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THE GREAT IMMIGRATION.
AT the taking of the first census of the United States, in 1790, the country contained a population of about four millions in its territory of less than one million of square miles.
Sixty years later, at the census of 1850, it contained a population of more than twenty-three millions in its territory of about three millions of square miles.
The vast expansion of territory to more than threefold the great original domain of the United States had been made by honorable purchase or less honorable conquest. It had not added largely to the population of the nation; the new acquisitions were mainly of unoccupied land. The increase of the population, down to about 1845, was chiefly the natural increase of a hardy and prolific stock under conditions in the highest degree favorable to such increase. Up to the year 1820 the recent immigration had been inconsiderable. In the ten years 1820-29 the annual arrival of immigrants was nine thousand. In the next decade, 1830-39, the annual arrival was nearly thirty-five thousand, or a hundred a day. For forty years the total immigration from all quarters was much less than a half-million. In the course of the next three decades, from 1840 to 1869, there arrived in the United States from 316the various countries of Europe five and a half millions of people. It was more than the entire population of the country at the time of the first census;—
A multitude like which the populous North
Poured never from her frozen loins to pass
Rhene or the Danaw, when her barbarous sons
Came like a deluge on the South and spread
Beneath Gibraltar to the Libyan sands.
Under the pressure of a less copious flood of incursion the greatest empire in all history, strongest in arts and polity as well as arms, had perished utterly. If Rome, with her population of one hundred and twenty millions, her genius for war and government, and her long-compacted civilization, succumbed under a less sudden rush of invasion, what hope was there for the young American Republic, with its scanty population and its new and untried institutions?203203 For condensed statistics of American immigration, see “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” 9th ed., s.vv. “Emigration” and “United States.” For the facts concerning the Roman Empire one naturally has recourse to Gibbon. From the indications there given we do not get the impression that in the three centuries of the struggle of the empire against the barbarians there was ever such a thirty years’ flood of invasion as the immigration into the United States from 1840 to 1869. The entrance into the Roman Empire was indeed largely in the form of armed invasion; but the most destructive influence of the barbarians was when they were admitted as friends and naturalized as citizens. See “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” vol. xx., pp. 779, 780.
An impressive providential combination of causes determined this great historic movement of population at this time. It was effected by attractions in front of the emigrant, reinforced by impulses from behind. The conclusion of the peace of 1815 was followed by the beginning of an era of great public works, one of the first of which was the digging of the Erie Canal. This sort of enterprise makes an immediate demand for large forces of unskilled laborers; and in both hemispheres it has been observed to occasion movements of population out of Catholic countries 317into Protestant countries. The westward current of the indigenous population created a vacuum in the seaboard States, and a demand for labor that was soon felt in the labor-markets of the Old World. A liberal homestead policy on the part of the national government, and naturalization laws that were more than liberal, agencies for the encouragement of settlers organized by individual States and by railroad corporations and other great landed proprietors, and the eager competition of steamship companies drumming for steerage passengers in all parts of Europe—all these coöerated with the growing facility and cheapness of steam transportation to swell the current of migration. The discovery of gold in California quickened the flow of it.
As if it had been the divine purpose not only to draw forth, but to drive forth, the populations of the Old World to make their homes in the New, there was added to all these causes conducive to migration the Irish famine of 1846-47, and the futile revolutions of 1848, with the tyrannical reactions which followed them. But the great stimulus to migration was the success and prosperity that attended it. It was “success that succeeded.” The great emigration agent was the letter written to his old home by the new settler, in multitudes of cases inclosing funds to pay the passage of friends whom he had left behind him.
The great immigration that began about 1845 is distinguished from some of the early colonizations in that it was in no sense a religious movement. Very grave religious results were to issue from it; but they were to be achieved through the unconscious coöeration of a multitude of individuals each intent with singleness of vision on his own individual ends. It is by such unconscious coöeration that the directing mind and the overruling hand of God in history are most signally illustrated.318
In the first rush of this increased immigration by far the greatest contributor of new population was Ireland. It not only surpassed any other country in the number of its immigrants, but in the height of the Irish exodus, in the decade 1840-50, it nearly equaled all other countries of the world together. The incoming Irish millions were almost solidly Roman Catholic. The measures taken by the British government for many generations to attach the Irish people to the crown and convert them to the English standard of Protestantism had had the result of discharging upon our shores a people distinguished above all Christendom besides for its ardent and unreserved devotion to the Roman Church, and hardly less distinguished for its hatred to England.
