Project Canterbury

Some American Churchmen

By Frederic Cook Morehouse

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1892.

Chapter VI. John Henry Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont

FOUR priests knelt together at the altar rail in S. Paul's Chapel, New York, to receive consecration to the episcopate, on the 31st of October, 1832. Each was a leader among men, and destined, no two in the same way, to leave a lasting mark upon the Church. These four were John Henry Hopkins, Bishop-elect of Vermont; Benjamin Bosworth Smith, Bishop-elect of Kentucky; Charles Pettit McIlvaine, Bishop-elect of Ohio, and George Washington Doane, Bishop-elect of New Jersey.

John Henry Hopkins was born in Dublin, Ireland, January 30th, 1792, and, with his parents, settled in Philadelphia in 1800. On reaching manhood, he began the study of law, and commenced a successful practice in Pittsburgh. He was organist and Sunday-school superintendent, and a leading member of Trinity Church. In 1823, the rectorship of the parish being vacant, Mr. Hopkins was invited to become rector, when at the time he was not even a candidate for orders. Giving up a law practice worth $5,000 a year and growing, to accept a parish at $800, Mr. Hopkins was received by Bishop White as a candidate. He was ordained deacon by Bishop White, December 14th, 1823, and priest the next year.

Western Pennsylvania was very destitute of Church privileges at the time. It was not until 1825, that Bishop White made his first visitation in that portion, being in the thirty-ninth year of his episcopate. Mr. Hopkins made an attempt to found a theological seminary such as Bishop Chase was building in Ohio, but without success. In 1826, he sat in General Convention as a deputy from Pennsylvania, and was a leader in the opposition to a scheme of Prayer Book Revision that was then proposed, which he believed to be fraught with much danger. The matter is referred to in the chapter on Bishop Hobart, who had introduced the measure.

In October of the same year (1826) was held in Pennsylvania an election for an Assistant Bishop, that created intense feeling. Mr. Hopkins voted with the friends of Bishop White, who were known as "High-Churchmen." Only one ballot was taken, without result, and the convention adjourned until the next regular convention, in May, 1827.

The excitement in the meantime was at fever heat. Both sides caucused frequently. Among the High-Churchmen were Bishop White, Mr. Hopkins, Dr. De Lancey, afterward Bishop of Western New York, Mr. Kemper, afterward Missionary Bishop, and others.

The High-Churchmen held a caucus and resolved to stand together. Nearly all of them favored supporting Mr. Hopkins for the Bishopric. As, however, he declined to vote for himself in convention, they would thus lose one vote of their full strength. Accordingly, their support was given to the Rev. H. U. Onderdonk, D. D., a warm supporter of Bishop Hobart, in New York.

The Low-Churchmen had originally supported the Rev. William Meade, afterward Bishop of Virginia. At this time, however, he declined to allow his name to be used, disapproving of some of the partisan measures of his supporters.

When it was known that 26 out of 51 clerical voters (a majority of one) supported Dr. Onderdonk, the Low-Church side endeavored to prevent his election by offering to support Mr. Hopkins, if the High-Churchmen would return to him, their original choice. It was too late. They were pledged to support Dr. Onderdonk, to a man. So he was elected by a majority of one, of the clergy, and was at once confirmed by the laity.

It was a decided victory for the High-Churchmen, but it was a mistake. The bad feeling resulting from the election, strengthened party spirit in Pennsylvania, and the result, in bitterness between the opposing sides, is felt throughout Pennsylvania, and particularly in Philadelphia, to-day.

The failure of Mr. Hopkins' plan for the foundation of a theological seminary, induced him, in 1831, to accept a call as assistant minister to the Rev. George Washington Doane, D. D., at Trinity Church, Boston. His service here was short, as, in the succeeding year, Bishop Griswold having resigned his jurisdiction in Vermont, Mr. Hopkins was elected Bishop of Vermont, on the 31st of May. Dr. Doane, the rector, was elected Bishop of New Jersey on the 3d of October following.

The General Convention of 1832 had before it the papers of four Bishops-elect. Of these, two elections were opposed. Dr. Doane's enemies had circulated false and malignant charges against him, and these must first be cleared. Dr. McIlvaine's election in Ohio was believed by many to be unconstitutional, the validity of Bishop Chase's resignation having not yet been decided. The investigation of these two cases was not concluded until the end of the session. While, therefore, there was no objection raised to the confirmation of Dr. Hopkins, or of Dr. Smith, the Bishop-elect of Kentucky, they were forced to wait for consecration until all were passed upon together.

