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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, froin 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 bad 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 persisted in, and its organs, the clerks, were to make up a partial list, omitting the excluded delegates, which list was to be the sole guide in culling and organizing the Assembly, and was to be defended to the last. In these circumstances, revolutionary measures would have been justified, as a redress of grievances, and an intelligent community, would not have failed to see the necessity and the righteousness of any proceedings suited to meet the emergency. The course, however, was a plain one, without resort to revolution. The commonest principles of the organization of representative bodies gave them a constitutional remedy
Accordingly, at the appointed time for the meeting of the Assembly, the representatives of all the presbyteries gave their attendance. Those from the exscinded bodies and the whole body of the friends of union announced to the world, as the constitutional principle, by which they intended to be governed, that no General Assembly could be regularly organized, which should exclude any part of the delegates from their equal rights. They offered their commissions, in the usual form, to the clerks, to be entered on the roll of the members. They were rejected on the authority of the previous Assembly. They all, however, resorted to the place of meeting of the Assembly, and took their seats as members; and at the first opportunity, as soon as the preliminary exercises of the Assembly were over, on the ground of the refusal of the clerks to enroll all the members, a motion was made to the moderator, that the clerk be instructed to make up the roll according to immemorial usage, and established practice. The moderator declared the motion to be out of order, because the completing of the roll—the very matter to which the motion applied—was the business in order! An appeal was, of course, taken from such a decision. Every body knows that an appeal from a decision of a, question of order is always in order when the decision is made; but the moderator declared the appeal to be out of order, and refused to put it to the house; and the mover sat down. The clerk read his report upon the roll, and the moderator announced, that if any names were to be added, that was the time to move for their addition. Immediately another motion was made, that the names of the gentlemen, whose commissions had been rejected by the clerk, be added. The moderator, instead of putting the motion to the house, decided it, on his own responsibility, and declared that they could not be added. The motion was repeated, and he decided it to be out of order. An appeal was taken, and he refused to put that
also, declaring it to be out of order. A motion was then made by another commissioner, to have his name added, which the moderator disposed of in the same suminary manner, showing clearly, that he was willing to pervert what he supposed to be the power of his office to the purposes of a mere party. By the constitution, he was moderator only “lill another be chosen, and was, of course, removable at pleasure. A motion was accordingly put to the Assembly, by one of the members, that another person be appointed moderator, which was carried. The party of the moderator, with few exceptions, not voting. In the same manner the pledged clerks were removed, and others appointed in their place, who made out the roll, according to established usage, inserting the names of all the commissioners who had been excluded by the previous clerks, and the Assembly inmediately adjourned to another place. The old moderator and clerks, however, declined to consider themselves removed, and, with their party, remained behind, after the Assembly had adjourned, claimed to be the only true General Assembly, and went on and performed the usual functions of that body, as did also the General Assembly. The great difference in the principles of their organization was that the General Assembly embraced, and enrolled, and regularly called, all the members from all the presbyteries, while the party that remained behind, and went on with the old moderator and clerks, excluded, to the end, those who had been excluded by the clerks, in obedience to the command of the previous Assembly. The result was that two bodies were in session, claiming to be the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church.
Among other duties to be performed by the General Assembly, is that of appointing " trustees of the General Assembly," the corporation having charge of the property of the Assembly. Appointments were made by both bodies, and two sets of trustees claim their seats at that board. It is to settle that question that the suit now pending, in the courts of Pennsylvania, is brought, and it depends upon the question, which body was the true General Assembly? This depends upon the validity of the exscinding resolutions. The result of a trial upon the merits must show whether, as the friends of union contend, the church is still one and undivided, or whether the General Assembly of 1837 have really riven it in twain.
Much effort has been made to excite prejudices against the friends of union, because of their having resorted to the courts of law in this ecclesiastical matter. The effort, however, cannot but fail, and ultimately react upon those who have made it. There is too much coinmon sense and common honesty, 100 much confidence in the tribunals, and too much respect for those, who, in a proper spirit, and for proper ends, resort to them, to look with an evil eye upon an attempt to obtain justice in the usual manner; especially when the wrong consists in a total exclusion from those church judicatories, which, hitherto, bad been open to relieve from ecclesiastical oppressions. The glorious law of religious liberty and protection, which puts its heavenly shield over all of us, in this country, and is one of the noblest characteristics of our institutions, had been in vain adopted, if it had not sprung from the sacred character of religious rights, and the universal sentiment that an invasion of them is an attack upon the common interest, which it is every man's business to resist. The confession of faith of the Presbyterian church speaks in no doubtful terms on this subject : “ It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse or injury to any other person whatsoever. Who is willing to sit quietly down under oppression? Who likes it the better because it comes in the holy garb of religion? They know little of the common sense of justice in our country, who suppose that 60,000 persons,
of both sexes, and of all ages and conditions, would patiently receive a decree of dishonor, and deprivation of their religious rights, an er post facto edict, passed without notice, without accuser, without accusation, without citation, without proof, or pretence of trial, without naming an individual or specifying an offence. It would be slavery indeed where such things could be done, and the injured be, at the same instant, deprived of their rights and of the privilege of resorting to either religious or civil courts for redress.
Time alone can determine what will be the result of the pending suit. It must have a very important influence on the prospects of the parties. The only hope should be that the constitution of the church shall be vindicated, whatever consequences may result to the parties interested. If that is not to prevail, why was it made? why is it retained ? If it cannot protect the church, let it be abolished, and let every one do what is right in his own eyes. It is worse than idle to have a
false and pretended security, more unsubstantial than the paper upon which it is written. If it is to be violated at the pleasure of few or many, with impunity, the sooner the Presbyterian church is broken up, as a separate sect, the better. It is not only the right, but the duty of all who fear God and regard man, to seek other communions, where freedom and right are respected as well for their own sakes as for the good of society. But such is not to be the necessity. The right, sooner or later, will prevail. Dabit Deus his quoque finem. Time and reflection will work wonders, in keeping together parts which have seemed so repulsive, or in brinying them together, if, perchance, it should be decided that the General Assembly had power thus forcibly to sunder the church. No one can look back upon the controversy in a spirit of rational candor, without seeing and feeling how paltry and inadequate were all the causes that led the Assembly of 1837 to work this evil and unnatural division.
Candid minds, on all hands, now adınit that there was not, and is not now, any important difference in doctrine between the two parties—they do not differ more than the members of each party differ with each other. There is here and there, in every sect, an individual errorist, or heretic, and of course, in the Presbyterian church. But the line of this excision was not the line of any difference in doctrine. Nor was the question of church order anything in truth. Who can believe that the existence of a few churches without elders, scattered through the new settlements, could, in sober reason, have been made the cause of cutting off, “ with one fell swoop,” hundreds and hundreds of churches, which were Presbyterian, “after the straitest sect of our religion?" This too, when an indefinite number of churches without elders were retained, and when, too, this very exscinding party, in their letters missive to their missionaries, expressly assert that the existence of an eldership, in a Presbyterian Church, may depend upon circumstances. “ The only departure," say they, “ from the usages of the church, which we can consider as likely, in some cases, to be necessary, is that which relates to the appointment of ruling elders. In the infancy of the church, at some of the missionary stations, it may not always be practicable to obtain suitable candidates for this office among the converts from paganism;" and the apostolic age is properly referred to for authority! When party spirit does not color the medium, how clear the light of reason and revelation shines into the heart of intelligent Cbris