The Anti-Missionary Controversy
of Baptists in Kentucky from 1832 to 1842
Kentucky has long been known as the "dark and bloody ground." She has been the storm center of controversy; the battlefield of many jarring opinions and conflicting doctrines. The anti-mission spirit flourished for a time in Kentucky's fruitful soil. In this chapter it is the author's purpose to give a somewhat brief account of the rise, progress and decline of anti-missionism in Kentucky.
Dr. Albert Henry Newman in his "Introduction" to "The Genesis of American Anti-missionism" by Dr. B. H. Carroll, Jr., says, (p. 3),
"A connected and somewhat exhaustive account of the anti-missionary movement that resulted from the pressing of foreign mission, home mission, Sunday school, educational, and other forms of organized denominational work under the auspices of the Triennial Convention, with Luther Rice as its chief agent, and Judson's work in Burma as its chief inspiration, has long been a desideratum. The strength of the opposition throughout the South and the Southwest to the work of the Triennial Convention during the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century may be illustrated by the following facts: During the first four or five years after the organization of the Triennial Convention (1814), the Baptist churches of Tennessee were nearly all friendly to the foreign mission cause and contributed toward its funds. Within a few years all the missionary societies that had been formed for co-operation with the Triennial Convention were dissolved and the association rescinded the resolutions that had been passed in favor of missions and related departments of denominational work. In Georgia and Alabama a life-and-death struggle between the friends of missions and co-operative work and the malignant enemies of missions raged for years, and the issue, apart from firm faith in the God of missions, might well have seemed doubtful. As late as 1845 twelve of the thirty-four Virginia associations, including the old Ketokton, were aggressively anti-missionary. Equally successful was the anti-missionary propaganda in Kentucky. Ohio, where Alexander Campbell's influence was great, and the writings of Daniel Parker and John Taylor were circulated, was an equally fruitful field for the anti- missionary propaganda. In 1820 the Ohio Baptist churches had contributed $547.09 for foreign missions. From 1821 to 1828 contributions ceased entirely, while the contributions in 1829 and 1830 were $10 and $5 respectively. The wonderful success of the opponents of missions from 1820 to 1840 needs to be explained, and Doctor Carroll has performed a service of great value in bringing together from rare sources a large amount of material illustrative of the spirit and the methods of the opposition to organized missionary work. He has made effective use of the scarce writings of Daniel Parker and John Taylor, and has demonstrated more fully than any earlier writer the contribution of Alexander Campbell to the anti-missionary movement." Doctor Newman's statement is very comprehensive.
Early Baptists in Kentucky All Missionary in Spirit and Practice
Those who think that the "Old Baptists" or "Primitive Baptists" because of their ancient sounding names are the original Baptists would do well to read history. Spencer (Vol. I, p. 570) says "Previous to 1816, there was not an Anti-mission Baptist in Kentucky, so far as known. In every association, where a missionary enterprise was proposed, it met with universal favor." A long account is given by Spencer showing that the early churches, and associations of Kentucky sent missionaries to Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and to the Indians, paying them for their services, the amount paid, in one case, being named.
It is an interesting fact, too, that history records that one of the men who afterwards became a leader of the anti-mission forces, went to Tennessee as missionary in 1791. Here are the facts as given by Spencer (Vol. I, p. 570). "In the early period of the first churches, planted on the soil of Kentucky, missionaries were sent to the surrounding country. The oldest church in what was then called West (now Middle) Tennessee, was constituted by Ambrose Dudley and John Taylor. These ministers in 1791 traveled through a wilderness, on horseback, nearly two hundred miles, where they were constantly exposed to destruction by the Indians, to establish the Redeemer's cause in this remote settlement. John Sutton and James Sutton were afterwards sent, in turn, by Elkhorn Association, to minister to this church, and the Moderator was directed to pay them L13, 12s, 8d, for this service." These missionaries were "sent" and "paid" for their services.
As sad as it is to record the fact, from this time on in this chapter, we find John Taylor one of the most successful leaders of the anti-mission forces.
