Copyright
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

. (page 15 of 87)
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 15 of 87)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was nominated by the delegates from the South Carolina and Georgia Conferences,
as a Southern candidate for whom Northern men might vote, without doing violence
to their principles, as he was no slaveholder. Bishop Andrew himself perfectly un-
derstood the ground of his election, and often said that he was indebted to his poverty
for his promotion. Since the year 1832, the anti-slavery sentiment in the Church, as
well as in the whole civilized world, has constantly and rapidly gained ground ; and
within the last year or two it has been roused to a special and most earnest opposi-
tion to the introduction of a slaveholder into the episcopal office an event which
many were led to fear, by certain intimations published in the Southern Christian
Advocate, the Richmond Christian Advocate, and perhaps some other Methodist
periodicals. This opposition produced the profoundest anxiety through most of the
non-slaveholding conferences. The subject was discussed everywhere, and the
dreaded event universally deprecated as the most fearful calamity that ever threat-
ened the Church. Many conferences instructed their delegates to use all possible
means to avert such an evil. Other conferences, and many thousand laymen, sent
up petitions and memorials to the same effect to the present General Conference.
Such was the state of sentiment and of apprehension in the Northern portion of the
Church, when the delegates to the General Conference learned, on reaching this
city, that Bishop Andrew had become a slaveholder. The profound grief, the utter
dismay, which was produced by this astounding intelligence, can be fully appreciated
only by those who have participated in the distressing scenes which have since been
enacted in the General Conference.

" When the first emotions of surprise and sorrow had so far subsided as to allow
of sober thought and inquiry, it was ascertained that Bishop Andrew had been a
slaveholder for several years. Soon after his election to the episcopacy, a lady of
Augusta bequeathed him a female slave, on condition that she should be sent to
Liberia at nineteen years of age, if her consent to emigrate could be obtained
otherwise she was to be made as free as the laws of Georgia would permit. She
refused to emigrate, has since married, and is now enjoying all the privileges pro-
vided for in the will of her former mistress : she is, and must be, a slave she and
:hildren and liable to all that may befall slaves. Another slave Bishop An-
drew has inherited from the mother of his former wife, and by his recent marriage
he has become the owner of (it was said on the floor of the General Conference)
fourteen or fifteen more. These belonged to Mrs. Andrew in her own right before



79

her marriage. That act, according to the laws of Georgia, made them the property
of Bishop Andrew, to keep or dispose of as he pleased. He conveyed them to a
trustee, for the joint use of himself and wife, of whom the survivor is to be the sole
owner. This conveyance was made for the security of Mrs. Andrew, and with no
view either to satisfy or to mislead the opinions of the Northern Church. So much,
at least, Bishop Andrew was understood to say to the Conference. His known in-
tegrity forbids the suspicion that he would attempt to disguise the real character of
the transaction ; and the fact that the earnings of the slaves, as well as the rever-
sionary title to them, are his, demonstrates that this arrangement was not made with
any view to satisfy the well-known sentiments of the Church against a slaveholding
bishop. It is manifest from this statement, which is believed to be strictly correct,
that Bishop Andrew's connexion with slavery is not, as the Protest intimates,
merely an "assumption," but that he is the owner of slaves, in the full and proper
sense of that term. His title was acquired by bequest, by inheritance, and by mar-
riage, which are by far the most common grounds of ownership in slaves. All the
usual and necessary conditions of slavery have then- fulfilment in the relation of these
persons to Bishop Andrew. Their labour and their earnings are subject to his con-
trol, and inure to his benefit and that of his family. They are now liable, or they may
be hereafter, to be sold ; they and their offspring are doomed, as the case now stands,
to a bondage that is perpetual, and they are liable and likely to descend to his heirs.
Beyond all reasonable doubt, the condition of Bishop Andrew's slaves will be
attended, while he lives, with all the alleviations and these are many and great
which a very benevolent and Christian master can provide. Still it must be slavery.
In the view of the law of the land, and of the law of the Discipline, in all its more
weighty and permanent consequences to the bondman, it is and must be slavery. It
was said repeatedly on the floor of the Conference, that the deed of trust had put it
quite beyond Bishop Andrew's power to free his slaves, even if there were no other
obstacle. So then, should the stringent laws of Georgia against emancipation be
relaxed or repealed by her next legislature, the rule of the Discipline, which would
then become imperative on Bishop Andrew, could not, and would not, be satisfied,
and the Church must still have a slaveholding bishop, in spite, not only of its known
will, but of its standing laws.

