CHAPTER XXVIII. Restrictive Rule and Slavery
In the fall of 1844, our conference was held in the town of Nashville, Washington County, Illinois. Here the concurrence of the Conference was asked in the measures of the General Conference. Brother Stamper and Brother Berryman, who had voted with the South, took their stand for concurrence, and I took my stand for non-concurrence; and after we had debated the subject fully, the vote was taken, and there was a handsome majority in favor of non-concurrence. So the measure failed in our conference, and it failed throughout all the annual conferences of obtaining a three-fourths vote for concurrence; and the restrictive rule remained as it was, the recommendation of the General Conference to the contrary notwithstanding.
Now , the plain state of fact was this: The main body of the members of the General Conference knew, and many of them openly said on the General Conference floor, both Northern and Southern members, that the General Conference had no power either to divide the Church, or the property or avails of the Book Concern, or the Chartered Fund, and the act of the General Conference to divide the property or funds of the Methodist Episcopal Church was only passed provisionally. They knew it was unconstitutional, and their design was to change the restrictive rule, or constitutional clause of the Discipline, so as to allow this division of the property, and proceeds of the Book Concern, and Chartered Fund of the Methodist Episcopal Church. But how was this change to be brought about in a constitutional way? Answer. See Discipline, Part I., Chap. ii, Sec. ii, Ans. 6, thus: "They (the General Conference) shall not appropriate the produce of the Book Concern, nor of the Charter Fund, to any purpose other than for the benefit of the traveling, supernumerary, superannuated and worn-out preachers, their wives, widows, and children. Provided, nevertheless, that upon the concurrent recommendation of three fourths of the members of the several annual conferences, who shall be present and vote on such recommendation, then a majority of two thirds of the General Conference succeeding shall suffice to alter any of the above restrictions, excepting the first article: and also, whenever such alteration or alterations shall have been first recommended by two thirds of the General Conference, so soon as three fourths of the members of all the annual conferences shall have concurred as aforesaid, such alteration or alterations shall take effect."
The General Conference of 1844 recommended an alteration in this sixth restrictive rule of the constitution of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and sent round to all the annual conferences for a three-fourths vote of concurrence. Now, notwithstanding this was the favorite measure of the South, and notwithstanding every member of all the seceding slave-holding Conferences, save a solitary one, voted a concurrence with this unreasonable recommendation, yet when the votes of all the annual conferences were counted, they fell far short of a three-fourths vote of concurrence.
Does it not, therefore, shock all the honorable, high-minded feelings of mankind, to know that the public functionaries of justice could be so corrupt as to decide against the Methodist Episcopal Church in those Church suits in favor of the Southern seceders, the self-styled and self-constituted Methodist Episcopal Church, South? I hope I may be indulged in a few remarks on this vexed question of slavery. I hold myself to be an unflinching conservative Methodist preacher. I know that slavery is an evil, and a great evil, and although the South denies this ground, and their interested cry is abolition! abolition! that is, with many of them, this cry has never moved me one inch. I can only pray, "Lord, forgive them; they know not what they do."
Nine tenths of them, members and preachers, came into the Methodist Episcopal Church with their eyes open, with our General Rules, and other rules, all open before them; if they did not like them, they should not have joined the Church. If they joined not knowing the rules, when they came to the knowledge of them, and then thought them radically wrong, they should have peaceably retired, or withdrawn, and not have rended the Church, and thrown her into violent commotions; and turn round and abuse the Church that under God, was the means of their salvation. They always had tangible evidence that the Methodist Episcopal Church would never tolerate slavery in one of her bishops, and they had no just right to complain when the General Conference arrested Bishop Andrew, and gave as the sense of that respectable body, that he should desist from the exercise of his episcopal functions, until he rid himself of that impediment. As a prudent Christian bishop, he should have done this of his own accord.
