Mennonites, a denomination of Protestants who reject infant baptism and baptize adult persons only on a profession of faith, and practise non-resistance and abstinence from oaths. They thus combine some of the leading principles of the Baptists with some of the distinctive views of the Friends, though historically they preceded both. Originally they were called by their opponents Anabaptists, while they called themselves in Switzerland and south Germany Taufer, i. e., baptizers; in the Netherlands Doopsgezinde, i. e., persons holding special views as to baptism. They were called Mennonites because they were reorganized and more fully indoctrinated by Menno Symons. The chief points in their history are the following. In January, 1525, at Zurich, two young scholars, Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, and a former monk, George Blaurock, organized the first church which professed all the leading principles of the body. They rapidly spread in Switzerland, being most numerous at St. Gall. Persecution soon drove many of them to southern Germany, where Augsburg and Strasburg became their strongholds.
Here also persecution broke out, and more than 3,000 of them suffered martyrdom in Swabia, Bavaria, Austria, and Tyrol. They found refuge in Moravia, where they greatly increased, until the thirty years' war drove them away. About 1545 a confession of faith was published by them in Moravia (republished, Berlin, 1869), which distinctly enjoins pouring as the mode of baptism. When in 1527 and 1528 various leaders of the Anabaptists had perished at the stake, enthusiasts rose in their places. The chief among these was Melchior Hoffmann, a Swabian, through whom the principles of the Anabaptists, mixed with his chiliastic views, were first disseminated in the Netherlands. His fanatical follower, John Matthias of Haarlem, in 1533 inaugurated the atrocities of Mtin-Bter in Westphalia, which, though committed by men who had deviated from the original principles of the sect, were charged to the whole body. The history of the Dutch Mennonites, as after the accession of Menno Symons the Anabaptists were called, is written in blood.
About 6,000 of them suffered martyrdom under the rule of Philip II. of Spain. When the Netherlands rose for their independence, William of Orange favored them, but other leaders of the reformed party opposed them, and it was not till 1651 that'toleration was secured to them by a general law. Besides oppression, internal dissensions greatly checked their growth. In 1557 they were divided into two parties, the more rigid being called the Frisians, the more moderate the Flemings, to which a third party, the Waterlanders, was soon added. The points of difference between these parties related only to church order and discipline. About the middle of the 17th century doctrinal dissensions brought about new divisions. All Mennonites agreed in doctrine with the Remonstrants or Arminians of Holland; but when some of them, with a largo part of the Remonstrants, adopted Socinian views, the other Mennonite churches opposed them. It was not till 1801 that all Dutch Mennonites were reunited in one body and founded a theological seminary at Amsterdam. At present they enjoy full religious liberty, and are highly respected; many of them'are among the richest men in the country; but their number has decreased froni 100,000 in 1700 to fewer than 20,000 in 1873. - In Switzerland the Mennonites, up to the middle of the present century, were oppressed in many ways, one of which was, that their infants were forcibly taken from them to be christened.
In consequence of this, large numbers emigrated to Alsace and the Palatinate. At present they number in Switzerland and southern Germany about 8,000 communicants, and in East Fries-land, the province of West Prussia, and other parts of northern Germany, about the same number. They are more numerous in southern Russia, whither they began to emigrate from West Prussia in 1783, settling first on the banks of the Dnieper, and later near the sea of Azov. Here they acquired considerable wealth, and in 1870 formed a population of about 40,-000. By special decrees of the emperors they were exempted from military duty. In 1871, however, this privilege was abolished, and no alternative was left them except conscription or emigration, the privilege of emigration being confined to the period from 1871 to 1880. This measure caused thousands to emigrate to the United States. The first colonies, arriving in 1873, settled in Minnesota and Kansas. The emperor subsequently modified the decree relative to conscription with a view of arresting the movement. - The emigration of Mennonites to the United States began with the settlement of New York, some of them having been among the first Dutch settlers.
The first church was organized in 1683 at Germantown near Philadelphia, and consisted mainly of Hollanders; the first meeting house, built in 1708, still stands. In 1709 began a much larger emigration from Switzerland and the Palatinate. These settled in Lancaster co., Pa. As their religious views then were but little known, they republished the confession of faith adopted at Dort in 1027, which is still adhered to by all Mennonites in America. In the beginning of the 19th century they began to spread from Pennsylvania and Maryland to the western states and Upper Canada. As few of them keep lists of membership or minutes of their animal conferences, it is impossible to ascertain their exact number. According to the most recent estimates, the number of their communicants in America is about 60,000, with 500 meeting houses, those in Canada constituting one eighth of the whole. They are most numerous in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. Their principal divisions are: 1. The Old Mennonites, by far the largest body, having a publishing office at Elkhart, Ind. 2. The Reformed Mennonites (in German Herrn-Leute), founded in 1811 by John Herr, who returned to the rigor of the ancient Frisian Mennonites, prohibiting all religious intercourse with other Christians, even at funerals and family prayers.
They are very strict in the reception of members and in the separation from the excommunicated. 3. The New Mennonites, organized in 1847 by J.
Ober-Holtzer, have introduced various reforms, and founded a theological seminary at Wadsworth, Ohio. Their publishing office is at Milford Square, Pa. 4. The Evangelical Mennonites separated from the preceding party in 1856, because they held it to be a duty of all Christians to hold stated meetings for prayer. 5. The Amish Mennonites, usually called Ornish, next to the Old Mennonites, are the most numerous body in America. They first rose in 16i»3 in Alsace. Their founder, Jacob Amman, after whom they were named, enjoined on his adherents strict separation from the excommunicated, feet washing, and greater plainness in dress. They discarded the use of buttons on their clothing, and hence were called Haftler or Hooker Mennonites, while the others were known as Knopfler or Buttonites. - In their general doctrines the Mennonites agree with the great body of evangelical Christians. In church government they are in Europe Independents, while in America they somewhat resemble Presbyterians, inasmuch as the resolutions of their annual conferences are binding on the churches. They have bishops, preachers, and deacons; but the only difference between the bishop and the preacher is that the former is ordained, the latter only licensed to preach.
Baptism is administered to almost all children of Mennonites when they arrive at a certain age, in Germany in their 14th year in Holland and America about their 18th. I he mode, except among the Lvangehcal and some of the New Mennonites is always pouring. The Lord's supper is celebrated twice a year, preceded in America in a large majority of churches by feet washing. All Mennonites consider honesty, industry, and plainness of dress and manners to be prominent Christian duties. They do not assume public offices, which would make it necessary for them to take an oath or to inflict punishments. They never go to law. On this continent, as in most parts of Europe, they are nearly all farmers. - Almost the entire Mennonite literature is in Dutch and German. The principal works are: T. J. van Braght, Ilet oloedige tooneel der Doopsgezinde en weereloze Chris-tenen (Dort, 1660; Amsterdam, 1685); Hermann Schyn, Historia Christianorum, qui in Belgio Faderato Mennonites, appellantur (Amsterdam, 1725 and 1729); Blaupot ten Gate, Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Friesland, Holland, Zeeland, etc. (Amsterdam, 1837-50); J. A. Starck, GescMchte der Taufe und der Taufgesinnten (Leipsic, 1789); Hunzinger, Das religiose Kirclien- und Schulwesen der Menno-niten (Spire, 1831); and Cornelius, GescMchte des Munsterischen Aufruhrs (Leipsic, 1855).