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tion of the institution in that ancient commonwealth was
proposed, earnestly debated, eloquently urged, and at last
defeated, with a minority ominously large in its favor.
Warned by so great a peril, and strengthened soon after-
ward by an increase in the market value of cotton and of
slaves, the slave-holding interest in all the South was
stimulated to new activity. Defenses of slavery more
audacious than had been heard before began to be uttered
by southern politicians at home and by southern represent-
atives and senators in Congress. A panic seized upon
the planters in some districts of the Southwest. Con-


spiracles and plans of insurrection were discovered.
Negroes were tortured or terrified into confessions.
Obnoxious white men were put to death without any
legal trial and in defiance of those rules of evidence which
are insisted on by southern laws. Thus a sudden and
convincing terror was spread through the South. Every
man was made to know that if he should become obnox-
ious to the guardians of the great southern ' institution '
he was liable to be denounced and murdered. It was dis-
tinctly and imperatively demanded that nobody should be
allowed to say anything anywhere against slavery. The
movement of the societies which had then been recently
formed at Boston and New York, with ' Immediate aboli-
tion ' for their motto, was made use of to stimulate the
terror and the fury of the South. . . . The position of
political parties and of candidates for the Presidency, just
at that juncture, gave special advantage to the agitators —
an advantage that was not neglected. Everything was
done that practiced demagogues could contrive to stimu-
late the South into a frenzy and to put down at once and
forever all opposition to slavery. The clergy and the
religious bodies were summoned to the patriotic duty of
committing themselves on the side of ' southern institu-
tions.' Just then it was, if we mistake not, that their
apostasy began. They dared not say that slavery as an
institution in the State is essentially an organized injustice,
and that, though the Scriptures rightly and wisely enjoin
justice and the recognition of the slaves' brotherhood upon
masters, and conscientious meekness upon slaves, the
organized injustice of the institution ought to be abolished
by the shortest process consistent with the public safety
and the welfare of the enslaved. They dared not even
keep silence under the plea that the institution is political
and therefore not to be meddled with by religious bodies
or rehgious persons. They yielded to the demand. They
were carried along in the current of the popular frenzy;
they joined in the clamor, ' Great is Diana of the Ephe-
sians;' they denounced the fanaticism of abolition and


permitted themselves to be understood as certifying, in
the name of reHgion and of Christ, that the entire institu-
tion of slavery ' as it exists ' is chargeable with no injus-
tice and is warranted by the word of God,"^

There is no good reason to question the genuineness
and sincerity of the fears expressed by the slave-holding
population as a justification of their violent measures for
the suppression of free speech in relation to slavery ; nor
of their belief that the papers and prints actively dissemi-
nated from the antislavery press in Boston were fitted, if
not distinctly intended, to kindle bloody insurrections.
These terrors were powerfully pleaded in the great debate
in the Virginia legislature as an argument for the abolition
of slavery.- This failing, they became throughout the
South a constraining power for the suppression of free
speech, not only on the part of outsiders, but among the
southern people themselves. The regime thus introduced
was, in the strictest sense of the phrase, " a reign of ter-
ror." The universal lockjaw which thenceforth forbade
the utterance of what had so recently and suddenly ceased
to be the unanimous religious conviction of the southern
church soon produced an " unexampled unanimity " on the
other side, broken only when some fiery and indomitable
abolitionist Hke Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge, of the Pres-
byterian Church in Kentucky, delivered his soul with in-
vectives against the system of slavery and the new-fangled
apologies that had been devised to defend it, declaring it
" utterly indefensible on every correct human principle,
and utterly abhorrent from every law of God," and ex-
claiming, " Out upon such folly ! The man who cannot
see that involuntary domestic slavery, as it exists among
us, is founded on the principle of taking by force that

1 "New Englander," vol. xii., 1854, pp. 660, 661.

