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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 has operated. Deduct the ministers of that region, from that party, and the residue may almost be counted on the fingers." 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
* 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.
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.
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 five, 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 dispos
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 his 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 hearing, 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, is 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 the 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
ful existence. The question now presented itself to those who had been the friends of union, what was to be done? No one doubted that these great measures had been taken, as means to an end, as only "beating up and levelling down the way" to personal and individual oppressions, from which no prominent man of the minority, now reduced to a powerless handful, would be safe. It was plain too that, unless something was done, the constitution of the Presbyterian church would be a dead letter, and that form of church government be made a hissing and a by-word, among the churches of a free people. Firmly attached to the constitution, they determined to make an effort to vindicate it, and to restore its healthy action, and its original beauty and purity. It was plain to them, that such proceedings, in violation of all the rights of Presbyterians, could have no force or effect to exclude from the church, or to dissolve or extinguish its constitutional judicatories. They did not, however, trust solely to their own, perhaps biassed, opinion, but took the counsel of some of the ablest men and soundest jurists in the country, whose feelings had in no manner been enlisted in the matter. Their clear opinion was, that the proceedings of the Assembly were utterly null, and as though they had not been, and that the constituency of the General Assembly was undiminished. The obvious course, then, was for all the presbyteries to send up their representatives to the next General Assembly, to take their seats, as though nothing had happened, if permitted to do so; if not, then to take such steps as should secure their rights, and enable them to have the measures tested by the tribunals of the country. They determined firmly and moderately to ask for their rights, and, if denied them, then "to appeal unto Caesar."
It is of the most obvious truth, that, if all the presbyteries were entitled to be represented,-(and they were so, if they were not cut off by those acts of the Assembly,) the representatives must meet on terms of entire equality. No one could have the right to say, "my commission is better than yours, and I shut you out." The commissioners from Philadelphia could as well exclude those from Baltimore, as those from Rochester. Any attempt thus to shut out, in the first instance, a large number of representatives from the organization of the Assembly would vitiate the entire action of those who might remain, and make them a mere convention of certain delegates, destitute of all authority. It was however well understood that the course indicated by the previous Assembly was to be per