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The Parliament of Empire: Charles Bonney's American Vision

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2019


This article places the World's Parliament of Religions in its social-political milieu of Gilded Age Chicago. It takes up the Parliament not to rehash arguments that scholars have made about its particular performance of religion but, rather, to locate its pluralist production in finer-grained material expenditures and extractions that made it possible. It tells this story through an examination of the Parliament's organizer, Charles Carroll Bonney. Employed as a federal judge in Chicago, Bonney's life reflects the coterminous boundaries of capital, state-building, and aspirations for the reconciliation of human conflict through multireligious unity. His tenure as the organizer of the Parliament, and as the President of the World Congress Auxiliary of which it was a part, was riddled by raging conflict with Chicago's union leaders, who saw the events as an indirect attack on the city's labor movement. To analyze the Parliament in light of these factors is to begin to understand the history of American religious pluralism as constituted by—and, thus, inextricable from—histories of labor, capital, and the state.

Research Article
Copyright © 2019 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 

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1 “Plans for Labor Congresses,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 22, 1891.

2 Darrow, Clarence, Letter to Henry Demarest Lloyd, November 12, 1892, in In the Clutches of the Law: Clarence Darrow's Letters, ed. Tietjen, Randall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 65Google Scholar. Emphasis in original.

3 Darrow, Letter to Henry Demarest Lloyd, November 12, 1892, 66.

4 Eck, Diana, “Foreword,” in The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World's Parliament of Religions, 1893, ed. Hughes, Richard Seager (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1993), xviiGoogle Scholar.

5 Lofton, Kathryn, “Religious History as Religious Studies,” Religion 42, no. 3 (2012): 389–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Fessenden, Tracy, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 3Google Scholar. See also Pellegrini, Ann and Jakobsen, Janet, Secularisms (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008)Google Scholar.

7 Among others, see Gardella, Peter, “Pluralisms in the United States and the American Empire, Religious Studies Review 29, no. 3 (2003)Google Scholar; Brown, Wendy, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; Courtney Bender and Pamela Klassen, “Introduction: Habits of Pluralism” in After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement, 2010; Hicks, Rosemary R., “Between Lived and the Law: Power, Empire, and Expansion in Studies of North American Religions,” Religion 42, no. 3 (2012): 409–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Charles Carroll Bonney, “The Genesis of the World's Religious Congresses of 1893,” The New-Church Review 1 (January 1894). On Bonney's Swedenborgian theology, see George F. Dole, With Absolute Respect: The Swedenborgian Theology of Charles Carroll Bonney (Westchester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1993).

9 “Charles C. Bonney Dead,” New York Times, August 24, 1903.

10 “President of the National Law and Order League,” New York Times, February 23, 1887.

11 “The Hon. C. C. Bonney, The Inaugurator of the Parliament of Religions,” The Open Court, no. 14 (January 1900).

12 Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1921),

13 Charles C. Bonney, A Summary of the Law of Marine, Fire, and Life Insurance: with Practical Forms, Modern Case and Computing Rules: Designed for the Guidance of Insurance Companies and the Convenience of the Legal Profession (Chicago: E. B. Myers and Chandler, 1865).

14 Charles C. Bonney, “Consecrated Capital,” Christian Union 32, no. 26 (December 24, 1885).

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 “Broad and Tolerant Christianity,” The Sunday Times, Chicago, February 20, 1876.

19 On the nineteenth-century Bible wars, see Tracy Fessenden, “The Nineteenth-Century Bible Wars and the Separation of Church and State,” Church History 74, no. 4 (2005): 784–811; Fessenden, Culture and Redemption, 60–107; Jon Gjerde, Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 138–75; John McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 1–42; R. Laurence Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling: The Failure of Religious Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Public Education,” Journal of American History 86, no. 4 (March 2000): 1581–99. For a study that traces many of these themes into early twentieth-century politics, see Kathleen Holscher, Religious Lessons: Catholic Sisters and the Captured School Crisis in New Mexico (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

20 On schools, see Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption, 2007; Jon Gjerde, Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

21 The Northwest Ordinance has been used as evidence for the accommodationist argument that the early government of the United States did not require the separation of church and state. The Ordinance specifies that religion would be inculcated in public schools for the basis of state longevity, and accommodationists maintained that this must also have been the intended meaning in the Constitution as well.

22 “Broad and Tolerant Christianity,” The Sunday Times, 1876.

23 Charles C. Bonney, “The Doctrine of Judicial Supremacy” (Speech before the American Bar Association at Saratoga, New York, August 23, 1883).

24 Ibid.

25 “Our Constitution: Mr. C. C. Bonney Explains Its Relation to the States and the Union,” Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1885.

26 “In and About Chicago,” Christian Union, December 6, 1883.

27 “Our Constitution.”