On the 31st of October, the service was held in S. Paul's Chapel. A number of Bishops assisted the venerable Presiding Bishop in the service. Dr. Hopkins received his episcopal orders at the hands of Bishops White, of Pennsylvania; Griswold, of the Eastern Diocese, and Bowen, of South Carolina.

Vermont was a hard field for a Bishop. Sparsely populated, it received little of the flood of emigration. The completion of the Erie canal and of early railroads, enabled the people to get away, and many of them moved on to the great West, then just commencing its wonderful development.

The Church in Vermont had a small endowment which was under litigation. The Church won, but the feeling of the people was bitter against her. Having some money, but not enough, it was difficult to raise more. The Bishop attempted to inaugurate a plan for a theological seminary. He travelled abroad in search of assistance, but Bishop Chase had preceded him, with his wonderful stories of Ohio and Illinois, and Vermont, with its sparse and diminishing population, did not inspire enthusiasm. He was received kindly, but no one gave more than very small amounts. Among the subscribers were Dr. Pusey, Mr. Newman (whose guest the Bishop was in Oxford), John Keble and others. So also were the leading Low-Churchmen, including Lord Ashley, afterward Earl of Shaftesbury.

Perhaps the trouble was, that Bishop Hopkins was not committed to either side in the great controversy which then (1839) shook England's Church to the very foundation. The Bishop was not one easily excited into controversy, and at that time, although in America as in England, Churchmen were ranged into opposing camps, Bishop Hopkins was not reckoned on by either party as a fellow-partisan. Lie had voted for Dr. Onderdonk in 1827, and had caucused with the High-Churchmen, but had himself received the votes of the Low-Churchmen when balloting had taken place. Hence, the Low-Churchmen, though bitter in their disappointment, were friendly to him. Again, in Boston, though assistant to Dr. Doane at Trinity Church, then the leading High-Church parish, Mr. Hopkins was understood to have voted with the Low-Churchmen in an attempt to reverse the policy of the diocese, to prevent Dr. Doane, the High-Church leader, from reelection on the Standing Committee, of which he had for many years been the leading spirit, and also to defeat his election as a deputy to General Convention. As Bishop, too, Bishop Hopkins had pursued an independent course. When, therefore, he proceeded to England, it was to find that Bishop Hobart had reaped the harvest from the High-Churchmen for the General Seminary at New York, and Bishop Chase from the Low-Churchmen for Kenyon and then for Jubilee. Bishop Hopkins was received with courtesy from all sides, but the subscriptions were all very small. The plan for the establishment of a theological seminary in Vermont failed, and the Bishop was thrown heavily into debt. He was indeed arrested in Boston for debt, but two friends at once went on his bail and released him.

The Oxford Tracts were at first defended by Bishop Hopkins, but, later, after the secession of Newman, he seems to have changed his ground, and in "Letters on the Novelties that Disturb our Peace," he condemned them. Those were troublous days in the Church. The Bishop of New York was suspended for immorality, but many believed his staunch Churchmanship to have been the chief reason for his presentation for trial. The Bishop of New Jersey was also tried, but the evidence against him was ridiculously small, and he was acquitted. The history of it certainly looks like persecution of a pure and able Bishop.

Bishop Hopkins was not only active in the House of Bishops, but also in literary work. Among his works at this time were a valuable commentary, a History of the Confessional, and the "Law of Ritualism." He also delivered and published a series of lectures on slavery, taking the ground that it is certainly not condemned by the Bible, and had been allowed by the Church Catholic for nineteen centuries.

This explains somewhat of the attitude of Bishop Hopkins during the Civil War. His sympathies were with the Union, and yet he did not change his convictions upon the subject of slavery. The constitutional question of the right of secession, he proposed should be left to the Supreme Court. Throughout the war he opposed "political preaching." He would not allow the Church and the State to be confused. With his full consent, however, one of his sons, one son-in-law, two grandsons and three cousins were in the Union army.

The General Convention of 1862 met in New York in October, almost on the eve of the State elections. That the state of the country should be considered, was but natural. Presbyterians, Methodists and others had been profuse in their resolutions of loyalty. As a result, their organizations are split to-day.

The Catholic Church is higher than the State. She must survive, though empires fall or republics crumble away. The acts of the General Convention of 1862 upon the subject of the war would have a great effect upon the re-union of the Church after the war. Thus, the Church must act with great discretion.

