William Blackstone was born in a town called Adams in New York State in 1841. At this time the U.S. was going through a religious revival which was called the Third Awakening. Adams was particularly affected by this revival as it was the home of a famous theologian and preacher, Charles Finney (d.1825) who played a prominent role in this movement. It was said that Blackstone was very much influenced by this atmosphere from his youth and he was ‘born again’ since he was 16-17 years old. He began to attend religious circles and meetings for the study of the Bible and began to be influenced by a movement whose main proponent was John Nelson Darby (d.1882) who was British of Irish origin. Through his intensive study delving into the Bible he came up with a theory which says that the world has to pass through seven dispensations and we are about to enter the seventh dispensation in which Jesus will appear and rule the world for one thousand years (millennium).
But before Jesus reappears there will be many events and disasters which will strike the world and its people such as plague, fire, volcanoes, floods and so on. This would continue for a seven year period which he called tribulation. Then the Anti-Christ will appear to fight the Battle of Armageddon. During this battle Jesus will save the believers personally and he will take them to heaven and they will come down with him when the battle is over and the Anti-Christ is defeated. And this he calls the Rapture. Then Jesus will start his rule from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, a rule which will be characterised by peace and prosperity. Darby also believed that this whole process should include another important element that is the gathering together of the Jews in Palestine which he thought to be necessary for this process to work. This movement is now called Dispensationalism after the seven Dispensations which divide the phases of history.This movement nowadays has a huge following particularly in the United State.
Blackstone became a staunch believer in this theory and began to propagate its principles. In 1878 he published a book called “Jesus is Coming” which sold one million copies and was later translated into 20 languages. Subsequently he left his job as a business man and devoted his life to preaching. He then moved to Chicago and established an organisation called American Messianic Fellowship International. One of his main works in this organisation was to help the Jews to settle in Palestine and for this reason he embarked on a trip to the Holy Land where he met some Jewish emigrants and encouraged them to stay. He praised their work and said to them that their living in Palestine is a blessing to the Ottoman Empire and promised them help. After his trip Blackstone began seriously to gather as many Jews as possible in Palestine as he thought that this would hasten the reappearance of Jesus. Then in 1889 he convened a conference which was attended by Jewish and Christian personalities which was the first time this had happened. This conference was convened under the banner of the past, present and future of the Jews.
At the end of the conference the participants declared that the Jews should be helped to emigrate to Palestine and found their national home and they demanded that the American government use its influence and prestige with other countries to treat Jewish communities better. They also demanded that the Russia about whose treatment the Jews were complaining, should “lift its hard hand from these people” and the participants sent a letter to the Tsar to that effect.
In 1891 Blackstone presented his famous memorandum to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison. The memorandum was entitled “Palestinefor the Jews”. In it he defended the Jews and deplored their condition in Russiawhich he described as miserable.
He began his memorandum by asking the question “What should be done for the Jews of Russia?” and the answer he gave was “Why do not we give them Palestine back”. He quotes several verses from the Old Testament which he thought prophesised their return to Palestine.
And in order to help the Jews to go to Palestine and to found a national home he suggested to the President and his Foreign Minister that they start a political action in order to implement this idea and to convince European countries and empires to convene an international conference “To look at the condition of the Jews and the possibility of helping them to live in Palestine and remove their suffering”.
He also said in the memorandum “That the time has come for the Christian nations to have compassion on the Jews and to take them back to their land”. He also suggested that the Ottoman Empire be compensated for Palestine with the participation of rich Jews in this project.
Blackstone signed the memorandum in his capacity as Chairman of the Jewish Christian Conference with four hundred and thirteen personalities who also signed with him. Among them were congressmen, judges, heads of churches, industrialists and editors of newspapers and included John Rockefeller and W McKenally who subsequently became President of the United States and who was assassinated during his second term of office.
Blackstone attached a letter with his memorandum addressed to the President and his Secretary of State detailing the ideas laid out in his memorandum. In this letter he emphasised that the signatories were only a few but represented a very large number of people who supported the memorandum. He also mentioned in his letter that he had visited Palestine in 1889 and found that founding a national home for the Jews in Palestine was in fact practicably possible and politically acceptable. Again he emphasised the Old Testament verses which indicated the return of the Jews to that country. He also requested the convening of an international conference and stated in the letter “My wish is that the President and his Foreign Minister will have the honour to concern themselves with this great matter and to secure a national home for the Jews through such a conference”.
