Bishop Gregg, of Texas, makes a very suggestive observation in his Address to his Convention of 1862. He says: "It is one of the happy effects of revolutions, ecclesiastical and civil, if rightly conducted, to develop more fully principles that had long lain dormant, to evolve truth long obscured, and alike to expose, if not always to correct, the evils of error and corruption." The justice of this statement is, I think, illustrated by the history of our American Church in that momentous period lying between the years 1860 and 1866.
The admirable monograph upon the "Church in the Confederate States," by the late learned and judicious Dr. John Fulton, in the second volume of Bishop Perry's "History of the American Episcopal Church," so fully and adequately summarizes the constitutional history of that period, that it leaves little to be desired by one who wishes to have a clear and compendious statement of the principles involved, and of the way in which those principles were worked out in the thought and action of our fathers and predecessors in the Church. It will, however, be found a not unprofitable study if we look a little more closely into the particular events of that momentous period, and examine more attentively and in more detail the currents and eddies of that great stream down whose perilous flood they were swept.
In considering the action of the several Dioceses of the South under the influence of the most profound and universal movement of public feeling ever aroused in the hearts of our people, it should be remembered that the Church in the South was numerically extremely weak. In Virginia and the Carolinas its historic position and its influence in the development of those States gave it a position of importance; and in all the Southern States the character, social antecedents, intelligence, and wealth of its members assured it of public consideration far out of proportion to its numerical strength. It may also be said that in Virginia and the Carolinas there were very considerable numbers identified with the Church, though not great in comparison with the total population. But in the Dioceses to the south of these there were in 1859 only one hundred and seventy-five clergymen in all, and less than ten thousand communicants. Not only was the Church weak in all those more Southern States, but as an organization it was new and but little known. In 1859 only one of those Dioceses was as much as thirty years old; and in every one of them the first Bishop the Diocese had known was still its Diocesan. Georgia had some slight connection with early Church life and history, and cherished interesting traditions of the two Wesleys and George Whitefield, and of their work in Savannah; but south and west of the small remnant of the Georgia Colonial Church our organization was, as to local development, but of yesterday. Virginia and, the Carolinas, and Maryland to a more limited extent, had been pouring emigrants into the South and Southwest, into Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, and Arkansas, as during the same period New England and the Middle States had populated the upper Mississippi valley and the regions beyond. And where Virginia and Carolina Churchmen settled in the South and Southwest gradually little congregations and parishes were formed. In 1834 Bishop Otey was consecrated for Tennessee; in 1841 Bishop Polk resigned his immense missionary field to become Bishop of the new Diocese of Louisiana; and in the same year Bishop Elliott was consecrated the first Bishop of Georgia. Then came Bishop Cobbs for Alabama in 1844, Bishop Green for Mississippi in 1850, Bishop Rutledge for Florida in 1851, and Bishop Gregg for Texas, and Bishop Lay for Arkansas, in 1859. Thus the Church throughout the South had barely been organized and equipped with its proper diocesan appliances, when the whole country began to be disturbed by the unmistakable signs of a coming convulsion.
The General Convention of 1859, held in the City of Richmond, was felt to be one of specially happy significance for the Church in the United States. The gracious hospitality of the people of that city warmed all hearts; Churchmen from adjoining States in unwonted numbers attended its sessions; important canonical legislation, pending for years, was brought to a successful conclusion; and the Consecration of five Bishops, three of them for new Sees upon our missionary frontier, and all of them men giving sure promise of that eminent usefulness which marked their episcopal labors, crowned the work of the Convention with an unprecedented evidence of the growth and prosperity of the great national Church which it represented. [Bishops Gregg, Odenheimer, Bedell, Whipple, and Lay.] And who shall say that the Christian love and sympathy, manifested and developed at the General Convention of 1859, was not part of the preparation to enable the Church to endure the sad trials so soon to come?
They were a notable body of men who at that time presided over the Southern Dioceses. Some of them were, at one time or another during their lives, involved in controversies and contentions of a most trying character. They were as a rule strong and assertive in their nature, and encountered, and perhaps sometimes they aroused, very determined opposition. But I believe no man then, and no man now, could fail to recognize their purity, elevation of character, and essential saintliness. One does not justly incur the censure of being "laudator temporis acti" by saying that Bishops Meade, Atkinson, Elliott, Cobbs, Otey, and Polk were men cast in a larger mould than the common. And the other Southern Bishops, Johns, Davis, Rutledge, Green, Gregg, and Lay, were worthy associates and fellows of those eminent men. With the exception of Bishop Johns they were all Southern men, of Southern birth and ancestry; from different regions of the South, though all natives of Virginia and the Carolinas; in their birth and training representing different phases of Southern life, the wealthy planter, the plain farmer of the piedmont section, the cultivated professional man of the Southern city; but all distinctly of the South in moral and intellectual fibre, in social habits and prejudices. For the most part their education had been in and of the South. Bishop Meade and Bishop Johns were, I believe, graduates of Princeton, and Bishop Rutledge of Yale. Bishop Atkinson was of Hampden-Sidney, Bishop Lay of the University of Virginia, Bishops Elliott and Gregg of South Carolina College, and Bishops Otey, Green, and Davis, of the University of North Carolina, in which Bishop Polk also had been a student before entering the Military Academy at West Point. Bishop Cobbs was without academic training in early youth, but had worked out his own intellectual development in the laborious calling of a country school-teacher in the up-country of Virginia.
