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 45 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 45 of 87)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


term that does not include bishops. Bishops are not included in the rule, in terms ;
and by the usus loquendi of this Church, which construes its language, we know that
" travelling preacher " does not mean a bishop. To make that clear, let me turn
your Honours to page 29 of Proofs No. 1, to arrive at the meaning of the term " tra-
velling preachers," in the written language of this Church :

" 1. The annual allowance of the married travelling, supernumerary, and super-
annuated preachers, and the bishops, shall be $200, and their travelling expenses.

" 2. The annual allowance of the unmarried travelling, supernumerary, and super-
annuated preachers and bishops, shall be $100, and their travelling expenses.

"3. Each child of a travelling preacher or bishop shall be allowed $16 an-
nually, &c.

" 4. The annual allowance of the widows of travelling, superannuated, worn-out,
and supernumerary preachers, and the bishops, shall be $100.

" 5. The orphans of travelling, supernumerary, and worn-out preachers, and the
bishops, shall be allowed by the annual conferences the same sums respectively which
are allowed to the children of living preachers."

So then, by the usus loquendi of this Church, in its Discipline, there is a differ-
ence between travelling preachers and bishops travelling preachers do not mean
bishops. There it is prima facie. They have not a tittle of evidence that the word
" bishop," not occurring in the rule, the law of speech of the Church does not exclude
bishops.

Then I inquire how they can be included, and I look in vain for a scintilla of proof
to support the position of these Southern gentlemen. They say this was known to
" all mankind," and yet three-fourths of all mankind reply that they never heard of it.
That mode of proof is excluded ; dogmatism is excluded ; and secession is excluded ;
and these parties are brought back to the determination of this great question to their
jural rights, to the meaning of the record ; the meaning of the record is to be settled
by a settled law of interpretation, and prima facie that law of interpretation is
entirely against thciu.

I present now a third difficulty on the point of the interpretation of this clause, to
show that the words here are to be taken as they are elsewhere taken in the Dis-
cipline. I beg your Honours to take notice of one thing, which, I think, has escaped
the notice of the reverend disputants on both sides. I am instructed, that in this
clause of the Discipline, the lawgiver speaking is the General Conference, and that
lawgiver is speaking to the annual conferences for their guidance and direction. He
is not speaking to himself, and for himself, but to them, and for them. Of course, as
the annual conferences, to whom he is laying down the law, have nothing in the world
to do with bishops, he is not laying down any law as to the choice of bishops, but he
is laying down the law to them for the election of the subordinate officers which the
system of the Church commits to their direction. If I am right in my position, that
the General Conference is here speaking in the capacity of a lawgiver to the annual
conferences, and not proclaiming a mere dogma or rule for its own guidance, nothing
in the world is more clear, than that they would not be guilty of the absurdity of
prescribing a rule of election to the annual conferences, that should have application
to an officer whom the annual conferences did not choose, and with whom they had
nothing to do. I accordingly propound it and undertake to verify it, and I say the
fact will turn out to be, that this whole series of legislation, from 1792 to 1844, was



nothing but a series of prescripts sent out by the superintending governor for the direc
tion of the inferior annual bodies. The superintending body would of course do this
in advance. Why should the General Conference lay down a law for its own action 1
It met every four years. They knew when they came to meet, at the expiration of
the next Olympiad, as it has been happily called, they would elect a bishop under the
general law. Therefore there was no need of putting a rule for their own guidance
on the record. They knew also, that whatever rule they might put on the record,
could be changed the moment they came to choose. Therefore, I say, it was need-
less uid useless for them to lay down a general rule for their own action. On the
contrary, as they met every four years, and various annual conferences were to be
held during these four years, and as it was needful that, during that whole period, the
forecast of the General Conference should, by its law, be extended in advance over
them, they made the law. And the Court will see, by looking a little at the language
of one or two of these provisions, how exactly they all take the language of a pre-
script by the General Conferences to the annual conferences. To show this, I will
read from p. 21 of Proofs No. 1 :