2 Wilson, " The Slave Power," vol. i., pp. 190-207.


which is another's has simply no moral sense, . . . He-
reditary slavery is without pretense, except in avowed
rapacity."' Of course the antislavery societies which,
under various names, had existed in the South by hun-
dreds were suddenly extinguished, and manumissions,
which had been going on at the rate of thousands in a
year, almost entirely ceased.

The strange and swiftly spreading moral epidemic did
not stop at State boundary lines. At the North the main
cause of defection was not, indeed, directly operative.
There was no danger there of servile insurrection. But
there was true sympathy for those who lived under the
shadow of such impending horrors, threatening alike the
guilty and the innocent. There was a deep passion of
honest patriotism, now becoming alarmed lest the threats
of disunion proceeding from the terrified South should
prove a serious peril to the nation in whose prosperity the
hopes of the world seemed to be involved. There was a
worthy solicitude lest the bonds of intercourse between the
churches of North and South should be ruptured and so
the integrity of the nation be the more imperiled. Withal
there was a spreading and deepening and most reasonable
disgust at the reckless ranting of a little knot of antislavery
men having their headquarters at Boston, who, exulting in
their irresponsibility, scattered loosely appeals to men's
vindictive passions and filled the unwilling air with clam-
ors against church and ministry and Bible and law and
government, denounced as " pro-slavery " all who decHned
to accept their measures or their persons, and, arrogating to
themselves exclusively the name of abolitionist, made that
name, so long a title of honor, to be universally odious.^

1 "Biblical Repertory," Princeton, July, 1833, pp. 294, 295, 303.

2 The true story of Mr. William Lloyd Garrison and his little party has yet
to be written faithfully and fully. As told by his family and friends and by
himself, it is a monstrous falsification of history. One of the best sources of


These various factors of public opinion were actively
manipulated. Political parties competed for the southern
vote. Commercial houses competed for southern busi-
ness. Religious sects, parties, and societies were emulous
in conciliating southern adhesions or contributions and
averting schisms. The condition of success in any of
these cases was well understood to be concession, or at
least silence, on the subject of slavery. The pressure of
motives, some of which were honorable and generous, was
everywhere, like the pressure of the atmosphere. It was
not strange that there should be defections from right-
eousness. Even the enormous effrontery of the slave
power in demanding for its own security that the rule of
tyrannous law and mob violence by which freedom of
speech and of the press had been extinguished at the
South should be extended over the so-called free States
did not fail of finding citizens of reputable standing so
base as to give the demand their countenance, their public
advocacy, and even their personal assistance. As the
subject emerged from time to time in the religious com-
munity, the questions arising were often confused and
embarrassed by false issues and illogical statements, and
the state of opinion was continually misrepresented through
the incurable habit of the over-zealous in denouncing as
" pro-slavery " those who dissented from their favorite
formulas. But after all deductions, the historian who
shall by and by review this period with the advantage of
a longer perspective will be compelled to record not a few
lamentable defections, both individual and corporate, from

authentic material for this chapter of history is " James G. Birney and his
Times," by General William Birney, pp. 269-331. I may also refer to my
volume, " Irenics and Polemics " (New York, the Christian Literature Co.),
pp. 145-202. The sum of the story is given thus, in the words of Charles
Sumner: " An omnibus-load of Boston abolitionists has done more harm to
the antislavery cause than all its enemies" (" Birney," p. 331).


