HerbSwanson.com ...A Resource for the Study of the Thai Church

MA Thesis Chapter 5

This Heathen People: The Cognitive Sources of American Missionary

Westernizing Activities in Northern Siam, 1867-1889

Herbert R. Swanson

Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Maryland
in partial fulfillmentof the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts



Abstract 2006 Intro 1987 Intro Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Conclusion Bibliography

At each step of the way, dualism revealed new complexities and extensions that reinforced evangelical Presbyterian assumptions about the nature of reality. Dualism led to the concept of conversionism, and that concept led to the techniques of revivalism and also encompassed Old School uses of Scottish philosophy. The process did not stop there. Dualism also expressed itself in yet another complex of ideas in doctrines concerning the future, society, and the American nation. That complex of ideas, in turn, further defined the activities of the Laos Mission.


Along with Wilson's shattering the Buddha image with his axe and Nan Inta wandering across the rice fields in contemplation, the scene of a young northern Thai couple waiting to be married in 1878 presents one of the most powerful images in the history of the Laos Mission. The bride and groom were Christians, and theirs was to be the first Christian wedding in northern Siam. The Laos Mission felt ecstatic about the wedding because it marked, the mission hoped, the beginning of a true Christian community able to propagate itself in part through the nurture of Christian families. The day of the wedding came. The wedding party assembled. But, then, at the very last moment a problem arose. Traditionally, the family of the bride paid a "spirit fee" to the head of their clan not only to guarantee the fortunes of the couple but also to legalize the ceremony. In this case, the bride's family refused to pay the fee because they were Christians and refused to have anything to do with spirit propitiation. The clan patriarch, on the other hand, would not agree to suspension of the payment, and the local authorities in Chiang Mai refused to take any action in the matter. The mission postponed the wedding ceremony and appealed to the King of Siam for assistance. The King referred the matter back to his viceroy in Chiang Mai who issued, on October 8, 1878, a proclamation granting the Christian community the legal right to exist and follow its own religious forms. The mission and hailed this "Edict of Toleration" as a major turning point in the history of Christianity in northern Siam because it seemed to liberate the church from the legal persecution under which it had suffered since 1869.[1]

The elation with which the mission greeted the edict grew not so much out of the event itself, however, as from the mission's assumption that the edict offered it free and unhindered competition with Buddhism. The Laos Mission believed that animistic Buddhism corrupted all of northern Thai culture and society with its ignorance, impiety, and stifled intellect. It assumed that conversion meant much more than simply exchanging one religion for another. "True" conversion transformed the whole life of the convert, moral and cultural, as well as religious so that the conversion of individual northern Thais to Christianity would progressively purify and "civilize" the whole of northern Thai society.[2] Hence, this opportunity to compete without legal restraint in the marketplace of religious beliefs seemed to guarantee the triumph of Christianity and "civilization" in northern Siam. The "Edict of Toleration," in the eyes of the mission, did more than just make it possible for converts to marry in a new way. It established the Laos Mission's legal right to plant a much larger range of western ideas and forms in both the convert community and the larger society.

In the thinking of the Laos Mission, the relationship of religion to civilization worked in both directions. Not only did the mission think that the introduction of Christianity into northern Siam meant the introduction of western civilization, but also it assumed that the importation of elements of western civilization would encourage the spread of Christianity. McGilvary wrote that the westernization of northern Siam was the "will of God" and that God had plans for northern Siam which went beyond the religious work of the mission. An image from the pen of McGilvary captured the quite unconscious but total association the missionaries made between their religion and their own culture. In a June 1869 letter, McGilvary reported how he had dined with the chao muang (Prince) and several "chief princes" of Chiang Mai in the "foreign custom," that is seated at a table using western cutlery and dishes. McGilvary marveled at this sign of "progress" towards civilization in isolated, backwards Chiang Mai, and he speculated at the possibility that one day the chao muang, his princes, and McGilvary might sit "around the table of the Lord" together as well.[3]

This broad view of the relationship between culture and religion in northern Siam significantly influenced the ways in which the missionaries conducted themselves because it defined what they sought to accomplish. The Laos Mission worked for nothing less than a radical social and cultural transformation of northern Siam in which American culture as well as evangelical religion would replace traditional northern Thai Buddhist culture and religion. The Laos Mission sought to create in northern Siam a place in which the people would worship in western-style churches, worship and rest on western holy days, live by the western calendar, and even dress in western-style clothes. In carrying out this agenda, the members of the Laos Mission became visible models of and advocates for the transformation of Buddhist culture into an American look-alike culture.[4]


Certain extensions of evangelical dualism reinforced the Laos Mission's habit of identifying American culture with Protestant piety. Although superficially theological in nature, those extensions allowed American Protestants to incorporate their feelings of nationalistic pride into their piety so that love of country and love of God became virtually the same thing. Those extensions of dualism encouraged evangelicals to see in their crusades to change the world as patriotic as well as pietistic in nature. The doctrine of "millennialism" provides a convenient, revealing entry point into those extensions.

