Chapter XXIV

The Western Missionary Question

The subject of Domestic Missions came before the Assembly of 1831, through several overtures, on missions in the West, and through the annual report of the Board. In the report, the Assembly was informed of a year of most successful operations. It also communicated a resolution just adopted by the Board, that “in humble reliance on divine Providence, the Board of Missions will use their best endeavors to supply, in the course of five years, every vacant Presbyterian congregation, and destitute district, which may be disposed to receive aid from this Board, with a faithful and devoted minister of the gospel of Christ; and they do hereby pledge themselves to extend prompt and efficient aid to all feeble congregations, throughout the Valley, which shall apply to them for assistance, with suitable recommendations; and, also, to send into this particular field, every well‑qualified licentiate or minister of the Gospel who may hereafter be willing to en gage in this work.”

Three friends of the present Board of Missions had promised the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, in five annual payments, to aid in fulfilling this pledge. The evidence thus given by the Board and its friends, of a purpose to enter with determined energy into the great Valley of the West, which the American Home Missionary Society was so earnestly striving to possess, elicited strong indications of displeasure, from the majority of the Assembly. The usual vote of approval was withheld. Members insisted upon the striking out of that part of the report which respected the pledge; but it was, at length, resolved that with the suggestions made by the committee, which denied the accuracy of the statements of the report, on these points, “it be re turned to the Board for its disposal.”

The overtures on missions in the West were referred to a committee, which reported a plan for union with the American Society, upon the basis of Dr. Peters’ Cincinnati scheme.

A substitute for this proposition was moved, recom mending the Western Synods to correspond with one another, and agree upon some plan, to be reported to the next Assembly. Pending the decision, the movements hostile to the Board reached a crisis.

A motion had been made, by Dr. Richards, that a committee should be raised to nominate a Board of Missions. Dr. William Wylie moved a postponement of this, to make room for a motion to reappoint the old Board. In the discussion, the Rev. E. N. Kirk, stated that he came to the Assembly, for the purpose of accomplishing two objects, the vindication of Mr. Barnes, and the dismissal of Mr. Russell, from the service of the Board; on account of his course in the case of Mr. Barnes. He intimated that these were the objects of his party, and that candor required their avowal.

The means on which the party relied for the latter purpose, was the election of a new Board, which was expected to amalgamate with the American Society.

The motion to appoint a nominating committee prevailed, by a vote of 109, to 87. This committee, appointed by the Moderator, consisted of Rev. Dr. Asa Hillyer, Rev. D. H. Riddle, Rev. Moses Chase, Rev. Asahel Bronson, Rev. S. Y. Garrison; and Elders William Jessup and William Anderson: The chairman, Dr. Hillyer, was a member of the Board of Directors of the Home Missionary Society, and the other members were, without exception, hostile to the Assembly’s Board. This committee soon reported a list of nominations, in which the friends of the Home Missionary Society, and enemies of the Boards of the Church had an overwhelming majority. The Old School were allowed a respectable representation, in the distant parts of the Church. But of the members from the two Synods of New Jersey and Philadelphia, which lay immediately adjacent to the office of the Board in Philadelphia, the New School were assigned a majority of nearly two to one. Dr. Green, Mr. Russell, and a few others of the old friends of the Board were retained. But so few that they could have done nothing; and their continuance was believed to be with the expectation that they would resign, as soon as the changed complexion of the Board became apparent.

It was understood, by the Old School members of the Assembly, that the plan was to have the new Board meet, at once; while the Assembly was still in session, and enter into such a treaty with the American Society as would bind the Church to that institution. When, therefore, the report of the nominating committee came in, it occasioned a scene of intense . excitement and confusion. Various motions were made; and many speakers at once claimed the floor. The Moderator’s authority was disregarded, and at length a recess of ten minutes was resorted to, as the only means of restoring the house to order.

