H. B. (Henry Bidleman) Bascom.

The Methodist Church property case. Report of the suit of Henry Bascom, and others, vs. George Lane, and others, heard before the judges Nelson and Betts, in the Circuit Court, United States, for the Southern District of New York, May 17-20, 1851 online

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Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bidleman) BascomThe Methodist Church property case. Report of the suit of Henry Bascom, and others, vs. George Lane, and others, heard before the judges Nelson and Betts, in the Circuit Court, United States, for the Southern District of New York, May 17-20, 1851 → online text (page 14 of 87)
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the episcopacy any and every man, in any way connected with slavery, is mere
assumption. No contract, agreement, decree, or purpose of this kind, is of record,
or ever existed. No such exaction, in terms or by implication, was ever made by
the North, or conceded by the South. No conventional understanding ever existed
to this effect, so far as the South is concerned, or has been informed. That it has
long, perhaps always, been the purpose of the North, not to elect a slaveholder to the
office of bishop, is admitted. But as no law gave countenance to anything of the
kind, the South regarded it as a mere matter of social injustice, and was not disposed
to complain. The North has always found its security in numbers, and the untram-
melled right of suffrage, and to this the South has not objected. The assumption,
however, is entirely different, and is not admitted by the South, but is plainly nega-
tived by the law and language of the Discipline, as explained by authority of the
General Conference.

" No such concession, beyond peaceable submission to the right of suffrage, exer-
cised by the majority, will ever be submitted to by the South, as it would amount to
denial of equal abstract right, and a disfranchisement of the Southern ministry, and
could not be submitted to without injury and degradation. If, then, the North is not
satisfied with the negative right conceded to the South by law in this matter, the
minority would be glad to know what principle or policy is likely to introduce beyond
the existing provisions of law. As the contingency which has occasioned the diffi-
culty in the case of Bishop Andrew, and to which every Southern minister is liable
at any time, does not, and cannot fall under the condemnation of existing law, and he
cannot be punished, nor yet subjected to any official disability, without an abuse of
both right and power, on the part of this General Conference, the minority are com-
pelled to think that the majority ought to be satisfied with the consciousness and de-
claration, that they are in no way responsible for the contingency, and thus, at least,
allow Bishop Andrew the benefit of their own legislation, until they see proper to
change it. This attempt by the majority to protect a lawless prosecution from
merited rebuke, by an appeal to conscience and principle, condemning Bishop An-
drew, while the law and the Church, shielding him from the assault, are not object-
ed to, is looked upon by the minority as a species of moral, we will not say legal,
casuistry, utterly subversive of all the principles of order and good government.

" 4. The act of the majority was ostensibly resorted to, because, as alleged, the
Church in the Middle and Northern conferences will not submit to any, the slightest
connexion with slavery. But if connexion with slavery is ruinous to the Church in
the North, that ruin is already wrought. Who does not know that the very Disci-
pline, laws, and legislation of the Church necessarily connect us all with slavery!
All our provisional legislation on the subject has proceeded on the assumption that
slavery is an element of society a principle of action a household reality in the
Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. It is part and parcel of the
economy of American Methodism, in every subjective sense. It has given birth to
law and right, conventional arrangements, numerous missions, and official trusts.
Every bishop, every minister, every member of the Church is of necessity connected
with slavery. Each is brother and co-member, both with slave and master, by the
very laws and organization of the Church.

" If, then, connexion with slavery is so disastrous, the only remedy is to purify


the Church by reorganization, or get out of it as soon as possible. And would not
this aversion to slavery would not conscience and principle, so much plead in this
controversy appear much more consistent in every view of the subject, in striking
at the root of the evil, in the organic structure of the Church, than in seeking its
personification in Bishop Andrew, protected although he be by the law, and proceed-
ing to punish him, by way of calling off attention from the known toleration of the
same thing, in other aspects and relations 1

