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Ellen White and the Civil War

Do her writings on the Civil War prove her to be a prophet?

Edited by Brother Anderson

Some Seventh-day Adventists claim that Mrs. White's statements regarding the Civil War provide evidence that she was a prophet of God. For example, in the June 1999 issue of Hour of Prophecy Newspaper, Adventist author Nell Casey proposes that one of Mrs. White's statements on the Civil War is evidence of her divine inspiration:

"While most of her [Ellen White's] work was not about future events she did predict some things that give clear evidence of her divine gift:
'God is punishing the North, that they have so long suffered the accursed sin of slavery to exist; for in the sight of heaven it is a sin of the darkest dye. God is not with the South, and He will punish them dreadfully in the end.' Testimonies, Vol. 1, p. 359, 1863"1
Ellen White makes two claims in this quote:
  1. God is punishing the North for allowing slavery to exist.
  2. God is not with the South, and they will be punished.
First, the idea that God was punishing the North for allowing slavery to continue was widely acknowledged among Christians. In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself felt the North's military failures in the early years of the war were due to God's chastisement. Mrs. White's testimony was simply one of many Christian voices proclaiming the same warning throughout the North. This part of her testimony was not unique to her--it was simply a repetition of what many other Christians were already saying.

For example, the Lutheran Historical Society reports:

"Most preachers North and South alike argued that the war was God's punishment of the nation on account if its sins. The greatest national sin denounced by preachers in the North was slavery. Four aspects of the slavery issue received condemnation in Northern Lutheran sermons. First, Lutheran preachers condemned the practice of slavery itself. Early in 1861, Pastor Samuel Aughey told his congregation in Lionville, Pennsylvania, that slavery contradicted the principle of human equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and represented a satanic blight upon the nation. Second, Northern Lutheran preachers denounced federal laws that accommodated slavery and thereby made the entire nation, North as well as South, complicit in its sin. Third, Northern Lutherans denounced Confederate attempts to justify slavery on the basis of scripture. Finally, Northern Lutheran preachers denounced the long silence of their own and other churches over the issue of slavery, and confessed that by attempting to preserve a false peace they had probably contributed to the calamity of war."2
Second, Mrs. White said the South would "be punished." It would have been more impressive if Mrs. White had said outright that the South was going to lose the war. After all, by 1863 the tide of the war was beginning to turn against the South. Nevertheless, she remained cautious, merely saying the South would be "punished." Does this ambiguous statement give "clear evidence of her divine gift?" You decide.

Others who never claimed prophethood also predicted an armed conflict. Negro reformer David Walker wrote of a coming split in the Union as far back as 1829:

"In fact, they are so happy to keep in ignorance and degradation, and to receive the homage and the labour of the slaves, they forget that God rules in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, having his ears continually open to the cries, tears and groans of his oppressed people; and being a just and holy Being will at one day appear fully in behalf of the oppressed, and arrest the progress of the avaricious oppressors; for although the destruction of the oppressors God may not effect by the oppressed, yet the Lord our God will bring other destructions upon them--for not unfrequently will he cause them to rise up one against another, to be split and divided, and to oppress each other, and sometimes to open hostilities with sword in hand."3
Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. President, alluded to a coming judgment in a letter he wrote in 1781:
"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis-a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? that they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."4

According to the White Estate, Ellen White provided Adventists with unique information--information that was apparently unavailable to the general public:

"The visions at Parkville, Michigan, January 12, 1861; at Roosevelt, New York, August 3, 1861; and at Battle Creek, January 4, 1862, put Adventists in the unique position of knowing, first, of the coming war and its ferocity and long duration, and then, its philosophy, with the assurance that God had a controlling hand in the affairs of the nation. They had an inside view of victories and losses and the potential of its becoming an international conflict."5
This article will examine whether Mrs. White provided Adventists with any special insight on the Civil War, and whether her insights provide any evidence of her having a divine prophetic gift.

Section #1: Special Insight?

H.E. Carver was a Seventh-day Adventist minister in Iowa during the 1860's, and was associated with the Whites. When the Civil War broke out he, like many other Adventists, looked to Ellen White for counsel. Here is his testimony about the war:

"The whole church was anxiously and prayerfully desirous to know what was duty at that crisis, and it did seem that the time had come if it ever was to come for the divine inspiration of Mrs. White to be demonstrated. True, an attempt was made to gain some credit for her by publishing a vision of the battle of Bull Run after it was fought and the result known, but the attempt was so ludicrously absurd that it was, I believe, never repeated. She could describe the battle of Bull Run after it occurred, but she could not tell us beforehand of Sherman's triumphant march through rebeldom, of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox, or of our much beloved and lamented President's assassination. She could not even give us any instructions how to act in case of being drafted until it was too late to be of service.

