Lucius C Matlack.

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Antislavery Struggle



By rev. L. C. MATLACK, D.D.










Copyrii^ht, iS8i, by


New York.

STo tje ii^Blemoru of





nP^URUSTG the session of the General Conference
-^ of the Methodist Episcopal Chnrch, held in
Baltimore, Md., May, 1876, the following communi-
cation was placed in my hand, which was the imme-
diate occasion for writing this volume. The pur-
pose had not been contemplated. The responsibility
belongs to those whose words are given below.

Rev. L. C. Matlack, D.D. :

Dear Brother: A full and impartial history of the

antislavery struggle in the Methodist Episcopal Church has

never been written. We believe that such a work would

be of great interest and permanent value ; and that you

have peculiar facilities for writing it. The interest we feel

in this matter, and our desire that justice may be done to

the Abolitionists of our Church, prompt us to express the

hope that you may be able to prepare such a work at an

early day.

R. M. Hatfield,

R. S. Rust,

William Rice,

Gilbert Haven,

Daniel Curry,

C. H. Fowler,

Thomas W. Price.

General Conference Eoom, i

Baltimore, Md., May 23, 1876. )

6 Preface.

After a few days' deliberation upon the matter,
I replied, consenting to undertake the task thus
assigned to me. The duties of the pastorate and
the preparation for pulpit services have allowed
onl}^ occasional hours of leisure in which to prepare
the manuscript for the press. Being in no haste,
and desiring to do justice to the subject — if prac-
ticable for me at all — it w^as necessary to j)rolong
the time of its accomplishment. 'Now to my task.

The subject of slavery has ceased to be an excit-
ing question. A general agreement has succeeded
the former dissensions attendant upon its discussion,
only a few years ago, in both civil and ecclesiastical
bodies. And this is so, because in America slavery
has ceased to be a fact. It is now only a memory,
ke^Dt painfully vivid with its victims by the spirit
of caste which remains in both Church and State.

The relations which American slavery sustained
with the Churches, as w^ell as with the government,
of the United States, during and preceding the
century just closed, were so friendly and so con-
trolling, that the record of it must ever be an essen-
tial feature of current history. American Church
history, with no record pertaining to slavery, is
necessarily incomplete. And to have made no an-
tislavery history is a positive reproach upon the
Christian integrity of any Church in the United

This is not the case with the Methodist Episcopal
Church. Hitherto her history in connection with

Peeface. Y

slavery has liad no adequate record. The necessary
facts lie spread over the pages of numerous vol-
umes of history, minutes, and periodicals. A single
volume is needed, which shall contain satisfactory
answers to the questionings of those who shall follow
us in the coming years.

It is not, however, required that all the facts
from every source should be gathered into one huge
volume. It is only necessary that these facts
pass under careful review for classification and gen-
eralized statement ; and that a narration thereof
sliould be framed, if possible, which shall be fully
authenticated, condensed, clear, and sufficiently at-
tractive to invite and hold attention.

For such a narrative there is abundant material
at command. How well it has been combined in
this work the reader has now an opportunity to
determine. The scope, or field of observation em-
braced, covers four periods in the order now indi-
cated : A preliminary period, anterior to American
Methodism, when slavery was rooted and grounded
in our land by the agency of Euroj)ean and Amer-
ican Christians ; a primary period, during which
the fathers of Methodism unsparingly denounced
and prohibited slavery ; the period of toleration,
in which their sons, however illegally, allowed and
practiced slavery ; and, finally, the period of extir-
pation, Vv'hen, for almost thirty years, the grandsons
of our fathers warred with slavery until a glorious
victory crowned their efforts.

8 Preface.

Tlie many years covered by this history, the am-
ple record of facts included, the extended discussion
involved, might have warranted the production of a
large quarto volume. But a concise statement of
essential facts in a smaller number of pages, with the
hope of a larger circulation, was deemed preferable.