After the first flood-tide the relative number of the Irish immigrants began to decrease, and has kept on decreasing until now. Since the Civil War the chief source of immigration has been Germany and its contributions to our population have greatly aggrandized the Lutheran denomination, once so inconsiderable in numbers, until in many western cities it is the foremost of the Protestant communions, and in Chicago outnumbers the communicants of the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, and the Methodist churches combined.204204 Jacobs, “The Lutherans,” p. 446. The German immigration has contributed its share, and probably more than its share, to our non-religious and churchless population. Withal, in a proportion which it is not easy to ascertain with precision, it added multitudinous thousands to the sudden and enormous growth of the Roman Catholic Church. But there is an instructive contrast between the German immigrations, whether Catholic or Protestant, and the Irish immigration. The Catholicism of the Irish, held from generation to generation in the face of partisan and sometimes cruelly persecuting 319laws, was held with the ardor, if not of personal conviction, at least of strong hereditary animosity. To the Germans, their religious sect, whether Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed, is determined for them by political arrangement, under the principle cujus regio, ejus religio. It is matter of course that tenets thus acquired should be held by a tenure so far removed from fanaticism as to seem to more zealous souls much like lukewarmness. Accustomed to have the cost of religious institutions provided for in the budget of public expenses, the wards of the Old World state-churches find themselves here in strange surroundings, untrained in habits of self-denial for religious objects. The danger is a grave and real one that before they become acclimated to the new conditions a large percentage will be lost, not only from their hereditary communion, but from all Christian fellowship, and lapse into simple indifferentism and godlessness. They have much to learn and something to teach. The indigenous American churches are not likely to be docile learners at the feet of alien teachers; but it would seem like the slighting of a providential opportunity if the older sects should fail to recognize that one of the greatest and by far the most rapidly growing of the Protestant churches of America, the Lutheran, growing now with new increments not only from the German, but also from the Scandinavian nations, is among us in such force to teach us somewhat by its example of the equable, systematic, and methodical ways of a state-church, as well as to learn something from the irregular fervor of that revivalism which its neighbors on every hand have inherited from the Great Awakening. It would be the very extravagance of national self-conceit if the older American churches should become possessed of the idea that four millions of German Christians and one million of Scandinavians, arriving here from 1860 to 1890, 320with their characteristic methods in theology and usages of worship and habits of church organization and administration, were here, in the providence of God, only to be assimilated and not at all to assimilate.
The vast growth of the Roman Catholic Church in America could not but fill its clergy and adherents with wonder and honest pride. But it was an occasion of immense labors and not a little anxiety. One effect of the enormous immigration was inevitably to impose upon this church, according to the popular apprehension, the character of a foreign association, and, in the earlier periods of the influx, of an Irish association. It was in like manner inevitable, from the fact that the immigrant class are preponderantly poor and of low social rank, that it should for two or three generations be looked upon as a church for the illiterate and unskilled laboring class. An incident of the excessive torrent rush of the immigration was that the Catholic Church became to a disproportionate extent an urban institution, making no adequate provision for the dispersed in agricultural regions.
Against these and other like disadvantages the hierarchy of the Catholic Church have straggled heroically, with some measure of success. The steadily rising character of the imported population in its successive generations has aided them. If in the first generations the churches were congregations of immigrants served by an imported clergy, the most strenuous exertions were made for the founding of institutions that should secure to future congregations born upon the soil the services of an American-trained priesthood. One serious hindrance to the noble advances that have nevertheless been made in this direction has been the fanatical opposition levied against even the most beneficent enterprises of the church by a bigoted Native-Americanism. 321It is not a hopeful method of conciliating and naturalizing a foreign element in the community to treat them with suspicion and hostility as alien enemies. The shameful persecution which the mob was for a brief time permitted to inflict on Catholic churches and schools and convents had for its chief effect to confirm the foreigner in his adherence to his church and his antipathy to Protestantism, and to provoke a twofold ferocity in return. At a time when there was reason to apprehend a Know-nothing riot in New York, in 1844, a plan was concerted and organized by “a large Irish society with divisions throughout the city,” by which, “in case a single church was attacked, buildings should be fired in all quarters and the great city should be involved in a general conflagration.”205205 Bishop O’Gorman, “The Roman Catholics,” p. 375. The atrocity of such a plot seems incredible. We should have classed it at once with the Maria Monk story, and other fabulous horrors of Dr. Brownlee’s Protestant Society, but that we find it in the sober and dispassionate pages of Bishop O’Gorman’s History, which is derived from original sources of information. If anything could have justified the animosity of the “native Americans” (who, by the way, were widely suspected to be, in large proportion, native Ulstermen) it would have been the finding of evidence of such facts as this which Bishop O’Gorman has disclosed.
