Chapter XIX

Our Missions and the American Board

When the Board of Domestic Missions was erected, in 1816, the committee which reported its constitution to the Assembly, at the same time, recommended the organization of a Foreign Missionary Society, to be composed of members, not only of our own, but, also, of the Reformed Dutch and Associate Reformed Churches. A committee was, therefore, appointed, to correspond with those churches, and endeavor to secure the erection of such an institution. The result was, the organization, in 1817, of the United Foreign Missionary Society, which, although originated at the suggestion of the General Assembly, and under the patronage of the three denominations named, was a purely voluntary, society, dependent, in no respect, as to its organization and management, upon the courts of the churches, by which it was originated and sustained.

It entered, however, with considerable efficiency, upon the work to which it was designated. The New York Missionary Society transferred to it the Tuscarora mission, commenced about 1801, and the Seneca mission originated in 1811, both in New York. The Northern Missionary Society surrendered to it, a mission at Fort Gratiot, on the river St. Clair, a little below the outlet of Lake Huron. Five missions were established by the society itself—the Union mission, on Grand River, twenty‑five miles above its junction with the Arkansas, the Great Osage mission, on the Marias de Cein, six miles above its entrance into the Osage, the Cataraugus mission in New York; the Mackinaw mission in Michigan; and the Haytian mission at Port au Prince, Hayti.

In the annual report of this society, for 1825, it was able to present the following flattering comparison:

“The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, at its eighth anniversary, reported three missionary stations, twenty missionaries and assistants, two schools, sixty‑four pagan children and youth, and one or two converts from paganism to Christianity. At its fifteenth anniversary, celebrated in September last, the same institution reported thirty‑three stations, one hundred and forty‑four missionaries and assistants, ninety schools, and three thousand scholars.

“At your eighth anniversary, you number eight missions, fifty‑five missionaries and assistants, four schools, two hundred and thirty pagan youth, and more than forty converts to the faith and hope of the Gospel. Should the sphere of your operations be extended, in the ratio which has marked the progress of that important society, you will, in seven years, number seventy-eight stations, three hundred and ninety-six missionaries and assistants, one hundred and eighty schools, and more than ten thousand scholars. To this may be added, should the blessing of Heaven descend, proportionally, upon your labors, you will behold a company of more than five hundred converts, rescued, through your instrumentality, from the dominion and degradation of paganism, and rejoicing in the efficiency of that grace, which had raised them to the high and holy character of children of God, and heirs of eternal glory. Carry your view forward, to the close of a few more septennial periods, and who can estimate the amount of temporal and spiritual benefit, that may redound to immortal souls! Who can compute the amount of revenue of glory, that may accrue to the kingdom of Immanuel?”

At the same time, the report of the treasurer announced an income of $20,975.45; all expenses paid; and a debt of $7,953.19, with which the year began, reduced to $257.62. And yet, with a situation so favorable and prospects so flattering; the Directors of this society were just about to consummate its extinction!

It was whilst this society was thus crowned with success, and seeming to glow with hope for the future, that, in the fall of 1824, the Board of Trust of the Synod of Pittsburgh advised, and the Synod consented to accept overtures received from it, proposing correspondence, with a view to becoming auxiliary.

The Synod, however, prescribed the following conditions:—1. That, until the Synod shall otherwise order, the title to the real estate at Maumee should remain in it. 2. The United Foreign Missionary Society shall establish a Board of Agency at Pittsburgh, to attend to the missions of the Synod. 3. The personal property, already acquired by the Synod, and any funds given by it, for the purpose, to be used in the support of Indian missions.

Should the society agree to these terms, and establish an agency at Pittsburgh, the Synod, under the name of the Western Missionary Society was to be, forthwith, an auxiliary of the United Foreign Missionary Society, “to the extent before described.”

These conditions were unacceptable to the managers of the United Foreign Missionary Society. The Board of Trust, therefore, consented to further negotiations; and, finally, in June, 1825, agreed to an arrangement, by which the United Foreign Missionary Society engaged to take the station at Maumee, under their care and exclusive direction, “and pay the Board of Trust of the Western Missionary Society one thousand dollars, in cash, provided, the Synod of Pittsburgh shall duly and legally convey and transfer to them the said station, with all the real and personal property of the Board of Trust of said society, thereunto belonging; to be the property, and employed for the use of said United Foreign Missionary Society.”

To this arrangement, the Synod yielded a reluctant consent, at its meeting in October, 1825, a consent which would, surely, not have been given, could the developments of a few months have been anticipated. The thousand dollars, here stipulated, was not proposed as adequate compensation for the property; but was merely, a consideration, necessary to give the contract legal force; so as to place the whole matter beyond the further control of the Synod.

Whilst the Synod of Pittsburgh was considering and ratifying these terms, for the surrender of that cherished and promising mission, the United Society had already, one month before, made proposals to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for the transfer of all its missions and property to that society, and its own dissolution. The ecclesiastical significance of this step is indicated, in the reasons adduced by the commissioners of the Society, in conference with the Board, in favor of union. They stated, that, “the spirit of controversy having subsided, the intelligent and candid of the Christian public are all satisfied that the same gospel which is preached in the Middle and Southern and Western States, is preached also in the Eastern States.