" It was the almost unanimous opinion of the delegates from the non-slaveholding
conferences that Bishop Andrew could not continue to exercise his episcopal func-
tions under existing circumstances, without producing results extensively disastrous
to the Church in the North ; and from this opinion the brethren of the South did not
dissent. For a while the hope was entertained that the difficulty would be quietly
removed by his resigning his office, which it was known he had previously desired
to do. But this hope was dissipated by the intelligence that the delegates from the
conferences in the slaveholding States had been convened, and that they had unani-
mously advised him not to resign. Various efforts were then made in private to
devise some method to relieve the case, but they all proved abortive, and no-
thing remained but that it must come before the General Conference. The bishops
themselves, in their united Address to the Conference, had urged it to ascertain whe-
ther there has been any departure from the essential principles ' of the general itin-
erant superintendency,' and had declared of that superintendency that ' the plan of
its operation is general, embracing the whole work in connexional order, and not
diocesan or sectional. Consequently any division of the work into districts, or other-
wise, so as to create a particular charge, with any other view, or in any order, than
as a prudential measure to secure to all the conferences the annual visits of the
superintendents, would be an innovation on the system' that ' our superintendency
must be itinerant, and not local :' that ' it was wisely provided in the system of
Methodism, from its very foundation, that it should be the duty of superintendents
' to travel through the Connexion at large. The question then presented itself, how
the case of Bishop Andrew could be so disposed of as to preserve this itinerant ge-
neral superintendency 1 If the General Conference had even been disposed to evade
it, the consideration of it was forced upon them by the episcopal Address itself.

" A diversity of sentiment existed as to the proper method of treating the case.

" Some, at least, believed perhaps few doubted that sufficient ground existed
for impeachment on a charge of ' improper conduct' under the express provisions of
the Discipline. The opinion was certainly entertained in several quarters that it was
' improper' for the shepherd and bishop of eleven hundred thousand souls, either



80

deliberately or heedlessly, to place himself in direct and irreconcilable conflict with
the known and cherished moral sentiments of a large majority of his vast flock.
Such, however, was the prevalence of moderate counsels, that no proposal was made
either to impeach or punish, and such the controlling influence of forbearance and
kindness, that it is believed not one word was uttered during the entire debate of
nearlv a 'fortnight derogatory to the character, or justly offensive to the feelings of
Bishop Andrew. The transaction which had brought such distress upon the Church,
rind threatened such extensive ruin, was dealt with merely as a fact as a practical
difficulty for the removal or palliation of which it was the duty of the General Con-
ference to provide. It was in this spirit, and for such ends, that the following
preamble and resolution were passed :

Whereas, the Discipline of our Church forbids the doing anything calculated to
destroy our itinerant general superintendency, and whereas Bishop Andrew has be-
come connected with slavery by marriage and otherwise, and this act having drawn
after it circumstances which in the estimation of the General Conference will greatly
embarrass the exercise of his office as an itinerant general superintendent, if not in
some places entirely prevent it ; therefore,

" ' Resolved, That it is the sense of this General Conference that he desist from
the exercise of this office so long as this impediment remains.

" ' J. B. FINLEY,
J. M. TRIMBLE.'

' The action of the General Conference was neither judicial nor punitive. It
neither achieves nor intends a deposition, nor so much as a legal suspension.
Bishop Andrew is still a bishop ; and should he, against the expressed sense of the
General Conference, proceed in the discharge of his functions, his official acts would
be valid.

