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 55 of 87)
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them, there would have been some ground of complaint. But how was it 1 Did
they adopt them? We have a resolution passed by the Church in 1840 upon this
subject, which, I apprehend, ought, with all prudent men who are disposed to be
guided by their reason instead of their passions, to have calmed and quieted this
Church. I read from the First of the Proofs, page 74, a resolution which was passed
upon a report of the committee upon these petitions :

" Resolved, by the delegates of the several annual conferences in General Confer-
ence assembled, That under the provisional exception of the general rule of the
Church on the subject of slavery, the simple holding of slaves, or mere ownership of
slave property, in States or territories where the laws do not admit of emancipation
and permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom, constitutes no legal barrier to the
election or ordination of ministers to the various grades of office known in the ministry
of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and cannot therefore be considered as operating
any forfeiture of right in view of such election and ordination."

This was nothing more than the adoption of the ancient and established usages of
this Church, in defiance of all these petitions which were thus sent in, carrying them
out, and showing, on the part of this Church, a determination to carry out their
ancient and established doctrine and rules. Now, I submit, that that is no foundation
for a secession from this Church. The Southern brethren cannot complain of any
misconduct on the part of this Church as a Church. On the contrary, their conduct
was exemplary, and was in perfect harmony with the established usages and practices
of the Church.

As to the case of Mr. Harding, who was one of the travelling ministers in the Bal-
timore Conference, which the counsel on the other side, in the indulgence of a little
imagination, calls the " Breakwater Conference," it seems that in that conference
there is slaveholding territory and free territory. Mr. Harding had not purchased
slaves, but had acquired them by marriage. Well, two questions arose hi that case :
one was, whether slaves could be emancipated in that State ; and the other was,
whether he was to be considered as voluntarily acquiring this kind of property when
he obtained it by marriage! I admit that was a pretty nice question, because,
although the Methodists adopt the American doctrine of free will, yet in the case of
matrimony, perhaps, there is not always perfect free will. However, it was a very
delicate and nice question to determine whether it came within the rule of voluntary
acquisition. Another question arose, and that was, whether in that State manumis-
sion was allowable 1 It seems that some gentlemen gave opinions that it was, and
others thought differently. The conference had to pass on these delicate subjects.
It was a question which could not often arise. It was a mere isolated case, and one
which they had to pass upon with the best lights they could get, and the annual con-
ference decided that he ought to be suspended from the ministry until he emancipated



the slaves, or showed cause for not doing it. If you will read the argument, you
will see that he had not made any effort to do it ; perhaps his wife would have joined
him in emancipating them. He appeared to be active in retaining the property.
Therefore, under all the circumstances, as in this conference there was jurisdiction
over free territory and slave territory, and ministers who held slaves would not be
acceptable in the free part of it, and as travelling ministers are to travel over the
entire territory in the conference, they thought best, until that difficulty should be
removed, that he should be suspended from the ministry. The General Conference,
on an appeal, seeing no foundation for reversing, confirmed the decision.

Let us take the next case in connexion with it, that of Bishop Andrew. He, it
seems, also married a wife, and that wife had slaves. He had acquired by will a
slave who refused to be free, who refused to go to Liberia. So far from making any
effort to emancipate, or showing any disposition to do it, he had executed an assign-
ment in trust to secure the slaves thus acquired to the joint benefit of himself and his
wife. That case came up before the Conference. What were they to do 1 Here
was a bishop, against whom there was no objection originally, but who had become
unacceptable to a considerable portion of Methodists in some parts of the territory ;
and according to a radical and fundamental doctrine of that Church, he was to travel
through all that territory. That must be admitted to be a very nice question. Sup-
pose they were wrong in their decision upon the case let us suppose, upon the whole
case, which would bring even a judicial mind, who happened to be a member of that
Church, to a pause, that they had come to an erroneous decision, and had committed
an error in this one particular case, is that to break up the Church 1 Does that war-
rant a secession ] Is that a misconduct which would entitle them to be treated in the
light of seceders 1 I apprehend not.

I will refer the Court, on this subject, to the case of Miller vs. Gable, 2 Denio's
Reports, 492. Judge Gardiner observes, in going over this subject, in regard to doc-
trines and it will throw light on the subject of the government and discipline that
in order to constitute a departure from the trust, with regard to doctrines, there must
be a settled deviation from some substantial doctrine of the Church. You will find
the same position in 2 Bligh's Reports, 529. This was the case of an Associate
Congregation of Perth.

It establishes two important principles :

Firstly. " Where a difference of doctrines prevails, the Court will decide in favour
of the party which adheres to the ancient doctrines of the Church.

Secondly. " That when there is a difference in regard to government, the Court
will decide in favour of those who adhere to the old government. But the question
of doctrine furnishes the primary rule an adherence to the ancient established
doctrines of the Church is indispensable to constitute Church membership."

