WINE, WOMEN AND THE LIMITS OF CONSCIENCE
Given how deeply Old Schoolers were embedded in antebellum culture, it is hardly surprising that they shared the same basic mores as their fellow evangelicals. But their confessional commitments led Old School Presbyterians to articulate these moral concerns in ways that often differed from their neighbors. While slavery was beyond question the most potent moral issue of the day, it is worth looking at other issues in order to understand the inner dynamics of Old School casuistry.
Two of the most significant debates on moral discipline arose in the same year. The General Assembly of 1843 wrestled with the questions of whether a church member could retail alcoholic beverages, and of whether a man could marry his deceased wife’s sister. The juxtaposition of these two issues is quite useful, since the Old School’s involvement with the temperance movement reveals how intimately it was connected to other evangelicals involved in antebellum reform, while the marriage question demonstrates how resolutely confessional the Old School remained in spite of these broader connections. But both debates show the willingness of Old School Presbyterians to place limits on liberty of individual conscience to preserve the integrity of their corporate conscience.
The temperance movement began in the 1810s in response to a partial collapse of the social order. Alcohol consumption had skyrocketed, and many feared that left unchecked it could undermine the integrity of the nation. Many historians have seen the rise of the temperance movement as rooted in Federalist attempts to maintain social control. But it quickly moved beyond the intentions of its founders to become a radical reform movement, allied with abolition and anti-Catholicism in the 1840s. Pegram traces multiple origins of the temperance movement, especially the so-called market revolution, which encouraged “sobriety, order, and rationality.” He points out that temperance reform was weakest in places like the southern backcountry where the market revolution had not had as strong an effect. In 1826 the American Temperance Society was established, relying on moral suasion in order to convince people to reform their ways, but by the end of the 1820s there were growing calls for total abstinence from all alcohol. Other historians have connected this teetotal movement with the development of Finneyite perfectionism, or at least New School Calvinism.
The problem with these accounts of the Temperance movement is that they cannot account for Old School Presbyterian involvement. If temperance was a pursuit of “individual perfectionism,” allied with the “revivalist waves of Methodism, Baptism, and the ‘new Presbyterianism,’” then theoretically Old School Presbyterians should have had a large population of anti-temperance writers. But in fact, virtually all supported temperance, and a growing majority at least personally supported total abstinence. John J. Rumbarger suggests the solution: while the rhetoric of the temperance movement was indeed influenced by the New School/perfectionist wing of the evangelical movement, the goal of the temperance reform was the establishment of a “rational social order,” and Old School Presbyterians were equally invested in the market economy of the antebellum era, and equally desired a “cooperative workforce.” While they might deplore the rhetoric of their New School colleagues, they joined the moderate wing of the movement–only to discover that the rhetoric was not an optional feature.
A. Temperance and the Question of Wine in the Lord’s Supper
In 1811 the Presbyterian General Assembly established a ten man committee (including Samuel Miller and Gardiner Spring) to suggest ways that the church could help prevent “some of the numerous and threatening mischiefs which are experienced throughout our country by the excessive and intemperate use of spirituous liquors.” The committee’s report condemned “intemperate drinking” urging Presbyterian ministers to preach against such sins, and calling on sessions to privately admonish, and if necessary, publicly discipline members who persisted in such intemperance. Further, they called on the officers and members of the church to take effectual political measures to reduce the number of taverns wherever intemperance was a problem. At this stage, the focus fell on temperance. But by 1818 the pastoral letter from the Assembly to the churches recommended that officers and members “abstain even from the common use of ardent spirits” as the best way to prevent the ruin that came with habitual drunkenness, and in 1829 the Assembly formal approved the formation of temperance societies “on the principle of entire abstinence from the use of ardent spirits” within Presbyterian congregations and unanimously declared that they themselves (the members of the Assembly) practiced abstinence themselves.