Nineteenth-century evangelicals fervently believed that an "end time" would come when Christ would rule the earth in peace and justice for a thousand years. Students of nineteenth-century evangelicalism now routinely divide it into two general camps, "postmillennialists" and "premillenialists." While both groups accepted the idea of Christ's Second Coming, the postmillennialists, as a rule, believed that the millennium would emerge gradually from the course of progressive human history before the Second Coming. Premillennialist, or "millenarians," believed that the millennium would come abruptly and without preparation after the Second Coming. Postmillennialism dominated nineteenth-century evangelical thinking. While some scholars caution that too much can be made of the distinction, in general historians characterize postmillennialists as those who believed in human progress and sought to combine that belief with older apocalyptic doctrines. That combination encouraged them to exert themselves in schemes intended to hasten the coming of the millennium.[5]

Although apocalyptic doctrines went back to the very beginnings of the Christian religion and even further back into Judaism, American postmillennialism traced its roots to the reemergence of apocalypticism during the Reformation. At that time, Protestants habitually identified the papacy with the Antichrist, and growing numbers of them accepted the idea of a future millennium.[6] Belief in the millennium took root in England as well as other parts of Europe, and when English colonists arrived in North America they brought millennialism with them. The New England Puritans, for example, claimed that they went into the wilderness to prepare for the latter-day glory. Other colonists used the categories of millennialism to make some sense out of the American Indians. Many colonists, though not all, believed that the Indians were the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and their conversion to Christianity would mark the beginning of the millennium.[7]

American evangelicals closely associated millennialism with revivalism. The First Great Awakening popularized the idea of God's Coming Kingdom, the millennium, among American Protestants, and during the Second Great Awakening evangelists spurred their hearers on towards conversion with predictions that the millennium was close at hand.[8] One historian, observing the spread of revivalistic millennialism, comments that nineteenth century America was "drunk on the millennium."[9]

The doctrine of millennialism, in fact, expanded the arena of dualism by subjecting the past to its categories. Evangelicals interpreted all of human history and the whole of time itself as a vast arena in which God and Satan fought a great cosmic battle between good and evil. God urged humanity upward towards a golden age marked by complete submission to divine rule, but the forces of Satan resisted progress and tried to pull humanity down into a condition of barbarism and heathenism.[10] Americans became particularly conscious of their participation in this cosmic war when then the United States was at war. They identified their cause with that of God, their foe's with Satan, and claimed to fight for the very future of humanity. They associated American victory on the battlefield with the hope of the millennium.[11]

Postmillennialist dualism anticipated that humanity would enter the millennial gold age progressively, and the idea of "progress" had a long connection with Christian millennialism traceable from English and Scottish thinkers back through the Reformation, and, ultimately the apocalyptic beliefs of the early church.[12] Nineteenth-century American evangelicals made the association between progress and millennialism an absolute one so that the belief in progress reinforced evangelical enthusiasm for the millennium, which, in turn, motivated many to convert at revivalistic meetings. Revivalists, on the other hand, often believed that the preaching of the millennium in and of itself promoted progress and made them, therefore, indispensable to the continued progress of the nation. The rapid geographical, economic, and technological growth of the United States further encouraged the evangelical belief in progress. Science and evangelical religion appeared to be making great strides together toward the millennium.[13] As always, doctrines and ideas such as that of progress encouraged evangelicals to involve themselves in the crusade to save the world from the realm of darkness and hasten the coming of the millennium.