This case was carried up to the Court of Appeals the Parliament of Great
Britain and it was there decided that there had been a deviation in some respects
from their doctrines, but hi no very essential point. It was on the subject of the
administration of an oath.

But it must be in some substantial, essential point, where there is a departure, in
order to warrant a court in treating them as seceders from the Church. If there had
been in this case a determination to depart from some important radical portion of
the Discipline, which is considered essential, there would have been ground for a seces-
sion ; but to say that in this Church, because,in two particular instances, in very nice
cases, they had given a construction which the gentlemen on the other side say was
not correct, but where it is manifest they decided according to their best judgments
to say that in this Church a decision in such cases, standing out of any direct rule,


and where a rule was to be applied without any precedents to guide them, was a mis-
conduct which would warrant a dissolution of the union of the Church, break it up,
and entitle those who did thus dissolve it, and break it up, to be considered as the
true Church, and to carry property along with them, is, I apprehend, going too far.
I will call the attention of the Court to the view which this Church takes of this
subject of union in their Discipline, chap. 1, sec. 18 :

" Let us be deeply sensible (from what we have known) of the evil of a division in
principle, spirit, or practice, and the dreadful consequences to ourselves and others.
If we are united, what can stand before us 1 If we divide, we shall destroy ourselves,
the work of God, and the souls of our people."

They here inculcate with great stress the importance of union and the necessity of
enforcing and preserving it. The principles they advance are important and highly
conservative. It would be well for all good citizens to adopt those principles, to guide
them in their allegiance and their duty towards the government of the country under
which they live, and from which they have received all that they are and all that they
ought to be. Deeply imbued with those principles, while anxious to assert their
rights, they would be equally mindful of their duties. Then follows a variety of re-
gulations to preserve the union of the Church.

Well, when we find a rule of law upon this subject, that in order to constitute a
right to separate or secede lawfully, there must be in the opposite party a settled
violation of or departure from some essential and important rule of action in the gov-
ernment or discipline, of course the same law will apply more strongly to a similar
departure in a matter of faith and doctrine, because it is more important in an eccle-
siastical body that its faith should be observed than its government or discipline.
The religious faith of the Church is the great object in view in establishing the
Church. You will always look and inquire in considering who are the adherents to
any institution, what is tke object of that body 1 for what is it created 1 the rules,
government, and discipline, are merely subordinate. They are merely instrumental
in carrying out the great purpose which is here the promotion and propagation of
religious faith. But a departure from the religious faith in a matter of very little
importance, as we have seen, is no foundation for a separation. Can, then, a mistake
in a decision in a doubtful, difficult case, a new case, one which does not come
directly under any fixed, settled principle, but to which principles are brought to
apply inferentially and impliedly, warrant the members in breaking up and destroying
the society 1 ! I submit that it cannot, and more especially, too, when you see that this
Church is considered as a unit ; that it is a regularly organized body, and its union in all
its branches, in all its entirety, is considered essential for the promotion of morality,
and the preservation of the souls of its members. Yet, such are the grounds which
are now relied upon on the other side to legalize the separation of this Church.

I now proceed to consider the objections which are taken to the manner in which
this trial of the bishop was had. We are told that Bishop Andrew did not receive a
regular trial, that he was not regularly summoned, and that he was not condemned ac-
cording to any fixed and settled rule of law. Well, upon the subject of the trial and
notice, I apprehend he has had all the trial which could be required in an institution
of this kind. They have no regular formal proceedings by summons, no pleading,
and no jury trial. It is sufficient if the man was heard, and had an opportunity for
defending himself, and presenting his case fully. Bishop Andrew had this. He
wrote a letter in which he stated the whole case ; and no further trial, or notice, or
evidence could be required, because they took the case precisely as he had stated it
in that letter, and thus adopted and acted upon it. He had every opportunity of
presenting every reason and every consideration that could occur to him, as proper

to be heard in his case, either to justify, excuse, or mitigate. What more trial would
you have 1 It will be borne in mind, too, that in this Church the bishop is amen-
able to this Conference. He may be dismissed or suspended for "improper conduct."
That is the language of the Discipline. What is meant by "improper conduct?"
Does it mean a crime, according to the law of the land ! Does it mean any positive and
express violation of some positive rule of the Methodist Discipline 1 I apprehend not.
On p. 16 of the first volume of Proofs, is the following extract from the Discipline :

" To whom is the bishop amenable for his conduct 1

" To the General Conference, who have power to expel him for improper conduct,
if they see it necessary."

