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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 25 of 87)
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siastical connexion,' embracing only the annual conferences in the slave-holding States.

Without intending anything more than a general specification of the dis-
abilities, under which the Southern part of the Church labours, in view of existing
difficulties, and must continue to do so until they are removed, we must not
omit to state, that should we submit to the action of the late General Conference,
and decline a separate organization, it would be to place and finally confirm
the whole Southern ministry in the relation of an inferior caste, the effect of
which, in spite of all effort to the contrary, would be such a relation, if not (as we
think) real degradation, of the ministry, as to destroy its influence to a great, a most
fearful extent throughout the South. A practical proscription, under show of legal
right, has long been exercised towards the South, with regard to the higher offices
of the Church, especially the episcopacy. To this, however, the South submitted
with patient endurance, and was willing further to submit, in order to maintain the
peace and unity of the Church, while the principle involved was disavowed, and de-
cided to be unjust, as by the decision of the General Conference in 1840. But when,
in 1 844, the General Conference declared by their action, without the forms of legis-
lative or judicial process, that the mere providential ownership of slave property, in a
State where emancipation is legally prohibited under all circumstances, and can only
be effected by special legislative enactment, was hereafter to operate as a forfeiture
of riuht in all similar cases, the law of the Church and the decision of the preceding
General Conference to the contrary notwithstanding, the Southern ministry were
compelled to realize, that they were deliberately fixed by the brand of common
shame, in the degrading relation of standing inferiority to ministers, not actually, nor
yet liable to be, connected with slavery, and that they were published to the Church
and the world as belonging to a caste in the ministry, from which the higher officers
of the Church could never be selected.

" To submit, under such circumstances, would have been a practical, a most humi-
liating recognition of the inferiority of caste, attempted to be fixed upon us by the
Northern majority, and would have justly authorized the inference of a want of con-
scious integrity and self-respect, well calculated to destroy both the reputation and
influence of the ministry in all the slaveholding States. It may be no virtue to avow
it, but we confess we have no humility courting the grace of such a baptism. The
higher objects, therefore, of the Christian ministry, not less than conscious right and
self-respect, demanded resistance on the part of the Southern ministry and Church ;
and these unite with other reasons, in vindicating the plea of necessity, upon which
the meeting and action of this convention are based, with the consent and approval
of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The variety of in-
terests involved, renders it necessary that the brief view of the subject we are allowed
to take, be varied accordingly.

" Unless the Southern conferences organize as proposed, it is morally certain, in
view of the evidence before the committee, that the Gospel, now regularly and suc-
cessfully dispensed by the ministers of these conferences to about a million of slaves,
in their various fields of missionary enterprise and pastoral charge, must, to a great
extent, be withheld from them, and immense masses of this unfortunate class of our
fellow-beings be left to perish, as the result of Church interference with the civil
affairs and relations of the country.

" The committee are compelled to believe, that the mere division of jurisdiction,
as authorized by the General Conference, cannot affect either the moral or legal
unity of the great American family of Christians, known as the Methodist Episcopal
Church, and this opinion is concurred in by the ablest jurists of the country. We
do nothing but what we are expressly authorized to do by the supreme, or rather
highest legislative power of the Church. Would the Church authorize us to do
wrong 1 The division relates only to the power of general jurisdiction, which it is
not proposed to destroy or even reduce, but simply to invest it in two great organs
of Church action and control, instead of one as at present. Such a change in the
present system of general control, cannot disturb the moral unity of the Church ; for