The utmost that could have been hoped for by the devoted but inadequate
body of the Roman Catholic clergy in America, overwhelmed by an influx of their
people coming in upon them in increasing volume, numbering millions per annum, was
that they might be able to hold their own. But this hope was very far from being
attained. How great have been the losses to the Roman communion through the transplantation
of its members across the sea is a question to which the most widely varying answers
have been given, and on which statistical exactness seems unattainable. The various
estimates, agreeing in nothing else, agree in representing them as enormously great.206206 The
subject is reviewed in detail, from opposite points of view,
by Bishop O’Gorman, pp. 489-500, and by Dr. Daniel Dorchester, “Christianity
in the United States,” pp. 618-621. One of the most recent estimates is that presented
to the Catholic Congress at Chicago, in 1893, in a remarkable speech by Mr. M. T.
Elder, of New Orleans. Speaking of “the losses sustained by the church in this country,
placed by a conservative estimate at twenty millions of people, he laid the responsibility
for this upon neglect of immigration and colonization, i.e., neglect of the rural
population. From this results a long train of losses.” He added: “When I see how
largely Catholicity is represented among our hoodlum element, I feel in no spread-eagle
mood. When I note how few Catholics are engaged in honestly tilling the honest soil,
and how many Catholics are engaged in the liquor traffic, I cannot talk buncombe
to anybody. When I reflect that out of the 70,000,000 of this nation we number only
9,000,000, and that out of that 9,000,000 so large a proportion is made up of poor
factory hands, poor mill and shop and mine and railroad employees, poor government
clerks, I still fail to find material for buncombe or spread-eagle or taffy-giving.
And who can look at our past history and feel proud of our present status?” He
advocated as a remedy for this present state of things a movement toward colonization,
with especial attention to extension of educational advantages for rural Catholics,
and instruction of urban Catholics in the advantages of rural life. “For so long
as the rural South, the pastoral West, the agricultural East, the farming Middle
States, remain solidly Protestant, as they now are, so long will this nation, this
government, this whole people, remain solidly Protestant” (“The World’s Parliament
of Religions,” pp. 1414, 1415).
It is a fact not easy to be accounted for that the statistics of no Christian communion in America are so defective, uncertain, and generally unsatisfactory as those of the most solidly organized and completely systematized of them all, the Roman Catholic Church.
All good men will also agree that in so far as these losses represent mere lapses into unbelief and irreligion they are to be deplored. Happily there is good evidence of a large salvage, gathered into other churches, from what so easily becomes a shipwreck of faith with total loss.
It might seem surprising, in view of the many and diverse resources of attractive influence which the Roman Church has at its command, that its losses have not been to some larger extent compensated by conversions from other sects. Instances of such conversion are by no means wanting; but so far as a popular current toward Catholicism is concerned, the attractions in that direction are outweighed by the disadvantages already referred to. It has not been altogether a detriment to the Catholic Church in America that the social status and personal composition of 323its congregations, in its earlier years, have been such that the transition into it from any of the Protestant churches could be made only at the cost of a painful self-denial. The number of accessions to it has been thereby lessened, but (leaving out the case of the transition of politicians from considerations of expediency) the quality of them has been severely sifted. Incomparably the most valuable acquisition which the American Catholic Church has received has been the company of devoted and gifted young men, deeply imbued with the principles and sentiments of the High-church party in the Episcopal Church, who have felt constrained in conscience and in logic to take the step, which seems so short, from the highest level in the Anglican Church into the Roman, and who, organized into the Order of the Paulist Fathers, have exemplified in the Roman Church so many of the highest qualities of Protestant preaching.
