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General conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1792 to 1896 online

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out single preacher.

"2. That no sum exceeding one hundred and twenty-eight dol-
lars shall be applied to the use of an itinerant, superannuated, or
worn-out married preacher."

The maximum allowance of the widow of a preacher was
fixed at sixt3^-four dollars and of a dependent orphan at six-
teen dollars a year. (Sherman, History of Discipline, p. 252.)

It was at the General Conference of 179G that the
Chartered Fund was projected, to relieve "necessitous cases''
among the traveling preachers who had been employed on
fields that were particularly poor. A preamble and resolution
on this subject, adopted at the General Conference of 1896,
contains two facts worthy of permanent record.



The Ministry. ' 269

The following paper, presented by (Rev.) W. M. Swindells,
of Philadelphia, was adopted:

"Whereas, The Cliarterecl Fund, organized in 179G, has com-
pleted a century of its beneficence, and, although its capital is only
about ,1^50,000, it has declared in dividends to conference claimants
a sum three times the amount of its capital stocli; therefore,

''Resolved, That this General Conference recommends that dur-
ing the year 189G each pastor of each charge in the Church shall
so present the benevolent features of the fund to his congregation
that its capital stock may be increased to a sum worthy of the
cause and creditable to the Church." (Journal of General Confer-
ence of 189G, page 100.)

In 1832 the General Conference ordered an annual collec-
tion in all the congregTitions for "conference claimants/' and
an estimating committee in each annual conference, to ex-
amine into and report to the conference stewards the amount
needed by each of the claimants. The second place of honor
is given to this collection. Every preacher, on the passage
of his character at his annual conference, is required to report:
first, the amount he has raised for missions; and second, the
amount raised for conference claimants.

Previous to 1804 there had been an entrance fee of twenty
shillings, Pennsylvania currency, paid by each itinerant on
entering the ranks, but at that session this bar was let down.
Doubtless it was found that there were hindrances enough to
keep mercenary and ambitious men out of this ministry, with-
out making them pay two dollars and » sixty cents at the door.
But, once in, he must pay the twenty shillings a year "into
the charity fund of the conference, which amount, it was hoped,
would allow sixty-four dollars a year to each "worn-out
preacher,'' and nearly the same amount to the widow of a
preacher who had actually worked himself to death.

It was at the Christmas Conference that "allowances" were
first made; but by degrees the plans for the maintenance of
the preachers, the superannuates, and the widows and orphans
were recast into a chapter in the Discipline, entitled. "Min-
isterial Support." The men in actual sen^ice came at length
to sustain business relations to their people, except that in no
case where a preacher failed to receive the salary estimated for



270 The General Conference,

him by the ^'Estimating Committee"' of his charge, could he
collect the deficiency by process of law. It was, and still is,
held that a preacher takes his place at his own risk, just as
the charge takes the preacher at theirs; and under this view
it presently came to be a matter for concealment rather than
complaint on the part of a pastor who was obliged to go to
conference with a margin of his salary unpaid.

Notwithstanding the privations incident to the life of a
Methodist preacher, only once in the period between 1813
and the present time has there been a serious deficiency in
the number of men for the rapidly-growing work. At the
General Conference of 1852, held in the city of Boston, a day
of prayer was ordered to be observed "for the raising up of
more ministers." This prayer was speedily answered in the
large increase of the number of students for the ministry, so
that it soon became possible for the Church to man all its
pulpits, and to give large and valuable help to other evangelical
Churches.



CHAF>TKR III.

SLAVERY.

n^HAT word ''slavery/' which now has such immeasurable
-*- significance of sin and shame and horror and blood, has
acquired a greatly enlarged definition since the beginning of
Methodist history in America.