The formal separation between the Missionaries and Anti-missionaries took place within the decade between 1832 and 1842. The anti-mission spirit was manifested in some of the associations prior to 1830 but not one had declared itself anti-mission. The date usually accepted as the beginning of "the split" is 1832. Dr. W. P. Throgmorton in his debate with Elder Lemuel Potter, (Hardshell), held in Fulton, Kentucky, July 1887, takes this position. (Throgmorton-Potter Debate).
Much of this chapter is taken from Chapter III, "The Rise of the Hardshells" in "The Genesis of American Anti-Missionism," by Dr. B. H. Carroll, Jr. Doctor Carroll says, "The leaders against missions have been many. The opposition against missions has been one, in origin, progress, argument, and spirit, although hydra-headed in its various forms of manifestation. It is the purpose of this chapter to ascertain its genesis and trace and demonstrate its unity through its varying forms. Every great movement is to a large extent identified with its leaders. The biographical method is the true one by which to study history. We therefore present some accounts of the three great leaders in the anti-mission crusade. . . "The three leaders were John Taylor, of Kentucky; Daniel Parker, of Illinois; and Alexander Campbell, of Virginia. Mr. Campbell has not usually been given credit for his part in the rise and progress of anti-missions.
John Taylor was an earnest, consecrated, self-sacrificing and conscientious minister of the gospel, and one time a thorough missionary, as we have shown. No man can read the account of his conversion, or the story of his efforts to evangelize Kentucky and Tennessee for Christ, without feeling that he was a converted and honest man. He was the victim of the prejudices engendered by his lack of education and his early environment. Yet all his good qualities but served to give respectability and force to his opposition to the mission cause. It is pleasant to recall that in his later life he was more in sympathy with the mission movement and less timorous of the bug-bear which he had been the first to raise. But, as Doctor Spencer well says: "His pamphlet had gone forth on its pernicious mission, and probably did more to check the cause of missions, in Kentucky, than any other publication of the period." For a comprehension of the better side of John Taylor, one should read his "History of Ten Churches."
Doctor Carroll says: "Daniel Parker was contemporary with John Taylor and claims to be the first opponent of the Mission system. 'It makes me shudder when I think I am the first one (that I have any knowledge of) among the thousands of zealous religionists of America, that have ventured to draw the sword against the error, or to shoot at it and spare no arrows.' But it is doubtful if this statement be true. Taylor wrote in 1819, Parker in 1820 and his pamphlet was republished in 1824, at which time it was printed at Lexington, Kentucky, along with another on the same topic and rehashing the same argument, addressed to Maria Creek Church. Parker was a son of John Parker. He was born in Culpepper County, Virginia, reared in Georgia amid extreme poverty and ignorance, baptized in 1802, and licensed shortly after. In 1803 he removed to Trumbull Church in Tennessee, was ordained there in 1806, and moved to Southeastern Illinois in 1817. He claims to have traveled through a great many of the States of America. In 1810, an old brother in Tennessee advocated in a crude form the Two-Seed Doctrine. Parker rebuked him for it, but in 1826 set forth in pamphlet an elaboration of the same views.
"It is not easy to explain, at least what was meant by Mr. Parker himself, in the phrase 'Two-Seed,' which in time became so notorious. This at least may be said: The teaching represented by it was that form of antinomianism which carried the doctrine of predestination to its utmost extreme.
"The essence of God is good; the essence of evil is the Devil. Good angels are emanations from or particles of God; evil angels are particles of the Devil. When God created Adam and Eve, they were endowed with an emanation from himself or particles of God were included in their constitution. They were wholly good. Satan, however, diffused into them particles of his essence by which they were corrupted. In the beginning God had appointed that Eve should bring forth only a certain number of offsprings [sic]; the same provision applied to each of her daughters. But when the particles of evil essence had been infuse by Satan, the conception of Eve and her daughter was increased. They were now required to bear the original number, who were styled the seed of God, and an additional number who were called the seed of the serpent."
This Two-Seed doctrine is a curious revival, with some modifications of the ancient speculative philosophy of Manichaeus. Doctor Newman calls it a 'very disgusting form of Gnostic heresy.' It is easy to see how such a heresy would cause opposition to missions; for the progeny of one of the seed would constitute the body of Christ, whose salvation is provided. The following quotation is taken from page 11 of a copy of the first minutes of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, organized at Louisville, Friday, October 20th, 1837.