Their attitude towards the questions then dividing public sentiment, slavery and the right of a State to secede from the Union, was fairly representative of that of the South in general in its different phases. There were among them strong advocates of the right of secession. But there were also among them, as there were throughout the South, and especially in Virginia and in North Carolina, those who would have been glad to see some just and safe scheme of emancipation devised, and who were intensely opposed in sentiment to any suggestion of disunion. But, as a rule, these men believed that it belonged to the States alone, each acting for itself, to deal with the question of slavery; and that the armed coercion of a State, to retain it within the Union, was as plain a violation of the spirit of the constitutional compact as was the act of the State in withdrawing from the Union. Unquestionably such was the earnest conviction of the great body of those who in the South were called "Union Men" in 1860.
It is the happy memory and the justified boast of American Churchmen, both North and South, that the Church which we love had no share of responsibility for the sad and bloody years from 1861 to 1865. And we can further fairly claim that even in the fiercest hour of strife the Church upon both sides of the line did, on the whole, preserve the spirit of our common Master. While there was yet the hope and possibility of peace, the Church clung to that hope, and strove in prayer and. in exhortation to develop that possibility into fact. After all prospect of South Carolina's remaining in the Union had disappeared, the Churchmen of Charleston, which was the very centre and vortex of secession and anti-Union sentiment, continued faithfully to pray for the President and the Congress of the United States, until the Ordinance of Secession had actually been adopted. In the face of popular clamor against the use of the same prayers in Tennessee Bishop Otey published an open letter, not to his own people, as he was careful to say, but addressed to others, showing them why the Church in Tennessee must still pray for the constituted authorities.
It was in this time of uncertainty and of exasperated public passions, that the Southern Church, under the lead of its noble Bishops, took that stand upon the ground of its spiritual character and mission which was its safeguard through those years of peril.
From the beginning to the end the War came closer to the Southern people than it did to our Northern brethren. As a rule the people of the South had been more interested in purely political questions than the people of the North; and so large a proportion of the Southern leaders, both soldiers and civilians, being Churchmen, our Bishops and ecclesiastical leaders moved more within the heated atmosphere of public national life, and were strongly imbued with the political feelings animating their friends and associates. I believe this to have been the situation of our Bishops and Clergy in the South more than of those of the same classes in the North. There was no lack of sympathy even with the extremest school of politicians among many of the Clergy and some of the Bishops of the South. But both North and South the Church, as a Church, had kept free of political entanglements. This was strikingly exemplified in the course of the leading Churchmen of the South during the trying days of 1860 and 1861.
In view of the disturbed and perilous state of the country the civil authorities in South Carolina appointed November 21, 1860, as a day of public fasting and prayer, and in Alabama November 29 was appointed for the same observance. In both States the Bishop set forth special devotions for those days, breathing a spirit of unaffected humility and love, praying that God would overrule all their purposes to the ends of truth, justice, righteousness, and peace.
The President of the United States appointed Friday, January 4, as a day of fasting and prayer, and the day was very widely observed as such throughout the South. In more than one Diocese the Bishop called the attention of his people to the President's appointment, and set forth special services or prayers for the day. In doing this Bishop Otey issued a Pastoral Letter to his Diocese, and charged his Clergy, by the solemn obligation of their ordination vow, to warn their people of the perils imminently threatening "the public safety and welfare by reason of the pride, licentiousness, violence, bloodshed, blasphemy, and irreligion which disturb the peace of society, defile the land, and provoke the wrath of Heaven. Passion and prejudice, arrogance and defiance--the most dangerous impulses to masses of men--rule the hour.
Appeals to the mild precepts and charitable spirit of the Gospel are considered mean and cowardly, and many, under the obligations of a Christian profession, speak and act as though their allegiance to their country absolved them from their duty of submission to the laws and exempted them from obedience to God. Let it be our business as ambassadors of the Prince of Peace to inculcate forbearance, to teach those for whose souls we watch that 'the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God'; to 'let their moderation be known to all men'; to 'study to be quiet, and to mind their own business'; and especially to be obedient to the laws and encourage others to be orderly, peaceable, submissive, and 'ready to every good word and work.'" In addition to public prayers Bishop Otey in the same Pastoral sets forth a long prayer for private use in families, morning and evening, to much the same purpose. Bishop Polk set forth a special prayer for the same day, as well as for general use, in the Diocese of Louisiana, and Bishop Gregg, of Texas, appointed a special service. Bishop Atkinson preached himself upon this fast-day in the largest church in his Diocese a noble sermon upon the national ruin which follows upon sin and unrighteousness, from the text: "Wheresoever the carcass is there will the eagles be gathered together." In the midst of gathering clouds and distant mutterings of the coming storm the most widely circulated Church paper in the South l seized the occasion time
and again to speak most strongly of the evils of political preaching, to which some might be tempted by the general excitement, and urged the importance of applying public events to spiritual uses by arousing people to repentance and amendment of life, thus emphasizing amid the pressure of secular affairs the spiritual mission of the Church. Never did the Church more truly show the spirit of the Master than in this time of doubt and of fear.
