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In the first place, have any of these opinions ever been treated in the church as heresies, and the teachers of them been subjected to the censures with which it is thought proper to visit heresy?

After a somewhat extended examination upon the subject, the writer has been able to discover but one instance of this sort. It may be possible that such cases have existed in other denominations, which have escaped inquiry.

A clergyman in the Cincinnati N. S. Presbytery maintained the doctrine that slaveholding was justified by the Bible, and for persistence in teaching this sentiment was suspended by that presbytery. He appealed to Synod, and the decision was confirmed by the Cincinnati Synod. The New School General Assembly, however, reversed this decision of the presbytery, and restored the standing of the clergyman. The presbytery, 206on its part, refused to receive him back, and he was received into the Old School Church.

The Presbyterian Church has probably exceeded all other churches of the United States in its zeal for doctrinal opinions. This church has been shaken and agitated to its very foundation with questions of heresy; but, except in this individual case, it is not known that any of these principles which have been asserted by Southern Presbyterian bodies and individuals have ever been discussed in its General Assembly as matters of heresy.

About the time that Smylie’s pamphlet came out, the Presbyterian Church was convulsed with the trial of the Rev. Albert Barnes for certain alleged heresies. These heresies related to the federal headship of Adam, the propriety of imputing his sin to all his posterity, and the question whether men have any ability of any kind to obey the commandments of God.

For advancing certain sentiments on these topics, Mr. Barnes was silenced by the vote of the synod to which he belonged, and his trial in the General Assembly on these points was the all-engrossing topic in the Presbyterian Church for some time. The Rev. Dr. L. Beecher went through a trial with reference to similar opinions. During all this time, no notice was taken of the heresy, if such it be, that the right to buy, sell, and hold men for purposes of gain, was expressly given by God; although that heresy was publicly promulgated in the same Presbyterian Church, by Mr. Smylie, and the presbyteries with which he was connected.

If it be accounted for by saying that the question of slavery is a question of practical morals, and not of dogmatic theology, we are then reminded that questions of morals of far less magnitude have been discussed with absorbing interest.

The Old School Presbyterian Church, in whose communion the greater part of the slave-holding Presbyterians of the South are found, has never felt called upon to discipline its members for upholding a system which denies legal marriage to all slaves. Yet this church was agitated to its very foundation by the discussion of a question of morals which an impartial observer would probably consider of far less magnitude, namely, whether a man might lawfully marry his deceased wife’s sister. For the time, all the strength and attention of the church seemed concentrated upon this important subject. The trial went from Presbytery to Synod, and from Synod to General Assembly; and ended with deposing a very respectable minister for this crime.

Rev. Robert P. Breckenridge, D.D., a member of the Old School Assembly, has thus described the state of the slave population as to their marriage relations: “The system of slavery denies to a whole class of human beings the sacredness of marriage and of home, compelling them to live in a state of concubinage; for in the eye of the law no colored slave-man is the husband of any wife in particular, nor any slave-woman the wife of any husband in particular; no slave-man is the father of any children in particular, and no slave-child is the child of any parent in particular.”

Now, had this church considered the fact that three million men and women were, by the laws of the land, obliged to live in this manner, as of equally serious consequence, it is evident, from the ingenuity, argument, vehemence, Biblical research, and untiring zeal, which they bestowed on Mr. McQueen’s trial, that they could have made a very strong case with regard to this also.

The history of the united action of denominations which included churches both in the slave and free states is a melancholy exemplification, to a reflecting mind, of that gradual deterioration of the moral sense which results from admitting any compromise, however slight, with an acknowledged sin. The best minds in the world cannot bear such a familiarity without injury to the moral sense. The facts of the slave system and of the slave laws, when presented to disinterested judges in Europe, have excited a universal outburst of horror; yet, in assemblies composed of the wisest and best clergymen of America, these things have been discussed from year to year, and yet brought no results that have, in the slightest degree, lessened the evil. The reason is this. A portion of the members of these bodies had pledged themselves to sustain the system, and peremptorily to refuse and put down all discussion of it; and the other part of the body did not consider this stand so taken as being of sufficiently vital consequence to authorize separation.