He is a bold man who will undertake to predict in detail the future of the Roman Church in America. To say that it will be modified by its surroundings is only to say what is true of it in all countries. To say that it will be modified for the better is to say what is true of it in all Protestant countries. Nowhere is the Roman Church so pure from scandal and so effective for good as where it is closely surrounded and jealously scrutinized by bodies of its fellow-Christians whom it is permitted to recognize only as heretics. But when the influence of surrounding heresy is seen to be an indispensable blessing to the church, the heretic himself comes to be looked upon with a mitigated horror. Not with the sacrifice of any principle, but through the application of some of those provisions by which the Latin theology is able to meet exigencies like this,—the allowance in favor of “invincible ignorance” and prejudice, the distinction between the body and “the 324soul of the church,”—the Roman Catholic, recognizing the spirit of Christ in his Protestant fellow-Christian, is able to hold him in spiritual if not formal communion, so that the Catholic Church may prove itself not dissevered from the Church Catholic. In the common duties of citizenship and of humanity, in the promotion of the interests of morality, even in those religious matters that are of common concern to all honest disciples of Jesus Christ, he is at one with his heretic brethren. Without the change of a single item either of doctrine or of discipline, the attitude and temper of the church, as compared with the church of Spain or Italy or Mexico, is revolutionized. The change must needs draw with it other changes, which may not come without some jar and conflict between progressive and conservative, but which nevertheless needs must come. Out of many indications of the spirit of fellowship with all Christians now exemplified among American Catholics, I quote one of the most recent and authoritative from an address of Archbishop Ryan at the Catholic Congress in Chicago in 1893. Speaking on Christian union, he said:
“If there is any one thing more than another upon which people agree, it is respect and reverence for the person and the character of the Founder of Christianity. How the Protestant loves his Saviour! How the Protestant eye will sometimes grow dim when speaking of our Lord! In this great center of union is found the hope of human society, the only means of preserving Christian civilization, the only point upon which Catholic and Protestant may meet. As if foreseeing that this should be, Christ himself gave his example of fraternal charity, not to the orthodox Jew, but to the heretical Samaritan, showing that charity and love, while faith remains intact, can never 325be true unless no distinction is made between God’s creatures.”207207 “Parliament of Religions,” p. 1417. An obvious verbal misprint is corrected in the quotation.
Herein is fellowship higher than that of symbols and sacraments. By so far as it receives this spirit of love the American Catholic Church enters into its place in that greater Catholic Church of which we all make mention in the Apostles’ Creed—“the Holy Universal Church, which is the fellowship of holy souls.”
The effect of the Great Immigration on the body of the immigrant population is not more interesting or more important than the effect of it on the religious bodies already in occupation of the soil. The impression made on them by what seemed an irruption of barbarians of strange language or dialect, for the most part rude, unskilled, and illiterate, shunning as profane the Christian churches of the land, and bowing in unknown rites as devotees of a system known, and by no means favorably known, only through polemic literature and history, and through the gruesome traditions of Puritan and Presbyterian and Huguenot, was an impression not far removed from horror; and this impression was deepened as the enormous proportions of this invasion disclosed themselves from year to year. The serious and not unreasonable fear that these armies of aliens, handled as they manifestly were by a generalship that was quick to seize and fortify in a conspicuous way the strategic points of influence, especially in the new States, might imperil or ruin the institutions and liberties of the young Republic, was stimulated and exploited in the interest of enterprises of evangelization that might counter-work the operations of the invading church. The appeals 326of the Bible and tract societies, and of the various home mission agencies of the different denominations, as well as of the distinctively antipopery societies, were pointed with the alarm lest “the great West” should fall under the domination of the papal hierarchy. Naturally the delineations of the Roman system and of its public and social results that were presented to the public for these purposes were of no flattering character. Not history only, but contemporary geography gave warnings of peril. Canada on one hand, and Mexico and the rest of Spanish America on the other, were cited as living examples of the fate which might befall the free United States. The apocalyptic prophecies were copiously drawn upon for material of war. By processes of exegesis which critical scholarship regards with a smile or a shudder, the helpless pope was made to figure as the Antichrist, the Man of Sin and Son of Perdition, the Scarlet Woman on the Seven Hills, the Little Horn Speaking Blasphemies, the Beast, and the Great Red Dragon. That moiety of Christendom which, sorely as its history has been deformed by corruption and persecution, violently as it seems to be contrasted with the simplicity of the primeval church, is nevertheless the spiritual home of multitudes of Christ’s well-approved servants and disciples, was held up to gaze as being nothing but the enemy of Christ and his cause. The appetite of the Protestant public for scandals at the expense of their fellow-Christians was stimulated to a morbid greediness and then overfed with willful and wicked fabrications. The effect of this fanaticism on some honest but illogical minds was what might have been looked for. Brought by and by into personal acquaintance with Catholic ministers and institutions, and discovering the fraud and injustice that had been perpetrated, they sprang by a generous reaction into an attitude of sympathy for the Roman Catholic system. 327A more favorable preparation of the way of conversion to Rome could not be desired by the skillful propagandist. One recognizes a retributive justice in the fact, when notable gains to the Catholic Church are distinctly traced to the reaction of honest men from these fraudulent polemics.208208 Bishop O’Gorman, pp. 439, 440. James Parton, in the “Atlantic Monthly,” April and May, 1868. So lately as the year 1869 a long list of volumes of this scandalous rubbish continued to be offered to the public, under the indorsement of eminent names, by the “American and Foreign Christian Union,” until the society was driven by public exposure into withdrawing them from sale. See “The Literature of the Coming Controversy,” in “Putnam’s Magazine” for January, 1869.
