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from eleven different States. The Convention, which was
to meet triennially, entered at once upon its work. It
became a vital center to the Baptist denomination. From
it, at its second meeting, proceeded effective measures for
the promotion of education in the ministry, and, under
the conviction that " western as well as eastern regions are
given to the Son of God as an inheritance," large plans
for home missions at the West.

Thus the great debt which the English Congregational-
ists had owed to the Baptists for heroic leadership in the
work of foreign missions was repaid with generous usury



by the Congregationalists to the Baptists of America.
From this time forward the American Baptists came more
and more to be felt as a salutary force in the religious life
of the nation and the world. But against what bitter and
furious opposition on the part of the ancient ignorance the
new light had to struggle cannot easily be conceived by
those who have only heard of the " Hard-Shell Baptist " as
a curious fossil of a prehistoric period. ^

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign
Missions continued for twenty-seven years to be the com-
mon organ of foreign missionary operations for the Con-
gregationalists, the Presbyterians, and the Dutch and
German Reformed churches. In the year 1837 an ofti-
cial Presbyterian Board of Missions was erected by the
Old-School fragment of the disrupted Presbyterian Church ;
and to this, when the two fragments were reunited, in
1869, the contributions of the New-School side began to
be transferred. In 1858 the Dutch church, and in 1879
the German church, instituted their separate mission
operations. Thus the initiative of the Andover .students
in 1 8 10 resulted in the erection, not of one mission board,
timidly venturing to set five missionaries in the foreign
field, but of five boards, whose total annual resources are
counted by millions of dollars, whose evangelists, men and
women, American and foreign-born, are a great army,
and whose churches, schools, colleges, theological semi-
naries, hospitals, printing-presses, with the other equip-
ments of a Christian civilization, and the myriads of whose
faithful Christian converts, in every country under the
whole heaven, have done more for the true honor of our
nation than all that it has achieved in diplomacy and war.'-

1 "The Baptists," by Dr. A. H. Newman, pp. 379-442.
* I have omitted from this list of results in the direct line from the incep-
tion at Andover, in 1810, the American Missionary Association. It owed


The Episcopalians entered on foreign mission work in
1 8 19, and the Methodists, tardily but at last with signal
efficiency and success, in 1832. No considerable sect of
American Christians at the present day is unrepresented
in the foreign field.

In order to complete the history of this organizing era
in the church, we must return to the humble but memo-
rable figure of Samuel J. Mills. It was his characteristic
word to one of his fellows, as they stood ready to leave
the seclusion of the seminary for active service, " You
and I, brother, are little men, but before we die, our influ-
ence must be felt on the other side of the world." No
one claimed that he was other than a " little man," except
as he was filled and possessed with a great thought, and
that the thought that filled the mind of Christ — the
thought of the Coming Age and of the Reign of God on
earth.^ While his five companions were sailing for the
remotest East, Mills plunged into the depth of the western
wilderness, and between 18 12 and 1815, in two toilsome
journeys, traversed the Great Valley as far as New Orleans,
deeply impressed everywhere with the famine of the word,
and laboring, in cooperation with local societies at the East,
to provide for the universal want by the sale or gift of
Bibles and the organization of Bible societies. After his
second return he proposed the organization of the Ameri-
can Bible Society, which was accomplished in 18 16.

But already this nobly enterprising mind was intent on

its'origin, in 1846, to the dissatisfaction felt by a considerable number of the
supporters of the American Board with the attitude of that institution on
some of the questions arising incidentally to the antislavery discussion. Its
foreign missions, never extensive, were transferred to other hands, at the
close of the Civil War, that it might devote itself wholly to its great and suc-
cessful work among " the oppressed races " at home.