133

it is strictly an agreed modification of General Conference jurisdiction, and such
agreement and consent of parties must preclude the idea of disunion. In view of
what is the alleged disunion predicated 1 Is the purpose and act of becoming a sepa-
rate organization proof of disunion or want of proper Church unity 1 This cannot
be urged with any show of consistency, inasmuch as ' the several annual confer-
ences in General Conference assembled,' that is to say, the Church through only
its constitutional organ of action, on all subjects involving the power of legislation,
not only agreed to the separate organization South, but made full constitutional pro-
vision for carrying it into effect. It is a separation by consent of parties, under the
highest authority of the Church. Is it intended to maintain, that the xinity of the
Church depends upon the modal uniformity of the jurisdiction in question ] If this
be so, the Methodist Episcopal Church has lost its unity at several different times.
The general jurisdiction of the Church has undergone modifications, at several dif-
ferent times, not less vital, if not greatly more so, than the one now proposed. The
high conventional powers, of which we are so often reminded, exercised in the
organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church, were in the hands of a conference
of unordained lay preachers, under the sole superintendence of an appointee of Mr.
Wesley. This was the first General Conference type and original form of the juris-
diction in question. The jurisdictional power now proposed by the General Con-
ference, was for years exercised by small annual conferences, without any defined
boundaries, and acting separately on all measures proposed for their determination.
This general power of jurisdiction next passed into the hands of the bishops' coun-
cil, consisting of some ten persons, where it remained for a term of years. Next,
it passed into the hands of the whole itinerant ministry, in full connexion, and was
exercised by them, in collective action, as a General Conference of the whole body,
met together at the same time. The power was afterwards vested in the whole
body of travelling elders, and from thence finally passed into the hands of delegates,
elected by the annual conferences, to meet and act quadrennially as a General Con-
ference, under constitutional restrictions and limitations. Here are several suc-
cessive re-organizations of General Conference jurisdiction, each involving a much
more material change than that contemplated in the General Conference plan, by
authority of which this Convention is about to erect the sixteen annual conferences
in the slaveholding States into a separate organization. We change no principle in
the existing theory of General Conference jurisdiction. We distinctly recognise the
jurisdiction of a delegated General Conference, receiving its appointment and autho-
rity from the whole constituency of annual conferences. The only change in fact
or form, will be, that the delegates of the ' annual conferences in the slaveholding
States,' as authorized in the Plan of Separation, will meet in one General Confer-
ence assembly of their own, and act in behalf only of their own constituency, and
in the regulation of their own affairs, consistently with the good faith and fealty they
owe the authority and laws of the several States in which they reside, without inter-
fering with affairs beyond their jurisdiction, or suffering foreign interference with
their own. And in proceeding to do this, we have all the authority it was in the
power of the Methodist Episcopal Church to confer. We have, also, further, ex-
ample and precedent in the history of Methodism, to show that there is nothing
irregular or inconsistent with Church order or unity in the separation proposed.
The great Wesleyan Methodist family, everywhere one in faith and practice,
already exists under several distinct and unconnected jurisdictions there is no
jurisdictional or connexional union between them ; and yet it has never been pre-
tended that these several distinct organizations were in any sense inconsistent with
Church unity. If the Southern conferences proceed, then, to the establishment of
another distinct jurisdiction, without any change of doctrine or discipline, except in
matters necessary to the mere economical adjustment of the system, will it furnish
any reason for supposing that the real unity of the Church is affected by what all
must perceive to be a simple division of jurisdiction ? When the conferences in
the slaveholding States are separately organized as a distinct ecclesiastical Con-
nexion, they will only be what the General Cenference authorized them to be. Can
this be irregular or subversive of Church unity ] Acting under the provisional Plan
of Separation, they must, although a separate organization, remain in essential union
with, and be a part and parcel of, the Methodist Episcopal Church, in every Scrip-
tural and moral view of the subject ; for what they do is with the full consent, and
has the official sanction of the Church as represented in the General Conference.



134

The jurisdiction we arc about to establish and assert as separate and independent, is
M_V declined and ceded by the General Conference, as originally its own. to
the Southern Conferences, for the specific purpose of being established and asserted
in the manner proposed. All idea of secession, or an organization alien in right or
relation to the Methodist Episcopal Church, is forever precluded by the terms and
conditions of the authorized Plan of Separation. In whatever sense we are separa-
tists or srinlcm, we are such by authority the highest authority of the Methodist
Episcopal Church. To whatever extent, or in whatever aspect we are not true and
faithful ministers and members of that Church, such delinquency or misfortune is
authenticated by her act and approval, and she declares us to be ' without blame.'
' Ministers of every grade and office in the Methodist Episcopal Church, may, as
they prefer, without blame, attach themselves to the Church, South.' Bishops,
elders, and deacons, come into the Southern organization at their own election,
under permission from the General Conference, not only accredited as ministers of
the Methodist Episcopal Church, but with credentials limiting the exercise of their
functions within the Methodist Episcopal Church. Is it conceivable that the General
Conference would so act and hold such language in relation to an ecclesiastical
Connexion, which was to be regarded as a secession from the Church 1 Do not
such act and language, and the whole Plan of Separation, rather show that, as the
South had asked, so the General Conference intended to authorize, a simple division
of its own jurisdiction, and nothing more !