The danger to the Republic, which was thus malignantly or ignorantly exaggerated and distorted, was nevertheless real and grave. No sincerely earnest and religious Protestant, nor even any well-informed patriotic citizen, with the example of French and Spanish America before his eyes, could look with tolerance upon the prospect of a possible Catholicizing of the new States at the West; and the sight of the incessant tide of immigration setting westward, the reports of large funds sent hither from abroad to aid the propagation of the Roman Church, and the accounts of costly and imposing ecclesiastical buildings rising at the most important centers of population, roused the Christian patriotism of the older States to the noblest enterprises of evangelization. There was no wasting of energy in futile disputation. In all the Protestant communions it was felt that the work called for was a simple, peaceful, and positive one—to plant the soil of the West, at the first occupation of it by settlers, with Christian institutions and influences. The immensity of the task stimulated rather than dismayed the zeal of the various churches. The work undertaken and accomplished in the twenty years from 1840 to 1860 in providing the newly settled regions with churches, pastors, colleges, and theological seminaries, with Sunday-schools, and with Bibles 328and other religious books, was of a magnitude which will never be defined by statistical figures. How great it was, and at what cost it was effected in gifts of treasure and of heroic lives of toil and self-denial, can only be a matter of vague wonder and thanksgiving.
The work of planting the church in the West exhibits the voluntary system at its best—and at its worst. A task so vast and so momentous has never been imposed on the resources of any state establishment. It is safe to say that no established church has ever existed, however imperially endowed, that would have been equal to the undertaking of it. With no imposing combination of forces, and no strategic concert of action, the work was begun spontaneously and simultaneously, like some of the operations of nature, by a multitude of different agencies, and went forward uninterrupted to something as nearly like completeness as could be in a work the exigencies of which continually widened beyond all achievements. The planting of the church in the West is one of the wonders of church history.
But this noble act of religious devotion was by no means a sacrifice without blemish. The sacred zeal for advancing God’s reign and righteousness was mingled with many very human motives in the progress of it. Conspicuous among these was the spirit of sectarian competition. The worthy and apostolic love for kindred according to the flesh separated from home and exposed to the privations and temptations of the frontier, the honest anxiety to forestall the domination of a dangerously powerful religious corporation propagating perverted views of truth, even the desire to advance principles and forms of belief deemed to be important, were infused with a spirit of partisanship as little spiritual as the enthusiasm which animates the strugglers and the shouters at a foot-ball game. The devoted pioneer of the gospel on the frontier, seeing his work 329endangered by that of a rival denomination, writes to the central office of his sect; the board of missions makes its appeal to the contributing churches; the churches respond with subsidies; and the local rivalry in the mission field is pressed, sometimes to a good result, on the principle that “competition is the life of business.” Thus the fragrance of the precious ointment of loving sacrifice is perceptibly tainted, according to the warning of Ecclesiastes or the Preacher. And yet it is not easy for good men, being men, sternly to rebuke the spirit that seems to be effective in promoting the good cause that they have at heart.
If the effect of these emulations on the contributing churches was rather carnal than spiritual, the effect in the mission field was worse. The effect was seen in the squandering of money and of priceless service of good men and women, in the debilitating and demoralizing division and subdivision of the Christian people, not of cities and large towns, but of villages and hamlets and of thinly settled farming districts. By the building of churches and other edifices for sectarian uses, schism was established for coming time as a vested interest. The gifts and service bestowed in this cause with a truly magnificent liberality would have sufficed to establish the Christian faith and fellowship throughout the new settlements in strength and dignity, in churches which, instead of lingering as puny and dependent nurslings, would have grown apace to be strong and healthy nursing mothers to newer churches yet.