Initially, the Assembly refused to condemn the manufacture and sale of ardent spirits (the question of beer and wine was not before them yet). As late as 1830 it expressed itself cautiously, hesitating to “encroach upon the rights of private judgment” and merely regretting that any member of “the Church of Christ, should at the present day, and under existing circumstances, feel themselves at liberty to manufacture, vend, or use ardent spirits.” But four years later, the Assembly declared “that the traffic in ardent spirits, to be used as a drink by any people, is, in our judgment, morally wrong, and ought to be viewed as such, by the Churches of Jesus Christ, universally.” The 1837 Assembly declared its dismay that members, and even some ruling elders “still manufacture and sell ardent spirits. . . . No Church can shine as a light in the world, while she openly sanctions and sustains any practices which are so evidently destructive of the best interests of society.”
By the middle of the 1830s the logic of the temperance movement had convinced some that alcoholic wine should be removed from the Lord’s Supper. While some writers in the New School New York Evangelist advocated this position, the Southern Religious Telegraph (a moderate paper) defended the traditional practice in August of 1835. Over the next month, the Telegraph published the debate on “the Wine Question,” between Moses Stuart of Andover Seminary and William B. Sprague (pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Albany, New York). Stuart argued that any drink would be adequate for the Lord’s Supper, but suggested that watered down wine was the best compromise between traditionalists and advocates of abstinence. Sprague, in a sermon entitled “the Danger of Being Overwise,” replied that “the very same spirit which would banish wine from the Lord’s table, would. . . annihilate the ordinance itself” in order to further the temperance cause. Indeed, Sprague noted that many church members were refusing to partake of the cup at the Lord’s Supper, because they refused to drink any wine. Sprague argued that all wines known in the scriptures were fermented and therefore that fermented wine was the only proper substance for the cup. Sprague’s deepest concern, however, was that the radical temperance movement was starting from “a principle on which Infidelity cannot fail to thrive.” By arraying “certain moral facts or supposed facts against the Bible,” namely “that the least particle of alcohol--no matter in what form it exists--is injurious to the constitution of man” the radical temperance writers were implying that “God is either ignorant of the constitution of his own creature, the work of his own hands, or else that he has commanded the use of that which he foresaw must injure him.”
In reply to the debate, the executive committee of the New York Temperance Society denied working to remove wine from communion, arguing that “the fruit of the vine” is essential to the Supper. They explicitly refused to define what form the “fruit of the vine” should take, leaving open the possibility that unfermented or diluted wine could replace real wine at the Lord’s Supper.
Samuel Miller, a member of that first temperance committee in 1811, remained convinced of the older model of temperance. He had given up wine around 1830, and claimed that his physical condition had improve. But he refused to affirm the abstinence pledge for three reasons: 1) drinking could not be said to be sinful in all cases; 2) while the original temperance pledge was acceptable, the total elimination of wine, beer and cider went too far; 3) the ultra pledge would logically remove wine from the Lord’s Supper. He illustrated his argument in the Southern Religious Telegraph with the example of tobacco: “In my opinion, tobacco is a detestable weed which has long been doing and is at this hour doing incalculable injury to the health and comfort of millions.” But while the use of tobacco might be a “hateful as well as mischievous practice,” Miller argued that persuasion would be a more effective tool than pledge campaigns. The editor, Amasa Converse, wished his readers to hear the other side as well. In the same issue “Abstinence” argued that Miller’s distinction between ardent spirits and wine was groundless. Both contained alcohol. Both could lead to drunkenness and all its attendant miseries. Total abstinence from all alcohol was the only true preventative measure.
