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THE AMERICAN CHURCH ON THE EVE OF THE GREAT AWAKENING—A GENERAL VIEW.
BY the end of one hundred years from the settlement of Massachusetts important changes had come upon the chain of colonies along the Atlantic seaboard in America. In the older colonies the people had been born on the soil at two or three generations’ remove from the original colonists, or belonged to a later stratum of migration superimposed upon the first. The exhausting toil and privations of the pioneer had been succeeded by a good measure of thrift and comfort. There were yet bloody campaigns to be fought out against the ferocity and craft of savage enemies wielded by the strategy of Christian neighbors; but the severest stress of the Indian wars was passed. In different degrees and according to curiously diverse types, the institutions of a Christian civilization were becoming settled.
In the course of this hundred years the political organization of these various colonies had been drawn into an approach to uniformity. In every one of them, excepting Connecticut and Rhode Island, the royal or proprietary government was represented by a governor and his staff, appointed from England, and furnishing a point of contact which was in every case and all the time a point of 128friction and irritation between the colony and the mother country. The reckless laxity of the early Stuart charters, which permitted the creation of practically independent democratic republics with churches free from the English hierarchy, was succeeded, under the House of Orange, by something that looked like a statesmanlike care for the prerogatives of the crown and the privileges of the English church. Throughout the colonies, at every viceregal residence, it was understood that this church, even where it was not established by law, was the favored official and court church. But inasmuch as the royal governors were officially odious to the people, and at the same time in many cases men of despicable personal character, their influence did little more than create a little “sect of the Herodians” within the range of their patronage. But though it gave no real advantage to the preferred church, it was effective (as in Massachusetts) in breaking down the exclusive pretensions of other organizations.
The Massachusetts theocracy, so called, fell with the revocation of the charter by James II. It had stood for nearly fifty years—long enough to accomplish the main end of that Nationalist principle which the Puritans, notwithstanding their fraternizing with the Pilgrim Separatists, had never let go. The organization of the church throughout New England, excepting Rhode Island, had gone forward in even step with the advance of population. Two rules had with these colonists the force of axioms: first, that it was the duty of every town, as a Christian community, to sustain the town church; secondly, that it was the duty of every citizen of the town to contribute to this end according to his ability. The breaking up of the town church by schisms and the shirking of individual duty on the ground of dissent were alike discountenanced, sometimes by severely intolerant measures. The ultimate 129collision of these principles with the sturdy individualism that had been accepted from the Separatists of Plymouth was inevitable. It came when the “standing order” encountered the Baptist and the Quaker conscience. It came again when the missionaries of the English established church, with singular unconsciousness of the humor of the situation, pleaded the sacred right of dissenting and the essential injustice of compelling dissenters to support the parish church.7676 One is touched by the plaintive grief of the Rev. Mr. Muirson, who has come from the established church of England to make proselytes from the established churches of Connecticut. He writes to the “S. P. G.,” without a thought of casting any reflections upon his patrons: “It would require more time than you would willingly bestow on these Lines, to express how rigidly and severely they treat our People, by taking their Estate by distress when they do not willingly pay to support their Ministers” (“Digest of S. P. G. Records,” p. 43). The pathos of the situation is intensified when we bear in mind the relation of this tender-hearted gentleman’s own emoluments to the taxes extorted from the Congregationalists in his New York parish. The protest may have been illogical, but it was made effective by “arguments of weight,” backed by all the force of the British government. The exclusiveness of the New England theocracies, already relaxed in its application to other sects, was thenceforth at an end. The severity of church establishment in New England was so far mitigated as at last to put an actual premium on dissent. Holding still that every citizen is bound to aid in maintaining the institutions of public worship, it relieved any one of his assessment for the support of the parish church upon his filing a certificate that he was contributing to the support of another congregation, thus providing that any disaffection to the church of the town must be organized and active. It was the very euthanasia of establishment. But the state-church and church-state did not cease to be until they had accomplished that for New England which has never been accomplished elsewhere in America—the dividing of the settled regions into definite 130parishes, each with its church and its learned minister. The democratic autonomy of each church was jealously guarded, and yet they were all knit together by terms of loose confederation into a vital system. The impracticable notion of a threefold ministry in each church, consisting of pastor, teacher, and ruling elder, failed long before the first generation had passed; but, with this exception, it may justly be said that the noble ideal of the Puritan fathers of New England of a Christian state in the New World, “wherein dwelleth righteousness,” was, at the end of a hundred years from their planting, realized with a completeness not common to such prophetic dreams.
So solid and vital, at .the point of time which we have assumed (1730), seemed the cohesion of the “standing order” in New England, that only two inconsiderable defections are visible to the historian.
The tendency toward Baptist principles early disclosed itself among the colonists. The example of Roger Williams was followed by less notable instances; the shameful intolerance with which some of these were treated shows how formidable this tendency seemed to those in authority. But a more startling defection appeared about the year 1650, when President Dunster of Harvard College, a man most honorable and lovable, signified his adoption of the Baptist tenets. The treatment of him was ungenerous, and for a time the petty persecutions that followed served rather to discredit the clergy than really to hinder the spread of Baptist principles. In the year 1718 the Baptist church of Boston received fraternal recognition from the foremost representatives of the Congregational clergy of Boston, with a public confession of the wrong that they had done.7777 See above, p. 107. It is surprising to find, after all this agitation and sowing of “the seed of the church,” that in 131all New England outside of Rhode Island there are in 1730 only six Baptist churches, including (an honorable item) two Indian churches on the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.7878 Newman, “Baptist Churches in the United States,” pp. 197, 198, 231.
