Considerable light is thrown on the subject of Canright’s doubts by some letters written to him by two of the leading men in Adventism: James White, one of its founders, and Uriah Smith, who, for half a century, was connected with its periodical, Review and Herald.
It was about two months before Canright, for the second time, ceased preaching Adventism, that he received the following letter from Editor Smith:
Battle Creek, Michigan, Aug. 26, 1880
Dear Bro. Canright:
...Now I want to make a remark to you very privately. You remember the conversation we had on the Tabernacle steps about matters and things, and the question was up of taking Eld. W’s [White’s] word. I made a concession and immediately withdrew it. I have felt bad since that I made the remark I did. Of course I should feel bound to take his word under any circumstances. So please let that remark be as though it had not been.
It is quite possible that "the conversation we had on the Tabernacle steps about matters and things," is the one Canright refers to in his Life of Mrs. E.G. White (p. 227). He says in his chapter on Mr. Smith: "One day on the steps of the Battle Creek Tabernacle I said to him: ‘You have written a defense of the visions; but it is not satisfactory to yourself.’ He simply laughed. I laid one finger across another and said: ‘You know they contradict themselves just like that.’ Again he laughed and said nothing." Surely Canright’s frame of mind, thus expressed, was appropriate to the summer of 1880. Referring to this period, he tells us: "I never suffered more mental anguish in my life." (SDAR, p. 46)
After Canright had discontinued preaching and gone to teaching elocution, in the fall of 1880, he met, as we have seen, Lucy Hadden, and Adventist of Otsego, Mich., and fell in love with her. This induced him to seek restoration to the work, which occurred after that fifteen-hour conversation with Butler the following January. Elder White also helped him to see "the error of his way," and to get back on the Adventist track. Mr. White died on Aug. 6, 1881, but meantime, he had sent Canright at least five letters, which I now reproduce in the completest form available to me. Although some of the material is irrelevant, I prefer to give the reader no unnecessary abridgment. The characters of Elder and Mrs. White, as revealed in these letters, could not inspire much confidence in the movement they led.
Binghamton, N.Y. Feb. 11, 1881
... Please keep shady as to my plans to keep Lucinda May Davis and Mother from going to California. And keep Haskell with you as long as you can and make him happy. It would nearly ruin my prospects for book should he take them with him now.
I will see your book [Mind and Spirit] through all right, and shall be glad to help you in any way.
Dear brother, I fear and love God. I love his truth and his cause. I wish Elder Haskell was an open, frank man, so I need not watch him. I fear the result of his policy course. Help him all you can.
Battle Creek, Mich., Mar. 31, 1881
The return ticket you sent to North Brookfield, N.Y., went to New Brunswick, and is finally here. I sent it today to Mr. Snow with request that he send it to you at Newburyport after extending it.
I hope it will reach you in time. I hope you will stay at Battle Creek a day or two. Unfavorable reports as to your work at Danvers reaches me by way of California. May God help us to move prudently and in his fear. Also, it is said that Sister Betsy Landon is in great trial over your course at her place. It is said you did much harm.
I agree with you that changes must take place among our leading men; but it will not do to do this great work in a day.
Battle Creek, April 6, ’81
Forgive me; I will be a man and no longer be crowded to do wrong by those who would pursue an erring brother to the death.
I will be with you at Otsego.
Battle Creek, May 24, ’81
The Review will tell of our future plans. We shall depend on you to help us at Monterey next Sabbath and Sunday at the Spring Arbor camp meeting, at the Lapeer Dedication and at the Alma camp meeting. Then we hope you can join us in our labors east. There will be efforts made to get you to Wisconsin to have you go here and there with the tent. But I think we should labor in door, deserted New England.
I hope you will finally see your way clear to fully relieve wife of the burden you have laid upon her in stating to her your want of faith in her work. I fear you have, in too strong terms, stated the unbelief of Lucretia.
God is in this work. God has worked for and with you. Let us mend and not throw away the past. I think wife has been more severe than the Lord really required her to be in some cases. Satan has taken great advantage. I hope we shall see our way out clear and be able to labor in union.
Please see the place you hold her in your statements made in your unbelief which you have not modified. She could hardly feel free to join with you without something on your part to help her feelings. She makes no demands of you in this matter. I speak of them without her knowledge. She is feeble and must be treated tenderly, or she can do nothing.
Elder Butler and Haskell have had an influence over her that I hope to see broken. It has nearly ruined her. These men must not be suffered by our people to do as they have done until all our ministers are fully discouraged. Young men are kept out of the ministry by their blind, narrow course. I want you to unite with me, and in a proper manner, and in the fear of God let us help matters. It is time there was a change in the officers of the General Conference. I trust that if we are true and faithful the Lord will be pleased that we should constitute two of that board.