the cause of freedom, justice, and humanity. And, never-
theless, that later record will also show that while the
southern church had been terrified into " an unexampled
unanimity " in renouncing the principles which it had
unanimously held, and while like causes had wrought
potently upon northern sentiment, it was the steadfast
fidelity of the Christian people that saved the nation from
ruin. At the end of thirty years from the time when the
soil of Missouri was devoted to slavery the " Kansas-
Nebraska Bill " was proposed, which should open for the
extension of slavery the vast expanse of national territory
which, by the stipulation of the " Missouri Compromise,"
had been forever consecrated to freedom. The issue of
the extension of slavery was presented to the people in its
simplicity. The action of the clergy of New England was
prompt, spontaneous, emphatic, and practically unanimous.
Their memorial, with three thousand and fifty signatures,
protested against the bill, " in the name of Almighty God
and in his presence," as " a great moral wrong; as a breach
of faith eminently injurious to the moral principles of the
community and subversive of all confidence in national
engagements; as a measure full of danger to the peace
and even the existence of our beloved Union, and expos-
ing us to the just judgments of the Almighty." In like
manner the memorial of one hundred and fifty-one clergy-
men of various denominations in New York City and
vicinity protested in like terms, " in the name of religion
and humanity," against the guilt of the extension of slav-
ery. Perhaps there has been no occasion on which the
consenting voice of the entire church has been so solemnly
uttered on a question of public morahty, and this in the
very region in which church and clergy had been most
stormily denounced by the little handful of abolitionists


who gloried in the name of infidel ^ as recreant to justice
and humanity.

The protest of the church was of no avail to defeat the
machination of demagogues. The iniquitous measure was
carried through. But this was not the end ; it was only
the beginning of the end. Yet ten years, and American
slavery, through the mad folly of its advocates and the
steadfast fidelity of the great body of the earnestly re-
ligious people of the land, was swept away by the tide of

The long struggle of the American church against
drunkenness as a social and public evil begins at an early
date. One of the thirteen colonies, Georgia, had the pro-
hibition of slavery and of the importation of spirituous
liquors incorporated by Oglethorpe in its early and short-
lived constitution. It would be interesting to discover, if
we could, to what extent the rigor of John Wesley's dis-
cipline against both these mischiefs was due to his associ-
ation with Oglethorpe in the founding of that latest of the
colonies. Both the imperious nature of Wesley and the
peculiar character of his fraternity as being originally not
a church, but a voluntary society within the church, pre-
disposed to a policy of arbitrary exclusiveness by hard
and fast lines drawn according to formula, which might
not have been ventured on by one who was consciously
drawing up the conditions of communion in the church.
In the Puritan colonies the public morals in respect to
temperance were from the beginning guarded by salutary
license laws devised to suppress all dram-shops and tip-
pling-houses, and to prevent, as far as law could wisely
undertake to prevent, all abusive and mischievous sales of

1 Birney, p. 321.


liquor. But these indications of a sound public sentiment
did not prevent the dismal fact of a wide prevalence of
drunkenness as one of the distinguishing characteristics of
American society at the opening of the nineteenth century.
Two circumstances had combined to aggravate the national
vice. Seven years of army life, with its exhaustion and
exposure and military social usage, had initiated into
dangerous drinking habits many of the most justly influ-
ential leaders of society, and the example of these had set
the tone for all ranks. Besides this, the increased impor-
tation and manufacture of distilled spirits had made it
easy and common to substitute these for the mild fer-
mented liquors which had been the ordinary drink of the
people. Gradually and unobserved the nation had settled
down into a slough of drunkenness of which it is difificult
for us at this date to form a clear conception. The words
of Isaiah concerning the drunkards of Ephraim seem not
too strong to apply to the condition of American society,
that " all tables were full of vomit and filthiness." In the
prevalence of intemperate drinking habits the clergy had
not escaped the general infection. " The priest and the
prophet had gone astray through strong drink." Individ-
ual words of warning, among the earliest of which was the
classical essay of Dr. Benjamin Rush (1785), failed to
arouse general attention. The new century was well ad-
vanced before the stirring appeals of Ebenezer Porter,
Lyman Beecher, Heman Humphrey, and Jeremiah Evarts
had awakened in the church any eflfectual conviction of sin
in the matter. The appointment of a strong committee,
in 181 1, by the Presbyterian General Assembly was
promptly followed by like action by the clergy of Massa-
chusetts and Connecticut, leading to the formation of
State societies. But general concerted measures on a
scale commensurate with the evil to be overcome must be


dated from the organization of the " American Society for
the Promotion of Temperance," in 1826. The first aim of
the reformers of that day was to break down those dom-
ineering social usages which almost enforced the habit of
drinking in ordinary social intercourse. The achievement
of this object was wonderfully swift and complete. A
young minister whose pastorate had begun at about the
same time with the organizing of the national temperance
society was able at the end of five years to bear this testi-
mony in the presence of those who were in a position to
recognize any misstatement or exaggeration :