There is an instructive contrast, not only between the working of the voluntary system and that of the Old World establishments, but between the methods of the Catholic Church and the Protestant no-method. Under the control of a strong coordinating authority the competitions of the various Catholic orders, however sharp, could never be 330allowed to run into wasteful extravagance through cross-purposes. It is believed that the Catholics have not erected many monuments of their own unthrift in the shape of costly buildings begun, but left unfinished and abandoned. A more common incident of their work has been the buying up of these expensive failures, at a large reduction from their cost, and turning them to useful service. And yet the principle of sectarian competition is both recognized and utilized in the Roman system. The various clerical sects, with their characteristic names, costumes, methods, and doctrinal differences, have their recognized aptitudes for various sorts of work, with which their names are strongly associated: the Dominican for pulpit eloquence, the Capuchin for rough-and-ready street-preaching, the Benedictine for literary work, the Sulpitian for the training of priests, and the ubiquitous Jesuit for shifty general utility with a specialty of school-keeping. These and a multitude of other orders, male and female, have been effectively and usefully employed in the arduous labor Romanam condere gentem. But it would seem that the superior stability of the present enterprise of planting Catholicism in the domain of the United States, as compared with former expensive failures, was due in some part to the larger employment of a diocesan parish clergy instead of a disproportionate reliance on the “regulars.”
On the whole, notwithstanding its immense armies of immigrants and the devoted labors of its priests, and notwithstanding its great expansion, visible everywhere in conspicuous monuments of architecture, the Catholic advance in America has not been, comparatively speaking, successful. For one thing, the campaign was carried on too far from its base of supplies. The subsidies from Lyons and Vienna, liberal as they were, were no match for the home missionary zeal of the seaboard States in 331following their own sons westward with church and gospel and pastor. Even the conditions which made possible the superior management and economy of resources, both material and personal, among the Catholics, were attended with compensating drawbacks. With these advantages they could not have the immense advantage of the popular initiative. In Protestantism the people were the church, and the minister was chief among the people only by virtue of being servant of all; the people were incited to take up the work for their own and carry it on at their best discretion; and they were free to make wasteful and disastrous blunders and learn therefrom by experience. With far greater expenditure of funds, they make no comparison with their brethren of the Roman obedience in stately and sumptuous buildings at great centers of commerce and travel. But they have covered the face of the land with country meeting-houses, twice as many as there was any worthy use for, in which faithful service is rendered to subdivided congregations by underpaid ministers, enough in number, if they were wisely distributed, for the evangelization of the whole continent; and each country meeting-house is a mission station, and its congregation, men, women, and children, are missionaries. Thus it has come about, in the language of the earnest Catholic from the once Catholic city of New Orleans, that “the nation, the government, the whole people, remain solidly Protestant.”209209 Speech of Mr. M. T. Elder, of New Orleans, in the Catholic Congress at Chicago, 1893, quoted above, p. 322, note. Great territories originally discovered by Catholic explorers and planted in the name of the church by Catholic missionaries and colonists, and more lately occupied by Catholic immigrants in what seemed overwhelming numbers, are now the seat of free and powerful commonwealths in which the Catholic Church is only one 332of the most powerful and beneficent of the Christian sects, while the institutions and influences which characterize their society are predominantly Protestant.
In the westward propagation of Protestantism, as well as of Catholicism, the distinctive attributes of the several sects or orders is strikingly illustrated.
Foremost in the pioneer work of the church are easily to be recognized the Methodists and the Baptists, one the most solidly organized of the Protestant sects, the other the most uncompact and individualist; the first by virtue of the supple military organization of its great corps of itinerants, the other by the simplicity and popular apprehensibleness of its distinctive tenets and arguments and the aggressive ardor with which it inspires all its converts, and both by their facility in recruiting their ministry from the rank and file of the church, without excluding any by arbitrarily imposed conditions. The Presbyterians were heavily cumbered for advance work by traditions and rules which they were rigidly reluctant to yield or bend, even when the reason for the rule was superseded by higher reasons. The argument for a learned ministry is doubtless a weighty one; but it does not suffice to prove that when college-bred men are not to be had it is better that the people have no minister at all. There is virtue in the rule of ministerial parity; but it should not be allowed to hinder the church from employing in humbler spiritual functions men who fall below the prescribed standard. This the church, in course of time, discovered, and instituted a “minor order” of ministers, under the title of colporteurs. But it was timidly and tardily done, and therefore ineffectively. The Presbyterians lost their place in the skirmish-line; but that which had been their hindrance in the advance work gave them great advantage in settled communities, in which for many years they took 333precedence in the building up of strong and intelligent congregations.