Millennialism and its doctrine of progress influenced Presbyterians no less than other evangelicals. They, for example, joined other colonial Americans in identifying the cause of the English in the French and Indian War and the cause of the revolutionaries during the American Revolution with the cause of God's Coming Kingdom. They accepted the belief that America, as the chosen agent of God, held the future of all of humanity in its hands. And they generally accepted the postmillennial faith in the progressive unfolding of the millennium before the Second Coming, an unfolding which would destroy Catholicism, uplift morality, and lead to a "knowledge of the Lord" among all the peoples of the world. The Civil War, which ended only two years before the founding of the Laos Mission, whipped these views up to a new pitch among Northern Presbyterians who viewed the war as a battle between God and Satan for the future of humanity.[14]

After the Civil War, Presbyterians and other evangelicals continued to believe in a vague way in the coming of the millennium; but, as in the case of revivalism, the belief in the millennium became more attenuated. Moorhead notes that as postbellum evangelical piety gradually lost its emphasis on immediate, emotional conversionism and the fear of hell a less passionate view of progress came to the fore.[15] The influential late nineteenth-century missionary writings of James Dennis, as a Presbyterian example, show that he continued to believe in a coming age when Christianity would triumph over the world, but he devoted the bulk of his effort to proving that Christianity enhanced social progress.[16]

Evangelicals, in summary, used the idea of the millennium to rationalize time into the scheme of dualism. They looked for the progressive triumph of the sphere of light over time until the day came when all of humanity would worship the God of the Christian religion. Belief in the millennium allowed evangelicals to bring the other elements of dualism out onto the historical stage. It made "progress" and "civilization" cognates. It turned the concepts of "savage" and "heathen" into tools for historical interpretation. It placed virtually every encounter with a non-evangelical group into a chronological framework and cast onto those encounters a millennial, as well as cosmic, significance.

Evangelical postmillennialism, furthermore, reached out into time not only to turn all of history into a cosmic confrontation between good and evil but also to place the American nation at the center of that confrontation. Evangelicals came to believe that the United States had a special role to play in bringing about the millennium, and they pointed to the progress it was making to prove that God had moved it to the forefront of history. In America's progress, they believed, lay the hope of humanity to reach the golden end time.[17]

America's nationalistic millennialism emerged in the eighteenth century at a time when Protestant Americans, including the Presbyterians, did not distinguish between the religious and political arenas and tended to think about them in similar ways. They blended republicanism with millennialism into a single system of meaning. The American Revolution intensified the identification of millennial and republican expectations so that Americans interpreted their republican victory over the British in millennial categories. America had become God's agent in bringing freedom, republicanism, and the Christian faith to the world.[18]

Belief in the millennial role of the American nation grew during the nineteenth century until it became an essential part of evangelical doctrine.[19] That belief drew on the vivid Old Testament accounts of God's calling Israel to be the "Chosen People" so that Protestant Americans thought of their nation as a Chosen Nation akin to that of ancient Israel. As in Old Testament times, God led the nation, protected the nation, and, when necessary, disciplined the nation.[20] This "New Israel" took ancient Israel's place as God's primary agent in history and, concurrently, assumed its God-given divine mission to save the world. The belief that America was a nation with a mission had a powerful influence on the course of nineteenth-century events. Even those who opposed the more obvious forms of that belief, such as the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, did so only on the basis of their belief that America could not fulfill its mission through geographical expansionism. They did not doubt that America had mission.[21]

This one-on-one identification of nation and religious calling had serious consequences for Protestantism. John Edwin Smylie argues that because of the pluralistic environment of American denominationalism, nineteenth-century Protestants did not have one, single "true" church to which they could belong. They posited the need for such an institution on the nation, which became for them something of a "universal church." By the end of the nineteenth century, then, Protestants uncritically and almost entirely identified their religion with their nation and did not distinguish what they considered to be Christian from what they considered to be American. Smylie concludes, " Instead of Christianizing the nation, the churches have been nationalized."[22]

Within the logic of dualism, "nation" meant more than just a set of political structures and ideals, and in the course of the nineteenth century American Protestants fused the notion of Chosen Nation with the sum total of their own culture and society. They believed that their nation and their way of living reflected Christian principles, which meant that the patterns of American culture and society increasingly determined the patterns of Protestant religious thinking and acting. By the 1890s, American Protestants almost entirely identified their religious hope for the future with the "progress" of the American nation and its civilization.[23]


Presbyterians of all persuasions took the relationship between religion and nation very seriously, and Old School and New School Presbyterians alike accepted the view that America was God's New Israel. Conservative Presbyterians, moreover, did not take their lot as citizens of the New Israel lightly or comfortably, because the Old Testament warned them that the role of divine agent was not an easily fulfilled role. The New Israel must show itself able to fulfill its mission, and these Presbyterians, therefore, insisted that religion must have a central place in the life of the nation. They firmly believed that the nation's hope for survival and prosperity rested entirely upon its moral strength, and moral strength could not be sustained without true religion. They demanded that the nation's political leaders, its laws, and its citizenry as a whole must live in accordance with Protestant Christian principles and values.[24]