For the first few years that great revival movement gath-
ered the majority of its trophies in the slave states of
Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina: masters and slaves
alike coming under its heavenly power. Indeed, as Dr. Sher-
man suggests in his most careful resume of the History of
the Discipline, the success of the gospel among both these
classes came to be one of the chief embarrassments of the situ-
ation. It does not appear that colored persons were admitted
to membership of the societies on equal terms with white
people; but services were held for their especial benefit. A
few of them, among whom was Black Harry Hosier, Bishop
Asbury's faithful and eloquent servant, were allowed to act
as local preachers. Thus the good work went forward for
more than fifty years in a degree of peace and quietness, not
even broken off by that seven years' misery— to wit, the war of
the Revolution. That was a fight for liberty, it is true; but it
was liberty for white men only, and this the slaves came fully
to understand.

Those slaveholders with whom the preachers first and most
came in contact were thoughtful of the spiritual needs of their
servants; and so high was the estimate of their Christian
character that the ownership of slaves was no bar to their
membership in the Methodist societies. It was to have been
expected that the English preachers would look with dis-
pleasure upon an institution which had never existed in Great
Britain, and which was finally banished from her West India
colonies; and Bishop Coke on several occasions narrowly es-
caped personal violence for denouncing the holding of human
beings in bondage. But he was so greatlv British and so little

271



272 The General Conference.

American, and, withal, was so slightly acquainted with those
Methodists who were slaveholders, that his remarks were one-
sided, dealing with slavery in the abstract rather than with
the actually existing situation. He also made the mistake of
omitting to notice the Xew Testament directions to slaves con-
cerning their duties towards their masters, on which account
he was thought to be stirring up the Negroes to insurrection.
It was, no doubt, on this account that, after one of his anti-
slaver}^ discourses, a woman who had been in the congregation
offered to give any one fifty pounds who would take Dr. Coke
and give him a hundred lashes.

But Asbury and most of the preachers under him, although
they hated slavery from the bottom of their hearts, had at first
no serious difficulty on account of it, and in spite of it great re-
vivals of religion were enjoyed. Many good men in the south
had begun to think of slavery as a burden rather than an ad-
vantage; but it was a patriarchal institution, and was recog-
nized in the Decalogue, wherein a man-servant and a maid-
servant were specified as property, not to be coveted from one's
neighbor. It had existed in Israel, whose people were author-
ized to buy bondmen and bondmaids from the heathen nations
round about them, though not from their brethren of the house
of Jacob. Xor were there any specific commandments against
it in the New Testament; but St. Paul had commanded Timothy
to teach such servants as were "under the yoke" to ''count their
own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and
his doctrine be not blasphemed." Besides, the men of that
generation were not responsible for the existence of slavery
in America ; and since the revival wave swept over slave states as
well as free states, it is not surprising that those good men
did not feel that the holding of slaves ought to be a bar to
Christian fellowship, nor yet to the ministry of the gospel.

Even the great George Whitefield, on whose plantation and
orphanage in Georgia slavery had at first been prohibited, after-
wards sought for an amendment to his charter by: which it
should be permitted. With such a faint conscience against it
on the part of truly pious men, perhaps it is fair to conclude
that the facts concerning the institution which came to the
knowledge of the English preachers in those days were less



Slavery, 273

stirring and tragic than those which afterwards led to the
great Civil War. The first official notice of this evil appears
in the action of the annual conference held at Baltimore in
1780, as follows:

"Ques. 16. Ought not this Conference to require those traveling
preachers who hold slaves to give promise to set them free?
"Ans. Yes."

There is no accessible record as to who those traveling
preachers were who were rich enough to own Negroes; nor
vet who were the local preachers who, at sessions shortly follow-
ing that of 1780, were laid under special requirements to pro-
vide for the emancipation of their slaves in those states wdiere
the laws would admit of it.

There must have been at that period a growing anti-slavery
sentiment in the conferences, and the discussion of the subject
must have been regarded by the societies, many of which were
in slave territory, as right and proper. Hence, in the Disci-
pline of 1784 appears the following:

"Q?/es. 12. What shall we do with our friends that will buy and
sell slaves?

''Ans. If they buy with no other design than to hold them as
slaves, and have been previously warned, they shall be expelled;
and permitted to sell on no consideration.

'Viies. 13. What shall we do with our local preachers who will
not emancipate their slaves in the states where the laws admit of it?