" Quest. What regulations shall be made for the extirpation of the crying evil of
African slavery 1

"Ans. 1. We declare that we are more than ever convinced of the great evil of
the African slavery which still exists in these United States, and do most earnestly
recommend to the yearly conferences, quarterly meetings, and to those who have the
oversight of districts and circuits, to be exceedingly cautious what persons they
admit to official stations in our Church ; and in the case of future admission to
official stations, to require such security of those who hold slaves, for the emancipa-
tion of them, immediately or gradually, as the laws of the States respectively, and
the circumstances of the case will admit ; and we do fully authorize all the yearly
conferences to make whatever regulations they judge proper, in the present case,
respecting the admission of persons to official stations in our Church."

Again, on p. 22, you find that the annual conferences were directed to draw up
addresses to the legislatures of the States for the gradual emancipation of slaves ;
and on the next page that proper committees should be appointed by the annual con-
ferences for conducting business, and so on. Then I submit that this is in the form
of a direction to the annual conferences, which have nothing at all to do with the
bishops, not to press beyond its strength anything on the learning of this Bench.

I submit in the next place that a very familiar rule of interpretation at common
law, the rule as it is commonly called of denying legislation, et ad ea qua frequentius
accidunt jura adaptantur, applies directly to the case before the Court That rule, as
stated in Dwarris, p. 730, is this : that where the words of the law imply that they may
be satisfied by applying them to the common case, they shall not be extended by inter-
pretation to the rarer case. The words " travelling preachers" may be satisfied by
the ordinary and common case, and therefore they ought not to be extended to the
rarer case. The common case in this instance, in the contemplation of the lawgiver,
was the ordinary travelling preachers ; they are elected many times by the annual
conferences. The common case, then, was the election of the travelling preachers by
the annual conferences. The rarest case was the election of bishops by the General
Conference, which met once in four years. Could they adopt this rule to apply to
them in this rare case when they might change it, or the progress of time might
change, like a passing cloud, before the time of administering it came 1

Leaving that point, I have to entreat the attention of the Court to another consider-
ation of very great and decisive urgency in my mind ; and that is, that there are
reasons of a most palpable and weighty character why a distinction should have been



254

made in 1800 and 1804, and ever since in the Church, between the travelling preach-
er proper and the bishop, as to allowing a dispensation to one or the other from the
consequences of holding slaves. I mean to say that so different are the official life
and official duties of a travelling preacher proper, from those of a bishop proper, that
the former might very well be allowed an indulgence, which the latter could not be
allowed : and therefore this legislation, so far as it is an element of dispensation or
injustice, might very well apply to the travelling preacher, and by no means to the
bishop proper. In order to enable you to appreciate that argument, I ought perhaps
to say in advance, that this legislation, even so far as travelling preachers are con-
cerned, is legislation in extirpation of slavery ; and it therefore proceeds by the estab-
lishment of the general rule that slaveholding disqualifies. That is the general rule
on the face of the written Discipline. A particular exception is allowed under
special circumstances. Disqualification is the rule, dispensation the exception ;
disqualification the rule, indulgence the exception ; disqualification is the general
rule, according to the express terms of the Discipline, in the case of every officer
below the grade of bishop ; and disqualification was the general rule in the case of a
bishop, not by the express terms of the Discipline, but by the universal action of the
Church. Therefore, my rule of interpretation is, that in inquiring whether or not
" travelling preachers" for the purpose of indulgence, embraces bishops, your
Honours will give the utmost expansion and energy to the general rule, and compress
the exception within the narrowest possible limits. That is a universal and familiar
rule of interpretation.

