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 32 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 32 of 87)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tend itself by having Methodist societies "under the British, or any other government."
That is to be taken as a part of the constitution of Methodism. Now, suppose
that, instead of the conquest by this country over the vast West, it had been merely
the natural progress of emigration into Spanish or uncivilized countries, and they
had declared themselves independent. Then the Methodist societies which had been
established, would have been in connexion with the Methodist Episcopal Church.
That extension of territory has taken place under the circumstance of the same civil



175

dominion, instead of its being under different civil dominion. Is it possible to sup-
pose that the legislative body of a Church, looking to such a spread over the world,
should have conceived that it should have no power to separate itself into govern-
ments for different parts of it, without those governments being actually schismatic
and separate 1 that whatever difference of circumstance might be, it was not in the
power of this general body to form itself into separate bodies, without those separate
bodies being essentially schismatical, so that whatever belongs to the preachers of the
general bodies shall not belong to the preachers of a separate body, except as a
matter which is to be got over by some leaping over the difficulty, as was done in
the Canada case 1 Would they say, that that which was a question of right should
not be decided by the general governing body of the Church, but should be de-
cided by an artificial and fettered judgment, which, when I come to consider it, I
think I can show to the Court, has not, and cannot have any relation to this sub-
ject. I say, when you take into consideration the idea of the Methodists as being a
strongly aggressive body, spreading itself over the earth, so as to embrace the lower
classes of the people in a degree which no other denomination has ever pretended to
do ; and when you consider this provision in the very articles of religion looking
to its spread beyond the limits of the United States, you cannot for an instant suppose
that in that Discipline the general governing body is restricted (without their being
any restriction in terms on the subject) from consenting to a separation of the Cnurch
into as many general governing bodies as the necessities of the case might require.
As to the consequence of that principle upon the fund, I prefer to suspend any
argument until I come to consider it specially. I am now considering, and solely
considering, whether this General Conference has not the power to consent to a divi-
sion without its being schismatic, and without its disqualifying those members and
clergy who adhere to the separate body. Not only does the extension of territory con-
templated by the Discipline look to this, but the physical difficulties which grow out
of that extension require us to contemplate it. How does this operate on the power
of the Church, looking to the case of delegates to the conferences from Oregon and
from California, making five or six months' voyages, or coming in the costly way in
which passengers come from the gold regions. By-and-by the Methodist Church in
those countries will embrace large classes of people. They are now under the
' government of the General Conference here. What is to become of these men when
this becomes to be a very populous region on the Pacific coast 1 Are they to be
represented in any General Conference 1 Are the men from California and Oregon,
and all the States which will be created in that region, to meet here 1 Or are
those here to go over the mountains 1 Is time and space to be so absolutely oblite-
rated, that the Church can go on and govern the whole of this country by one single,
general body of delegations. I submit, that although that is no difficulty in the eye
of a statesman with the wealth of the general government at his beck, yet to this
Church it is an insuperable difficulty. The very extension of territory this distance,
and the great population which may be collected in these quarters, prevent the pos-
sibility of this Church not separating at some time or other amicably, properly, and
faithfully, into separate governing bodies. And when that separation shall become
expedient, it seems to me, that it would be strange doctrine to say, that this General
Conference, which succeeded to the powers of a conference composed of all the
power of the Church, and which in this act was not restricted, for there is no restric-
tion on the power of division, it would be against the very starting principle of the
diffusiveness of this Church to hold, that it could not provide for its own government
by separating the meeting of these ministers in a delegated body, in the manner to
which I have alluded.



176

But there is the itinerancy of the bishops, according to the theory on the other side.
It is not the theory which we adopt, that the itinerancy of a bishop means that he
must actually visit or be capable of visiting every part, not of a diocese, but of all
the conferences of all the Methodist Episcopal Church. Who are to be bishops 1
Are they to be young men of from seventeen to twenty years old, able to endure
these fatigues 1 Or are they to be, for the most part, men of maturity, men of age, of
ripened experience, becoming somewhat infirm from their labours 1 That is the
material of which the bishops of this Church have always been composed. Now, let
us see whether it would be possible, in relation to this, to carry on this Church with-
out a separation. It seems to be impossible. The argument of our friends on the
other side as to the itinerancy of the bishops has very little force, because it is ob-
viously impossible that every bishop could visit every part of the jurisdiction of all
the annual conferences. This itinerancy we suppose must be deemed to mean an
itinerancy as opposed to a diocesan episcopacy, that there shall not be a bishop con-
fined to one conference, but that he shall have the duty, and shall take the office, of
visiting all the conferences in a certain large Connexion.