The other departure from the “standing order” was at this date hardly more extensive. The early planting of Episcopalian churches in Maine and New Hampshire, with generous patronage and endowment, had languished and died. In 1679 there was no Episcopal minister in all New England. In 1702 were begun the energetic and richly supported missions of the “S. P. G.” At the end of twenty-eight years there were in Rhode Island four Episcopalian churches; in Massachusetts, three, two of them in the city of Boston; in Connecticut, three.7979 Tiffany, “Protestant Episcopal Church,” chaps. iv., v.; C. F. Adams, “Three Episodes in Massachusetts History,” pp. 342, 621. But in the last-named colony an incident had occurred, having apparently no intimate connection with the “Venerable Society’s” missions, but charged with weighty, and on the whole beneficent, consequences for the future of the kingdom of Christ in America.
The incident was strikingly parallel to that of seventy years before; when the president of Harvard College announced his acceptance of Baptist principles. The day after the Yale commencement in September, 1722, a modest and respectful paper was presented to the trustees of the college, signed by Rector Timothy Cutler and Tutor Brown (who constituted the entire faculty of the college) and by five pastors of good standing in the Connecticut churches. Two other pastors of note were named as assenting to the paper, although not subscribing it. It seemed a formidable proportion of the Connecticut clergy. The purport of the paper was to signify that the signers 132were doubtful of the validity, or persuaded of the invalidity, of presbyterial as distinguished from episcopal ordination. The matter was considered with the gravity which it merited, and a month later, at the time of the meeting of the colonial legislature, was made the subject of a public discussion, presided over with great dignity and amenity by Governor Gurdon Saltonstall, formerly pastor of the church in New London. The result was that, of the seven pastors assenting to the paper of the two college men, only two adhered to them; but one of these two was that able and excellent Samuel Johnson, whose later career as president of King’s College in. New York, as well as the career of his no less distinguished son, is an ornament to American history both of church and state.
This secession, small in number, but weighty in character, was of course a painful shock to the hitherto unbroken unity of the church and clergy of Connecticut. But it was not quite like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. It had been immediately preceded by not a little conference and correspondence with Connecticut pastors on the one hand, and on the other hand with representatives of the powerful and wealthy Propagation Society, on the question of support to be received from England for those who should secede. Its prior antecedents reached farther back into history. The Baptist convictions of the president of Harvard in 1650 were not more clearly in line with the individualism of the Plymouth Separatists than the scruples of the rector of Yale in 1722 were in line with the Nationalism of Higginson and Winthrop. This sentiment, especially strong in Connecticut, had given rise to much study as to the best form of a colonial church constitution; and the results of this had recently been embodied (in 1708) in the mildly classical system of the Saybrook Platform. The filial love of the Puritan colonists toward the mother 133church of England was by no means extinct in the third generation. Alongside of the inevitable repugnance felt and manifested toward the arrogance, insolence, and violence with which the claims of the Episcopal Church were commended by royal governors and their attaches and by some of the imported missionaries, there is ample evidence of kindly and fraternal feeling, far beyond what might have been expected, on the part of the New England clergy toward the representatives of the Church of England. The first missionaries of the “Venerable Society,” Keith and Talbot, arriving in New England in 1702, met with welcome from some of the ministers, who “both hospitably entertained us in their houses and requested us to preach in their congregations, which accordingly we did, and received great thanks both from the ministers and people.”8080 “Digest of S. P. G.,” p. 42. One of these hospitable pastors was the Rev. Gurdon Saltonstall, of New London, who twenty years later, as governor of the colony, presided at the debate which followed upon the demission of Rector Cutler.
The immediate results of what had been expected to lead off a large defection from the colonial clergy were numerically insignificant; but very far from insignificant was the fact that in Connecticut a sincere and spontaneous movement toward the Episcopal Church had arisen among men honored and beloved, whose ecclesiastical views were not tainted with self-seeking or servility or with an unpatriotic shame for their colonial home and sympathy with its political enemies. Elsewhere in New England, and largely in Connecticut also, the Episcopal Church in its beginnings was handicapped with a dead-weight of supercilious and odious Toryism. The example of a man like Johnson showed that one might become an Episcopalian without ceasing to be a patriotic American and without 134holding himself aloof from the fellowship of good men. The conference in Yale College library, September 13, 1722, rather than the planting of a system of exotic missions, marks the true epoch from which to date the progress of a genuinely American Episcopal Church.8181 Tiffany, chap. v. For a full account of these beginnings in Connecticut in their historical relations, see L. Bacon on “The Episcopal Church in Connecticut” (“New Englander,” vol. xxv., pp. 283-329).
Crossing the recently settled boundary line into New York, not yet risen to rank with the foremost colonies, we find in 1730 a deepening of the early character, which had marked that colony, of wide diversity among the Christian people in point of race, language, doctrinal opinion, and ecclesiastical connection.