Nobody will doubt that, had the Southern members taken such a stand against the divinity of our Lord, the division would have been immediate and unanimous; but yet the Southern members do maintain the right to buy and sell, lease, hire and mortgage, multitudes of men and women, whom, with the same breath, they declared to be 207members of their churches and true Christians. The Bible declares of all such that they are temples of the Holy Ghost; that they are members of Christ’s body, of his flesh and bones. Is not the doctrine that men may lawfully sell the members of Christ, his body, his flesh and bones, for purposes of gain, as really a heresy as the denial of the divinity of Christ; and is it not a dishonor to Him who is over all, God blessed forever, to tolerate this dreadful opinion, with its more dreadful consequences, while the smallest heresies concerning the imputation of Adam’s sin are pursued with eager vehemence? If the history of the action of all the bodies thus united can be traced downwards, we shall find that, by reason of this tolerance of an admitted sin, the anti-slavery testimony has every year grown weaker and weaker. If we look over the history of all denominations, we shall see that at first they used very stringent language with relation to slavery. This is particularly the case with the Methodist and Presbyterian bodies, and for that reason we select these two as examples. The Methodist Society especially, as organized by John Wesley, was an anti-slavery society, and the Book of Discipline contained the most positive statutes against slave-holding. The history of the successive resolutions of the conference of this church is very striking. In 1780, before the church was regularly organized in the United States, they resolved as follows:

The conference acknowledges that slavery is contrary to the laws of God, man and nature, and hurtful to society; contrary to the dictates of conscience and true religion; and doing what we would not others should do unto us.

In 1784, when the church was fully organized, rules were adopted prescribing the times at which members who were already slave-holders should emancipate their slaves. These rules were succeeded by the following:

Every person concerned, who will not comply with these rules, shall have liberty quietly to withdraw from our society within the twelve months following the notice being given him, as aforesaid; otherwise the assistants shall exclude him from the society.

No person holding slaves shall in future be admitted into society, or to the Lord’s Supper, till he previously comply with these rules concerning slavery.

Those who buy, sell, or give [slaves] away, unless on purpose to free them, shall be expelled immediately.

In 1801:

We declare that we are more than ever convinced of the great evil of African slavery, which still exists in these United States.

Every member of the society who sells a slave shall, immediately after full proof, be excluded from the society, &c.

The Annual Conferences are directed to draw up addresses, for the gradual emancipation of the slaves, to the legislature. Proper committees shall be appointed by the Annual Conferences, out of the most respectable of our friends, for the conducting of the business; and the presiding elders, deacons, and travelling preachers, shall procure as many proper signatures as possible to the addresses; and give all the assistance in their power, in every respect, to aid the committees, and to further the blessed undertaking. Let this be continued from year to year, till the desired end be accomplished.

In 1836 let us notice the change. The General Conference held its annual session in Cincinnati, and resolved as follows:

Resolved, By the delegates of the Annual Conferences in General Conference assembled, That they are decidedly opposed to modern abolitionism, and wholly disclaim any right, wish, or intention, to interfere in the civil and political relation between master and slave, as it exists in the slave-holding states of this union.

These resolutions were passed by a very large majority. An address was received from the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in England, affectionately remonstrating on the subject of slavery. The Conference refused to publish it. In the pastoral address to the churches are these passages:

It cannot be unknown to you that the question of slavery in the United States, by the constitutional compact which binds us together as a nation, is left to be regulated by the several state legislatures themselves; and thereby is put beyond the control of the general government, as well as that of all ecclesiastical bodies; it being manifest that in the slave-holding states themselves the entire responsibility of its existence, or non-existence, rests with those state legislatures. * * * * These facts, which are only mentioned here as a reason for the friendly admonition which we wish to give you, constrain us, as your pastors, who are called to watch over your souls as they must give account, to exhort you to abstain from all abolition movements and associations, and to refrain from patronizing any of their publications, &c. * *

The subordinate conferences showed the same spirit.

In 1836 the New York Annual Conference resolved that no one should be elected a deacon or elder in the church, unless he would give a pledge to the church that he would refrain from discussing this subject.[25]

In 1838 the conference resolved:

As the sense of this conference, that any of its members, or probationers, who shall patronize Zion’s Watchman, either by writing in commendation 208of its character, by circulating it, recommending it to our people, or procuring subscribers, or by collecting or remitting moneys, shall be deemed guilty of indiscretion, and dealt with accordingly.

It will be recollected that Zion’s Watchman was edited by Le Roy Sunderland, for whose abduction the State of Alabama had offered fifty thousand dollars.

