‘The Foundation Deeds have never failed’: The Salvation Army Acts deconstructed
This blog came about as a result of a series of enquiries and interest in The Salvation Army’s Acts of Parliament – what they are and why they were created.
Before The Salvation Army came into being, William Booth began preaching with a group of evangelists that had begun congregating by the Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road in east London. As the movement expanded, it became legally established as a church and charity, led by William Booth and his wife Catherine. This forerunning evangelical and charitable organization was the Christian Mission.
In 1870 William Booth and the earliest members of the (at this time unofficial) Christian Mission, drew up a document of beliefs and oaths to form a regulatory framework for the movement. In due course, William Booth sought to establish a more permanent framework for the organization and thus took the skeleton of this initial constitution to form a legally binding Deed Poll: The Foundation Deed, 15 June 1875.
This Deed stated that William Booth, as General Superintendent, was the primary decision maker for the Christian Mission, but that overarching authority was to be awarded to the twelve members of the Conference Committee, which met annually and with two thirds majority could overrule him. In addition to this, with a fair investigation and three fourths backing, the conference also held the power to depose the General Superintendent. Importantly, the 1875 constitution also permitted the General Superintendent to appoint their successor. Moreover, within this constitution William Booth shared power, supported by three fourths of the members of the conference ‘to annul or alter anything contained within these presents’.
In January 1877 William Booth called upon the Conference Committee to discuss the effectiveness of the management structure. At the 1877 ‘Council of War’ William Booth proposed changes to the deed which were then officially revoked with The Annulment Deed, 7 August 1878. With this Act William Booth, with three fourths majority from the conference, declared the 1875 deed ‘null and void and of no effect’. On the same day, Booth replaced the 1875 deed with The Deed of Constitution, 7 August 1878. In contrast to the previous, the 1878 Constitution officially identified the organization as the Christian Misson, set out the 11 permanent ‘professed beliefs’ of the members, and stated that the Christian Mission ‘shall be always hereafter under the oversight direction and control of some one person who shall be the General Superintendent and thereof whose duty it shall be to determine and enforce the discipline and laws and superintend the operations of the said Christian Mission and to conserve the same to and for the objects and purposes for which it was first originated’.
Despite advice to the contrary, Booth refused to include a clause that would allow the 1878 deed to be reviewed and altered. As such, the 1878 constitution was a binding non-variable Deed Poll. This meant that once it had been passed, neither he nor the Council possessed the power to change the deed without a private Act of Parliament. As a result, any subsequent changes to the regulations of The Salvation Army still have to be done through a private Act of Parliament.
On 24 June 1880 an addition was made to the reverse of the 1878 Deed of Constitution, stating that the title of General Superintendent had been shortened to General and that the name Christian Mission had been changed to The Salvation Army and as such, all references to the former in the 1878 Deed of Constitution were to be taken as referring to the latter from that point onward.
Further to the establishment of this deed, two supplements were made in 1891 and 1904. The ‘Social Trust’ Deed was established on 30 January 1891 following the publication of William Booth’s book ‘In Darkest England and The Way Out’. This supplement separated The Salvation Army’s social work funds from its central funding in response to legal requirements. The 26 July 1904 Deed was imposed to provide clarification on the process of removal and election of the General.
The first alteration to the 1878 Deed came in 1931.
The closure of Bramwell Booth’s service as General and the appointment of his successor Edward Higgins brought to light for the first time some features of the 1878 constitution that were in need of improvement in modern society. Whilst William Booth had intended for the responsibility that he had shouldered to be passed onto future leaders of The Salvation Army it became apparent that moving through the twentieth century and with the continued expansion of The Salvation Army, it made sense to restructure the balance of responsibility and decision making between the General and the High Council. To this end, the proposed changes via a private parliamentary bill as follows:
- To take away the existing power of the General of The Salvation Army to nominate his successor and to secure that every future General shall be elected by the High Council constituted under the Foundation Deeds of the Army
- To fix a retiring age for the General
- To remove from the General the sole trusteeship of the property of The Salvation Army and other Trust property and to form a Trustee Company to hold the Trust’s properties
- To establish an internal Board of Arbitration (composed of senior Salvation Army Officers) to determine certain differences, misunderstandings or grievances if any such arise between the General and certain senior Officers
Whilst General Edward Higgins was working to have the bill of change passed, there was some opposition from within The Salvation Army from those who did not want state intervention in the ‘spiritual realm’. However, it was the church’s founder who had structured the institution to operate in this way.
As a result of this opposition, the bill was debated extensively in parliament…
Eventually parliament decided in favour of the act and on 31st July 1931 The Salvation Army Act 1931 was passed with the following purpose:
‘An Act to provide for the better organization of The Salvation Army and for the custody of real and personal property held upon charitable trusts by or the administration whereof devolves upon the General of the Salvation Army and for other purposes.’ [3Ist July 1931]
After this initial alteration, three further acts were passed in 1963, 1968 and 1980. The purposes for which were as follows:
Salvation Army Act 1963
‘An Act to establish a non-contributory pension fund for officers of The Salvation Army; to provide for the transfer to the fund of certain existing funds and for contributions to the fund from the general funds of the Salvation Army and from its associated charities and companies; to establish a board to administer the fund; to infer powers on the board to make rules determining the terms and conditions on which pensions are to be payable and to prescribe the first rules of the fund; and for other purposes.’
Salvation Army Act 1968
‘An Act to amend the Salvation Army Act, 1931; to make provision for the management of trusts connected with or related to the interests, aims or purposes of The Salvation Army; and for other purposes.’ [30 May 1968]
Salvation Army Act 1980
‘An Act to revise and consolidate the constitution of The Salvation Army; to make further provision respecting The Salvation Army Trustee Company and respecting the investment of funds of The Salvation Army; to repeal or amend certain provisions of the Salvation Army Acts 1931 to 1968 and to revoke certain deeds polls relating to The Salvation Army; and for other purposes.’ [1st August 1980]