The loss of true religion and of high moral standards, according to them, put the nation in grave danger not only because such losses weakened the nation internally but also because they invited divine punishment. The Old Testament showed time and again that when the Hebrews displeased God with their immoral behavior and worship of false gods divine punishment followed. During much of the War of 1812, for example, leading Presbyterians interpreted American military failures as proof of divine judgment on the nation for national sins, particularly the sin of electing non-Christian such as Jefferson to public office.[25] Fifty years later New School preachers cited the Old Testament once again to warn the North that the nation was suffering through the Civil War because of past national sins and the only hope for the future lay in repentance.[26]

Given the seriousness with which they viewed the role of Chosen Nation, Presbyterians did not hesitate to set an agenda for the United States that would safeguard it from divine punishment and help it fulfill its divine mission. The nation, they decided, must maintain its religious liberty at all costs. Presbyterians, however, used the term "religious liberty" in a particular manner. They meant that all Protestant Christians should have the liberty to read the Bible for themselves and worship God as they saw fit within the constraints of the Protestant tradition. Religious liberty meant liberty for Protestants, and to allow non-Protestants unrestrained freedoms would only put the nation in grave danger. Presbyterians, as one example, resisted increased Irish Catholic immigration before the Civil War because they believed it threatened freedom of religion and the existence of the nation. More generally, Presbyterians believed that while the government should not try to control Protestantism it should also not remain indifferent to the religious condition of the nation.[27]

The conclusion Presbyterian drew from their views on the relationship of the nation to religion persuaded them that for the nation's sake they had to involve themselves in protecting the nation from immoral and unchristian influences. They consciously sought to exercise control over society, the classic example of their efforts being the campaign they led in the 1820s to keep the Sabbath undefiled. Drawing on the biblical injunctions concerning "keeping the Sabbath,"[28] Presbyterians considered safe-guarding Sundays for worship and rest important to the moral and spiritual well-being of the nation, and they viewed with alarm a government decision taken in the 1820s to allow the delivery of mail on Sundays. They felt that this decision not only profaned the Sabbath but also threatened the much needed Protestant influence over government. Local Presbyterian churches and higher judicatories all conducted aggressive lobbying and petitioning to try to get Congress to repeal the Sunday delivery of mail.[29]

Presbyterians perceived the question of the Sabbath as something more than simply a matter of preserving correct doctrine. They believed that the "moral"[30], as well as religious, well-being of the nation depended upon observing the Sabbath because morality and piety reinforced and sustained each other. Presbyterians concluded that this inseparable association of morals and piety meant they had to involve themselves with social morality. Presbyterians looked back to the sixteenth-century Scottish Reformation for the origins of their keen interest in social moral behavior. Leyburn writes that the reformed Kirk worked a revolution in Scottish moral behavior through the agency of local church governing boards, which closely examined the morality of their flocks and frequently punished the reprobate.[31] True to the spirit of the Scottish Reformation, the eighteenth-century Scottish common sense philosophers emphasized the role of the conscience as the divinely given guide to human behavior which leads human beings on to their divinely-appointed ends.[32]

The Scottish common sense emphasis on moral behavior became a prominent feature of American evangelicalism. Until the Civil War era, in fact, senior courses in "moral philosophy" capped nearly every college curriculum in America. In those courses, clergy professors introduced their students to common sense philosophy and its defense of "common sense," that is, traditional, ethical behavior based on their interpretation of biblical ethics.[33]

Evangelicals of all stripes, including Presbyterians, carried around in their heads, or consciences, a checklist of proper behavior that defined the arena of morality. They used this checklist to demonstrate their own moral uprightness and to gauge the probity of others. An enumeration of some of the items on that checklist would include the following: orderliness, obedience to authority, physical fitness, being energetic, intellectual agility, dedication to helping others, patriotism, piety, being law-abiding, courageousness, courteousness, and rationality.[34] During the course of the nineteenth-century, the rise of industrialism and big business added to the list values that served the interests of the industrial work place, such as frugality, temperance and moderation, self-discipline, valuation of work, regard for personal property, orderliness, and self-restraint. Many American Protestants eventually came to associate morality with business success.[35]

In point of fact, the larger web of nineteenth-century Protestant values grew out of traditional American rural and village life. Protestants felt that the agrarian society most of them grew up in represented the stability, orderliness, and security which seemed to be slipping away from an urbanizing society. The old-fashioned rural life, in particular, embodied traditional Protestant piety, and that piety seemed to them to be as threatened by urbanization and other social forces as did rural values themselves.[36]

Morality, in sum, mattered to Presbyterians and to all Protestants. Presbyterians in particular believed that the future of their nation and the preservation of its civilization depended upon its moral strength. They believed that they themselves must act to preserve that moral strength, for only the inculcation of religious piety could keep the nation safe. God's Chosen Nation, America, must demonstrate its worthiness to fulfill its divine mission otherwise God would punish it. Morality very definitely mattered to nineteenth-century Presbyterians.


