitate on behalf of a Jewish homeland in Palestine until his death in 1935. He delivered copies of the Memorial to US Presidents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt and presented an updated version of the Memorial to Woodrow Wilson in May 1916, accompanied by the letter below.
While Blackstone did not live to see the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, his tireless efforts were partially rewarded by President Wilson’s favorable response to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which outlined the British government’s support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
More information about William Blackstone is found in Collection 540: Papers of William Eugene Blackstone and Collection 546: Records of the American Messianic Fellowship.