The ancient Dutch church, rallying from its almost asphyxia, had begun not only to receive new life, but, under the fervid spiritual influence of Domine Frelinghuysen, to “have it more abundantly” and to become a means of quickening to other communions. It was bearing fruit, but its fruit had not seed within itself after its kind. It continued to suffer, in common with some other imported church systems, from depending on a transatlantic hierarchy for the succession of its ministry. The supply of imported ministers continued to be miserably inadequate to the need. In the first four decades of the century the number of its congregations more than doubled, rising to a total of sixty-five in New York and New Jersey; and for these sixty-five congregations there were nineteen ministers, almost all of them from Europe. This body of churches, so inadequately manned, was still further limited in its activities by the continually contracting barrier of the Dutch language.
The English church, enjoying “the prestige of royal favor and princely munificence,” suffered also the drawbacks 135incidental to these advantages—the odium attending the unjust and despotic measures resorted to for its advancement, the vile character of royal officials, who condoned their private vices by a more ostentatious zeal for their official church, and the well-founded popular suspicion of its pervading disloyalty to the interests and the liberties of the colonies in their antagonism to the encroachments of the British government. It was represented by one congregation in the city of New York, and perhaps a dozen others throughout the colony.8282 There were on duty in New York in 1730, besides the minister of Trinity Church, ten missionaries of the “S. P. G.,” including several employed specially among the Indians and the negroes. Fifteen years later there were reported to the “Venerable Society” in New York and New Jersey twenty-two churches (“Digest of S. P. G.,” pp. 855, 856; Tiffany, p. 178). It is to the honor of the ministers of this church that it succeeded in so good a measure in triumphing over its “advantages.” The early pastors of Trinity Church adorned their doctrine and their confession, and one such example as that of the Rev. Thoroughgood Moor did much to redeem the character of the church from the disgrace cast upon it by the lives of its patrons. This faithful missionary had the signal honor of being imprisoned by the dirty but zealous Lord Cornbury (own cousin to her Majesty the Queen, and afterward Earl of Clarendon), of whom he had said, what everybody knew, that he “deserved to be excommunicated”; and he had further offended by refusing the communion to the lieutenant-governor, “upon the account of some debauch and abominable swearing.”8383 “Digest of S. P. G.,” p. 68 and note. There was surely some vigorous spiritual vitality in a religious body which could survive the patronizing of a succession of such creatures as Cornbury and his crew of extortioners and profligates.
A third element in the early Christianity of New York 136was the Presbyterians. These were represented, at the opening of the eighteenth century, by that forerunner of the Scotch-Irish immigration, Francis Makemie. The arrest and imprisonment of Makemie in 1706, under the authority of Lord Cornbury, for the offense of preaching the gospel without a license from the government, his sturdy defense and his acquittal, make an epoch in the history of religious liberty in America, and a perceptible step in the direction of American political liberty and independence.
The immense volume and strength of the Scotch-Irish immigration had hardly begun to be perceptible in New York as early as 1730. The total strength of the Presbyterian Church in 1705 was organized in Philadelphia into a solitary presbytery containing six ministers. In 1717, the number having grown to seventeen, the one presbytery was divided into four, which constituted a synod; and one of the four was the presbytery of New York and New Jersey. But it was observed, at least it might have been observed, that the growing Presbyterianism of this northernmost region was recruited mainly from old England and from New England—-a fact on which were to depend important consequences in later ecclesiastical history.
The chief increment of the presbytery of New York and New Jersey was in three parts, each of them planted from New England. The churches founded from New Haven Colony in the neighborhood of Newark and Elizabethtown, and the churches founded by Connecticut settlers on Long Island when this was included in the jurisdiction of Connecticut, easily and without serious objection conformed their organization to the Presbyterian order. The first wave of the perennial westward migration of the New Englanders, as it flowed over the hills from the valley of the Housatonic into the valley of the Hudson, was observed 137by Domine Selyns, away back in 1696, to be attended by many preachers educated at Harvard College.8484 Corwin, “Reformed (Dutch) Church,” p. 14. But the churches which they founded grew into the type, not of Cambridge nor of Saybrook, but of Westminster.
