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"Who shall be our Provisional Bishop?"







No. 161 Pearl Street



[Attributed to Murray Hoffman]

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton, 2007.






The time is near at hand, when, in all probability, we shall be called upon to elect a Provisional Bishop, to administer the affairs of our Diocese. The responsibility involved in choosing a Bishop, which is always great, is in our present circumstances peculiarly so. It is a duty which should be approached and discharged with a sincere and earnest desire to promote the best interests of the Church, and thereby the glory of God. It is one, in connection with which, the mere desire to confer honor upon an individual, or to secure the triumph of a party, should be carefully eschewed. The Church, established by the love of our adorable Redeemer, to be employed as the grand agency in carrying out the design for which He became incarnate, and suffered and died, viz., the salvation of men, is no fit instrument for the gratification of individual ambition, or of party feeling.

[3] When therefore the inquiry presents itself to our minds--"Whom shall we select for this important station?"-- we should be governed in our reply by a careful and unbiased reference to those qualifications, which render an individual meet to execute the office of a Bishop generally, and which adapt him to the peculiar circumstances of our Diocese, in particular. The person [3/4] in whom these qualifications clearly and pre-eminently reside, should unquestionably be the man of our choice.

Without entering upon the more familiar topic of the general qualifications required for the episcopal office, let us consider some of the special characteristics of our own Diocese, and what it consequently needs in a Bishop.

I. It is a very large Diocese--the largest in our ecclesiastical union. It therefore needs a Bishop possessing a high order of executive talent; one who can readily perceive, and promptly and efficiently discharge the great amount and variety of duties, which will necessarily fall to his lot.

II. The Diocese comprises an unusual number of clergymen and laymen of the highest respectability for talent and learning. Its Bishop, therefore, should be a man possessing both these qualifications to such a degree as to command general respect.

III. It is in a divided state, and has for years been distracted by party strife. It therefore demands a Bishop who is a man of peace, and who would kindly and wisely employ all proper means for restoring unity, harmony, and brotherly love; and who would be emphatically the Bishop of the whole Diocese, and not of a party.

IV. Its position is such--comprising, as it does, the chief city and grand emporium of the United States, that its influence for good or for evil, must be very great and extensive. It therefore needs a Bishop, who, so far as depends upon man, shall impart to it a truly apostolic character--a character combining humble and earnest piety, and a firm, enlightened, and affectionate adherence to the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel, as held by our Church, and to those ecclesiastical principles and usages which distinguish us from other Protestant bodies of Christians.

[5] Hence, it is obvious that we need in our Provisional Bishop, qualities of a nature and variety which are seldom found combined in a single individual. We need a man of high and peculiar intellectual endowments; one whose literary and theological attainments are of no ordinary grade; and one, of whose earnest and steady piety, sound churchmanship, and peaceful, conciliatory disposition, there can be no rational doubt.


This is a question of great solemnity; and one which, it is most likely, we shall soon be obliged to answer. Several gentlemen could probably be found in our Church, so far corresponding to this description, as to render it proper for us to give them our suffrages. But as matters now stand, our choice seems to be limited. There are two, and only two prominent candidates placed before the Diocese; and upon the comparative claims of these we are to decide.

The gentlemen referred to, are the REV. SAMUEL SEABURY, D.D., and the REV. HENRY J. WHITEHOUSE D.D., both of the city of New-York.

Now, if we are to choose one of these gentlemen for our Provisional Bishop, we ought to be governed in our choice by the simple question, "which of them would be the more likely to administer the affairs of our Diocese to the glory of God, and for the highest benefit of the Church?" And this is a question which we have none too much time to consider.

In answering it for myself, I could not but give my most decided preference to the latter,--and that, I wish it to be distinctly understood, without any present reference to their comparative qualifications for the office, in itself considered. My position would be, that, however well qualified, and however well disposed Dr. Seabury may be, to discharge episcopal duties in this Diocese, the [5/6] feelings which exist towards him, and which, by anything short of miracle, can never be eradicated, are such, that he would necessarily find himself in the uncomfortable position of a Bishop with a Diocese divided in regard to himself, and with a very respectable and numerous party irreconcilably opposed to him. It is undeniable, that there are many of the clergy, and many of the churches of the diocese, whose feelings would revolt at the thought of his administration of the episcopal office among them; and who would only submit to it as an act of necessity.