While most of the radical temperance authors sided with the New School in 1837-38, the Old School remained equally committed to the temperance cause for reasons of expediency. While a number of New School congregations switched from wine to raisin water in the 1830s and 1840s, I have been unable to find any definite mention of an Old School congregation which eliminated the use of wine. In 1841 the Old School church Ballston Spa, New York, tried this in 1841 by a majority vote of the congregation, but the Presbytery of Albany overturned the decision, stating that “there is nothing in the use of fermented wine at the communion, that is inconsistent with an acceptable celebration of the ordinance, or that ought to embarrass a properly enlightened conscience.” Those opposing the use of wine claimed that their consciences would not allow them to drink wine. The presbytery replied that their consciences had been misled. Fearing that such the switch would “put in jeopardy” the peace and harmony of the church, the presbytery “deprecate[d] the forementioned innovation” as tending toward schism. In the ensuing discussion, one author wrote that the session had tried “to banish one of the divinely appointed elements of the Lord’s Supper. . . . Why not take the ground of the papists at once, and deny the people the CUP altogether? It would not be a greater departure from divine instruction.” He suggested that ultra-temperance advocates were appealing to pagan authority to “prove that the Bible does not mean what it says.” H. pointed to the spiritual significance of the elements themselves. “Bread is the staff of life--the support of the animal life of our bodies, to teach us that we receive our spiritual life from Him.” Likewise, wine was “the symbol of Christ's blood [which] teaches us that in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” H. was convinced that the attempt to banish wine was an impeachment of Christ himself. If the wine of the Supper encouraged drunkenness, as radical temperance authors claimed, then the church must “relinquish all our high veneration for him as the Son of God, as God manifest in the flesh, and with the Jew, the Socinian, and the infidel, consider him as only a fallible man like ourselves.”
The years between 1838 and 1843 were full of temperance debates, as Old School Presbyterians sought a way of affirming the temperance movement while avoiding its extremes. Most religious newspapers included semi-regular articles and tracts on temperance, often anecdotal or fictional, which chronicled the road to ruin that invariably resulted from drinking.
Many argued for total abstinence from alcohol as a beverage (allowing for medicinal and sacramental uses). This naturally led to the condemnation of those who manufactured or sold beverage alcohol. Robert J. Breckinridge published (and probably wrote) “A Plea for Total Abstinence from Intoxicating Liquors” in 1840, opposing even temperate drinking on the grounds that total abstinence is the safest way to avoid drunkenness, and suggesting that every penny gained through the sale of alcohol is “the price of blood.” William Swan Plumer, editor of the Watchman of the South, and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia, argued that while Christians technically have permission to drink, the course of prudence and safety is to abstain. Indeed, Plumer argued, given the present context of runaway drunkenness, it was imperative for Christians to abstain from alcohol. And “if it be wrong to use ardent spirit except for medicinal purpose, it is certainly wrong to make, or sell, or give it away for other than medicinal purposes. He that aids or abets in the commission of any crime is himself. . . a partaker in the crime,” and to furnish an intemperate man with liquor is to kill him by inches.
On August 29, 1840 an extra edition of the New York Observer reprinted the Rev. B. Parsons’s essay “Ancient Wines,” under the pseudonym “Anti-Bacchus,” which argued that the ancient wines of the Hebrews were frequently unfermented. A few weeks later editor Sidney Morse commented that a Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Greenock, Scotland, under the Rev. Andrew Gilmour had unanimously removed alcoholic wine from the Supper and switched to “the liquid fruit of the vine.” Following such arguments, one author, using the telling pen name of “Conscience” pled with the church to use both wine and the “pure fruit of the vine.” This would enable both sides to live together in peace.
Throughout the early 1840s Old School newspapers engaged periodically with Edward C. Delavan’s Enquirer, the leading organ of the temperance reformation. While some thought that Delavan merely opposed the mixed liquors that often passed themselves as wine, one author pointed out that Delavan had written: “I am opposed to fermented wine of the purest quality; because it contains alcohol, and because I look upon it as poison entirely unfit to be received into the system.” J. W. Alexander argued that “such exclusion, where the fermented juice of the grape can be obtained, is unscriptural, profane, and by implication injurious to the holy name of our Redeemer; and that it vitiates the ordinance.” Alexander feared that the question had become a “fire-brand cast into our churches; and I am unable to see how it can fail to rend into two bodies every religious community which does not promptly extinguish it.”
But while Old School Presbyterians were nearly unanimous in keeping wine in the Lord’s Supper, their newspapers were equally committed to the total abstinence of beverage alcohol. “Jonadab” went so far as to argue that just as polygamy was once allowed, but was now forbidden, so also alcohol was moving from the realm of the morally neutral to that of the morally evil. Those few who attempted to defend the old temperance position found even fewer who were willing to listen.