" Improper conduct," I apprehend, is not confined to some violation of law or some
settled rule of Discipline. .A bishop may commit acts of impropriety which cannot
be brought under any fixed rule of law. I might refer your Honours to the injunc-
tion upon bishops to be found in Timothy, with which, no doubt, you are perfectly
familiar, and which you will find, goes much further than any requirement of law, in
reference to his behaviour and deportment. Suppose any bishop, where it is allow-
able, should set up a hotel, or allow gaming in a country where it is not condemned
by law. Perhaps you would find nothing specified in fhe rules of the Discipline,
and nothing in the law of the land about it, but every one would say it was improper
for a bishop to act in that way, and clearly under the rule of Discipline the Confer-
ence might condemn and expel him for such improper conduct. There are a hundred,
a thousand things, which, according to the usages of the Churches, it would be im-
proper for a minister to do, and yet which would violate no law, and be done with
perfect propriety by persons who were not in that venerable position in the Church
and society at large, a position calling for a most guarded circumspection of con-
duct. Now I presume that this rule was intended to meet that class of cases, to
confer full power upon the Church to reach all such cases which could not be re-
duced to any fixed, settled rule of law.

Now, if a bishop acquires slaves after he becomes a bishop, when, by the ancient
usages of the Church, he would not have been elected to that office if he had then
held them, for reasons which I have already assigned, and which rules have been
in that Church always deemed imperative, and he omits to manumit them, or if he
should persist to act as bishop while he holds them, and is yet in a condition to
manumit them, his conduct would be " improper" according to the rules of the
Discipline of that Church. It would be improper, because it would tend to destroy
his efficiency as an itinerant bishop ; and in that point of view, this Conference
would have a perfect right to inflict the censure prescribed in the Discipline upon
him. But they did not do it. They avoided it. They took the mildest measure
that could be taken in the case. They were determined to support their Discipline
as far as they could ; to have an acceptable bishopric, and an itinerant bishopric,
and at the same time relieve Bishop Andrew from any imputation, except so far as it
was indispensably necessary to carry out these points. Instead, therefore, of expel-
ling or suspending him, instead of passing an act of a punitive character, they simply
advised (for it is clearly an advisory proceeding) that he should " desist" from
acting. At the same time, on account of the delicacy of his situation, they left him
all the privileges and advantages of a bishop. Well, say the gentlemen on the other
side, it is placing him in a very awkward predicament to act after such an advisory
letter or request as this. Well, that could not be helped. It was placing him in
that position unquestionably, but at the same time it was treating him with as much
delicacy as the case could admit of. In a case like this, under all these circum-
Btances, when they all felt, deeply felt, the necessity of preserving their ancient


landmarks, of preserving the episcopacy, and at the same time preserving its itiner-
ancy, and of connecting the two with the usefulness and efficiency of their bishops,
they took that course which in their opinion was most advisable ; and the question
for you now to determine is, (for the other side mainly rest on that ground there
they plant themselves,) Was that a sufficient foundation for this Southern branch of
the Church to secede to leave them 1 and are they entitled as seceders to carry
with them the property of the Church, on the ground of a radical, substantial depar-
ture from the discipline of the Church by the body they leave behind 1 I submit
to the Court that no such charge can be legitimately brought against us. They
cannot rest on that foundation for a claim to this property. I admit in all these
ecclesiastical institutions, and it must be admitted on all hands, and I have no doubt
the Southern Church will admit, the importance of preserving the discipline. Faith
and doctrines are paramount, but at the same time, discipline is important, because
it is enjoined upon them (to be Scriptural) to do all things in order, and so to do
them, they must have rules of action, and they must comply with them.

We are not left here to draw legal inferences from the doctrines or government of
the Church as to the consequepces of this separation upon the property. I have con-
sidered this subject so far, in its bearings upon the property, upon the supposition
there was not any agreement about it. Has there been in this case, such a separa-
tion by agreement to separate as would entitle them to a part of the property 1 and
if not, has there been such misconduct, on the part of the old Church, as to warrant
them in separating, and still entitle them to hold the property 1 That is the view I
have taken of it ; and in so treating it, I have laid out of view any agreement about
the property. But if there is an agreement between the parties respecting the pro-
perty itself, it must govern, supposing they have any right to agree about it one way
or the other. They say the General Conference had a right to make an agreement
with them, by which they should separate from the Church. Carry that out ; as-
sume they had the right. We say, that even if there was an agreement about
the property, that agreement was, that they should detach themselves from the main
body of the Church, and leave that behind ; and, therefore, they could not carry the
property with them upon principles of law. In the next place, we contend that
there is, in the absence of an agreement, no such misconduct on the part of this
Church as would entitle them to claim any portion of the property. But I come
now to this important point, that there was In this case an express agreement about
the property ; and that must settle the question. You can deduce no inferences, you
can draw no conclusions, you can raise no implications, when you have an express
agreement. That must stand by itself, and they must either stand or fall by it.
Let us see what that agreement was. It is to be found in the First Proofs, p. 129 :