"The Anti-missionary spirit owes its origin to the notorious Daniel Parker. He was the first person called Baptist that lent a hand to the Infidel, and Papist in opposing the proclamation of the gospel to every creature, and the translation and circulation of the Scriptures in all languages and among all people. Possessing a strong native intellect, and a bold adventurous imagination - with a mind cast in nature's most capacious mold, but for want of cultivation admirably calculated to be the receptacle of notions, the most crude, extravagant and chimerical, he generated an Utopian scheme of theology, the tendency of which was to subvert all practical religion. The grounds of his opposition to missions were that the devil was an eternal 'self-subsistent being' (to use his own phrase); that though God created all, yet the devil begat a part of mankind; that those begotten of the devil were his bona fide children, and to their father they would and ought to go; and of course sending them the gospel and giving them the Bible were acts of such gross and supreme folly that no Christian should be engaged in them. On the other hand he taught that the remaining portion of the human family were the actual sons of God from eternity, and being allied to Jesus Christ ere 'the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy' by the nearest and dearest ties of consanguinity, being no less than 'particles' of his body - bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, the Redeemer nolens volens, take them to mansions prepared for them in bliss; and hence Mr. Parker very wisely concluded, that if such were the case, the Lord had very little use for the Bible or Missionary Societies. . . But there were many who embraced only half the doctrine of Mr. Parker and though they manifested no great apprehension for the liege subjects of the Prince of Darkness, yet they expressed great alarm lest the missionaries should help the Lord to perform his work, and convert the souls of some in a way God never intended they should be. They were such staunch friends of the Lord's doing all his work, that they set upon and terribly assailed their missionary brethren, for fear they should by some means assist the Lord in the salvation of his elect. In their zeal against these ambitious strides of the missionaries, they have occasioned great disturbance and distress — and destroying the Peace of Zion, the progress of religion has been greatly retarded, and the influence and usefulness of many ministers and churches utterly paralyzed."
Doctor Carroll, of Texas, in a speech before the Southern Baptist Convention at Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1900, compared Parker in his violence to a wild boar rooting up the tender plants in a garden. The following description of the person and personality of Daniel Parker was written by Dr. John M. Peck, of Home Missions fame, while Parker was still alive and active:
"Mr. Parker is one of those singular and extraordinary beings whom divine Providence permits to arise as a scourge to his church, and a stumbling" block in the way of religious effort. Raised on the frontier of Georgia, (by others he is spoken of as a native of Virginia), without education, uncouth in manner, slovenly in dress, dimunitive in person, unprepossessing in appearance, with shrivelled features and a small piercing eye, few men for a series of years have exercised a wider influence on the lower and less educated class of frontier people. With a zeal and an enthusiasm bordering on insanity, firmness that amounted to obstinacy, and perseverance that would have done honor to a good cause, Daniel Parker exerted himself to the utmost to induce churches to declare non-fellowship with all Baptists who united themselves with any of the benevolent (or as he called them "new-fangled") societies.
"His mind we are told was of a singular and original sort. In doctrine he was antinomian. He believed himself inspired, and so persuaded others. Repeatedly we have heard him when his mind seemed to soar above his own powers, and he would discourse for a few moments on divine attributes or on some devotional subject, with such brilliancy of thought and correctness of language as would astonish men of education and talents. Then again it would seem as if he were perfectly bewildered in a maze of abstruse subtleties.
"Besides his itinerancy among the churches, Parker was a writer, and among other things published for a time a periodical called the "Church Advocate." How much a person of influence he was is shown by the fact that during four years, from 1822 to 1826, he was a member of the Illinois State Senate. His disastrous career in Illinois and Indiana came to a close in 1833, when he removed to Texas.
"It is said of Daniel Parker, that at one time in his earlier career he applied for appointment as missionary, and when it was refused him, turned against mission societies and missionary effort of every kind. This was true at least of his coadjutor, Wilson Thompson. Just how far Parker was influenced by Taylor cannot be known; but Wilson Thompson, his coadjutor, admits to being greatly influenced by reading Taylor's pamphlet. Recent mission troubles in Texas may possibly be due in part to Parker's labors after reaching that State, although we can discover nothing of his life after he moved to Texas. The Parkerite heresy has not yet died out, for the census bulletin for 1893 reports the membership of this sect in the entire country at 9,932."