It matters not, for the present argument, whether these feelings are well or ill founded. They exist, and are honestly cherished. And is it desirable, is it even tolerable, that we should, without any necessity whatever, be obliged to receive for a Bishop, a man, whom in that office a large number of the clergy and laity could not respect, nor look upon but with feelings of dislike!

It is presumed to be generally well-known, that, to the minority of the Diocese, a more offensive man could hardly have been put forward. And why?

I. Because he is viewed as the leader of what, for the sake of convenience, I will call the Tractarian Party, and as having exerted a powerful influence in corrupting the doctrine of the Church.

II. Because of the views of morality which he has expressed, in connection with the charged delinquencies of the suspended Bishop.

III. Because of his treatment of those members of the Court of Bishops, who united in condemning Bishop Onderdonk, and of all who justified their decision.

IV. Because his investment with the office of Provisional Bishop, would be the virtual restoration of the suspended Bishop to the charge of the Diocese.

V. He has for years been the chief controversialist of the Diocese, and the leading antagonist of the minority.

[6/7] Now, brethren, when I consider these things, I am no less astonished than grieved, that this gentleman should have been announced as the candidate of a powerful party for this office! Can it have been done with a desire for conciliation? with a desire for the peace, harmony, and prosperity of the Church? I would fain believe, as charity requires me to hope, that the objectionable circumstances referred to, were overlooked by those making this nomination; for it seems hardly possible that it can be the desire of any members of our Diocese to perpetuate the feuds so long existing among us.

Consider these circumstances, my brethren, and then answer the question, "can you say before God, that you believe the peace and welfare of the Church would be promoted, by constituting this gentleman our Provisional Bishop?"

But let us contemplate the other candidate who is presented before us.

A more perfect contrast, in all these particulars, could not be found, I most confidently believe, than is seen in the Rev. Dr. Whitehouse.

He neither is, nor has ever been, a partizan, nor a controversialist. Constitutionally a lover of peace and quietness, though able and ready to advocate and defend those doctrines and practices, which, as a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church, he is pledged to uphold; he nevertheless knows little of the excitement of party feeling, nor has he ever been betrayed into the harshness of sectional strife. A gentleman, the refinement and urbanity of whose manners is but the index of kindness and purity of his heart, he has neither by his tongue nor pen pained or offended a Christian brother, nor aroused against himself the bitterness of party animosity.

Will it be said that he has been nominated by a party, and therefore appears before the Diocese as a party candidate? In a certain sense this is true; but in the sense [7/8] here contemplated, it is not true. If by a party be meant those who, in view of its inevitably disastrous effects upon the Diocese, are united in opposition to the election of Sr. Seabury, Dr. Whitehouse is so far the candidate of a party. But if it be meant that Dr. Whitehouse has been chosen by those who agree in what have commonly been termed "low church" views, it is a mistake which does injustice both to them and to him. Holding among themselves a variety of sentiments, in relation to topics on which the Church is as far from requiring uniformity, as it is impossible for sincere Christians to view them alike; and being governed also by a most earnest desire to bring into a state of fraternal harmony our distracted Diocese, in which there is a great diversity of theological and ecclesiastical belief; they were not so unwise as to select a candidate, on whom all, without the sacrifice of principle, and by a small concession of feeling and preference, might not be able to unite. They had no wish to elect a man who would be the Bishop of a party--even their own--and not of the whole Diocese. The present writer is personally cognizant of the fact. that for the sake of peace, they would have yielded so much as to have joined with their brethren of the opposite party, in favor of almost any respectable man out of the Diocese, who would have been personally unobjectionable, even though holding views on some of the prominent controverted topics of the day, differing widely from their own.