The facility with which the New England Christians, moving westward or southwestward from their cold northeastern corner of the country, have commonly consented to forego their cherished usages and traditions of church order and accept those in use in their new homes, and especially their readiness in conforming to the Presbyterian polity, has been a subject of undue lamentation and regret to many who have lacked the faculty of recognizing in it one of the highest honors of the New England church. But whether approved or condemned, a fact so unusual in church history, and especially in the history of the American church, is entitled to some study. 1. It is to be explained in part, but not altogether, by the high motive of a willingness to sacrifice personal preferences, habits, and convictions of judgment, on matters not of primary importance, to the greater general good of the community. 2. The Presbyterian polity is the logical expression of that Nationalist principle which was cherished by many of the Puritan fathers, which contended at the birth of New England with the mere Independency of the Pilgrims, and which found an imperfect embodiment in the platforms of Cambridge and Saybrook. The New England fathers in general, before their views suffered a sea-change in the course of their migrations, were Episcopalians and Presbyterians rather than Congregationalists; and if, in the course of this history, we shall find many in their later generations conforming to a mitigated form of the Westminster polity, or to a liberalized and Americanized Episcopal Church, instead of finding this to be a degeneration, we 138shall do well to ask whether it is not rather a reversion to type. 3. Those who grow up in a solidly united Christian community are in a fair way to be trained in the simplicity of the gospel, and not in any specialties of controversy with contending or competing sects. Members of the parish churches of New England going west had an advantage above most others, in that they could go simply as representatives of the church of Christ, and not of a sect of the church, or of one side of some controversy in which they had never had occasion to interest themselves. 4. The principle of congregational independency, not so much inculcated as acted on in New England, carries with it the corollary that a congregation may be Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Methodist, if it judges best, without thereby giving the individual Christian any justification for secession or schism. 5. The change, in the westward movement of Christian civilization, from the congregational order to the classical, coincides with the change in the frame of civil polity from town government to county government. In the beginning the civil state in New England was framed after the model of the church.8585 “Mr. Hooker did often quote a saying out of Mr. Cartwright, that no man fashioneth his house to his hangings, but his hangings to his house. It is better that the commonwealth be fashioned to the setting forth of God’s house, which is his church, than to accommodate the church frame to the civil state John Cotton, quoted by L. Bacon, “Historical Discourses,” p. 18). It is in accordance with the common course of church history that when the people were transported from the midst of pure democracies to the midst of representative republics their church institutions should take on the character of the environment.
The other factors of the religious life of New York require only brief mention.
There were considerable Quaker communities, especially 139on western Long Island, in Flushing and its neighborhood. But before the year 1730 the fervid and violent and wonderfully brief early enthusiasm of this Society had long been waning, and the Society, winning no accessions and suffering frequent losses in its membership, was lapsing into that “middle age of Quakerism”8686 Thomas, “The Society of Friends,” p. 239. in which it made itself felt in the life of the people through its almost passive, but yet effective, protests against popular wrongs.
Inconsiderable in number, but of the noblest quality, was the immigration of French Huguenots, which just before and just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes brought to New York and its neighborhood a half-dozen congregations, accompanied by pastors whose learning, piety, and devotion to the work of Christ were worthy of that school of martyrdom in which they had been trained. They were not numerous enough, nor compactly enough settled, to maintain their own language in use, and soon became merged, some in the Dutch church and some in the English. Some of their leading pastors accepted salaries from the Propagation Society, tendered to them on condition of their accepting the ordination and conforming to the ritual of the English church. The French Reformed Church does not appear organically in the later history of the colony, but the history of the State and of the nation is never largely written without commemorating, by the record of family names made illustrious in every department of honorable activity, the rich contribution made to the American church and nation by the cruel bigotry and the political fatuity of Louis XIV.8787 Corwin, “Reformed (Dutch) Church,” pp. 77, 78, 173.
The German element in the religious life of New York, at the period under consideration, was of even less historical importance. The political philanthropy of Queen 140Anne’s government, with a distinct understanding between the right hand and the left, took active measures to promote the migration of Protestant refugees from all parts of Germany to the English colonies in America. In the year 1709 a great company of these unhappy exiles, commonly called “poor Palatines” from the desolated region whence many of them had been driven out, were dropped, helpless and friendless, in the wilderness of Schoharie County, and found themselves there practically in a state of slavery through their ignorance of the country and its language. There were few to care for their souls. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was promptly in the field, with its diligent missionaries and its ignoble policy of doing the work of Christ and humanity with a shrewd eye to the main chance of making proselytes to its party.8888 Illustrations of the sordid sectarianism of the “Venerable Society’s” operations are painfully frequent in the pages of the “Digest of the S. P. G.” See especially on this particular case the action respecting Messrs. Kocherthal, Ehlig, and Beyse (p. 61). With a tardiness which it is difficult not to speak of as characteristic, after the lapse of twenty-one years the classis of Amsterdam recognized its responsibility for this multitude of wandering sheep; and at last, in 1793, the German Reformed Church had so far emancipated itself from its bondage to the old-country hierarchy as to assume, almost a century too late, the cure of these poor souls. But this migration added little to the religious life of the New York Colony, except a new element of diversity to a people already sufficiently heterogeneous. The greater part of these few thousands gladly found their way to the more hospitable colony of Pennsylvania, leaving traces of themselves in family names scattered here and there, and in certain local names, like that of Palatine Bridge.
The general impression left on the mind by this survey of the Christian people of New York in 1730 is of a mass 141of almost hopelessly incongruous materials, out of which the brooding Spirit of God shall by and by bring forth the unity of a new creation.
The population of the two Jerseys continued to bear the character impressed on it by the original colonization. West Jersey was predominantly Quaker; East Jersey showed in its institutions of church and school the marks made upon it by the mingling of Scotch and Yankee. But there was one point at which influences had centered which were to make New Jersey the seed-plot of a new growth of church life for the continent.