1 It may be worth considering how far the course of religious and theo-
logical thought would have been modified if the English New Testament had
used these phrases instead of World to Come and Kingdom of God.


a new plan, of most far-reaching importance, not original
with himself, but, on the contrary, long familiar to those
who studied the extension of the church and pondered
the indications of God's providential purposes. The earh-
est attempt in America toward the propagation of the
gospel in foreign lands would seem to have been the cir-
cular letter sent out by the neighbor pastors, Samuel
Hopkins and Ezra Stiles, in the year 1773, from Newport,
chief seat of the slave-trade, asking contributions for the
education of two colored men as missionaries to their native
continent of Africa. To many generous minds at once, in
this era of great Christian enterprises, the thought recurred
of vast blessings to be wrought for the Dark Continent by
the agency of colored men Christianized, civilized, and
educated in America. Good men reverently hoped to
see in this a triumphant solution of the mystery of divine
providence in permitting the curse of African slavery,
through the cruel greed of men, to be inflicted on the
American republic. In 18 16 Mills successfully pressed
upon the Presbyterian " Synod of New York and New
Jersey" a plan for educating Christian men of color for
the work of the gospel in their fatherland. That same
year, in cooperation with an earnest philanthropist, Dr.
Robert Finley, of New Jersey, he aided in the instituting
of the American Colonization Society. In 181 7 he sailed,
in company with a colleague, the Rev. Ebenezer Burgess,
to explore the coast of Africa in search of the best site
for a colony. On the return voyage he died, and his body
was committed to the sea: a "little man," to whom were
granted only five years of what men call "active life";
but he had fulfilled his vow, and the ends of the earth had
felt his influence for the advancement of the kingdom of
the Lord Jesus Christ. The enterprise of African coloni-
zation, already dear to Christian hearts for the hopes that


it involved of the redemption of a lost continent, of the
elevation of an oppressed race in America, of the emanci-
pation of slaves and the abolition of slavery, received a
new consecration as the object of the dying labors and
prayers of Mills. It was associated, in the minds of good
men, not only with plans for the conversion of the heathen,
and with the tide of antislavery sentiment now spreading
and deepening both at the South and at the North, but
also with " Clarkson societies " and other local organiza-
tions, in many different places, for the moral and physical
elevation of the free colored people from the pitiable
degradation in which they were commonly living in the
larger towns. Altogether the watchmen on the walls of
Zion saw no fairer sign of dawn, in that second decade of
the nineteenth century, than the hopeful lifting of the
cloud from Africa, the brightening prospects of the free
negroes of the United States, and the growing hope of the
abolition of American slavery.^

Other societies, national in their scope and constituency,
the origin of which belongs in this organizing period, are
the American Education Society (18 15), the American
Sunday-school Union (1824), the American Tract Society
(1825), the Seamen's Friend Society (1826), and the
American Home Missionary Society (1826), in which last
the Congregationalists of New England cooperated with
the Presbyterians on the basis of a Plan of Union entered
into between the General Assembly and the General As-
sociation of Connecticut, the tendency of which was to
reinforce the Presbyterian Church with the numbers and

1 The colored Baptists of Richmond entered eagerly into the Colonization
project, and in 1822 their " African Missionary Society" sent out its mission
to the young colony of Liberia. One of their missionaries was the Rev.
Lott Cary, the dignity of whose character and career was an encouragement
of his people in their highest aspirations, and a confirmation of the hopes of
their friends (Newman, "The Baptists," p. 402; Gurley, "Life of Ash-
mun," pp. 147-160).


the vigor of the New England westward migration. Of
course the establishment of these and other societies for
beneficent work outside of sectarian lines did not hinder,
but rather stimulated, sectarian organizations for the like
objects. The whole American church, in all its orders, was
girding itself for a work, at home and abroad, the immense
grandeur of which no man of that generation could pos-
sibly have foreseen.