" 4. That whenever the annual conferences, by a vote of three-fourths of all their
members voting on the third resolution, shall have concurred in the recommendation
to alter the sixth restrictive article, the agents at New- York and Cincinnati shall,
and they are hereby authorized and directed to deliver over to any authorized agent
or appointee of the Church, South, should one be organized, all notes and book ac-
counts against the ministers, Church members, or citizens within its boundaries, with
authority to collect the same for the sole use of the Southern Church, and that
said agents also convey to the aforesaid agent or appointee of the South all the
real estate, and assign to him all the property, including presses, stock, and all
right and interest connected with the printing establishments at Charleston, Rich-
mond, and Nashville, which now belong to the Methodist Episcopal Church.

" 5. That when the annual conferences shall have approved the aforesaid change
in the sixth restrictive article, there shall be transferred to the above agent of the
Southern Church so much of the capital and product of the Metjiodist Book Con-
cern as will, with the notes, book accounts, presses, &c., mentioned in the last reso-


lution, bear the same proportion to the whole property of said Concern that the
travelling preachers in the Southern Church shall bear to all the travelling ministers
of the Methodist Episcopal Church ; the division to be made on the basis of the
number of travelling preachers in the forthcoming minutes.

" 6. That the above transfer shall be in the form of annual payments of $25,000
per annum, and specifically in stock of the Book Concern, and in Southern notes and
accounts due the establishment, and accruing after the first transfer mentioned above ;
and until the payments are made, the Southern Church shall share in all the net pro-
fits of the Book Concern, in the proportion that the amount due them or in arrears
bears to all the property of the Concern."

I think no man who will read this case over candidly and impartially, can hesitate
to say, that this General Conference acted upon the idea, that before this branch,
who were thus to separate and form a new organization in the South, could take
any portion of this property, which was devoted to this charitable use in the Metho-
dist Episcopal Church, the annual conferences should concur. The counsel on the
other side, tell us, that that is not the true construction ; that it was intended that
they should have the right absolutely ; and that all that was required by this agree-
ment all that was rendered contingent was, that it should not be transferred until
the annual conferences thus concurred. It appears to me, that that would be per-
fectly peurile. What ! Give them the right without this concurrence of the annual
conferences, and yet tell them it should not be transferred until the annual confer-
ences did concur ! Give them the right, but not let them take the property 1
If they intended they should have the right absolutely, clearly they would allow
the property to be transferred at once. If they intended, before any transfer
of this property should be made, that the annual conferences should concur,
they clearly intended no right until that concurrence should be obtained. I
think that it is too clear to dispute about. A distinction like that, if it was carried
out, would be perfectly refined and peurile, and totally devoid of that common-sense
which guides this Methodist Episcopal Church in their conduct. They manifestly
meant, that the annual conferences should concur before any portion of this property
should be divided. They said to the delegates from the South : " If you find it
necessary, when you come to meet in your annual conferences, that you should sepa-
rate, we will agree that you shall ; but we cannot agree and you must take this as
connected with your 1 action upon this subject in your annual conferences we cannot
agree that any portion of this property shall pass from us as composing the Metho-
dist Episcopal Church, until the annual conferences concur." And I think there was
some reason and sound sense in this. Suppose that this institution, as the managers
of this charity, were so connected and identified with it and with the beneficiaries as
to entitle them to dispose of this property in this way in an emergency of that kind,
ought it to be done until the concurrence of all the managers is obtained 1 Were
the General Conference the exclusive managers 1 Certainly not ; the annual con-
ferences participated in the management of it as much, and perhaps more efficiently
than the General Conference ; and for that reason, when they undertook to adjust
this matter of property in their capacity of managers, without the sanction of a court
of equity, with great propriety they required that their concurrence should be ob-
tained before any portion of this property should be taken.

Well, now, who is to lay this matter before the annual conferences ? It is not re-
quired by the General Conference that it be done by any person concerned. The
other party could see and undertake to bring it before them, as well as ourselves. If
they, the annual conferences, act upon it and concur, when the subject is brought be-
fore them, there is an end of the question. Have they concurred 1 That is not pre-
tended. They do not set that up on the other side. The counsel on the other side


says that the annual conferences have not refused ; that there was a mistake in the
voting ; that the proposition presented to them was so general and broad, as not to
reach the case properly ; that the question was put to them, whether there should be an
absolute and unqualified repeal of the sixth restrictive article ; and that it should have
been put, whether it should be altered so far as to allow the Church, South, to take
this ratable proportion of the property. I admit this is a fair and reasonable inter-
pretation of that agreement. The proposition as presented is drawn in general
terms, but it is fair to restrict and modify it according to the subject matter, and it

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 55 of 87)