In 1840, the General Conference at Baltimore passed the resolution that we have already quoted, forbidding preachers to allow colored persons to give testimony in their churches. It has been computed that about eighty thousand people were deprived of the right of testimony by this act. This Methodist Church subsequently broke into a Northern and Southern Conference. The Southern Conference is avowedly all pro-slavery, and the Northern Conference has still in its communion slave-holding conferences and members.

Of the Northern conferences, one of the largest, the Baltimore, passed the following:

Resolved, That this conference disclaims having any fellowship with abolitionism. On the contrary, while it is determined to maintain its well-known and long-established position, by keeping the travelling preachers composing its own body free from slavery, it is also determined not to hold connection with any ecclesiastical body that shall make non-slaveholding a condition of membership in the church; but to stand by and maintain the discipline as it is.

The following extract is made from an address of the Philadelphia Annual Conference to the societies under its care, dated Wilmington Del., April 7, 1847:

If the plan of separation gives us the pastoral care of you, it remains to inquire whether we have done anything, as a conference, or as men, to forfeit your confidence and affection. We are not advised that even in the great excitement which has distressed you for some months past, any one has impeached our moral conduct, or charged us with unsoundness in doctrine, or corruption or tyranny in the administration of discipline. But we learn that the simple cause of the unhappy excitement among you is, that some suspect us, or affect to suspect us, of being abolitionists. Yet no particular act of the conference, or any particular member thereof, is adduced, as the ground of the erroneous and injurious suspicion. We would ask you, brethren, whether the conduct of our ministry among you for sixty years past ought not to be sufficient to protect us from this charge. Whether the question we have been accustomed, for a few years past, to put to candidates for admission among us, namely, Are you an abolitionist? and, without each one answered in the negative, he was not received, ought not to protect us from the charge. Whether the action of the last conference on this particular matter ought not to satisfy any fair and candid mind that we are not, and do not desire to be, abolitionists. * * * We cannot see how we can be regarded as abolitionists, without the ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church South being considered in the same light.

Wishing you all heavenly benedictions, we are, dear brethren, yours, in Christ Jesus,
J. P. Durbin,     }      
J. Kennaday,     }      
Ignatius T. Cooper,     }     Comm.
William H. Gilder,     }      
Joseph Castle,     }      

These facts sufficiently define the position of the Methodist Church. The history is melancholy, but instructive. The history of the Presbyterian Church is also of interest.

In 1793, the following note to the eighth commandment was inserted in the Book of Discipline, as expressing the doctrine of the church upon slave-holding:

1 Tim. 1:10. The law is made for MAN-STEALERS. This crime among the Jews exposed the perpetrators of it to capital punishment, Exodus 21:15; and the apostle here classes them with sinners of the first rank. The word he uses, in its original import, comprehends all who are concerned in bringing any of the human race into slavery, or in retaining them in it. Hominum fures, qui servos vel liberos abducunt, retinent, vendunt, vel emunt. Stealers of men are all those who bring off slaves or freemen, and KEEP, SELL, or BUY THEM. To steal a free man, says Grotius, is the highest kind of theft. In other instances, we only steal human property; but when we steal or retain men in slavery, we seize those who, in common with ourselves, are constituted by the original grant lords of the earth.

No rules of church discipline were enforced, and members whom this passage declared guilty of this crime remained undisturbed in its communion, as ministers and elders. This inconsistency was obviated in 1816 by expunging the passage from the Book of Discipline. In 1818 it adopted an expression of its views on slavery. This document is a long one, conceived and written in a very Christian spirit. The Assembly’s Digest says, p. 341, that it was unanimously adopted. The following is its testimony as to the nature of slavery:

We consider the voluntary enslaving of one part of the human race by another as a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature: as utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves; and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of the gospel of Christ, which enjoin that “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Slavery creates a paradox in the moral system—it exhibits rational, accountable, and immortal beings in such circumstances as scarcely to leave them the power of moral action. It exhibits them as dependent on the will of others, whether they shall receive religious instruction; whether they shall know and worship the true God; whether 209they shall enjoy the ordinances of the gospel; whether they shall perform the duties and cherish the endearments of husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbors and friends; whether they shall preserve their chastity and purity, or regard the dictates of justice and humanity. Such are some of the consequences of slavery,—consequences not imaginary, but which connect themselves with its very existence. The evils to which the slave is always exposed often take place in fact, and in their very worst degree and form: and where all of them do not take place,—as we rejoice to say that in many instances, through the influence of the principles of humanity and religion on the minds of masters, they do not,—still the slave is deprived of his natural right, degraded as a human being, and exposed to the danger of passing into the hands of a master who may inflict upon him all the hardships and injuries which inhumanity and avarice may suggest.

