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 42 of 87)
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determined here to-day under the strict principles of law and equity, instead of being
committed to a tribunal where the strict principles of law and equity might be tem-
pered by the delicacies of the extraordinary crisis. I have hesitated much in deter-
mining whether or not I ought to say anything, and in what connexion and how
much I should say upon the question, whether either of these parties here before the
Court, and which of them, may be thought to be in any degree of fault in foro con-
scieTiticE, or otherwise, for the dismemberment of the Church. I am bound in candour
to say in advance, that it seems to me to be too remotely connected, under any re-
spect, if at all, with the real merits of the case ; and yet it is so far connected with
those merits under certain views, that I do not know that it can be altogether dis-
pensed with as a consideration to be adverted to. This consideration is very remotely,
if at all, connected with the merits of the case ; for whether the proceedings of the
General Conference of 1844, touching Bishop Andrew, were competent or expedient
or not, and even if they were neither competent nor expedient, yet. beyond all man-
ner of controversy, unless this Church was divided in twain by a body constitutionally
competent to so transcendent an act, unless every condition of the Plan of Separa-
tion has been performed, unless the annual conferences have in point of fact acceded
to the recommendation of the General Conference, and rescinded the restrictive rule,
I do not see how the plaintiffs can by possibility maintain themselves on this bill.
On the other hand, if that Church has been divided by an authority constitutionally
competent to so great an act, if the conditions of the Plan of Separation have been
severally complied with by the annual conferences, then I agree that the plaintiffs
are entitled to recover, however causeless, and however deeply and forever to be de-
plored, however severely to be condemned by morality and by patriotism, was the
act of secession itself. Therefore, I think the Court is not called upon directly to
discharge the very delicate office of inquiring on which rests, mainly or at all, the
blame in this business. Yet I hope your Honours will indulge me when I proceed
to say that I cannot tacitly admit that the party I represent here has been in the
least degree in fault for this transaction.

I cannot, either as a citizen in the most private capacity, or as a professional party


in this cause, admit that this has been the result of an inevitable moral necessity. I
do not believe in the suggestion which we find so liberally scattered through the de-
fence, and of which so much has been said by my learned friend, that the dismem-
berment of this Church has been the result of an invincible or an inevitable moral
necessity. Why, excellent good reasons have been given why the Church should
be dissolved, if not now, hereafter ; excellent reasons have been given why, on ac-
count of the great extent of country, and the difficulty of traversing it by the itinerant
superintendent organism, it should be dissolved ; reasons why it should be dissolved
on account of antagonisms on the subject of slavery. Reasons have been given for
this dissolution. So reasons may be given, and good reasons may be given, why
everyting should be dissolved ; why the Union, the larger secular Union that embo-
soms them all, should be dissolved ; why the solemn temples and gorgeous palaces
of the globe itself should be dissolved. To what catastrophe the progress of events
might have, some time or another, carried this Church, or may carry anything ; to
what sea, shoreless and bottomless, and lighted by no sun, the stream of progress
might have borne the Church, or 'may bear the nation, nobody of course can be cer-
tain that he knows. But I do submit that the dismemberment of this Church, as it
actually happened, in the time, under the circumstances, and for the reasons, on that
day when it happened, was causeless and needless, as well as deplorable in the
highest degree. Is it not pessimi exempli that we should allow persons standing irt
a public capacity to trace the consequences of their own acts, and the work of their
own hands, to the finger of Providence 1

May it please your Honours, the will, and reason, and Christianity of one generation
made this Church ; the will, and reason, and Christianity of another generation might
have kept it together. One ten-thousandth part of the ability of speech and pen,
and one ten-thousandth part of the piety, and patriotism, and morality, by which in both
its sections it has been enriched, could have held it together ; and I say should have
been required to hold it together, until the kingdoms of this world should become
the kingdoms of the Ruler of kings. I do not admit then, in the first place, that there
is no fault anywhere in the division of this Church ; and I do not admit that that fault,
any appreciable portion of it, rests with us.