The grandeur of this work was to consist not only in
the results of it, but in the resources of it. As never
before, the sympathies, prayers, and personal cooperation
of all Christians, even the feeblest, were to be combined
and utilized for enterprises coextensive with the continent
and the world and taking hold on eternity. The possi-
bilities of the new era were dazzHng to the prophetic
imagination. A young minister then standing on the
threshold of a long career exulted in the peculiar and ex-
celling glory of the dawning day :

" Surely, if it is the noblest attribute of our nature that
spreads out the circle of our sympathies to include the
whole family of man. and sends forth our affections to
embrace the ages of a distant futurity, it must be regarded
as a privilege no less exalted that our means of doing good
are limited by no remoteness of country or distance of
duration, but we may operate, if we will, to assuage the
miseries of another hemisphere, or to prevent the necessi-
ties of an unborn generation. The time has been when a
man might weep over the wrongs of Africa, and he might
look forward to weep over the hopelessness of her degra-
dation, till his heart should bleed ; and yet his tears would
be all that he could give her. He might relieve the beg-
gar at his door, but he could do nothing for a dying con-
tinent. He might provide for his children, but he could
do nothing for the nations that were yet to be born to an
inheritance of utter wretchedness. Then the privilege of


engaging in schemes of magnificent benevolence belonged
only to princes and to men of princely possessions; but
now the progress of improvement has brought down this
privilege to the reach of every individual. The institutions
of our age are a republic of benevolence, and all may
share in the unrestrained and equal democracy. This
privilege is ours. We may stretch forth our hand, if we
will, to enlighten the Hindu or to tame the savage of the
wilderness. It is ours, if we will, to put forth our contri-
butions and thus to operate not ineflfectually for the relief
and renovation of a continent over which one tide of mis-
ery has swept without ebb and without restraint for unre-
membered centuries. It is ours, if we will, to do something
that shall tell on all the coming ages of a race which has
been persecuted and enslaved, trodden down and despised,
for a thousand generations. Our Father has made us the
almoners of his love. He has raised us to partake, as it
were, in the ubiquity of his own beneficence. Shall we
be unworthy of the trust? God forbid!"^

1 Leonard Bacon, " A Plea for Africa," in the Park Street Church, Boston,
July 4, 1824.



The transition from establishment to the voluntary-
system for the support of churches was made not without
some difficulty, but with surprisingly little. In the South
the established churches were practically dead before the
laws establishing them were repealed and the endowments
disposed of. In New York the Episcopalian churches
were indeed depressed and discouraged by the ceasing of
State support and official patronage; and inasmuch as
these, with the subsidies of the " S. P. G.," had been their
main reliance, it was inevitable that they should pass through
a period of prostration until the appreciation of their large
endowments, and the progress of immigration and of con-
version from other sects, and especially the awakening of
religious earnestness and of sectarian ambition.

In New England the transition to the voluntary system
was more gradual. Not till 1818 in Connecticut, and in
Massachusetts not till 1834, was the last strand of connec-
tion severed between the churches of the standing order
and the state, and the churches left solely to their own
resources. The exaltation and divine inspiration that had
come to these churches with the revivals which from the
end of the eighteenth century were never for a long time
intermitted, and the example of the dissenting congrega-


tions, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Methodist, successfully
self-supported among them, made it easy for them, not-
withstanding the misgivings of many good men, not only
to assume the entire burden of their own expenses, but
with this to undertake and carry forward great and costly
enterprises of charity reaching to the bounds of the coun-
try and of the inhabited earth. It is idle to claim that the
American system is at no disadvantage in comparison with
that which elsewhere prevails almost throughout Christen-
dom ; but it may be safely asserted that the danger that
has been most emphasized as a warning against the volun-
tary system has not attended this system in America. The
fear that a clergy supported by the free gifts of the people
would prove subservient and truckling to the hand by
which it is fed has been proved groundless. Of course
there have been time-servers in the American ministry, as
in every other; but flagrant instances of the abasement of
a whole body of clergy before the power that holds the
purse and controls promotion are to be sought in the old
countries rather than the new. Even selfish motives would
operate against this temptation, since it has often been
demonstrated that the people will not sustain a ministry
which it suspects of the vice of subserviency. The annals
of no established church can show such unsparing fidelity
of the ministry in rebuking the sins of people and of rulers
in the name of the Lord, as that which has been, on the
whole, characteristic of the Christian ministers of the
United States.