To tell the story of this struggle with slavery,
which continued during the first century of Amer-
ican Methodism ; to supplement the history of our'
Church with a chapter from the antislavery records
of those times ; and to honor both the heroic defend-
ers of primitive Methodism and the people who ac-
cepted so heartily the platform of 17Y4, as laid down
in " Wesley's Thoughts on Slavery," is the ambition
of the writer of "The Antislavery Struggle and


AHISTOKY of tlie relations of the Methodist
Episcopal Church to the origin, existence, and
destruction of slavery will generally be considered as
a required part of our Church literature. It seemed
quite proper that the writer should be one versed in
all that might be esteemed wrong in the connection
of the Church therewith, and yet morally competent
to treat the whole subject with Christian candor. An
" original abolitionist," excluded from our ministerial
orders on account of his persistence, Dr. Matlack had
about as good a right to complain and reproach us as
any body, and when he is selected as the historian by
the Church, a readiness is shown to have the severer
view fairly presented. All will concede that he nar-
rates with unflinching explicitness, yet with passion-
less calmness and candor. He does not find it nec-
essary, as did an Albert Barnes or a Judge Jay, in
the heat of the battle, to vituperate the Church
in order to correct and deter her from wrong ; nor
like later maligners, after the battle is over, to avail
himself of the occasion to serve the cause of skepti-
cism and irreligion. He seeks to present the views of
both sides fairly ; he shows that antislaveryism arose
from the religious consciousness of men, that Meth-
odist antislaveryism in its latest form was the true off-
spring of her early and permanent record, and that

10 Introduction.

Methodism, in spite of many an unhappy concession
to slavery, has an antislavery history of her own of
which she may be justly proud.

But while we cheerfully concede to an "original
abolitionist" the office of historiographer, it seems
right (as no one will more cordially concede than him-
self ) that the counter side should also be allowed to
state its apology and justification. The writer of this
Introduction was an original opposer of the Garri-
sonian movement, and of Mr. Garrison himself.
Looking back from tlie pedestal of the j)resent to that
distant period of more than half a century, he
approves that opposition. Fully appreciating the
martyr-like heroism of Mr. Garrison and his followers,
fully acknowledging their royal adherence to their
views of truth and duty, and never reading their story,
as usually narrated by themselves, without a very
ready sympathy, we think now, as we thought then,
that the wisdom of the movement, in the style in
which it was conducted, was more than questionable.
At the start of that movement, while there was a gen-
eral quietude on the subject of slavery, there was
little conscious pro-slaveryism l^orth or South. " Slav-
ery in the abstract," as it was called, was universally
condemned. Especially with the conscientious Chris-
tian community, and most especially with Methodism,
there was underlying all this quietude and quandary
as to what could be done a protest against its exist-
ence, and an assumption that it was but temporary.
When Garrisonism rung out its "fire-bell in the
night" there were millions unprepared for its ]3eal
and doubting the certainty of its sounds. The move-
ment was started by men who had little at stake in
the existing order of society, and the alarm was felt

Introductiox. 11

by the great body of those who had much to lose in a
coining convulsion. The great aggregate of the
weighty, wise, and good, stood in the opposition.
They believed that slavery was a moral and j)olitical
evil; bnt they also believed that somehow^ it was
temporary, and that rash measures would both per-
petuate the evil and produce other evils of incal-
culable magnitude. But as the battle waxed warm,
and the slave-power, in self-defense, became bold and
announced a claim to perpetuity and even supremacy,
thousands after thousands felt compelled to join the
antislavery ranks, and to demand, first, the limitation
of slavery, and finally to claim its immediate extir-

It is of the first importance for us fully to realize
that the abolition movement was, in fact, an utter
moral failure. It is a signal, popular illusion that
original abolitionism was a great, successful moral re-
form. This error is propagated with much magnil-
oquence by Mr. Garrison's latest biographer. You
would think from the ordinary story that slavery was
abolished by moral suasion, and that essentially by the
Garrisonian programme. Quite the reverse. All
Mr. Garrison did was to madden the slave-holders and
bring on a war. The war might have created a slave
empire and have perpetuated the system forever.
The abolition was not a moral achievement but a war
measure. Had the slave-power stood solid yet calm,
maintaining its silent position and making no aggres-
sions, slavery would, to all appearance, be standing at
this hour, perhaps the stronger for the opposition.