li Impelled by conscience and principle to the illegal arrest of a bishop, because
he has incidentally, by bequest, inheritance, and marriage, come into possession of
slave property, in no instance intending to possess himself of such property, how
long will conscience and principle leave other ministers, or even lay members, undis-
turbod, who may happen to be in the same category with Bishop Andrew ! Will
assurances be given that the lawlessness of expediency, controlled, as in such case
it must be, by prejudice and passion, will extend no further that there shall be no
further curtailment of right as it regards the Southern ministry'? Yet what is the
security of the South in the easel Is the public faith of this body, as instanced in
the recent violations of the compromise law, to be relied upon as the guarantee for
the redemption of the pledge"! What would such pledge or assurance be but to re-
mind the South that any departure at all from the great conservative pledge of law,
to which we appeal, was much more effectually guarded against originally, than it is
possible to guard against any subsequent infringement, and to make the South feel
further that disappointment in the first instance must compel distrust with regard to
the future 1 The Church having specific law on the subject, all questions involving
slavery must inevitably, by intention of law, come within the purview of such special
provision, and cannot be judged of by any other law or standard, without a most dar-
ing departure from all the rules and sobrieties of judicial procedure, and the under-
signed accordingly except to the action of the majority in relation to Bishop Andrew,
as not only without sanction of law, but in conflict with rights created by law.

" 5. As the Methodist Episcopal Church is now organized, and according to its or-
ganization since 1784, the episcopacy is a co-ordinate branch, the executive depart-
ment proper of the government. A bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church is not
a mere creature is in no prominent sense an officer of the General Conference.
The General Conference, as such, cannot constitute a bishop. It is true the annual
conferences select the bishops of the Church, by the suffrage of their delegates, in
General Conference assembled ; but the General Conference, in its capacity of a
representative body or any other in which it exists, does not possess the power of
ordination, without which a bishop cannot be constituted.

" The bishops are beyond a doubt an integral constituent part of the General Con-
ference, made such by law and the constitution ; and because elected by the General
Conference, it does not follow that they are subject to the will of that body, except
in conformity with legal right and the provisions of law, in the premises. In this
sense, and so viewed, they are subject to the General Conference, and this is suffi-
cient limitation of their power, unless the government itself is to be considered irre-
gular and unbalanced in the co-ordinate relations of its parts. In a sense by no
means unimportant the General Conference is as much the creature of the episco-
pacy, as the bishops are the creatures of the General Conference. Constitutionally
the bishops alone have the right to fix the time of holding the annual conferences,
and should they refuse or neglect to do so, no annual conference could meet, accord-
ing to law, and, by consequence, no delegates could be chosen, and no General Con-
ference could be chosen, or even exist. And because this is so, what would be
thought of the impertinent pretension, should the episcopacy claim that the General
Conference is the mere creature of their will 1 As executive officers as well as pasto-
ral overseers, the bishops belong to the Church as such, and not to the General Con-
ference as one of its councils or organs of action merely.

" The General Conference is in no sense the Church, not even representatively.
It is merely the representative organ of the Church, with limited powers to do its
business, in the discharge of a delegated trust.

" Because bishops are in part constituted by the General Conference, the power of
removal does not follow. Episcopacy even in the Methodist Church is not a mere
appointment to labour. It is an official consecrated station, under the protection of
law, and can only be dangerous as the law is bad, or the Church corrupt. The power
to appoint does not necessarily involve the power to remove ; and when the appoint-


ing power is derivative, as in the case of the General Conference, the power of re-
moval does not accrue at all, unless by consent of the co-ordinate branches of the
government, expressed by law, made and provided in the case. When the legislature
of a State, to appeal to analogy for illustration, appoints a judge or senator in
congress, does the judge or senator thereby become the officer or creature of the
legislature, or is he the officer or senatorial representative of the State, of which the
legislature is the mere organ 1 And does the power of removal follow that of appoint-
ment 1 The answer is negative, in both cases, and applies equally to the bishops of
the Methodist Episcopal Church, who, instead of being the officers and creatures of
the General Conference, are de facto the officers and servants of the Church, chosen
by the General Conference, as its organ of action, and no right of removal accrues,
except as they fail to accomplish the aims of the Church in their appointment, and
then only in accordance with the provisions of law. But when a bishop is suspended,
or informed that it is the wish or will of the General Conference that he cease to
perform the functions of bishop, for doing what the law of the same body allows him
to do, and of course without incurring the hazard of punishment, or even blame, then
the whole procedure becomes an outrage upon justice, as well as law.