South Carolina passed her Ordinance of Secession December 20, 1860. December 19 the Rev. C. P. Gadsden, of Charleston, wrote to a friend in Washington: "I prayed myself this morning (Wednesday) in the public service for both President and Congress, and shall do so until the State secedes." In each Southern State, as each, by the solemn and deliberate action of its people in convention assembled, withdrew from the Union, these prayers ceased. As a rule the change was made quietly and with a feeling, and sometimes with words, of sadness. In making the announcement to his people good Bishop Rutledge, of Florida, says: "We cannot contemplate (as Christians) this dismemberment of the Union without deepest regret." Even in South Carolina there seems to have been a gentle aversion on the part of saintly Bishop Davis to contemplate the unavoidable results to the Church of this act of the State. The Bishop of Texas, himself but newly transplanted from South Carolina, gives a most striking illustration of the reluctance with which Churchmen faced the new aspect of ecclesiastical affairs. In his admirable Pastoral Letter of December 27, 1860, he speaks beautifully of the duty of Christians in those times of strife and discord: "I charge you then as you will have to answer to the Judge of quick and dead, to remember the part you are taking, and the spirit with which you act, at this grave juncture of our history... .That holy religion, whose blessing is above all price, calls you to moderation and charity. The benign spirit of Christianity invokes you to illustrate its principles." Even after Texas had seceded, in a Pastoral Letter dated March 5, 1861, and in his Convention Address the following month, he preserves a tone of very great moderation. In giving directions for the change in the prayers for the civil authorities he says: "In the meantime the Church at large will go on as heretofore under God, presenting therein a salutary spectacle and ever-timely lesson to the world, in the discharge of her divine mission, with her unity undisturbed and the communion of saints unbroken, preaching peace on earth, good will towards men, and leaving the course of God's providential rule, and the best interests of our holy religion, to determine her action in the future."
It was the Bishop of Louisiana who sounded the first clear note for the separate and independent organization of the Church in the South. It is not at all certain that in sentiment he differed from his most conservative Southern brethren. His sincerity no one ever doubted, and his expressions of regret at the rending asunder of the relations with the brethren in the North are most deep and tender. But he was eminently a man of action, of firm and decided character, who upon taking any position, or entering upon any course of action, accepted at once what he recognized as its natural and necessary consequences. The other Southern Bishops, as a rule, accepted in the first instance the fact of secession and the actual interruption of accustomed relations without looking further, perhaps without rigidly examining themselves as to what in their own minds the next step must be. Doubtless some had no clear views as to future consequences; as good Bishop Gregg had said: "Leaving the course of God's providential rule... to determine her [the Church's] action in the future"; or as Bishop Rutledge: "But it is in the hand of Providence." Equally submissive to God's Providence Bishop Polk saw certain consequences absolutely unavoidable, in his understanding of ecclesiastical history and polity. Many wiser men differed with him, but it is quite probable that he was entirely unconscious what weighty reasons could be urged upon the other side. To his mind there was no possibility of any other course, and he spoke out in a voice that startled the Church, and aroused instant response of concurrence or of opposition. Upon the secession of the State of Louisiana he issued a Pastoral and declared his position, January 30, 1861: "The State of Louisiana having by a formal ordinance, through her Delegates in Convention assembled, withdrawn herself from all further connection with the United States of America, and constituted herself a separate sovereignty, has by that act removed our Diocese from within the pale of the 'Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.' We have therefore an independent Diocesan existence. ... In withdrawing ourselves therefore from all political connection with the Union to which our brethren belong, we do so with hearts filled with sorrow at the prospect of its forcing a termination of our ecclesiastical connection with them also... .Our separation from our brethren of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States has been effected because we must follow our nationality. Not because there has been any difference of opinion as to Christian Doctrine or Catholic usage. Upon these points we are still one. With us it is a separation, not division, certainly not alienation. And there is no reason why, if we should find the union of our Dioceses under one National Church impracticable, we should cease to feel for each other the respect and regard with which purity of manners, high principle, and manly devotion to truth, never fail to inspire generous minds."