28 Here Bonney aligns with a strain of church history prominent in the nineteenth century, promoted most notably by Phillip Schaff, whose histories presented much the same trajectory and framed the United States as the culmination of the Protestant Reformation. On early church history, see Elizabeth A. Clark, Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

29 Henry Spackman Pancoast, The Indian before the Law (Philadelphia: Indian Rights Association, 1884).

30 Charles Carroll Bonney, in The Indian before the Law, Henry Spackman Pancoast (Philadelphia: Indian Rights Association, 1884), 56. Emphasis in original.

31 Ibid, 57.

32 Ibid, 53.

33 On theories of race among progressive-era reformers, see Khalil Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010).

34 “Women Meet to Aid the Indian,” New Jersey News Chronicle, December 6, 1899.

35 Chandan Reddy, Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 36.

36 Bonney explained, “Now, faintly shining like a distant star, it will increase in splendor till it shall have won the admiration of every civilized power. Time and zeal and patience will be required to make this idea a living reality in the world of practical government, but its final triumph may be regarded as sure.” Charles Carroll Bonney, “Speech to American Law Review,” American Law Review (January/February 1890).

37 “Our Constitution.”

38 On Haymarket and its aftermath, see especially James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (New York: Pantheon, 2006).

39 Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, [1987] 2008), xii. See also Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, “Responding to the Challenges of the Progressive Era,” in Who Were the Progressives? ed. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore (Boston: Bedford Books, 2002); Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America 1870–1920 (New York: Free Press, 2003).

40 “Law and Order League,” New York Times, October 23, 1877; “National Law and Order League,” New York Times, February 23, 1887.

41 A. T. Andreas, The History of Chicago, Vol. III—From the Fire of 1871 Until 1885 (Chicago: The A. T. Andreas Company, 1886).

42 “Massachusetts Law and Order League,” Christian Union, May 13, 1886.

43 “The Liquor Law in Yonkers,” New York Times, October 27, 1877; “The Sunday Movement,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 30, 1879; “Liquor Selling: What the Citizens’ Law and Order League Expects to Do,” Boston Globe, August 1, 1882, 3; “Law and Order, as Practiced by the League in Eric—Serious Trouble Threatened as a Result of the Liquor War,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 20, 1882; “The Law and Order League of the United States,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 23, 1883.

44 On the Citizens’ Law and Order League's personnel, as well as its standing within the large and diverse temperance movement of the period, see Ann-Marie E. Szymanski, Pathways to Prohibition: Radicals, Moderates, and Social Movement Outcomes (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

45 “Save the Children,” Daily Inter-Ocean, January 12, 1881.

46 On the concern for the welfare of children in the Progressive Era, see James Marten and Paula S. Fass, eds., Children and Youth during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (New York: NYU Press, 2014).

47 Lisa McGirr characterizes the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Prohibition movements as rooted in an impulse to exert state control over and punishment of African Americans, the working class, and new immigrants. Lisa McGirr, The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015).

48 “To Uphold The Law: Convention of the National Law and Order League,” Boston Daily Globe, February 20, 1889. Bonney prefaced this part of his speech by describing the battle ahead: “The enemy to be overcome is not a creature of the imagination, but a terrible reality. He is not in some distant land, but in our midst. His forces are in the field. They are well equipped; their discipline is perfect; and their courage and strategy are worthy of a nobler cause. Without the extirpation of the stupendous evils of the liquor traffic, law and order cannot efficiently prevail.”

49 “Law and Order League: General Crusade Against the Traffic in Liquor—All Kinds of Conservative People Invited to Participate,” New York Herald, November 5, 1877.

50 Charles C. Bonney, Edwin L. Dudley, and John H. Perry, “National Law and Order League: Call for the Sixth Annual Meeting,” Christian Union, February 16, 1888.

51 “To Uphold The Law: Convention of the National Law and Order League,” Boston Daily Globe, February 20, 1889.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid. Abbott continued to elaborate on the law's beneficent sway: “Obedience climbs them step by step, until the child is enfolded in the father's arms once more. Self-government is a part of God's great scheme for the redemption of the human race, and it must come only through obedience to law and order. Of all the forces that are for lawlessness there is none worse than the liquor traffic.”

54 Voluntary associations covered the waterfront and spanned demographic categories. Business moguls organized philanthropic organizations; immigrants organized mutual-aid societies; workers organized unions; and middle-class reformers organized reform advocacy groups on issues ranging from lynching to child labor to environmental cleanup to temperance. On the range of Gilded-Age progressive associations, see Sklar, Kathryn Kish, Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Rodgers, Daniel, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998)Google Scholar; McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, 2003; Muhammad, Khalil, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010)Google Scholar.

55 Dorrien, Gary, Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition (New York: Wiley and Sons, 2008), 60145CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fox, Richard Wightman, “The Culture of Liberal Protestant Progressivism, 1875–1925,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXIII (Winter 1993): 639–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar; May, Henry, Protestant Churches and Industrial America (New York: Harper and Row, 1967)Google Scholar.