The third and greatest opposer to the mission system was Alexander Campbell. In August, 1823, he began to publish a small religious monthly, called The Christian Baptist. After making an extensive tour through some of the Western States and finding the anti-mission leaven implanted by Parker and Taylor already at work, he became much more bold in his attacks so that Daniel Parker established The Church Advocate, a periodical similar in size, form and aim to the Christian Baptist, for the purpose of advocating church sovereignty and exclusiveness, in opposition to benevolent societies in the West. There can be no, doubt that in this Parker and Campbell made common cause.
Doctor Carroll says, "While the chief root of Parker's opposition lay in his heresy, Campbell's lay in the fact that he considered himself a Reformer. As he said in his preface, it would do no good to convert heathens to a form of Christianity held by men who themselves needed to be converted to New Testament Christianity. Reformers have never been missionaries, nor the reforming ages periods of missionary activity in the church. This was true of the Roman church. For three hundred years, while the reformers were trying by means of councils to cleanse the church in head and members, there was no missionary activity. Not until after the Reformation, when the Council of Trent had finally put a quietus on the reform movements, did Roman missionary activity begin. The same was true of the Protestant churches. As long as Europe was filled with the jangling of their warring creeds, missionary effort, though feebly attempted a few times, miserably failed. But in the fullness of time when religious opinions had all clarified and crystallized into settled creeds, Cary arose to set the Christian world on fire with missionary enthusiasm. Campbell, then, as a reformer could not readily be a missionary. His mistake lay in supposing the Baptists needed reformation. What they needed was co-operation and missionary zeal. This, Campbell was not responsible for giving them, except as Judas was responsible for our redemption."
Some combinations are hard to understand. We have here the curious spectacle of the highest antinomianism, represented by Parker and Taylor, and the most extreme Arminianism, represented by Campbell, combined to attack the principles of missions. So we find that other things than politics make strange bedfellows. The one side claimed it to be an infringement of the divine, and the other of church sovereignty. The Gospel Missioners of today make the latter claim. Doctor Spencer truly says of Campbell, that he exercised more influence over the Baptists of Kentucky than of any other state, and that while "not the originator of opposition to missions he was its most successful advocate." It is not our purpose to follow Mr. Campbell into all the doctrinal and creedal vagaries into which his reform policy led him. But by attacking and attempting to change the very plan of salvation itself, the only doctrine more vital than that of missions, he finally succeeded in adding another to the already large number of sects in Christendom. His activity in this line was so great and its results are so well known as to obscure his responsibility for the Hardshell split. Doctor Carroll makes the charge that "Alexander Campbell was the father of twins, Hardshellism and Campbellism. Hardshellism first gave indication of its appearance, but as in the case of Jacob and Esau, it was supplanted in the womb by its brother, Campbellism. Hardshellism, though longer in taking to itself a local habitation and name, was the first of the two to disturb the Baptist denomination. But here, as in the case of Parker, many followed him (Campbell) in his opposition to missions, who did not join him in his doctrinal vagaries and who were left behind to vex the saints when the believers in his creed, as set forth in the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger, went out from the Baptists to form a new denomination. The denomination he founded has found it necessary in the struggle for existence to discard all his anti-missionary ideas, and to use all the methods he so unsparingly burlesqued." The "Non-progressive" wing of the Campbellites is still anti-mission in sentiment. They are simon pure Campbellites.
As to Mr. Campbell's teaching and influence on Missions in Kentucky, we can give no better authority than Doctor Spencer in his "History of Kentucky Baptists" (Vol. I, pp. 593, 594).
"Mr. Campbell's opposition to theological schools and educated ministry was equally persistent with his endeavors to destroy Missionary and Bible societies. Of the truth of this, sufficient evidence has been given in the extracts already quoted from his writings. If the reader desires to investigate the subject further, he is referred to the Christian Baptist in its original form; not to the more recent publications under that title.
