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The transition from establishment to the voluntary system for the support of churches was made not without some difficulty, but with surprisingly little. In the South the established churches were practically dead before the laws establishing them were repealed and the endowments disposed of. In New York the Episcopalian churches were indeed depressed and discouraged by the ceasing of State support and official patronage; and inasmuch as these, with the subsidies of the "S. P. G.," had been their main reliance, it was inevitable that they should pass through a period of prostration until the appreciation of their large endowments, and the progress of immigration and of conversion from other sects, and especially the awakening of religious earnestness and of sectarian ambition.


In New England the transition to the voluntary system was more gradual. Not till 1818 in Connecticut, and in Massachusetts not till 1834, was the last strand of connection severed between the churches of the standing order and the state, and the churches left solely to their own resources. The exaltation and divine inspiration that had come to these churches with the revivals which from the end of the eighteenth century were never for a long time intermitted, and the example of the dissenting congregations, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Methodist, successfully self-supported among them, made it easy for them, notwithstanding the misgivings of many good men, not only to assume the entire burden of their own expenses, but with this to undertake and carry forward great and costly enterprises of charity reaching to the bounds of the country and of the inhabited earth. It is idle to claim that the American system is at no disadvantage in comparison with that which elsewhere prevails almost throughout Christendom; but it may be safely asserted that the danger that has been most emphasized as a warning against the voluntary system has not attended this system in America. The fear that a clergy supported by the free gifts of the people would prove subservient and truckling to the hand by which it is fed has been proved groundless. Of course there have been time-servers in the American ministry, as in every other; but flagrant instances of the abasement of a whole body of clergy before the power that holds the purse and controls promotion are to be sought in the old countries rather than the new. Even selfish motives would operate against this temptation, since it has often been demonstrated that the people will not sustain a ministry which it suspects of the vice of subserviency. The annals of no established church can show such unsparing fidelity of the ministry in rebuking the sins of people and of rulers in the name of the Lord, as that which has been, on the whole, characteristic of the Christian ministers of the United States.

Among the conflicts of the American church with public wrongs strongly intrenched in law or social usage, two are of such magnitude and protracted through so long a period as to demand special consideration--the conflict with drunkenness and the conflict with slavery. Some less conspicuous illustrations of the fidelity of the church in the case of public and popular sins may be more briefly referred to.

The death of Alexander Hamilton, in July, 1804, in a duel with Aaron Burr, occasioned a wide and violent outburst of indignation against the murderer, now a fugitive and outcast, for the dastardly malignity of the details of his crime, and for the dignity and generosity as well as the public worth of his victim. This was the sort of explosion of excited public feeling which often loses itself in the air. It was a different matter when the churches and ministers of Christ took up the affair in the light of the law of God, and, dealing not with the circumstances but with the essence of it, pressed it inexorably on the conscience of the people. Some of the most memorable words in American literature were uttered on this occasion, notwithstanding that there were few congregations in which there were not sore consciences to be irritated or political anxieties to be set quaking by them. The names of Eliphalet Nott and John M. Mason were honorably conspicuous in this work. But one unknown young man of thirty, in a corner of Long Island, uttered words in his little country meeting-house that pricked the conscience of the nation. The words of Lyman Beecher on this theme may well be quoted as being a part of history, for the consequences that followed them.

     "Dueling is a great national sin. With the exception of a small section of the Union, the whole land is defiled with blood. From the lakes of the North to the plains of Georgia is heard the voice of lamentation and woe--the cries of the widow and fatherless. This work of desolation is performed often by men in office, by the appointed guardians of life and liberty. On the floor of Congress challenges have been threatened, if not given, and thus powder and ball have been introduced as the auxiliaries of deliberation and argument.... We are murderers--a nation of murderers--while we tolerate and reward the perpetrators of the crime."

Words such as these resounding from pulpit after pulpit, multiplied and disseminated by means of the press, acted on by representative bodies of churches, becoming embodied in anti-dueling societies, exorcised the foul spirit from the land. The criminal folly of dueling did not, indeed, at once and altogether cease. Instances of it continue to be heard of to this day. But the conscience of the nation was instructed, and a warning was served upon political parties to beware of proposing for national honors men whose hands were defiled with blood.[264:1]

Another instance of the fidelity of the church in resistance to public wrong was its action in the matter of the dealing of the State of Georgia and the national government toward the Georgia Indians. This is no place for the details of the shameful story of perfidy and oppression. It is well told by Helen Hunt Jackson in the melancholy pages of "A Century of Dishonor." The wrongs inflicted on the Cherokee nation were deepened by every conceivable aggravation.

