The High Council was originally established by William Booth in 1904 as a safeguard to allow the removal from office of an incumbent General who had become, for whatever reason, unfit to continue to exercise oversight, direction and control of The Salvation Army. Should such an allegation be made and receive significant support from officers of the rank of commissioner, a High Council would be called to decide upon the matter and to appoint a successor should the General be found unfit.
The Founder intended, however, that the normal method of appointment would be for the General in office to select his or her successor, but only one General – Bramwell Booth in 1912 – was ever selected in this way.
By November 1928, Bramwell Booth had been absent from International Headquarters for seven months on account of illness, and a High Council was called. The 63 members, being all the commissioners on active service and certain territorial commanders, gathered at Sunbury Court near London on 8 January 1929 and eventually voted that the General, then aged 73, was ‘unfit on the ground of ill-health’ to continue in office. On 13 February 1929 the High Council elected Commissioner Edward Higgins as the Army’s third General.
Subsequently, a commissioners’ conference agreed to three major constitutional reforms later passed into law by the British Parliament as the Salvation Army Act 1931, namely:
- the abolition of the General’s right to nominate his or her successor, and the substitution of the election of every General by a High Council;
- the fixing of an age limit for the retirement of the General;
- the creation of a trustee company to hold the properties and other capital assets of the Army, in place of the sole trusteeship of the General.
The High Council is currently constituted under provisions of the Salvation Army Act 1980 as amended by deeds of variation executed in 1995, 2005 and 2010.
Since 1929, High Councils have been held in 1934 (electing General Evangeline Booth), 1939 (General Carpenter), 1946 (General Orsborn), 1954 (General Kitching), 1963 (General Coutts), 1969 (General Wickberg), 1974 (General Wiseman), 1977 (General Brown), 1981 (General Wahlström), 1986 (General Burrows), 1993 (General Tillsley), 1994 (General Rader), 1999 (General Gowans), 2002 (General Larsson), 2006 (General Clifton), 2011 (General Bond) and 2013 (General Cox).
High Councils are normally called by the Chief of the Staff and have usually met at Sunbury Court but can meet anywhere in the United Kingdom. From 1995 until 2010 High Councils were composed of all active commissioners except the spouse of the General, and all territorial commanders. In March 2010 membership was expanded to also include all officers holding the appointment of Territorial President of Women's Ministries.
Most recently, the 2013 High Council elected André Cox to the office of General.
For coverage of the 2013 High Council, visit www.salvationarmy.org/highcouncil2013