Among the conflicts of the American church with pub-
lic wrongs strongly intrenched in law or social usage, two
are of such magnitude and protracted through so long a
period as to demand special consideration — the conflict
with drunkenness and the conflict with slavery. Some
less conspicuous illustrations of the fidelity of the church


in the case of public and popular sins may be more briefly
referred to.

The death of Alexander Hamilton, in July, 1804, in a
duel with Aaron Burr, occasioned a wide and violent out-
burst of indignation against the murderer, now a fugitive
and outcast, for the dastardly malignity of the details of
his crime, and for the dignity, and generosity as well as the
pubhc worth of his victim. This was the sort of explosion
of excited public feeling which often loses itself in the air.
It was a difl'erent matter when the churches and ministers
of Christ took up the afTair in the light of the law of God,
and, dealing not with the circumstances but with the
essence of it, pressed it inexorably on the conscience of tlie
people. Some of the most memorable words in American
literature were uttered on this occasion, notwithstanding
that there were few congregations in which there were not
sore consciences to be irritated or political anxieties to be
set quaking by them. The names of Eliphalet Nott and
John M. Mason were honorably conspicuous in this work.
But one unknown young man of thirty, in a corner of Long
Island, uttered words in his little country meeting-house
that pricked the conscience of the nation. The words of
Lyman Beecher on this theme may well be quoted as
being a part of history, for the consequences that followed

" Dueling is a great national sin. With the exception
of a small section of the Union, the whole land is defiled
with blood. From the lakes of the North to the plains of
Georgia is heard the voice of lamentation and woe — the
cries of the widow and fatherless. This work of desolation
is performed often by men in office, by the appointed
guardians of life and liberty. On the floor of Congress
challenges have been threatened, if not given, and thus
powder and ball have been introduced as the auxiliaries of


deliberation and argument. . . . We are murderers — a
nation of murderers — while we tolerate and reward the
perpetrators of the crime."

Words such as these resounding from pulpit after pulpit,
multiplied and disseminated by means of the press, acted
on by representative bodies of churches, becoming em-
bodied in anti-dueUng societies, exorcised the foul spirit
from the land. The criminal folly of dueling did not, in-
deed, at once and altogether cease. Instances of it con-
tinue to be heard of to this day. But the conscience of
the nation was instructed, and a warning was served upon
political parties to beware of proposing for national honors
men whose hands were defiled with blood. i

Another instance of the fidehty of the church in resist-
ance to public wrong was its action in the matter of the
dealing of the State of Georgia and the national govern-
ment toward the Georgia Indians. This is no place for the
details of the shameful story of perfidy and oppression.
It is well told by Helen Hunt Jackson in the melancholy
pages of " A Century of Dishonor." The wrongs inflicted
on the Cherokee nation were deepened by every conceiv-
able aggravation.

" In the whole history of our government's dealings
with the Indian tribes there is no record so black as the
record of its perfidy to this nation. There will come a

1 " An impression was made that never ceased. It started a series of
efforts that have affected the whole northern mind at least ; and in Jackson's
time the matter came up in Congress, and a law was passed disfranchising a
duelist. And that was not the last of it ; for when Henry Clay was up for
the Presidency the Democrats printed an edition of forty thousand of that ser-
mon and scattered them all over the North " (" Autobiography of Lyman
Beecher," vol. i., pp. 153, 154; with foot-note from Dr. L. Bacon : " That ser-
mon has never ceased to be a power in the politics of this country. More than
anything else, it made the name of brave old Andrew Jackson "distasteful to
the moral and religious feeling of the people. It hung like a millstone on
the neck of Henry Clay "),