That the missionaries of both societies preach precisely the same gospel to the heathen; and that the same regulations are adopted by both, in the management of missions.

“That both derive much of their funds from the same churches and individuals; that the great body of Christians do not perceive or make any distinction between the two institutions; and, consequently, do not perceive any necessity for two, and regret the existence of two; and that many churches and individuals, unwilling to evince a preference for either, are thus prevented from acting promptly and contributing liberally to either.”

The considerations here exhibited, and which were the familiar reasons for incorporating the executive organizations of our Church with the New England Societies, never, by any accident, occurred to prevent the organization of the latter, in view of the prior existence of the others; nor to induce the amalgamation of the Congregational Societies with the Boards of the Church. The argument was only good in one direction.

These reasons for the transfer were not, however, urged upon the Assembly. To it, the plea was, a lack of funds. Says Zechariah Lewis, Esq—“So far as I know, this was the only inducement. In May, 1825, having served the Board faithfully and gratuitously, for five years, as their principal Secretary, and finding that my health began to yield under my heavy labors, and having the satisfaction of seeing the Society, for the first time, free from debt; I resigned my office, in favor of Mr. Crane, and removed my family to the country for the summer. On my return to the city, in September, I found, to my astonishment, that the drafts upon the Board, and other expenses, had, in four months, exceeded the receipts, by nearly ten thousand dollars; that the Board, as well as the Treasurer, had become alarmed; that they had determined to offer the whole concern to the Eastern Board, on condition that it would assume our debt; and that Commissioners had gone to lay the proposition before that Board, then in session.”

Upon this, Dr. Green, justly, remarks, that “if the Society was out of debt, entirely, but four months before the transfer; and if the amount of the debt, at the time it took place, did not exceed ten thousand dollars; and if, as we know was the fact, three respectable denominations were morally bound and even solemnly pledged, to see the debt discharged, it cannot be credited that there were not other, and more power motives, prompting to the transfer, than the fact that the United Foreign Missionary Society owed ten thousand dollars.” In confirmation of this view, it may be added that the debt accrued at a season of the year when all experience, then, as well as since, taught the Treasurer to expect limited receipts; that it was in the midst of this pressure and alarm of debt that the society negotiated the purchase of the mission of the Synod of Pittsburgh, at the expense of $1000, making a part of the debt; that this was done after declining the plan of the Synod, for a relation to be formed without any such expense; and that the property of the one mission thus acquired, was sufficient of itself to have paid the entire debt.

The motives governing the whole transaction; and which, especially, caused the anxiety of the Directors of the United Society to get absolute control over the mission of the Synod of Pittsburgh, may be surmised, from the insertion of a provision, in the plan of amalgamation with the American Board, designed to bind the whole Presbyterian Church to the permanent support of the Board. It proposed that. “the highest judicatories, of the Presbyterian Church, and of the Reformed Dutch Church, will recommend the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, as a National Institution, and entitled to the warm support and efficient patronage of the Churches under their respective jurisdictions.”

The proposal. of union was immediately accepted, by the American Board. The Directors of the United Foreign Missionary Society unanimously adopted it; and the Society, at its annual meeting, in May, 1826, cordially approved and recommended it to the General Assembly, for its sanction. In such circumstances, the Assembly had no alternative. To compel a society to continue its operations, which unanimously sought extinction, and had already allowed a considerable debt to accumulate through inaction, pending these negotiations, was out of the question. The subject was referred to a committee, which brought in a report recommending amalgamation, “on the terms specified.” “The Rev. Mr. McCalla,” says Dr. Janeway, “began the debate. He spoke plainly, and was insulted, by many members passing out of the room occupied by the Assembly, into the gallery of the church. They went out between him and the Moderator, Dr. McAuley. Seeing the impropriety, Dr. Junkin said, Moderator, do you see what is occurring?’ The reply was, ‘I know what I am about.’ When Bro. McCalla, had finished, I arose, to speak a few words. There was a rush of the members, who had gone out, into the room. I paused, till they were seated. After expressing my regret, on account of the necessity of the case, arising from the debt of the U. F. M. S., I said, ‘There is one term, to which I neither can, nor will, give my assent, and that is, to recommend the A. B. C. F. M., as a national society, although I should stand alone on the floor.’ I, therefore, moved that the term should be stricken out. For the motion, I assigned three reasons. Then, Dr. Alexander, who was sitting at some distance on my right hand, said, ‘Let all the terms go.’ I hesitated to make a motion for the purpose. While deliberating on the probability of its carrying, Mr. Zachariah Lewis, a member of the committee of the U. F. M. S., who was sitting near me—anxious for the amalgamation, rose while I was yet standing, and said, ‘Moderator, I make the motion to strike out all the terms.’ Then, I said, ‘Moderator, I accept that, as my motion,’—and took my seat. To my astonishment, the motion was carried, with only two or three dissenting voices.