But when I see you we can talk these matters over more fully. I hope to hear from you at once.
Battle Creek, Michigan, July 13, 1881
I have your very kind and Christian letter of the 7th, relative to Will Wales, etc.
Will read the long letter you dictated and the copies to me. From my heart I pitied the boy and so did my good wife. I am now happy again. I feel more interest in you than in any other man.
1. Because I know your worth when the Lord is with you and as a laborer, and
2. Because I have repeatedly abused you, and if you go to destruction, where many, to say the least, are willing you should go, I should ever feel that I had taken a part in your destruction.
3. Because if you do come out alright, some may give me credit for being on the right side once in my life.
Brother Canright, you are right in doing all you can to help me and others. I see my errors more and more, and shall do all I can to help matters and things. The pressure has been terribly hard upon my poor wife. She has been impressed very much by Elders Butler and Haskell. And my mistakes has given intensity to the matter. When poor Wales, clad in all the panoply of Battle Creek gossip, and mean prejudice against both yourself and me, read his own son’s letters to his wife before H.W. Kellogg, wife and me, I affirmed before them all that I would not believe a word of it, only from your lips. Wife affirmed the opposite, which I will not write. Kellogg said he feared it might be so. Wales affirmed that his Will was a truthful boy. Now judge my feelings as Will read your letter to me, to both me and my wife.
Ellen is as much relieved by the letter as I am. She prayed almost all night last night. Poor woman.
What you say of my changes etc., I have nothing to say. You know that I have changed in some things because it seemed necessary. I have changed sometimes to meet my wife’s feelings. This was the case when I gave up labor in New England, and when I went to western camp meetings. I do not see how any man can labor with me while such influences are brought to bear upon us. You know what I met at Spring Arbor. These matters I have met on every hand have been enough to craze a common man. Forgive my mistakes, and believe me when I say every part of your long letter seems just and right.
This last Review shows that Butler and Haskell are coming around. I of course would feel better if they had done this last winter. But you know how loath men are to have others meddle with anything they have got patented. If changes are to be made, they must do it themselves. In my editorial I tried to tear the matter open fully but carefully. At next General Conference all these things will be thrown open for full discussion. If such a course grieves them as it has the last two conferences, this even will expose the fact to the conference that they have designed to shut the matter up and rush it through.
You will see that I not only aimed to help the brethren in reference to the tract society, but I labored to break down the effort of Butler and Haskell rushing points through, and if opposed, playing the martyr, professing to be grieved in trying to raise sympathy to themselves and prejudice against those who might suggest that their measures were not at all no. 1. ‘Get out’, said Gerrett Smith; Get away, I say, from this selfish, childish spirit. I recommend that we be men. The boy that don’t want his pockets searched is the very one that is supposed to steal that Jews-harp. Ha. I do not see why we cannot afford to discuss in a Christian manner every important subject and policy that may be introduced in our General Conference.
I wish you could go to Madison, Wisc., even now with the tent. The people were favorably impressed with wife’s temperance discourse in the Congregational House. I think of purchasing property there. We will go if you will and will hold ourselves subject to your order. If you do not, we shall go to Colorado or Maine soon.
Less than two years after Canright’s second withdrawal from the ministry, his third occurred. For the next two years, as we have previously seen, he farmed in Otsego, Mich. In the midst of that period (in 1883) he received the following five letters from Uriah Smith. Most of these letters relate to an attack on Adventism launched by Elder A.C. Long of Marion, Iowa. Long maintained that, contrary to Butler’s assertion, Early Writings (published in 1882) did not contain a complete reproduction of Mrs. White’s first articles, but that some material, which it was now thought expedient to suppress, had been omitted. Again, I quote all I possess of the letters.
Battle Creek, Michigan, March 22, 1883
Dear Brother Canright:
... I was interested in your queries to Uncle George [Butler] on the omissions in ‘Early Writings.’ We have the Marion paper in exchange, and I had noticed the article. Under the circumstances I think it must have come down on him something like an avalanche; and I have a curiosity to know how he has answered it, as he put a note on the margin that he had answered it. I have no doubt the quotations [given in the Marion paper] are correct. I remember coming across the tract, ‘Word to Little Flock,’ when we were in Rochester, but I have not seen a copy since [i.e., in more than 25 years], and did not know but Experience and Views contained the full text of the early visions. It seems to me that the testimonies, practically, have come into that shape, that it is not of any use to try to defend the erroneous claims that are now put forth for them. At least, after the unjust treatment I received the past year, I feel no burden in that direction.7 Theoretically, the doctrine of Spiritual Gifts is clear enough, and I think all our people stand together on that. Bro. Littlejohn has preached on the subject here, treating it mostly from a theoretical standpoint. But that does not touch the question at issue among us at all. I presume you noticed in the Review of March 13 Bro. Waggoner’s extinguisher of the Mormon Gifts. But if the same reasoning will not apply somewhat to our own experience, I cannot see straight. The cases of Fuller, Cornell and Smith Sharp are stunners to me. If all the brethren were willing to investigate this matter candidly and broadly, I believe some consistent, common ground for all to stand upon, could be found. But some, of the rule or ruin spirit, are so dogmatical and stubborn that I suppose that any effort in that direction would only lead to a rupture of the body. I am sorry the meeting of the Michigan Ministerial Association has ignominiously fallen through this year. The two difficulties it had to contend against, as I view it, are first, a lack of literary taste on the part of many ministers. But this should be overcome, and I think could be, by practice and constant pressure. But second, the greatest I believe to be a fear on the part of the powers that be, of free thought and free discussion. So far as this is the case, it is a shame and a disgrace to us...
