CHAPTER XXIV. Missionaries from the East
About this time there were a great many young missionaries sent out to this country to civilize and Christianize the poor heathen of the West. They would come with a tolerable education, and a smattering knowledge of the old Calvinistic system of theology. They were generally tolerably well furnished with old manuscript sermons, that had been preached, or written, perhaps a hundred years before. Some of these sermons they had memorized, but in general they read them to the people. This way of reading sermons was out of fashion altogether in this Western world, and of course they produced no good effect among the people. The great mass of our Western people wanted a preacher that could mount a stump, a block, or old log, or stand in the bed of a wagon, and without note or manuscript, quote, expound, and apply the word of God to the hearts and consciences of the people. The result of the efforts of these Eastern missionaries was not very flattering; and although the Methodist preachers were in reality the pioneer heralds of the cross throughout the entire West, and although they had raised up numerous societies and churches every five miles, and notwithstanding we had hundreds of traveling and local preachers, accredited and useful ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ, yet these newly-fledged missionaries would write back to the old states hardly anything else but wailings and lamentations over the moral wastes and destitute condition of the West.
These letters would be read in their large congregations, stating that they had traveled hundreds of miles, and found no evangelical minister, and the poor perishing people were in a fair way to be lost for the want of the bread of life; and the ignorant or uninformed thousands that heard these letters read would melt into tears, and their sympathies be greatly moved, when they considered our lost and heathenish state, and would liberally contribute their money to send us more missionaries, or to support those that were already here. Thus some of these missionaries, after occupying our pulpits, and preaching in large and respectable Methodist congregations, would write back and give those doleful tidings. Presently their letters would be printed, and come back among us as published facts in some of their periodicals.
Now, what confidence could the people have in such missionaries, who would state things as facts that had not even the semblance of truth in them? Thus I have known many of them to destroy their own usefulness, and cut off an access to the people; and, indeed, they have destroyed all confidence in them as ministers of truth and righteousness, and caused the way of truth to be evil spoken of. On a certain occasion, when these reports came back known to contain false statements, the citizens of Quincy called a meeting, mostly out of the Church, and after discussing the subject, pledged themselves to give me a thousand dollars per annum, and bear all my traveling expenses, if I would go as a missionary to the New-England States, and enlighten them on this and other subjects, of which they considered them profoundly ignorant. But, owing to circumstances beyond my control, I was obliged to decline the acceptance of their generous offer.
If it had been consistently in my power, how gladly and willingly would I have undertaken this labor of love, and gloried in enlightening them down East, that they might keep, their home-manufactured clergy at home, or give them some honorable employ better suited to their genius, than that of reading old musty and worm-eaten sermons. If this matter is rightly looked into, it will astonish every well-informed man to see the self-importance and self-complacence of these little home-manufactured fellows. If they would tarry at Jericho till their beards were grown out, it certainly would be more creditable to themselves, and to all others concerned, and especially to the cause of God.
It will be perceived that in the fall of 1834, the Galena and Chicago Districts were formed, which gave us six presiding-elder districts in our Conference. Our Conference met in Springfield, October 1st, 1835. At this conference I was returned to the Quincy District, which now consisted of the following appointments, namely: Pittsfield, Quincy Circuit, Quincy Mission, Rushville Station, Rushville Circuit, Canton, Fort Edwards Mission, Henderson River Mission, and Knoxville Mission--8. At this conference in Springfield, we again elected our delegates to the General Conference, which was holden in Cincinnati, May 1st, 1836. To this General Conference I was elected; and it was the fifth General Conference in which I was entitled to a seat by the suffrages of my brethren in the ministry.
At the General Conference of 1832, that body had granted the privilege to the West to publish a religious paper at Cincinnati, on the hard condition that we obtained five thousand subscribers. However, by strong effort we obtained that number, and Thomas A. Morris was its first editor. At the General Conference of 1836, he, as well as Brother Beverly Waugh, and Doctor Fisk, were elected Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Doctor C. Elliott, the present incumbent, was elected editor of the Western Christian Advocate, John F. Wright, our Western Book Agent, and Leroy Swormstedt, Assistant Book Agent.