“Eliab,” writing in the Charleston Observer, was one of the only authors in the Old School literature to take the remarkable step of openly declaring the moderate use of wine as a positive good. Declaring that wine was one of those “pleasures adapted to each of the senses with which God in his wisdom has endued us,” he insisted that any such pleasure could be properly used “within the bounds of moderation which God has prescribed.” Benjamin Gildersleeve disagreed, insisting that the Bible did not encourage the use of wine as a regular beverage, but enjoined it for medicinal and sacramental purposes only. It permitted beverage use, but did not enjoin it. In reply “Eliab” pointed out that the tithing of wine in the Old Testament indicated that it was a common beverage, and noted that the priests were given wine regularly and only forbidden to drink it when they were serving in the tabernacle. But few came to his defense.
But while most Old School Presbyterians zealously defended temperance (and even total abstinence) on pragmatic grounds, most were troubled by the attempt to declare alcoholic beverages evil in themselves–mainly due to their conviction that since Jesus used alcoholic wine in the Lord’s Supper, it could not be evil in itself. In 1841 Rev. John Maclean (professor of ancient languages at the College of New Jersey) wrote a scathing review of two prize essays on temperance, declaring “that they are utterly untenable, being contrary to the word of God and the testimony of antiquity.” While professing to embrace the goals of the temperance societies, Maclean regretted “that in the prosecution of an object so important, and so benevolent, the authors have not confined themselves to arguments which will stand the most rigid scrutiny.” Maclean agreed that total abstinence from alcoholic beverages was a wise decision on the grounds of expedience,
But when they invade the sanctuary of God, and teach for doctrine the commandments of men; when they wrest the scriptures, and make them speak a language at variance with the truth; when they assume positions opposed to the precepts of Christ, and to the peace of his church; when, in reference to wine, which the Saviour made the symbol of his shed blood, in the most sacred rite of his holy religion, they assert that it is a thing condemned of God and injurious to men, and use the language of the Judaizing teachers in the ancient church, ‘touch not, taste not, handle not,’ when Christ has commanded all his disciples to drink of it in remembrance of him, we cannot consent to let such sentiments pass without somewhat of the rebuke which they so richly deserve.
Maclean then launched into an extensive review of antiquity, both biblical and secular, in order to demonstrate that the “two-wine” theory was a modern fabrication. Maclean objected that the radical temperance movement had determined in their own minds that alcohol was evil, and then tried to foist that opinion and practice upon Jesus and the apostles. In reply, he argued that such a position denied not only the authority of scripture, but the authority of Jesus: “We are not at liberty first to decide whether a thing is right or wrong, and then, in accordance with that decision, determine what Christ either did or did not do. And yet this mode of reasoning and judging, a mode to which all heretics invariably have recourse, is the very one employed by the writers of these Essays, and other distinguished advocates of the total abstinence scheme.” Maclean cited a letter from Edward Delavan to the New York Observer, which illustrated his point. Delavan had written: “I found it impossible to bring my mind to think that he [Jesus] would make and use a beverage which, since its introduction, has spread such an amount of crime, poverty, and death, through this fair world. He came to save, not to destroy, and could I believe, with my views of alcoholic wine, that he would make or use it?” Maclean pointed out that the radical temperance advocates were trying to force the scriptures to fit their own opinions. The two-wine theory was not merely wrong-headed, but was in danger of departing from Christian orthodoxy. Maclean cited the examples of the Universalists and Socinians, who utilized the same logic to eliminate eternal punishment and the atoning death of Christ, respectively. Human reason and conscience, Maclean argued, were not sufficient guides in matters of casuistry.