Very truly yours,
Battle Creek, Michigan, April 6, 1883
Dear Brother Canright:
Yours of March 24 was duly received. I herewith return Bro. Butler’s letter, as you request, having read it, or spoken of it, only to Bro. Gage. Eld B. [Butler] writes to others making a very light matter of the omissions from ‘Early Writings.’ He write to Bro. M.C. Wilcox, now in this office, that if enough is made of the matter so that it call for an answer, if none of our ‘Great Writers’ see fit to reply to it, he will try his hand at it. In regard to writing for the Review, the plan is to send requests to some nineteen different persons, and if all should write more than from one to three moderately lengthy articles, there would not be room for them in the paper, so that limit was fixed as to length. We would like one from you sufficient to go through say three numbers. I intend to write for the next paper a synoptical article on that subject, but if I should, it would in no wise interfere with what you might say on the subject. I do not take the disconsolate view of our experiences that you seem to; for if the visions should drop out entirely, it would not affect my faith on our Biblical theories at all; hence, I should not consider my experience worthless, nor my life thrown away; for I am rooted and grounded in our doctrines. I believe the system of prophetic interpretation we present is sound, and that so far as we have been instrumental in presenting it to the world, we have done a good work. I did not learn any of these things from the visions, and they don’t stand on their authority. You ask if there is any way out. I do not know, or rather, while there must be some way through present difficulties (for God will carry on and bring through His own work) I do not now see what that way is. The idea has been studiously instilled into the minds of the people that to question the visions in the least is to become at once a hopeless apostate and rebel; and too many, I am sorry to say, have not strength of character enough to shake off such a conception, hence the moment anything is done to shake them on the visions, they lose faith in everything and go to destruction. I believe this state of things never would have occurred had the position of our people on this manifestation of the gifts been correct. If our people would come together and calmly, candidly, kindly, and freely deliberate upon this matter, I believe, as I have said to you and others, that a consistent position could be found, which would free the subject from difficulties, meet and satisfy the scoutings of an intelligent public, and not rob the gift of whit of the good it was intended to do. But there are too many doggedly bigoted and stubborn to offer any very flattering outlook in this direction. If the matter could be got along with without any violent disruption anywhere, it would be better. This is what I dislike, and fought against in our college troubles. I should like very much to see you and canvass together some of these questions. I may sometime accept your invitation and visit Otsego. You see by the Review that I get out occasionally. Tomorrow I go to Marshall - joint meeting of Marshall, Convis and Newton. A week from today I go to Hillsdale on the invitation of Bro. Lamson to attend their district quarterly meeting the 14th and 15th. The conception of a state of things that might exist among us occasionally flashes through my mind, when love and harmony would prevail; where there would be concert and union of action, a recognition of each other’s rights and a courage and inspiration to make the land echo with the sound of the glorious truth, as souls are pointed to the Savior as their hope and refuge. Let us live as near right as we can, be watchful against all devices of the enemy to destroy our spiritual life, and hope in God for his providence to guide us in these times of danger. Dr. Sprague [an Adventist Physician] joined the Presbyterian Church last Sunday, and I am informed that his mother and Sister Nelson are to join next Sunday.