The intolerable tyranny of Lord Cornbury in New York, at the beginning of the century, had driven many of the Dutch Christians of that colony across the Hudson. The languishing vine throve by transplanting. In the congenial neighborhood of the Calvinists of Scotland and New England the cluster of churches in the region of New Brunswick came to be known as “the garden of the Dutch church.” To this region, bearing a name destined to great honor in American church history, came from Holland, in 1720, Domine Theodore J. Frelinghuysen. The fervor and earnestness of his preaching, unwonted in that age, wakened a religious feeling in his own congregation, which overflowed the limits of a single parish and became as one of the streams that make glad the city of God.
In the year 1718 there arrived at the port of Philadelphia an Irishman, William Tennent, with his four sons, the eldest a boy of fifteen. He was not a Scotch-Irishman, but an English-Irishman—a clergyman of the established Protestant Episcopal Church of Ireland. He lost no time in connecting himself with the Presbyterian synod of Philadelphia, and after a few years of pastoral service in 142the colony of New York became pastor of the Presbyterian church at Neshaminy, in Pennsylvania, twenty miles north of Philadelphia. Here his zeal for Christian education moved him to begin a school, which, called from the humble building .in which it was held, became famous in American Presbyterian history as the Log College. Here were educated many men who became eminent in the ministry of the gospel, and among them the four boys who had come with their father from Ireland. Gilbert, the eldest and most distinguished of them, came in 1727, from his temporary position as tutor in the Log College, to be pastor to the Presbyterian church in New Brunswick, where Frelinghuysen, in the face of opposition from his own brethren in the ministry, had for seven years pursued his deeply spiritual and fruitful work as pastor to the Dutch church. Whatever debate there may be over the question of an official and tactual succession in the church, the existence of a vital and spiritual succession, binding “the generations each to each,” need not be disputed by any. Sometimes, as here, the succession is distinctly traceable. Gilbert Tennent was own son in the ministry to Theodore Frelinghuysen as truly as Timothy to Paul, but he became spiritual father to a great multitude.
In the year 1730 the total population of Pennsylvania was estimated by Governor Gordon at forty-nine thousand. In the less than fifty years since the colony was settled it had outstripped all the older colonies, and Philadelphia, its chief town, continued to be by far the most important port for the landing of immigrants. The original Quaker influence was still dominant in the colony, but the very large majority of the population was German; and presently the Quakers were to find their political supremacy departing, and were to acquiesce in the change by abdicating political 143preferment.8989 S. G. Fisher, “The Making of Pennsylvania,” p. 125; Thomas, “The Society of Friends,” p. 235. The religious influence of the Society of Friends continued to be potent and in many respects most salutary. But the exceptional growth and prosperity of the colony was attended with a vast “unearned increment” of wealth to the first settlers, and the maxim, “Religio peperit divitias, et mater devorata est a prole,”9090 “Religion gave birth to wealth, and was devoured by her own offspring.” The aphorism is ascribed to Lord Falkland. received one of the most striking illustrations in all history. So speedily the Society had entered on its Middle Age;9191 Thomas, “The Society of Friends,” p. 236. the most violent of protests against formalism had begun to congeal into a precise and sometimes frivolous system of formalities. But the lasting impress made on the legislation of the colony by Penn and his contemporaries is a monument of their wise and Christian statesmanship. Up to their time the most humane penal codes in Christendom were those of New England, founded on the Mosaic law. But even in these, and still more in the application of them, there were traces of that widely prevalent feeling that punishment is society’s bitter and malignant revenge on the criminal. The penal code and the prison discipline of Pennsylvania became an object of admiring study for social reformers the world over, and marked a long stage in the advancement of the kingdom of God. The city of Philadelphia early took the lead of American towns, not only in size, but in its public charities and its cultivation of humane arts.
Notwithstanding these eminent honors, there is much in the later history of the great commonwealth in which Quakerism held dominion for the greater part of a century to reflect doubt on the fitness of that form of Christianity for conducting the affairs, either civil or religious, of a great community.144
There is nothing in the personal duty of
non-resistance of evil, as inculcated in the New Testament, that conflicts with
the functions of the civil governor—even the function of bearing the sword as God’s
minister. Rather, each of these is the complement and counterpart of the other.
Among the early colonial governors no man wielded the sword of the ruler more effectively
than the Quaker Archdale in the Carolinas. It is when this law of personal duty
is assumed as the principle of public government that the order of society is inverted,
and the function of the magistrate is inevitably taken up by the individual, and
the old wilderness law of blood-revenge is reinstituted. The
legislation of William Penn involved no abdication of the power of the sword by
the civil governor. The enactment, however sparing, of capital laws conceded by
implication every point that is claimed by Christian moralists in justification
of war. But it is hardly to be doubted that the tendency of Quaker politics so to
conduct civil government as that it shall “resist not evil” is responsible for
some of the strange paradoxes in the later history of Pennsylvania. The commonwealth
was founded in good faith on principles of mutual good will with the Indians and
tender regard for Indian rights, of religious liberty and interconfessional amity,
and of a permanent peace policy. Its history has been characterized, beyond that
of other States, by foul play toward the Indians and protracted Indian wars, by
acrimonious and sometimes bloody sectarian conflicts, by obstinate insurrections
against public order,9292 Fisher, “The Making of Pennsylvania,” pp. 166-169,
174. and by cruel and exterminating war upon honest settlers,
founded on a mere open question of title to territory.9393 It is not easy to define the peculiarity
of Penn’s Indian policy. It is vulgarly referred to as if it consisted in just dealing,
especially in not taking their land except by fair purchase; and the “Shackamaxon
Treaty,” of which nothing is known except by vague report and tradition, is spoken of as something quite unprecedented in
this respect. The fact is that this
measure of virtue was common to the English colonists generally, and eminently to
the New England colonists. A good example of the ordinary cant of historical writers
on this subject is found in “The Making of Pennsylvania,” p. 238. The writer says
of the Connecticut Puritans: “They occupied the land by squatter sovereignty.
