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Monday, July 26, 2010

Paul Johnson Disrupts the Work


Russell gave me definite instructions before leaving on his last preaching tour. He suggested certain changes in the office force: some were to be assigned to different work. I at once made these changes. However, after Russell's death I was criticized for doing so.

Another instruction Russell gave me before leaving was to arrange to send one of our traveling representatives, P. S. L. Johnson, to England. He should try to preach the good news to the troops wherever possible. Talking to the soldiers about the Kingdom of God would comfort them as they prepared for action.

The executive committee, of which Rutherford was chairman, arranged to send Johnson to England according to Russell's wish as expressed to me. In addition to preaching to the troops, he was to make a tour of England and visit the congregations scattered all over that land, and comfort them in their war-time anxiety, encouraging them to continue steadfast in the work of preaching the Kingdom of God as the hope of mankind. In general he was to learn all he could about the progress of the work in England. He was to make a full report on conditions there and offer suggestions as to how things might be improved. This report was to be made to the Society, but Johnson was not to make any changes in the personnel at the British headquarters. If anything of that kind seemed necessary, the Society would consider it on the basis of his report.

When Johnson arrived in England in November, 1916, he was given a warm and hearty welcome by the friends. They were having many problems to solve after the death of Russell, and were glad to have a representative from headquarters with them. Johnson was welcomed everywhere he went. He could tell them many things about Russell's death, and the progress the work was making in America.

The attention heaped upon him began to warp his judgment and finally his reason, until he came to the ridiculous conclusion that he was the "steward" of Jesus' parable of the penny. He later thought he was the world's high priest. His conduct in England caused much confusion and deep concern about the work there. He tried to seize control of the Society's bank account in London and summarily dismissed some of the London headquarters' staff with no authority to do so. Rutherford, who in the meantime was elected president of the Society, saw that he must act promptly to save the work in England from disruption.

He cabled Johnson, canceling his appointment and recalling him to the United States. After many cables were sent by Johnson trying to show that he was much needed in England and that he should be given control of the British field, he finally heeded Rutherford's recall. After his return to America he tried to persuade Rutherford to return him to England to complete his work there, but, was unsuccessful. His failure to get back to England led him to think that Rutherford was not the right man to be president of the Society. He, Johnson, was the man with the ability necessary to be president.

The next step was to influence the board of directors to compel Rutherford to send him back to England. Seemingly he had little trouble gaining the support of four of them. He persuaded them to oppose the president in an effort to run the Society in their own way. They concluded that they were going to take a hand in the Johnson matter and show their authority. "It isn't good for Rutherford to control the management of the Society's affairs. We'll inform him that he can be the president; that is, he'll just be a figurehead. He will go out on the road under our direction to lecture but, as a board of directors, we will manage the Society, direct its policies and look after all its affairs. Van Amburgh will be our secretary-treasurer and we will have the whole thing in our own hands." This was in the spring of 1917. Rutherford knew that Johnson was counseling them in this matter, still he was extremely patient throughout the entire ordeal. In view of what Johnson had done to show his lack of real concern for the Society's welfare, Rutherford had every reason to dismiss him from the Bethel home. But he didn't. Neither did he take action to interfere with the rebellious plot being hatched to oppose him in his office as president. He did everything that he could to help his opposers see their mistake, holding a number of meetings with them, trying to reason with them and show them how contrary their course was to the Society's charter and to the entire program Russell had followed since the organization was formed. He even came to several of us and asked, "Shall I resign as president and let those opposing ones take charges" We all replied, "Brother, the Lord put you where you are, and to resign or quit would be disloyalty to the Lord." Furthermore, the office force threatened they would quit if these men got control.

Matters began to come to a head when, at an extended session of the 1917 annual meeting, these four directors endeavored to present a resolution to amend the by-laws of the Society to place administrative powers in the hands of the Board of Directors. This was not only contrary to the organizational arrangement practiced by Russell for the entire thirty-two years of his administration, but it was contrary to the expressed wish of the shareholders. Rutherford was forced to rule the motion out of order, and from then on the opposition grew stiffer and more determined.

Additional Reading:


Faced with the certainty that these men would try to tie up the funds of the Society by court action (as Johnson had attempted in London), Rutherford decided he would have to act. The time for strategic action in the interest of all concerned had come.

He was preparing to go on a preaching trip to the West and was much concerned about what his opposers might do while he was gone. He said to me: "Brother, these men may try to start something while I'm away, but don't be fearful or worried about what they might try to do."

"If they try to take hold of things while you are gone what shall I do?" I asked.

"If they get too obstreperous and indicate they want to start action against the Society, call a policeman."

"What! A policeman?"

"Yes, if it becomes necessary, don't hesitate."

But I did not understand the operation of his legal mind. Well, sure enough, one day while Rutherford was away, I was in the office down on Hicks Street with our office manager, Robert J. Martin. These four dignitaries who thought they were directors marched down to Van Amburgh's desk in the rear of the office and said, "Brother Van Amburgh, we order you upstairs to the chapel." That was on the second floor right over the mice. "We want you up there to transact some business."