It was at this General Conference of 1836, that the ground was taken by a majority of the delegates from the slaveholding states, that slavery was right, and a blessing, instead of a curse, to the slaves themselves. We had from the North, O. Scott and his coadjutors, who were ultra abolitionists; and we had some warm debates on the subject. The Southern delegates met in private caucus to devise a plan of separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church, unless we would so modify the Discipline as to tolerate slavery, or make it no bar to membership or office in the Church. This movement was headed by the Rev. William A. Smith, of Virginia, and others of the same cloth and kidney. I was invited by John Early, of Virginia, now bishop of the Southern Church, to attend one of these caucuses. I went. Some of them took strong ground, and urged a division, or a separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Others of them said they would never consent to a division; that they would rather suffer martyrdom than to divide the Church. Finally, I think they did not harmonize on any plan of division at that time; but William A. Smith said to me, he never would be satisfied unless we would agree to expunge everything from the Discipline of the Methodist Church on the subject of slavery; and true to the dark principles of his creed, he never rested until he divided the Methodist Church; and at the late General Conference of the Church, South, they swept, as with the besom of destruction, every rule from their Discipline on the subject of slavery, and only lacked a few votes of erasing from the General Rules that part which forbids "the buying and selling of men, women, or children, with an intention to enslave them."
This rule the advocates of slavery at the South have always interpreted to apply to the slave-trade, and that trade alone. Taking them to be sincere in this interpretation of this General Rule, what is the conclusion that we must draw from their late move in their General Conference? It is, plainly, that they wish every disciplinary barrier moved out of the way, and the slave-trade, with all its damning, murdering influences, revived again, notwithstanding it is denounced by all Christian philanthropists, and made piracy by the laws of our happy country; notwithstanding all their pretensions to patriotism, their love of country, and all their law-loving and law-abiding professions, as being "obedient to the powers that be," they would open the way to revive this abominable traffic in human souls and bodies; and while this slave-trade stands reprobated by every Christian nation that deserves the name, and has the broad seal of reprobation set on it by God himself, they wish to see its dark wheels set in motion again, without let or hindrance.
And why should they not desire this, if they are sincere in their expressed opinions? They tell us that slavery "is a political, domestic, and religious blessing;" if so, why not enter into the slave-trade, wholesale and retail? go with armed ships, kidnap human beings by the thousand, bring them to America, sell them into perpetual bondage? Never mind the parting of husband and wife, parents and children; the encouraging the savage ferocity of these poor degraded heathen. Tell them the Christian religion sanctions their bloody wars among themselves; and that it is to make Christians of them that you buy and transport them to "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Have no scruples of conscience about the thousands that are murdered in these wars, instigated by Christians, or that die on their passage from the land of barbarism to this Christian land of universal freedom; "the great end will sanctify the means." Crowd the slave ships, or "floating hells;" all, all is to better their condition. It is a god-like deed of mercy, and why should not Methodist preachers, bishops and all, have a large share in this benevolent and Christian affair? Who can forbid? And let the officers of these slave vessels never forget to tell these savage tribes that there is at least one very popular Church in America that sanctions all these operations, and will justify them; namely, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Prior to the General Conference of 1836, the run-mad spirit of rabid abolitionism had broken out in some of the Eastern and Northern conferences; and Methodist preachers were found by the dozen to quit their appropriate fields of labor, and their holy calling of saving souls, and turn out and become hired lecturers against slavery. So zealous were they, that they forgot their pastoral duties; and they went so far as violently to oppose colonization as a slaveholding trick. Dr. Fisk was a good man and true, and was as much opposed to slavery as any of them, yet he was for occupying real Methodist preacher ground, and bearing his plain, honest testimony against the moral evil of slavery, and not meddling with it politically, only in a constitutional way. He, seeing that this rabid abolitionism would rivet the chains of slavery the tighter, rouse the jealousies of the slaveholders, and disrupt the Methodist Church, flung himself into the breach, and met those lecturers in open combat; vanquished them in argument, and compelled them to retreat, or bolt, and set up for themselves. O. Scott and his coadjutors formed themselves into a separate party organization, calling themselves the "True Wesleyans;" but long since they have found, to their sorrow, that they misnamed the brat, for the secession that they produced was a very feeble, little, illegitimate child. But they nursed it till it took the rickets; and the last I heard of it, it was fast wasting away, and "the last state of it is worse than the first."
Under these circumstances, Dr. Fisk stood in the general confidence of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North and South, East and West; and although he was not present at the General Conference at Cincinnati, yet when we were about to elect three new bishops, Dr. Winans, of Mississippi, a thorough Southern man, and a great defender of slavery, rose, and in open conference nominated Dr. Fisk for episcopal honors; and if I am not greatly mistaken, nearly the entire Southern delegation voted for him, and he was elected by a great majority of the members of the General Conference. But Dr. Fisk, thinking that the episcopate was strong enough without him, declined being ordained, and lived and died without episcopal consecration. It is a pity that more Methodist preachers do not follow the illustrious course pursued by Dr. Fisk. Then we should benefit the slaves more than we do.