I know the prodigious ability by which I am to be followed. I am a unionist, as
my learned friend is a unionist, to the very last beat of my heart. I deplore this as
few can deplore it ; but it is before your Honours ; I am called upon to examine it
in the course of my professional duty. I meet it, and mean to meet it, directly in the
face. I therefore respectfully submit : 1st. That the separation has not irrevocably
happened ; 2d. What has happened has not been the result of a blind and over-ruling
necessity ; 3d. If there have been moral faults, they have not been ours.

We cannot of course take one single step in this discussion without pausing to
see on what ground it was that the minority in the Convention of 1844 declared their
judgment of a necessity of a separation. We cannot advance one step, as I appre-
hend, in the attempt to appreciate the true origin of the controversy, or the respon-
sible authors of it, or the responsible participators in it, until we ascertain the pre-
cise ground on w^ich the minority, looking the majority in the face, apprized them why
they initiated here in New- York the proceedings of separation which were consum-
mated by the Convention at Louisville.

It is perfectly clear that the main ground on which they took this step and an-
nounced their purpose of accomplishing it, was the proceedings of the Conference of
1844, in the matter of Bishop Andrew. That was the main, and substantial, and
prominent ground on which they then and there declared their purpose to effect a
separation. I know very well that now all manner of reasons are given, and may


well be given, and have forcibly been given. But it is now we hear it said that the
country has grown a great deal too large. We hear it said now that irreconcilable
antagonisms were being developed in regard to freedom and slavery. We hear it
said that moral necessity has intervened and has done this work. The question
which I put to the Court however, is, what reason the minority gave in that Conven-
tion that day before the act was irrevocably done, whilst it was still within the con-
trol of the majority, while they might have tempered it, receded from it, abandoned
it, while both sides still held it under their own control a great trust for the nation 1
The question is, I contend, What is the reason the minority then, looking the majority
in the face, assigned for the act of separation on which they were about to enter 1
And I respectfully submit, that when your Honours come to sift that, and sift it care-
fully upon these proofs, you will find that it rested on the action of this Conference,
whose whole action, as I shall only have too much pleasure in showing the Court,
down to that time, had been marked uniformly by conciliation, by conservatism, by
a parental and equal regard to the feelings and interests and sentiments of every
section of the country, touching the case of Bishop Andrew. That was the main
cause assigned by the minority ; and that I may leave no doubt about that, let me
call the attention of the Court to No. 1 of the proofs, p. 97, where we find in their
own declaration, under their own hand, the reasons assigned. One or two others are
assigned, but I submit most respectfully, as I shall attempt to prove, that these are
reasons of no importance at all, and that it comes at last to the proceedings against
Bishop Andrew. But I will read it exactly as it stands :

" The delegates of the conferences in the slaveholding States take leave to declare
to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, that the continued
agitation of the subject of slavery and abolition in a portion of the Church," (that is
one reason,) " the frequent action on the subject in the General Conference," (that
is two,) and especially the extra-judicial proceedings against Bishop Andrew, which
resulted, on Saturday last, in the virtual suspension of him from his office as super-
intendent, must produce a state of things in the South which renders a continuance
of the jurisdiction of this General Conference inconsistent with the success of the
ministry in the slaveholding States."

