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Conflicts Of The Church With Pub





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practically dead before the laws establishing them were repealed and the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 conversion 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 connection 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 congregations, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Methodist,
successfully self-supported among them, made it easy for them,
notwithstanding 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 country 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 Christendom; but it may be
safely asserted that the danger that has been most emphasized as a
warning against the voluntary 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 public 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 outburst 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
public worth of his victim. This was the sort of explosion of excited
public feeling which often loses itself in the air. It was a different
matter when the churches and ministers of Christ took up the affair 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 the
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 them.

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 embodied in anti-dueling societies, exorcised the
foul spirit from the land. The criminal folly of dueling did not,
indeed, at once and altogether cease. Instances of it continue 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.[264:1]

Another instance of the fidelity of the church in resistance to public
wrong was its action in the matter of the dealing of the State of
Georgia and the national government 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 conceivable 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 time in the remote
future when to the student of American history it will seem
well-nigh incredible. From the beginning 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
cultivation. 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 authority 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 exemplary lives. There is no
instance in all history of a race of people passing in so
short a space of time from the barbarous stage to the
agricultural and civilized.[265:1]

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:

The natives carry on considerable trade with the adjoining
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 common, 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 flourishing 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 and 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, Methodists, 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.[266:1]

This country, enriched by the toil and thrift of its owners, 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 expedient for securing popular consent to the intended infamy,
the farms of the Cherokees were parceled out to be drawn for in 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
Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia courts and hung
by Georgia executioners. But the great crime could not be achieved
without the connivance, and at last the active consent, of the national
government. Should this consent be given? Never in American history 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 came
petitions, remonstrances, and indignant protests, reinforcing the
pathetic entreaties of the Cherokees themselves to be protected from the
cruelty that threatened to tear them from their homes. In Congress the
honor of leadership among many faithful and able advocates of right and
justice was conceded to Theodore Frelinghuysen, then in the prime of a
great career of Christian service. By the majority of one vote the bill
for the removal of the Cherokees passed the United States Senate. The
gates of hell triumphed for a time with a fatal exultation. The authors
and abettors of the great crime were confirmed in their delusion that
threats of disunion and rebellion could be relied on to carry any
desired point. But the mills of God went on grinding. Thirty years
later, when in the battle of Missionary Ridge the chivalry of Georgia
went down before the army that represented justice and freedom and the
authority of national law, the vanquished and retreating soldiers of a
lost cause could not be accused of superstition if they remembered that
the scene of their humiliating defeat had received its name from the
martyrdom of Christian missionaries at the hands of their fathers.

* * * * *

In earlier pages we have already traced the succession of bold protests
and organized labors on the part of church and clergy against the
institution of slavery.[268:1] If protest and argument against it seem
to be less frequent in the early years of the new century, it is only
because debate must needs languish when there is no antagonist. Slavery
had at that time no defenders in the church. No body of men in 1818 more
unmistakably represented the Christian citizenship of the whole country,
North, South, and West, outside of New England, than the General
Assembly of the then undivided Presbyterian Church. In that year the
Assembly set forth a full and unanimous expression of its sentiments on
the subject of slavery, addressed to the churches and people under its
care. This monumental document is too long to be cited here in full.
The opening paragraphs of it exhibit the universally accepted sentiment
of American Christians of that time:

We consider the voluntary enslaving of one part of the human
race by another as a gross violation of the most precious and
sacred rights of human nature; as utterly inconsistent with
the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as
ourselves; and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and
principles of the gospel of Christ, which enjoin that 'all
things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye
even so to them.' Slavery creates a paradox in the moral
system. It exhibits rational, accountable, and immortal beings
in such circumstances as scarcely to leave them the power of
moral action. It exhibits them as dependent on the will of
others whether they shall receive religious instruction;
whether they shall know and worship the true God; whether they
shall enjoy the ordinances of the gospel; whether they shall
perform the duties and cherish the endearments of husbands and
wives, parents and children, neighbors and friends; whether
they shall preserve their chastity and purity or regard the
dictates of justice and humanity. Such are some of the
consequences of slavery--consequences not imaginary, but which
connect themselves with its very existence. The evils to which
the slave is always exposed often take place in fact, and in
their worst degree and form; and where all of them do not take
place, as we rejoice to say that in many instances, through
the influence of the principles of humanity and religion on
the minds of masters, they do not, still the slave is deprived
of his natural right, degraded as a human being, and exposed
to the danger of passing into the hands of a master who may
inflict upon him all the hardships and injuries which
inhumanity and avarice may suggest.