On the other hand, the ultra abolitionists of the North, or anywhere else, have no right to complain of me and others, and deny us the dignified privilege of being conservatives, and hurl their anathemas against us, and bring a railing accusation against us of "pro-slavery, pro-slavery!" And, indeed, they treat us with less decent respect than God permitted Michael the archangel to treat the devil, for he did not allow Michael to bring a railing accusation against his Satanic Majesty; but permitted him only to say, "The Lord rebuke thee." Mr. Wesley never made slave-holding a test of membership; and when, in 1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, slavery was not made a test of membership; it never has been a test of membership, from the apostolic day down to the present. I ask, then, what right have these Babel builders to introduce a new test of membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church? They, like the South, joined the Methodist Church under her present rules on slavery, and did it with their eyes open. Why did they join her? And, if they were ignorant of our rules on slavery when they joined, after they informed themselves, and did not, and could not, become reconciled to those rules or the Church, why did they not peaceably withdraw or leave, and not keep the Church in an eternal agitation and confusion? thereby prejudicing the slaveholders in the South, cutting off our access to them and their slaves, rending the Church, embroiling the whole nation, which threatens a rupture of our national union, and the destructive ravages of civil war. Before, and at the time of the Southern secession, there were three of our Church papers, with three Methodist preachers as editors of those papers, in the South, paid for their services out of the funds of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They were elected and paid to spread religious knowledge, and defend the doctrines and the usages of the Methodist Episcopal Church; but how did they act, and discharge the highly responsible duties of their office? It is true, they wrote many good things; but it is also true, that they put into requisition all their tact and talent to abuse the Church which was giving them their bread, denouncing her as an ultra abolition Church. Now, was this the course that honorable, high-minded Christian ministers should have taken? Surely not. Well, since this glorious inconsistency attached to the South, we have elected editors in the North and Northwest, under precisely the same circumstances as the Southern editors who have lived on the pap of the Church; and they have opened their batteries, denouncing her as a pro-slavery Church. "O Consistency, thou art a jewel!" If these editors were conscience stricken on these subjects, why did they not resign their editorial offices, and set up independent sheets, and vent their spleen against the Methodist Episcopal Church on their own responsibility, and support themselves?
The middle ground between these ultra extremes is what I call conservative ground; that is, we say, in the language of our most excellent Discipline, that slavery is a great evil; and the grand question is, What shall be done for its extirpation? Now, I suppose it will be admitted on all hands, that to do as the Southern preachers have done, that is, to plead that it is right, and justify it by the word of God, is not, and cannot be the way to extirpate this evil.
On the other hand, if we inquire, what has ultra abolition done to extirpate this great evil, what must be the truthful answer? It is simply this: With the exception of a few negroes that they have abducted, enticed to run away, or have been transported on their underground railroads to Canada, to starve, and to be degraded worse than with their lawful owners; and the very few runaway slaves that, by mob violence, and in contravention of law, they have kept from their legal owners, they have not secured the emancipation of a single slave, from Passamaquoddy to the Gulf of Mexico; nay, so far from it, they have greatly retarded the efforts of the colonization societies everywhere; they have poisoned the minds and inflamed the wrath of slaveholders in the South, until a decent man, and especially a minister, hailing from a free State, can hardly pass, or repass, in a slave territory, without the risk of a suit of tar and feathers, and even pulling hemp by the neck occasionally. And this mighty mountain of the North, that for years, yea, many years, has been heaving, bellowing, and groaning, in mighty pain, to be delivered, has brought forth; and what is it? a poor little, insignificant m-o-u-s-e; while conservative Methodist preachers, in many instances, who have inherited slaves, have set them free, or colonized them in Africa. We have gone to slaveholders in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri, in a peaceful Christian way; and while we never ceased to bear an honest testimony against the moral evil of slavery, (but did not meddle with it politically,) we successfully persuaded many of these slaves and slaveholders to turn to God, and obtain religion; and we got hundreds and thousands of these poor slaves set free. Let the many emancipated slaves, and their former owners in the above-named states, bear witness to the truth of what I here record. This is the firm and impregnable ground for a true conservative to stand upon; and this ground will save the Church, the Union, the slave, and the slaveholder; and I would not exchange it for all the ultraisms of the North and South put together, and a thousand such.
