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 60 of 87)
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absence of any authority to adopt the Plan of 1844 ; but before 1844, during 1844,
and pending the proceedings which led to the Plan of Separation in 1844, in all the
debates on that Plan, pro and con., the existence of a rational doubt to divide according
to that Plan was not pretended. That is not all. It was a part of that Plan that
the third resolution incorporated into it, which looks to a change of the sixth restric-
tive article in the constitution of the Church, should be submitted to the annual con-
ferences of the Church generally ; and the last resolution makes it the duty of the
bishops to submit that particular part of the Plan to the annual conferences, in order
to get their sanction of the Plan, so far and so far only.

Where, then, were these brethren of the North 1 Behind no men in the Church,
or out of the Church, in worth and intelligence where were they 1 I say it with no
purpose of flattery ; for that, I trust, I am incapable of, and they do not require it, if I
were capable. The proposition is I speak with reference to both my learned brothers
on the other side that although there exists somewhere in the Church necessarily
an authority to divide itself into two organizations, yet that such authority was not
vested in the particular Conference of 1844. Where were these gentlemen of the
North, then, if they entertained such an opinion, when they voted upon the twelfth
resolution in the Plan, which will be found on p. 131, and the twelfth resolution alone,
which provides

" That the bishops be respectfully requested to lay that part of this report requiring
the action of the annual conferences before them as soon as possible, beginning with
the New-York Conference."

What part of it? If the Conference had not the power of itself to adopt the Plan
in that part of it which looked to a division of the Church without the consent of all
the annual conferences, then that part of the Plan demanded the sanction of all the
annual conferences. Therefore, these brethren virtually said : " We wish not the
annual conferences to be consulted at all upon the subject, except with reference to
that part of the Plan which by its terms is made to depend upon their sanction"
that part which is to be found in the third resolution, and which looks to a change
in the sixth restrictive article. They affirm, then, that the rest of the Plan can
stand on the inherent, and then unchallenged power to adopt it, vested in the Ge-
neral Conference. What did the bishops do in pursuance of that twelfth resolution 1
They issued their address to the annual conferences, to which my colleague referred,
asking them to consider the propriety of changing the sixth restrictive article, and in
doing so they state their opinion that the entire Plan is obligatory. I am speaking


now of the question of power. These five gentlemen, clothed with every claim to
regard, as to the law of this Church, having presided at the very deliberations which
led to the adoption of the Plan, announced to the entire Church as their opinion, that
the Plan was constitutionally binding in every particular, as well in the particulars
in which its binding operation was made to depend on the subsequent assent of the
annual conferences, as in the other particular, the division of the Church, as to which
its binding operation is merely to depend upon the ascertainment of the fact that in
the judgment of the annual conferences in the slaveholding States a division was
necessary. Where was then the idea which we have heard commented on by the other
side, of that unity of government existing in 1844 which put it out of the power of
the Conference of 1844 to divide itself] Did not that Conference know was it not
engraved on the mind of each of the members constituting that Conference that the
Discipline of the Church inculcated union 1 Did they not know that the authority
communicated to the Conference created in 1808, was an authority to make "rules
and regulations for our Church!" Did they not know what had been the blessings
of an itinerant superintendency and a travelling ministry 1 Why, certainly. They
knew, therefore, of the existence of this supposed unity, and it never entered into
their brains to conceive that there was to be found in such unity of the Church a con-
stitutional prohibition upon the authorities of the Church to create two Churches, with
reference to government, where one only before existed. But what is there in this
idea of the unity of the Church 1 It is confounded in the minds of my brothers on
the other side with the government of the Church. The unity of one does not depend
upon the existence of unity in the other. Wesleyan Methodists are to be found
wherever Christianity is to be found Methodists who now owe allegiance to this
body are to be found the world over. They all constitute one Church, one Methodist
Episcopal Christian Church ; but they are governed differently, and they inculcate
the necessity, in order that there may be this one Church, of different forms of govern-
ment, that this one Methodist Church may accommodate itself, as a Church, to the
country, and the times, and the circumstances in which it may find itself.