The key-note was struck by the Bishop of Michigan (McCoskry) in his opening sermon, wherein he referred to the introduction of politics into our Church councils as "high treason against God."

Politics certainly did enter into the House of Deputies. It could hardly be otherwise.

The sessions were held in October, in New York City, and the State election, which would be held immediately afterward, was an event of untold interest throughout the country. Among the deputies from Western New York was the Hon. Horatio Seymour, the Democratic candidate for Governor. Mr. Seymour's patriotism had been assailed by his political opponents. He must vindicate himself. The Democratic platform of that year favored the vigorous continuance of the war.

In the Upper House the Bishop of Ohio (McIlvaine) was in constant correspondence with the administration at Washington, and had even been abroad as the accredited agent of the United States. He had come directly from Washington to New York, and was understood to have submitted certain resolutions of loyalty, to Mr. Lincoln himself, before introducing them in the House of Bishops. The Bishop of Maryland (Whittingham), too, agreed with his brother of Ohio, that General Convention should pass resolutions indorsing the administration in the strongest terms. He had, indeed, lost many friendships in Maryland by his unswerving loyalty.

Bishop Hopkins was equally determined in opposition to anything of a political nature being considered by the House of Bishops. In the absence of the Bishop of Connecticut (Brownell), Bishop Hopkins was the Presiding Bishop. All his influence was directed against the political movement.

In the House of Deputies the contest was very bitter. Early in the session did it begin. Mr. Brunot, of Pennsylvania, introduced a fiery preamble and resolution, which precipitated debate. It requested the House of Bishops to

"* * * set forth * * * a special form of prayer, confessing and bewailing our manifold transgressions, pleading for God's forgiveness, begging that it may please Him to be the Defender and keeper of our national government, giving it the victory over all its enemies; that He will abate their and our pride, assuage their malice and confound their devices, and, giving them better minds, forgive them for the evils they have wrought," etc.

The resolution doubtless reflected the opinions of the vast majority of the deputies; but a large number, and among them many of the best of them, opposed taking any action that would stand in the way of an ultimate friendly re-union between the North and the South.

The first test of the house was on a vote to lay the resolution on the table, which was carried by a large majority of both orders. Governor Seymour, whose vote the politicians were eagerly looking for, voted with the minority against killing the resolution. It was the vote of the politician rather than of the Churchman. But the vast majority were agreed that no such action should be taken; and among them were many prominent men, both in Church and State. Notwithstanding the vehement assertions of the enemies of the Church, the vote had no political significance whatever. Doubtless there were among those voting with the majority a small number whose sympathies were with the South--notably the Maryland and Kentucky delegations, with a few others, which voted against the most carefully and kindly worded resolutions of loyalty, which finally prevailed.

The number of firebrand resolutions subsequently introduced was very large. These were referred to a committee of nine, who at length unanimously reported a series of resolutions of loyalty, in which the only reference to the enemies of the government was made in carefully restrained and courteous language. These were finally adopted near the close of the session by a large majority. It was a triumph of Churchmanship over political partisanship.

The House of Bishops had passed through a similar conflict, which had reached the same conclusion. It was a cause of great distress to Bishop McIlvaine. When the time came for the Bishops to issue their pastoral letter, according to a time-honored custom, the five senior Bishops present were appointed a committee to draft the pastoral. These were the Bishops of Vermont (Hopkins), Kentucky (Smith), Ohio (McIlvaine), Wisconsin (Kemper) and Michigan (McCoskry). Bishop Hopkins drew up such a letter, which did not refer to the existing state of the country. Bishop Mcllvaine also presented a letter, which condemned the rebellion in the strongest terms. Bishop Smith and Bishop McCoskry agreed with Bishop Hopkins, while Bishop Kemper inclined to Bishop McIlvaine.

It was clear that Bishop Hopkins' letter was supported by three of the five members of the committee, including its author. But here Bishop Hopkins' modesty appeared. He declined to stay in the committee and vote for his own paper, and consequently retired. Bishop McIlvaine was not affected in that way (and certainly there was no good reason why either should have been), and stayed. Accordingly there was a tie vote.

The result was, that both pastorals were laid before the House of Bishops without recommendation. That of Bishop McIlvaine was adopted.

It was now Bishop Hopkins' turn to look defeat in the face, and he felt it very sorely. He prepared and read a solemn protest against the pastoral. When the two Houses gathered, at the close of the session, in S. John's Chapel for the closing services, the chair of the Presiding Bishop was conspicuously unoccupied during the reading of the pastoral. The document was read by Bishop McIlvaine.

