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Guide to The Records of the American and Foreign Christian Union 1851-1884
 MC 20

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New York University Archives

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This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on January 17, 2013
Description is in English.

History of the American and Foreign Christian Union

The American and Foreign Christian Union (AFCU) was founded in New York City in May 1849 with the objective of promoting American evangelical culture, both within the United States and abroad, by converting Roman Catholics to Protestantism
. Several members of the faculty and administration of New York University were affiliated with the AFCU, including professors Henry Martyn Baird, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Henry P. Tappan. University presidents Theodore Frelinghuysen, Isaac Ferris, and Howard Crosby also served as members of the governing board.

Union members considered the conversion of Catholics to be an essential step toward their larger goal of converting the world to the American Protestant and democratic way of life. Individual Christians
of various denominational affiliations, including those of the Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist,
Lutheran
, Dutch Reformed
, and the Methodist Episcopal
churches, composed the constituency of the Union. Most AFCU officers were leading clergymen who were also active in other interdenominational benevolent societies. As an interdenominational organization, the AFCU relied upon voluntary contributions from members of the various sympathetic evangelical Protestant denominations and received its strongest support, throughout the 35 years of its active missionary work, from those of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches.

The AFCU was founded through the union of three complementary societies, all of whom were founded during the early 1840s, a period of particularly heavy Irish Catholic immigration to the United States. The American Protestant Society (1844-1849) directed its efforts toward the conversion of American, though foreign-born, Catholics. The Christian Alliance (1842-1849) was founded to work for the conversion of Italian Catholics, both in Italy and elsewhere. The Foreign Evangelical Society (1839-1849) promoted Protestantism abroad by providing financial assistance to evangelical groups and individuals in Catholic and non-Catholic countries.

Both the American Protestant Society and the Christian Alliance directly employed missionaries, colporteurs, Bible-readers, and teachers who were required to submit monthly reports. The Foreign Evangelical Society preferred to work indirectly by raising funds and forwarding them to evangelical and kindred societies native to the country in which the Society was interested. These included groups such as the French Canadian Missionary Society, the Societe Evangelique de France, the Societe Evangelique de Belge, the Comite Protestant de Lyon, among many others. In countries such as Poland, Sweden, and Germany, where there were no similar organizations, the Society initiated its own missions and assisted individuals in South America, Haiti, Mexico, and Texas.

The directors of the three societies recognized their similar objectives and the value of making just one appeal to the Christian public. The three societies were united as the American and Foreign Christian Union in 1849. The initial officers of the AFCU included the President, Vice-Presidents (who numbered over 50), a 40-member Board of Directors, a nine-member Executive Committee, two Corresponding Secretaries, Recording Secretary, Treasurer, and General Agent. However, during the next 35 years, most of these offices varied slightly in number, title, and form.

The new society inherited the interests, responsibilities, and methods of each organization. Therefore, the Union employed domestic agents directly and granted regular appropriations to foreign evangelical societies. In foreign countries where Protestant or evangelical organizations did not exist, the Union sponsored individual missions. However, this was almost always done in cooperation with another similar American agency, such as the American Seaman's Friend Society. The Union also worked with the American Bible Society and the American Tract Society. In 1850 the Union began to publish a monthly journal, the American and Foreign Christian Union, later titled:  The Christian World.

During its first decade, the Union increased many of the operations of its antecedent societies. By 1860, the domestic operations of the Union had grown to include 73 employees in 23 American states whose efforts were supervised by seven District Secretaries. Abroad, the AFCU granted subsidies designed to pay part of the support of 212 foreign employees and raised the funds to build the American Chapel in Paris to both serve Americans abroad and as a base for evangelical work in France. The minister of the Chapel was selected by the Union.

In 1861 the AFCU was incorporated. By this time two major Protestant churches (Presbyterian and Methodist Episcopal) had begun independent missions to convert American Catholics to their respective denominations. This action represented a substantial loss of financial support for the domestic activities of the AFCU. Perhaps in response to these actions, the Union reorganized its efforts to extend them further abroad. Domestic employees were reduced in number to 25, and several small foreign mission stations were closed including those in Sweden, Haiti, Ireland, and Brazil. Support to the French Canadian Missionary Society was also discontinued.