" The assumption of power by the General Conference beyond the warrant of law,
to which we object, and against which we protest, will lead, if carried into practice,
to a direct violation of one of the restrictive rales of the constitution. Suppose it
had been the ' sense ' of this General Conference, when the late communication from
the bishops was respectfully submitted to the Conference, that such communication
was an interference with their rights and duties an attempt to tamper with the
purity and independence, and therefore an outrage upon the claims and dignity of the
Conference not to be borne with. And proceeding a step further, suppose it had
been the ' sense ' of the Conference that they all desist from performing the functions
of bishops until the ' impediment ' of such offence had been removed assume this,
{and, so far as mere law is concerned, no law being violated in either case, it was
just as likely as the movement against Bishop Andrew,) and had it taken place, what
had become of the general superintendency 1 If a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal
Church may, without law, and at the instance of mere party expediency, be sus-
pended from the exercise of the appropriate functions of his office, for one act, he
may for another. Admit this doctrine, and by what tenure do the bishops hold office 1
One thing is certain, whatever other tenure there may be, they do not hold office
according to law.

" The provisions of law and the faithful performance of duty, upon this theory of
official tenure, afford no security. Admit this claim of absolutism, as regards right
and powers on the part of the General Conference, and the bishops of the Methodist
Episcopal Church are slaves, and the men constituting this body their masters and
holders. They are in office only at the discretion of a majority of the General Con-
ference, without the restraints or protection of law. Both the law and themselves
are liable and likely at any time to be overborne and trampled upon together, as ex-
emplified in the case of Bishop Andrew. If the doctrine against which we protest
be admitted, the episcopal office is, at best, but a quadrennial term of service, and
the undersigned are compelled to think that a man who would remain a bishop, or
allow himself to be made one, under such circumstances, ' desires a good work,' and
is prepared for self-sacrifice, quite beyond the comprehension of ordinary piety.

''As it regards Bishop Andrew, if it shall be made to appear that the action in his
case was intended only to advise and request him to desist from his office, it does not
in any way affect the real or relative character of the movement. When a body
claiming the right to compel, asks the resignation of an officer, the request is to all
official and moral purposes compulsory, as it loads the officer with disability, and
gives notice of assumed unworthiness, if not criminality. The request has all the
force of a mandate, inasmuch as the officer is by such request compelled either to
resign or remain in office contrary to the known will of the majority. A simple re-
quest, therefore, under the circumstances supposed, carries with it all the force of a
decree, and is so understood, it is believed, by all the world.

" To request Bishop Andrew to resign, therefore, in view of all the facts and rela-
tions of the case, was, in the judgment of the minority, to punish and degrade him;
and they maintain that the whole movement was without authority of law, is hence
of necessity null and void, and therefore not binding upon Bishop Andrew, or the
minority protesting against it.


"6. We protest against the art of the majority, instructing Bishop Andrew to
desist from the exercise of his office, not merely on account of the injustice and evil
connecting with the act itself, but because the act must be understood as the expo-
nent of principles and purposes, as it regards the union of the North and South in the
Methodist Episcopal Church, well-nigh destroying all hope o/ its perpetuity. The
true position of the parties in relation to a long-existing conventional arrangement,
on the subject of slavery and abolition, has been fully under notice ; and when men
of years and wisdom, experience and learning men of no common weight of charac-
ter, and with a well-earned aristocracy of Church influence thrown about them, assume
and declare, in action as well as debate, that what a plain law of the Church the
only law applicable in the case sustained and enforced, too, by an explanatory
decree of this body, at a previous session decides shall not be a disqualification for
office, in any grade in the ministry, when such men, the law and decision of the
General Conference notwithstanding, are heard declaring that what law provides for
and protects nevertheless ahcays has been and always shall be a disqualification, what
further evidence is wanting to show that the compromise basis of union, from which
the South has never swerved, has been abandoned both by the Northern and Middle
Conferences, with a few exceptions in the latter, and that principles and purposes
are entertained by the majority, driving the South to extreme action, in defence both
of their rights and reputation 1 And how far the long train of eventful sequences,
attendant upon the threatened result of division, may be traceable to the Northern
and Middle Conferences, by the issue thus provoked, is a question to be settled not
by us, but by our contemporaries and posterity.