In connection with this subject I wish to say a few things concerning a meeting I accidently fell in with in Cincinnati, I think in 1848; I do not think I heard the name of the meeting; if I did, I have forgotten it; but when I give a very feeble description of it, perhaps some of my readers may be able to christen the brat, for it was surely begotten in the regions, or sprang from the soil of "Bigheadism," and the little thing's disease had turned to the "Stiff complaint;" or, in other words, I found the meeting to be composed of a heterogeneous mass of disaffected, censured, or expelled preachers, that is, the speakers were mostly from the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist Churches. The house was filled with almost all sorts, sizes, and colors; black, white, and yellow, men, women, and children. They had called to the chair one of their number as moderator. If my memory is correct, the first speaker that rose and addressed the motley crowd, said he had been so many years a regular pastor of a Baptist Church in Kentucky, that he had used all his talents and influence to resist the damning influence of slavery, but was overruled in every attempt. He stated that the ministers and ruling members had often met, conversed, and debated the subject, but he was overruled every time. They would not turn slaveholders out of the Church, nor make slaveholding a test of membership; and after having his righteous soul vexed for years with their filthy conversation and conduct, he felt it was his duty to come out of the Baptist Church. He then warned the members of said Church, and all others, to come out of all slaveholding Churches: "Come out, come out; touch not, taste not, and handle not the unclean thing." This speech was received with applause by the listening crowd of many colors.
Next arose a Mr. S-----h. He said he was a Protestant Methodist, but had been a member and minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and traveled as such for years. He had also fought slavery for a long time to get it out of the Church, but always failed, for they loved the accursed thing; and that the Methodist Episcopal Church was, to all intents and purposes, a slaveholding and a slavery-approving Church. The crowd clapped him while he cried, "Come out, come out of her, my people," and his speech was greatly applauded by the mixed multitude, colored and all.
The third speaker was a Presbyterian preacher. He said he had experienced the same trials, conflicts, and debates with his brethren in the Church, that his two brethren who had spoken before had waded through, but all of no avail; his conscience would not let him remain a member or minister of a slaveholding Church any longer; he must come out; and exhorted all people to "Come out, and be ye clean, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, saith the Lord, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people, saith the Lord."
After this there arose on the floor a very respectable-looking man, and replied to most of the statements of these three come-outers, and he showed very clearly, and by irresistible arguments, that the ground they took was a false ground, and that they, or the principles they advocated, were clearly disorganizing and revolutionary in their nature, and in all their tendencies. There was a clerical gentleman sitting at my side, who said that from personal knowledge he could say that all three of these men who first addressed the audience, were under charges of immorality when they pretended to come out of their Churches on account of slavery.
I have seen a great many such preachers as above described. When their bad conduct could not be borne with in their respective Churches any longer, and the disciplinary excisions were about to be inflicted on them, they fled, picking some flaw, or alleging some dreadful wrong in the Church as they ran and cried, "Come out, come out of her!" O, the infant Church of Christ, how it suffered in its very minority by the unfaithfulness of its ministers. In the very first little conference of preachers that was organized, Judas turned traitor and betrayed the blessed Saviour. Peter, perhaps the boldest of the twelve, denied him with horrid oaths and bitter curses. What do you suppose the astonished ten thought under these appalling circumstances? Judas relented, and hung himself for the dreadful wrong he had done against the innocent Saviour. Peter felt compunction and wept bitterly; was mercifully reclaimed or converted from his apostasy, and, for many years of persecution and trial, strengthened his brethren. What a fearful account will unfaithful preachers, who have torn, rent, and divided the Church of God, have to give in the day of judgment, when the blighting curses of Heaven shall fall on their unfaithful and devoted heads. Lord, save us from unfaithfulness.
On my way to conference at Nashville in the fall of 1844, I was suddenly taken ill with a real shaking ague in a large, extensive prairie, ten miles across, and shook so severely that I could not sit in my sulky. I got out and lay down on the grass and really thought I should die for want of water. No house or water near, no human being approached me to aid me in any way; but after about two hours my shaking abated, and I traveled some ten or twelve miles to a camp-meeting which was in progress at Brother Gilham's camp ground, where I lingered a day or two. There was a botanic doctor on the ground, who lived in Alton City. He kindly took me to his house, and, in a few days, checked my disease. The preachers all left me, being anxious to be at conference, which was to commence on the Wednesday following. They, as well as myself, were totally in despair of my reaching the conference. I was very anxious to get there, for the great question, so far as our conference was concerned, was to be settled of concurrence or non-concurrence with the recommendation of the General Conference.