I^or did the alternative then before the conscien-
tious inquirer lie between Garrisonism and nothing.
Before his movement the Colonization Society ex-

12 Introduction.

isted, claiming to be, thougli a slow, yet a hopeful
remedy for slavery. To it, we are told by Mr. G.'s
biographer, '' every rill of antislavery feeling flowed."
Organically, indeed, it did not claim to interfere with
slavery. It assumed that there was no practicable
hojDe for the elevation of the negro in America. But
it pointed to his ancestral home in Africa, and main-
tained that, restored to the land of his fathers, a new
civilization might there be by him built up, which
w^ould vindicate the negro character and equalize him
ultimately with the Caucasian. This would react to
elevate the negro in America. Meanwhile the society
proposed to render emancipation easy by furnishing a
desirable home for the emancij^ated. Government
aid might give a stupendous magnitude to the move-
ment. And all the while the agents and friends of
colonization were able to freely discuss the subject
throughout the South, interesting the Southern peo-
ple in plans for emancipation. It was the o^mers of
the slave who were expected, even by Southerners, to
surrender the slave by deliberate, peaceful, and ulti-
mately advantageous process. The vacancies of pop-
ulation were to be filled up by a Caucasian immigra-
tion ; and thus, by a happy but slow and conservative
series of measures, slavery was to fade away, Africa
be civilized, America be harmonized, and the millen-
nium be approximated. We freely affirm that we
were more fascinated by this picture than by any
product of Mr. Garrison's artistic pencil. And even
now in the retrospect we prefer the peaceful to the
bloody way. Could half the expenditure laid out
upon our late civil war, and half the heroism and self-
sacrifice on both sides displayed — to say nothing of
devastations and desolations committed, fierce and

Intkodcctiox. 13

diabolic passioDs aroused, and historic scars inflicted
— have been exerted in colonization and peaceful
emancipation, we calmly believe that 1950 would
have found a happier situation of both races and both
continents than will now be presented. This, how-
ever, is a problem too vast for human solution. The
actual result is indeed worth all it cost. It may be that
the bloody way alone had victory and freedom at its
end. It is suflicient for our present purpose to make
clear the fact that there were two sides to the ques-
tion, before which the Christian, the humanitarian,
and the Church might well pause ; and that the poet-
ico - rhetorical denunciations poured by such writers
as Mr. Oliver Johnson on those whom he calls " the
leaders of the popular Christianity of the day," are
written in the interests of semi-infidelity.

Had Mr. Garrison and his followers manifested a due
degree of wisdom, these two ways need not have been
antagonistic. Such, as we learn by the late biography
of Dr. Channing, was his view. Such certainly was
the view of the writer of these lines, expressed in an
address delivered before a colonization society at Mid-
dletown, July 4, 1834. ^' In brief, the proposition of
the emancipationist is, to induce the Southerner to
immediately free his slaves. The proposition of the
colonizationist is, to offer to all who are freed the
opportunity and facilities of a spontaneous voluntary
emigration to the land from which the slave has been
stolen. 'Now, upon the first flush one is inclined to
ask. What is there incompatible in these two plans ?
If the emancipationist has any means of peaceably in-
ducing the Southerner to manumit the slave, why not
apply himself to it, and allow the colonizationist, in his
own sphere, to complete the benefaction by restoring

14 Introduction.

every manumited slave, who desires it, to the land of
his ancestry ? Will the emancipationist reiterate the
stale objection, that colonization timidly leaves the
relation of master and slave undisturbed, and so aban-
dons the poor negro to the cruelty of his oppressor ?
Then let him apply himself, not to destroy the benefit
of colonization, but to supply the field of benevolence
which it leaves untouched. What should we say,
were the Bible Society to denounce the missionary
scheme, because it inijjiously supported the plan of
evangelizing the world by mere fallible men, and left
the benighted heathen to perish for the want of the
volume of inspiration? In both cases, each society
has, and should have, without impeding the other, its
own sphere of operation."