After the recess, the Assembly engaged in prayer for the divine direction. The Rev. Dr. William Patton, then, offered a proposition, upon which he and Dr. Spring had agreed, during the recess, as a compromise. It consisted in reappointing the old Board, and the adoption of the resolution then pending, as to the. plan for missions in the West. The Rev. Elipha White, of Charleston, S. C., opposed the continuance of the old Board, because they were so devoted to the West that they would neglect the South. To obviate this objection, Dr. Spring proposed to endeavor to raise a thousand dollars, to be expended by the Board in the South. This, Mr. White resented, as an offered bribe!

A committee of compromise was at length appointed, consisting of the Rev. F. A. Ross, Dr. Peters, and Mr. Jessup; Dr. Green, Dr. Spring, and Mr. Breckinridge.

The committee, almost immediately, reported the following minute:

“In view of existing evils, resulting from the separ ate action of the Board of Missions of the General Assembly, and the American Home Missionary Society; the General Assembly recommends to the Synods of Ohio, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Tennessee, Indiana, and Illinois, and the Presbyteries connected with the same, to correspond with each other, and en deavor to agree upon some plan of conducting domestic missions, in the Western States, and report the result of their correspondence to the next General Assembly; it being understood that the brethren of the West be left to their freedom to form any organization which, in their judgment, may best promote the cause of mis sions, in those States, and, also, that all the Synods and Presbyteries in the Valley of the Mississippi may be embraced in this correspondence, provided they desire it.

” Resolved, by this Assembly, that the present Board of Missions be reappointed.”

An attempt was made to strike out of this report, the clause proposing to embrace all the Synods and Presby teries, in the Valley of the Mississippi, provided they desire it; but the motion was rejected. The report was then adopted, by a large majority.

The plan for a correspondence of the western judica tories was urged upon the Assembly, by the friends of the American Society, in the confidence of having the control in those bodies; and measures were at once taken to secure that object. Under date of June 6th, a communication was sent from Philadelphia, by a number of the western members of the Assembly to the Rev. John Thompson and two other members of the Cincinnati Presbytery, appointing them a committee to organize and direct the correspondence. They were advised to secure the appointment, by the Presbyteries, at their fall meetings, of delegates to meet in Cincinnati, “with all other friends that might be disposed so to do,” to determine the question which was submitted to them.

In fulfillment of this appointment and plan, Mr. Thompson issued a circular letter, in which he desig nated Wednesday, the 23d of November, as the time for the proposed convention. After indicating the design of the convention, to determine whether any change was desirable; and if any, what, he stated that, as the convention meet only for obtaining information, for mutual prayerful deliberation, and counsel, it is thought best to leave it to every Presbytery to send as many delegates as they choose, or may find convenient; allowing, also, any intelligent members of the Presby terian churches, who feel a deep interest in the missionary cause, in the West, to attend and aid, in the deliberations; if they observe the same order as will be expected of delegates appointed by Presbyteries.”

Could this plan have been carried into effect, the Convention would have been controlled by the New School of Cincinnati. Upon the publication of Mr. Thompson’s circular, a meeting of the Presbytery of West Lexington was immediately called. After two days deliberation, it unanimously adopted a plan for the convention. It declared it desirable and expedient that all the Presbyteries in the Valley be represented, that their representation be upon the ratio to which they are entitled in the Assembly, that if distant Presbyteries send a less number than their ratio, they be entitled to their full vote; that if any Presbytery be unable to send delegates, it forward an answer to the question, “To what plan, for conducting missions in the Valley of the Mississippi, would your Presbytery give the preference?”—and that no delegate be sent, who has not been regularly ordained to the ministry or eldership, after taking the prescribed obligations to the Constitution. With these, were other subsidiary regulations.

The clerk was directed to publish this plan in all the papers; to send a copy to the stated clerk of each Presbytery in the Valley, and to request Mr. Thompson to co-operate with this modified arrangement. Several other Presbyteries endorsed the plan thus modified ;and in accordance with it, the convention was organized.