I waited till Friday morning. I prayed for strength to go to conference, and, while praying, a strong impression was made on my mind that I could get there. I rose from my knees and determined to try. The doctor remonstrated against my attempting to go, but I deliberately told him I was going if I died in one mile. When he saw I was determined to try it, he put up some medicine, and I got a good brother to drive my horse for me and started, and, strange as it may appear, I mended every mile, and on Sunday morning I reached the conference, and was able to attend to business the balance of the session, and especially to take a part in the debates, and carry the vote in favor of non-concurrence. This circumstance I have always looked upon as a kind interposition of Providence; and, indeed, the defeat of this project by the annual conference was directed by God himself; and could the Methodist Episcopal Church have gotten justice in the civil courts, according to the true merits of the case, the ill-gotten gains of the Southern secession would have been small; but I predict that it will not prosper with them.
My appointment this fall was to the Bloomington District, which was composed of the following appointments, namely: Bloomington, Mount Pleasant, Monticello, Clinton, Havana, Fancy Creek, Decatur, and Postville. This was a gloomy conference year. We had very little revival influence in our district, or in the conference, and, indeed, scarcely any throughout the Methodist Episcopal Church. The delegates of the General Conference from the Southern conferences returned home, and appointed mass meetings in every direction, and poured out the vials of wrath upon the Methodist Episcopal Church, especially the majority of the members of the General Conference. They declared that we were all abolitionists, and drummed up a convention of the preachers from the slaveholding conferences. Bishop Soule presided in it, sitting calmly on the ignited clouds, and directing the thunder-storm; and though that convention, by solemn vote, renounced the jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and formed themselves into a separate organization; and though Bishop Soule declared in the General Conference of 1844 that he would not be immolated on a Northern or Southern altar, but on the altar of the Methodist Episcopal Church; now, notwithstanding all this and a thousand times as much, he had the very uncommon hardihood to come round and preside in our conferences which had not seceded, and persisted in this course, lending all his aid and influence to the secession, until the Ohio Conference gave him a glorious ouster, and refused to let him preside over them. I had prepared this dose for his honor if he had attended the Rock River or Illinois Conferences, but after the rebuff the Ohio Conference gave him, prudence, with him, for once prevailed, and he did not attend our conferences, but Bishop Morris attended and presided in them.
There never were more unfair and foul means resorted to by any set of ministers to divide and destroy a Church, than was resorted to by many of these slaveholding preachers in the South; and I cannot help blaming Bishop Soule more than all the rest. I shall always believe that the goodness of Bishop Andrew's heart was such that he would have voluntarily pledged himself to the General Conference that he would, as soon as practicable, remove the impediment; and if he had done this, it would have been hailed, and hailed with a shout, by the delegates from all the adhering conferences, the few ultra-abolitionists not excepted. If he had done so, how much better would it have been for himself, for the South, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, and, indeed, for our distracted country at large! and perhaps the blessedness of such a course in Bishop Andrew would have told with thrilling effect on the surrounding millions in other governments; and unborn millions, of future generations, would rise up and call him blessed. Though he might be dead, and gone to heaven, yet his noble, magnanimous, Christian example would have told in tones of thunder on an ungodly and oppressive world; and the lucid light of his Christian example would have shone with brilliant splendor, and the example thus set by a Methodist bishop would have said to all the world, "Follow me, as I have followed Christ."
The bishop in this case should have known no man, or set of men, after the flesh. I know the preachers friendly to slavery clung to him and his case as a forlorn hope, and as the last resort to carry their point with; namely, slavery in the episcopacy; and a fairer subject they never could have had; for although we think Bishop Andrew did wrong in this matter, and greatly erred, yet we love him, and think him a good man, and that he was every way worthy of the office of a bishop, slavery excepted.