"The effects of these teachings were felt as far as the Christian Baptist was circulated, and nowhere more than among the Baptists of Kentucky. The preachers who had hitherto received but a small pittance from their charges, were further reduced in their resources of living. The friends of education were discouraged in their endeavors to erect a college. The Baptist missionary societies, that started under such auspicious circumstances, were dwarfed, and ultimately perished. The ministers were brought into disrepute among those who most needed the restraints of their teachings, and practical benevolence was well nigh destroyed in the churches, at least, so far as any effort to spread a knowledge of the gospel was concerned. It required the labors of thirty years to bring the Baptist churches of Kentucky up to the standard of Christian benevolence, to which they had attained, in 1816, and a considerable fraction of them continued their downward course, in this respect, thirty years longer."
Doctor Spencer seems to be the first of our Baptist historians to recognize and credit Mr. Campbell with the large part he played in anti-missionism.
Quoting Doctor Carroll again (pp. 157-8), "Prior to 1830, the Licking Association of Kentucky adopted the policy of Mr. Campbell in regard to missions, benevolent societies and theological education, (The Licking Association, however, did not declare non-fellowship for missions until 1834. See Spencer, Vol. II, p. 243 - Nowlin), but rejected his theology. In the meantime, of course, Mr. Campbell had been developing his theology in its more well-known forms and laying the foundation for a new denomination. In Kentucky, by 1830, there was a definite separation between the Baptists and the Disciples, as they called themselves. The remnant of the one-time strong Arminian element among the Baptists had gone with the Disciples. But the fact that this Arminianism was made prominent prevented many of those among the Baptists who shared Mr. Campbell's views in regard to missionary operations, Bible distribution and theological education, from joining his 'Disciples.' These were left among the Baptists to cause yet further division. The anti-missionaries thus left behind were not agreed among themselves. The larger element, represented by Licking, Red River and other Associations, was decidedly antinomian in its doctrine. This antinomian faction was itself divided on the Two-Seeds doctrine of Parker and afterward on the resurrection. The other division of the anti-missionaries followed Doctor Andrew Fuller's interpretation of the doctrines of grace, but 'opposed all human societies' for carrying the gospel. The number of these anti-missionaries left was about 7,000; their loss in numbers would have been seriously felt, but the power of the church to recuperate would have been greatly strengthened had they gone out with the rest of Mr. Campbell's 'Disciples.'"
In the Life of Thomas J. Fisher (p. 68), Doctor Spencer, after giving account of the inroads made by Campellism and anti-missionism says: "This was the condition of the Baptist denomination in Kentucky in A. D. 1835. For a number of years weakened and embarrassed by a heartless, inert fatalism (Hard-shellism) on one side, and a turbulent, factious rationalism (Campbellism) on the other, she separated from them both at a cost of nearly or quite one-half of her entire membership." These losses, however, were gains to the Baptists in the end.
The early Kentucky Baptists not only sent missionaries to the Indians, but established schools for their children, as the following shows: "The Kentucky Missionary Society established a school for Indian children near Georgetown, Kentucky, to which they gave the name of Choctaw Academy. The school opened with eight red children, in the spring of 1819. The number of students increased from year to year, till it became a large and flourishing school. In 1828, seventeen of the Indians in this school were baptized into Great Crossing Church, in Scott County, and of the number, Sampson Birch and Robert Jones, became preachers of the gospel among their people in the far West" ("History of Kentucky Baptists," Vol. I, p. 579).
This shows that the early Baptists in Kentucky were favorable to both missions and education, and not only in sentiment, but in their efforts.
"The decade extending from 1810 to 1820 was one of great prosperity to the Baptists of Kentucky. There were ten associations formed during that period," says Spencer (Vol. I, p. 579). This shows that the anti-mission spirit had not yet become prevalent in Kentucky.
In the history of the Salem Association Spencer records the fact that "In 1818, the association earnestly recommended the churches to contribute to missionary purposes, and expressed the opinion that educational societies greatly conduce to the promotion of the Redeemer's Kingdom." (Vol. II, p. 54).
The anti-mission split in this association did not occur until 1839, when a few churches split off and constituted "Otto Creek Association of Regular Baptists." In Tate's Creek Association according to Spencer (Vol. II, p. 95) the division took place in 1842.
