One day, Porter was browsing in Mark Newman's bookstore, where he bought a “little religious book” for eight cents.  As his biographer wrote years later, "The thought occurred to him that books of that size might be printed for three cents, if benevolent individuals would unite to publish them in a cheap form and in large quantities.”  He envisioned “a few choice tracts, printed in large editions.”  It wasn't such an original idea. There was Britain's Religious Tract Society after all, founded in 1799. In any case, on May 23, 1814, the New England Religious Tract Society was founded by Porter, Moses Stuart, Jedidiah Morse, Leonard Woods, and William Bartlet (the money man, who was made the society's president). And soon enough tracts were being printed by Flagg and Gould. One of them was a Porter sermon, preached at Andover's South Church, called “Great Effects from Little Causes," during which he related some typical stories about good deeds. But then towards the end, he spoke self-reflexively about tracts.
Britain's tract society, he noted, had distributed at least twenty million tracts in various languages in its first fourteen years. “Every man, woman and child can do something — can do much. Who cannot spare one cent, to buy a small tract? That tract, dropped on the high road, or given to a stranger, may carry comfort to some desponding, or conviction to some careless heart; may reclaim some profligate, awaken some drunkard to sobriety, some sabbath-breaker or swearer to saving reform . . . The day is coming, when men will be accustomed to reckon the establishment of a tract or a moral society, or a prayer meeting, among the instruments of ushering in the glory of the church, and the salvation of the world.”
1. William A. Hallock, “Light and Love” A Sketch of The Life and Labors of the Rev. Justin Edwards, D.D. The Evangelical Pastor; the advocate of Temperance, The Sabbath, and The Bible. New York and Boston: American Tract Society, 1855), 44.
2. Lyman Matthews, Memoir of the Life and Character of Ebenezer Porter, D.D (Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1837), 327-8.
3. A Brief History of the American Tract Society, 8.