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It was easy to see that the adoption, by the General Assembly, of this principle of church organization would strike a fatal blow at the American Home Missionary Society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and the American Education Society, and would impair the influence of those members of the Presbyterian church who hold those societies in their “ heart's core.” It would place in the hands of a party in the church boards of their own formation, composed of their own men, with offices and agencies in their gift, the most efficient means of increasing influence and power. In 1835 and 1836 the great question was debated in the General Assembly, and the attempt to create a board of foreign missions, under the control of that body, was vigorously urged. The majority of the assembly of 1836, however, believed that the great voluntary associations, so successfully in operation, and so strong in the public favor, were better fitted, than mere church judicatories, to manage the great works of christian benevolence. Thus was again defeated that great party which, as the friends of union think they have had too much reason to believe,
“ Had sowen all about
This party, as early as 1834, began to manifest its systematized designs, by secret circulars and party conventions, inviting and digesting a regular organization. It then boldly established voluntary associations, for the avowed purpose of compelling and controlling the church in her organized and corporate capacity! These conventions have usually met a few days before the General Assembly, to secure unanimity and concert in “the party,” in the Assembly. After the Assembly of 1836, in which the party had been so signally defeated in more than one of its most united onsets, a convention was called to meet a day or two before the Assembly of 1837. It met. Much excitement prevailed among its members, and measures were concerted for a grand catastrophe. In due time the General Assembly was organized ; and it was evident that the efforts of the disunionists had produced but too much effect.
They had secured a majority* in the house, submission to the control of bodies, skilled in the management of a popular assembly, and familiar with the means of alarming, arousing and goading on those over whose sympathies they had the mastery.
It was soon evident that party measures, of the strongest character, were to be adopted without mitigation, and that schism and disunion were to be thoroughly carried out, without delay, and in such a manner that the party could not be put in a minority, by the strong conservative sense of the church, which they feared would manifest itself in the next Assembly. The first use of their present power was to perpetuate it, and to secure the control over every man's standing in the church. They seemed desirous of driving the minority to immediate secession. A list of heresies was drawn up, apparently with a view to personal accusations, but the proceeding by accusation was liable to the great objection, that it gave the accused a trial, and an opportunity to prove his innocence, and the right of appeal, all which would take time, and might end in an acquittal. In the words of the Assembly “to have done it by personal process would have been impossible, and, if possible, tedious, agitating and troublesome.” It was accordingly abandoned.
They then determined upon excision, by means of the plan of union. It was said " where is the local habitation of the liberal party? The region in which the plan of union bas operated. Deduct the ministers of that region, from that party, and the residue may almost be counted on the fingers.” It was supposed that important consequences would follow the abrogation of that plan, and it was abrogated. This was done on the alleged ground that the plan was a violation of the constitution of the Presbyterian church, and of that of the General Association of Connecticut, and was a plan for introducing into the Presbyterian church, all the Congregationalists in the new settlements, without their adopting our system. Yet the plan of union was neither a law, a contract, nor a constitutional rule. Nor did it bring any one into the Presbyterian church. It was, as has been said, a mere joint recommendation of the two bodies, that, by mutual forbearance and accommodation, Christians of the two sects should endeavor to enjoy together what they could not procure separately, the stated ministrations of the gospel ; each party preserving its own ecclesiastical connection. It plainly did not provide that either sect should become incorporated with the other. It made no provision that the united mass should belong to either sect. In times of party excitement, however, the plainest truths are overlooked, and the plan of union, wisely enough abrogated, was abrogated for reasons destitute of foundation. We may presume that those reasons were given mainly because it was intended, as a last resort, to make important measures depend upon them. Those measures, however, were not to be adopted till other means had been tried.
* This was effected by their extraordinary exertions and by the failure of several of the friends of union to attend, whose presence would have thrown the majority on the other side.
It was therefore proposed to cite, to the bar of the Assembly, certain judicatories, and, by a palpable perversion of the constitution, deny the right of representation, in the next Assembly, to all those judicatories, till all the citations were disposed of. This, if submitted to, would not fail to answer their purpose, temporarily ; but the measure was carried by a majority of only live, in an Assembly of two hundred and fifty, and could not be relied on. It was therefore, allowed to sleep.
It was proposed, as a next resort, that the church should be divided on the spot. It is not to be wondered at, that the friends of union, from the course things had taken, were induced to listen to a proposition which promised peace to the church, and protection from oppression to themselves. There seemed to be no course left but voluntary or violent division, and they consented to negotiate for the former. They soon found, however, that no terms would be proposed or listened to, which could be called equal, or which contemplated consulting the constituency of the General Assembly. The best terms offered were, substantially, that the minority might voluntarily leave the church, if they did not choose to be cut off, by the assumed power of the majority. The negotiation of course failed.