''Ans. Try those in Virginia another year; and suspend the
preachers in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey."

Such mild measures on this question compare strangely with
the sharp penalties threatened against preachers who presumed
to celebrate the ordinances of the gospel contrary to the order
of the Prayer Book of the Church of England, and against the
members of society who distilled grain into liquor, both of
which classes of offenders were to be excommunicated and dis-
owned. In 1785 the rule against slavery was suspended; but
the rules against distillation and against meddling with the
prerogatives of the English clergy were continued.

The General Conference of 1796 restored and enlarged the
rule against slavery, including all the former provisions, and
designating the ages at which the children of slave mothers,
18



274 The General Conference.

whose future manumission had been provided for, should be
free; viz., every male at twenty-five, and every female at twenty-
one years of age. This, however, was not intended to be definite
and final, for the subject was referred to "all the yearly confer-
ences, to make whatever regulations they judge proper in this
case respecting the admission of persons to official stations in
the Church.^"

The undecided state of mind in that assembly still further
appears in the final paragraph of the chapter above quoted; in
which the preachers and members of society are "requested
to consider the subject of Xegro slavery with deep attention
till the ensuing General Conference; and' that they impart to
the General Conference any important thoughts upon the sub-
ject. But no "important thoughts" were forthcoming at the
ensuing General Conference, nor yet at that of 1804; hence in
1808 nearly all the additions to the section on slavery made in
1796 were stricken out, and the entire section ordered to be
omitted from the special edition of the Discipline which was
to be prepared for the use of the societies in South Carolina.
(Sherman's "History of the Discipline," pp. 35 and 36.)

On this mixed business Jesse Lee has the following remarks:

"These rules were but short-lived, and w^ere offensive to most
of our southern friends. . . . They were never carried into full
force. . . . The part retained iii our Discipline only relates at
present to our traveling preachers, and such other persons as are
to be brought forward to official stations in our Church. I shall
therefore take no further notice of the rules about slavery which
AYcre made at various times for twenty-four years; i. c, from the
Christmas Conference in 1784 to the last General Conference held
In 1808. For a long experience has taught us that the various rules
that have been made on this business have not been attended w^ith
that success which w^as expected." ("Short History of the Meth-
odists," page 102.)

The chapter on slavery to which Lee refers in the above
quotation, and which, with few changes, remained in the Dis-
cipline from 1824 to 1860, was as follows:

Of Slavery.
"Q?/es. What shall be done for the extirpation of the oril of
slavery ?

"J.W&-. 1. We declare that we are as much as ever convinced



Slavery. 275

of the great evil of slavery; therefore, no slaveholder shall be
eligible to any official station in our Church hereafter where the
laws of the state in which he lives will admit of emancipation, and
permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom.

*'A7<s. 2. When any traveling preacher becomes the owner of
a slave or slaves, by any means, he shall forfeit his ministerial
character in our Church, unless he execute, if it be practicable,
a legal emancipation of such slaves, conformably to the laws of
the state in which he lives."

"A«s. 5. (Added in 1S24.) All our preachers shall prudently en-
force upon our members the necessity of teaching their slaves to
read the Word of God, and to allow them to attend upon the public
worship of God on our regular days of divine service."

'Mv/s. ^. Our colored preachers and official members shall have
all the privileges which are usual to others in the district and quar-
terly conferences, where the usages of the country do not forbid it.
And the presiding elder may hold for them a separate district con-
ference where the number of colored local preachers will justify it."

"Aajs. 5. The bishops may employ colored preachers to travel and
preach when their services are judged necessary; provided, that no
one shall be so employed without having been recommended by a
quarterly conference."

That the anti-slavery sentiment was still alive appears from
the fact that at the General Conference of 1832 a committee
was appointed to look into the condition of the slaves, but when
their report was presented it was promptly laid on the tahle,
from which harmless position it never was taken up.