This language was surely decided, and it was unanimously adopted by slave-holders and non-slaveholders. Certainly one might think the time of redemption was drawing nigh. The declaration goes on to say:

It is manifestly the duty of all Christians who enjoy the light of the present day, when the inconsistency of slavery both with the dictates of humanity and religion has been demonstrated and is generally seen and acknowledged, to use honest, earnest, unwearied endeavors to correct the errors of former times, and as speedily as possible to efface this blot on our holy religion, and to OBTAIN THE COMPLETE ABOLITION of slavery throughout Christendom and throughout the world.

Here we have the Presbyterian Church, slave-holding and non-slaveholding, virtually formed into one great abolition society, as we have seen the Methodist was.

The assembly then goes on to state that the slaves are not at present prepared to be free,—that they tenderly sympathize with the portion of the church and country that has had this evil entailed upon them, where as they say “a great and the most virtuous part of the community ABHOR SLAVERY and wish ITS EXTERMINATION.” But they exhort them to commence immediately the work of instructing slaves, with a view to preparing them for freedom; and to let no greater delay take place than “a regard to public welfare indispensably demands.” “To be governed by no other considerations than an honest and impartial regard to the happiness of the injured party, uninfluenced by the expense and inconvenience which such regard may involve.” It warns against “unduly extending this plea of necessity,” against making it a cover for the love and practice of slavery. It ends by recommending that any one who shall sell a fellow-Christian without his consent be immediately disciplined and suspended.

If we consider that this was unanimously adopted by slave-holders and all, and grant, as we certainly do, that it was adopted in all honesty and good faith, we shall surely expect something from it. We should expect forthwith the organizing of a set of common schools for the slave-children; for an efficient religious ministration; for an entire discontinuance of trading in Christian slaves; for laws which make the family relations sacred. Was any such thing done or attempted? Alas! Two years after this came the admission of Missouri, and the increase of demand in the southern slave-market and the internal slave-trade. Instead of schoolteachers, they had slave-traders; instead of gathering schools, they gathered slave-coffles; instead of building school-houses, they built slave-pens and slave-prisons, jails, barracoons, factories, or whatever the trade pleases to term them; and so went the plan of gradual emancipation.

In 1834, sixteen years after, a committee of the Synod of Kentucky, in which state slavery is generally said to exist in its mildest form, appointed to make a report on the condition of the slaves, gave the following picture of their condition. First, as to their spiritual condition, they say:

After making all reasonable allowances, our colored population can be considered, at the most, but semi-heathen. As to their temporal estate—Brutal stripes, and all the various kinds of personal indignities, are not the only species of cruelty which slavery licenses. The law does not recognize the family relations of the slave, and extends to him no protection in the enjoyment of domestic endearments. The members of a slave-family may be forcibly separated, so that they shall never more meet until the final judgment. And cupidity often induces the masters to practise what the law allows. Brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives, are torn asunder, and permitted to see each other no more. These acts are daily occurring in the midst of us. The shrieks and the agony often witnessed on such occasions proclaim with a trumpet-tongue the iniquity and cruelty of our system. The cries of these sufferers go up to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. There is not a neighborhood where these heart-rending scenes are not displayed. There is not a village or road that does not behold the sad procession of manacled outcasts, whose chains and mournful countenances tell that they are exiled by force from all that their hearts hold dear. Our church, years ago, raised its voice of solemn warning against this flagrant violation of every principle of mercy, justice, and humanity. Yet we blush to announce to you and to the world that this warning has been often disregarded, even by those who hold to our communion. Cases have occurred, in our own denomination, where professors of the religion of mercy have torn the mother from her children, and sent her into a merciless and returnless exile. Yet acts of discipline have rarely followed such conduct.

210Hon. James G. Birney, for years a resident of Kentucky, in his pamphlet, amends the word rarely by substituting never. What could show more plainly the utter inefficiency of the past act of the Assembly, and the necessity of adopting some measures more efficient? In 1835, therefore, the subject was urged upon the General Assembly, entreating them to carry out the principles and designs they had avowed in 1818.

Mr. Stuart, of Illinois, in a speech he made upon the subject, said:

I hope this assembly are prepared to come out fully and declare their sentiments, that slave-holding is a most flagrant and heinous SIN. Let us not pass it by in this indirect way, while so many thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow-creatures are writhing under the lash, often inflicted, too, by ministers and elders of the Presbyterian Church.