. . . It seemed like a pleasant place; they wanted it. They were the saints, and
the saints, as we all know, shall inherit the earth. . . . Having originally acquired
their /and simply by taking it, . . . they naturally grew up with rather liberal
views as to their right to any additional territory that pleased their fancy.” No
purchase by Penn was made with more scrupulous regard to the rights of the Indians
than the purchases by which the settlers of Connecticut acquired title to their
lands; but I know of no New England precedent for the somewhat Punic piece of sharp
practice by which the metes and bounds of one of the Pennsylvania purchases were
The long exemption of Pennsylvania from trouble with the Indians seems to be due to the fact that an exceptionally mild, considerate, and conscientious body of settlers was confronted with a tribe of savages thoroughly subdued and cowed in recent conflicts with enemies both red and white. It seems clear, also, that the exceptional ferocity of the forty years of uninterrupted war with the Indians that ensued was due in part to the long dereliction by the Quaker government of its duty of protecting its citizens and punishing murder, robbery, and arson when committed by its copper-colored subjects.
The failure of Quakerism is even more conspicuous considered as a church discipline. There is a charm as of apostolic simplicity and beauty in its unassuming hierarchy of weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings, corresponding by epistles and by the visits of traveling evangelists, which realizes the type of the primitive church presented in “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” But it was never able to outgrow, in the large and free field to which it was transplanted, the defects incident to its origin in a protest and a schism. It never learned to commend itself to men as a church for all Christians, and never ceased to be, even in its own consciousness, a coterie of specialists. Penn, to be sure, in his youthful overzeal, had claimed exclusive and universal rights for Quakerism as “the alone good way of life and salvation,” all religions, faiths, and worships besides being “in the darkness of apostasy.”9494 Penn’s “Truth Exalted” (quoted in “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” vol. xviii., p. 493). But after the abatement of that wonderful 146first fervor which within a lifetime carried “its line into all the earth, and its words to the ends of the world,” It was impossible to hold it to this pitch. Claiming no divine right to all men’s allegiance, it felt no duty of opening the door to all men’s access. It was free to exclude from the meeting on arbitrary and even on frivolous grounds. As zeal decayed, the energies of the Society were mainly shown in protesting and excluding and expelling. God’s husbandry does not prosper when his servants are over-earnest in rooting up tares. The course of the Society of Friends in the eighteenth century was suicidal. It held a noble opportunity of acting as pastor to a great commonwealth. It missed this great opportunity, for which it was perhaps constitutionally disqualified, and devoted itself to edifying its own members and guarding its own purity. So it was that, saving its soul, it lost it. The vineyard must be taken away from it.
And there were no other husbandmen to take the vineyard. The petty German sects, representing so large a part of the population, were isolated by their language and habits. The Lutherans and the Reformed, trained in established churches to the methods and responsibilities of parish work, were not yet represented by any organization. The Scotch-Irish Presbyterian immigration was pouring in at Philadelphia like a flood, sometimes whole parishes at once, each bringing its own pastor; and it left large traces of itself in the eastern counties of Pennsylvania, while it rushed to the western frontier and poured itself like a freshet southwesterly through the valleys of the Blue Ridge and the Alleghanies. But the Presbyterian churches of eastern Pennsylvania, even as reinforced from England and New England, were neither many nor strong; the Baptists were feebler yet, although both these bodies were giving signs of the strength they were both about to develop.9595 In 1741, after a decade of great activity and growth, the entire clerical strength of the American Presbyterian Church, in its four presbyteries, was forty-seven ministers (Thompson, “Presbyterian Churches,” p. 33).147The Episcopalians had one strong and rapidly growing church in Philadelphia, and a few languishing missions in country towns sustained by gifts from England. There were as yet no Methodists.
