Jones Vs. Jones

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When the Protestant ministers of Toledo, Ohio, voted almost unanimously to invite the fiery and widely renowned southern evangelist, Samuel Porter Jones, to lead a month-long crusade in the spring of 1899, it was apparent to everyone that the salvation of souls was not their only aim. However loudly they might proclaim a great campaign to regenerate the city’s !lagging spiritual life, they seemed somehow more concerned with the outcome of the mayoralty election that was to be held while Sam Jones was in town. Inspired by his loud, folksy humor and fundamentalist faith, they hoped to drive out of office a mayor who frankly and stubbornly refused to enforce the existing laws against gambling, slot machines, drinking, prostitution, and —perhaps worst of all—Sabbathbreaking. By a strange coincidence, the offending mayor’s name also happened to be Sam Jones.

Mayor Samuel Milton Jones, nicknamed “Golden Rule” Jones, had not earned his sobriquet in jest, for in his own way he had sincerely tried to put the social gospel of Jesus into practice. Unfortunately, his views on Christianity were a little novel for his time. That the Mayor professed to believe in and run the city government on the basis of the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”- struck the ministers as sacrilegious hypocrisy, if not Red revolution. “Ministers almost to a man feel betrayed and outraged,” said one of their principal spokesmen. “They feel that the one great thing to be settled first is: Shall Toledo obey the law?”

The contest that resulted was one of the most ironic and yet significant episodes in the long and colorful history of revivalism and social reform in America. For while the two Sam Joneses were outspoken advocates of Christianity as a philosophy of life, they were absolutely at odds in their solutions to the burning social issues of the day. But more important, their struggle dramatized the irreconcilable conflict within the incipient Progressive movement between the evangelicals, who felt that reform must begin with the individual, and the social gospelers, who believed that it must begin with society. In a sense, the choice which faced the citizens of Toledo epitomized the one which faced the whole nation at the turn of the century.

Mayor Sam M. Jones was born in Ty Mawr, Wales, in 1846; he was a year older than the evangelist Sam P. Jones, who was born in Alabama and raised in the hill country of northern Georgia. Both men came from devout Methodist homes; the evangelist remembered how his grandmother had “read the Bible through thirty-seven times, on her knees.” Migrating to America in 1849, tne Mayor’s family had settled on a tenant farm in upper New York State; at fourteen, he left home to seek his fortune in the newly opened oil fields of Pennsylvania and Ohio. The evangelist, however, was brought up in somewhat better circumstances. His father was a successful lawyer and businessman, who served as a captain in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Like him, the preacher-to-be set out to become a lawyer. But his promising career was soon blighted by an unquenchable addiction to the bottle.

Thanks to his mother’s prayers and a rigorously Calvinistic upbringing, Mayor Jones was a lifelong teetotaler. He worked hard in the oil fields, and gradually saved enough money to invest in a successful oil company in Lima, Ohio. Eventually, this concern was bought out by John D. Rockefeller’s burgeoning Standard Oil Company; with his proceeds Jones opened a small factory in Toledo. Here he manufactured a mechanical contrivance called a sucker rod, used in drilling for oil, which he had invented and patented himself. It was a good invention, and as the demand for it grew, so did Jones’s financial status: the familiar American saga of rags to riches had been repeated once more.

Meanwhile Sam P. Jones was saved from alcoholism by a promise he made to his dying father in the year 1872. Once delivered from sin and drink, the reformed lawyer decided to enter the ministry. Starting his new career with “a wife and one child, a bobtail pony and eight dollars in cash,” he traveled as a Methodist circuit rider in some of the poorest counties of northern Georgia for the next eight years. While the future mayor of Toledo converted sucker rods into cash, the future revivalist converted rednecks into God-fearing churchgoers. Both men were too able, forceful, and energetic to remain long in obscurity, though it was hardly inevitable that their paths should have crossed in such dramatic fashion when they were at the height of their respective careers. Or was it?