In this church a man may take a free-born child, force it away from its parents, to whom God gave it in charge, saying “Bring it up for me,” and sell it as a beast or hold it in perpetual bondage, and not only escape corporeal punishment, but really be esteemed an excellent Christian. Nay, even ministers of the gospel and doctors of divinity may engage in this unholy traffic, and yet sustain their high and holy calling.

Elders, ministers, and doctors of divinity, are, with both hands, engaged in the practice.

One would have thought facts like these, stated in a body of Christians, were enough to wake the dead; but, alas! we can become accustomed to very awful things. No action was taken upon these remonstrances, except to refer them to a committee, to be reported on at the next session, in 1836.

The moderator of the assembly in 1836 was a slave-holder, Dr. T. S. Witherspoon, the same who said to the editor of the Emancipator, “I draw my warrant from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to hold my slaves in bondage. The principle of holding the heathen in bondage is recognized by God. When the tardy process of the law is too long in redressing our grievances, we at the South have adopted the summary process of Judge Lynch.”

The majority of the committee appointed made a report as follows:

Whereas the subject of slavery is inseparably connected with the laws of many of the states in this union, with which it is by no means proper for an ecclesiastical judicature to interfere, and involves many considerations in regard to which great diversity of opinion and intensity of feeling are known to exist in the churches represented in this Assembly; And whereas there is great reason to believe that any action on the part of this Assembly, in reference to this subject, would tend to distract and divide our churches, and would probably in no wise promote the benefit of those whose welfare is immediately contemplated in the memorials in question.

Therefore, Resolved,

1. That it is not expedient for the Assembly to take any further order in relation to this subject.

2. That as the notes which have been expunged from our public formularies, and which some of the memorials referred to the committee request to have restored, were introduced irregularly, never had the sanction of the church, and therefore never possessed any authority, the General Assembly has no power, nor would they think it expedient, to assign them a place in the authorized standards of the church.

The minority of the committee, the Rev. Messrs. Dickey and Beman, reported as follows:


1. That the buying, selling, or holding a human being as property, is in the sight of God a heinous sin, and ought to subject the doer of it to the censures of the church.

2. That it is the duty of every one, and especially of every Christian, who may be involved in this sin, to free himself from its entanglement without delay.

3. That it is the duty of every one, especially of every Christian, in the meekness and firmness of the gospel to plead the cause of the poor and needy, by testifying against the principle and practice of slave-holding; and to use his best endeavors to deliver the church of God from the evil; and to bring about the emancipation of the slaves in these United States, and throughout the world.

The slave-holding delegates, to the number of forty-eight, met apart, and Resolved,

That if the General Assembly shall undertake to exercise authority on the subject of slavery, so as to make it an immorality, or shall in any way declare that Christians are criminal in holding slaves, that a declaration shall be presented by the Southern delegation declining their jurisdiction in the case, and our determination not to submit to such decision.

In view of these conflicting reports, the Assembly resolved as follows:

Inasmuch as the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, in its preliminary and fundamental principles, declares that no church judicatories ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority; and as the urgency of the business of the Assembly, and the shortness of the time during which they can continue in session, render it impossible to deliberate and decide judiciously on the subject of slavery in its relation to the church; therefore, Resolved, That this whole subject be indefinitely postponed.

The amount of the slave-trade at the time when the General Assembly refused to act upon the subject of slavery at all, may be inferred from the following items. 211The Virginia Times, in an article published in this very year of 1836, estimated the number of slaves exported for sale from that state alone, during the twelve months preceding, at forty thousand. The Natchez (Miss.) Courier says that in the same year the States of Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas, received two hundred and fifty thousand slaves from the more northern states. If we deduct from these all who may be supposed to have emigrated with their masters, still what an immense trade is here indicated!

The Rev. James H. Dickey, who moved the resolutions above presented, had seen some sights which would naturally incline him to wish the Assembly to take some action on the subject, as appears from the following account of a slave-coffle, from his pen.