Laying that aside for a moment and turning to the Discipline of this newly-organ-
ized Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, constructed, as it seems, much more
deliberately a year or two afterwards, I find them there reciting, totidem verbis, the
same three reasons, the leading one of which is the proceedings against Bishop

If the Court choose to pursue that inquiry a little further, I refer to the proceed-
ings of the annual conferences of the South, which have been put in evidence as
among those proceedings which led to the call of the Louisville Convention, and ulti-
mately to the separation. Your Honours will be struck with the fact, that, with the
precision of stereotype, they repeat one another right over again, almost from New-
York to the Gulf of Mexico. By reading in our Proofs No. 2, we find that they
abandon every cause of separation but the proceedings against Bishop Andrew and Mr.
Harding ; that of fourteen annual conferences, five forgot the case %f Mr.Harding al-
together, and confined themselves to the case of Bishop Andrew ; so that, in point of
fact, it is nothing in the world but just this : That these conferences take up the de-
claration published by the minority, drop the first two causes therein alleged for the
separation, and lay hold upon the proceedings against Bishop Andrew, some of them
adding to it the proceedings against Mr. Harding, and then away it goes, the mere
echo from this city of the cry beginning here an echo running without the vires
acquircndum, for it loses rather than gains as it goes, until it dies in the Gulf of


Mexico. There, before the majority, and here before this Court, stand the reasons
on which the Methodist Episcopal Church was severed by its guardians.

I have now to ask your attention back again with a little particularity, I hope not
too much detail, to the reasons in the declaration of the minority themselves ; and I
proceed, in the first place, with great brevity to eliminate, to throw out, the first
two, in order that I may, if I can, conduct the judgment of the Court to discern that
it is Bishop Andrew, and nothing but Bishop Andrew, upon which this Church was at
last dissolved. Your Honours will observe they give three reasons. I turn back to
page 97. In the first place, they declare as one of the causes " the continued agitation
zf the subject of slavery and abolition in a portion of the Church." " The continued
agitation of the subject of slavery" in some of the Northern conferences that is a
reason for which a minority propose to dissolve the Church. The agitation in a
portion of the Northern conferences, I shall show to the Court, created no more diffi-
culty for the South, carried no more menace to the South, endangered the rights of
the South no more than the idea that Lake Winnipiseogee up in New-Hampshire at
the next change of the moon will overflow its banks and lay the cotton lands of South
Carolina under the water ; not a particle, not a particle in the slightest degree. To
be sure there had been local agitation in the Northern conferences ; there is local
agitation everywhere, and the sky is not at all the clearer or the purer for it. How
stands the fact here 1 I do not go beyond the proofs before the Court. How stands
the matter of local agitation in the Northern conferences 1 Of course nobody supposes
that I am here to defend it ; but I am not here to see it overstated, and such conse-
quences as the taking down of a structure built for immortality on earth deduced
from it, without giving our commentary. How stood that matter 1 Here began an
agitation in our conferences. After having aired the local vocabulary and breathed
through the local lungs as long as it could before it came here in 1836, it met with a
dignified rebuke by the General Conference, and went home for a time. That was
in 1836. It came here again in 1840, upon a petition of 0. Scott and others, and
was met in a very admirable manner, and with the same decisive result, and back it
rolled again ; and those very petitioners, to whom Mr. Lord has referred, O. Scott and
others, went back and seceded from the Northern annual conferences, because
although they found them, in a certain sense, anti-slavery conferences, they found
them Methodists, they found them Unionists, they found them true to the discipline,
and order, and the preservation of the peace of the Church, and, through the Church,
of the larger interests which surround the Church, if there are larger interests than
those of the Church. They seceded, and the local conferences had rest.

I now propose to submit to your Honours that, upon a view of these facts, we have
in 1840, and again in 1844, under the hands of the bishops themselves, reporting the
condition of Methodism to the General Conference, proof of everything I have said,
and conclusive proof, that although there had been some local agitation, though
there were some exceptions to the general fact, the general condition even of New-
England Methodism was calm, and quiet, and steady. I call your attention, in the
first place, to an " extract from an Address of the Bishops to the General Conference
of the Methodist Episcopal Church." :

" It has been the constant aim and united endeavour of your general superin-
tendents to preserve uniformity and harmony in these respects ; and, as far as prac-
ticable, prevent conflicting action in all the official bodies in the Church. But
although we record with unfeigned gratitude to the God of all grace and consolation,
the general peace, and harmony, and prosperity of the body since your last session/'
(what more can you say of the general human condition anywhere than this?) " it be-
comes our painful duty to lay before you some exceptions to this happy and pros-
perous condition."


