Born in 1841, William E. Blackstone was an American Christian Zionist who saw the mass persecution of Russian Jewry and decided to dedicate himself to the restoration of a Jewish polity in Palestine. Though Blackstone’s historical legacy rests on his efforts to restore the Jews to the Land of Israel, he started out as a businessman in Chicago, Illinois, where he was an active member of the American Evangelical community.
In 1878 William Blackstone wrote the bestseller “Jesus is Coming”, and thereby established himself as an authority on Biblical prophecy in the United States and around the world. The book sold millions of copies over the following 50 years, with translations into 48 languages. In 1889 Blackstone visited Palestine and in anguish followed the terrible news coming out of Tsarist Russia, where the persecution of that country’s 2 million Jews was worsening. William Blackstone knew he had to act. His determination came not only from his prophetic beliefs, but also from his strong humanitarianism.
A PETITION FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS
In late 1890 Blackstone hosted a large conference in Chicago “On the Past, Present, and Future of Israel”. The conference was attended by hundreds of delegates, and including a large presence of American rabbis. The conference produced the famous “Blackstone Petition”, submitted to US President Benjamin Harrison in March, 1891. The petition carried the signatures of more than 400 of the US’s most prominent citizens: industrialists, politicians, clergymen, judges, press magnates… Its aim was to persuade President Harrison to use his influence with European nations, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia to facilitate the release of Russian Jews so that they might settle again in the Land of Israel.
“Why shall not the powers which, under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia (Serbia) to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews?”, William Blackstone asked. “These provinces, as well as Roumania, Montenegro and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Palestine as rightfully belong to the Jews?”
The “Blackstone Memorial” was an important development in international relations, and was widely discussed by the press not only throughout the US, but across both Christian and Jewish Europe, as well. The Memorial thereby helped direct eyes “Zionward”. A generation later, the future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who dubbed Blackstone the “Father of Zionism” as his efforts had preceded those of Theodor Herzl, even requested a Second Memorial from Blackstone, and this was privately presented to President Woodrow Wilson in 1917, serving as a major influence on President Wilson’s and America’s support for the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
The Blackstone Petition stands as the greatest political act of Christian Zionism in 19th-century America, one that was outright portentous for the thriving reality that is Israel today.
The Friends of Zion Museum honors William E. Blackstone, a man whose fight for the Jewish people was righteous and just. Blackstone was an American patriot who well discerned the potential that Jews held once they returned to their homeland.