The Licking Association became a "Hardshell," or anti-mission association, in 1834. Spencer in his history of the Licking Association says (Vol. II, p. 243): "The association still continued to increase slowly in numbers till 1834, when it reached a membership of 32 churches, aggregating 1,483 members. These are the largest numbers it has ever attained. It had been made sufficiently manifest, by the transactions of 1820 that the body was opposed to missions. But now the more radical of the churches began to clamor for a direct expression on the subject. Accordingly the association in 1834 recorded its views in the following language: 'In answer to the suggestions made in several of the letters from our churches, we declare non-fellowship for missionary, Bible, tract (and) temperance societies, theological and Sabbath schools and Baptist conventions as religious institutions, believing (that) they are without divine warrant.'" The call from the churches for "a direct expression" on the subject of missions shows that the association had not yet taken a definite stand on this question; and the action of the association shows the same.
At their meeting in 1820 "A circular letter from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions was laid on the table, which was equivalent to withdrawing correspondence from that organization" (Spencer, Vol. II, p. 242). This action and the minutes of former meetings show that the association had been in correspondence with the Board of Foreign Missions. The above shows that the Licking Association did not declare itself anti-missionary until 1834, and the following shows that as a result of that declaration she lost many of her churches. "The church at Dry Run withdrew from the association the same year that she declared non-fellowship for missionary societies. In 1837 East Hickman and Richland Creek withdrew; and in 1839, Mill Creek, Poplar Grove, White Oak Run, North Fork and Licking Locust were dropped from the association, for failing, two successive years, to represent themselves." (Spencer, Vol. II, p. 244). The division in the Highland Association took place in 1835. The churches withdrawing at this meeting constituted the Little Bethel Association on Saturday preceding the second Lord's day in September, 1836. The author has before him an old ledger giving the minutes of the association from its organization in 1836 to 1866, written in a fine, clear, legible style.
In the first minutes of the association is set forth the reason for its organization in the following: "First. On motion and second, it was unanimously agreed that the following preamble be inserted in front of our minutes. To all whom it may concern, be it known, that we the constituent members of the Little Bethel Association, this day formed at Flat Creek meeting house, Hopkins County, Kentucky, having been heretofore members of the Highland Association, and having seen with mortification and deep regret the violent opposition of a majority of that body to the benevolent institutions of the day, and that they have repeatedly violated the spirit and letter of the constitution thereof within the last four years." Here they set forth a number of items of complaint. It will be observed that the main reason for this separation was "the violent opposition of a majority of that body to the Benevolent Institutions of the day."
The Little Bethel Association is now a strong association with a membership of 3,403, while the Highland, which became anti-missionary, has dwindled away.
Of the North District Association Spencer says, (Vol. II, p.124): "The anti-missionary complexion of the body was manifested by its dropping correspondence with all the neighboring associations, except Burning Springs, between the years 1837 and 1842. In 1859 it assumed the name of 'Old Baptist,' which it still bears." The name "Old Baptist" indicates it is an anti-missionary body. This name, however, was not assumed until 1859.
The Baptists have rallied from these blows and now probably outnumber all the Protestant denominations in the state combined. So far as the author ascertain there are but few anti-mission Baptist churches in Kentucky today, and the few that do exist, are weak and dying. Anti-missions is one of the blighting heresies that can strike a church. The vital principle of the Christian religion seems to be, give and live or deny and die. "There is that scatttereth and yet increaseth; there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty."
This has been thoroughly demonstrated by the Missionary and Anti-missionary Baptists, not only in Kentucky, but throughout the entire country.
According to a survey of the Baptist development the United States in the century from 1821 to 1921, just completed by Dr. E. P. Alldredge, Secretary of Survey, Statistics and Information of the Sunday School Board, Nashville, Tenn., the growth during that period was 7,716,563, or 2,967 per cent. The larger part of this growth was experienced in the South, where there are now 6,162,500 Baptists.
Kentucky has a total Baptist strength of 381,865, Dr. Alldredge finds. This number is accounted for as follows:
White Baptists co-operating with Southern Baptist Convention, 261,135; non-co-operating white Baptists, 30,730; Negro Baptists, 90,000. Of the 30,730 "non-co-operating Baptists" Doctor Alldredge gives "Primitive Baptists — 2,250." This seems to be the strength of the Anti-mission Baptists in Kentucky at the present time, while the white Baptists of the state number about 300,000.
[From William Dudley Nowlin, Kentucky Baptist History - 1770-1922, pp. 100-115. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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