239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

May 28, 1912
New York, NY
Storify Feature

“The Smell of Blood Upon Us”

ANDREW CARNEGIE had spent a fortune on it. In 1910 he had doled out ten million dollars – that’s more than $230 million in today’s money – to set it up. We know it as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Its board of directors included Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler, who had spoken before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration on May 14, as well as Albert Smiley, who hosted the conference at his hotel atop the Shawangunk Ridge in New Paltz.

Carnegie also recognized the centrality of religion to the success of the peace movement. Despite being lukewarm on organized religion himself, in 1914 he would spend another half a million dollars to endow the Carnegie Church Peace Union. Its thirty-person board of trustees was filled with Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders. He hoped it would mobilize the world’s churches and other religious and spiritual organizations to take moral leadership in the cause of international peace.

The peace movement in America had been intertwined with religion from its start. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the International Peace Forum at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church on May 12, 1912, he was looking out over a crowd of Christian, and Jewish faithful. It was the same at his talk to the New York Peace Society on the following day – an institution bankrolled by Carnegie. On both occasions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá alluded to Biblical prophecies regarding the inevitability of what he called the “Most Great Peace.”

Today, on the afternoon of May 28, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was about to address the International Peace Forum for a second time — this time at the Metropolitan Temple at Seventh Avenue and 14th Street, where he had spoken to the suffrage meeting just eight days earlier.

Reverend J. Wesley Hill, president of the International Peace Forum and former pastor of the Metropolitan Temple, welcomed everyone. “This is a great occasion,” he began. “It is graced and honored by distinguished guests, representatives of the great International Peace Movement, who have acquired fame at home and abroad.”


There were over 1,000 of them in attendance that day, including two speakers who would share the program with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Reverend Lynch now led the Metropolitan Temple and would go on to become secretary of the Carnegie Church Peace Union. Rabbi Joseph Silverman ran America’s leading Reform Judaism congregation at Temple Emanu-El at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street on the Upper East Side, and was a major voice in the American peace movement. Both men had listened to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Lake Mohonk.

After the preamble, Reverend Lynch was the first to speak: “I do not intend to discuss any phases of the Peace question,” he said. “I don’t want to stand here and take your time when I know you want to listen to one who comes from the East.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, it seemed, was already a much anticipated voice on the New York peace circuit.


“I have been exceedingly interested in the visit of Abdul-Baha to this country,” Reverend Lynch continued. “It may interest you to know where I first saw him. It was at Charles Grant Kennedy’s play, the ‘Terrible Meek.’” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had attended the play, which depicts the Crucifixion, on the afternoon of April 19, just before he met with Kate Carew and went to the Bowery Mission.

The play, Lynch said, was meant “to show us that we are not to go about in this world with the smell of blood upon us, but we are in this world to carry blessing to mankind.”

“The last century,” Lynch concluded, “was the century of nationalism in religion, but this twentieth century is the century of universality in religion. All our great religions are beginning to spread throughout the world, and we are beginning to find that which is good in them all.”

“Now I welcome this great man today because he stands for all these things.”

Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rose to speak.


In tomorrow’s feature: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaks at the Metropolitan Temple, and argues that the binding power of true religion must lie at the heart of humankind’s hopes for peace.


  • William Maxwell

     Again, the magnetic power of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to attract the attention and then the admiration of the intellectual leaders of mankind is shown in this brief piece.  What happened to dissipate that power? That vision?  Where did those leaders go with the inspiration provided to them by this “Man from the East”?

    • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

      Hi William,

      Thank you very much for your enthusiastic comments about our project over the last few days.

      I know it’s tempting to want to pose the kinds of questions you have in your comment here, but I also think it’s important to be more precise when we try to judge things like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s influence on the people who heard him speak. To characterize these men and women as the “intellectual leaders of mankind” seems to me to be an extremely broad way to describe them.

      There was actually a great variety of responses to the things ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, and we have tried to present them in as balanced a way as we can, given the sources we have. The public marketplace of ideas in 1912, just like today, was a very complex thing. And although ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s voice was unique, compelling, and certainly ahead of its time, it was only one voice among many. In my opinion, we really have no way to know what the impact of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words were on most of his hearers, nor to assess to what extent they may actually have been able to change the future had they responded differently.

      It seems to me that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was himself quite conscious of the complexity of the situation he was in. Just two days earlier — our Day 46 — he had related Jesus’s Parable of the Sower to the people gathered to hear him speak at Mount Morris Baptist Church in Harlem. And he stated quite clearly that some people would let his words penetrate their thinking, like the seeds sown on fertile ground, and some wouldn’t.

      That complexity, I think, makes it hard to call to account the people who heard him speak, and to impose on them our expectations of how they “should” have admired ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, been inspired by him, or responded differently to what he said.

    • Dean Hedges

      Mr Maxwell …

      …at your pleasure please consider this all a grand adventure …

      … the Fisher King …


  • Patrick

    Abdul Baha is the man!

    • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

      Haha! Yes, indeed. 🙂

  • Gordonjameskerr

     “The last century, was the century of nationalism in religion, but this twentieth century
    is the century of universality in religion. All our great religions are
    beginning to spread throughout the world, and we are beginning to find
    that which is good in them all.”

  • Bahaiwoman99

    This article proves to me again how patient we must be.  Little by little Mankind continues to work toward these same goals of Universl Peace.  It is not something that happens in a generation, but in multiple generations, heart by heart.  It may not happen in our lifetimes, but by our actions we can continue the steady path toward Peace and eventually the World will be changed and find this end goal..

    • Rob Sockett

      Yes! When you look at the “long arc of history” you realize that the momentous changes in human development have unfolded over centuries. The development of democracy in Britain/America, and how it evolved along with things like personal property, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, etc., is a good case in point. It makes you realize how complicated these things are. Patience, as you say, is key.   

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