"She did, however, claim to have visions during the war, one of the principal items of which related to the proper length of the sisters' dresses; and upon this subject, plain and simple as it may seem, her instructions to the sister have been contradictory; at one time directing them to wear dresses that would clear the filth of the streets an inch or two and another directing that they do not reach the ground by 8 or 9 inches."6

Seventh-day Adventist minister D.M. Canright was a young man during the Civil War. He was closely associated with the Whites during this time and the rest of this section is his account of the war:

"We hoped Mrs. White would have a revelation. And she did have several of them, covering thirty pages of printed matter in Volume 1 of Testimonies for the Church. At the time, we read these revelations with great anxiety, hoping for light ahead. We were disappointed. They simply told just what everybody already knew, reflecting the sentiments of those opposed to the Government and the war.

"It was a forced attempt to say something when she had nothing to tell. Read in the light of today, it is seen to be mere guesswork, mostly wrong. She says, "It was necessary that something be said" ("Testimonies," Vol. I., p. 356). It was all directed to us, a little handful of about ten thousand, half women, none of any influence in the Government or in the war. Bible prophets went directly to the king and told him how to conduct the war, and what the end would be. Our prophet had no such message. She says: "Jan. 4, 1862, I was shown some things in regard to our nation" (p. 253). It is all a bitter denunciation of Lincoln's administration and his management of the war. Every move had been wrong, and only defeat was prophesied. But the verdict of history is that Lincoln was one of the wisest and most successful men who ever led a nation through a crisis. The whole world honors him. With the most tremendous odds against him on the start, he conducted the war to a glorious victory, preserved the union, freed the slaves, and benefited even the South. During the dark hours of that awful struggle, how he needed the encouragement of a prophet of God, if there was one, as Mrs. White claimed to be. But her whole message was one of opposition, faultfinding, condemnation, and a prophecy of defeat and final failure - exactly that of the opponents of Lincoln and his management of the war. Listen to her:

'The rebellion was handled so carefully, so slowly, that many. . . joined the Southern Confederacy who would not, had prompt and thorough measures been carried out by our Government at an early period. . . How little has been gained! Thousands have been induced to enlist with the understanding that this war was to exterminate slavery; but now that they are fixed, they find that they have been deceived; that the object of this war is not to abolish slavery, but to preserve it as it is.'

'The war is not to do away with slavery, but merely to preserve the Union' (pp. 254, 258).

"This was only a few months after the war began. Like her, some unwise hotheads urged Lincoln to immediately declare slavery abolished. General Fremont had to be removed from his command because he began that very thing in the West. It was premature. The general sentiment of the nation was not ready for it. Lincoln only waited and watched for the proper time. Then it was a success. Now all see the wisdom of his course.

"Mrs. White goes on: 'They [the soldiers] inquire, 'If we succeed in quelling the rebellion, what has been gained?' They can only answer discouragingly, 'Nothing'' (p. 255). Fine language to encourage Mr. Lincoln, the soldiers and the North in the dark hour of their need!

"She continues: 'The system of slavery, which has ruined our nation, is left to live and stir up another rebellion' (same page). A plain, false prophecy. No such thing happened, as all now know.

"Again: 'The prospects before our nation are discouraging' (same page). Yes, as far as humans could see. But she claimed to have divine revelations of the future. Had her claim been true, she would have seen the victory at the end, disproving her words.

"Hear her again in the same gloomy tone: 'As this war was shown to me, it looked like the most singular and uncertain that has ever occurred. . . It seems impossible to have the war conducted successfully' (p. 256). Yes, to her it was uncertain, impossible to succeed. But was that all God knew about? All he could tell her? Remember, she is writing by God's inspiration; writing the words he tells her! Everything she writes, whether in a private letter or newspaper article, she says, is inspired. Thus: 'God was speaking through clay. . . In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper, expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision - the precious rays of light shining from the throne' (Testimonies, Vol. V., p. 67). There you have it, Simon-pure - every word she writes is a ray of light from the throne of God! So, to God it was an uncertain war, impossible to succeed! So the Lord must have been greatly surprised when it did really succeed!

"Mr. Lincoln, in his need, asked the prayers of all Christians, and appointed days of fasting and prayer. Of these Mrs. White said: 'I saw that these national fasts were an insult to Jehovah. . . A national fast is proclaimed! Oh, what an insult to Jehovah!' (Testimonies, Vol. I., p. 257). That was the way she sympathized with Mr. Lincoln and the nation in the hour of need.

