Nov 20, 2014

Billy Sunday hawks Liberty Loans

An advertisement for government bonds to finance World War I, featuring evangelist Billy Sunday:

This full-page ad was run in the Washington Times on March 3, 1918, in the final edition. Sunday, arguably the most famous evangelical of the era, was an outspoken advocate of the war, as were most Protestant clergy at the time.

In the text of the ad, Sunday says praying for the soldiers is meaningless without material support. "Some old geezers are strong on prayers for 'the brave boys in the trenches and on the battleships,' but their names haven't appeared on any Liberty Bond subscription list yet," the ad states. "Prayer of that kind don't get as high as a gas jet."

Sunday also appeals to the aspirations of the reader. "The men who saved this country are going to fill every office from Justice of the Peace to President," it says. "Where will you be then if you're a shirker now?"

If Sunday's moral authority and the reader's self-interest are not convincing, the ad copy suggests another reason to buy Liberty Bonds: threat of violence.

"Life in America won't be worth living," the last paragraph says, "for the man or women who didn't buy U.S. Government bonds of the third Liberty Loan."

At the time, there were official and quasi-official bands of vigilantes enforcing American loyalty. One could become a target of violence by not buying the bonds that financed the war effort. Sunday's ad would have been read as a tacit endorsement of this enforcement.