“Afterward, a member rose and observed—‘We have saddled the A. B. C. F. M. with a debt, and, have not even recommended our churches to aid in extinguishing it. I hold in my hand, a recommendation for the contributions of the churches, which you may recall next year, if you don’t like it.’ It was adopted. Thus, our Church was saved from being deprived of the privilege and duty of carrying on the work of foreign missions.”

Dr. Janeway’s “three reasons” were, that the endorsement of the Board as a national society would be offensive to other denominations; that, the denominations which sustained the Society and the Board did not, together, constitute a majority of the religious public; and, consequently, that, if the Assembly were to denominate it, a national society, it would dishonor itself by falsehood.

Beside striking out all the terms, the Assembly further amended the paper by declaring its “consent to” instead of “approval of” the amalgamation.

The casual recommendation given to the Board, in the closing resolution, was afterward used, as we shall see, as a recognition of the claim of nationality, which was so expressly repudiated by the Assembly. The Synod of the Reformed Dutch Church took action on the amalgamation precisely coincident with that of the Assembly. It acquiesced in it, with the express declaration, “that no pledge of support or recommendation to the patronage of our churches is understood to be implied in the consent of this Synod.”

Already, fifteen years before, that Board had inexcusa bly taken possession of one of the early missions of the Assembly. In 1803, the Rev. Gideon Blackburn, whilst in attendance on the General Assembly, was invited to a conference with the Committee of Missions, and tendered an appointment; as missionary to the Cherokees. This, he accepted; and, soon, the foundations were laid for that Christian civilization, by which that people are now characterized. But, in the midst of a most prosperous career, Mr. Blackburn withdrew from the service, in 1810. The Committee had no thought of abandoning the mission, on which $8000 had been expended, with the most encouraging results. But, whilst they were looking for a suitable successor to Mr. Blackburn, the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury passed through Philadelphia, under commission from the American Board, to occupy that field. He waited on the chairman of the Committee, to learn whether they had any objections to his mission. He was informed that the Committee could not object to his laboring for the benefit of that people; but was distinctly apprised of their design to resume the mission, as soon as suit able missionaries could be obtained. The claims of our Church were, however, entirely disregarded, and the field, which was ripening to the harvest, since so abundantly realized, was, at once, occupied. by the Board. Nor did that body, in any of its reports, ever make the slightest acknowledgment of its indebtedness to the Assembly, and its missionary, for the happy results which it was privileged to chronicle, on that field.

The appropriation of this mission took place, when the American Board was but five or six years old, and when “the world was all before them where to choose.”

Upon the amalgamation of the United Foreign Mis sionary Society with the Board, there still remained one Presbyterian Mission, not absorbed. The Synod of the Carolinas, in 1802, had commenced a mission, among the Indians of that region; which was ultimately fixed among the Chickasaws, and had been successfully prosecuted, until the time of that union. The acquisition of this mission, by the American Board, was now easily accomplished. The matter was brought before the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia. That body had fallen heir to the mission, upon the division of the Synod of the Carolinas. At its sessions, in 1828, a proposition for transfer was adopted, and at the same time, a Committee appointed, to publish an address to the churches, on the subject.

“The American Board,”—So ran this address—“is, truly, a national institution. In its support, are now cordially united, our own Church, the Associate Reformed, the Dutch Reformed, and the Congregational Churches of New England; forming a body of Chris tians, vastly more numerous and efficient than any in America. Besides, the operations of that Board are extensive and magnificent, in a degree wholly unexampled on this continent.”

Thus, with paeans, was celebrated the finishing stroke of a policy, which, for a time, stripped the Presbyterian Church, of every mission, which, with prayer and. toil, she had established among the heathen; and transferred their control to a body over which the Church of God has not the slightest official authority. We have already seen the slender ground on which was founded the assertion, that the Board was sustained, as a national society, by the cordial support of the Presbyterian Associate Reformed, and Reformed Dutch Churches.

It is customary to celebrate the organization of the American Board, as the origin of American missions to the heathen. It is true, that the origin of that Board may, justly, be regarded as the era of missions in New England. And it is, farther to be admitted, that, by virtue of its abundant treasury, and the process of absorption above illustrated, it quickly assumed a most commanding position, and acquired control over the work, on a much larger scale than ever before realized. For whatever, of advancement to the cause of missions and the promulgation of the gospel, has hence resulted, let God be glorified.

But let it never be forgotten, that the Church which we love was laboring, diligently, in this blessed cause, years before that Board had existence; and that some of the missions, which have most honored the Board and cheered the hearts of those who pray—“Thy kingdom come,”—were founded, before her organization was conceived, by the labors, the contributions and the prayers of the fathers of our Church; whose deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. When the Presbyterian Church shall cease to be devoted to the cause of missions, she will be derelict, not to her duty only, but to all her holiest traditions. She will lose her identity and cease to be herself.

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