In the summer of 1822, as I returned with my family from a visit to the Barrens of Kentucky, I witnessed a scene such as I never witnessed before, and such as I hope never to witness again. Having passed through Paris, in Bourbon county, Ky., the sound of music (beyond a little rising ground) attracted my attention. I looked forward, and saw the flag of my country waving. Supposing that I was about to meet a military parade, I drove hastily to the side of the road; and, having gained the ascent, I discovered (I suppose) about forty black men all chained together after the following manner: each of them was handcuffed, and they were arranged in rank and file. A chain perhaps forty feet long, the size of a fifth-horse-chain, was stretched between the two ranks, to which short chains were joined, which connected with the handcuffs. Behind them were, I suppose, about thirty women, in double rank, the couples tied hand to hand. A solemn sadness sat on every countenance, and the dismal silence of this march of despair was interrupted only by the sound of two violins; yes, as if to add insult to injury, the foremost couple were furnished with a violin apiece; the second couple were ornamented with cockades, while near the centre waved the republican flag, carried by a hand literally in chains. I could not forbear exclaiming to the lordly driver who rode at his ease along-side, “Heaven will curse that man who engages in such traffic, and the government that protects him in it!” I pursued my journey till evening, and put up for the night, when I mentioned the scene I had witnessed. “Ah!” cried my landlady, “that is my brother!” From her I learned that his name is Stone, of Bourbon county, Kentucky, in partnership with one Kinningham, of Paris; and that a few days before he had purchased a negro-woman from a man in Nicholas county. She refused to go with him; he attempted to compel her, but she defended herself. Without further ceremony, he stepped back, and, by a blow on the side of her head with the butt of his whip, brought her to the ground; he tied her, and drove her off. I learned further, that besides the drove I had seen, there were about thirty shut up in the Paris prison for safe-keeping, to be added to the company, and that they were designed for the Orleans market. And to this they are doomed for no other crime than that of a black skin and curled locks. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?

It cannot be possible that these Christian men realized these things, or, at most, they realized them just as we realize the most tremendous truths of religion, dimly and feebly.

Two years after, the General Assembly, by a sudden and very unexpected movement, passed a vote exscinding, without trial, from the communion of the church, four synods, comprising the most active and decided anti-slavery portions of the church. The reasons alleged were, doctrinal differences and ecclesiastical practices inconsistent with Presbyterianism. By this act about five hundred ministers and sixty thousand members were cut off from the Presbyterian Church.

That portion of the Presbyterian Church called New School, considering this act unjust, refused to assent to it, joined the exscinded synods, and formed themselves into the New School General Assembly. In this communion only three slave-holding presbyteries remained. In the old there were between thirty and forty.

The course of the Old School Assembly, after the separation, in relation to the subject of slavery, may be best expressed by quoting one of their resolutions, passed in 1845. Having some decided anti-slavery members in its body, and being, moreover, addressed on the subject of slavery by associated bodies, they presented, on this year, the following deliberate statement of their policy. (Minutes for 1845, p. 18.)

Resolved, 1st. That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States was originally organized, and has since continued the bond of union in the church, upon the conceded principle that the existence of domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the Southern portion of the country, is no bar to Christian communion.

2. That the petitions that ask the Assembly to make the holding of slaves in itself a matter of discipline do virtually require this judicatory to dissolve itself, and abandon the organization under which, by the divine blessing, it has so long prospered. The tendency is evidently to separate the Northern from the Southern portion of the church,—a result which every good Christian must deplore, as tending to the dissolution of the union of our beloved country, and which every enlightened Christian will oppose, as bringing about a ruinous and unnecessary schism between brethren who maintain a common faith.

    Yeas, Ministers and Elders, 168.
    Nays, Ministers and Elders, 13.

It is scarcely necessary to add a comment to this very explicit declaration. It is the plainest possible disclaimer of any protest 212against slavery; the plainest possible statement that the existence of the ecclesiastical organization is of more importance than all the moral and social considerations which are involved in a full defence and practice of American slavery.

The next year a large number of petitions and remonstrances were presented, requesting the Assembly to utter additional testimony against slavery.

In reply to the petitions, the General Assembly re?ffirmed all their former testimonies on the subject of slavery for sixty years back, and also affirmed that the previous year’s declaration must not be understood as a retraction of that testimony; in other words, they expressed it as their opinion, in the words of 1818, that slavery is “wholly opposed to the law of God,” and “totally irreconcilable with the precepts of the gospel of Christ;” and yet that they “had formed their church organization upon the conceded principle that the existence of it, under the circumstances in which it is found in the Southern States of the union, is no bar to Christian communion.”

Some members protested against this action. (Minutes, 1846. Overture No. 17.)