If I satisfied the Court yesterday that the Conference of 1784 (indeed there was
no necessity for it on my part, for the learned counsel admitted it) had the autho-
rity to have then organized two Churches, does it not necessarily follow that there is
not to be found in the idea of Church unity any negative upon the power to divide
itself into two forms of government] That must be very clear. Then would not
the Conference called together in 1784 have provided that there should be two terri-
torial organizations of Methodists with reference to government, within the limits of
the United States, one South and the other North, if they had anticipated the state
of things which existed in 1844 ; if, looking to the existence of this peculiar domestic
institution to which the South adheres, and which is so obnoxious to some in the
North, they had supposed either section of the United States would be liable to be
put under the control of the prejudices of the other upon moral political administra-
tive questions] Why, certainly ; and yet there would then have been but one Me-
thodist Episcopal Church, not two denominations preaching different doctrines and
inculcating a different faith, but one indivisible united denomination of Christians,
constituting, in the Methodist opinion, the one Church, clothed with all the sanctity
of unity. If that could have been done in 1784, according to the same train of rea-
soning by which I tried to conduct the Court to the conclusion to which I invited
them yesterday, it could equally have been done by the Conference of 1792, or either
of the succeeding conferences, including the Conference of 1808, which created the
Conference which, in 1844, adopted the Plan of Division of June, 1844.

Our brothers, and their clients, discovered only about 1848 they had, as is obvi-


ous, acted upon a different notion altogether before- that although what had been
done in the case of the Canada division established the existence of the power to
divide, there was to be found in the circumstances of the Canadian connexion with
the American Church something which distinguished the American and Canadian
Churches in their connexion from the connexion which subsisted between the
Southern and Northern Methodists as members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in
the United States. My friends find in that case a stumbling-block in the way of their
argument against the existence of the power in question. They have told your
Honours that the connexion between the American and the Canadian Churches was a
mere league, existing by force of a mere treaty, not bringing about, as between the
Canada Conference and the American Church, one united and indivisible Church,
but one which existed not by force of any governmental existence, not by virtue of
any constitutional existence, but by virtue of some supposed, undefined, unintelligi-
ble agreement, resulting in a peculiar and undefinable relationship between the two.
May it please the Court, we have had, as we all know, various theories about the
Constitution of the United States, in the different schools of our statesmen. The
one have considered it as flowing immediately from the people, and not as consti-
tuting a compact between the States, and existing only by force of that compact,
and remaining only in existence as long as each one of the contracting parties
thought proper to permit. The difference between the two schools is now threaten-
ed to be put in practical operation. South Carolina now announces the rule of
constitutional law to be, very many hi the South out of South Carolina announce
the rule of constitutional law to be, that there is no government, in the sense in
which I am sure this Court believe there is a government, created by force of the
Constitution of the United States, but that the States are bound solely together by
virtue of a league, a treaty, to be found in the assent upon the part of each one of
the States, that as between itself and all the other States it agrees to constitute a
portion of the Union, and that it has a right therefore to march out of that Union,
to put an end to the agreement ; and this is threatened to be done. In the days of
nullification, when the right to secede was claimed upon a different ground from that
which now occasions its assertion, the exercise by congress of its authority to lay
imposts and duties, the same doctrine was, in substance, announced. Your Honours,
I am sure, are familiar with the paper, but if you desire to refresh your recollections
turn, before you decide upon this question, to the memorable proclamation of Presi-
dent Jackson, draughted, as is well known, by the then secretary of state, Mr.
Livingston, in which he meets the question as to the consequences to result from the
binding operation of the Constitution of the United States, whether that constitution
be considered as emanating from the people directly, or as having been the creature
of a compact between each State and her sister States. The argument is this : that
it made no possible difference whether it came into existence by virtue of the act of
the people individually, or by virtue of a compact between the States. The question
still was, What were the powers of the government which was brought into existence !
Were they such powers as demanded for then: execution, for their preservation, for
the maintenance of the government so created, that each State of the Union should
be held to be, during all time, a portion of the government of the Union, controlled
by the Constitution of the United States 1 There was no unprejudiced man in the
United States who doubted then upon the question.

Now, let us apply to the supposed distinction between the Canadian case and the
case which existed in 1844 the doctrine of that proclamation. The Canadian Con-
ference existed before they were introduced into the American Church. Suppose it
did. What was its condition after it was introduced 1 How was it introduced ?


What was the consequence of its introduction 1 It was introduced as an annual con-
ference, sent its delegates to the General Conference ; it became, analogically speak-
ing, one of the States of this political hierarchy, and bound by all the obligations,
and responsible to all the duties which the rest of the Church were bound by or
responsible to. My brother who spoke first on the other side, said, that in the nature
of things there must have been a territorial limit to the American Church, because it
had no authority to go beyond the limits of the United States. Why not ? Does
the Gospel of Christ know any territorial limits'! Is the religion of our Saviour
bound by any geographical lines] I beg pardon for putting any such inquiries.
There may be, in the particular, local, political governments of some countries, im-
pediments which prevent it from getting within the limits of such territories ; but
when there are no such territorial obstacles in peculiar territorial governments, the
world is before it, not where to choose, but where, from its high and holy calling, it
is obliged to go. What says the Discipline 1 In the History of the Discipline, page
110, we find the following note to the 23d article of religion :

" As far as it respects civil affairs, we believe it the duty of Christians, and espe-
cially all Christian ministers, to be subject to the supreme authority of the country
where they may reside, and to use all laudable means to enjoin obedience to the
powers that be; and therefore it is expected that all our preachers and people, who
may be under the British or any other government, will behave themselves as peace-
able and orderly subjects."