The funds withdrawn from these enterprises were applied to the evangelization of Italy. This operation soon became the largest of AFCU enterprises. By 1864 the Union was supporting over 50 employees, the American Chapel in Florence, and a female seminary. By 1866 the Union had established a Theological Seminary in Milan. These efforts led to the founding of the Free Italian Church of Italy in 1871. The Evangelical Committee of the Free Italian Church then assumed responsibility for AFCU operations in that country and relieved the Union from further direct participation in the evangelization of Italy.

By 1873 several denominational missionary societies had opened foreign mission stations to convert Roman Catholics to their respective denominations. Donations to the Union were drastically reduced in favor of the denominational enterprises. In response the AFCU withdrew from the foreign field, appropriated its foreign operations to various denominational missionary agencies, and re-entered the domestic field. The Union supported seven to ten missionaries in western cities of the United States until 1884.

In 1877 the AFCU again began actively to promote and support evangelization efforts in France. The effort was largely unsuccessful until 1881 when the Union agreed to sponsor a group of French evangelicals on a fundraising tour of the United States, conducted under the auspices of the Commission for the American Fund for the Evangelization of France. The success of this enterprise led the Union to reorganize yet again in April of 1884. All domestic missions were closed to allow the Union to assume the evangelization of France as its sole and principal object. The Board of Directors was reduced from 40 members to 16, and George B. Safford was hired to act as corresponding secretary and assistant treasurer and to promote the cause among Protestant churches' ecclesiastical bodies. Public interest and support of the cause was not, however, sustained, and the Union was forced to discontinue its active missionary work in November 1884.

The AFCU remained incorporated, and for the next 27 years, L. T. Chamberlain voluntarily acted as secretary and treasurer to forward funds to Paris from friends of the American Chapel. In 1914 the Union became affiliated with the American Church in Berlin when it assumed responsibility for an endowment fund for the parish house. Headquartered in New York City, the organization today continues to assist the American Church in Paris by managing its endowment, raising funds, and supporting the pastor.

Sources:

  1. (Reports, pamphlets, Serials, and Addresses): American and Foreign Christian Union.
  2. An Address to the Christian public from the Board of Directors of the American and Foreign Christian Union. New York, 1849.
  3. The American and Foreign Christian Union
  4. Annual Reports of the American and Foreign Christian Union. Nos. 1-35 (1850-1884).
  5. Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Minutes, Reports and Selected Correspondence of the American and Foreign Christian Union, 1849-1971 (Record Group 118).
  6. Questions Answered in Regard to the American and Foreign Christian Union. New York, n.d.
  7. The Record. Vol. 3-32 (1871-1892). David Trumbull, ed., Valparaiso, Chile.
  8. American Protestant Magazine. Vol. 1-5 (1845-1849).
  9. Annual Reports of the American Protestant Society, No. 1, 3-6 (1844, 1846-1849).
  10. Constitution and Address of the Christian Alliance. New York, 1843.
  11. Annual Reports of the Foreign Evangelical Society. Nos. 1-4, 6-7, 10 (1840-1943, 1845-1846, 1849).
  12. Proceedings at the First Annual Meeting of the Foreign Evangelical Society. New York, 1840.
  13. Baird, Henry Martyn. The Life of the Rev. Robert Baird, D. D. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph, 1866.
  14. Cochran, Joseph Wilson. Friendly Adventurers. Paris: Brentano's, 1931.
  15. Daniels, Margarette. Makers of South America. New York: Missionary Education Movement of the United States and Canada, 1916
  16. Dixon, Ruth. A Church on the Seine. New York: American and Foreign Christian Union, 1981.
  17. Miller, Charles J. "British and American Influences on the Religious Revival in French Europe, 1816-1848." Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1947
  18. Rakow, Mary Martina. "Melinda Rankin and Magdalen Hayden: Evangelical and Catholic Forms of Nineteenth Century Christian Spirituality." Ph.D. dissertation, Boston College, 1982.
  19. Rankin, Melinda. Texas in 1850. Boston: Damrell and Moore, 1850.
  20. Rankin, Melinda. Twenty Years Among the Mexicans. Cincinnati: Central Book Concern, 1881.
  21. Smylie, John Edwin. "Protestant Clergymen and America's World Role, 1865-1900: A Study of Christianity, Nationality, and International Relations." Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1959.
  22. Swanson, Michael Richard H. "Robert Baird and the Evangelical Crusade in America, 1820-1860." Ph.D. dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 1971.