It was Mr. Garrison who opened the war between
the two methods by a public onslaught upon the Col-
onization Society. "He pronounced the society a
'conspiracy against human rights;' he asserted that
' the superstructure of the society rests upon the fol-
lowing pillars: 1. Persecution; 2. Falsehood; 3. Cow-
ardice ; 4. Infidelity.' ' If,' said he, ' I do not prove
the Colonization Society to be a creature without
brains, eyeless, unnatural, hypocritical, relentless, and
unjust, let me be covered with confusion of face.' "
Such is a fair specimen of Mr. Garrison's fervid rhet-
oric. His spirit breathed an exasperation into the
whole contest which auspicated strife and bloodshed
from the beginning. As the plan and purpose of
colonizationism were comprehensive, enabling it to
unite in one organic enterprise both [Northerners and
Southerners, men of various shades of o]3inion, so
many of the utterances in the sj^eeches and other
documents of the society were truly objectionable,

Intboduction. 1 5

and on these utterances most of Mr. G.'s assaults were
grounded. The real value of the objective enterprise
it proposed was never disproved. Yet in the course
of the contest that society became a rallying point of
the most violent pro-slavery men, men who cared
nothing for its real principles, but availed themselves
of the respectability of its flag to cover their own in-
human baseness. In the convulsive strifes that ensued
the way of colonization and peace receded to the back-
ground, and was forgotten. Keluctantly, yet surely,
both sides were marching to the final arbitrament of
the sword. The refusal of the Churches to put them-
selv^es under the dubious leadership of Mr. G., happily
retarded this arbitrament ; and, what is an all-import-
ant point, retarded the crisis until the North had be-
come powerful enough to meet it triumphantly.

About 1834 we put the question to Dr. Wilbur
risk, who had resided in the South : " Suppose the
entire ministry and Churches and 2>eople of the ISTorth
had at once become Garrisonian with perfect unanim-
ity, what would have been the result ? " He promptly
replied in substance : " The result would be that the
South would be equally unanimous on the other side ;
war would ensue and an independent slave empire
would be established." We could hardly believe it.
But we think from our now past experience our every
reader will respond that Dr. Fisk foretold the " Solid
South." Had the vjhole North in 1834 hecome Gar-
risonian^ a Southern slave nation would now he onr
neighhor at the South. For at that time the South
was far nearer equality in fighting power with the
North, and could easily, at any rate, have defended
herself and maintained her own territory. The re-
fusal, therefore, of the Churches to hear Mr. Garrison

16 Introduction.

in tnitli prevented the perpetuity of slavery in its
worst form, and so postponed the conflict that slavery
was finally destroyed. ISTay, we can put a stronger
case. Whatever the Churches may have done, the
Democratic party, true to its historical instincts, would
have solidly united with the Solid South. It has
been often said by our Abolition friends that " if the
ministers would only come right all would come
right." It is a most idiotic proposition. The Demo-
cratic party has ever gloried in not being priest-gov-
erned ; and its antagonism against a solid antislavery
clergy would have been as violent as solid. In the
consequent war there then would have been a Solid
South against a divided North. In the contest of
arms the South would have conquered. The limita-
tions of slavery would have been abolished, and Boston
would have been as completely under the slave-power
as Charleston.

Alarmed at the progress and infuriated by the
boldness of the Abolitionists, the slave-power became
menacing and fatally aggressive. To maintain one
great despotism it became necessary to threaten every
other liberty ^N'orth and South, and it grew gradually
evident that the rights, not only of the southern slave
but of the northern freeman, were at stake. As this
grew clear the ranks of antislaveryism grew thicker
and stronger. Our General Conference of 1844 dis-
closed to us the fact that complete surrender was de-
manded by the South. All barriers were to be broken
down and slavery was to become perpetual and su-
preme. Old opponents of "abolitionism," (like the
writer of these lines,) who were nevertheless oppo-
nents of slavery, in increasing numbers took their
stand ; at first in favor of limiting its territory, and

Introduction. 17

finally for driving it out of existence, at whatever

From these views it w^ill be seen that while w^e
accord all praise to the original Abolitionists in the
Methodist Episcopal Church, we award quite as much
praise to those who at first manfully opposed the
early movement. Mr. Garrison's admirers largely
expatiate on the supposed fact that no clergyman
would ofiiciate at the first meeting of the Abolitionists
in Boston ; and we have elsewhere declared, and here
repeat the declaration, that we would have refused
so to ofiiciate, and would now indorse that refusal.
Xot only did the Christian ministry show a proper
self-respect in declining such a leadership, but their
reserve delayed the contest Vv'hich the movement
would have precipitated until the IN^orth was powerful
enough to secure the victory of freedom.