Crossing the boundary line from Pennsylvania into Maryland—the line destined to become famous in political history as Mason and Dixon’s—we come to the four Southern colonies, Maryland, Virginia, and, the two Carolinas. Georgia in 1730 has not yet begun to be. All these have strongly marked characteristics in common, which determine in advance the character of their religious history. They are not peculiar in being slave colonies; there is no colony North or South in which slaves are not held under sanction of law. Georgia, in its early years, is to have the solitary honor of being an antislavery and prohibitionist colony. But the four earlier Southern colonies are unlike their Northern neighbors in this, that the institution of slavery dominates their whole social life. The unit of the social organism is not the town, for there are no towns; it is the plantation. In a population thus dispersed over vast tracts of territory, schools and churches are maintained with difficulty, or not maintained at all. Systems of primary and secondary schools are impracticable, and, for want of these, institutions of higher education either languish or are never begun. A consequent tendency, which, happily, there were many influences to resist, was for this townless population to settle down into the condition of those who, in distinction from the early Christians, came to be called pagani, or “men of the hamlets,” and Heiden, or “men of the heath.”148
Another common characteristic of the four Southern colonies is that upon them all was imposed by foreign power a church establishment not acceptable to the people. In the Carolinas the attempted establishment of the English church was an absolute failure. It was a church (with slight exceptions) without parishes, without services, without clergy, without people, but with certain pretensions in law which were hindrances in the way of other Christian work, and which tended to make itself generally odious. In the two older colonies the Established Church was worse than a failure. It had endowments, parsonages, glebes, salaries raised by public tax, and therefore it had a clergy—and such a clergy! Transferring to America the most shameful faults of the English Establishment, it gave the sacred offices of the Christian ministry by “patronage” into the hands of debauched and corrupt adventurers, whose character in general was below the not very lofty standard of the people whom they pretended to serve in the name of Jesus Christ. Both in Virginia and in Maryland the infliction of this rabble of simonists as a burden upon the public treasury was a nuisance under which the people grew more and more restive from year to year. There was no spiritual discipline to which this prêtraille was amenable.9696 It is a subject of unceasing lament on the part of historians of the American Episcopal Church that the mother church, all through the colonial days, should have obstinately refused to the daughter the gift of the episcopate. There is no denying the grave disadvantages thus inflicted. But it admits of doubt whether such bishops, with such conditions, as would have been conceded by the English church of the eighteenth century, would, after all, have been so very precious a boon. We shrink from the imputation upon the colonial church of Maryland and Virginia which is implied in suggesting that it would have been considerably improved by gaining the disciplinary purity of the English church of the Georgian era. The long fight in Virginia, culminating in Patrick Henry’s speech in the Parsons’ Case, so far Americanized the Episcopal Church as to make sure that no unwelcome minister was ever to be forced from outside on one of its parishes. After the Revolution it became possible to set up the episcopate also on American principles. Those who are burdened with regret over the long delay of the American Protestant episcopate may find no small consolation in pondering the question, what kind of an outfit of bishops, with canons attached, might have been hoped for from Sir Robert Walpole or Lord Bute? On the whole, at this point the American Episcopal Church is in the habit of pitying itself too much. It has something to be thankful for. It was the constant effort of good citizens, 149in the legislature and in the vestries, if not to starve out the vermin, at least to hold them in some sort of subjection to the power of the purse. The struggle was one of the antecedents of the War of Independence, and the vestries of the Virginia parishes, with their combined ecclesiastical and civil functions, became a training-school for some of the statesmen of the Revolution.
In the general dereliction of churchly care for the people of the Southern colonies, on the part of those who professed the main responsibility for it, the duty was undertaken, in the face of legal hindrances, by earnest Christians of various names, whom the established clergy vainly affected to despise. The Baptists and the Presbyterians, soon to be so powerfully prevalent throughout the South, were represented by a few scattered congregations. But the church of the people of the South at this period seems to have been the Quaker meeting, and the ministry the occasional missionary who, bearing credentials from some yearly meeting, followed in the pioneer footsteps of George Fox, and went from one circle of Friends to another, through those vast expanses of thinly settled territory, to revive and confirm and edify. The early fervors of the Society were soon spent. Its work was strangely unstable. The proved defects of it as a working system were grave. The criticism of George Keith seems justified by the event—its candle needed a candlestick. But no man can truly write the history of the church of Christ in the United States without giving honor to the body which for so long a time and over so vast an area bore the name and testimony 150of Jesus almost alone; and no man can read the journeys and labors of John Woolman, mystic and ascetic saint, without recognizing that he and others like-minded were nothing less than true apostles of the Lord Jesus.
One impression made by this general survey of the colonies is that of the absence of any sign of unity among the various Christian bodies in occupation. One corner of the great domain, New England, was thickly planted with homogeneous churches in mutual fellowship. One order of Christians, the Quakers, had at least a framework of organization conterminous with the country. In general there were only scattered members of a Christian community, awaiting the inbreathing of some quickening spiritual influence that should bring bone to its bone and erect the whole into a living church.
Another and very gratifying impression from the story thus far
is the general fidelity of the Christian colonists in the work of the gospel among
the heathen Indians. There was none of the colonies that did not make profession
of a zealous purpose for the Christianizing of the savages; and it is only just
to say, in the face of much unjust and evil talk, that there was none that did not
give proof of its sincerity. In Virginia, the Puritans Whitaker and Thomas Dale; in Maryland, the earliest companies of Jesuit
missionaries; Campanius among the
Swedish Lutherans; Megapolensis among the Dutchmen, and the Jesuit martyr Jogues
in the forests of New York; in New England, not only John Eliot and Roger Williams
and the Mayhews, but many a village pastor like Fitch of Norwich and Pierson
were distinguished in the first generation by their devotion to
this duty.9797 It is a curious exception, if it is indeed an exception, that
the one Christian colony that shows no record of early Indian missions should be
that of William Penn. Could this be due to the Quaker faith in the sufficiency
of “the Light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world “?