I submit now, that there are two reasons at once obvious and recognised, and en-
tirely decisive, why this Court may perfectly well say, that the General Conference
of 1800 should have been willing and felt obliged to extend an indulgence to the
travelling preacher, which it could not extend to a bishop, but at the hazard of all
a bishop is created to do. In the first place, there were reasons why a travelling
preacher should be indulged, which did not apply to a bishop. The home of a Metho-
dist clergyman is his assigned field of labour. The home of every Methodist preacher
under the degree- of a bishop is in his assigned field of labour, and his assigned field
of labour is commonly a large circuit, but narrow, compared with the imperial sweep
over which the episcopal duties carry the bishop. There the travelling preacher
must live, and there he must labour ; and therefore, if he has slaves and cannot eman-
cipate them there, it is safe and proper that he should labour without emancipating
them, or else he cannot labour at all. But on the other hand, the field of a bishop's
labour in the Methodist Church, is our universal united America. His field of labour,
under the system of this Church, is the whole of America, and therefore he may live
anywhere in America. I am submitting to your Honours not a harangue and decla-
mation on the subject of the episcopacy, but I hope and trust a sound interpretative
argument. Therefore, I say, the General Conferences of 1800 and 1816 might very
well have supposed that a bishop would be willing to live anywhere, throughout his
vast and expanding diocese, that he would be willing and only too happy to be allowed
to live where he could best discharge the duties of that great office, where he could
best depurate, if I may so express myself, and unclothe himself of all influence tending
in the least degree to mar the whole measure of his usefulness, where he could best go
and put on a virtue that should approve itself to more tban a local standard, where he
could best attend to the whole beauty and protection of that holiness which should
best recommend him to the universal sentiments and scruples of the whole Methodist
Episcopal Church. Why, then, might not the General Conference have very well
drawn a line of distinction on this ground between him and the travelling preacher?
Why might they not very well have deemed, that in taking upon himself the discharge



of the new office he would relieve himself of all embarrassments ? "Why might they :
not have done him the honour, in advance, of supposing that in becoming a bishop he
would prefer to stand on the general rule, instead of sheltering himself under a narrow
dispensation 1 Why might they not have presumed on the part of a bishop, as discri-
minated from the narrower and humbler labours of the travelling preacher, that for the
sake of holding such an office as that, for the sake of being a successor of the Asburys
and the Wesleys ; for the sake of being a successor of those older, and better, and
more famous men ; for the sake of the privilege under Almighty God of bearing the
glad tidings, the venerable presence and admonitions, and authoritative instructions,
and satisfying consolations of this Church everywhere, from North to South, and
from East to West, from Britain to Gaul, from Marseilles to Rome, from Rome to
Antioch, from Antioch to Jerusalem, that for the sake of these, he would be only too
glad, I will not say to forego the luxury of slaveholding, for that might involve a
sarcasm, which I do not mean, but, to break away from such an impediment as slave-
holding, that he would choose rather to proceed instantly to place himself where he
might soonest and most effectually rid himself of all participation in what would
make him objectionable to any portion of his flock ; and that if he should prefer the
other alternative, to* continue to hold slaves, he should see no hardship in allowing
the mitre to pass to another brow 1 Can any man, on this question of interpretation,
stand here and tell me, that this Methodist Episcopal Church in 1800 and 1816 might
not, on that exact discrimination, have said, " The travelling preacher needs a dis-
pensation, and shall have it ; but the bishop will never ask for it, and shall not have
it." On that ground alone, I say, there might be a necessity for this distinction.