" The wonderful change which the past five years have
witnessed in the manners and habits of this people in re-
gard to the use of ardent spirits — the new phenomenon of
an intelligent people rising up, as it were, with one con-
sent, witliout law, without any attempt at legislation, to
put down by the mere force of public opinion, expressing
itself in voluntary associations, a great social evil which
no despot on earth could have put down among his sub-
jects by any system of efforts — has excited admiration
and roused to imitation not only in our sister country of
Great Britain, but in the heart of continental Europe." ^

It is worthy of remark, for any possible instruction there
may be in it, that the first, greatest, and most permanent
of the victories of the temperance reformation, the
breaking down of almost universal social drinking usages,
was accomplished while yet the work was a distinctively
religious one, " without law or attempt at legislation," and
while the efforts at suppression were directed at the use
of ardent spirits. The attempt to combine the friends of
temperance on a basis of "teetotal" abstinence, putting
fermented as well as distilled liquors under the ban, dates
from as late as 1836.

1 Sermon of L. Bacon (MS.), New Haven, July 4, 1830.


But it soon appeared that the immense gain of banish-
ing ardent spirits from the family table and sideboard,
the social entertainment, the haying field, and the factory
had not been attained without some corresponding loss.
Close upon the heels of the reform in the domestic and
social habits of the people there was spawned a monstrous
brood of obscure tippling-shops — a nuisance, at least in
New England, till then unknown. From the beginning
wise and effective license laws had interdicted all dram-
shops ; even the taverner might sell spirits only to his
transient guests, not to the people of the town. With the
suppression of social drinking there was effected, in spite
of salutary law to the contrary, a woeful change. The
American " saloon " was, in an important sense, the off-
spring of the American temperance reformation. The
fact justified the reformer in turning his attention to the
law. From that time onward the history of the temper-
ance reformation has included the history of multitudi-
nous experiments in legislation, none of which has been so
conclusive as to satisfy all students of the subject that any
later law is, on the whole, more usefully effective than the
original statutes of the Puritan colonies.^

In 1840 the temperance reformation received a sudden
forward impulse from an unexpected source. One even-
ing a group of six notoriously hard drinkers, coming
together greatly impressed from a sermon of that noted
evangelist. Elder Jacob Knapp, pledged themselves by
mutual vows to total abstinence ; and from this beginning
went forward that extraordinary agitation known as " the
Washingtonian movement." Up to this time the aim of
the reformers had been mainly directed to the prevention

1 " Eastern and Western States of America," by J. S. Buckingham, M. P.,
vol. i., pp. 408-413.


of drunkenness by a change in social customs and personal
habits. Now there was suddenly opened a door of hope
to the almost despair of the drunkard himself. The
lately reformed drunkards of Baltimore set themselves
to the reforming of other drunkards, and these took up
the work in their turn, and reformation was extended in
a geometrical progression till it covered the country.
Everywhere meetings were held, to be addressed by
reformed drunkards, and new recruits from the gutter
were pushed forward to tell their experience to the admir-
ing public, and sent out on speaking tours. The people
were stirred up as never before on the subject of temper-
ance. There was something very Christian-like in the
method of this propagation, and hopeful souls looked for-
ward to a temperance millennium as at hand. But fatal
faults in the work soon discovered themselves. Among
the new evangelists were not a few men of true penitence
and humility, like John Hawkins, and one man at least
of incomparable eloquence as well as Christian earnestness,
John B. Gough. But the public were not long in finding
that merely to have wallowed in vice and to be able to
tell ludicrous or pathetic stories from one's experience was
not of itself sufficient qualification for the work of a public
instructor in morals. The temperance platform became
infested with swaggering autobiographers, whose glory
was in their shame, and whose general influence was dis-
tinctly demoralizing. The sudden influx of the tide of
enthusiasm was followed by a disastrous ebb. It was the
estimate of Mr. Gough that out of six hundred thousand
reformed drunkards not less than four hundred and fifty
thousand had relapsed into vice. The same observer, the
splendor of whose eloquence was well mated with an un-
usual sobriety of judgment, is credited with the statement