This bold and bald statement, that political action of the State determines ipso facto the status of the Church in its most intimate relations with its component parts, and the resulting dissolution of all constitutional and canonical connections and obligations, produced a painful impression in both sections of the country! Three months later, April 25, Bishop Polk put forth another Pastoral, attempting, not very felicitously, to explain his first; and a large and able committee of his Convention made an elaborate report endeavoring to maintain the position he had taken; and that position was hotly debated by learned correspondents on both sides of the question in the Church papers. [He goes so far, in this second Pastoral, as to suggest that, though present circumstances demand present union of the Southern Dioceses in a separate organization, yet the future may allow a union of North and South in matters of a general nature, "in which greater efficiency would result from a union of our resources and energies."] None of the other leaders in the South ever took exactly Bishop Polk's position. They endeavored to reach the same conclusion by different arguments. But Bishop Polk had seen two things clearly and had stated them briefly and forcibly. He had seen that, as a matter of fact, separation between North and South, ecclesiastical as well as political, had come; and that the practical effect of secession was that the Church North and South, in the then state of public feeling outside the Church, could not go on under one administration. If every Churchman in the South and in the North had desired it, it could not have been done. Whether his theory was correct or not, he saw the facts of the situation as they were, and he stated the facts. He was more conversant with facts than with theories. Again, he saw also that this separation was forced upon the Church from without, and had not come from within; and he gave felicitous expression to that fact in a phrase which came to be the common expression to describe the situation--"Separated, not Divided." A family united in heart may be broken up by sad providences and scattered far asunder; but the love of parent and child, of brothers and sisters, thus sundered, still glows in their hearts; the family is a separated family, not a divided family.
For some time yet no other of the great leaders spoke authoritatively on this subject. And from distant Texas comes the voice of its earnest Missionary Bishop to say how far he was at that time from taking Bishop Polk's position. He says, April 11: "If again the general sentiment of the Church North and South should ultimately be found to tend to the expediency of the severance of the ecclesiastical union heretofore existing, the friendly consultation on our part, as preparatory to the final action of the General Convention, would be in every way desirable." [This refers to the call issued by Bishops Polk and Elliott, March 23, 1861, for a meeting of the Southern Bishops and Dioceses in Montgomery, July 3, 1861, as will presently appear.] And this suggestion of a separation into two Provinces, as it were, by the action of the General Convention, was not without its advocates in other parts of the South.
But it had by this time become plain to all that, to prevent confusion and the unwisdom of divided counsels, steps should be taken for a conference of the Dioceses in the seceded States. Bishop Polk and Bishop Elliott, the seniors among the Bishops of these Dioceses, met at Sewanee, the seat of that great enterprise, the University of the South, in the early spring, and sent out over their joint names the following letter to their Episcopal brethren and to the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Alabama, whose Bishop had died January 11, 1861:
Franklin County, Tenn.
March 23rd, 1861.
Rt. Rev. and Dear Brother:
"The rapid march of events and the change which has taken place in our civil relations, seem to us, your brethren in the Church, to require an early consultation among the Dioceses of the Confederate States, for the purpose of considering their relations to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, of which they have so long been the equal and happy members. This necessity does not arise out of any dissension which has occurred within the Church itself, nor out of any dissatisfaction with either the doctrine or discipline of the Church. We rejoice to record the fact, that we are to-day, as Churchmen, as truly brethren as we have ever been; and that no deed has been done, nor word uttered, which leaves a single wound rankling in our hearts. We are still one in Faith, in purpose and in Hope; but political changes, forced upon us by a stern necessity, have occurred, which have placed our Dioceses in a position requiring consultation as to our future ecclesiastical relations. It is better that these relations should be arranged by the common consent of all the Dioceses within the Confederate States than by the independent action of each Diocese. The one will probably lead to harmonious action, the other might produce inconvenient diversity. We propose to you therefore, dear brethren, that you recommend to your Diocesan Convention, the appointment of three clerical and three lay deputies, who shall be delegates to meet an equal number from each of the Dioceses within the Confederate States, at Montgomery, in the Diocese of Alabama, on the third day of July next, to consult upon such matters as may have arisen out of the changes in our civil affairs.
"We have taken it upon ourselves to address you this Circular because we happen to be together, and are the senior Bishops of the Dioceses within the Confederate States.
"Very truly yours in Christian bonds,
"Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana.
"Stephen Elliott, Bishop of Georgia.
"P.S. We have named as late a day as the 3rd of July because the Diocesan Convention of South Carolina does not meet this year until the 16th day of June."
This is the document which called the Bishops and representatives of the Southern Church together, and made the beginning of the "Church in the Confederate States of America."