It would have been well for the preachers of the North, who were parties to the
proceedings which resulted in the separation of 1844, to remember that it was ex-
pected of them that they should behave themselves as peaceable and orderly

" This note was added especially to meet the peculiar case of the brethren in Ca-
nada, against whom unfounded suspicions had been created, because the Methodist
Episcopal Church, of which they were then a part, was regarded as a foreign eccle-
siastical authority."

The Canadian Church was separated in 1828. The question is, What were its*
obligations, and duties, and rights when it was in 1 Did they claim, as South Carolina
now does, to secede by virtue of any independent authority of their own, or by vir-
tue of any reserved right, or inherent right growing out of the particular character
of the constitution which brought them into the American Church 1

Turning to pp. 32 and 33 Proofs No. 1, I find a petition " to the bishops and mem-
bers of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church," from the " Ca-
nada Annual Conference," one of the conferences constituting the Church, and
sending delegates to the General Conference :

" The Canada Conference having, after mature deliberation, deemed a separation
expedient, most humbly pray that they may be set off a separate and independent
Church in Canada."

" Set off," by whoml According to the learned counsel on the other side, it was
only for them to say that they willed it, and they could go off; it was only for them
to say they would establish for themselves a separate Church organization, and
it was done. That is not the view they took of it. They then go on to give the
reasons why they ask the General Conference to set them off a separate and inde-
pendent Church. They are :

" 1st. Our political relations, and the political feelings of a great part of the com-
munity, are such that we labour under many very serious embarrassments on account


of our union with the United States, from which embarrassments we would, in aH
probability, be relieved by a separation.

" 2d. The local circumstances of our societies in this Province ; the rapid increase
and extension of the work, both among the white inhabitants and the Indians ; the
prospects of division among ourselves, if our present relation be continued, render it
necessary for us to be under ecclesiastical regulations somewhat of a peculiar char-
acter, so as to suit our local circumstances.

" 3d. It is highly probable that we shall obtain some important religious privileges
by becoming a separate body.

" 4th. In the event of a war between the two nations, it would be altogether im-
practicable for a superintendent to discharge the duties of his office unless he be resi-
dent in this Province.

" 5th. It is the general wish of our people in this Province to become separate ;
nor will they, according to present appearances, be satisfied without sack sepa-

Now let us see what was proposed to be done, and then what was done. On
page 34 I find that the committee to whom this matter was referred, report ;

" The committee are unanimously of the opinion, that, however peculiar may be
the situation of our brethren in Canada, and however much we may sympathize with
them in their present state of perplexity, this General Conference cannot consistent-
ly grant them a separate Church establishment, according to the prayer of the peti-

Why not ? If the theory now relied upon be correct, the relationship had existed
by means of a treaty ; the contracting parties were the American Church on the one
side and the Canadian Church upon the other ; they existed as one, simply because of
the operation and authority of that treaty. If, as my learned brother^, who- spoke first
on the other side, and to whom I am particularly replying, supposed^ the connexion,
between the Canada Church and the American Church was only by treaty r and was
like a treaty between the United States and any foreign power; that it could be divi-
ded by a treaty to which each of the original contracting parties agreed if this be so,
I ask how it is possible that a unanimous opinion could be entertained that there was no
authority to grant the prayer of this petition 1 What doubt could there have been on the
subject, if Canada was a contracting party to a treaty and desired to/ go, and the
American Church, the only other party, was willing to let her go 1 Why, it would
be a singular sort of treaty which the parties themselves could not get rid! of. If the
theory of our friends is well founded, it is a species of domestic economy that would
prove very beneficial to a certain class of citizens, even perhaps members, of the bar*
not to speak of others, which brings into possession property which they could not
get rid of. This committee were unanimously of the opinion, that as things then
were there was no authority to organize a separate organization of the Canadian
Church. Let us see if they believed in the theory now taken, that the connexion
was the result of a treaty between these two original parties which either would be
at liberty to dissolve. The committee says :

" The committee, therefore, recommend to the General Conference."

" That inasmuch as the several annual conferences have not recommended it to the
General Conference, it is unconstitutional."