" Such are the facts in the case of Bishop Andrew. We now proceed to notice
the law. Nearly all the objections raised in the Protest against the action of the
General Conference may be reduced to two, viz. : that that body has violated the
constitutional and the statutory law of the Church. That it has violated the consti-
tutional law the Protest attempts to prove by representing its late action as a breach
of what it calls ' the compromise law of the Church on the subject of slavery ;'
meaning, as is supposed, the section on slavery, particularly that paragraph which
relates to travelling preachers. The entire language on this subject is evidently
formed so as to make the impression on any reader not intimately acquainted with
the history and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, that there has been
some period (whether 1804 or 1816 does not clearly appear from the Protest) when
the question of slavery was settled in the Methodist Episcopal Church as it was in
the General Government at the adoption of the federal constitution. that ' the con-
federating annual conferences,' ' after a vexed and protracted negotiation,' met in
convention, and the section on slavery ' was finally agreed to by the parties, after a
long and fearful struggle,' as ' a compact,' ' a treaty,' which cannot be altered
by the General Conference until certain constitutional restrictions are removed.
So that now any interference on the part of that body with the question of slavery
in the Southern Conferences is as unconstitutional as it is admitted would be the
interference of the General Government with the question in the Southern States.

" After the boldness with which this doctrine is advanced, and the confidence with
which it is relied upon as ' the first and principal ground occupied by the minority
in this Protest,' it will be difficult for the uninitiated to believe, that it is as un-
founded in fact as it is ingenious in its ' legal casuistry. 1 It is indeed true, that the
question of slavery had been long and anxiously agitated in the Church, and the
various General Conferences had endeavoured to adjust the matter so as to promote
the greatest good of all parties ; but this very fact goes to disprove the position as-
sumed in the Protest : for as the attention of the Church had been thus strongly
called to the subject, if it had been the intention to guard the question of slavery by
constitutional provisions, it would have been done when the Church actually did
meet to frame a constitution. But nothing of the kind appears. For when, in 1808,
it was resolved that the General Conference, instead of consisting, as before, of all
the travelling elders, should be a delegated body, and when it was determined that
that body (unlike the General Government, which had no powers but such as are ex-
pressly conferred) should have all powers but such as are expressly taken away,



81

when this vast authority was about to be given to the General Conference, among
' the limitations and restrictions' imposed, there is not one word on the subject of sla-
very ; nor was any attempt made to introduce any such, restriction. The only pro-
vision anywhere established by that General Conference of constitutional force, was
the general rule forbidding the buying and selling of human beings with an intention
to enslave them. So that, in direct opposition to the assertion of the Protest, we
maintain that the section on slavery is ' a mere legislative enactment, a simple de-
cree of a General Conference," as much under its control as any other portion of the
Discipline not covered by the restrictive rules. If additional proof of the truth of
this position were needed it might be adduced in the fact that that section which the
Protest represents to have been settled in 1804, was not only altered at the General
Conference or convention of 1808, but also at the delegated General Conferences of
1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824. And although the Protest speaks of it as ' usually
known' by the name of ' the compromise act,' the greater part of this General Con-
ference have never heard either that appellation or that character ascribed to it until
the present occasion.

" But although this General Conference cannot admit that any portion of the sec-
tion on slavery is constitutional in its character, and therefore could not under any
circumstances allow the imputation of the Protest that they have violated the con-
stitution of the Church, yet they do admit that it is law law too which the General
Conference (though possessing full powers in the premises) has never altered ex-
cept at the above periods, and then, in each instance, for the further indulgence of
the South. The question then comes up, whether this General Conference, as the
Protest maintains, has in effect suddenly reversed the legislation of the Church, not
indeed by altering the law, but by practically disregarding it. The portion of the
law particularly in question is the following paragraph :

'"When any travelling preacher becomes an owner of a slave or slaves, by any
means, he shall forfeit his ministerial character in our Church, unless he execute, if
it be practicable, a legal emancipation of such slaves, conformably to the laws of the
State in which he lives.'