The elation of the Laos Mission over the "Edict of Toleration" encompassed this whole set of ideas concerning the relationship of religion to society. For the first time since the persecution of 1869, the mission saw a clear opening into northern Thai society that promised it an opportunity to introduce a Christian culture into that society. They could begin to shape the northern Thai people into what they considered a moral, civilized society founded on rational Christian beliefs and institutions. Quite "naturally," they assumed that Christian institutions in northern Siam would replicate the ones already established in Christian America.

While the members of the Laos Mission seldom overtly expressed the connection between nation and piety, they acted in ways that presupposed that connection. The most important single instance of such action came early in the mission's history. In keeping with their heritage as evangelical Presbyterians, the missionaries in northern Siam emphasized the importance of keeping the Christian Sabbath within the fledgling Christian community. They demanded that converts prove the genuineness of their conversions by rejecting the Buddhist holy days, calculated according to the lunar calendar, and observing the Christian Sabbath. The Laos Mission continued well into the twentieth century to judge the quality of individual converts as Christians in large measure by their willingness to keep the Sabbath. Nothing brought a stern reprimand from a missionary as quickly as working or having parties on the Christian Sabbath.

The mission used the observance of the Sabbath as one of its weapons in the war to undermine Buddhist culture. In traditional northern Thai society, patrons had the right to call upon the labor of a client at any time they needed it, and the client had no right to refuse a legitimate, reasonable request. When Christian converts began to refuse to meet their obligations on Sundays, as they did, they challenged a central relationship in their society, the one between client and patron. They, in fact, challenged the legitimacy of the highest powers in their country as well, because all power rested, finally, on the ability of patrons to call upon the services of clients.[37]

The mission's attempts to introduce the Christian Sabbath into northern Thai society represented one of its earliest westernizing activities, a direct assault upon traditional Buddhist culture, and the spearhead of its campaign to Christianize northern Siam. [38] The chao muang understood quite well that the Laos Mission's instructions on keeping the Sabbath undermined the very set of relationships upon which his own power as the Prince of Chiang Mai rested. And he moved to squelch the incipient revolutionary convert community, as we have seen, by executing two of its leaders.

It is not likely that any one of the four missionaries living in Chiang Mai in 1869 worked through the logic of Sabbath observance and the relationship of religion to the nation. They did, however, associate their intention to Christianize northern Siam with the necessity of keeping the Christian holy day. They assumed without question that the observance of the Sabbath comprised part and parcel of the Christian life and of a Christian society. Behind that seemingly simple assumption lay the far more complex dualistic web that began with the perception of the United States as God's Chosen Nation and worked its way through the deification of republicanism to the Presbyterian emphasis on restraint of and control over national morality as the means to preserve America's ability to carry out its divine mission. The rationale behind Laos Mission's attempt to introduce Sabbath observance into northern Siam, in fact, duplicated the Presbyterian-led evangelical campaign of the 1820s to enforce observance of the Sabbath in American society. Quite simply, the nation that does not observe the Sabbath cannot be a Christian nation.

The members of the Laos Mission did not exhibit directly the millennial thinking that subsumed the idea of America as God's Chosen Nation, but they did quite frequently call upon yet another expression of that thinking, the belief in the leading of providence. Bozeman writes that Presbyterians associated "providence," divine activity in human affairs, with the postmillennial idea of progress. Old School Presbyterians, in particular, believed that the world progressed according to divine will and a divine plan, which already charted the future improvement of humanity. Old School Presbyterians tied the idea of providence back into their common sense philosophy, which made providence inherent in nature. Providence, thus, expressed itself as a progressive natural law. Old School conservatism, furthermore, understood that providence did not function either irrationally or in a revolutionary manner. Providential change accumulated slowly and orderly as well as progressively.[39]