So then the general prosperous, peaceful, and harmonious condition of the body is
;he great fact for which they thank God, and it is only the exceptions to that on
which they proceed to observe. And our secular Union would not last long if general
contentment, general peace, general harmony, would not testify it. If because there
is a " Shay's insurrection " in one State, and a ripple here and there floats over the
surface, the Union is to be taken down by the patriotism of this land, surely, surely
it is not the creation forever which we had the dream it was.

Let me pursue now the course of this address throughout the address, and I will
verify from it exactly what I state. There had been some ezceptions, some of what
we may colloquially call " flare-ups," here and there, and had met, not the break-
water of the Baltimore Conference, but the breakwater of the General Conference,
which had rolled them back. The bishops say there were some exceptions to this
prosperous condition. Then they go on :

" At the last session of the General Conference the subject of slavery and its abo-
lition was extensively discussed, and vigorous exertions made to effect new legisla-
tion upon it. But after a careful examination of the whole ground, aided by the light
of past experience, it was the solemn conviction of the Conference that the interests
of religion would not be advanced by any additional enactments in regard to it.

" In your Pastoral Address to the ministers and people at your last session, with
at unanimity, and, as we believe, in the true spirit of the ministers of the peaceful
ipel of Christ, you solemnly advised the whole body to abstain from all abolition
r ements, and from agitating the exciting subject in the Church. This advice was

'perfect agreement with the individual as well as associated views of your super-

tendents. But, had we differed from you in opinion, in consideration of the age,
wisdom, experience, and official authority of the General Conference, we should have
felt ourselves under a solemn obligation to be governed by your counsel. We have
endeavoured, both in our official administration, and in our private intercourse with
the preachers and members, to inculcate the sound policy and Christian spirit of your
Pastoral Address. And it affords us great pleasure to be able to assure you, that our
efforts in this respect have been very generally approved, and your advice cordially
received and practically observed in a very large majority of the annual conferences,
as will more fully appear to you on the careful examination of the journals of those
bodies for the last four years. But we regret that we are compelled to say that in
some" (exceptional, it will be perceived) " of the Northern and Eastern conferences,
in contravention of your Christian and pastoral counsel, and of your best efforts to
carry it into effect, the subject has been agitated in such forms, and in such a spirit,
as to disturb the peace of the Church. This unhappy agitation has not been con-
fined to the annual conferences, but has been introduced into quarterly conferences,
and made the absorbing business of self-created bodies in the bosom of our beloved

The bishops then go on to indicate the garb under which this presents itself, and
then express the opinions of wise men as to its character and tendency. On page 60
they come to the great result in point of fact :

" It is justly due to a number of the annual conferences, in which a majority, or a
very respectable minority, of the members are professedly abolitionists, to say, that
they occupy a very different ground, and pursue a very different course, from those
of their brethren who have adopted ultra principles and measures in this unfortunate,
and, we think, unprofitable controversy. The result of action had in such confer-
ence? on the resolution of the New-England Conference, recommending a very im-i
portant change in our general rule on slavery, is satisfactory proof of this fact, and
affords us strong and increasing confidence that the unity and peace of the Church
.are not to be materially affected by this exciting subject."