Again : differences of climate may well call for a division or separation of the
Church. The population of this Northern country, although considerable, is yet very
far short of that which upon every principle we may soon expect to find it. So of
the Southern country. Therefore, the labours of these bishops will very materially
increase with an increase of population, and it may be very difficult to find bishops
who would be able to serve in this Northern and Southern Church, under this dif-
ference of climate. That very difference of climate may make a very grievous
difficulty with this Church to carry on its system without a separation into parts.
And is it a fact that this constitution, which contemplates this great activity and
diffusiveness, is so limited by implication because there is no expression to limit it
that it can never adapt itself to such a pressing difficulty, which is already at hand 1
I suppose, in fact, this difficulty existed before the separation ; the Northern and
Southern bishops could not very well interchange with each other ; and I am told,
that one of the bishops has not been South for some ten or fifteen years, and no
doubt for the best of reasons.

I propose, now, to allude to another difficulty, which is the very thing that has
occurred in this case a difference in the temper of the people. Here is a part of'
this great community which tolerates slavery, and a part in which slavery is un-
known. How do they treat it 1 This Church treats slavery as an evil the same as
the existence of crime, of poverty, of disease ; and the difference between the two
parties is how to treat it. One says, " Extirpate it ;" the other says, " We cannot
extirpate it, but we shall be extirpated if we attempt it." This body has said to its
private members, " You may entertain your views about this and be in good stand-
ing and connexion." These members are the ones to whom the bishop is to make
his visitations, and over whom his supervision of the preachers is eventually to take
effect. Now, is it possible to say, that in such a country as ours, where this diffi-
culty has always been more or less great, this Church could prosper if they did not
tolerate it 1 It would be like supposing a man could run when his legs were mana-
cled. I contend that it was a necessary act of preservation, that, in the event
that the temper of the people made a co-operation of all the parts inconvenient and
impracticable, they had the power of division or separation, in order to reach a large
body of the people of this country. Is it to be conceived of, that the constitution of
this Church did not allow, but forbade by implication, that there should be an organ-
ization adapted to the different temper of the people 1 Why, if the doctrine which
is presented here be correct, that no bishop should be a slaveholder, that he should



177

have no sympathy with those who held slaves, the Southern country would always
be visited by really foreign bishops. Is it not palpable, that such a system could
not operate in the Southern country T Must not these gentlemen have seen that
men never would receive religious instruction altogether from strangers, and whose
being strangers would be evidence of contempt towards those whom they visited ?
I submit, that it would be the last thing to suppose of the wise constructors of this
system, that they should have made no provision whereby this Church might adapt
itself, by a division, to the great end of carrying the Gospel, without offence, to all
the different parts of this extensive country.

I would advert now to another matter political dissensions, political disruptions
Is this Church so constituted, that it shall be powerless to meet any such exigency 1
Look to the case of Canada. That was in the connexion of the Church in this
country. There was a war between this country and Great Britain ; and members
of this Church were arrayed against each other. Both parties had felt the conse-
quences of war. And was this Church so powerless that it could not lawfully con-
sent to the Methodists in Canada organizing a separate Church, without their being
schismatical and separatists 1 They have practically solved the question, and solved
it according to good sense, and solved it against that restrictive implication which
they wish to insert in this Discipline.

Again : the number of delegates which might be sent, might make a necessity for a
division. There is an extent to which this evil might be limited, by lessening the
ratio of representation. It was originally one for five ; then one for seven ; then one
for fourteen ; and finally one for twenty-one. It is perfectly plain, that to carry it
very much further would leave no representation at all. If the ratio was one for one
hundred, there would be no real representation. It might be a representation from a
people to a government, but this was to be a representation of delegates from preach-
ers. It was a delegation from one governing body to a superior governing body.
What would be a ratio of one delegate to one thousand preachers 1 How could such
a delegate feel for his constituents 1 How could he express their feelings 1 There
must be a limit to this ; and when this limit should be reached, the only remedy
would be the organization of a separate body under similar principles.

The increase of population in this country, for the next fifty years, would of itself
render this body so unwieldy, that, for that reason alone, a separation would be a ne-
cessary measure. I say that these considerations, growing out of the history of this
body, and out of the necessity of the case, are entirely consistent with the substance
of this Discipline.

I turn now to the rules touching the General and annual conferences ; I come to the
text of the constitution, so to say, (p. 27 of No. 1,)

" Who shall compose the General Conference, and what are the regulations and
powers belonging to it 1

" Ans. 1. The General Conference shall be composed of one member for every
twenty-one members of each annual conference, to be appointed either by seniority
or choice, at the discretion of such annual conference ; yet so that such representa-
tives shall have travelled at least four full calendar years from the time that they
were received on trial by an annual conference, and are in full connexion at the time
of holding the Conference."