Van Amburgh knew what was coming and said, "Don't bother me, friends. Go about your business; I have my work to do."

"We want you up there. We need to have a quorum." where were four of them, which was a majority of the board. There were seven on the board, and to transact legal business a quorum of five was necessary. I was watching what was going on. The other workers were all looking on nervously and worrying about what was going to take place.

The four went upstairs and sat down and began talking about what they would do. I was worried too. I knew that if they could obtain a quorum to transact business they could railroad new bylaws through that would change the complete structure of the organization. I waited a little while and said, "Brother Martin, let's go up and see what those brothers are doing." When we got up there they ordered me out.

"We've had enough of you. You've been trying to run this place because Pastor Russell left you in charge of the work, but now we are in charge! You get out of here."

At that time I was vice-president of our New York corporation. Therefore in the absence of President Rutherford, I had control and responsibility for the property owned by the Society. I did not remind them of this point but told Martin to call a policeman.

He found an old Irishman, a typical old fellow, who came in twirling a long night stick around in his hand. He said, 'Well, gentlemen, what's the trouble here?"

I said, "Officer, these men have no business here. Their place is up at 124 Columbia Heights, and they are disturbing our work here. They refused to leave when we ordered them to. Now we just thought we would call upon the law."

They jumped up and began to argue. The policeman twirled his stick around and said:

"Gentlemen, it's after being serious for you now. Faith, and I know these two, Macmillan and Martin, but you fellows I don't know. Now you better be after going, for fear there'll be trouble."

They grabbed their hats and went down the steps two at a time, and hurried up to Borough Hall to get in touch with a lawyer. They were fighting mad. Rutherford told me afterward that is the very reason he had told me to bring the policeman in, to draw their fire. They had been sneaking around in an underhanded way trying to disturb the congregations and interfere with the work. He knew that, and calling the policeman brought the issue to a head. Now the matter must be settled in some way in order to restore unity to the organization.

Although thoroughly familiar with the legal organization of the Society, he took the matter to a prominent corporation lawyer in Philadelphia to determine the status of the board of directors. Through a written opinion he received, he discovered that these four men were not legally members of the board at all! Russell had elected them as directors for life but the law stipulated that directors must be elected by the vote of the shareholders each year. However, Rutherford, Pierson and Van Amburgh were directors because they had been elected to the office of president, vice-president and secretary-treasurer. The fact that they were elected as officials made them members of the board. Since the four opposers were not legally elected they had no legal authority to act for the Society; and since the attitude they had displayed showed they were not qualified, it was a simple procedure for Rutherford to appoint other directors for the existing vacancies until the next legal election.

The climax came in July of 1917 only six months after Rutherford had been elected president. He had arranged to produce the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures. Russell had written the first six. The seventh, called The Finished Mystery, was really a compilation of material from notes and writings of Russell and was issued as a posthumous work of Russell's. Since, according to the bylaws, the president of the Society was also manager of the Society's affairs, Rutherford had not consulted the board of directors and the four who thought they were members raised vehement objections. As a result, their opposition to the policy and work of the Society became so bitter that it was impossible to maintain unity at headquarters as long as they remained. They were asked to leave the Bethel home or get in line with the work. They chose to leave.

However, it was not Rutherford's wish to ignore them altogether. He gave them every opportunity to manifest a spirit of cooperation and even offered them the position of traveling representatives of the Society, but they refused. Finally, they completely withdrew themselves from association with the Society and started an organization of their own.

- Faith on the March, A. H. Macmillan, Prentice-Hall (1957)


Regular readers of The Watchtower will recall that just a few weeks ago, in the August 15 issue, they read an account entitled “Doing God’s Will Has Been My Delight,” as told by A. H. Macmillan. On August 26, in the late afternoon, Brother Macmillan finished his earthly life, at the age of 89. Since 1900 he had been active as a dedicated servant of Jehovah God, and for the past sixty-five years he devoted himself full time to Jehovah’s service. In 1918 he was one of the eight principal members of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society who were unjustly sentenced to long terms in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, only to be exonerated and released the following year. He was the last survivor of that group of eight. In later years, during World War II, he visited and spiritually upbuilt others who had been similarly imprisoned because of their stand as Christian neutrals. Funeral services for Brother Macmillan, held at 3 p.m. on August 29, were conducted by the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and then the earthly remains of Brother Macmillan were interred at the private burial plot of the Brooklyn Bethel family on Woodrow Road, Staten Island, New York. Brother Macmillan had firm faith that credit for the faithful service of those anointed to the heavenly kingdom with Christ would “go right with them,” because they would continue right on in their Master’s service, but now in the heavenly realm. (Rev. 14:13) We rejoice with Brother Macmillan in his obtaining of that reward.

- October 1, 1966 Watchtower, WTB&TS