So, then, without advancing a step further, it is all narrowed down to this : a sin-
gle conference, the New-England Conference, proposes an important change in the


general rule on slavery ; that is submitted to conferences, a majority of whose mem-
bers are actually abolitionists ; and even these conferences, a number of them so many
that their example is cited as satisfactory proof of the fact, that the peace and unity
were not to be seriously affected so many even of the abolition conferences disap-
proved the change proposed, that the bishops are relieved, as they declare, from all
possible apprehension of difficulty from that source. The bishops go on to say :

" It is believed that men of ardent temperament, whose zeal may have been some-
what in advance of their knowledge and discretion, have made such advances in the
abolition enterprise as to produce a reaction. A few preachers and members, disap-
pointed in their expectations, and despairing of the success of their cause in the
Methodist Church," (surely they were the best judges of what success the Church
promised to their enterprises,) " have withdrawn from our fellowship, and connected
themselves with associations more congenial with their views and feelings ; and others,
in similar circumstances, may probably follow their example. But we rejoice in be-
lieving that these secessions will be very limited, and that the great body of Metho-
dists in these States will continue as they have been one and inseparable."

If that continued to be the state of the Church down to 1844, I ask whether it is
possible to attach any weight to the reason which stands first in the declaration of the
minority in this case, that is, the continued agitation in the local Church 1 Now, there
is not a solitary particle of proof in this case, that from 1840 to 1844 the local agitation
increased in the slightest degree. In 1840 the bishops say they had substantially
encountered and suppressed it. In 1840 they had so far suppressed it that they b .
lieved the peace and unity of the Methodist Church was quite sure not to be seriouslySJ'
endangered by it ; and that state of things, so far as there is a scintilla of evidence
in this case to control it, remained, by the mercy and blessing of God, down to 1844.
Yet then, when a foregone conclusion was to be adopted and vindicated by a mani-
festo, our brethren of the South suffered themselves by habit to take up and repeat
again the cry of local agitation on the subject of slavery in the Methodist Church.
To show that this does not rest altogether on the mere absence of proof, on the part
of the plaintiffs, to show that this agitation went on increasing in the meantime, I
have the pleasure to call attention in this immediate connexion to a portion of the
address of the very same bishops, including Bishops Andrew and Soule, and every
Methodist bishop of 1844, to the General Conference of 1844. It is to be found on
page 131 of the 1st of the Proofs. They are dealing with another subject, speaking
diversa in toto, and sum up in the fulness of grateful hearts and intelligent official
superintendents, the condition of this Church. They say :

" In this happy state of things, embracing all the essential elements of the voluntary
principle, the ministers dependant upon the people whom they served in the Gospel
word and ordinances, and the people united to their ministers by the bonds of affec-
tion and esteem, the work of the Lord steadily advanced ; new and extensive fields
of labour were constantly opening before us ; the borders of our Zion were greatly
enlarged ; and thousands and tens of thousands were brought under Divine influence,
and joined in the communion of the Church. The events of each succeeding year
have afforded additional proofs of the soundness of the system, and of its adaptation
to the ends for which it was designed."

I submit that we show that the first reason assigned by the minority in their De-
claration of reasons why a state of things would be produced which would render a
separation necessary, is totally unsupported in matter of fact, and that I shall have
no difficulty, as I believe I shall have none, in satisfying the Court that the single
reason at last was the action upon the case of Bishop Andrew.

The second reason which they assign is, on the facts of the case, stranger still


" the frequent action on that subject in the General Conference." Why was it so
much a question whether there had been frequent action on this subject in the Gene-
ral Conference, as what that action had been 1 And will it not almost astonish the
Court when they come to see, upon a review of the evidence to which I will ask their
attention, that although the action of the General Conference had been somewhat
frequent, yet it had been eminently I may say admirably all the while the most
calm, conservative, parental, and discreet that ever marked the action of any admin-
istrative body under any system, ecclesiastical or political, on the face of the earth ;
that it had been from beginning to end, I mean over the period to which the remarks
of the declarant minority apply, nothing less and nothing more than an anxious desire-
to stand on the old path, to administer the old discipline, to respect every local sen-
sibility, and to preserve the spirit of unity in the bonds of a universal peace. Let us
see if it be not so ; and for the proofs of it I need not go beyond fifty or one hundred
pages of the evidence which both parties have united in laying before this Court.

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 42 of 87)