Great hopes were at first entertained of the New School body. As a body, it was composed mostly of anti-slavery men. It had in it those synods whose anti-slavery opinions and actions had been, to say the least, one very efficient cause for their excision from the church. It had only three slave-holding presbyteries. The power was all in its own hands. Now, if ever, was their time to cut this loathsome incumbrance wholly adrift, and stand up, in this age of concession and conformity to the world, a purely protesting church, free from all complicity with this most dreadful national immorality.

On the first session of the General Assembly, this course was most vehemently urged, by many petitions and memorials. These memorials were referred to a committee of decided anti-slavery men. The argument on one side was, that the time was now come to take decided measures to cut free wholly from all pro-slavery complicity, and avow their principles with decision, even though it should repel all such churches from their communion as were not prepared for immediate emancipation.

On the other hand, the majority of the committee were urged by opposing considerations. The brethren from slave states made to them representations somewhat like these: “Brethren, our hearts are with you. We are with you in faith, in charity, in prayer. We sympathized in the injury that had been done you by excision. We stood by you then, and are ready to stand by you still. We have no sympathy with the party that have expelled you, and we do not wish to go back to them. As to this matter of slavery, we do not differ from you. We consider it an evil. We mourn and lament over it. We are trying, by gradual and peaceable means, to exclude it from our churches. We are going as far in advance of the sentiment of our churches as we consistently can. We cannot come up to more decided action without losing our hold over them, and, as we think, throwing back the cause of emancipation. If you begin in this decided manner, we cannot hold our churches in the union; they will divide, and go to the Old School.”

Here was a very strong plea, made by good and sincere men. It was an appeal, too, to the most generous feelings of the heart. It was, in effect, saying, “Brothers, we stood by you, and fought your battles, when everything was going against you; and, now that you have the power in your hands, are you going to use it so as to cast us out?”

These men, strong anti-slavery men as they were, were affected. One member of the committee foresaw and feared the result. He felt and suggested that the course proposed conceded the whole question. The majority thought, on the whole, that it was best to postpone the subject. The committee reported that the applicants, for reasons satisfactory to themselves, had withdrawn their papers.

The next year, in 1839, the subject was resumed; and it was again urged that the Assembly should take high and decided and unmistakable ground; and certainly, if we consider that all this time not a single church had emancipated its slaves, and that the power of the institution was everywhere stretching and growing and increasing, it would certainly seem that something more efficient was necessary than a general understanding that the church agreed with the testimony delivered in 1818. It was strongly represented that it was time something was done. This year the Assembly decided to refer the subject to presbyteries, to do what they deemed advisable. The words employed were these: “Solemnly referring the whole subject to the lower judicatories, to take such action as in their judgment is most 213judicious, and adapted to remove the evil.” This of course deferred, but did not avert, the main question.

This brought, in 1840, a much larger number of memorials and petitions; and very strong attempts were made by the abolitionists to obtain some decided action.

The committee this year referred to what had been done last year, and declared it inexpedient to do anything further. The subject was indefinitely postponed. At this time it was resolved that the Assembly should meet only once in three years.[26] Accordingly, it did not meet till 1843. In 1843, several memorials were again presented, and some resolutions offered to the Assembly, of which this was one (Minutes of the General Assembly for 1843, p. 15):

Resolved, That we affectionately and earnestly urge upon the Ministers, Sessions, Presbyteries and Synods connected with this Assembly, that they treat this as all other sins of great magnitude; and, by a diligent, kind and faithful application of the means which God has given them, by instruction, remonstrance, reproof and effective discipline, seek to purify the church of this great iniquity.

This resolution they declined. They passed the following:

Whereas there is in this Assembly great diversity of opinion as to the proper and best mode of action on the subject of slavery; and whereas, in such circumstances, any expression of sentiment would carry with it but little weight, as it would be passed by a small majority, and must operate to produce alienation and division; and whereas the Assembly of 1839, with great unanimity, referred this whole subject to the lower judicatories, to take such order as in their judgment might be adapted to remove the evil;—Resolved, That the Assembly do not think it for the edification of the church for this body to take any action on the subject.

They, however, passed the following:

Resolved, That the fashionable amusement of promiscuous dancing is so entirely unscriptural, and eminently and exclusively that of “the world which lieth in wickedness,” and so wholly inconsistent with the spirit of Christ, and with that propriety of Christian deportment and that purity of heart which his followers are bound to maintain, as to render it not only improper and injurious for professing Christians either to partake in it, or to qualify their children for it, by teaching them the art, but also to call for the faithful and judicious exercise of discipline on the part of Church Sessions, when any of the members of their churches have been guilty.