The nineteenth-century Presbyterian concept of providence represented a major change in Presbyterian thinking about God's activity in history. Traditional Calvinism affirmed God as an active, independent, sovereign, and unpredictable agent in human affairs. God acted as God chose to act. After the American Revolution, however, Presbyterians gradually discarded the traditional view of providence and replaced it with a God who acted predictably through natural laws and the natural order of things. Disasters, for example, took place for natural reasons, and Presbyterians no longer interpreted them as divine interventions into human affairs.[40]

American Presbyterians, furthermore, identified providence with millennialism, the doctrine of America as the Chosen Nation, and liberty, thus reaffirming their belief that the nation could not survive without religion. Providence, they supposed, worked in human affairs for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and America played a special, leading part in bringing about the millennial kingdom. They equated progress and providence with the spreading of the Christian message around the world, and they also believed that only through the workings of providence was civilization made possible. Hood concludes that the doctrine of providence, the idea of religion as necessary for national liberty, and belief in the millennium "...served as a network of religious symbols in terms of which the Presbyterians responded to the development of the new nation."[41]

The Laos Mission adapted the doctrine of providence to its own situation in northern Siam, one in which it saw itself as the agent and beneficiary of divine activity. The missionaries never wrote of providence as punishing them and always interpreted providential activity in a positive light. God, they knew with certainty, sustained and promoted their work. In these views, the mission reflected the position of their denomination concerning providence: everything worked out according to God's long-range plan for northern Siam without any miracles or divine visitations, in the biblical sense, ever occurring. Historical events, it seemed to the mission, revealed the ongoing work of providence and always pointed towards the ultimate victory of northern Siam's local agent for the Kingdom of God, the Laos Mission.

In September 1866 McGilvary wrote of the chain of events that led the chao muang of Chiang Mai to give his permission for the establishment of a mission station in his city, "The whole history of this affair has been so providential that the hand of God must be in it." He later wrote that God had stimulated his interest in Chiang Mai, and he intended to follow that leading until such time as God shut the way. Wilson wrote that he too felt that providence was leading his family to go to Chiang Mai as well.[42]

At every turn of events, McGilvary, Wilson, and the other members of the mission turned to the doctrine of providence to rationalize their understanding of events around them. As the McGilvarys went about establishing themselves in Chiang Mai in 1867 and 1868, they believed the goodness of God assisted them. When the Wilsons arrived in 1868, McGilvary interpreted their arrival and his close friendship with Jonathan Wilson as acts of providence laying the groundwork for the future of the mission. Other events received similar interpretations: when the chao muang gave the mission land for a station; when events in Bangkok brought an end to the persecution of the converts in 1869; when the mission baptized its first convert; when it opened its first school in 1879; and when the "Edict of Toleration" was published. Providence, the mission claimed, caused these events.[43]

Even at difficult times, members of the mission maintained their faith in the workings of providence. During the persecution of the small church in 1869, the most harrowing period in the entire history of the Laos Mission, McGilvary saw the hand of God at work. He believed that the execution of the two "martyrs" was providential because it would serve the same purpose as did the executions of the early church martyrs. It would strengthen the church by scattering the converts into other regions where they would spread their faith.[44] When several new members of the mission left the field permanently because of illnesses in 1883, Wilson could only remark that, "God's dealings with us as a Mission have been inscrutable. Only this we know, that he has dealt with us so much better than we deserve."[45]

God, then, always worked in ways beneficial to the missionaries, and they interpreted every momentary advantage or encouraging happening to the work of providence. In an 1880 letter, McGilvary expressed confidence in the ultimate success of the mission because God promised in the Bible that Christianity would spread to "the ends of the earth." McGilvary tied his absolute confidence in the future of the mission to one of the few direct references to millennialism found in the records of the Laos Mission. He called Buddhism, "...the modern dragon ready to fall before the Ark of the Lord." The "dragon" in both the New and the Old Testaments was an eschatological figure which represented Satan and the enemies of God. In that letter, he went on to catalog the standard list of evils which proved that Buddhism was of the realm of Satan including complaints that it was an absurd system, a characteristic complaint for one trained in the Princeton Theology and common sense philosophy.[46] Quite unconsciously, McGilvary brought together in one cognitive "lump" the leading of providence, millennial expectations, Presbyterian theology and philosophy, and a dualistic judgment on Buddhism.