We have already referred to Bishop Hopkins' "Bible View of Slavery."

In 1863, the pamphlet was taken up and circulated as a campaign document by the Democratic party in Pennsylvania, which had reversed its sentiments on the conduct of the war. It was exceedingly unfortunate, in view of the Bishop's expressed desire to keep politics out of the Church. The Bishop of Pennsylvania, Dr. Alonzo Potter, was exceedingly annoyed by it.

In connection with the Philadelphia clergy, he issued a Protest against the paper, and the Protest was sent to the country clergy of Pennsylvania with the request that they would sign at once and return it.

General Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania and his defeat at Gettysburg had aroused Pennsylvanians to a fever heat. The Protest was widely signed. But Bishop Potter at once saw his mistake. He had practically required of his clergy, or at least invited, their signature to a semi-political document. To refuse was to invite the taunt of disloyalty, and, often, to be starved out by their parishioners. In a private circular to the clergy, therefore, Bishop Potter modified his request. The harm, however, had been done.

In justice to Bishop Hopkins, it must be said that his pamphlet was wholly devoted to a Scriptural examination of the subject of slavery, with no intention of making it a political document. The whole occurrence was one of those unfortunate affairs that are inseparable from so violent a state of public opinion as predominated of necessity during the war.

When hostilities were over, Bishop Hopkins had become Presiding Bishop, by the death of Bishop Brownell. Then was perhaps his greatest service to the Church, in paving the way for the return of the Southern Bishops and deputies. The Bishop of Georgia, Dr. Stephen Elliott, was a close personal friend, and Bishop Elliott had acted as Presiding Bishop of the Church in the South.

In Louisiana, Bishop Polk had left his diocese and accepted a commission in the Confederate army as Major General. He died in 1864, being killed in battle.

New Orleans was occupied by Federal troops early in the conflict. Thus, even had Bishop Polk been at liberty, a meeting of the diocesan convention was impracticable. The Standing Committee was also scattered by the exigencies of war. Louisiana, therefore, never formally acted in union with the Church in the Confederate States.

On January 1st, 1865, the eight clergy residing in New Orleans joined in a request that Bishop Hopkins would visit them. The request was unanimous, and Bishop Kemper, among others, strongly urged him to go. Bishop Hopkins, however, unwilling to force himself upon them, and doubtful how he would be received by the laity, made a condition that all the vestries of parishes within the Federal lines should unite in the request. The members of those vestries were individually willing, but declined to take corporate action. The Bishop therefore remained at home. In April, the Memphis clergy, seconded by the Standing Committee of Tennessee, made the same request, Bishop Otey, their diocesan, having lately died; but Bishop Hopkins, characterized by his excessive fear of forcing himself on others, declined this invitation also.

Before the meeting of the General Convention of 1865, Bishop Hopkins, as Presiding Bishop, addressed a letter of special invitation to all the Southern Bishops, including the Bishop of Alabama (Wilmer), who had been consecrated during the war by action of the Southern Bishops, and without making the promise of conformity to the Church in the United States.

When the General Convention was opened in Philadelphia, Bishop Atkinson, of North Carolina, and Bishop Lay, of Arkansas, were present, and were received with joyful cordiality. In the House of Deputies, the Southern dioceses of Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee were represented. The re-union was speedily made complete. The House of Bishops resolved to receive Bishop Wilmer as Bishop of Alabama upon his making the required promise of conformity, which he did.

We can only briefly allude to the few remaining years of the first Bishop of Vermont. His "Law of Ritualism" was widely discussed immediately after the war, and a number of Bishops signed a declaration against it, written by the Bishop of Western New York (Coxe). The opposition, however, fell flat when brought into General Convention in 1868. On the other hand, the Bishop's book was reprinted in England, the "English Church Union" voted to present a copy to every English Bishop, and that distinguished jurist, Sir Robert Phillimore, cited it as authority in the Mackonochie case as one of "the writings of the late most distinguished American prelate, the Bishop of Vermont." Bishop Hopkins introduced the use of colored stoles and altar lights into Vermont, in 1867. So long before as his rectorship in Pittsburgh (1823-1831) he had used wafer bread and the mixed chalice.

Bishop Hopkins created much excitement at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 1867, by his bold and outspoken words on the subject of the Colenso schism in South Africa.

He died in Burlington, Vermont, on the 9th of January, 1868, and is buried within the grounds adjoining the episcopal residence.

Project Canterbury