On the 1st of September, a conference was held in Pittsburgh, in response to a published call to the members of the Synod, of that name, to consult as to their duty in the premises. There were present members from five of the Presbyteries of that Synod. They declared themselves “decidedly of the opinion that the General Assembly should not place the important and precious trust of missions beyond the control and authority of its judicatories; and that the exigencies of the case do not require the institution, within its bounds, of an additional Board of domestic missions.” They also declared it to be “highly expedient to cooperate with the western brethren, on the plan recommended by the Presbytery of West Lexington.”

Subsequently, a Pittsburgh delegate elect, addressed a written inquiry to Mr. Thompson, whether the presence of the delegation from that Synod was expected or desirable. The reply was in the affirmative.

At the appointed time, the convention met, in the Third Presbyterian Church, in Cincinnati. An opening sermon was preached by the Rev. James Gallaher, Rev. Messrs. T. D. Baird, and Gallaher, and R. J. Breckinridge, Esq., were appointed a committee of elections, and reported forty-five delegates in attendance, representing twenty Presbyteries. The Rev. Dr. James Blythe was chosen Moderator, and Rev. Messrs: Samuel Steel and A. O. Patterson, clerks.

The convention continued in session a week. Incidental to its main business, a letter was received and read from two ruling elders in the Presbytery of Portage, Messrs. Joseph Ewart and Robert Baird, elders of the congregation of Springfield. They stated themselves to be, so far as they knew or believed, the only elders in the entire Presbytery, the only persons therefore entitled to sit as such from that Presbytery, in the Convention, and, as they dissented from the mind of the Presbytery, on the missionary question, they took this mode of expressing their dissent. They held that “The location and removal of ministers and pastors belongs to the Church as such, agreeably to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church; and we believe this accords with the Word of God. If this be proper and needful, in the case of regularly organized congregations, it is much more necessary, in sending missionaries to destitute regions.” “Further, as we apprehend that it is contemplated to form a missionary organization or agency at Cincinnati; even though a majority of the Convention be opposed to it, and though the last General Assembly recommended that the result of the correspondence be reported to the next Assembly, for its decision, we do here record our entire. disapprobation of such a procedure. We consider that such a measure would be a direct violation of order, rendering the Convention of none effect, and calculated to create and increase division in the Church of Christ, particularly in that branch of it over which we, by office, and solemn covenant obligations, are appointed as watchmen.”

The apprehension thus expressed, arose no doubt from the action of Grand River Presbytery, which was not represented in the Convection, but sent on a communication, proposing that a society be formed, independent of both those already existing, but “to co‑operate with either or both of them, whenever they may think best, have the centre of their operations at Cincinnati or some more convenient place; and that this society be formed during the sitting of the Convention, by such members as approve of the plan, and that measures be taken to commence immediate operations.”

It was apparent, however, from the .first moment of the assembling of the Convention, that the Home Society had utterly miscalculated its strength in the West. Five agents and missionaries of the society were members of the Convention ; and but two other ministerial delegates voted with them.

On the third day of the sessions, a proposition was made, that the Assembly organize a Western Board of Missions, to be under its control and supervision, independent, alike, of the Society and of the existing Board; but to receive pecuniary aid from both. This motion was rejected, by a vote of twenty-eight to forty-one; the vote being counted according to the representative ratio of the Presbyteries. Another proposition was made, that. the wrongs done on both sides be forgiven and forgotten, and both the Assembly’s Board and the American Society recommended, as deserving the support and confidence of the churches; their amalgamation being pronounced undesirable, as the two would do more good, than one. This way rejected, by a vote of seventeen to fifty-two. The final result of six days’ deliberations, was embodied in the following minute:

“Whereas, it appears from the report of the committee to receive and report all written communications to the Convention, that, of the Presbyteries in the Valley of the Mississippi, fifteen, entitled to forty-two votes, have not been heard from; that one, entitled to two votes, is in favor of the American Home Missionary Society; that one, entitled to four votes, is in favor of both Boards, as they now exist; that two, entitled to eight votes, are in favor of an independent Western society; that one, entitled to two votes, is in favor of ecclesiastical supervision; and that seven, entitled to twenty-two votes, are in favor of the General Assembly’s Board, in its present organization; and whereas twenty Presbyteries, entitled to seventy votes, being actually present in the Convention, a plan for the establishment of a Western Board of Missions, under the care of the General Assembly, after a full discussion, has been rejected, by a vote of forty-one to twenty-eight; and as it appears to the Convention, from these facts, that no arrangement, into which we can possibly enter, is likely to reconcile conflicting views on the subject; that, so far from healing divisions, or restoring peace to the churches, by any new expedients, they would only tend to multiply the points of difference, and increase the evil, therefore,

“Resolved, That, under these circumstances, they deem it inexpedient to propose any change in the General Assembly’s mode of conducting missions; as they fully approve of that now in such successful operation; and that the purity, peace, and prosperity of the Presbyterian Church materially depend on the active and efficient aid the sessions and Presbyteries under its care may afford to the Assembly’s Board.”

The minute was adopted; by fifty‑four ayes, to fifteen noes. The following resolution was then offered:

“That this Convention, notwithstanding the preference avowed for the Assembly’s Board of Missions, unite with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in feelings, of regard and affection for the American Home Missionary Society; and rejoice in the hope that by the aid of that society many of the destitute churches in the Valley of the Mississippi will be supplied with the stated preaching of the gospel, and many souls converted to God.”

This resolution was indefinitely postponed, by a vote of forty‑two to seventeen. After taking order for the publication of its proceedings, the Convention, then, adjourned.

Before separating the minority appointed a committee to draw up and publish a statement of reasons of dissatisfaction with the decisions. This committee, speedily issued a “Report,” in a pamphlet of forty-eight pages. They complained grievously of “the paramount and controlling influence, in the Convention, of the Synod of Pittsburgh:” that Synod not being one of the seven specified in the minute of the Assembly, under which the Convention was called. One of the committee, by whom this report was prepared and published, was the Rev. Daniel W. Lathrop, of the Synod of the Western Reserve, which was no more specifically named in the Assembly’s minute than was the other. But both were included in the provision, which the Assembly, expressly, refused to strike out of the minute, that any other Synods and Presbyteries in the Valley, besides those named should ” be embraced in the correspondence, if they desire it.”

Other complaints, made, in the report, were, that the Cincinnati Standard had opposed the Convention, and thus led the friends of the American Society to absent themselves, upon the supposition that its conclusions would not be regarded, by the friends of the Board; that the delegates came, under instructions as to their votes, and were therefore without discretion; and that the Board of Missions itself had violated a tacit expectation of the Assembly, that they would not interfere; by republishing its reply to the Cincinnati Presbytery; and by announcing to the public that its views remained the same.

But especial emphasis was laid upon “the Secret Circular, issued by a certain Central Committee in Philadelphia.” “To that circular we are disposed to trace the singularly full representation of the Synod of Pittsburgh. It is, at least, a striking fact that the Convention at Pittsburgh, which resulted in so full a representation to the Convention at Cincinnati, was called by the committee of safety for that Synod, named in the circular; with the exception of one whose name was placed on that committee without his sanction.”

The Central Committee, here alluded to, was appointed by the minority of the Assembly of 1831. It consisted of the Rev. Dr. Green, Rev. Messrs. Potts, Engles, and Winchester, and Elders Matthew L. Bevan, Solomon Allen, and Furman Learning. At the same time, committees of correspondence were appointed in each Synod. That of the Synod of Pittsburgh, referred to in the Report, consisted of Rev. Messrs. E. P. Swift, T. D. Baird, A. D. Campbell, Win. Wylie, C. C. Beattie, and John W. Nevin.