McGilvary's dualistic disdain for a "heathen" religion, in sum, lay at the core of his confidence in providence's intentions for the Laos Mission. In all of the "providential leadings" experienced by the mission, God worked to build up the mission while tearing down Buddhism and everything associated with it. The mission's doctrine of providence complimented their use of Sabbath observance and their hope in the "Edict of Toleration" as elements in a cohesive system born of its millennial, progressive, and nationalized evangelical Presbyterian cognitive heritage. The Laos Mission used the Sabbath to invade the traditional northern Thai calendar with a "moral alternative," the observance of which would lead to God's favor for the North. In the same way, it relied upon the "Edict of Toleration" to open northern Thai society and politics to its influence, again, to the end that the Christian religion might replace Buddhism and animism. Through the doctrine of providence, the missionaries held onto a firm assurance of historical precedent and natural law that their invasion of the North would ultimately succeed.


The evangelical doctrines of millennialism, progress, and America as the New Israel expanded the web of dualism into a satisfying, dynamic philosophy of history that assured evangelicals that as long as America remained faithful to God it must triumph over the forces of evil. Those doctrines focused the attention of evangelicals, most particularly the Old School Presbyterians, on the need to preserve and spread Protestant influence throughout American society. Those doctrines also shaped how the Laos Mission thought about its own missionary situation in northern Siam. It saw itself as an agent of providence in northern Siam charged with the mission of "saving" that region from heathenism by Christianizing and civilizing it in accordance with the workings of providence. The Laos Mission acted as if it thought of itself as an embodiment of the New Israel led by providence to extend the Kingdom of God in northern Siam.


[1] McGilvary, A Half Century, 207-19; and Swanson, Krischak Muang Nua, 28-9.

[2] Hughes, Proclamation and Response, 7-9, 12; Hughes, "Christianity and Culture," 74-5; and Philip J. Hughes, "Theology and Culture: Implications for Methodology of a Case Study in Northern Thailand," Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review 18 (October 1985): 44.

[3] McGilvlary, A Half Century, 219; and McGilvary, letter, 28 June 1869, Foreign Missionary, 216.

[4] Swanson, Krischak Muang Nua, esp. 59-113; Swanson, "Advocate and Partner," 305-09; and Maen, "Missionary Proclamation," 45-6.

[5] James H. Moorhead, "The Erosion of Postmillennialism in American Religious Thought, 1865-1925," Church History 53 (March 1984): 61-2; Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 9; Grant Underwood, "Early Mormon Milenarianism," Church History 54 (June 1985): 216-20; and Hood, Reformed America, 74-5.

[6] Ernest Lee Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia: A Study in the Background of the Idea of Progress (1949, reprint; New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 56ff; Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 2-3; and Norman Cohn, "Medieval Millenarism: its bearing on The Comparative Study of Millenarian Movements," in Millennial Dreams in Action: Studies in Revolutionary Religious Movements, ed. Sylvia L. Thrupp (New York: Schocken Books, 1970), 32-9.

[7] Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia, 75-93; and Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 3-4.

[8] Miller, Life of Mind, 81; and H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937), 135.

[9] Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 42.

[10] See Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 53.

[11] Hatch, Sacred Cause, 37-43, 53, 85-7; Gribbin, Churches Militant, passim; and Moorhead, American Apocalypse, x-xii, 39-41, 54-5, 63.

[12] Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia, passim.

[13] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 5; J.F. Maclear, "The Republic and the Millennium," in The Religion of the Republic, ed. Elwyn A. Smith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 198; and Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, 78.

[14] Hood, Reformed America, 70-5; Fred J. Hood, "Evolution of the Denomination Among the Reformed of the Middle and Southern States, 1780-1840," in Denominationalism, ed. Russell E. Richey (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977), 140; and Miller, Revolutionary College, 50-9.

[15] Moorhead, "Erosion of Postmillennialism."

[16] R. Pierce Beaver, "Missionary Motivation through Three Centuries," in Reinterpretation in American Church History, ed. Jerald c. Brauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 131-32; Berger, "Dennis," 102-06, 109; and Moorhead, "Erosion of Postmillennialism."

[17] See McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 5, 105; and Maclear, "The Republic and the Millennium," 198, 213.

[18] Hatch, Sacred Cause, 53-59, 89-91, 155-59; and Hood, Reformed America, 65-6, 73.

[19] Martin Marty, Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America (New York: Dial, 1970), 16; and Sandeen, Roots of Fundamentalism, 43.

[20] Clebsch, Sacred to Profane, 54-7; and Russeel B. Nye, This Almost Chosen People: Essays in The History of American Ideas (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, 1966), 186-90.

[21] Weinberg, Manifest Destiny, 1-2; Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), 261-66; and Hudson, Religion in America, 209-10.