Then if they had recommended it, it would have been constitutional. They want
a change of government, not the authority to dissolve a league. Considering that
the power existed in the constituents of the General Conference, the annual confer-


cnces, they wish first to have a vote of the annual conferences consenting to the
separation, and then they say the General Conference could authorize the establish-
ment of a separate Church in Canada ; then, instead of being unconstitutional, it
would be plainly constitutional. This is somewhat inconsistent with the idea, relied
on by my friends on the other side with so much ability, that there was something
peculiar in the relationship between the Canadian Church and the American Church.
Now what did they do 1 Their sympathies ran so high, and they regretted so much
the perplexity of their Canadian brethren, that they suffered the Canadian brethren
to establish a separate Church, and that by an almost unanimous vote. How do
they do it 1 On p. 37, we find it resolved

" That, whereas the jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United
States of America, has heretofore been extended over the ministers and members in
connexion with said Church in the Province of Upper Canada, by mutual agreement,
and by the consent and desire of our brethren in that Province ; and whereas this
General Conference is satisfactorily assured that our brethren in the said Province,
under peculiar and pressing circumstances, do now desire to organize themselves
into a distinct Methodist Episcopal Church, in friendly relations with the Methodist
Episcopal Church in the United States, therefore be it resolved, and it is hereby re-
solved, by the delegates of the annual conferences in General Conference assembled:

" That if the annual conferences in Upper Canada, at its ensuing session, or any
succeeding session previously to the next General Conference, shall definitely determine
on this course, and elect a general superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church
in that Province, this General Conference do hereby authorize any one or more of
the general superintendents of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States,
with the assistance of any two or more elders, to ordain such general superintendent
for the said Church in Upper Canada," &c.

That was done. It is not worth while to be hypercritical in the consideration of
the terms on which it was done. There was a jurisdiction existing, whether by
agreement or not is not material. It all exists by agreement. These annual con-
ferences come under the General Conference by agreement ; there is no political
power, no ecclesiastical power by which they can be brought in against their own
consent, or kept in against their own will. The Church lives in every member of
it by agreement, but still it lives as a Church, governed by its peculiar form of gov-
ernment as long as it does live. The Canada case is exactly a case in point. The
power exerted was the same. The necessity in one sense for the exercise of the
power was the same. The manner in which it was exercised was substantially the
same. And from 1828, when that power was exercised, up to the time when your Hon-
ours have been called upon to hear this cause, or up to a period comparatively recent,
nobody whispered the existence of a rational doubt of the power of the General Con-
ference to divide itself into as many separate and distinct Churches as in their judg-
ment the good of the Church demanded ; as far as I am advised, no one of the
annual conferences which was called upon to decide under the third resolution of the
Plan of Division, whether they would change the sixth restrictive article of the con-
stitution of the Church, ever, by vote or declaration, denied the constitutionality of
the division. I beg your Honours to bear that in mind. Whether there were
expressions of individual opinion was another matter ; but no vote was taken, no pro-
position was suggested, looking to any distant and definitive action upon the part of
any one of the annual conferences, North or South, against the constitutional power
of the Conference of 1844 to adopt the Plan of Division of 1844.

That is not all. These gentlemen, now members of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, North, have fallen very far short of their duty, if the theory upon which
they are now acting be a sound one. They are responsible to the Church, and, what


is still more, to their God, for a very lame and imperfect performance of their duties.
They say that the division authorized and organized under the Plan of 1844 was un-
constitutional. In the Conference of 1848, at Pittsburgh, they said it was brought
about by the act of the Southern members without cause. They say, through their
counsel now, in the presence of your Honours, that these Southern members are
all secessionists. Gentlemen, do you believe it 1 Gentlemen defendants, do you
conscientiously believe it 1 Of course, they must say "Yes." Then march up to
the duty which is upon you. It was a part of that Plan, as the Court will see on
pp. 130 and 131, not dependant in any way on the assent of any annual conferences,
except the assent of the annual conferences in the slaveholding States to the first

" That all the property of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in meeting-houses,
parsonages, colleges, schools, conference funds, cemeteries, and of every kind within
the limits of the Southern organization, shall be forever free from any claim set up
on the part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, so far as this resolution can be of
force in the premises."

Now if the Plan is unconstitutional, go and take this property. Do not tell me that
there is to be found in the prejudices of the Southern tribunals an obstacle to success.
The tribunals of the United States are open ; they are raised above the level of any
possible supposed local prejudices standing upon a more elevated platform, looking
over the whole country, and bound to free themselves from the existence of anything
like sectional or other prejudice or partiality. Go into the courts of the United
States. The property here referred to is worth millions. Get back the meeting-houses,
the parsonages, the colleges, the schools, the conference funds, the cemeteries, within
the limits of the Southern Church. The men who hold them are no part of the

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 60 of 87)