"A day before the awful battle of Gettysburg, on which the destiny of the nation would turn, Mr. Lincoln spent the night in agonizing prayer to almighty God. So his biographer testifies. But neither Mrs. White nor any of her followers offered a single prayer for him or the nation. I was with her - and with them - and know. During the entire twenty-eight years I was an Adventist I never offered one prayer for the President, for Congress, for a Governor, or any one in authority. I never heard Mrs. White, Elder White, or any one of them, do it. I have often attended their large meetings since then, but never heard a prayer offered for any Government official. Yet one of the plainest commands of the gospel is that we should pray for kings, rulers and all in authority (1 Tim. 2:1, 2). Since Mrs. White died, Adventists have begun to pray for Government officials."7

Section #2: England will attack the U.S.?

In this section we examine Ellen White's statement about England joining the war against the Union:
"Said the angel: 'Hear, O heavens, the cry of the oppressed, and reward the oppressors double according to their deeds.' This nation will yet be humbled into the dust. England is studying whether it is best to take advantage of the present weak condition of our nation, and venture to make war upon her. She is weighing the matter, and trying to sound other nations. She fears, if she should commence war abroad, that she would be weak at home, and that other nations would take advantage of her weakness. Other nations are making quiet yet active preparations for war, and are hoping that England will make war with our nation, for then they would improve the opportunity to be revenged on her for the advantage she has taken of them in the past and the injustice done them. A portion of the queen's subjects are waiting a favorable opportunity to break their yoke; but if England thinks it will pay, she will not hesitate a moment to improve her opportunities to exercise her power and humble our nation. When England does declare war, all nations will have an interest of their own to serve, and there will be general war, general confusion. England is acquainted with the diversity of feeling among those who are seeking to quell the rebellion. She well knows the perplexed condition of our Government; she has looked with astonishment at the prosecution of this war--the slow, inefficient moves, the inactivity of our armies, and the ruinous expenses of our nation. The weakness of our Government is fully open before other nations, and they now conclude that it is because it was not a monarchial government, and they admire their own government, and look down, some with pity, others with contempt, upon our nation, which they have regarded as the most powerful upon the globe. Had our nation remained united it would have had strength, but divided it must fall."8

Ellen White said the objective of the war between the North and South was NOT really to exterminate slavery but to preserve the Union. She went on to say that England may have helped the North if the objective of the Civil War was to exterminate slavery. England was a monarchical government that did not have the institution of slavery. She said that the people of our nation were very proud because they were not tyrants like the English monarchial government. She said that this nation's institution of slavery was a thousand times worse than the tyranny of England's monarchical government She also said that the equal of this sin of slavery was not found in other heathen lands. I don't know what she considers heathen lands but slavery was widespread in other countries and times. I believe slavery should NOT exist, but I am aware that some of the Old Testament stories appear to accept it as a way of life. Is slavery really a sin? Here comes the punch line of her angelic revelation:

"Said the angel: 'Hear , O heavens, the cry of the oppressed, and reward the oppressors double according to their deeds."9
What does this angelic revelation mean? If you take it in context with everything she says, the Angel's statement is referring to the issue of slavery. The "oppressed" are the poor slaves who need to be freed from this tyrannical institution of slavery. The "oppressors" is our own divided nation that neglects the sin of slavery. Ellen White clearly stated that instead of fighting to free the slaves, they were fighting only to preserve the union. Immediately following the quote from the Angel, Ellen white states:
"This nation will yet be humbled into the dust."10
She admits that the North and the South were obviously divided.
"Had this nation remained United it would have had strength but divided it must fall."11
Fall by whose power? She previously talked quite a bit about how England could humble this nation if this nation's power became weak or divided! What does the angelic statement mean? Were the oppressors (this entire nation) rewarded double according to their evil deeds for the institution of slavery? According to Ellen White, it seemed the U.S. was going to be rewarded double for their evil deeds of allowing the institution of slavery to continue and England's attack would be the cure to this evil practice. Did England declare war on this nation to humble it into the dust? Did our divided nation fall under the humbling blows of England because it was weak or divided?

Ellen White was "shown" a revelation that England would have most likely assisted the North in the Civil War if the real objective of the war was to exterminate slavery instead of preserving the union. Now let us look at some actual true accounts of history and read what the historians say:

