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PART I. Section V.


PART I. Section V.

James Dodson

The system of slavery incorporated with organic law in the United States of North America, was perhaps the most potent factor in shaping the policy of the national government for generations. And this wicked system was perhaps no less powerful in its bearing upon ecclesiastical relations. About the beginning of the present century, the Reformed Presbyterian Church prohibited slave-holders from entering her fellowship. In several sections of the slave States, especially in South Carolina, members of this church had effected settlements in the last century. The continuance and increasing influence of the system in the general government, and consequently in the Southern States, rendered the condition of the Covenanters more and more uncomfortable. Many of them in consequence had removed to the Northern States, by courtesy called the “Free States.” Among these was Rev. Hugh McMillan, followed in succession, by many or most of the members of his South Carolina charge. A plan had been devised and a society organized for colonizing emancipated slaves in Africa, “their fatherland.” This Colonization Society soon became popular. It was liberally supported by many pious people. Its enthusiastic advocates in “towering eloquence,” pictured a grand republic in Africa, destined soon to evangelize that “Dark Continent,”—a republic which would in time even rival the United States in liberty, religion and glory! The society was patronized by slaveholders and non-slave-holders alike. In 1828, the aforesaid Mr. McMillan brought before General Synod the claims of the Colonization Society in a lengthy and eulogistic speech. A unanimous vote followed the address, pledging the church to the support of the Society. Doubtless slaveholders, humane and inhuman, from different motives, supported colonization. Infidel editors who hated slavery, were not slow to detect the policy and expose the hypocrisy of the taskmasters, who favored colonization. Slaveholders, the infidel press affirmed, liberally supported the African Colonization Society, “to get rid of the free blacks,” who rendered the tenure of their property insecure by tempting the slaves to strike out for liberty; and they gave a tithe of the profits derived from the unrequited toil of the negroes to convert the heathen abroad, while by wicked laws prohibiting the education of the heathen at home. (Sic licebat nobis ab hoste doceri.)[This is a reference to Ovid, Metamorphoses, Mr. Steele is affirming his sentiment, thus, So it is right for us to be taught by our enemies.” ED.] Thus the Lord made the infidel an unconscious instrument to teach Covenanters the ultimate object of the colonization scheme. Accordingly, though General Synod, in 1834, refused to revive the law of the church against occasional hearing, the habitual violation of which had severed the body the preceding year in Philadelphia; yet almost all our ministers were converted from the colonization cause. There was, however, one notable exception, Rev. John Cannon. He had been a zealous advocate of the colonization scheme, almost from its inception. I had sufficient evidence of this, by the fact that so early as 1830, I had incurred Mr. Cannon’s displeasure, in refusing at his earnest solicitation, while traveling as a licentiate, to become an agent for the circulation of a monthly magazine, conducted in the interest of the Colonization Society. Discussion waxed hot in Synod. Mr. Samuel M. Willson was Moderator, and while Mr. Cannon was strongly urging the claims of his favorite society, the Moderator’s feelings were roused and became uncontrollable. Without leaving the chair, he vociferated,—“I hold myself prepared to prove that the Colonization Society was a scheme devised to perpetuate slavery,” or words to that effect. Alas! the acrimonious discussions at that meeting furnished lamentable evidence that we were not yet purged from leaven that rent us asunder the year before. I was then comparatively young in and in the ministry; yet I was as old as George Gillespie, or Hugh Binning, each used his pen in giving to the church and to the world their unanswerable arguments against “unlawful confederacies.” In my simplicity I had confidently expected that after 1833, our generation-work would be to redeem the promise of 1806, by completing the Plan upon which Reformation Principles Exhibited had been projected—adding the Argumentative part. Some of us pressed this important matter on the attention of Synod, and with such success, that Rev. William Sloan was appointed to prepare a paper on “The Power of the Civil Magistrate circa sacra,” and Rev. Moses Roney, on “The Arminian Controversy.”[1.]



[1] Years before my time in the ministry, this matter had been before Synod. Archibald Johnston, as directed by the court, had written on “Messiah’s Headship,” and submitted the document to the Synod. It passed into the hands of Rev. S. B. Wylie, and “never saw the light.” The author’s father, however, had taken a copy; and at his solicitation, with other friends of the truth, it was first and finally published 1841, in consecutive numbers of The Contending Witness, Xenia, Ohio. The author died in Cincinnati, 1818, while yet a probationer. Of this young man I heard Dr. John Black say; “Archibald Johnston was the most accomplished orator ever licensed in our church.”