To the Congregationalists belongs an honor in the past which, in recent generations, they have not been jealous to retain. Beyond any sect, except the Moravians, they have cherished that charity which seeketh not her own. The earliest leaders in the organization of schemes of national beneficence in coöeration with others, they have sustained them with unselfish liberality, without regard to returns of sectarian advantage. The results of their labor are largely to be traced in the upbuilding of other sects. Their specialty in evangelization has been that of the religious educators of the nation. They have been preeminently the builders of colleges and theological seminaries. To them, also, belongs the leadership in religious journalism. Not only the journals of their own sect and the undenominational journals, but also to a notable extent the religious journals of other denominations, have depended for their efficiency on men bred in the discipline of Congregationalism.
It is no just reproach to the Episcopalians that they were tardy in entering the field of home missions. When we remember that it is only since 1811 that they have emerged from numerical insignificance, we find their contribution to the planting of the church in the new settlements to be a highly honorable one. By a suicidal compact the guileless Evangelical party agreed, in 1835, to take direction of the foreign missions of the church, and leave the home field under the direction of the aggressive High-church party. It surrendered its part in the future of the church, and determined the type of Episcopalianism that was to be planted in the West.210210 Tiffany, “Protestant Episcopal Church,” p. 459. Entering thus late into the work, and that with stinted resources, the Episcopal 334Church wholly missed the apostolic glory of not building on other men’s foundations. Coming with the highest pretensions to exclusive authority, its work was very largely a work of proselyting from other Christian sects. But this work was prosperously carried on; and although not in itself a work of the highest dignity, and although the methods of it often bore a painfully schismatic character, there is little room for doubt that the results of it have enriched and strengthened the common Christianity of America. Its specialties in the planting work have been the setting of a worthy example of dignity and simplicity in the conduct of divine worship, and in general of efficiency in the administration of a parish, and, above all, the successful handling of the immensely difficult duties imposed upon Christian congregations in great cities, where the Episcopal Church has its chief strength and its most effective work.
One must needs ascend to a certain altitude above the common level in order to discern a substantial resultant unity of movement in the strenuous rivalries and even antagonisms of the many sects of the one church of Christ in America in that critical quarter-century from the year 1835 to the outbreak of the Civil War, in which the work of the church was suddenly expanded by the addition of a whole empire of territory on the west, and the bringing in of a whole empire of alien population from the east, and when no one of the Christian forces of the nation could be spared from the field. The unity is very real, and is visible enough, doubtless, from “the circle of the heavens.” The sharers in the toil and conflict and the near spectators are not well placed to observe it. It will be for historians in some later century to study it in a truer perspective.
It is not only as falling within this period of immigration, 335but as being largely dependent on its accessions from foreign lands, that the growth of Mormonism is entitled to mention in this chapter. In its origin Mormonism is distinctly American—a system of gross, palpable imposture contrived by a disreputable adventurer, Joe Smith, with the aid of three confederates, who afterward confessed the fraud and perjury of which they had been guilty. It is a shame to human nature that the silly lies put forth by this precious gang should have found believers. But the solemn pretensions to divine revelation, mixed with elements borrowed from the prevalent revivalism, and from the immediate-adventism which so easily captivates excitable imaginations, drew a number of honest dupes into the train of the knavish leaders, and made possible the pitiable history which followed. The chief recruiting-grounds for the new religion were not in America, but in the manufacturing and mining regions of Great Britain, and in some of the countries, especially the Scandinavian countries, of continental Europe. The able handling of an emigration fund, and the dexterous combination of appeals to many passions and interests at once, have availed to draw together in the State of Utah and neighboring regions a body of fanatics formidable to the Republic, not by their number, for they count only about one hundred and fifty thousand, but by the solidity with which they are compacted into a political, economical, religious, and, at need, military community, handled at will by unscrupulous chiefs. It is only incidentally that the strange story of the Mormons, a story singularly dramatic and sometimes tragic, is connected with the history of American Christianity.211211 Carroll, “Religious Forces of the United States,” pp. 165-174; Bishop Tuttle, in “Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia,” pp. 1575-1581; Professor John Fraser, in “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” vol. xvi., pp. 825-828; Dorchester, “Christianity in the United States,” pp. 538-646.
To this same period belongs the beginning of the immigration 336of the Chinese, which, like that of the Mormons, becomes by and by important to our subject as furnishing occasion for active and fruitful missionary labors.