time in the remote future when to the student of American
history it will seem well-nigh incredible. From the be-
ginning of the century they had been steadily advancing-
in civilization. As far back as 1800 they had begun the
manufacture of cotton cloth, and in 1820 there was scarcely
a family in that part of the nation living east of the
Mississippi but what understood the use of the card and
spinning-wheel. Every family had its farm under cultiva-
tion. The territory was laid off into districts, with a
council-house, a judge, and a marshal in each district. A
national committee and council were the supreme author-
ity in the nation. Schools were flourishing in all the
villages. Printing-presses were at work. . . . They were
enthusiastic in their efforts to establish and perfect their
own system of jurisprudence. Missions of several sects
were established in their country, and a large number of
them had professed Christianity and were leading exem-
plary lives. There is no instance in all history of a race
of people passing in so short a space of time from the bar-
barous stage to the agricultural and civilized." ^

We do well to give authentic details of the condition of
the Cherokee nation in the early part of the century, for
the advanced happy and peaceful civilization of this people
was one of. the fairest fruits of American Christianity
working upon exceptionally noble race-qualities in the
recipients of it. An agent of the War Department in
1825 made official report to the Department on the rare
beauty of the Cherokee country, secured to them by the
most sacred pledges with which it was possible for the
national government to bind itself, and covered by the
inhabitants, through their industry and thrift, with flocks
and herds, with farms and villages ; and goes on to speak
of the Indians themselves:

1 " A Century of Dishonor," pp. 270, 271.


" The natives carry on considerable trade with the ad-
joining States ; some of them export cotton in boats down
the Tennessee to the Mississippi, and down that river to
New Orleans. Apple and peach orchards are quite com-
mon, and gardens are cultivated and much attention paid
to them. Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables.
There are many public roads in the nation, and houses
of entertainment kept by natives. Numerous and flourish-
ing villages are seen in every section of the country.
Cotton and woolen cloths are manufactured ; blankets of
various dimensions, manufactured by Cherokee hands, are
very common. Almost every family in the nation grows
cotton for its own consumption. Industry arn^ commercial
enterprise are extending themselves in every part. Nearly
all the merchants in the nation are native Cherokees.
Agricultural pursuits engage the chief attention of the
people. Different branches in mechanics are pursued.
The population is rapidly increasing. . . . The Christian
religion is the religion of the nation. Presbyterians, Metho-
dists, Baptists, and Moravians are the most numerous sects.
Some of the most influential characters are members of the
church and live consistently with their professions. The
whole nation is penetrated with gratitude for the aid it has
received from the United States government and from
different religious societies. Schools are increasing every
year; learning is encouraged and rewarded; the young
class acquire the English and those of mature age the
Cherokee system of learning." ^

This country, enriched by the toil and thrift of its own-
ers, the State of Georgia resolved not merely to subjugate
to its jurisdiction, but to steal from its rightful and lawful
owners, driving them away as outlaws. As a sure expedi-
ent for securing popular consent to the intended infamy,
the farms of the Cherokees were parceled out to be drawn

1 " A Century of Dishonor," pp. 275, 276.


for ill a lottery, and the lottery tickets distributed among
the white voters. Thus fortified, the brave State of
Georgia went to all lengths of outrage. " Missionaries
were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Chcro-
kees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia
courts and hung by Georgia executioners." But the great
crime could not be achieved vathout the connivance, and
at last the active consent, of the national government.
Should this consent be given? Never in American his-
tory has the issue been more squarely drawn between the
kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of Christ. American
Christianity was most conspicuously represented in this
conflict by an eminent layman, Jeremiah Evarts, whose
fame for this public service, and not for this alone, will in
the lapse of time outshine even that of his illustrious son.
In a series of articles in the " National Intelligencer," under
the signature of " William Penn," he cited the sixteen
treaties in which the nation had pledged its faith to defend
the Cherokees in the possession of their lands, and set the
whole case before the people as well as the government.
But his voice was not solitary. From press and pulpit and
from the platforms of public meetings all over the country

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 21 of 34)