     "In the whole history of our government's dealings with the Indian tribes there is no record so black as the record of its perfidy to this nation. There will come a time in the remote future when to the student of American history it will seem well-nigh incredible. From the beginning of the century they had been steadily advancing in civilization. As far back as 1800 they had begun the manufacture of cotton cloth, and in 1820 there was scarcely a family in that part of the nation living east of the Mississippi but what understood the use of the card and spinning-wheel. Every family had its farm under cultivation. The territory was laid off into districts, with a council-house, a judge, and a marshal in each district. A national committee and council were the supreme authority in the nation. Schools were flourishing in all the villages. Printing-presses were at work.... They were enthusiastic in their efforts to establish and perfect their own system of jurisprudence. Missions of several sects were established in their country, and a large number of them had professed Christianity and were leading exemplary lives. There is no instance in all history of a race of people passing in so short a space of time from the barbarous stage to the agricultural and civilized."[265:1]

We do well to give authentic details of the condition of the Cherokee nation in the early part of the century, for the advanced happy and peaceful civilization of this people was one of the fairest fruits of American Christianity working upon exceptionally noble race-qualities in the recipients of it. An agent of the War Department in 1825 made official report to the Department on the rare beauty of the Cherokee country, secured to them by the most sacred pledges with which it was possible for the national government to bind itself, and covered by the inhabitants, through their industry and thrift, with flocks and herds, with farms and villages; and goes on to speak of the Indians themselves:

     "The natives carry on considerable trade with the adjoining States; some of them export cotton in boats down the Tennessee to the Mississippi, and down that river to New Orleans. Apple and peach orchards are quite common, and gardens are cultivated and much attention paid to them. Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables. There are many public roads in the nation, and houses of entertainment kept by natives. Numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every section of the country. Cotton and woolen cloths are manufactured; blankets of various dimensions, manufactured by Cherokee hands, are very common. Almost every family in the nation grows cotton for its own consumption. Industry and commercial enterprise are extending themselves in every part. Nearly all the merchants in the nation are native Cherokees. Agricultural pursuits engage the chief attention of the people. Different branches in mechanics are pursued. The population is rapidly increasing.... The Christian religion is the religion of the nation. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Moravians are the most numerous sects. Some of the most influential characters are members of the church and live consistently with their professions. The whole nation is penetrated with gratitude for the aid it has received from the United States government and from different religious societies. Schools are increasing every year; learning is encouraged and rewarded; the young class acquire the English and those of mature age the Cherokee system of learning."[266:1]

This country, enriched by the toil and thrift of its owners, the State of Georgia resolved not merely to subjugate to its jurisdiction, but to steal from its rightful and lawful owners, driving them away as outlaws. As a sure expedient for securing popular consent to the intended infamy, the farms of the Cherokees were parceled out to be drawn for in a lottery, and the lottery tickets distributed among the white voters. Thus fortified, the brave State of Georgia went to all lengths of outrage. "Missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia courts and hung by Georgia executioners." But the great crime could not be achieved without the connivance, and at last the active consent, of the national government. Should this consent be given? Never in American history has the issue been more squarely drawn between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of Christ. American Christianity was most conspicuously represented in this conflict by an eminent layman, Jeremiah Evarts, whose fame for this public service, and not for this alone, will in the lapse of time outshine even that of his illustrious son. In a series of articles in the "National Intelligencer," under the signature of "William Penn," he cited the sixteen treaties in which the nation had pledged its faith to defend the Cherokees in the possession of their lands, and set the whole case before the people as well as the government. But his voice was not solitary. From press and pulpit and from the platforms of public meetings all over the country came petitions, remonstrances, and indignant protests, reinforcing the pathetic entreaties of the Cherokees themselves to be protected from the cruelty that threatened to tear them from their homes. In Congress the honor of leadership among many faithful and able advocates of right and justice was conceded to Theodore Frelinghuysen, then in the prime of a great career of Christian service. By the majority of one vote the bill for the removal of the Cherokees passed the United States Senate. The gates of hell triumphed for a time with a fatal exultation. The authors and abettors of the great crime were confirmed in their delusion that threats of disunion and rebellion could be relied on to carry any desired point. But the mills of God went on grinding. Thirty years later, when in the battle of Missionary Ridge the chivalry of Georgia went down before the army that represented justice and freedom and the authority of national law, the vanquished and retreating soldiers of a lost cause could not be accused of superstition if they remembered that the scene of their humiliating defeat had received its name from the martyrdom of Christian missionaries at the hands of their fathers.