In the year 1843 culminated the panic agitation of Millerism. From the year 1831 an honest Vermont farmer named William Miller had been urging upon the public, in pamphlets and lectures, his views of the approaching advent of Christ to judgment and the destruction of the world. He had figured it out on the basis of prophecies in Daniel and the Revelation, and the great event was set down for April 23, 1843. As the date drew near the excitement of many became intense. Great meetings were held, in the open air or in tents, of those who wished to be found waiting for the Lord. Some nobly proved their sincerity by the surrender of their property for the support of their poorer brethren until the end should come. The awful day was awaited with glowing rapture of hope, or by some with terror. When it dawned there was eager gazing upon the clouds of heaven to descry the sign of the Son of man. And when the day had passed without event there were various revulsions of feeling. The prophets set themselves to going over their figures and fixing new dates; earnest believers, sobered by the failure of their pious expectations, held firmly to the substance of their faith and hope, while no longer attempting to “know times and seasons, which the Father hath put within his own power”; weak minds made shipwreck of faith; and scoffers cried in derision, “Where is the promise of his coming?” A monument of this honest delusion still exists in the not very considerable sect of Adventists, with its subdivisions; but sympathizers with their general scheme of prophetical interpretation are to be found among the most earnest and faithful members of other churches.
Such has been the progress of Scriptural knowledge 337since the days when Farmer Miller went to work with his arithmetic and slate upon the strange symbols and enigmatic figures of the Old and New Testament Apocalypses, that plain Christians everywhere have now the means of knowing that the lines of calculation along which good people were led into delusion a half-century ago started from utterly fallacious premises. It is to the fidelity of critical scholars that we owe it that hereafter, except among the ignorant and unintelligent, these two books, now clearly understood, will not again be used to minister to the panic of a Millerite craze, nor to furnish vituperative epithets for antipopery agitators.
To this period also must be referred the rise of that system of necromancy which, originating in America, has had great vogue in other countries, and here in its native land has taken such form as really to constitute a new cult. Making no mention of sporadic instances of what in earlier generations would have been called (and properly enough) by the name of witchcraft, we find the beginning of so-called “spiritualism” in the “Rochester rappings,” produced, to the wonder of many witnesses, by “the Fox girls” in 1849. How the rappings and other sensible phenomena were produced was a curious question, but not important; the main question was, Did they convey communications from the spirits of the dead, as the young women alleged, and as many persons believed (so they thought) from demonstrative evidence? The mere suggestion of the possibility of this of course awakened an inquisitive and eager interest everywhere. It became the subject of universal discussion and experiment in society. There was demand for other “mediums” to satisfy curiosity or aid investigation; and the demand at once produced a copious supply. The business of medium became a regular profession, opening a career especially to enterprising 338women. They began to draw together believers and doubters into “circles” and “seances,” and to organize permanent associations. At the end of ten years the “Spiritual Register” for 1859, boasting great things, estimated the actual spiritualists in America at 1,500,000, besides 4,000,000 more partly converted. The latest census gives the total membership of their associations as 45,030. But this moderate figure should not be taken as the measure of the influence of their leading tenet. There are not a few honest Christians who are convinced that communications do sometimes take place between the dead and the living; there are a great multitude who are disposed, in a vague way, to think there must be something in it. But there are few even of the earnest devotees of the spiritualist cult who will deny that the whole business is infested with fraud, whether of dishonest mediums or of lying spirits. Of late years the general public has come into possession of material for independent judgment on this point. An earnest spiritualist, a man of wealth, named Seybert, dying, left to the University of Pennsylvania a legacy of sixty thousand dollars, on condition that the university should appoint a commission to investigate the claims of spiritualism. A commission was appointed which left nothing to be desired in point of ability, integrity, and impartiality. Under the presidency of the renowned Professor Joseph Leidy, and with the aid and advice of leading believers in spiritualism, they made a long, patient, faithful investigation, the processes and results of which are published in a most amusing little volume.212212 “Report of the Seybert Commission,” Philadelphia, Lippincott. The gist of their report may be briefly summed up. Every case of alleged communication from the world of departed spirits that was investigated by the commission (and they were guided in their selection of cases by the advice of 339eminent and respectable believers in spiritualism) was discovered and demonstrated to be a case of gross, willful attempted fraud. The evidence is strong that the organized system of spiritualism in America, with its associations and lyceums and annual camp-meetings, and its itinerancy of mediums and trance speakers, is a system of mere imposture. In the honest simplicity of many of its followers, and in the wicked mendacity of its leaders, it seems to be on a par with the other American contribution to the religions of the world, Mormonism.340
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