But when they found themselves forbidden to do this, what course did they adopt? Did they, for the sake of presenting a candidate in opposition to the one already nominated, select a man of extreme views in doctrine, or of latitudinarian churchmanship? Or did they choose one who had distinguished himself as the opponent of his brethren in the Diocese? Far otherwise. They selected a man, whose training and associations from [8/9] infancy, and whose tendencies through his whole life, have been in strict and unvarying conformity with the doctrines and practices of our church. They selected one, who was in boyhood and youth the disciple of Bishop Hobart; whom, after having entered the ministry, that lamented prelate, to the end of his life, delighted to honor; and whose course, from that day to this, has been as uniform and consistent, as it has been replete with untiring labor, and marked by the most eminent usefulness. They selected one likewise, who, though unable to unite with others in condemning the Court of Bishops for their decision in the trial before referred to, has never uttered a sentiment, nor put forth an action, which could be construed into unkindness or disrespect towards the suspended Bishop or his friends. On the contrary, he has always held with them, that the sentence of suspension did not vacate the Diocese; while he has been forward and uniform in advocating, both in and out of Convention, the competent pecuniary support of that unfortunate individual.

He is, therefore, the exponent of no extreme views, and of no extreme party. His election could be viewed by no one as that of an antagonist. And he has been presented to the Diocese as one, who, while combining the highest positive qualifications for the office of a Bishop, and for its exercise in this Diocese, is perfectly free from every peculiarity which should render him obnoxious to any party among us. He is emphatically the CONSERVATION CANDIDATE of the Diocese; the one in whom sound doctrine, sound churchmanship, as well as fervent piety, would find an able, hearty and wise defender.

There can be few who need to be informed, that for mental endowments, and literary and theological attainments, Dr. Whitehouse stands in the very first rank of respectability. Columbia College and our General Theological Seminary number him among their most eminent [9/10] alumni. In all those qualities which constitute executive talents--in dignity and force of character, in habits of system, in capacity for the rapid and accurate transaction of business--qualities so important in a Bishop, and so indispensable for such a Diocese as this, it might be difficult to find his superior in any profession.

As a pulpit orator, few are his equals. Of his untiring industry, and eminent success in the ministry, he has left an enduring monument in the parish of St. Luke, in Rochester, in the Diocese of Western New York. Brought into that parish by the most earnest and unyielding solicitation of Bishop Hobart, he found it comparatively small and feeble; but after fifteen years of faithful labor, he left it the largest in the Diocese, numbering its communicants by hundreds.

And it may not be amiss to state, that it was while laboring in that parish, and attracting universal admiration by his ability, zeal, and success, that he was chosen by one of our dioceses to become its Bishop, when he had just reached the canonical age.

What further assurance could we have, than may be derived from this truthful and unvarnished delineation of the character and career of this gentleman, that, if elected to the office of Provisional Bishop for our Diocese, he would, by the blessing of God, do much towards healing our divisions, and so hold up the standard of sound churchmanship and evangelical piety, as to render this chief diocese a model for our whole church, and a prolific fountain of true Christian influence to our whole land!

BRETHREN! do we need union instead of division? Do we need love in the place of bitterness? Do we need to be engaged in zealous strife for the glory of God and for the good His church, instead of party warfare against each other? Do we need a Bishop whom we can ALL respect? whom we can ALL love? in whose purity, soundness, [10/11] impartiality, kindness and wisdom, we can ALL confide? Are these really desirable objects? They are by Divine Providence now placed within our reach, and may be secured by the election of the candidate whose claims are here advocated.

Brethren, allow me, as an humble member of this Diocese, as one whose disposition is by no means dictatorial, and who would only address you with the feelings of a brother--allow me to ask you with all earnestness, to weigh well, as in the sight of God, the considerations which have here been presented. Take them to your closets, and make them the subject of your prayers.

And then, remembering the great importance of the act which is here contemplated, and your final accountability to the Head of the Church, pursue that course which your consciences will approve, which promises most for the peace and prosperity of Zion, and which will be likely to afford satisfaction and comfort in the final retrospect!

Very respectfully,

Your affectionate brother,


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