And now begins that period of conflict by which, as by a
vast earthquake, ]\Iethodism in America was rent asunder. A
brief digression is here necessary in order to a full understand-
ing of extracts from the Minutes of the General Conferences
of 1836, 1840, and 1844. Perhaps the time has come when the
actual state of affairs in the Colonies of America in respect to
slavery can be plainly stated and calmly considered. That in-
stitution has perished, though many of its results remain. The
awful war in which, as an incidental effect, it went down is nov/
among things remote in this fast-rushing age, and the Church
is now, by reason of its division on that line, better able to face
the anterior and interior facts to which these pages relate.

First of all, it must be remembered that the slave-trade was
in full operation at the time when the IMethodists began to be
known on this side of the Atlantic. For many years all the



276. The General Conft



erence.



Colonies along the western shore of that ocean owned and traded
in slaves brought from Africa, the most of this traffic being car-
ried on by the northern colonies, because they owned a large
majority of all the colonial ships. There are persons now living
who well remember the slaves in the households of their parents,
and those of their neighbors in the state of Massachusetts; for
it was not until 1808 that the provision in the Constitution of
the United States came into effect, by which the slave-trade was
made a crime.

The chief finanical profits of slavery in the north having
been in the trade and not in the use of slaves, while in the south
the reverse was true, the natural result followed. Slavery grad-
ually moved southward. It was by no means on account of any
conviction of conscience on the part of the people of New Eng-
land that this transition came about. This appears from the
fact that at the Constitutional Convention, composed of dele-
gates from the thirteen states of the Union, which met at Phila-
delphia in the summer of 1787, the subject of slavery was
referred to two committees in succession; the first being com-'
posed of three northern and two southern men, and the second
having a majority from the south. The first of these com-
mittees reported, August 8, 1787, a recommendation that the
slave-trade be legalized perpetually; the second that it should
not be extended beyond the year 1800. In his note on this
subject, at the foot of page 386, of his "History of Methodism,"
Bishop McTyeire says:

"The constitutional provisions on this head would never have
prolonged this infamous traffic to the year 1808 if either Massa-
chusetts or New Hampshire or Connecticut had stood by Delaware
and Virginia in that crisis of the country, and, lilie them, voted
against the extension."

In treating of the origin of the struggle over slavery in the
Methodist Church, it has been customary to say that the con-
science of the Church in the north was being awakened to the
evil of i\\Q institution of slavery. But this is not strictly cor-
rect. Conscience has its legitimate action in relation to moral
questions, and to the conduct of the person who possesses it.
To speak of a conscience against the sins of others is a misuse



Slavery. "2^11

of tlie word. Perhaps the cheapest form of piety is that which
consists in disapprobation of other people's sins. This form
of conscience had been growing more and more intense in the
north against the sins of the people of the south; and this was
the kind of conscience, as the southern Methodist slaveholders
understood it, which led to the agitation on that very sensitive
topic, and which, in the month of December, 1833, led to the
organization of the Xational Anti-slavery Society in the city
of Philadelphia.

The northern leaders in the interest of "immediate eman-
cipation," of whom the chief Methodist was a Xew England
presiding elder named Orange Scott, had nothing to gain by
the continuance of slavery, and nothing to lose by its destruc-
tion. In these respects their position was the reverse from that
of their slaveholding brethren of the south. This gave a free
hand to the one party; but was a question of financial life or
death to the other. It does not appear that the New England
abolitionists, who were so fond of referring to the extinction
of slavery by Great Britain in the AYest Indies, ever hinted at
the propriety of following her example in the manner of that
great reform; viz., the partial compensation of the masters
whose slaves were then set free.

One more important view of this unhappy subject, which
must have had much weight with the southern Methodists, was
the bitter denunciation of the Churches, especially the northern
Churches, for their intense conservatism on the subject of this
great national crime. AYilliam Lloyd Garrison, Theodore
Parker, and men of that stamp, were as violent in their attacks
upon the Churches as they were upon slavery itself; while the
religious education of the slaveholding Church members had
given them to see that a Church in which both masters and
slaves held communion together was quite according to the
usage in apostolic times.

