Address to the British Ambassador, (5 March 1856) Istanbul, Ottoman Empire

Context

Like many Protestant missionaries, William Gottlieb Schauffler sought to spread the Christian faith in lands controlled by the Ottoman Empire. He like many others were sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Although most American missionaries went to other parts of Asia, U.S. Protestants established permanent stations in the Levant (1823), Turkey (1831), Egypt (1854), as well as in Qajar Iran (1835) during the first part of the nineteenth century. While they did not often see large numbers of converts among native inhabitants, these Americans translated the Bible into different languages, started schools, and founded colleges such as the American University of Beirut.1 These institutions were typically open to families of all faiths and known for high quality education. Christian missionaries often played an instrumental role in the creation of public goods such as newspapers and hospitals, which meant that they regularly interacted with Ottoman authorities and legal systems.2

These acts took place in an era of growing cultural and commercial exchanges between the Ottoman Empire and the United States. In 1803, the American consul in modern-day Izmir complained to Secretary of State James Madison that “The American government is the only one not represented at Constantinople.”3 The United States and the Ottoman Empire finally established formal relations in 1831. Alongside missionaries and pilgrims, U.S. merchants and mariners also made their way to the Middle East. Americans, for example, helped rebuild and retrain the Ottoman Navy after its defeat at Navarino.4 During the second half of the nineteenth century, small groups of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire also began reaching the shores of the United States in search of economic opportunity.5

Schauffler epitomized this transnational flow of people and ideas in the nineteenth century. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, his family moved to Russia when he was a child before he ended up in Turkey working as an independent missionary. He then made his way to the United States, where he graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts in 1830 and was commissioned by the ABCFM to return to Turkey. Along the way he married Mary Reynolds of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and spent several years in Vienna conducting Bible translation work.6 According to Jewish historian Leon Nemoy, Schauffler “possessed a remarkable knowledge of at least a dozen Eastern languages, in addition to free command of most languages of Europe.”7 During his time in Istanbul, Schauffler was recognized by the Prussian monarch for help he rendered to the German colony there. Schauffler’s missionary efforts brought him into contact with the representatives of other governments as well, including the British ambassador Sir Stratford Canning. Schauffler helped persuade Canning to entreat with the Ottoman government on behalf of Armenian converts to Protestantism to ensure their protection.8

This speech, delivered on March 5, 1856, was addressed to Canning to thank him for his role in the passage of the Sultan’s imperial edict of 1856—the “hatti-sherif.” Issued in the wake of the Crimean War, in which Britain and France intervened on the side of the Ottomans against Russia, this edict promised equal rights for all Muslims, Christians, and “other non-Muslims” residing in Ottoman territory.9 As Heather J. Sharkey writes, many American missionaries interpreted the decree “to indicate support for freedom in both the pursuit and choice of religion.”10 In practice, the extent and nature of the edict was far from clear.11 Nevertheless, Schauffler’s address gave voice to the future hopes missionaries held for a Protestant, peaceful, and prosperous Turkey. Referencing Micah 4:4, he offered a vision of peace that he dreamed the new edict may bring about: “The light will shine upon those who have long sat in the darkness; and, blest by social prosperity and religious freedom, the millions of Turkey will, we trust, be seen ere long sitting peacefully under their own vine and fig-tree.”12

Endnotes

  1. Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 256-257; Wallace N. Jamison, The United Presbyterian Story: A Centennial Study, 1858-1958 (Pittsburgh, PA:  Geneva Press, 1958), 198.
  2. Hami Inan Gümüs, American Missionaries in the Ottoman Empire: A Conceptual Metaphor Analysis of Missionary Narrative, 1820-1898 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 35-37; Emrah Şahin, Faithful Encounters: Authorities and American Missionaries in the Ottoman Empire (London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018), 3-7.
  3. Carl A. Trocki, Opium, Empire and the Global Political Economy: A Study of the Asian Opium Trade 1750-1950 (New York: Routledge, 1999), 76. To James Madison from William Stewart, 25 April 1803, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-91-02-0682.
  4. George Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 168.
  5. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Not Quite American? The Shaping of Arab and Muslim Identity in the United States (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004), 3; Darcey A. Zabel, “The Arab Diaspora in the Americas: Latin America, the United States, and Canada,” in ed. Darcy A. Zabel, Arabs in the Americas: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Arab Diaspora (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 6.
  6. William G. Schauffler, William G. Schauffler: For Forty-Nine Years a Missionary in the Orient, Edited By His Sons (New York: Anson D.F. Randolph, 1887), 78, 236-237.
  7. Leon Nemoy, “William Gottlieb Schauffler,” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 35 (1939): 305.
  8. Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, vol. 5, ed. James Grant Wilson and John Fiske (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1898), 417.
  9. J. C. Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East: A Documentary Record, 1535-1914 (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1956), 149-153.
  10. Heather J. Sharkey, “Introduction: American Missionaries and the Middle East: A History Enmeshed,” in American Missionaries and the Middle East: Foundational Encounters, ed. Mehmet Ali Doğan and Heather J. Sharkey (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2011), xviii.
  11. Bruce Masters, Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Arab World: The Roots of Sectarianism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 137-139; Heather J. Sharkey, American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 55-63.
  12. William Gottlieb Schauffler, “Address to the British Ambassador,” para. 3.