Three years after, in 1846, the General Assembly published the following declaration of sentiment:

1. The system of slavery, as it exists in these United States, viewed either in the laws of the several states which sanction it, or in its actual operation and results in society, is intrinsically unrighteous and oppressive; and is opposed to the prescriptions of the law of God, to the spirit and precepts of the gospel, and to the best interests of humanity.

2. The testimony of the General Assembly, from A. D. 1787 to A. D. 1818, inclusive, has condemned it; and it remains still the recorded testimony of the Presbyterian Church of these United States against it, from which we do not recede.

3. We cannot, therefore, withhold the expression of our deep regret that slavery should be continued and countenanced by any of the members of our churches; and we do earnestly exhort both them and the churches among whom it exists to use all means in their power to put it away from them. Its perpetuation among them cannot fail to be regarded by multitudes, influenced by their example, as sanctioning the system portrayed in it, and maintained by the statutes of the several slave-holding states, wherein they dwell. Nor can any mere mitigation of its severity, prompted by the humanity and Christian feeling of any who continue to hold their fellow-men in bondage, be regarded either as a testimony against the system, or as in the least degree changing its essential character.

4. But, while we believe that many evils incident to the system render it important and obligatory to bear testimony against it, yet would we not undertake to determine the degree of moral turpitude on the part of individuals involved by it. This will doubtless be found to vary, in the sight of God, according to the degree of light and other circumstances pertaining to each. In view of all the embarrassments and obstacles in the way of emancipation interposed by the statutes of the slave-holding states, and by the social influence affecting the views and conduct of those involved in it, we cannot pronounce a judgment of general and promiscuous condemnation, implying that destitution of Christian principle and feeling which should exclude from the table of the Lord all who should stand in the legal relation of masters to slaves, or justify us in withholding our ecclesiastical and Christian fellowship from them. We rather sympathize with, and would seek to succor them in their embarrassments, believing that separation and secession among the churches and their members are not the methods God approves and sanctions for the reformation of his church.

5. While, therefore, we feel bound to bear our testimony against slavery, and to exhort our beloved brethren to remove it from them as speedily as possible, by all appropriate and available means, we do at the same time condemn all divisive and schismatical measures, tending to destroy the unity and disturb the peace of our church, and deprecate the spirit of denunciation and inflicting severities, which would cast from the fold those whom we are rather bound, by the spirit of the gospel, and the obligations of our covenant, to instruct, to counsel, to exhort, and thus to lead in the ways of God; and towards whom, even 214though they may err, we ought to exercise forbearance and brotherly love.

6. As a court of our Lord Jesus Christ, we possess no legislative authority; and as the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, we possess no judiciary authority. We have no right to institute and prescribe a test of Christian character and church membership, not recognized and sanctioned in the sacred Scriptures, and in our standards, by which we have agreed to walk. We must leave, therefore, this matter with the sessions, presbyteries and synods,—the judicatories to whom pertains the right of judgment to act in the administration of discipline, as they may judge it to be their duty, constitutionally subject to the General Assembly only in the way of general review and control.

When a boat is imperceptibly going down stream on a gentle but strong current, we can see its passage only by comparing objects with each other on the shore.

If this declaration of the New-school General Assembly be compared with that of 1818, it will be found to be far less outspoken and decided in its tone, while in the mean time slavery had become four-fold more powerful. In 1818 the Assembly states that the most virtuous portion of the community in slave states abhor slavery, and wish its extermination. In 1846 the Assembly states with regret that slavery is still continued and countenanced by any of the members of our churches. The testimony of 1818 has the frank, outspoken air of a unanimous document, where there was but one opinion. That of 1846 has the guarded air of a compromise ground out between the upper and nether millstone of two contending parties,—it is winnowed, guarded, cautious and careful.

Considering the document, however, in itself, it is certainly a very good one; and it would be a very proper expression of Christian feeling, had it related to an evil of any common magnitude, and had it been uttered in any common crisis; but let us consider what was the evil attacked, and what was the crisis. Consider the picture which the Kentucky Synod had drawn of the actual state of things among them:—“The members of slave-families separated, never to meet again until the final judgment; brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives, daily torn asunder, and permitted to see each other no more; the shrieks and agonies, proclaiming as with trumpet-tongue the iniquity and cruelty of the system; the cries of the ............
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