" It is matter of history, with regard to the past, and will not be questioned, that
now, as formerly, the South is upon the basis of the Discipline, on the subject of
slavery. The minority believe it equally certain that this is not true with regard to
the North proper especially. In view, then, of the unity of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, which party has been, in equity, entitled to the sympathy and protection of
the Middle and umpire conferences'! those who through good and evil report have kept
good faith and adhered to law, or those whose opinions and purposes have led them to
seek a state of things in advance of law, and thus dishonour its forms and sanctions!

" 7. In proportion as the minority appreciate and cling to the unity of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, they are bound, further, to except to the position of the majority,
in this controversy. Allow that Bishop Andrew, without however any infringement
of law, is, on account of his connexion with slavery, unacceptable in the Northern
conferences. It is equally known to the majority that any bishop of the Church,
either violating, or submitting to a violation of the compromise charter of union be-
tween the North and the South, without proper and public remonstrance, cannot
be acceptable in the South, and need not appear there. By pressing the issue in
question, therefore, the majority virtually dissolve the government of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, because in every constitutional aspect it is sundered by so crip-
pling a co-ordinate branch of it as to destroy the itinerant general superintendency
altogether. Whenever it is clearly ascertained that the compromise law of the
Church, regulating slavery and abolition, is abandoned, every bishop, each of the
venerable and excellent men who now adorn the Church and its councils, ceases to
be a general superintendent : the law of union, the principle of gravitation, binding
us together, is dissolved, and the general superintendency cf the Methodist Episcopal
Church is no more !

" 8. The South have not been led thus to protest merely because of the treatment
received by Bishop Andrew, or the kindred action of this body in other matters. The
abandonment of the compromise the official refusal by the majority, as we have
understood them, to abide the arbitrament of law is their principal ground of com-
plaint and remonstrance. If the minority have not entirely misunderstood the ma-
jority, the abolition and anti-slavery principles of the North will no longer allow
them to submit to the law of the Discipline on the general subject of slavery and
abolition ; and if this be so, if the compromise law be either repealed or allowed to
remain a dead letter, the South cannot submit, and the absolute necessity of division is
already dated. And should the exigent circumstances in which the minority find
themselves placed, by the facts and developments alluded to in this remonstrance,
render it finally necessary that the Southern conferences should have a separate, inde-
pcTident existence, it is hoped that the character and services of the minority, to-
gether with the numbers and claims of the ministry and membership of the portion


of the Church represented by them, not less than similar reasons and considerations
on the part of the Northern and Middle conferences, will suggest the high moral
fitness of meeting this great emergency with strong and steady purpose to do justice
to all concerned. And it is believed that, approaching the subject in this way, it
will be found practicable to devise and adopt such measures and arrangements, pre-
sent and prospective, as will secure an amicable division of the Church upon the
broad principles of right and equity, and destined to result in the common good
of the great body of ministers and members found on either side the line of sepa-

MR. WOOD, There was a reply to that Protest, which I suppose is properly our
evidence, but I think there is great propriety in having them read together ; and the
court will then have the whole ecclesiastical argument before it.

MR. LORD, I will agree to that ; but there is a short letter which was presented
to the Conference from Dr. Bascom, which I will read first in this connexion.

JCDGE NELSON, I think the counsel on the part of the plaintiffs had better go on,
without mixing up the case on the other side with that on which he means to rely.