From this view of the consequences resulting from the
practice into which Christian people have most inconsistently
fallen of enslaving a portion of their brethren of
mankind,--for 'God hath made of one blood all nations of men
to dwell on the face of the earth,'--it is manifestly the duty
of all Christians who enjoy the light of the present day, when
the inconsistency of slavery both with the dictates of
humanity and religion has been demonstrated and is generally
seen and acknowledged, to use their honest, earnest, and
unwearied endeavors to correct the errors of former times, and
as speedily as possible to efface this blot on our holy
religion and to obtain the complete abolition of slavery
throughout Christendom, and if possible throughout the world.

It was not strange that while sentiments like these prevailed without
contradiction in all parts of the country, while in State after State
emancipations were taking place and acts of abolition were passing, and
even in the States most deeply involved in slavery a great, and the
most virtuous, part of the community abhorred slavery and wished its
extermination,[270:1] there should seem to be little call for debate.
But that the antislavery spirit in the churches was not dead was
demonstrated with the first occasion.

In the spring of 1820, at the close of two years of agitating
discussion, the new State of Missouri was admitted to the Union as a
slave State, although with the stipulation that the remaining territory
of the United States north of the parallel of latitude bounding Missouri
on the south should be consecrated forever to freedom. The opposition to
this extension of slavery was taken up by American Christianity as its
own cause. It was the impending danger of such an extension that
prompted that powerful and unanimous declaration of the Presbyterian
General Assembly in 1818. The arguments against the Missouri bill,
whether in the debates of Congress or in countless memorials and
resolutions from public meetings both secular and religious, were
arguments from justice and duty and the law of Christ. These were met by
constitutional objections and considerations of expediency and
convenience, and by threats of disunion and civil war. The defense of
slavery on principle had not yet begun to be heard, even among
politicians.

The successful extension of slavery beyond the Mississippi River was
disheartening to the friends of justice and humanity, but only for the
moment. Already, before the two years' conflict had been decided by the
Missouri Compromise, a powerful series of articles by that great
religious leader, Jeremiah Evarts, in the Panoplist (Boston, 1820),
rallied the forces of the church to renew the battle. The decade that
opened with that defeat is distinguished as a period of sustained
antislavery activity on the part of the united Christian citizenship of
the nation in all quarters.[271:1] In New England the focus of
antislavery effort was perhaps the theological seminary at Andover.
There the leading question among the students in their Society of
Inquiry concerning Missions was the question, what could be done, and
especially what they could do, for the uplifting of the colored
population of the country, both the enslaved and the free. Measures were
concerted there for the founding of an African college where youth were
to be educated on a scale so liberal as to place them on a level with
other men;[271:2] and the plan was not forgotten or neglected by these
young men when from year to year they came into places of effective
influence. With eminent fitness the Fourth of July was taken as an
antislavery holiday, and into various towns within reach from Andover
their most effective speakers went forth to give antislavery addresses
on that day. Beginning with the Fourth of July, 1823, the annual
antislavery address at Park Street Church, Boston, before several united
churches of that city, continued for the rest of that decade at least
to be an occasion for earnest appeal and practical effort in behalf of
the oppressed. Neither was the work of the young men circumscribed by
narrow local boundaries. The report of their committee, in the year
1823, on The Condition of the Black Population of the United States,
could hardly be characterized as timid in its utterances on the moral
character of American slavery. A few lines will indicate the tone of it
in this respect:

Excepting only the horrible system of the West India Islands,
we have never heard of slavery in any country, ancient or
modern, pagan, Mohammedan, or Christian, so terrible in its
character, so pernicious in its tendency, so remediless in its
anticipated results, as the slavery which exists in these
United States.... When we use the strong language which we
feel ourselves compelled to use in relation to this subject,
we do not mean to speak of animal suffering, but of an immense
moral and political evil.... In regard to its influence on the
white population the most lamentable proof of its
deteriorating effects may be found in the fact that, excepting
the pious, whose hearts are governed by the Christian law of
reciprocity between man and man, and the wise, whose minds
have looked far into the relations and tendencies of things,
none can be found to lift their voices against a system so
utterly repugnant to the feelings of unsophisticated
humanity--a system which permits all the atrocities of the
domestic slave trade--which permits the father to sell his
children as he would his cattle--a system which consigns one
half of the community to hopeless and utter degradation, and
which threatens in its final catastrophe to bring down the
same ruin on the master and the slave.[272:1]

