Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Art. III.-THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH.

1. History of the Organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, compre

hending all the official proceedings of the General Conference, Southern Annual Conferences, and the General Convention, with such other matters as are necessary to a right understanding of the Case, Nashville : Compiled and Published by the Editors and Publishers of the South-Western Christian Advocate, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. By order of the Louisville Convention.

William Cameron, printer. 1845. 2. Brief Appeal to Public Opinion, in a Series of Exceptions to the Course and Action

of the Methodist Episcopal Church, from 1844 to 1848, affecting the Rights and Interests of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. By H. B. BASCOM, A. L. P. GREENE, C. B. PARSONS, Southern Commissioners for the Settlement of the Property Question between the two Churches. Louisville, Kentucky: published by John Early, Agent of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Morton and Griswold, printers. 1848.

In our number for April

, 1849, we noticed, in part, the first publication at the head of this article. We now add another official publication, containing a number of unfair statements and unsound reasonings with regard to the later action of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In our former article we found it necessary to justify upon Scripture grounds, the position which the Methodists in this country, both before and after their organization as a Church, had always maintained in regard to the system of slavery, as it existed in the slaveholding States. To do so, it was necessary to show that the omission of any positive command in the New Testament, obliging the converts to Christianity to emancipate their slaves, did not justify, and was not, in the primitive Church, considered as justifying the cruel and inhuman laws of the Roman empire in respect to slavery, which were condemned by the fundamental principles of the moral code proclaimed by our Lord and his apostles; but that the command was omitted in mercy to the slaves themselves, not from

any acknowledged moral right in the owners to hold their fellow-men in bondage, reducing them to the condition of cattle or other property. The Roman laws forbade the emancipation of slaves, except to a very limited number, strictly regulated by law. The slave was not a person, and had no personal rights; and if discharged from service by his master, who, by the very act, renounced his right to protect the slave as his property, the slave, so discharged, enjoyed none of the privileges of the freed man. He had no redress for any injury done him, and no security for any property he might acquire. In fact,

any one might slay him with impunity. To kill him was no more a murder, or criminal offence, than to kill an ox. The slave and the ox were alike the property of the owner, who could recover damages for any injury done them; but when the ownership was renounced all protection was taken away. .

To have commanded the Christians of the primitive Church to discharge their slaves from service, when they could not secure to them the protection of law, or the rights of freemen, would have been as unjust as unmerciful. But the Christian religion had its origin in the love of God to sinful, helpless man, and all its doctrines and precepts are directed by the same love and compassion. It could not, therefore, impose, as a condition of its covenant mercies, a precept or requirement which went directly, and of necessary consequence, to render any condition of humanity still more miserable. The Christian religion condemned the whole system of slavery, as contrary to the obligations of the universal law of love; while it permitted slaveholding where such relation between owner and servant was essentially necessary to the fulfilment of this very law itself. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” was the law; but “love worketh no ill to its neighbour.” To fulfil the law was not to renounce the right to protect the slave, and turn him out to be worried or slain by others; but to retain the power, and exercise it for his benefit-awaiting the changes in the laws which Christianity was calculated and destined to effect, and which it did ultimately effect to the utter extirpation of slavery. These statements we have illustrated and proved in our former article, by the records of antiquity, and need not repeat these proofs here.

We also showed that the Methodists, from the earliest to the latest action taken on the subject, have borne faithful testimony against slavery as a grievous wrong, "contrary to Scripture and natural justice;" and that while they were permitted by the laws to enforce the emancipation of slaves, as a condition of Church-fellowship, they did so, in despite of the offence taken by those whose selfishness and interests held them by strong ties to the iniquitous practice. But when the legislation of the slaveholding States began to be fashioned according to the laws of heathen Rome; when the Christian master could no longer discharge his slaves from his service without subjecting them to be sold by the sheriff to the highest bidder—who, with few exceptions, would be a slave-trader—the merciful spirit of Christianity required a change in the rules of our Discipline; and they were, in obedience to the law of love itself, modified from time to time, until they were nearly reduced to a simple testimony against slavery as a great evil, while slaveholding was necessarily permitted when the slave could not be manumitted and permitted to enjoy freedom.

Under these circumstances slavery made rapid and fearful encroachment upon the Southern and South-Western portions of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Not only did it come to prevail generally among the laity, but the local and travelling preachers became slaveholders with an avidity which seemed to be only restrained by individual inability to acquire such property, which had greatly increased in value by the acquisition of Louisiana and Florida by the United States. Many ministers acquired slaves by marriage, and many by bequest; and as their slaves multiplied by natural increase, they were compelled to sell them, hire them out to others, or to take farms and cultivate them under the direction of an overseer. It may be asked why these itinerant ministers did not avail themselves of the provisions of the Discipline, and apply for transfers to the free States, where their slaves would be free. We answer, some did so; and it would be uncharitable, and perhaps unjust, to allege that those who did not were all influenced by sordid views. The circumstances of their slaves sometimes, and perhaps generally, restrained them. Their slaves might be married to other slaves on neighbouring plantations, whose masters would not release them, and they could not, as Christians, compel or even advise the violation of the marriage tie; for it is written, " whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” For the rest, all had relations and friends, and many had children, who could not accompany them, and they preferred slavery with them, to liberty separated from them. There may have been cases where none of these impediments really existed; but God only can judge the heart, and we must leave motives to the judgment of the great day, when He shall adjudicate, before whom death and hell are without a covering, and how much more the hearts of the children of men. The Church could take no action in the premises. The consequence was, that the section on slavery retained in the Discipline was wholly inoperative in most of the slaveholding States of the Union. Methodists, both lay and clerical, entered, as they alleged, of necessity, into all the practical relations, consequences, and effects of the "domestic institution." They bought and they sold slaves without restraint or scruple; because they could allege that they bought to better the condition of the slave, and they sold from necessity as debtors, or from the impossibility of providing food and raiment for the natural increase of their slaves. Hence, Methodists and Methodist ministers were found in the slave-marts, and in the accursed barracoons established in the more northern slaveholding States, where slaves are grown, as