The relations and dealings of the Protestant Churches
with slavery would be very likely to depend very
much upon the strength of their organic connection
with the South. The Congregational and Unitarian
communions being Northern only, could readily with-
out fracture become antislavery. The Episcopal
Church, on the other hand, was practically indifferent
to the existence of the oppressive system. While
Dr. Matlack well shows that in spite of every conces-
sion made to slavery, the Methodist Episcopal Church,
the most massily organic Protestant Church in Amer-
ica, has the most pronounced record of all. From
the very earliest period she had been avowedly hostile
to the existence of slavery. Her disciplinary declara-
tions, though modified and minified, ever remained,
pronouncing slavery a great " evil " destined to " ex-
tirpation," placing a ban upon the ministerial slave-

18 Introduction.

holder, and denouncing the " buying and selling " as
a mortal sin, were never removed until emancipation
evacuated their signihcance. Kor were they a dead
letter. The argument of freedom in 1844 was based
upon our old and permanent antislavery platform.
And Dr. Matlack and other original Methodi^^t Abo-
litionists, whether remaining in the Church or seced-
ing from it, grounded themselves upon the old tradi-
tions and entire history of the Church. Underlying
all the yieldings to the slave-power during the con-
cessive period, there was a powerful protest that for-
bade us to concede the right or the perpetuity of
slavery. And that protest, though often overridden,
w^as never dead or powerless.

It is easy for the present generation to condemn
without jury the good and holy men who made those
concessions. The leaders of Methodism truly believed
they were securing all the good possible without in-
curring an overbalancing evil. They had quadren-
nially met their southern brethren in General Con-
ference discussion, and believed they most truly
understood both sides of the subject, and had made a
platform on which alone the Church could rest with-
out danger to both the unity of the Church and the
peace of the country. On that platform the South
conceded that slavery was " evil " and destined to
" extirpation," and the North was to wait some peace-
ful method by which, under a gracious Providence
and the law of humanitarian progress, the "evil"
should disappear. Neither side defended slavery as
right or to be perpetual. The authorities of north-
ern Methodism, including the General Conference
men, the episcopacy, and the press, were, therefore,
unanimous for a common concurrence on the agreed

Introduction. 1

platform. The old antislaveiy doctrine was to be
retained, but the new " modern abolitionism," as it
was called, was to be rejected. We believe that all
this was justifiable so long as the agreement remained
that slavery was to be .temporary, and so long as the
churchly authorities confined themselves to the use
of only persuasions. But when they concurred so
far with the anti-abolition violences of the hour as to
withhold ordination and inflict ministerial suspension v^
upon ministerial Abolitionists, their course was des-
potic and auicidal. The arraignments of the Aboli-
tionists before the Conference clothed them Avith the
sacredness of martyrdom, and awakened misgivings,
spoken and unspoken, that this crushing of the free-
dom of speech was a very serious concession to such
a system as American slavery. Every such move-
ment was a generator of new abolitionism.

But to enter more fully into the consciousness of
these venerated men we must realize the advance-
ment of the slave-power produced by the cotton
monopoly. That singular potentate, the cotton-
power, began to fancy itself holding the world at its
feet. It had growing visions of a great southern slave
empire, chivalrous, aristocratic, and warlike, which ^
could in time show to the world a right royal history.
It was growing to hold the bonds of " the Union " as
of far less value than the fetters of slavedom. It was
beginning to feel that only so long as it could rule the

Online LibraryLucius C MatlackThe antislavery struggle and triumph in the Methodist Episcopal church → online text (page 1 of 28)