There was at this time an amazing diversity of opinion, among the Bishops and Churchmen of the South, as to the effect of the secession of a State upon the ecclesiastical status of the Diocese within that State. Bishop Polk had boldly asserted the principle that the Church must follow nationality, and that by the mere force of the secession of the State of Louisiana the Diocese of Louisiana was torn away from all ecclesiastical relations, and was isolated, with respect to all other Dioceses in the world. No other Bishop or Diocese, except perhaps the Bishop and Diocese of Texas after 1861, ever took so radical a position. Alabama, when her Convention met, May 2, 1861, declared in effect that the diocesan constitution had been adopted upon the ground that the State of Alabama was one of the United States, and would so continue; and that, the State having withdrawn from the Union, the constitution, so far as it had assumed the existence of that bond between the States, was now of no force. The Convention therefore declared the first article of the diocesan constitution, and all canonical legislation depending on that article, null and void. This was not quite the same as saying that the Church must follow nationality, but only that the particular conditions of its organization required each Diocese to be within the United States. The Bishop of Georgia argued out this same position very ably, alleging that it was the mind of the Church, in its Constitution of 1789, that the Bishop shall go with his jurisdiction: "He is a Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, not because he is a Bishop of the Church Catholic, but because he is the Bishop of Maine, or of New York, or of New Jersey, as the case may be. When the jurisdiction, therefore, of a Bishop declares itself, in the exercise of its rightful sovereignty, to be thenceforth and for ever separated from the other jurisdictions which make up the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, it forces him necessarily into a like separation... .The separation of his jurisdiction severs him at once from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, not simply because the Church must follow the nationality, but because the Church of the United States has trammelled itself with constitutional and canonical provisions, which force the Church and its Bishop into this attitude? In the Convention of Georgia there was a very general expression of an earnest desire to preserve the unity of the Church, if possible, and it was suggested that the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States should be so amended as to render the Church "wholly superior to territorial destructions [qu: distinctions?] in the prosecution of her work."
In the Diocese of Florida it was very earnestly debated in the Convention, Whether the Diocese had the right, after the secession of the State, to send deputies to the General Convention. And it was decided almost unanimously that, under the Constitution of the Church in the United States, there was no such right.
But it was the Bishop of South Carolina who gave the most ingenious turn to this constitutional argument, and maintained that position with most subtle skill. He went back to the principle of the old English statutes of Praemunire, which denied the right of any foreign power to exercise jurisdiction within the realm of England, thereby destroying the Pope's claim to jurisdiction in matters ecclesiastical. Bishop Davis's argument is most interesting and acute. He distinctly repudiates Bishop Polk's theory and thus sets forth his own: He says it had been "thought by some that the secession of the State necessarily carried with it the secession of the Church, but this can hardly be allowed, unless there be some compact to that end, entered into by the Church herself. She is intrinsically a spiritual polity. She was so constituted by her divine Lord, and for many years maintained that position alone. But she is capable of union with other ecclesiastical bodies, and with the State itself. Necessarily, however, it must be only with her own consent, and she must preserve her independent spirituality as a Church. The effect, therefore, of the action of the State upon the Church, or of confederated dioceses upon a single diocese, must be by compact or constitutional law. In England there was a union between the Church and State. One of the laws of that United Kingdom was, that no subject of a foreign government should exercise spiritual jurisdiction in Great Britain. Thus, when the United States were acknowledged as an independent government, the clergy who were the subjects of that government became necessarily separated from the English Church, and excluded from spiritual jurisdiction therein or subjection thereunto. The same principle lying, I think, deep in the bosoms of those who originated the constitution of the General Convention, was wrought into that document, and the principle is there set forth, and is, I think, more thoroughly incorporated in it even than expressed, that none but a citizen of the United States shall be a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. We are, of course, so no longer, nor entitled to spiritual jurisdiction therein, nor subject to the government thereof... .There is no principle of spiritual life involved, there is no article of faith at issue. It is simply a question of constitutional confederation, and our conclusion is that the condition of confederation being broken, the confederation exists no longer. ... It has been broken also by action without ourselves as a Church. The course of divine providence, in the entire change of the government of which we are subjects, has determined this for us."
Renewing the same question in his Convention Address of 1862, Bishop Davis says: "Jurisdiction in the Church is not strictly jure divino. The right of jurisdiction is, but the appointments and arrangements are not. Therefore, although in the Church its construction and relations must be human only. They must occupy the same ground as other human institutions, and be subject to the dispensations of Divine Providence and the necessary changes of things. The truth is the present great revolution is a dispensation extraordinary, and a revelation from God. It is a voice from on high, speaking to men, and changing and shaping the forms of society both civil and religious."
He refers to his proposition set forth the year before: "I see no reason to change that judgment. The more it is examined into, the more I think it will appear, that the words 'in the United States' in Article I, and 'in any of the United States' in Article V, are terms of jurisdiction, and not merely descriptive of locality... .
"So far I have not considered the case of original diocesan independency--subject, however, to the just and due relations to Catholic Christianity, and the associated duties thence resulting. This I acknowledge: and that it is the proper form into which the Church resolves herself upon every necessary dissolution of confederacy."
The whole discussion is most interesting, and it is the ablest argument and the strongest presentation of the position of those who held that the secession of the State necessarily involved the separation of the Diocese from the Church in the United States. Bishop Davis was by birth and education a North Carolinian, and most of his ministry before his elevation to the Episcopate had been in that Diocese. He had now for some years been a citizen of South Carolina, the home of the great metaphysical statesman, Calhoun, and his reasoning seems to show the influence of his later surroundings. He had been bred to the Bar, and was an elder brother of the eminent lawyer, Mr. George Davis, Attorney-General of the Confederate States.