" All idea of secession, or schism, or loss of right or title, as ministers of the Me-
thodist Episcopal Church, being precluded by the specific grant or authority under
which we act, as well as for other reasons assigned, many considerations might be
urged, strongly suggesting the fitness and propriety of the separate jurisdiction con-
templated, rendered necessary, as we have seen, upon other and different grounds ;
and among these the increased value of the representative principle, likely to be se-
cured by the change, is by no means unworthy of notice. At the first representa-
tive General Conference, thirty-three years ago, each delegate represented five
travelling ministers and about two thousand members, and the body was of con-
venient size for the transaction of business. At the late General Conference, each
delegate was the representative of twenty-one ministers and more than five thou-
sand members, and the body was inconveniently large for the purpose of deliberation
and action. Should the number of delegates in the General Conference be increased
with the probable growth of the Church, the body will soon become xitterly un-
wieldy. Should the number be reduced, while the ministry and membership are
multiplying, the representative principle would become to be little more than nomi-
nal, and, in the same proportion, without practical value. Besides that the proposed
re-organization of jurisdiction will remedy this evil, at least to a great extent, it will
result in the saving of much time and expense, and useful services to the Church,
connected with the travel and protracted sessions of the General, Conference, not
only as it regards the delegates, but also the bench of bishops, whose general over-
sight might become much more minute and pastoral in its character, by means of
such an arrangement. When, in 1808, the annual conferences resolved upon
changing the form of General Conference jurisdiction, the precise reasons we have
just noticed were deemed sufficient ground and motive for the change introduced ;
and as we are seeking only a similar change of jurisdiction, although for other pur-
poses as well as this, the facts to which we ask attention are certainly worthy of
being taken into the estimate of advantages likely to result from a separate and
independent organization, especially as the ministry and membership, since 1808,
have increased full seven hundred per centum, and should they continue to in-
crease, in something like the same ratio, for thirty years to come, under the present
system of General Conference jurisdiction, some such change as that authorized by
the late General Conference must be resorted to, or the Church resign itself to the
virtual extinction of the representative principle, as an important element of govern-
ment action.

" In establishing a separate jurisdiction as before defined and explained, so far from
affecting the moral oneness and integrity of the great Methodist body in America,
the effect will be to secure a very different result. In resolving upon a separate
Connexion, as we are about to do, the one great and controlling motive is to restore
and perpetuate the peace and unity of the Church. At present we have neither ; nor
are we likely to have, should the Southern and Northern conferences remain in con-



135

nexional relation, as heretofore. Inferring effects from causes known to be in exis-
tence and active operation, agitation on the subject of slavery is certain to continue,
and frequent action in the General Conference is equally certain, and the result, as
heretofore, will be excitement and discontent, aggression and resistance. Should
the South retire and decline all further conflict, by the erection of the Southern con-
ferences into a separate jurisdiction, as authorized by the General Conference plan,
agitation in the Church cannot be brought in contact with the South, and the former
irritation and evils of the controversy must, to a great extent, cease, or at any rate
so lose their disturbing force as to become comparatively harmless. Should the
Northern Church continue to discuss and agitate, it will be within their own borders
and among themselves, and the evil effects upon the South must, to say the least,
be greatly lessened. At present, the consolidation of all the annual conferences,
under the jurisdictional control of one General Conference, always giving a decided
Northern majority, places it in the power of that majority to manage and control the
interests of the Church, in the slaveholding States, as they see proper, and we have
no means of protection against the evils certain to be inflicted upon us, if we judge
the future from the past. The whole power of legislation is in the General Confer-
ence, and as that body is now constituted, the annual conferences of the South are
perfectly powerless in the resistance of wrong, and have no alternative left them but
unconditional submission. And such submission to the views and action of the
Northern majority on the subject of slavery, it is now demonstrated, must bring dis-
aster and ruin upon Southern Methodism, by rendering the Church an. object of dis-
trust on the part of the state. In this way, the assumed conservative power of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, with regard to the civil union of the States, is to a
great extent destroyed, and we are compelled to believe that it is the interest and
becomes the duty of the Church in the South to seek to exert such conservative in-
fluence in some other form ; and after the most mature deliberation and careful ex-
amination of the whole subject, we know of nothing so likely to effect the object, as
the jurisdictionai separation of the great Church parties, unfortunately involved in a
religious and ecclesiastical controversy about an affair of state a question of civil
policy over which the Church has no control, and with which, it is believed, she has
no right to interfere. Among the nearly five hundred thousand ministers and members
of the conferences represented in this convention, we do not know one not deeply and
intensely interested in the safety and perpetuity of the National Union, nor can we for
a moment hesitate to pledge them all against any course of action or policy, not cal-
culated, in their judgment, to render that union as immortal as the hopes of patriotism
would have it to be !