A threat, said to have been made by a prominent member of the committee, was then acted upon without delay, and resolutions were introduced, and urged through the house, cutting off from the church, without hearing or trial, or notice, by a summary edict, the synods of the Western Reserve, Utica, Geneva and Genesee, embracing about five hundred ministers and sixty thousand communicants, entitled to about sixty (more than one fifth of the whole number,) representatives in the General Assembly.
These acts of expulsion were made to depend upon a false principle, and a “ false fact,”—a false principle—the unconstitutionality and absolute nullity of the plan of union, and the “ false fact,"—the formation of those synods, and their attachment to the General Assembly, by virtue of that plan. This, although asserted and acted on, as a fact, was, in every sense, destitute of truth. The plan did not make any provision, as to synods ; and all those synods had been actually formed, by the General Assembly itself, in the constitutional manner, without any reference to the plan of union. They were not attached to the Presbyterian church, by the General Assembly, but were formed, as all the other synods have been, by the mere subdivision of synods as old as the constitution, and they had been several times, every year, acknowledged, and published to the world, by the General Assembly, as courts of the church. In that character alone, (as synods,) had the Assembly any right to meddle with them. They accordingly acted upon the synods, and not the presbyteries, or individuals, that they might seem to have the shelter of the constitutional grant of jurisdiction. It has never been pretended that the Assembly can act originally upon individuals. If, however, individuals were not cut off, then they remained in the church and were pastors, and church-members, and presbyteries still, and, of course, entitled to be represented in the General Assembly. But thus interpreted, no power would be gained by the exscinding acts, for it is the presbyteries, and not the synods, that send representatives to the Assembly. It was therefore determined to give to the resolutions an individual application, as well as an application to synods, presbyteries, sessions and churches, although only synods were named. It was, in effect, declared that all in those regions,—men, women and children, clergy and laity,—were excluded from the church. As a first act, on this construction, they excluded from the Assembly the sitting representatives from the presbyteries in the same regions, and put the clerks of the Assembly under a pledge, not to receive or enroll the commissions of delegates from the presbyteries, in any future General Assemblies. If these proceedings had been legal, or had been submitted to, the end was answered. The majority had perpetuated their power. But such proceedings, under the circumstances, could have no validity. They violated the plainest general principles of Presbyterian government, and the express provisions of the constitution, by disposSECOND SERIES, VOL. I. NO. II.
ing of individual rights, without the intervention of the primary courts, and, at the same time, destroying the right of appeal. The grand view of the proceedings, however, was the violation of one of those eternal principles of natural justice, which are superior to all positive enactments. That no one should be deprived of bis right, or be punished, without an opportunity of being heard in his own defence, is a principle stamped by the hand of God upon the common understanding of mankind. It has been incorporated in all the codes of all nations, and, in the constitution of the Presbyterian church, it regulates all judicial proceedings. This principle was trodden under foot at every step of these proceedings. There was no pretence of a heariny, or even of notice. The synods and their whole constituency, ministers and church-members, were swept away by the same unforeseen decree, confounding the innocent with the guilty, and condemning all unheard. Wonderful proceedings, indeed! for they were the work of a chosen deliberative Assembly !-for they were the work of a religious Assembly, an ecclesiastical court!—for they were the work of ordained bishops and elders of a christian church !—for the sufferers were their brethren! and the cause of Christ, dearer than all !
The attempt to justify the proceeding, from its form of expression, was too lame and puerile to succeed with the weakest. " It charges no offence, it proposes no trial, it threatens no sentence. It purports merely to declare a fact, and assigns a reason for the declaration." “ We simply declare that they are not constitutionally a part of our church.” But if the proceeding did not affect the individuals, then it was useless and nugatory. If it did affect them, they clearly were entitled to be heard. Again, “ The attempt to excite prejudice against the measure, as a high-handed and oppressive act of power, uncandid and unfair. Is it an act of oppression for a court to declare that an Englishman is not an American, or that an alien is not a citizen ?” Surely it is as much an act of oppression to decide a question of citizenship as it is any other question, against a man, without giving him an opportunity to be heard in his defence. It is certainly a new idea, that a party is not entitled to a hearing, provided ihe matter in question be simply whether he have any rights at all! The Assembly, after thus cutting away the minority, created a Foreign Mission Board, and after denouncing the American Home Missionary Society, and the American Education Society and their branches, closed its event