that he knew of no case of stable reformation from drunk-
enness that was not connected with a thorough spiritual
renovation and conversion.

Certainly good was accomplished by the transient whirl-
wind of the " Washingtonian " excitement. But the evil
that it did lived after it. Already at the time of its break-
ing forth the temperance reformation had entered upon
that period of decadence in which its main interest was to
be concentrated upon law and politics. And here the
vicious ethics of the reformed- drunkard school became
manifest. The drunkard, according to his own account of
himself (unless he was not only reformed, but repentant),
had been a victim of circumstances. Drunkenness, in-
stead of a base and beastly sin, was an infirmity incident
to a high-strung and generous temperament. The blame
of it was to be laid, not upon the drunkard, whose exqui-
sitely susceptible organization was quite unable to resist
temptation coming in his way, but on those who put in-
toxicating liquor where he could get at it, or on the State,
whose duty it was to put the article out of the reach of
its citizens. The guilt of drunkenness must rest, not on
the unfortunate drunkard who happened to be attacked
by that disease, but on the sober and well-behaving citi-
zen, and especially the Christian citizen, who did not vote
the correct ticket.

What may be called the Prohibition period of the tem-
perance reformation begins about 1850 and still continues.
It is characterized by the pursuit of a type of legislation
of variable efficacy or inefficacy, the essence of which is
that the sale of intoxicating liquors shall be a monopoly
of the government.^ Indications begin to appear that the

1 By a curious anomaly in church polity, adhesion to this particular device
of legislation is made constitutionally a part of the discipline of the Metho-
dist Episcopal Church. In most other communions liberty of judgment is
permitted as to the form of legislation best fitted to the end sought.


disproportionate devotion to measures of legislation and
politics is abating. Some of the most effective recent
labor for the promotion of temperance has been wrought
independently of such resort. If the cycle shall be com-
pleted, and the church come back to the methods by
which its first triumphs in this field were won, it will come
back the wiser and the stronger for its vicissitudes of ex-
perience through these threescore years and ten.



During the period from 1835 to 1845 the spirit of
schism seemed to be in the air. In this period no one
of the larger organizations of churches was free from
agitating controversies, and some of the most important
of them were rent asunder by explosion.

At the time when the Presbyterian Church suffered its
great schism, in 1837, it was the most influential religious
body in the United States. In 120 years its solitary
presbytery had grown to 135 presbyteries, including 2140
ministers serving 2865 churches and 220,557 communi-
cants. But these large figures are an inadequate measure
of its influence. It represented in its ministry and mem-
bership the two most masterful races on the continent,
the New England colonists and the Scotch- Irish immi-
grants ; and the tenacity with which it had adhered to the
tradition derived through both these lines, of admitting
none but liberally educated men to its ministry, had given
it exceptional social standing and control over men of in-
tellectual strength and leadership. In the four years
beginning with 183 1 the additions to its roll of communi-
cants " on examination " had numbered nearly one hun-
dred thousand. But this spiritual growth was chilled
and stunted by the dissensions that arose. The revivals
ceased and the membership actually dwindled.


The contention had grown (a fact not without parallel
in church history) out of measures devised in the interest
of cooperation and union. In 1 801, in the days of its
comparative feebleness, the General Assembly had pro-
posed to the General Association of Connecticut a " Plan
of Union " according to which the communities of New
England Christians then beginning to move westward
between the parallels that bound " the New England
zone," and bringing with them their accustomed Congre-

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 23 of 34)