Observe the character of this body. These delegates are " to be appointed either
by seniority or choice," and they are to be taken from the constituent body whom
they represent :

" 3. At all times when the General Conference is met, it shall take two-thirds of
the representatives of all the annual conferences to make a quorum for transacting
business. ********

12



178

" 5. The General Conference shall have full powers to make rules and regula-
tions for our Church, under the following limitations and restrictions."

I submit that we should construe these articles, on the supposition that the powers
of the Conference were great enough to have these restrictions carved out of them.
These powers would have embraced everything which the restrictions carved out, if
these restrictions had not been imposed. The expression on this subject, in logic, I
suppose, is, that "the exception proves the rule ;" that is, if there is a necessity for
the exception, it is a proof that the rule would extend to the excepted case if the
exception did not exist. Now, what is the first restriction 1

" The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our articles of reli-
gion, nor establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present
existing and established standards of doctrine."

Does not the putting in of this restriction admit that the power of the Conference
would have been extensive enough to change their doctrines, if this restriction had not
been inserted 1 Otherwise, it would be idle to put it in. How extensive then are
the powers of this Conference ! It could now change the whole character of the body
but for this restriction. Then the second restriction is :

"They shall not allow of more than one representative for every fourteen members
of the annual conference, nor allow of a less number than one for every thirty : pro-
vided, nevertheless, that when there shall be in any annual conference a fraction of
two-thirds the number which shall be fixed for the ratio of representation, such annual
conference shall be entitled to an additional delegate for such fraction ; and provided
also, that no conference shall be denied the privilege of two delegates."

If it had not been for this second restrictive article, the General Conference might
have allowed the rate of representation to vary in any indefinite mode they pleased.
They might have bridged the difficulties which are constantly occurring in the history
of large bodies. They might, as is sometimes done in England, have swamped the
peerage by the creation of new peers. They might, on a temporary occasion, have
allowed to the Northern or the Southern conferences a double or triple representation.
This restriction was introduced to prevent this being done. Does not this show a
kind of omnipotence, so to say, in the power of this body, so far as this Church is
concerned ? Is it not the power of parliament itself, that can change the time for
which it was elected to serve ? It can change the subject of representation ; it can
change and alter the franchise ; it can change everything about it. So could this
body ; and so can this body, except according to this restriction. Then,

"3. They shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government, so as to do
away episcopacy, or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency."

" Destroy" is the word. Without this restriction could they not have altered and
done away with episcopacy ? Could they not have destroyed the general superin-
tendency 1 They were in fact the Church ; they were the general council of the
Church, with the primitive and original power and authority of the Church as a
Church. What does the phrase, " so as to do away episcopacy," mean 1 Why, that
they may vary episcopacy; they may limit it, but shall not "destroy" the plan of
our itinerant general superintendency. They may make the itinerancy, instead of
being absolutely general, general according to circumstances ; they may excuse a
bishoj- from running all over the United States ; they may excuse a man disqualified
by his peculiar notions, and not disturb the plan of general itinerant superintendency.
I know very well the extent to which we go for these gentlemen's benefit in the case
of Bishop Andrew, when we make these remarks. But we cannot read this article
without seeing that whatever can be done in consistence with the language and

12*



179

spirit of the third restrictive article, the General Conference can do. They, there-
fore, can do anything with the plan of episcopacy, except doing it away. That is
their power, without regard to the annual conferences. Then,

" 4. They shall not revoke or change the general rules of the United Societies."

These are the rules of Church membership. They are the modes by which men
attach themselves to the integral societies of this Methodist Connexion. Then again,

" 5. They shall not do away the privileges of our ministers or preachers of trial by a
committee, and of an appeal ; neither shall they do away the privileges of our mem-
bers of trial before the society, or by a committee, and of an appeal."

They are not to do away with the mode of trial, but they may regulate everything
about it ; they may say how the trial shall be conducted. They are not to do away
these privileges of the preachers and members. Then, finally,

" 6. They shall not appropriate the produce of the Book Concern, nor of the
Charter Fund, to any purpose other than for the benefit of the travelling, supernu-
merary, superannuated, and worn-out preachers, their wives, widows, and children."

They may deal with it in any way, except that they shall not appropriate it to any^
other purpose ; but we are not upon that now. We are now upon the question of \
consenting to a separation of the Church into parts. Is there any restriction which
prevents that 1 Is there any provision which says that this Church shall not divide
itself into parts 1 But the gentlemen will doubtless say, this constitution contains j
within itself an article for its own amendment. I beg their pardon. It contains an j
article for amendment only, in regard to these restrictive rules. If the thing proposed /
to be amended is not in the restrictive articles, then the vote of the conferences can- /
not change it, and the vote of one single conference standing out, would defeat any/
change in the constitution of the Church. There is no power of change as to matters
not in the restrictive articles ; and the very fact that there is no power of changO
except as to these restrictive articles, shows that there is no limitation of the authority
of the Church except these restrictive articles.