But there is one other reason connected with this office and when I state it I
shall leave this branch of the argument and that is, that the life and duties of a
bishop differ altogether, and in so great a degree from those of the travelling preacher,
as really to afford a necessity for a different standard and example. I suppose that
to the usefulness of a local or travelling preacher in the South, slaveholding con
stitutes no objection. It probably affords no drawback at all. On the other hand,
this Court knows perfectly well, this whole Church and this country know perfectly
well, that to the utility of a bishop, slaveholding constitutes an objection of the
gravest and most practical, not to say decisive, character. This Court knows per-
fectly well that over large tracts and fields of his episcopal journey, such a bishop is
but half a bishop. Your Honours know perfectly well that the itinerant superinten-
dency of the bishop is fundamental in the practical polity of Methodism. Methodism
may give up almost everything, but it cannot give up that. Methodism may give
up this tenet or that tenet, and become more Calvinistic or less Arminian. But she
would cease to have a particle of Wesleyanism upon her front, in her life, in her
services, and in her name, if she did not retain a superintendent episcopacy, who can
carry the presence and counsels of that Church to the most extreme locality, however
remote, however sectionalized by extremity of local opinion, who can carry them
everywhere, and be everywhere unblamed and unreproved of all men. That is of
the very essence of Methodism. When this is dispensed with, everything is dis-
pensed with. Instead of stopping to prove this, as I could prove it, I will content
myself by referring your Honours to the address of the bishops in 1844. You will
there see that I do not exaggerate the importance of this ornament of Methodism.
It is of the essence of practical Methodism that the bishop may go, and shall go he
shall go on foot if necessary, he shall go barefooted if necessary, he shall take sack-
cloth, he shall take the cross, he shall not go figuratively by staying home and
sending another ; but the theory of the system, the demands of the system, the ad-
ministration of the system, what it has achieved for the world, depend upon this :



256

that the bishop shall go and be required to go everywhere personally, from time to
time, from one extremity of his circuit to another. What then more inevitable than
that this General Conference of the whole Church, that recognised' from the begin-
ning the right of the South to its proportion, and more than its proportion, should
have settled it as a rule, that he from the South who would aspire to it, must bring
a virtue that would approve itself to more than one side of the line a virtue that did
not need the apology of birth-place and residence a virtue that should come directly
as it were of Divine perfection and character, that should be winged, created, clothed
to be welcome everywhere, by whatsoever things are lovely, by whatsoever things
are honest, by whatsoever things are of good report in the sight of all men. That
became perfectly indispensable. Therefore, to tell Northern members of such a
Church as this that they ought to elect, that they are required as Methodists to elect
a slaveholder to the office of bishop, or that, finding him to become such, they must
still continue him there, is to tell them they must cease to be Methodists, to be
Wesleyan Methodists, must dismiss themselves of an itinerant episcopacy ; in other
words, a change of discipline, a change of faith. While they had a recorded general
rule that slaveholders should not bear office in that Church, and while they yielded
with the sensibilities and common-sense of men to the necessities that required a
particular exception, they never dreamed of an exception for an hour in the case
of a bishop. I submit that the action in the case of Bishop Andrew, shows that
the sense of the Conference of 1844 was that such an exception had never been
dreamed of.

Then I submit that the great North was right, and the great South was wrong,
that day, on the question of mere innovation. I say we did not innovate on the South
in the slightest degree. Bishop Andrew was not tried, was not sentenced, was not
removed, was not sufpended from his office ; advice was given him, and in giving
that advice we kept entirely within the practice of the Church, as settled upon the
record of the Church. Suppose this were doubtful. In the name of common-sense
and reason, was a structure like this, reared as this was, built for the offices for which
this was built should a structure like this have been demolished ; first, on a doubt on
the meaning of our act ; and, secondly, on a doubt of the meaning of one of the articles
in the creed 1 The future historian of that Conference will, I think, say that the mi-
nority were in the fault in this business. I feel bound to go as far as to say that
from what I have seen in the evidence, prodigious abilities were in that minority. I
have seen some proofs of it from their pens. It contained men of the highest char-
acter for patriotism, and all the qualities we love, all that we would take back to
oar embrace if we might. But I feel bound to hold them responsible for that day's
work to a certain and just extent. I must say, that although there may be undercur-
rents of which we cannot judge, for we are here in a court of law and on the proofs,
I believe if that minority had not, among themselves, under the exasperation of the
vote in Bishop Andrew's case, resolved on this act, and had not thereupon thrown
themselves into it with a passionate energy, if they had not thereupon prepared a
circular, to which I may or may not have time to call the attention of the Court, to
the South, not merely predicting but initiating that result, if they had not then gone
home and delivered themselves over to that easy and yet so responsible a trade so
easy to such abilities, and yet so responsible for such a use of them the manufacture
of public opinion, that opinion under which the annual conferences of the South
convened, and the Louisville Convention assembled, and did the work, I bc]ieve t
before God, the Church would have stood fair as the moon, with all her banners to-
day as hi the day of her birth. Some local excitement there might have been
here and there. There always is. . And it is the very use of reason to deal with