Bishop Lay, consecrated in 1859 "Missionary Bishop for the South West," found himself in a somewhat different situation from that of the other Southern Bishops. He had no diocese, and was merely ministering, under the authority of the House of Bishops of the Church in the United States, within a territory assigned by them. No diocese had been organized within the State of Arkansas, the place of his residence and the region of his chief activity. But the State of Arkansas had seceded. His strong sense of the divine character and authority of the Church made him slow to recognize any effect upon its organization and constitutional position to be effected by the mere political action of the secular power. As a reasonable man dealing with actual conditions he recognized the necessity of a separate organization for the Church in the Confederate States, since there was an actual separation making united action impossible; but he looked for a separation to be authorized by the Church as a whole, acting through the General Convention, such as Bishop Gregg had at first suggested. When the course of events made this no longer possible, he found his position most perplexing. "Diocesan Bishops," he argued, "possess a character, and are invested with a jurisdiction, which remain unaltered by any rearrangement of Provincial boundaries." On the other hand, "The Missionary Bishop is a delegate sent forth by the general body, dependent for jurisdiction on its will." This general body, the Church in the United States, claimed jurisdiction over the citizens and territory of the United States. As he no longer recognized Arkansas to be a part of the territory of the United States, and as that was his residence and included most of the congregations under his care, though his jurisdiction embraced also territory still within the limits of the United States, he felt that he should resign his commission as Missionary Bishop of the Church in the United States. July 26, 1861, he addressed a letter to the Presiding Bishop of the Church in the United States, resigning his jurisdiction as Missionary Bishop of that Church. On the same day he addressed a letter to the Bishops of the Church in the Confederate States, notifying them of his action, and saying that, though without canonical authority, he would continue his Episcopal ministrations in Arkansas until the Church in the Confederate States should take action upon the matter.
Although learned Bishops and astute committees did not commit themselves to Bishop Polk's dictum that the Church must follow nationality--and even the Committee of his own Convention, though they employed the phrase and endeavored to give a certain support to it by reference to early national churches, did really base their argument upon the particular facts of our American history--yet, without question, the prevailing motive in most cases sprang out of the strong national sentiment aroused by the approaching struggle. In the popular mind "the Church must follow nationality." This was the feeling which showed itself in editorials and correspondence in The Church Intelligencer, the most widely circulated Church paper in the South. The words of the Preface to the American Prayer Book seemed to support this view; and it can hardly be doubted that this sentiment, sanctioned apparently by the very words of the Church, prevailed more with the average Churchman than the most ingenius constitutional argument. It was pointed out, on the other hand, that the relation between the Church and the civil government in England justified the statement in 1789 that, "When in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included," as we read in the Preface to the Prayer Book. But it is much easier to accept the statement as it stands than to search out its limitations and qualifications.
These different views were of less importance at the time from the fact that they all met in one common conclusion as to present duty. Whether because of the necessity that "the Church should follow nationality," by reason of some essential principle in the Constitution of the Universal Church; or because of principles inherited from the English Church and embedded in the Constitution of the General Convention; or because of the express provisions of Articles I, V, and X of that Constitution; or because of the free and voluntary action of the Bishop and Diocesan Convention, recognizing the actual separation caused by war, and acting ex necessitate rei in providing for doing the work of the Church;--all agreed in the necessity of separate organization.
The Bishop of North Carolina attended the opening service of the Convention of the Diocese of Virginia of 1861, and joined Bishop Meade and Bishop Johns in a note addressed to the Bishops of the seceded States, requesting the postponement of the meeting called for in Bishop Elliott's and Bishop Polk's circular, and suggesting as a more convenient place of meeting Raleigh, Asheville, or Sewanee. Virginia had just seceded; it was evident that the action of the Government at Washington would drive North Carolina to take the same course; and this postponement was asked in order that these Dioceses, which desired to act in concert, might be represented at the meeting.
The meeting was not postponed, and consequently Virginia and North Carolina were not represented. But it may be well in this place, in connection with what has been said about the position of other Dioceses and Bishops, to give Bishop Atkinson's views as developed in his Address to his Convention, July 10, 1861, upon the important question of the effect of the secession of the State upon the ecclesiastical status of the Diocese. With the exception of Bishop Gregg, all the Bishops and Dioceses, who had spoken or taken action, had in effect declared that, upon one ground or another, the secession of the State had the effect of separating the Diocese from the Church in the United States, though they had varied somewhat in the reasonings by which they had reached this conclusion. Bishop Atkinson alone contended that the political action of the State had, of itself, no effect whatever upon the Church; but that the Diocese was free to remain connected with the Church in the United States, or to form an independent organization, as the necessity might seem to require with reference to its own spiritual interests and work. He says to his Convention of 1861: "I do not entertain the view which many hold, that the severance of the National Union does of itself, and without any act of the Church, produce a disruption of the bonds which bind our Dioceses together. This is a matter in itself of so much importance, and is likely to furnish so controlling, and, as it seems to me, so dangerous a precedent for the future, that it ought to be very carefully considered, before we adopt the conclusion just now referred to, recommended though it be by persons for whom we have the sincerest respect. The question is not, you observe, what may these Southern Dioceses rightfully and wisely do, but what is the effect on them, willing or unwilling, of what others have done.
