Joshua Bailey, United States Internal Revenue Collector

August 1, 2017

Page 5 of Bailey’s handwritten memoir. Click to see full page

Mary Baker Eddy asked her student Joshua F. Bailey (1831-1907) to take extensive notes in two of her 1889 classes on Christian Science. While it is unclear why she made the request, a small selection of the notes was published in Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, on pages 279-282. Additional excerpts appeared in the March 2004 issue of The Christian Science Journal.1 Bailey’s manuscript is in our archives.

Bailey was Editor of The Christian Science Journal from February 1889 to November 1890. Before he found Christian Science and became a practitioner and teacher, his varied career included representing Thomas A. Edison in Europe, where he promoted expanded use of the electric light.2

Bailey also went through some dark times. Writing about his path to Christian Science, he recalled, “…what a life of anxiety and vicissitude I had led. At this time I broke down in mind and body. It was then that Christian Science found me ….”3 One such “vicissitude” came after he was appointed Collector for the 4th collection district of the State of New York for the Internal Revenue Service, in 1865—work that would ultimately result in his flight from the United States.

The federal government had started taxing alcohol to help fund the Civil War. By 1865 the tax rate had risen dramatically and became an inducement for fraud. By not declaring all the alcohol they produced, distillers could lower their tax bills considerably. During Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency, corrupt members of the Republican party, known as the “Whiskey Ring,” conspired with distillery owners and taxation officials to swell the party’s coffers. (For more information on this national scandal, see Rives, Timothy, “Grant, Babcock, and the Whiskey Ring.” Prologue 32 [2000].)

Bailey was responsible for collecting taxes from New York’s distilleries and impounding any undeclared liquor. He took up his duties with “zeal and with the determination to make their faithful discharge the means of securing further advancement and more general public approval.”4 But this public-spirited attitude brought him into conflict with the Whiskey Ring.

Distillery owner Dr. Alvah Blaisdell, in league with Major Alfred A. Belknap, a United States Treasury agent, resolved to halt Bailey’s efforts. Blaisdell paid four men to make sworn statements under assumed names that Bailey had been accepting illegal payments. In order for Belknap to arrest Bailey, however, the statements had to be sworn in front of a magistrate. Three of the four witnesses got cold feet because they were known as criminals to the magistrate; only one made a statement. But this was enough for Belknap to arrest Bailey, and he stood trial in July 1868.5

Page 29 of Bailey’s handwritten memoir. Click to see full page

Bailey had gotten wind of the Whiskey Ring’s plot. At his request, Secret Service agent Frederick C. Tapley uncovered ample proof that Blaisdell had bribed the witnesses, and that Belknap had been deeply involved. Years later Bailey would introduce Agent Tapley to Christian Science, saying this to him of Mrs. Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Live in that Book. Every moment of this thought in Science, guided by that book, is a moment of healing.”6

The case against Bailey quickly fell apart, and all charges were dismissed.7

But Bailey was soon caught up in a related case that almost ruined him. His 1869 appointment as tax collector for the 32nd district of New York City uncovered questionable accounting practices during his earlier service, involving a $100,000 deficit in Bailey’s accounts for which he and his sureties were liable. In order to make up the discrepancy, Bailey had recorded collected taxes as uncollected, and had deposited the collected money.8 On paper Bailey had made up the difference, but in reality there was a $100,000 deficit that he never properly explained. Having been tipped off that his accounts were under scrutiny, Bailey fled the country and spent several years with little money in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. And his “vicissitudes” continued—in his absence a grand jury indicted him on charges of “defalcation.” He also lost his wife to an accident at sea.

Bailey received a pardon from President Grant in 1876 and returned home with the “unmistakable traces of long suffering.”9 His hardships finally began to abate when he found Christian Science sometime about 1888. “I confidently believe,” he later reflected, “that the general public too whose servant I have been will hold that whatever have been my errors, outside of those, I have not been undeserving of praise, and that my public service greatly outweighs in the balance.”10

We do not know whether Mary Baker Eddy was aware of Bailey’s past experiences. But as he made notes in her 1889 classes, these words may have been especially resonant: “One God, one Mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. In this truth we are in the divine harmony. The loving of our neighbor as ourself is just as imperative as one God. Thou shalt love thy neighbor &c. Then we have only one interest, no divided interest. It is no longer “My interest,” mine & thine, but it is ours. There is no healing physically without healing morally.”11

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  1. “Notes from class with Mary Baker Eddy,” 23.
  2. Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1971), 264.
  3. Joshua F. Bailey to F. C. Tapley, 12 October 1892, Subject File, Bailey, Joshua F. (1831-1907) – Correspondence to Mr. and Mrs. F. C. Tapley, 1892-1893.
  4. Joshua F. Bailey, handwritten memoir, 1, Subject File, Bailey, Joshua F. (1831-1907) – Papers: Memoirs, Collector of Internal Revenue.
  5. Conspiracy of the Whiskey Ring Against Collector J. F. Bailey (New York: Wm. C. Bryant & Co., 1869), 3-5.
  6. Joshua F. Bailey to F. C. Tapley, 24 January 1893, Subject File, Bailey, Joshua F. (1831-1907) – Correspondence to Mr. and Mrs. F. C. Tapley, 1892-1893.
  7. Bailey, handwritten memoir, 5.
  8. “Bailey’s Flight: The Hounds of the Law Unleashed,” The New York Times, March 23, 1870.
  9. “A Fugitive’s Return,” New York Herald, December 13, 1876.
  10. Bailey, handwritten memoir, 29.
  11. The Christian Science Journal, March 2004, 23.