" Before closing the summary view of the whole subject taken in this report, we
cannot refrain from a brief notice of the relations and interests of Southern border
conferences. These, it must be obvious, are materially different from those of the
more Southern conferences. They do not, for the present, feel the pressure of the
strong necessity impelling the South proper to immediate separation. They are,
however, involved with regard to the subject-matter of the controversy, and com-
mitted to well-defined principles, in the same way. and to the same extent, with the
most Southern conferences. They have with almost perfect unanimity, by public
official acts, protested against the entire action of the late General Conference on the
subject of slavery, and in reference to the relative rights and powers of episcopacy
and the General Conference, as not only unconstitutional, but revolutionary, and,
therefore, dangerous to the best interests of the Church. They have solemnly de-
clared, by approving and endorsing the Declaration, the Protest, and Address of the
Southern delegates, that the objects of their ministry cannot be accomplished, under
the existing jurisdiction of the General Conference, without reparation for past injury
and security against future aggression ; and unless the border conferences have good
and substantial reasons to believe such reparation and security not only probable, but
so certain as to remove reasonable doubt, they have, so far as principle and pledge
are concerned, the same motive for action with the conferences South of them.
Against the principles thus avowed by every one of the conferences in question, the
anti-slavery and abolition of the North have, through official Church organs, declared
the most open and undisguised hostility, and these conferences are reduced to the
necessity of deciding upon adherence to the principles they have officially avowed, or
of a resort to expediency to adjust difficulties in some unknown form, which they
have said could only be adjusted by substantial reparation for past injury, and good



136

and sufficient warrant against future aggression. The question is certainly one of
no common interest. Should any of the border conferences, or societies South, af-
filiate with the North, the effect, so far as we can see, will be to transfer the seat of
war to the remoter South to these border districts ; and what, we ask, will be the
security of these districts against the moral ravages of such a war ! What protection
: ity will the Discipline, or the conservatism of the middle conferences afford ?
Of what avail were these at the last General Conference, and has either more influ-
ence now than then 1 The controversy of a large and rapidly-increasing portion of
the North, is not so much with the South as with the Discipline, because it tolerates
slavery in any form whatever ; and should the Southern conferences remain under
the present common jurisdiction, or any slaveholding portions of the South unite in
the Northern Connexion in the event of division, it requires very little discernment
to see that this controversy will never cease until every slaveholder or every aboli-
tionist is out of the Connexion. Besides, the border conferences have a great and
most delicate interest at stake, in view of their territorial, and civil, and political re-
lations, which it certainly behooves them to weigh well and examine with care in
coming to the final conclusion, which is to identify them with the North or the South.
Border districts going with the North, after and notwithstanding the action of the
border conferences, must, in the nature of things, as found in the Methodist Episcopal
Church, affiliate, to a great extent, with the entire aggregate of Northern anti-slavery
and abolition, as now embarked against the interests of the South ; as also with all
the recent official violations of right, of law, and Discipline, against which the South
is now contending. In doing this, they must of necessity, if we have reasoned cor-
rectly, elect, and contribute their influence, to retain in the Connexion of their choice
all the principles and elements of strife and discord which have so long and fearfully
convulsed the Church. Will this be the election of Southern border sections and
districts, or will they remain where, by location, civil and political ties and relations,
and their own avowed principles, they properly belong firmly planted upon the long
and well-tried platform of the Discipline of our common choice, and from which the
Methodism of the South has never manifested any disposition to swerve 1 To the
Discipline the South has always been loyal. By it she has abided in every trial.
Jealously has she cherished and guarded that " form of sound words" the faith, the
ritual, and the government of the Church. It was Southern defence against Northern
invasion of the Discipline, which brought on the present struggle ; and upon the Dis-
cipline, the whole Discipline, the South proposes to organize, under authority of the
General Conference, a separate Connexion of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The
result, from first to last, has been consented to on the part of the South with the
greatest reluctance.

" After the struggle came on, at the late General Conference, the Southern delegates,
as they had often done before, manifested the most earnest desire, and did all in their
power, to maintain jurisdictional union with the North, without sacrificing the interests
of the South : when this was found impracticable, a connexional union was pro-
posed, and the rejection of this, by the North, led to the projection and adoption of
the present General Conference Plan of Separation. Every overture of compromise,
every plan of reconciliation and adjustment, regarded as at all eligible, or likely to
succeed, was offered by the South and rejected by the North. All subsequent at-
tempts at compromise, have failed in like manner, and the probability of any such
adjustment, if not extinct, is lessening every day, and the annual conferences in the
slaveholding States are thus left to take their position upon the ground assigned
them by the General Conference of 1844, as a distinct ecclesiastical Connexion,
ready and most willing to treat with the Northern division of the Church, at any-
time, in view of adjusting the difficulties of this controversy, upon terms and princi-
ples which may be safe and satisfactory to both.

" Such we regard as the true position of the annual conferences represented in this
convention. Therefore, in view of all the principles and interests involved, appealing
to the Almighty Searcher of hearts, for the sincerity of our motives, and humbly in-
xoking the Divine blessing upon our action,

" Be it resolved, by the delegates of the several annual conferences of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, in the slaveholding States, in General Convention assembled,



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 25 of 87)