The type of theology and method of instruction used by some of the earliest laborers in this field left something to be desired in point of adaptedness to the savage mind. Without irreverence to the great name of Jonathan Edwards, there is room for doubt whether he was just the man for the Stockbridge Indians. In the case of the Rev. Abraham Pierson, of Branford, in New Haven Colony, afterward founder of Newark, we have an illustration both of his good intentions and of his methods, which were not so good, in “Some Helps for the Indians: Shewing them how to Improve their Natural Reason, to Know the True God and the Christian Religion.” This catechism is printed in the Indian language with an English version interlined.
“Q. How do you prove that there is but one true God?
“An. Because the reason why singular things of the same kind are multiplied is not to be found in the nature of God; for the reason why such like things are multiplied is from the fruitfulness of their causes: but God hath no cause of his being, but is of himself. Therefore he is one.” (And so on through secondly and thirdly.)
Per contra, a sermon to the Stockbridge Indians by the most ponderous of the metaphysical preachers of New England, Samuel Hopkins, is beautifully simple and childlike. It is given in full in Park’s “Life of Hopkins,” pp. 46-49. The succession of faithful 151 missionaries has never failed from that day to this. The large expectations of the churches are indicated by the erection of one of the earliest buildings at Harvard College for the use of Indian students. At William and Mary College not less than seventy Indian students at one time are said to have been gathered for an advanced education. It was no fault of the colonial churches that these earnest and persistent efforts yielded small results. “We discover a strange uniformity of feature in the successive failures. . . . Always, just when the project seemed most hopeful, an indiscriminate massacre of missionaries and converts together swept the enterprise out of existence. The experience of all was the same.”9898 McConnell, “History of the American Episcopal Church,” p. 7. The statement calls for qualification in detail, but the general fact is unmistakable.
It will be a matter of growing interest, as we proceed, to trace the relation of the American church to negro slavery.
It is a curious fact, not without some later analogies, 152that the introduction into the New World of this “direful spring of woes unnumbered” was promoted, in the first instance, by the good Las Casas, as the hopeful preventive of a worse evil. Touched by the spectacle of whole tribes and nations of the Indians perishing under the cruel servitude imposed upon them by the Spanish, it seemed to him a less wrong to transfer the infliction of this injustice to shoulders more able to bear it. But “man’s inhumanity to man” needed no pretext of philanthropy. From the landing of the Dutch ship at Jamestown in 1619, with her small invoice of fourteen negroes, the dismal trade went on increasing, in spite of humane protest and attempted prohibition. The legislature of Massachusetts, which was the representative of the church, set forth what it conceived to be the biblical ethics on the subject. Recognizing that “lawful captives taken in just wars” may be held in bondage, it declared among its earliest public acts, in 1641, that, with this exception, no involuntary bond-slavery, villeinage, or captivity should ever be in the colony; and in 1646 it took measures for returning to Africa negroes who had been kidnapped by a slaver. It is not strange that reflection on the golden rule should soon raise doubts whether the precedents of the Book of Joshua had equal authority with the law of Christ. In 1675 John Eliot, from the midst of his work among the Indians, warned the governor against the sale of Indians taken in war, on the ground that “the selling of souls is dangerous merchandise,” and “with a bleeding and burning passion” remonstrated against “the abject condition of the enslaved Africans.” In 1700 that typical Puritan, Judge Samuel Sewall, published his pamphlet on “The Selling of Joseph,” claiming for the negroes the rights of brethren, and predicting that there would be “no progress in gospeling” until slavery should be abolished. Those were serious 153days of antislavery agitation; when Cotton Mather, in his “Essays to Do Good,” spoke of the injustice of slavery in terms such that his little book had to be expurgated by the American Tract Society to accommodate it to the degenerate conscience of a later day, and when the town of Boston in 1701 took measures “to put a period to negroes being slaves.” Such endeavors after universal justice and freedom, on the part of the Christians of New England, thwarted by the insatiable greed of British traders and politicians, were not to cease until, with the first enlargement of independence, they should bring forth judgment to victory.
The voice of New England was echoed from Pennsylvania. The Mennonites of Germantown, in 1688, framed in quaint and touching language their petition for the abolition of slavery, and the Quaker yearly meetings responded one to another with unanimous protest. But the mischief grew and grew. In the Northern colonies the growth was stunted by the climate. Elsewhere the institution, beginning with the domestic service of a few bondmen attached to their masters’ families, took on a new type of malignity as it expanded. In proportion as the servile population increases to such numbers as to be formidable, laws of increasing severity are directed to restraining or repressing it. The first symptoms of insurrection are followed by horrors of bloody vengeance, and “from that time forth the slave laws have but one quality—that of ferocity engendered by fear.”9999 H. C. Lodge, “English Colonies,” p. 67 et seq. It was not from the willful inhumanity of the Southern colonies, but from their terrors, that those slave codes came forth which for nearly two centuries were the shame of America and the scandal of Christendom. It is a comfort to the heart of humanity to reflect that the people were better than their laws; it was 154only at the recurring periods of fear of insurrection that they were worse. In ordinary times human sympathy and Christian principle softened the rigors of the situation. The first practical fruits of the revival of religion in the Southern colonies were seen in efforts of Christian kindness toward the souls and bodies of the slaves.155
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