"It is clearly wise, and even necessary, that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States shall be greatly modified... .But that is not the matter before us now. We have first to decide, not whether we shall modify or destroy that Church, but whether there is such a Church now in existence. If the Dioceses established in the States which have seceded are no longer a part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States,--are indeed no longer a part of any ecclesiastical organization, but are separate and independent each of the other, and each of the rest of Christendom,--How has this very important change been brought about? Not by their own act, for those which have acted in recognition of their Diocesan isolation only profess to recognize an existing fact. They do not separate from the other Dioceses; they declare themselves to have been already separated by the acts of the States within whose limits they have been organized. What were those acts? The secession of those States from the Political Union of which they had previously formed a part... .Take, for example, the case of any one of our Dioceses. It is formed within a State, the population of which is generally alien to our Church, not hostile perhaps, but indifferent; not recognizing its authority, of course not concerned to advance its growth or to preserve its principles. Within this mass of population, most of whom are attached to some form of Protestant dissent--some of whom are Roman Catholics, a few of whom are Jews, and some rejectors of all revealed religion--we have a few congregations, amounting in the most favored Dioceses to not a tenth of the whole number of the people, in others to not a hundredth. Does the action of such a body politic determine, ipso facto, without the Church being consulted, without its action, without any expression of its will, perhaps against its will, what shall be its relation to its sister Dioceses, and through them to the Churches in alliance with our own,--to its Missions, Foreign and Domestic,--to the General Seminary, and to its entire Code of Canon Law, other than that which is merely Diocesan?... According to the theory that secession in the State produces a disruption of the Church, each Diocese in the seceding States is relegated to a condition of absolute isolation and independence... .Each stands alone in Christendom; conditions I believe to be without precedent in Church History, from the Apostles' time downward, except perhaps when the ban of excommunication has rested on a Diocese. Its results must be to deprive our Delegates of their rights to seats in the General Convention, in the Board of Missions and in the Board of Trustees of the General Seminary." He calls attention to the fact that the State could not by any direct attempt thus deprive the Church of its rights, annul its privileges, and confiscate its property, as well as abrogate its most solemn laws and regulations: "Yet shall we say that what could not be done directly has been done indirectly? ... Of course I know that the State is not thinking of us, does not wish to tyrannize over us, or to exercise any power over us; but the question is, does it really exercise this prodigious power by virtue of principles and facts embodied in the subject itself? I think it does not," etc.
He calls attention to the possible results of such a view in the future: "Suppose the Dioceses in the Confederate States form a united Church, as no doubt they will, and that one of these States should afterwards secede from the Confederacy, then the Diocese in that State will be cut off, whether she wish it or no, from the Southern Church; then the Church throughout all time will have her relations settled for her by men not necessarily of her communion, perhaps by men hostile to her, and anxious to destroy her. Was it ever heard before that the Church of Christ was under such bondage?"
He calls attention to the fact that it is not at all clear that a Diocese in a foreign country may not be in union with the Church in the United States, even when there has been no previous connection between that country and our own: "The Right Reverend Drs. Boone and Payne are Bishops of that Church, exercising Episcopal functions, and possessing jurisdiction, under its authority, and liable to its discipline. If Dioceses were established at Shanghai and Cape Palmas, I see no hindrance either in our constitution or in Church principles, to those Dioceses being received into union with the Church in the United States."
To this position the Bishop of North Carolina adhered with a calm courage and confidence characteristic of the man, though it caused some moments of pain and misunderstanding in the period between the secession of the State and the adoption by the Diocese of North Carolina of the Constitution of the Church in the Confederate States, in May, 1862.