He mentioned to them that if they did that their deed would be like that of Cyrus II the Persian king who let the exiled Jews go back to Palestine to build their temple. When the President received the memorandum he promised to look at it.
Blackstone also wrote articles emphasising the ability of the Jews to establish a state which could take millions of them and he also mentioned the commercial advantage to the West. In his articles he also stated that the country needed only a government which could prepare it for the emigrants, and said this government should have control over the area of the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He also suggested the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple which in his opinion would encourage the Jews, particularly the Orthodox, to go to Palestine. On this point he is in agreement with the Zionist Christians who likewise call for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.
When the Zionist Movement appeared on the world stage at the end of the 19thcentury Blackstone was in touch with its leaders. When the Ugandan option was suggested by Britain to Hertzel, the leader of the movement, after the option of al-Arish was abandoned, Blackstone discouraged him and sent him a copy of the Old Testament marking the verses which he thought prophesised the return of the Jews to Palestine. This copy is now in the Hertzel Museum in Israel.
Blackstone continued to write and give public talks about his ideas regarding the return of the Jews to Palestine and the Second Advent of Jesus and when the book of “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was published he wrote articles in newspapers criticising the content of the book saying that it was false and accusing those who believed in it of being anti-Semitic.
He travelled to many countries including the Middle East preaching and publicising his book. He also went to China after translating the book into Chinese. During the First World War he published a second edition of his book and it was a best seller at that time because of the events of the war which Christians thought would usher in the Second Advent of Jesus . During this time he submitted his memorandum again to President Thomas Woodrow Wilson and this time it was signed by 80 well-known personalities. He also attached to it a letter in which he stated “I was honoured to get support to submit the memorandum on behalf of the Jews and I am convinced that the development of events indicated that the time is approaching to take a noble decision like the one taken by Cyrus II, King of Persia. I am sure of your sympathy and your desire to help the Jews in their miserable condition and I pray that you will seize this opportunity to secure for yourself and for our nation the blessing which God promised to Abraham and his seed and to show mercy to the Jewish people”.
The memorandum had a very positive reaction among the Zionists of America. This is clear from a letter written by Lewis Brandeis, the leader of the Zionist Movement in the United States, addressed to James Rothschild which states regarding the memorandum “A memorandum was written for this purpose (supporting the Zionist idea) and it was signed by many well-known Christian personalities and it will be submitted to the President at the right time in order to gain more support”. Brandeis also wrote a letter to Blackstone in which he praised his efforts and expressed his great happiness with all his work for the benefit of the Zionist Movement and appreciated the influence which the memorandum had had. Brandeis also said to him in his letter that he considered him the father of Zionism “Because your work preceded that of Hertzel”. Brandeis also considered him as the most important non-Jewish ally of Zionism.
Before he died in 1938 Blackstone left a great amount of money in his will to Brandeis to help the Jews to emigrate to Palestine – Blackstone died in 1938. Some scholars such as Maxwell Koda believe that Blackstone’s efforts and activities on behalf of the national Jewish home played a big role in the emergence of the Zionist Movement. Others say that Blackstone is considered one of the few Americans who played a very important role in establishing a national Jewish home. The newsletter of the Zionist Emergency Committee said on the 50th anniversary of his memorandum “It proposed a real solution like that which Hertzel proposed in his book “The Jewish State” and Blackstone should be considered as the pioneer of political Zionism”. The Encyclopaedia Judaica has an entry on him and in it it praised Blackstone’s Zionist activities and his efforts towards establishing a home for the Jews. It also states that his memorandum might have had an influence on President Wilson in his support for the Balfour Declaration which was issued by the British government in 1917 regarding the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In appreciation of his work towards this cause, Israel planted a big forest in his name.
The American Messianic Fellowship International which he founded more than a century ago is still functioning particularly in its efforts to help immigrants to Israel. It also has a big website. This organisation calls for the demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in its place.