The historical value of the paper from which these brief extracts are
given, as illustrating the attitude of the church at the time, is
enhanced by the use that was made of it. Published in the form of a
review article in a magazine of national circulation, the recognized
organ of the orthodox Congregationalists, it was republished in a
pamphlet for gratuitous distribution and extensively circulated in New
England by the agency of the Andover students. It was also republished
at Richmond, Va. Other laborers at the East in the same cause were
Joshua Leavitt, Bela B. Edwards, and Eli Smith, afterward illustrious as
a missionary,[273:1] and Ralph Randolph Gurley, secretary of the
Colonization Society, whose edition of the powerful and uncompromising
sermon of the younger Edwards on The Injustice and Impolicy of the
Slave Trade and of the Slavery of the Africans was published at Boston
for circulation at the South, in hopes of promoting the universal
abolition of slavery. The list might be indefinitely extended to include
the foremost names in the church in that period. There was no adverse
party.

At the West an audacious movement of the slavery extension politicians,
flushed with their success in Missouri, to introduce slavery into
Illinois, Indiana, and even Ohio, was defeated largely by the aid of the
Baptist and Methodist clergy, many of whom had been southern men and had
experienced the evils of the system.[273:2] In Kentucky and Tennessee
the abolition movement was led more distinctively by the Presbyterians
and the Quakers. It was a bold effort to procure the manumission of
slaves and the repeal of the slave code in those States by the agreement
of the citizens. The character of the movement is indicated in the
constitution of the Moral Religious Manumission Society of West
Tennessee, which declares that slavery exceeds any other crime in
magnitude and is the greatest act of practical infidelity, and that
the gospel of Christ, if believed, would remove personal slavery at
once by destroying the will in the tyrant to enslave.[274:1] A like
movement in North Carolina and in Maryland, at the same time, attained
to formidable dimensions. The state of sentiment in Virginia may be
judged from the fact that so late as December, 1831, in the memorable
debate in the legislature on a proposal for the abolition of slavery, a
leading speaker, denouncing slavery as the most pernicious of all the
evils with which the body politic can be afflicted, could say,
undisputed, By none is this position denied, if we except the erratic
John Randolph.[274:2] The conflict in Virginia at that critical time
was between Christian principle and wise statesmanship on the one hand,
and on the other hand selfish interest and ambition, and the prevailing
terror resulting from a recent servile insurrection. Up to this time
there appears no sign of any division in the church on this subject.
Neither was there any sectional division; the opponents of slavery,
whether at the North or at the South, were acting in the interest of the
common country, and particularly in the interest of the States that were
still afflicted with slavery. But a swift change was just impending.