56 Christopher Cantwell, Heath W. Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake, “Introduction: Between the Pew and the Picket Line,” in The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class, eds. Christopher Cantwell, Heath W. Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016); Heath Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Ken Fones-Wolf, Trade Union Gospel: Christianity and Labor in Industrial Philadelphia, 1865–1915 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989).

57 McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, 2003; Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness, 2002; Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, “Responding to the Challenges of the Progressive Era” in Who Were the Progressives? ed. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore (Boston: Bedford Books, 2002).

58 On progressive movements and the growth of a racialized police state, see McGirr, The War on Alcohol, 2015; Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness, 2010.

59 Charles Carroll Bonney, “Rules of Law for the Carriage and Delivery of Persons and Property by Railway: With Leading Railway Statues and Decisions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and the United States. Prepared for Railway Companies and the Legal Profession,” American Literary Gazette and Publishers’ Circular, November 15, 1864.

60 “The Law and Order League. Sixth Annual Convention,” Christian Union, March 1, 1888.

61 “Enforcement of Naturalization Laws,” Daily Inter-Ocean, December 12, 1888.

62 Charles Carroll Bonney, The Present Conflict of Labor and Capital: A Discourse (Chicago: Chicago Legal News, 1886).

63 Ibid, 10.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid, 12. Here, Bonney is most likely referencing the book of Joshua, in which God commands the Israelites to cross into the Promised Land, take possession of it, and drive out its inhabitants (Joshua 1:10, 14–15).

66 Ibid, 36.

67 Ibid, 35. Emphasis in original.

68 “Labor Commission Bill,” Daily Inter-Ocean, February 2, 1887.

69 A. N. Waterman, “A Tribute to the Honorable C. C. Bonney,” The Open Court, January 1904, 57.

70 The Columbian Exposition has been subject to extensive interpretation. Monographs focused on the exposition include Robert Rydell, All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at America's International Expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); James Gilbert, Perfect Cities: Chicago's Utopias of 1893 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). Monographs on the Gilded Age that also offer interpretations of the Exposition include Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007); William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992); Emily Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890–1945 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982).

71 “To Go with the Fair: A World's Congress of Thinkers also Proposed Here in 1892,” Daily Inter-Ocean, September 28, 1889.

72 For overviews of the Parliament of Religion see Eric J. Ziolkowski, ed. A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993); Richard Hughes Seager, The World's Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893 (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995).

73 The interdisciplinary fields of critical ethnic studies and queer studies have been particularly concerned with these questions. For exemplary work, see Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Roderick Ferguson, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

74 “Has Noble Aims: Controlling Idea of the World's Congress Auxiliary,” Daily Inter-Ocean, October 22, 1892.

75 McGreevy, John P., Catholicism and American Freedom (New York: Norton and Company, 2003), 120–23Google Scholar; Fessenden, Culture and Redemption, 185–87.

76 “Has Noble Aims: Controlling Idea of the World's Congress Auxiliary,” Daily Inter-Ocean, October 22, 1892.

77 Ibid.

78 “The Fair and the Workingmen: What the Latter Have Done for Chicago and What They Expect in Return,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 31, 1890.

79 “Workmen Frightened Off: A Labor Dispute Delays World's Fair Preparations,” New York Times, February 14, 1891; “No More to Be Granted,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 15, 1891.

80 “No More to Be Granted.”

81 “Plans for Labor Congresses,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 22, 1891; “Labor Congresses at the Fair,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 11, 1891.

82 Walter T. Mills, “Labor at the Big Fair: Plan for Congresses of Wage Workers from Abroad,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 3, 1891.

83 Darrow to Lloyd, November 12, 1892, in In the Clutches of the Law, 2013, 65.

84 Ibid. Although he did not elaborate, Darrow's next sentence cited the Auxiliary's dedicatory ceremonies as proof of his point: “The programme at the Dedicatory exercise was sufficient further evidence of their [Bonney and the Auxiliary's] purpose and caliber.”

85 Ibid, 67.

86 “Resigns in a Body,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1892.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 Ibid.

91 P. C. “The Origin of the Parliament of Religions,” The Open Court, July 2 1896, 462.

92 Bonney, “The Genesis of the World's Religious Congresses of 1893,” The New-Church Review (1904).

93 Charles Carroll Bonney, “America,” The Open Court, December 1901.

94 Ibid.

95 Ibid.

96 On the discursive construction of the United States as a benevolent empire, see Rosenberg, Spreading the American Dream, 1982; Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Religion, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

97 Bonney, “America,” 1901.

98 Important new works in the historiography of religion and US empire include Johnson, Sylvester, African-American Religions, 1500–2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wenger, Tisa, Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.