257

such local excitement. To what purpose these endowments of mind, and this force
of character, but to struggle with such agitations as these ! All our American war-
fare is nothing but a war of sense and nonsense nothing else, in the world. Some
local excitement there probably would have been ; but if fifty of these gentlemen
twenty-five, ten, five had remembered that they were patriots as well as Methodists,
and Methodists as well as patriots if they had remembered that this Church was origin-
ally created in 1784 for the nation of America that it was designed by its founders that
through and by an original unity, not merely embracing that territory, but e,xpand-
ing to the universal territory of the New World, through that organism Methodism was
to work out its mission and enjoy its life that the chief among its agents is the
agency of itinerancy, and prominent in its itinerancy is the office of bishop, whereby a
bishop may travel from shore to shore, and be everywhere a father among his chil-
dren, a presence and power equally beloved and authoritative if they could only
have remembered that, in addition to all that was demanded of it as a Church, it was
one of those beautiful instrumentalities how rare and indispensable ! by which the
larger union outside, which embosoms it, was to be kept together if they could have
gone back under these influences, and spoken their fervent feelings and weighty
speech to the reason of the South, that Church, Troja mine stares, would have stood
this day. Such is my confident belief.

I have been looking over the proceedings of the Southern annual conferences as
put in evidence in the case. I was about referring to some beautiful passages from
the proceedings of the conferences in Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, and the far-
ther the better Texas, which still breathe a longing, lingering love of the union, and
which manifest the most strong and reiterated expression that they will not separate
if they can by possibility avoid it ; thus showing that they could not tear themselves
from the warm precincts of the cheerful day. They waited for the assembling of the
wise men of the Convention of Louisville, and waited for nothing but to hope they
would consider that there should be no necessity for separation. The journals of our
Conference of 1848 show you that nearer 3,000 than 2,000 have come back, and
asked permission to be taken again into the old fold of their fathers' and mothers'
baptism. I say such Methodists as these might have been kept ; and heavy, heavy
is the responsibility which will allow such delicious and priceless affections as these
to run to waste, and water but the desert. Still heavier is the responsibility of him
who puts out that Promethean fire which no hand may rekindle.

Now, what was done 1 Did the minority of the South anywhere put on the record
of that Conference of 1844 their opinion, that what we had done ought to dissolve
the Church in matter of conscience and political ethics 1 Nothing like it ; but they
put on the records merely a declaration that what had been done must produce a
certain state of things at the South, which would render then- continuance in the
Church impracticable. It is a very striking fact that they did not place on the records
a deliberate declaration of their own opinion, that what the General Conference had
done in matter of law and matter of conscience, made it proper and fit for them to
dissolve the union of the Church. They told the General Conference that in conse-
quence of its action a certain state of things would be produced at the South that
the laity of the South would be aroused, and that when they went home, if they found
it impossible to rule the roused Methodism of the South, they would have to choose
between ties to them and ties to us. Thereupon the General Conference said, that if
such a casus as that should arise, they would do nothing to throw any impediment in
the way. I have made inquiry, and I am satisfied that no member of that Conference
certainly, not a great majority of them had any more idea that they were voting
for a division of the Church, than that they were voting for a division of the S. ate.

17



258

But they verily believed tnat their ready manifestation of a willingness to help their



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 45 of 87)