We have already recognized the Methodist organization as the effective
pioneer of systematic abolitionism in America.[275:1] The Baptists, also
having their main strength in the southern States, were early and
emphatic in condemning the institutions by which they were
surrounded.[275:2] But all the sects found themselves embarrassed by
serious difficulties when it came to the practical application of the
principles and rules which they enunciated. The exacting of immediate
emancipation as a condition of fellowship in the ministry or communion
in the church, and the popular cries of No fellowship with
slave-holders, and Slave-holding always and every where a sin, were
found practically to conflict with frequent undeniable and stubborn
facts. The cases in which conscientious Christians found themselves, by
no fault of their own, invested by inhuman laws with an absolute
authority over helpless fellow-men, which it would not be right for them
suddenly to abdicate, were not few nor unimportant.[275:3] In dealing
with such cases several different courses were open to the church: (1)
To execute discipline rigorously according to the formula, on the
principle, Be rid of the tares at all hazards; never mind the wheat.
This course was naturally favored by some of the minor Presbyterian
sects, and was apt to be vigorously urged by zealous people living at a
distance and not well acquainted with details of fact. (2) To attempt to
provide for all cases by stated exceptions and saving clauses. This
course was entered on by the Methodist Church, but without success. (3)
Discouraged by the difficulties, to let go all discipline. This was the
point reached at last by most of the southern churches. (4) Clinging to
the formulas, Immediate emancipation, No communion with
slave-holders, so to palter in a double sense with the words as to
evade the meaning of them. According to this method, slave-holding did
not consist in the holding of slaves, but in holding them with evil
purpose and wrong treatment; a slave who was held for his own advantage,
receiving from his master that which is just and equal, was said, in
this dialect, to be morally emancipated. This was the usual expedient
of a large and respectable party of antislavery Christians at the North,
when their principle of no communion with slave-holders brought them
to the seeming necessity of excommunicating an unquestionably Christian
brother for doing an undeniable duty. (5) To lay down, broadly and
explicitly, the principles of Christian morality governing the subject,
leaving the application of them in individual cases to the individual
church or church-member. This was the course exemplified with admirable
wisdom and fidelity in the Presbyterian deliverance of 1818. (6) To
meet the postulate, laid down with so much assurance, as if an axiom,
that slave-holding is always and everywhere a sin, to be immediately
repented of and forsaken, with a flat and square contradiction, as
being irreconcilable with facts and with the judgment of the Christian
Scriptures; and thus to condemn and oppose to the utmost the system of
slavery, without imputing the guilt of it to persons involved in it by
no fault of their own. This course commended itself to many lucid and
logical minds and honest consciences, including some of the most
consistent and effective opponents of slavery. (7) Still another course
must be mentioned, which, absurd as it seems, was actually pursued by a
few headlong reformers, who showed in various ways a singular alacrity
at playing into the hands of their adversaries. It consisted in
enunciating in the most violent and untenable form and the most
offensive language the proposition that all slave-holding is sin and
every slave-holder a criminal, and making the whole attack on slavery to
turn on this weak pivot and fail if this failed. The argument of this
sort of abolitionist was: If there can be found anywhere a good man
holding a bond-servant unselfishly, kindly, and for good reason
justifiably, then the system of American slavery is right.[277:1] It is
not strange that men in the southern churches, being offered such an
argument ready made to their hand, should promptly accept both the
premiss and the conclusion, and that so at last there should begin to be
a pro-slavery party in the American church.

The disastrous epoch of the beginning of what has been called the
southern apostasy from the universal moral sentiment of Christendom on
the subject of slavery may be dated at about the year 1833. A year
earlier began to be heard those vindications on political grounds of
what had just been declared in the legislature of Virginia to be by
common consent the most pernicious of political evils--vindications
which continued for thirty years to invite the wonder of the civilized
world. When (about 1833) a Presbyterian minister in Mississippi, the
Rev. James Smylie, made the discovery, which surprised himself, that
the system of American slavery was sanctioned and approved by the
Scriptures as good and righteous, he found that his brethren in the
Presbyterian ministry at the extreme South were not only surprised, but
shocked and offended, at the proposition.[278:1] And yet such was the
swift progress of this innovation that in surprisingly few years, we
might almost say months, it had become not only prevalent, but violently
and exclusively dominant in the church of the southern States, with the
partial exception of Kentucky and Tennessee. It would be difficult to
find a precedent in history for so sudden and sweeping a change of
sentiment on a leading doctrine of moral theology. Dissent from the
novel dogma was suppressed with more than inquisitorial rigor. It was
less perilous to hold Protestant opinions in Spain or Austria than to
hold, in Carolina or Alabama, the opinions which had but lately been
commended to universal acceptance by the unanimous voice of great
religious bodies, and proclaimed as undisputed principles by leading
statesmen. It became one of the accepted evidences of Christianity at
the South that infidelity failed to offer any justification for American
slavery equal to that derived from the Christian Scriptures. That
eminent leader among the Lutheran clergy, the Rev. Dr. Bachman, of
Charleston, referred that unexampled unanimity of sentiment that now
exists in the whole South on the subject of slavery to the confidence
felt by the religious public in the Bible defense of slavery as set
forth by clergymen and laymen in sermons and pamphlets and speeches in
Congress.[278:2]

The historian may not excuse himself from the task of inquiring into the
cause of this sudden and immense moral revolution. The explanation
offered by Dr. Bachman is the very thing that needs to be explained.
How came the Christian public throughout the slave-holding States, which
so short a time before had been unanimous in finding in the Bible the
condemnation of their slavery, to find all at once in the Bible the
divine sanction and defense of it as a wise, righteous, and permanent
institution? Doubtless there was mixture of influences in bringing about
the result. The immense advance in the market value of slaves consequent
on Whitney's invention of the cotton-gin had its unconscious effect on
the moral judgments of some. The furious vituperations of a very small
but noisy faction of antislavery men added something to the swift
current of public opinion. But demonstrably the chief cause of this
sudden change of religious opinion--one of the most remarkable in the
history of the church--was panic terror. In August, 1831, a servile
insurrection in Virginia, led by a crazy negro, Nat Turner by name, was
followed (as always in such cases) by bloody vengeance on the part of
the whites.