" This it is alleged fully covers the case of Bishop Andrew, and therefore he ought
to have been left in the quiet and unquestionable enjoyment of his rights. Were it
even true, that proceedings, either judicial or ' extra-judicial,' have been had in his
case, we should not hesitate to join issue here, and maintain that this law does not
protect him. The Protest asks, ' Is there anything in the law or its reasons creating
an exception in the instance of bishops V We answer, There is in both. So far as
judicial proceedings are concerned, the Discipline divides the Church into four
classes private members, local preachers, travelling preachers, and bishops ; and
establishes distinct tribunals, and different degrees of responsibility for each. The
section on slavery applies only to officers of the Church, and therefore private mem-
bers are not named at all, but special provision is made in the case of local and
travelling preachers. How happens it that bishops are not named at all 1 Are they
necessarily included in the title 'travelling preachers^' In common parlance they
may sometimes be thus designated, but in the Discipline it is not so understood, even
in regard to matters much less important than this, in evidence of which we need
only advert to the fact, that the General Conference of 1836 did not consider that
the allowance of bishops was provided for under the general title of ' travelling preach-
ers,' and they therefore inserted them accordingly. To explain why no mention is
made of 'bishops,' it is not necessary, as the Protest supposes, ' to slander the vir-
tuous dead of the North,' as if they excluded them intentionally ' by a resort to
deceptive and dishonourable means.' It is a much more natural and reasonable ex-
planation, that at that day, when the Church could hardly tolerate slavery in any
class of the ministry, ' the virtuous dead' both of the North and of the South did
not dream that it would ever find its way into the episcopacy.

" But though the language of the law does not include bishops, yet if the
' reason ' and spirit of it did, we might be disposed to allow them the benefit of it.
But this is not the case. The whole tenor of the Discipline of the Methodist Epis-
copal Church is adverse to slavery. Even the Protest has admitted (irreconcilable
as the admission is with another portion of the same instrument) that, at the time of
the alleged ' compact,' ' the whole Church by common consent united in proper
effort for the mitigation and final removal of the evil of slavery.' But let the Disci-
pline speak for itself. The mildest form in which the questioa at the head of the

6



82

Action on slavery has ever been expressed, is the present, namely, ' What shall be
I the extirpation of the evil of slavery !' And the very Conference of 1804,
which enacted the so-called ' compromise law,' as well as that of 1800, when the
paragraph n -latin;: to travelling preachers was really adopted, were each convened
under a request Yrom the preceding General Conference, that the whole Church
would aid that body in obtaining ' full light in order to take further steps toward the
riadicatim' this rminnous rril from that part of the Church of God to which they arc
united ' It is obvious, therefore, that connexion with slavery is tolerated no further
in seems necessary. In the case of ordinary travelling preachers, there appeared
necessity for some indulgence. They might become owners of slaves in the
providence of God ; the laws of the States might not allow emancipation ; and they
liad no power to choose their own place of residence. But no such ' reason ' could
.ipplv to a bishop, for he has always been allowed to live where he pleases. Again :
travelling preachers encumbered with slaves labour among people similarly situ-
ated, and who would, not, therefore, be likely to object to them on that account.
But a bishop, by the constitution of the Church, is required to labour in every part
of the Connexion ; and in by far the larger portion of it the services of a slaveholding
bishop would not be acceptable. So here again the ' reason ' of the case does not
apply to a bishop. There is not, therefore, as the Protest so roundly asserts, any

express ' or ' specific law ' in the case ; and therefore, as the Protest itself admits,

in the absence of law it might be competent for the General Conference to act on
other grounds.' With the failure to prove any ' specific law' authorizing a bishop to
hold slave property, the third and fourth arguments of the Protest, which are founded
on this assumption, fail also.