MR. LORD, This would not be so mixing it up, may it please your Honours.
This paper will tend to show how things then stood at that Conference, and perhaps it
is just that it should now be read it certainly will be convenient that your Honours
may see the feeling which prevailed on both sides before the separation was effected.

JUDGE NELSON, We do not object.

MR. LORD, If your Honours please, I will first read Dr. Bascom's letter :

" ' Rev. Bishops Soule, Hedding, Waugh, and Morris :

" ' MY DEAR BRETHREN, That part of the Protest, presented to the General
Conference yesterday, which relates to the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal
Church maintaining the compromise law of the Discipline, on the subject of slavery
and, abolition, was intended as the declaration of a principle, to which it is the purpose
of the South to adhere ; but was not intended to convey the idea, that any member
of the existing bench of bishops was in any way delinquent with regard to the law of
the Church in question. If any such impression has been made, in any quarter, it is
deeply regretted. It is the opinion of the writers and signers of the Protest alluded
to, that the bishops addressed in this communication have, at different times, and in
different forms, sufficiently declared themselves on the subject under notice ; and so
far from intending to impugn the bishops in any way, the minority signing the Pro-
test are ready at all times to endorse the purity and impartiality with which they have
maintained and enforced the law and doctrine of the Church, on the subject of
slavery and abolition.

" ' In behalf of the Southern delegations signing the Protest, very truly and re-
spectfully, H. B. BASCOM.

" ' New-York, June 7, 1844.' "

The REV. DR. PECK then read the following, at the request of Mr. Fancher :

" Report of the Committee appointed to prepare a Statement of the Facts connected with

the Proceedings in the Case of Bishop Andrew.

"The committee appointed to prepare a statement of the facts in the case of
Bishop Andrew, and to examine the Protest of the minority, regret that the circum-
stances under which they have been compelled to act have prevented their preparing
so complete a report as the importance of the subject demands. The Pr test was
not placed under their command until Friday afternoon, and immediately afterward
two of the original committee had to withdraw, one of them being ill, and the other


having been elected bishop : nor were their places supplied until Saturday evening.
! acres, and amid the pressure of important Conference busi-
ness, ij, at jh, . required to prepare a document in relation to some of the
;>ortant questions that have ever engaged the attention of the Church. It is
: hat the following statement of law and facts will be a sufficient
i the Protest which has been referred to them.

.-i<rs of the General Conference in the case of Bishop Andrew
were not judicial, its decision has gone forth to the public unaccompanied by the
reasons and facts upon which this action was founded. This deficiency is but par-
ipplied by the published reports of the debate on the subject. The speakers
who advocated the resolution were restrained by a praiseworthy delicacy from all
avoidable allusions which might give pain to the respected individual concerned, or
awaken unpleasant emotions in any quarter. It is but natural that, under these
circumstances, some misunderstanding should prevail as to the merits of the case.
The following statement, it is believed, contains nothing, at least so far as facts are
concerned, wnich will not be cheerfully confirmed by all parties, and will throw light
upon the true position of the authors of the Protest.

" From the first institution of the episcopacy of the Methodist Episcopal Church,
no slaveholder has been elected to that dignity, though, in several instances, candi-
dates, otherwise eminently fitted for the station, have failed of success solely on
account of this impediment. Since the period referred to, nine bishops have been
elected, who were natives of the United States. Of these only three have been
Northern men, while six were natives of slaveholding States. Not one, however,
was a slaveholder ; a remarkable fact, which shows very clearly, that while much
more than their just claim has been conceded to the slaveholding portions of the
Church, a decided and uniform repugnance has, from the first, been felt and mani-
fested to the occupancy of that high office by a slaveholder.

" It is known and acknowledged by all Southern brethren, that Bishop Andrew

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bidleman) BascomThe Methodist Church property case. Report of the suit of Henry Bascom, and others, vs. George Lane, and others, heard before the judges Nelson and Betts, in the Circuit Court, United States, for the Southern District of New York, May 17-20, 1851 → online text (page 14 of 87)