On the subject of this power of the General Conference, I would ask, What restric-
tive article is conceived to be violated by a Plan of Separation which adopts every
restrictive article, and all the terms of the constitution ! Which is the article that
is violated ! Is it changing the articles of religion ? If it does, it is restricted ; if it
does not, it is not restricted. I am at a loss to know what article of religion is
changed, by allowing the Southern Church to organize itself as a new Church, with
the very same article. Does it change the ratio of representation 1 Does it, in the
sense of the third restriction, do away episcopacy, or destroy the plan of general
itinerant superintendency 1 In other words, does it convert the Methodist bishop into
a diocesan bishop in any sense whatever 1 I know that this may be a matter of
degree a bishop might be limited to one or two conferences. That would be, I
admit, a violation of the spirit of the article, and indeed of the article itself ; but I
ask, if limiting a bishop to thirteen conferences, more conferences than existed at the
time this constitution was adopted, with more persons to be governed, was doing
away with the episcopacy, or destroying the plan of itinerant general superintend-
ency 1 Does it revoke or change the general rules of the United Societies 1 Does
it take away the privileges of preachers and members to trial ? Does it appropriate
the produce of the Book Concern, or of the Chartered Funu, to any other purpose
than the benefit of travelling, supernumerary, and superannuated preachers ? Does
it vary the persons by whom these contributions must reach the beneficiaries t I
suppose that, under the Plan of Separation, the part of this Book Concern which



180

must go to the beneficiaries in the Southern Church is to be applied according to the
Discipline of 1840.

Suppose, now, that the Plan of Separation is absolutely void, and that, by reason
of the mistake into which we have been led, we are not schismatical, but merely con-
tumacious, and have not come up to the General Conference. The fund is to be dis-
tributed. Who are to distribute it 1 The very annual conferences at the South, as
they are now constituted. They are the very original bodies of Methodism. They
would take this fund, and they would distribute it to the very same beneficiaries.
This is a practical thing ; and our learned friends, when they come to speak of the
Plan of Separation violating the order of the Church, in allowing it to divide itself
into two parts, and to give to each part the vitality of a complete organization, must
show practically how it defeated this restrictive system. I submit that it did not.

I come now to the judgment of this body on this very subject. I have said what
I need to say on the subject of the judgment of the Canada Conference. The Gene-
ral Conference never left it to the annual conferences to determine whether they had
the power of assenting to the Canada Methodists forming a separate body. They
never hesitated about that ; they never doubted that that formed a true Methodist
Episcopal Church, not separatist nor schismatic. That was the Conference of 1832 ;
it was followed up by the action of the Conference of 1836. That of 1840 had no
connexion with this subject. The judgment of the Conference of 1844 was in favour
of this view of the power of division. I shall examine the Plan of Separation more
particularly hereafter ; but I would now remark that it was never submitted to the
annual conferences to say whether there should be a separate organization or not.
The question submitted was a very different one, whether they should alter the sixth
restrictive article, so as to put this fund at the command of two-thirds of the General
Conference ; so that, instead of having the profits of this Book Concern applied to
the relief of beneficiaries, they might, if that proposition had passed, have voted it to
the establishment of a colony in Liberia, or to any other purpose than this. They
did not submit to the annual conferences the question whether they should separate
the Church into two parts, so that each should be a genuine, a true Church ; and I
may be permitted to say, in relation to that Conference, that it was composed of ex-
ceedingly able men, as the documents show.

One other remark on this subject, and I leave this particular question this power
to divide itself into two bodies, that is, the opinion of the bishops, p. 101, book No. 2.
I think our reference to this, in our bill of complaint, has not been understood by the
other side. I do not believe that the bishops have power to alter the constitution
of this Church, nor give any declaratory opinions which can bind the Church. We
do not present it in that way, no more than we would present the judgment from
Lord Lyndhurst to bind this Court ; but what we do present it for, is, to show that
in the judgment of the coolest, best, and the wisest men in that Church, there was
no hesitation as to the existence of this power, and that it was properly and well
exercised in 1844. It is, as I might say, the opinion of highly-respectable persons
conversant with that which we are now discussing. I will read it.

" This council met in the city of New- York, July 2, 1845, and was attended by
Bishops Hedding, Waugh, Morris, and Janes. Bishop Hamline sent his opinion in
writing on the points to be acted on by the council ; Bishop Soule did not attend ;
and Bishop Andrew, being suspended, was not invited. Besides agreeing on a new



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 32 of 87)