[merged small][ocr errors]

1851.] The Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

399 cattle, for a more Southern market.* Some of the travelling preachers in the South had become rich by marriage, and held large farms stocked with slaves. These preachers were often made presiding elders, as their circumstances required appointments to districts

which would give them an opportunity, without great personal inconvenience, to visit their estates frequently. Yet the arrangement required that they should be so constantly appointed to the same districts as to frustrate the design of frequent changes in the travelling ministry, and to bring the office of presiding elder into disrespect, if not into contempt. But the bishops could not pursue the evident design and plan of the itinerancy in such cases. These slaveholding, agricultural, presiding elders, or preachers, alleged that they were bound, as Christians, to attend to the religious and moral instruction of their domestics, and hence it was necessary that they should frequently visit them. How much religious and moral instruction was afforded, we do not know, and have no right to guess, or imagine. Yet we fear, that slaves left to the absolute authority of an irreligious and merciless overseer, with only the occasional interference of the owner, would not be very carefully instructed, or be likely to pay much attention to the instructions of one whom they could only look upon as a hireling employed to urge them to incessant labour, for the benefit of their master; especially as all experience shows, “the tender mercies” of a slave-driver “are cruel.”

It is, however, matter of rejoicing, that a great number of travelling preachers who were furnished by civil restrictions upon the right of emancipation with all these excuses for slaveholding, did refrain from, and interdict the holding of slaves by the members of their conferences. The Philadelphia, the Baltimore, the Pittsburgh, and the Ohio Conferences, held territory in the slaveholding States, and preachers were annually sent from them to circuits and stations among a community where not only the laws but public feeling were in favour of slavery; yet they preserved themselves from all practical participation in the evil, making the holding of slaves an insuperable objection to the admission of a preacher to their conferences, or to continuance in such relation. The Baltimore Conference, for instance, not only included in its bounds the larger part of the State of Maryland, one of the slaveholding States, but a larger portion of Virginia than belonged to the Virginia Annual Conference. Yet that conference had steadfastly maintained such exclusion, neither admitting nor retaining a slaveholder in their body. Why the Virginia

• At the Conference of 1844, a travelling preacher attended as a visitor, who, on his way, had stopped at Baltimore, and purchased from one of these barra coons a slave, whom he subsequently took on or sent on to the South.

Conference could not, or did not, preserve its ministers from the great evil, we do not now inquire: but whatever was the cause of her defection, it must be a subject of sincere regret, that that conference hastened to avail itself of the impunity which the Discipline had gradually come to allow to slaveholders; and not only did many of her ministers become owners of slaves, but the most ultra pro-slavery opinions were adopted and advocated by her most influential members. During the session of the General Conference of 1844, no subject which came under discussion, gave more offence than the decision on the appeal of Mr. Harding, of the Baltimore Conference, who had been suspended from the exercise of his ministry, because he had become possessed of slaves by marriage, and refused to manumit them. His advocate was one of the Virginia Conference delegates, who exerted all his powers of rhetoric to procure a reversal of the decision, belabouring the Baltimore Conference without stint or pity. The General Conference affirmed the decision nevertheless; and the Virginia delegates led the way in the vindictive hostility of the South toward their old friends and neighbours of the Baltimore Annual Conference, for simply maintaining the discipline and usage of Methodism as it had existed from the earliest date of its history in the United States. But of this case we shall have occasion to say more in a coming part of this review.

During the interval between the sessions of the General Conference of 1840 and 1844, much had occurred to disturb the peace of the Church. Many of the preachers, and a still greater number of the laity, in the non-slaveholding States, had for some years been uniting themselves with “Abolition Societies," which, if not absolutely political associations, were decidedly of a political cast, and very clearly indicated a political design. Some of the resolutions and addresses of these societies were, to the utmost degree, fanatical and extravagant; and their agents, employed to travel through the free States to lecture on slavery, taught principles utterly subversive of the Constitution, and directly tending to rebellion and civil

The General Conference had, from time to time, earnestly remonstrated with the members of the Church against all participation in the doings of these societies, and exhorted her members wholly to "abstain" from agitating the subjects of slavery and abolition, as no beneficial result could be effected by them in the free States, on a subject over which the slaveholding States only had any control. But this good counsel was rejected: and there were many Methodists

who not only continued their connexion with the political abolition7 ists, but also proceeded to form themselves into “Methodist Anti

Slavery Societies," thereby announcing to the world that the Church

war.

« PredošláPokračovať »