" But, perhaps, it is not so much the law of the Discipline which the Protest claims
to cover Bishop Andrew, as the law of the land. For it declares, ' The rights of the
legal owners of slaves in all the slaveholding States are guaranteed by the Constitu-
tion of the United States, and by the local constitutions of the States respectively,
as the supreme law of the land, to which every minister and member of the Metho-
dist Episcopal Church, within the limits of the United States government, professes
subjection, and pledges himself to submit as an article of the Christian faith, in the
common creed of the Church.' If by this is meant that the law of the land allows
citizens to hold slaves, it is admitted. But so also it allows them to keep theatres
and grog-shops, so that this is no ground of argument. But if it mean that the law
of the land requires citizens to keep slaves, (the only interpretation which can make
the argument available,) it is denied. And until it can be shown that the Methodist
Episcopal Church by its action, legislative, judicial, or executive, requires any
citizen to do what the law of the land requires him not to do, it is unjust to attempt
to get up popular clamor against it, as if it came in conflict with the civil authority.

i: This course of reasoning has been pursued thus far, not so much because it was
deemed necessary for the vindication of the Conference, as to avoid sanctioning, by
silence, the erroneous exposition which the Protest presents of the constitution and
the law of the Church. For it has been already seen that Bishop Andrew has been
subjected to no trial, and no penalty has been inflicted. At present, it is plain that
the Conference has done nothing to depose, or even suspend Bishop Andrew. His
name will appear in official publications with those of the other bishops, and with
them he will derive his support from the funds of the Church. In order to make
nut that the General Conference had no right to take such action as they have in
Bishop Andrew's case, the authors of the Protest have been driven to the necessity
of claiming for the Methodist episcopacy powers and prerogatives never advanced
before, except by those who wished to make it odious, and which have always been
repudiated by its chosen champions. The Protest maintains that ' the episcopacy is
a co-ordinate branch of the government ;' for which no argument is adduced save
this that it is, in general, the province of bishops to ordain bishops. A sufficient
answer to which may be found in the principle of Methodist polity, stated in the Ad-
dress of the Bishops to the present General Conference, that orders (the principle
:ipplies to bishops, though not expressly named, as well as to elders and deacons) are
conferred ' by the election, and only ' confirmed ' by the ordination ; and that when

ic election has been made, the bishop ' has no discretional authority ; but is under
obligation to ordain the person elected, whatever may be his own judgment of his
nualmcations.' And if all the bishops should refuse to ordain the person elected by
the General Conference, that body would unquestionably have the right to appoint

6*



83

any three elders to ordain him, as is provided ' in case there be no bishop remaining
in our Church.' The Protest declares, that ' the bishops are, beyond doubt, an in-
tegral, constituent part of the General Conference, made such by law and the con-
stitution.' If the words 'General Conference ' be not a mere clerical error, the
assertion is sufficiently refuted by the answer in the Discipline to the question, ' Who
shall compose the General Conference]' and by the practice of the bishops them-
selves, who disclaim a right to give even a casting vote, or even to speak in General
Conference, except by permission. The Protest maintains that, ' in a sense by no
means unimportant, the General Conference is as much the creature of the epis-
copacy, as the bishops are the creatures of the General Conference.' The proof
adduced for which is, that ' 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 according to law ; and, by consequence, no dele-
gates could be chosen, and no General Conference could be chosen, or even exist.'
That is to say, because, for the convenience of the bishops in performing their tour,
they are allowed to say at ichat time in the year an annual conference shall meet,
therefore they have the power to prevent such body from meeting at all, though,
from its very name, it must meet once a year ! that, by preventing the meeting of
annual conferences, they might prevent the organization of any General Conference ;
and thus, escaping all accountability for their delinquencies, might continue to lord
it over God's heritage, until themselves and the Church should die a natural death.
We can easily perceive, were this reasoning legitimate, that the bishops might de-
stroy, not only the General Conference, but the Church ; but are at a loss to discover
how it proves that they can create either. We must protest against having any argu-



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 15 of 87)