At the General Conference of 1836, there were six new conferences formed; two in the West, namely, Arkansas and Michigan, and four in the East, namely, Erie, North Carolina, Oneida, and New-Jersey. The number of members in the West was about 262,690; our traveling preachers in the West had increased to 1,069. The number of members in the Eastern conferences was about 396,000; their traveling preachers numbered about 3,560. Total membership, 658,690; total traveling preachers, 4,629. Our increase in the West, in four years, was something like 45,000; in traveling preachers we had increased about 300. The increase in the Eastern conferences, according to the Minutes, was 14,000 ; their increase in traveling preachers was something like 200. Total increase through the connection, in four years, 59,000.
Thus, I think, without any disposition to boast in the least degree, I may say, in the fear of God, that, under the Divine guidance of the Great Redeemer, the Methodist Episcopal Church, in point of prosperity and increase of number in her ministry and membership, stands without an equal in the Protestant world since the days of the apostles. O, that she may keep humble, and never move her old landmarks!
Our venerable Bishop M'Kendree, of whom I have spoken freely in another part of this narrative, who labored long and suffered much as a traveling preacher, had closed his mortal probation on March the 5th, 1835. At the General Conference at Cincinnati, in May, 1836, Bishop Soule preached the funeral sermon of this eminent minister and unrivaled bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. That sermon has been published and thrown broadcast over the world, and I therefore have no need to say anything in relation to its merits. But I wish to say a few brief things of Bishop M'Kendree himself.
If my information be correct, he was born in King William County, Virginia, 6th of July, 1757. In an extensive and glorious revival of religion, under the ministerial labors of John Easter, a real son of thunder and consolation too, M'Kendree embraced religion and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. In a few months he was licensed to preach, and was appointed to a circuit. He was very diffident and distrustful of his own abilities as a preacher. The members of the Church did not receive him kindly. This he told me himself, and under the discouragement he met with from his brethren, he left his circuit, conceiving that he was mistaken about his call to the ministry, but he fell into good hands among the preachers, and they advised, cheered, and comforted him, and soon he entered the work again.
These were the times of the schism created in the Church by James O'Kelly, who had a great influence over M'Kendree, and for a little while he inclined to leave the Methodist Episcopal Church and go with this popular schismatic. But he was not hasty, and narrowly watched the spirit and course of O'Kelly, until he became thoroughly satisfied that O'Kelly was of a wrong and wicked spirit, and that the great moving cause of O'Kelly's disaffection was disappointed ambition. He then gave up O'Kelly, fully satisfied that Bishop Asbury and his preachers were right, and from this to the day of his death he never wavered or doubted on the grand land-marks of Episcopal Methodism.
Bishop M'Kendree was the gentleman as well as Christian minister. He was a profound theologian, and understood thoroughly the organic laws of ecclesiastic government; he was a dignified, shrewd parliamentary presiding officer, a profound judge of human nature, and one of the strongest debaters and logical reasoners that ever graced an American pulpit. At an early period of his ministry he was transferred to the Western Conference, and, considering the hardships, privations, and sufferings of frontier life, and the delicacy of his constitution, he bore it all with great cheerfulness and resignation, and truly he was, in his feelings and habits, a Western man and a Western bishop. When his end drew near, death found him duly prepared for his change, and on his dying pillow and amid surrounding friends, he was enabled to proclaim, "All is well." He died in Sumner County, Tennessee State, at his brother's, Dr. M'Kendree, and was buried in his brother's family burying ground, where all that is mortal of Bishop M'Kendree will repose till the general resurrection.
Dr. Jennings, of Baltimore, was employed to write his life for publication, and after making some progress in the work, declined its prosecution any further. Then the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1840, requested Bishop Soule to prepare a history of his life and labors for publication, but by some strange neglect, Bishop Soule delayed doing so till the unhappy division of the Church, and then Bishop Soule seceded from the Methodist Episcopal Church, and joined the Church, South, and I suppose if ever the life of Bishop M'Kendree is published at all, the Methodist Episcopal Church will be deprived of the benefit of it. It is to be regretted that this work has been so long delayed, and we think unnecessarily so.