[22] John Edwin Smylie, "National Ethos and the Church," Theology Today 20 (October 1963): 313-14, 318-19. See also William A. Clebsch, From Sacred to Profane America: The Role of Religion in American History (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 39ff; Hatch, Sacred Cause, 22-4, 43; and Moorhead, American Apocalypse, 73-81, 126-28.

[23] Coleman, "Presbyterian Missionaries," 80-1; Coleman, "Not Race," 343; and Robert T. Handy, Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 113, 115.

[24] Hood, Reformed America, 7-8, 40. See also Marsden, Evangelical Mind, 105, 184.

[25] Hood, Reformed America, 108.

[26] George Marsden, "Kingdom and Nation: New School Presbyterian Millennialism in the Civil War Era," Journal of Presbyterian History 46 (December 1968): 68-9.

[27] Hood, Reformed America, 51-4, 57.

[28] See, for example, Exodus 20:8-11; 23:12.

[29] Bertram Wyatt-Brown, "Prelude to Abolitionism: Sabbatarian Politics and the Rise of the Second Party System," Journal of American History 58 (September 1971): 316-41; Cole, Social Ideas, 105-09; and Miller, Revolutionary Colleges, 220-21.

[30] The nineteenth-century use of "moral" was broader and more ambiguous than is our later usage. Meyer points out that in addition to ethics, Americans used it to describe empirical as opposed to a-priori reasoning and to designate human as opposed to natural factors in events. Meyer, Instructed Conscience, 27-8.

[31] Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish, 30, 56-7.

[32] Meyer, Instructed Conscience, 41.

[33] William G. McLoughlin, Jr., "Introduction: The American Evangelicals: 1800-1900," in The American Evangelicals, 1800-1900: An Anthology, ed., William G. McLoughlin, Jr. (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 2. For an excellent study of the moral philosophers in America see Meyer, Instructed Conscience.

[34] Faust, "The Proslavery Argument," 10; Whorton, Crusaders for Fitness, 167; Mary McDougall Gordon, "Patriots and Christians: A Reassessment of Nineteenth-Century School Reformers," Journal of Social History 11 (Summer 1978): 562; Takaki, Iron Cages, xvii, 6-7; and Robert A. Trennert, "Educating Indian Girls at Nonreservation Boarding Schools, 1878-1920," Western Historical Quarterly 13(July 1982): 281.

[35] Paul Faler, "Cultural Aspects of the Industrial Revolution: Lynn, Massachusetts, Shoemakers and Industrial Morality, 1826-1860," Labor History 15 (Summer 1974): 367-94; Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 47, 51; and Don H. Doyle, "The Social Functions of Voluntary Associations in a Nineteenth-Century American Town," Social Science History 1 (Spring 1977): 345.

[36] Boyer, Urban Masses, viii, 2, 43; and Hood, Reformed America, 9.

[37] Swanson, Krischak Muang Nua, 12-13.

[38] See Berkhofer's discussion of the missionary use of Sabbath observance as an assault on American Indian cultures in Salvation and Savage, 60-1; and Coleman on Presbyterian missionary use of the Sabbath against the Indians in "Presbyterian Missionaries," 121.

[39] Bozeman, Baconian Ideal, 711-13; and Theodore Dwight Bozeman, "Science, Nature and Society: A New Approach to James Henley Thornwell," Journal of Presbyterian History 50 (Winter 1972): 307-25.

[40] Hood, Reformed America, 27-8, 31-9.

[41] Hood, Reformed America, 68-70, 74-5; and Hood, "Presbyterianism," 156.

[42] McGilvary to Irving, 10 September 1866, vol. 3, BFM Records; McGilvary to Irving, 6 November 1866, vol. 3, BFM Records; and Wilson to Irving, 20 October 1866, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[43] McGilvary to Irving, 2 October 1868, vol. 3, BFM Records; McGilvary to Irving, 12 January 1869, vol. 3, BFM Records; Wilson, excerpts from a letter, 28 July 1870, Foreign Missionary 29(December 1870): McGilvary, letter, 20 May 1878, Foreign Missionary 37(October 1878): 150; and 184; Edna S. Cole to Irving, 1 October 1880, vol. 4, BFM Records.

[44] McGilvary to Irving, 1 November 1869, vol. 3, BFM Records.

[45] Wilson to Irving, 24 November 1883, vol. 4, BFM Records.

[46] McGilvary to Irving, 11 June 1880, vol. 4, BFM Records. For one biblical use of the "dragon" motif, see Revelation 12. See also The Interpreter's Dictionary to the Bible, s.v. "dragon."