The ” Secret Circular” was a communication, under date of July 21, 1831, issued by the Central Committee, and sent to the Synodical committees, and to others throughout the Church, who were supposed to sympathize with the objects. After stating the nature of the crisis, resulting from the organization and action of the Assembly of 1831, the circular proposed and answered the question, “What ought to be done?” Under the solemn conviction that “this is the last year in which our Church will remain without essential changes, unless her children shall be roused to a sense of their danger, and call into vigorous action their united energies, in her defence,” the following measures were recommended:

“First of all, look to God for his guidance and blessing …Let us also both pray and labor to promote vital piety…

“2. Let all lawful measures be used to rouse our brethren, both clergy and laity, to a just sense of their situation and their duty. With this view, we advise that you correspond with Presbyteries, as stated in the beginning of this communication. Make, also, a free, but discreet use of the press; and encourage liberally, and circulate as widely as possible those publications which maintain the real doctrines of our Church, and advocate the support of her institutions…

“3. Our Board of Education and Board of Missions must both receive a liberal patronage and a decided support. This is essential; without this, we are undone. The voluntary associations that seek to engross the patronage of our Church, and have already engrossed a large part of it, have taken the start of us, in the all important concerns of education and of missions. They now labor to get the whole of these into their own bands; well knowing that, if this be effected, they will, infallibly, in a very short time, govern the Church; for education furnishes missionaries, and missionaries become pastors, and pastors, with their ruling elders, form Church Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies…

“Finally, The several judicatories of our Church must be carefully and punctually attended, by every orthodox man, whose right and duty it is to hold a seat in them…Nor was it ever so important in our Church, as at the present time, that orthodox Presbyteries should choose wise men, and firm men, to represent them in the Assembly. But it is most important that every man elected, whether minister or elder, unless prevented by invincible hindrances of a providential kind, should attend that body, at the next meeting. For want of that, at our last meeting, we were left in a minority.”…

Such was the whole substance of the paper, stigmatized in the “Report,” as a “Secret Circular,” although it conveyed no injunction of secrecy, and proposed no deeds of darkness. The New School party strove, by every means, to render it odious, with a zeal proportioned to the well-grounded apprehensions they felt of its influence in arousing and organizing the Old School party.

A reply to the Report, and a review of the Convention was published in the Presbyterian, by the Rev. Thomas D. Baird, in a series of articles, signed by “A member of the Convention.” The developments and decisions of that Convention, terminated the active Home Missionary controversy. Thenceforward, the efforts of the American Society were directed, rather, to the silent acquisition of influence, by multiplying its missionaries; than, to open assaults upon the Board, or formal attempts to accomplish its amalgamation, by the authority of the Assembly.

One of the suggestions made in the Philadelphia Circular was that a free use of the press should be made by the Old School. Heretofore, the papers of the Church had all been under the control of the New School, or of the Moderates. But, on the 16th of March, 1831, the first number of the Presbyterian was issued, a paper, the principles of which were sufficiently indicated by the statement at its head, that its profits would be divided between the Boards of Missions and Education. During the same season the Cincinnati Standard commenced its issues; and the next spring, the Rev. Thomas D. Baird succeeded to the editorial chair of the Pittsburgh Christian Herald. Mr. Baird and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Ralston, the Philo Evangelicus of the Herald, had early covenanted with each other to devote their pens to the maintenance of the doctrinal purity and the order of the Church; a covenant which both of them fully redeemed; and Mr. Baird was now, by the friends of sound order, selected to preside over the press, at the most critical position in the entire field; requiring, more perhaps than any other, the utmost prudence, sound judgment, and firmness. For, whilst the Scotch‑Irish Presbyterians of that Synod were of the most determined loyalty to the doctrines and institutions of the Church, the positions of distinction and controlling influence in the Synod were, with a very few exceptions, held by men whose sympathies were altogether against the decisive course of policy, by which, under the smile of the gracious Head of the Church, she was finally rescued from the dangers which surrounded her.

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