He recurs to the subject in his Convention Address May 15, 1862, and the importance of the question will justify a further quotation. He says in that Address: "It is certain that the Diocese of North Carolina was, in the autumn of 1860, a part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, and it is equally certain that that Church has done no act since to exscind it, nor has the Diocese by its own act withdrawn itself. If then it be not now a part of the same Church, it must have been cut off by virtue of the political change produced by the secession of the State. But could the State, by any political act, destroy the organization of the Church, and annul its Constitution and Canons, which were its bonds of union with the Church' in the United States? If it be the Church of Jesus Christ, or a part of the Church of Jesus Christ (and which of its members will declare it not to be?), then the State can neither make nor unmake it, alter or amend it, directly or indirectly; for Jesus Christ said: 'My Kingdom is not of this world.' His Church, so far from being the creature of the State, or in the power of the State, like clay in the hands of the potter, to receive any shape the State may choose to give,--His Church, instead of being thus ductile and malleable, was planted in spite of the State, and grew up and flourished under the most vehement and obstinate assaults and opposition of the State. He, then, that proclaims that the Protestant Episcopal Church is changed in its organization and laws by the mere act of the State, does, however little he may intend it, yet in effect declare that it may be a very respectable religious denomination, wealthy, refined and orderly, but that it is no part of the Church of Christ; and does in effect advise all its members, if they desire to partake of the blessings of the Church of Christ, to come out of the Protestant Episcopal Society, and go elsewhere for those blessings. I do not see then, how any considerate man, who does believe in the authority and mission of the Church, can suppose that its organization has been broken up by the mere act of the State... .We do not lose our rights and interest, then, in that Church by ceasing to be citizens of the United States, but only when we voluntarily withdraw from that Ecclesiastical organization, and establish another for ourselves. This, I conceive, we had the right to do, even if the United States had not been divided, were there sufficient cause for it; and that division does itself furnish sufficient cause. In the mean time, according to my belief, until we form anew organization, the old continues to subsist. There is no interregnum of anarchy. We are not left weltering in chaos, without a Constitution, without any binding regulations for the consecration of Bishops, for the ordination of Clergymen, for the enforcement of discipline, so that each man is free to do what is right in his own eyes. God forbid we should ever be in such a condition."
Unfortunately we have no record of the utterance of the great Bishop of Tennessee upon this interesting question. The journal of the Diocese of Tennessee for 1861 is said to have been destroyed by a fire in the printing office, and was never published; and no other Convention was held until that of 1865. It does appear, however, that he took the same view which is so convincingly set forth in the above passages from Bishop Atkinson's addresses of 1861 and 1862. Bishop Atkinson makes this statement in the Church Intelligencer of February 21, 1862; and it is further evidenced by the fact that Bishop Otey, like Bishop Atkinson, gave his consent to the Consecration of Bishop Stevens, of Pennsylvania, and declined to concur in the Consecration of Bishop Wilmer, of Alabama.
The meeting in Montgomery, July 3, 1861, was attended by Bishops Elliott, Green, Rutledge, and Davis and by fourteen clergymen and eleven laymen, representing the Dioceses of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Texas only, of the Dioceses invited, was unrepresented. The proceedings were brief, sensible, and marked by perfect harmony and good feeling. It was in the nature of a conference, all orders sitting together and discussing freely the few topics introduced. Bishop Elliott, as the senior by Consecration of the Bishops present, was called to the chair, and the Rev. John M. Mitchell, of Alabama, was appointed secretary. A committee, with the Bishop of Mississippi as chairman, was appointed to propose business for the meeting. This committee brought in a majority report signed by the Episcopal and lay members of the committee, and a minority report by the clerical members was presented by the Rev. F. A. P. Barnard, afterwards the distinguished President of Columbia College. As is apt to be the case, the clergymen were rather more aggressive than the Bishop and the laymen. The difference, however, was not very great. The majority report deferred all important action looking to permanent organization to a Convention of the Church in all the seceded States, to be held in the summer of 1862; only recommending present action to provide for the missionary work, domestic and foreign. The minority urged the preparation by that meeting of a Constitution for the Church in the Confederate States, following closely that of the Church in the United States, to be sent down to the several Dioceses for ratification and adoption. This difference was wisely compromised by referring the question of the Constitution to an adjourned meeting to be held in Columbia, South Carolina, October 16, 1861; and a committee was appointed to prepare a draft of a Constitution and Canons, to be presented to that meeting.
Resolutions were adopted appointing Mr. Jacob K. Sass and Mr. Henry Trescott, both of Charleston, to be treasurers respectively for Domestic and Foreign Missions, and requesting them to remit directly to domestic and foreign missionaries already in the field such moneys as should be contributed to that end. It was also resolved that the Southern Dioceses pledge themselves to sustain Bishop Lay and Bishop Gregg in the important work committed to them.
Recognizing the very great difference of opinion in regard to the theoretical status of the Dioceses in the Confederate States in relation to the Church throughout the United States, the Convention very wisely:
"Resolved, That the secession of the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee from the United States, and the formation by them of a new government, called the Confederate States of America, renders it necessary and expedient that the Dioceses within those States should form among themselves an independent organization."
The meeting then adjourned to the sixteenth day of October following. The chairman in his closing address could say with truth what can seldom be said of any meeting: "We have done, brethren of the Convention, enough at this meeting, and yet not too much." For men who met together in the opening days of a revolution, in such a stress of feeling, and amid such discordant influences, they had shown a calmness, a moderation, a wisdom, a true Christian charity and peaceableness, seldom equalled.
Date of the Ordinance of Secession in the several states
South Carolina: December 20, 1860
Mississippi: January, 1861
Florida: January, 1861
Georgia: January, 1861
Louisiana: January, 1861
Texas: February, 1861
Virginia April 17, 1861
Arkansas: May 6, 1861
Tennessee: May 6, 1861 [The Ordinance of Secession of the State of Tennessee was passed May 6, and was ratified by a popular vote June 9 following.]
North Carolina: May 20, 1861