"'Of the American Civil War it may safely be asserted that there was a single cause, slavery,' wrote historian James Ford Rhodes in 1913."12
"In this sense the 'two civilizations' thesis comes closest to the mark. As a lawyer in Savannah, Georgia, expressed it in 1860, 'in this country have arisen two races , Northerners and Southerners which, although claiming a common parentage, have been so entirely separated by climate, by morals, by religion, and by estimates so totally opposite to all that constitutes honor, truth, and manliness, that they cannot longer exist under the same government.' What lay at the root of this separation? Slavery. It was the sole institution not shared by North and South. The peculiar institution defined the South. 'On the subject of slavery,' declared the Charleston Mercury in 1858, 'the North and South ... are not only two Peoples, but they are rival, hostile Peoples.' Two of the North's foremost political leaders echoed this point in the same year. Slavery and freedom, said Senator William H. Seward of New York, are 'more than incongruous they are incompatible.' The collision between them 'is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave holding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.' Abraham Lincoln, in a famous speech, declared that 'house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.'"13
Ellen White is strange in the sense that her revelation says England could possibly help the north in the Civil War but yet she turns around and says England could declare war on the U.S. in it's present weak and divided condition. The reason she gave for England's future attack on the U.S. was the "sinful" practice of slavery. Below may be the real reason for friction between the U.S. and England.
"One crisis associated with the blockade, however, almost ruptured relations between the United States and Britain: the Trent affair. On November 8, 1861, the USS San Jacinto stopped the British packet Trent on the high seas near Cuba and captured James Mason and John Slidell, Confederate diplomats on their way to London and Paris, respectively, to seek diplomatic recognition. The British government considered this a violation of international law and demanded an apology and the release of Mason and Slidell. Public opinion in the North and in England rose to fever pitch while Southerners watched with high hopes that a war would break out between Britain and the United States. But President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward cooled the crisis by releasing Mason and Slidell, and Britain dropped the demand for an apology."14

Ellen White simply believed what others believed in her time--that England could declare war on the U.S. She provided Adventists with no special insight on this subject that they could not have received from their daily newspaper.

Section #3: Knew when Civil War would start?

According to the SDA Adult Sabbath School Lesson, Mrs. White had divine insight into the outbreak of the civil war:

"For instance, on January 12, 1861, three months before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Mrs. White received a vision in the Parkville, Michigan, church in which she was shown battlefields covered with the dead and dying. As she related what she had seen, she told her listeners, 'There are men in this house who will lose sons in that war.'Pacific Union Recorder, March 7, 1912 (Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, vol. 1, p. 463). No less than five families in the room that day lost sons in the Civil War."15
There are several facts to consider here. The vision occurred on January 12, 1861. Three weeks prior to the vision, South Carolina had seceded from the Union, followed by Mississippi (Jan. 9), Florida (Jan. 10), and Alabama (Jan. 11). Thus, at the point of the vision on Jan. 12, four states had seceded and it would appear to any astute observor that Civil War was imminent.

Another fact to consider is the source of the information. It was reported by Elder Loughborough in 1912, a whole 51 years after the supposed event took place. Assuming Loughborough told the story correctly, one must still question whether it would take prophetic knowledge to figure out a war was about to commence and that someone sitting in a large congregation would end up dying. (There were 623,026 casualties in the bloody Civil War--more than all other wars in U.S. history combined.)16

Her predictions pale in comparison to fellow prophet Joseph Smith. Smith made the following prophecies about the civil war in 1832--a full 30 years prior to Mrs. White's prediction:

Revelation and Prophecy on War, December 25, 183217

1. Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
. . . .
3. For behold, the Southern Sates shall be divided against the Northern States, and the nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations against other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.

Like Adventists, Mormons often point to these predictions as "proof" that their prophet was divinely inspired.

Conclusion: Does the Civil War provide clear evidence of her divine gift?

On the contrary, Mrs. White's testimonies reveal she did not know any more than the average person. In fact, she even prophesied that slavery would be revived again in the South:

"Slavery will again be revived in the Southern States; for the spirit of slavery still lives. Therefore it will not do for those who labor among the colored people to preach the truth as boldly and openly as they would be free to do in other places. Even Christ clothed His lessons in figures and parables to avoid the opposition of the Pharisees."18
A true prophecy or false prophecy? You decide.

For further research: God Against Slavery (1857), by Rev. George B. Cheever, D.D.


1. Nell Casey, Hour of Prophecy Newspaper, Vol. 30, #6, p. 8.

2. Paul A. Baglyos, Lutheran Historical Society of the Mid-Atlantic Newsletter, Winter 1999.

3. David Walker, 1829.

4. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia.

5. Arthur White, Ellen G. White Volume 2 The Progressive Years, 1862-1876, p. 46.

6. H.E. Carver, Mrs. E. G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined, H.E. Carver, 1877.

7. D.M. Canright, Life of Mrs. E.G. White - Her False Claims Refuted, chapter 15.

8. Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 1, p. 259.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., p. 260.

12. The Reader's Companion to American History (copyright 1991).

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Gerhard Pfandl, 2009 SDA Sabbath Adult School Quarterly, "Prophetic Gift", Quarter 1, lesson #7.

16. U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

17. Joseph Smith, Doctrines and Covenants, p. 144.

18. Ellen White, Spalding, Magan Collection, page 21 and 2 MR #153, page 300.

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