My heart has bled at every opening pore, at the untold mischief this rupture in the Methodist Episcopal Church has and will produce, from the very nature of things, (I mean fallen nature.) The Southern preachers will, in self-justification, throw the blame on the preachers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and thereby poison the minds of a great majority of the slaveholding South; for they are as rabidly in favor of slavery as the extravagant abolitionists are against it. With the two extreme parties there is no middle ground; for each of them, assuming that they are infallibly right, cry out, "They that are not for us are against us." I have contended with these two extremes for many years, as a preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and I have often been astounded beyond measure at the absurdities and inconsistencies of these extreme belligerent parties; but why should I? It is as certain for extremes to engender absurdities, inconsistencies, and self-evident contradictions, as for effects to follow causes, or for like to go to like philosophically. As one of these extremes has renounced the jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church, leaving the middle ground ministers and members of it completely and altogether in the range and raking fire of the artillery of the Northern ultras, I have indulged in the fond hope that these Northern abstractionists would, if they cannot be reconciled to conservative, consistent Methodism, as it was from the beginning, go and set up for themselves, and let the old, conservative Methodist Episcopal Church alone; but no, they seem determined to agitate, and keep on agitating, till they drive us into another inglorious secession, and they remain in peaceable possession of the hard earnings of all the labors of conservative Methodist members and preachers from the beginning. But no, I can tell them for their comfort, if they are within the reach of comforting considerations, if this is their aim, they need not put any flattering unction to their souls on this ground, for the Methodist Episcopal Church
"Has fought through many a battle sore,"
"Expects to fight through many more,"
and will stand as she is, and as she has always been; and while there is a splinter from a shattered plank of the old Methodist ship Zion, I intend to hold on to her with a dying grasp, and if necessity compels, with our dying breath cry to all around, "Don't give up the ship!"
I am devoutly glad that there is an overruling Providence, where we may place our hope and confidence; and though we cannot see through or comprehend the permissive providences of God, yet if we can, under all circumstances, trust God aright, we are assured that "all things shall work together for good to them that love him." May not this slavery secession from the Methodist Episcopal Church be overruled by a Divine Providence, and react, and show that the wisdom of men is foolishness with God? and under the overruling interpositions of the Almighty, hasten in its time the total extinction of slavery, that has so long placed a foul blot upon the fair escutcheon of our country? Who knows, or can divine? Let us look to God, and constantly and ardently pray, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven;" use spiritual weapons, and leave all events to God.
It will be found, on an examination of our Minutes, that the year before the great Southern secession, the increase of membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church was over one hundred thousand; that in the year of and after the secession there was a decrease of over thirty-one thousand members. A great many of these were along what was called the line, in the border conferences, who were not numbered in either division; and a great number, from the confusion and dissatisfaction that arose in the Church from this rupture, attached themselves to other Churches; and perhaps many went out that never returned to either division, nor did they seek membership in any other branch of the Christian Church, and perhaps were lost forever. What an awful thought! These were the fearful, legitimate results of schism; and, indeed, this dreadful rupture in the Methodist Church spread terror over almost every other branch of the Church of Christ; and really, disguise it as we may, it shook the pillars of our American government to the center, and many of our ablest statesmen were alarmed, and looked upon it as the entering wedge to political disunion, and a fearful step toward the downfall of our happy republic; and it is greatly to be feared that the constant agitation and unscrupulous anathemas indulged in by frenzied preachers and unprincipled demagogues, political demagogues, that seek more for the spoils of office than the freedom of the slave or the good of the country, will so burst the bonds of brotherly love and the real love of country, that all the horrors of civil war will break upon us shortly, and firebrands, arrows, and death, be thrown broadcast over the land, and anarchy, mobs, and lawless desperadoes reign triumphant; and then the fair fabric of our happy republic will be tumbled into ruins, and the liberties that our fathers fought for, and that cost the blood and treasure of the best patriots that ever lived, will be lost forever. I would beg imploringly all honest-hearted lovers of their country, and the liberties we enjoy, to unitedly stand up against every device, stratagem, and political combination, whether secretly or openly carried on, by dishonest intriguers, to ruin our country.