The Southampton insurrection, occurring at a time when the
price of slaves was depressed in consequence of a depression
in the price of cotton, gave occasion to a sudden development
of opposition to slavery in the legislature of Virginia. A
measure for the prospective abolition 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 afterward 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 representatives
and senators in Congress. A panic seized upon the planters in
some districts of the Southwest. Conspiracies 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 obnoxious
to the guardians of the great southern 'institution' he was
liable to be denounced and murdered. It was distinctly 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 abolition' 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 stimulate
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 institutions.' 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
religious 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 Ephesians;' they
denounced the fanaticism of abolition and permitted
themselves to be understood as certifying, in the name of
religion and of Christ, that the entire institution of slavery
'as it exists' is chargeable with no injustice and is
warranted by the word of God.[281:1]

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
disseminated 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.[281:2] 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 régime thus introduced was, in the strictest sense of
the phrase, a reign of terror. 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 like Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge, of the
Presbyterian Church in Kentucky, delivered his soul with invectives
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 exclaiming, 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 which is another's has simply no
moral sense.... Hereditary slavery is without pretense, except in avowed
rapacity.[282:1] Of course the antislavery societies which, under
various names, had existed in the South by hundreds 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 clamors against church and ministry and Bible and law
and government, denounced as pro-slavery all who declined 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.[282:2]

These various factors of public opinion were actively manipulated.
Political parties competed for the southern vote. Commercial houses
competed for southern business. 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 righteousness. 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 community, 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 the cause of freedom, justice, and humanity. And,
nevertheless, 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 exposing us to
the just judgments of the Almighty. In like manner the memorial of one
hundred and fifty-one clergymen 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 slavery. 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 morality, 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[285:1] 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 religious people
of the land, was swept away by the tide of war.

* * * * *

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 prohibition 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 discipline against both
these mischiefs was due to his association 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, predisposed 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 tippling-houses, and to prevent, as far as law could
wisely undertake to prevent, all abusive and mischievous sales of
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 influential leaders of society,
and the example of these had set the tone for all ranks. Besides this,
the increased importation and manufacture of distilled spirits had made
it easy and common to substitute these for the mild fermented 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 difficult 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. Individual
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 advanced before the stirring appeals of Ebenezer
Porter, Lyman Beecher, Heman Humphrey, and Jeremiah Evarts had awakened
in the church any effectual conviction of sin in the matter. The
appointment of a strong committee, in 1811, by the Presbyterian General
Assembly was promptly followed by like action by the clergy of
Massachusetts 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 domineering
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 testimony 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 regard to the use
of ardent spirits--the new phenomenon of an intelligent people
rising up, as it were, with one consent, without 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 subjects 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.[287:1]

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.

But it soon appeared that the immense gain of banishing 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 offspring 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 temperance reformation has
included the history of multitudinous 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.[288:1]

In 1840 the temperance reformation received a sudden forward impulse
from an unexpected source. One evening 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 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 admiring
public, and sent out on speaking tours. The people were stirred up as
never before on the subject of temperance. There was something very
Christian-like in the method of this propagation, and hopeful souls
looked forward 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 distinctly 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 unusual sobriety of judgment, is credited with
the statement that he knew of no case of stable reformation from
drunkenness that was not connected with a thorough spiritual renovation
and conversion.

Certainly good was accomplished by the transient whirlwind of the
Washingtonian excitement. But the evil that it did lived after it.
Already at the time of its breaking 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, instead 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 exquisitely susceptible organization was quite unable to
resist temptation coming in his way, but on those who put intoxicating
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 citizen,
and especially the Christian citizen, who did not vote the correct
ticket.

What may be called the Prohibition period of the temperance 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.[290:1] Indications begin to appear that the
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 completed, 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 experience through these threescore
years and ten.





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Previous: Organized Beneficence



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