Battle Creek, Michigan, July 31, 1883
Dear Bro. Canright:
Yours of July 28 is at hand. I have shown it to Bro. Gage as you request. It is true G.I.B. [Butler] has asked me to write something for the proposed Supplement [in reply to A.C. Long’s attack], and in the presence of Brn. Littlejohn and Fargo, has urged it hard; or rather they three together have urged me to it. But I have not yet made up my mind to say anything, because I do not know that I can say that will be of any particular help to them. I told these brethren so plainly. And my reason is that Sr. W. has herself shut my mouth. In the ‘Special Testimony to the B.C. [Battle Creek] Church,’ quoted in the ‘Sab. Advocate Extra,’ (both of which I suppose you have seen) she has published me as having rejected not only that testimony, but all the testimonies. Now if I say that I haven’t rejected them, I thereby show that I have, for I contradict this one. But if I say that I have, that will not do them any good that I can see, but will be saying that which I have not supposed to be true. Her attack on me seems to me most uncalled for and unjust. I told the brethren that I did not understand why she seemed so anxious, and in such haste, to publish me to the world as a disbeliever in the testimonies. She has forced me without cause into a very embarrassing position, because if I say nothing, of course it will be taken as a virtual acknowledgment of the correctness of the charges. But if I do say anything, I must speak my convictions, which will not be at all satisfactory to them. I have just written a letter to Bro. Waggoner on the subject giving my position quite fully. I am going to keep a copy, and if you would like to see it, I will send it out to you to read and return. I would like to have you see some correspondence I have had with Sr. W. ...
In haste and love,
Yours, U. Smith
Battle Creek, Michigan, Aug. 7, 1883
Dear Bro. Canright:
Yours mailed yesterday is at hand. I enclose in this what I wrote to Bro. Waggoner on the question before us. The first part of the letter was on some criticism of Hebrew words which you would not care to see. I have concluded to write a little for the ‘Supplement’11 for this reason: those who write in the ‘Advocate Extra’, most of them, manifest a spitefulness and bitterness of feeling which I cannot affiliate with, and do not wish to be considered as endorsing. In this I state, what I have told you, that I still hold that Sr. W. has been shown things in vision, and that this is a manifestation of Spiritual gifts; but they do not stand on a level with the Scriptures, and should not be made a test of fellowship. I close by saying that they should manifest ‘more of that charity which the apostle sets forth as more desirable than all gifts and without which even the best gifts are but a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.’ I am aware that what I have written will not materially help my case in regard to the testimonies; for it brings me into direct antagonism with what Sr. W. has last published about me, which the ‘Advocate’ of course will not be slow to pick up. But I think Bro. Green has prematurely set this ball rolling, and we shall not be likely to see so decisive steps taken at our next annual meetings as we should doubtless otherwise have seen. I should not have said anything, had not these men embarrassed the situation by rushing in and manifesting the spirit they do. Logically, my case cannot be let alone till I have acknowledged what Sr. W. Wrote in our School troubles, which I have no evidence was or is vision, and as I write to Bro. W., I know I have to discriminate between ‘testimony’ and ‘visions.’ Well, I think I know myself as well as Sr. W. knows me. And I leave all these things in the hand of God, determined to seek to do his will here, and find a place in his kingdom hereafter.
Battle Creek, Michigan, Oct. 2, 1883
Dear Bro. Canright:
Yours of the 28th was duly received. Should have been very glad to see you at the C.M. We had in some respects a most powerful meeting. A.N. Seymour and wife were present, Sabbath and Sunday, and even he acknowledged to Bro. Dodge that it seemed like 1844. Wish you could have been here. Both myself and Harriet have had a talk with Sr. W., and in many things wherein my mind was most severely perplexed, it has been relieved, which of course makes me feel quite differently. Then again, I have had opportunity to learn that quite a good many are disposed to be affected by my course in their relation to this cause. I am very vulnerable on the point of standing in another’s way. I would rather do almost anything than that. Of course, I would not think it would make so much difference, if others would go no farther than I go. But they do not stop there. Right or wrong, they have got the idea fast in their minds that the testimonies and the messages stand or fall together; and if they give up the former they give up the latter also. Now I would much rather a person would be radical on the testimonies, even if they are not all what they claim to be, than give up the present truth; for this latter I believe to be vital to our future well-being. So the best light I see for myself is to case my influence in so far as it will go, with the body, and wait further developments.
Sr. W., is certainly doing a work which no other person seems fitted for doing, and which is of great value to this cause. So I will get along with my private trials and hold them in abeyance for the general good.
In the light of these eleven letters, Canright’s doubts are not exactly surprising. When James White himself represented his wife as nearly ruined by the influence of scheming Butler and Haskell, as overly sever in handling g some cases, and as needing gentle treatment in order to get anything done, what grounds had Canright to believe in her inspiration? Moreover, others were tainted by doubts, too. Even the editor of the Review and Herald had reservations about the authority attaching to Mrs. White’s visions. He only wrote in support of them because he feared the effects of his doubts on his weaker brethren.
7 See Mrs. White’s letter, "Important Testimony," written to Smith on March 28, 1882. When he refused to read it to the Battle Creek Church, she wrote to it "The Testimonies Slighted," on June 20, 1882. Smith was then required to publish both in Testimonies (vol. 5, pp. 45-62, 62-84).
11 Smith contributed two articles: "An Explanation" of his position on Mrs. White’s visions (pp. 10-11), and "Characteristics of the Visions" (pp. 12-13), wherein he argues for their divine origin.