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practically dead before the laws establishing them were repealed and the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 patrona
e; 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


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


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


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


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


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


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.