N'ow, in conclusion of this somewhat lengthy digression,
let it be observed, without entering into the merits of that
memorable debate which led to the great disruption, that all
the above considerations must have held place in the very life-
blood of the Methodists of the south. It is only just to them
and to history, that these interior causes and reasons for their



278 The General Conference.

action should be kept in mind. If both writer and reader of
these pages shall be able to do tliis, the following brief record
of the great Methodist ecclesiastical war will be of some sub-
stantial use.

At the opening of the General Conference of 1832 the Epis-
copal Address noted with pleasure the quieting of the agitation
on the subject of slavery. But an event took place which vras
destined to be the means of renewing the strife; viz., the election
of James 0. Andrew, of Georgia, as one of the two new bishops.
His colleague was John Emory, a native of Maryland, but at
the date of his election a member of the Philadelphia Confer-
ence, and one of the Book Agents at ^ew York.

That the agitation on the subject of slavery was partially
''quieted" is evident from the election of these two bishops,
both of whom were natives of slaveholding states, when out
of the 202 members of the body 118 were of the non-slave-
holding section of the Church. There was not even the regular
Committee on Slavery.

But this was only the calm before the storm. In the New
England delegation at the quiet General Conference of 1832
was a member whose name, during the few following years,
came to be a firebrand. Orange Scott was a rising man in his
conference. In 1831 he was made presiding elder of the Provi-
dence District (since erected into the Providence Conference),
and served for two years with great success. It was during this
time that the anti-slavery society, to which reference has already
been made, was set on foot, and Mr. Scott shortly came to be
one of its chief advocates, both by tongue and pen. Before the
quadrennium rolled round he had made converts of a large
majority of the members of his conference, and was elected to
the General Conference of 1836, which was to meet in a border
city, at the head of his delegation.

At that date the number of so-called "abolitionists" in the
Methodist Church was small; but Scott traveled through New
England and a part of New York, giving fiery lectures, organ-
izing local clubs Avhose object was to agitate for ''immediate
emancipation" of all the slaves, and attending sessions of annual
conferences in which he secured the establishment of confer-
ence anti-slavery societies.



Slavery. 279

The General Conference of 183G opened in the city of
Cincinnati, on Monday, the '^d of May. The bishops were Rob-
erts, Soule, Hedding, and. Andrew. Roberts was born in Mary-
land. He was of a kind and placid temper, and little was heard
of him in reference to the great agitation in the Church. Soule
was of northern birth and education, but somehow had ob-
tained a southern heart. Hedding was from the valley of the
Hudson; but, like Bangs and Fisk and Whedon, was an anti-
abolitionist. Andrew was southern. His course was along the
natural line of his birth and education.

The body was composed of l-iG delegates from 23 annual
conferences, 90 members from free state conferences, and 5G
from slave state conferences.

On the 12th of May, S. G. Roszel, of the Baltimore confer-
ence, brought forward, as heretofore mentioned, resolutions
of censure against two of the northern delegates, who had been
guilty of attending and addressing a meeting of the Cincinnati
Anti-slavery Society.

The fact alluded to in these resolutions of censure was, that
William H. Norris, of the Maine Conference, and George
Storrs, of the New Hampshire conference, both well-known
abolitionists in their respective locations, had attended a regular
weekly meeting of the society above-mentioned, and their re-
marks were so well received that they resulted in the addition
of fifteen members to the society.

Over these resolutions the combat raged for two days, with
the result that they were adopted, with the addition of a third
resolution directing that "the foregoing preamble and resolu-
tions be published in our periodicals."

The temper of the pro-slavery side of the debate may be
understood from the remark of William A. Smith, of Virginia,
in favor of a proposed amendment which called for the publi-
cation of the names of the two active abolitionists. "Let them,"
said he, "be brought forth in all the length and breadth of their
damning iniquity." But the amendment failed to be adopted.

It was now seen that there was work for a Committee on
Slaver}^, and such a one was a]^pointed, to which was referred



Online LibraryMethodist Episcopal ChurchGeneral conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1792 to 1896 → online text (page 25 of 39)