The Bible in America

History From its founding in 1816, the American Bible Society has grappled with the task of making the Word of God available to Christians and churches in America. From its earliest days, it has worked to provide scriptures to the men, and later women of the military, to local and international bible societies, and to translate the Holy Bible to other languages used by peoples in the United States so that they could not only possess scripture, but could understand its importance in their own lives.

Leaders Starting with a leader of the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and going right down to the most recent president Lamar Vest, The American Bible Society has always been led by “true believers” in the Bible cause.


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Daniel Burke, LL. D.

President of the American Bible Society, 1944-1962

Church Affiliation: Methodist

Black and White Print of Daniel Burke from a color portrait by Charles J Fox

Daniel Burke was born December 5, 1873 in New Berlin, NY, the son of James and Mary (York) Burke. He obtained his A.B> degree from Hamilton College in 1893, and his A.M. degree in 1894. He went on to obtain his LL. B. from NY Law School (1896) and his LL. D. from Hamilton in 1936.

He established a law practice, Burke & Burke in 1929 and served as President of Connecticut Mill, as director of the Summit (NJ) Trust Co., as Chairman of the RT French Company and of Atlantis Sales Company. He was a trustee of Hamilton College.

Danial Burke was elected President of the American Bible Society on July 6, 1944, after serving since 1923 on the Board of Managers and served until his resignation on July 5, 1962, when he was appointed president emeritus.

This autobiographical statement was published in RCH Magazine (the magazine of the Reckitt & Colman Holding Company), the Christmas, 1960 issue under the title: An Octogenarian Looks at Life

I am asked to write an article with the title, “An Octogenarian Looks at Life”; but no look at life can be wisely taken without the reader knowing the background and viewpoint from which the look was taken. So I begin by stating my background and leading the reader to the viewpoint.

I was born in 1873 in the village of New Berlin in central New York State. I grew up in the neighboring village of Oxford where the inhabitants boasted of its name, and its academey, which was one of the first founded in the State. My grandfather Burke and his wife Mary Coleman had emigrated from Ireland after the famines of the 1840s. He was proud of his name, Rickard, and she, that no beggar left her father's door without receiving help. She read Irish politics and the bible every day. My mother, Mary York, came from a neighboring New York twonship and a family which founded and often taught in the local schools, inspired as they were by long New England ancestry with Baptis and Quaker theories of independence in Church and State. At the age of eleven, in 1885 I entered Oxford Academy, prepared for college in four years and entered Hamilton College founded by missionary Samuel Kirkland and named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, one of its first Trustees. The college was and still is, as Life Magazine recently described it, “Strictly Liberal Arts.” My first reading due to Quaker standards included the bible, Plutarch's Lives and many biographies and histories; and now in the evening of life such reading has the greatest appeal. Here I found the impulse for my choice of profession and the appreciation of a lawyers's life work. It is pleasant to remember that one has had a part in defense against wrong, in salvaging depressed enterprises and in developing industrial enterprises.

After graduation from college, I cane to New York as a teacher in Brooklyn Boys's High School and a student at the New York Law School from which I graduated and was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York in October, 1896. After another year of Law School where I heard lectures by Charles Evans Hughes and Woodrow Wilson, I entered the office of an experienced and successful lawyer as one of his clerks whose chief qualifications were to do a good job in the books and to prove that he had intelligent legs to carry us quicly to the library, the court rooms, the clerk's office and other places, where needed. While in this office I was, as I had been for some time, a member of the then largest Methodist Church in the country and a teacher in its Sunday School. In the same church and Sunday School, Henry W. Johnson was also a teacher; and he was the selling agent for Reckitt & Sons, with an office in New York. My only knowledge of his business was that, crossing Brooklyn Bridge every evening, I passed a huge blue signboard with immense letters reading: “Reckitt's Blue - No Rewashing.” Mr. Johnson was bothered by some trade mark questions and needed a lawyer's advice. He asked a judge who was in the same church for advice, and the judge said, “You know young Burke. Why don't you try him.” Johnson accepted the advice and I began my work as counsel to Reckitt & Sons. This was in 1899 and if follows that I have had the honor to be counsel to Reckitt & Sons, J. & J. Colman, and the RT French Company and their varied interests in thsi country for more than sixty years.

With the acquisition of another corporate client, and a daring which now seems too great, I ceased to be a clerk and with a partner opened my own office. As a result of continued work for the Reckitts, I came to know with admiration and high regard some of the men in both the Reckitt and Colman families and their associates, who have made the names famous in many parts of the world. I cannot omit mention of some who have passed leaving a legacy of high character and integrity to the companies and to my memory. Such men were Messrs Albert and Arthur Reckitt, Sir Philip and Sir Harold, and Messrs Slack and Cleminson. In the colman group were Sir Jeremiah colman, Messrs russell, Geoffrey and Allan colman, and Southwell and Barclay. they all remain in my memory as precious associations emphasised by the stalwart position of their family successorts and those with whom they have associated with them in the world enterprise of Reckitt &l Colman Holdings and its subsidiaries. In later years I had the able assistance of Miss Mary Donlon, who is now a Federal Judge and of Messrs John H Schmid, William E Vogel, Frederick DH Gilbert and my two sons who are all my partners.

Such is the background to which I was born, and such the professional relation to which I came by good fortune; and because I am a far-along octogenarian my look at life is requested. There was added to the background more than ordinary good health over all the years and a family life down to this day agreeable, pleasant, and forward looking. Under these circumstances a constant interest in education and relition found outlet in my forty-seven years as a trustee of Hamiltion College, many years on the Board of Mangers, and sixteen years as President of the American Bible Society. These two institutions are promoting the ideals which are a part of this octogenarian's life, and a buttress to the ethics of his profession.

Education in the Liberal Arts came to America directly from England and those in this country who have come under its influence have obtained a storehouse of interest, advice and example which made life better. Any lawyer trying a fraud case may well refresh his mind by reading a chapter from Cicero on either oratory or ethics. thinking of such interest in study of the past I often wondered what interests Mr Albert Reckitt might have outside of business; and one day after lunch with him I said I was going to the British Museum. He then modestly told me of his interest in teh exploration by English and American universities in Ur of the Chaldees, and advised me to see the exhibit at the museum. He thus added a new interest to my liberal arts.

I have several times been in England and visited the London office of the British and Foreign bible Society, which subscribed to the funds for founding our Society and now co-operates with us in many parts of the world. We publish the Bible without note or comment, and the thought that one is participating in a program which helps to start peoples in all the continents in the observance of the principles and the exercise of the faith which more than any other promotes the peace of the world gives support to heart and mind. the practice of law, coupled wiht periodic excursions into business, and my long association with those Englishmen of high character and attainments, has been most rewarding, and knowing how surely these must end, I look back upon my work for Reckitt & Colman as an ideal opportunity to observe the exercise of the highest principles of British business. through the years I have had experiences with the associated comapnies in which the high purposes of the founders and those who have carried on the management have been manifest. The present officers and directors of the RT French Company include English and American members; and the happy combination of our ideals and practice have made the company's success in the past and promise still greater success for the future.

Christmas is a reminder of the life that has meant more to mankind than any other. Our success is measured by the extent to which we have made our lives conform to the ideals which Christ proclaimed. There is no need to mention here the rules of life which he practiced and made so everlastingly apparent. In the business world the Reckitt and Colman families and their many associates have tried more than most to put the Christian rules and the Christian spirit into daily transactions. Now these many years it has been a high point of interest and satisfaction to be one of those who have served, applauded, and now rejoice in remembering the past and anticipation the future of these enterprises.