Maclean’s two essays quickly became the standard for the Old School defense of using alcoholic wine in communion. But those Old Schoolers most zealous for the temperance cause complained that Maclean came down too hard on Delavan, and questioned Princeton’s commitment to the temperance cause. In reply the college temperance society started a college pledge where students and faculty vowed term by term to abstain from intoxicating liquors. Rev. James W. Alexander, professor of Rhetoric and Latin at the college, and son of Archibald Alexander, wrote to the Watchman of the South that he had signed the pledge with the explicit caveat that he did not agree with the new principles of the temperance movement. Echoing Samuel Miller’s arguments, Alexander objected to the assumption that “all drinking of intoxicating beverages is sinful,” the argument that “the wines of the Scripture were not intoxicating,” and “the absurd attempt to withhold 'the cup of the eucharist' and to substitute for it a wretched treacle, or any the like ridiculous and profane imposture.” Convinced that these principles opened the door “for rationalistic infidelity,” Alexander warned that some had “even staked the Omniscience of our Lord and Master on the decision of this question about wines.” Removing wine from the Supper would “empty 'the cup of blessing' to fill it with slops. . . . The stroke aimed at the Lord's sacrament, and at the Lord's followers, is implicitly aimed at the Lord himself. That stroke originates with the Lord's enemies.” Any abstinence that included sacramental wine was a practical rejection of the gospel of Christ.
But anyone who sounded anything less than wholly committed to temperance could be assured of further inquiry. When Nathan L. Rice, editor of the Kentucky Protestant and Herald, called on the church to “only let us avoid the two extremes of indifference and teetotalism, and the work [of temperance] will be done,” readers called on him to explain himself. Rice argued that teetotalism was different from total abstinence. Teetotalism, in Rice’s view was
becoming intemperately temperate--more temperate than the Bible requires. This extreme is run into by those who make membership in a Temperance Society a prerequisite to membership in the church; by those who condemn the use of the pure juice of the grape; and by those who exclude wine from the Lord's Supper. We are opposed to the use of intoxicating liquors, whether in the form of ardent spirits, hard cider, or adulterated wines, such as those used in this country generally are.at the Catholic Temperance Association, because they allowed moderate drinking among those who have not been drunkards. P&H 10.14 (March 4, 1841).
Likewise when Rice’s colleague and successor, the Rev. S. S. McRoberts (PTS 1831 and stated supply at Bardstown), rejected Delavan’s arguments against using wine at communion, the Rev. R. C. Grundy (pastor at Maysville, and later editor of the Rechabite, a monthly temperance magazine) defended the temperance leader’s claim that many drunkards slipped back into their old habits through partaking of communion wine. Grundy argued that the only way to prevent such relapses is to use the pure “fruit of the vine,” and not the ordinary wines then in circulation. Grundy (and numerous other temperance advocates) claimed that most wines are so adulterated that many do “not contain one drop of the juice of the grape,” but rather contain “cider and logwood, and other drugged and poisonous slops.” Grundy pleaded that “the hundreds and thousands of drunkards, now being reformed by the blessing of God, and multitudes of whom are being converted by his grace, demand this investigation. Their scruples and feelings on this subject, must be regarded, and nothing but the plain and simple truth will ever relieve their scruples and quiet their fears.” Echoing the very language that Maclean, Rice, and others feared so greatly, Grundy wondered “who can, for a moment, believe that whilst the benevolence of the gospel is accomplishing such a blessed work of moral reform, the great author of our Holy Religion could have only instituted an ordinance which, when celebrated according to the original institution of it, would tend to counteract and destroy his own work.” McRoberts agreed that pure wine should be used, but still objected to Delavan’s argument that wine “in ordinary use on communion seasons, has a direct tendency to create a thirst for strong drink.”
At least initially, the religious press was almost entirely against Delavan. To alter the elements of the Lord’s Table is to impair “the sanctity of a divine ordinance.”5.32 (March 31, 1842) 125. See also PW 1.11 (January 19, 1842). “V.” argued that a false principle had crept into the temperance movement–namely, that “alcohol. . . is a poison, and therefore all use of it is deleterious to the human system, and is a sin against God: ‘malum in se.’” While Maclean may have cut the philological ground out from under the two-wine theory, that did not end the discussion.
A few Old School Presbyterians followed Delavan in rejecting the use of all fermented drink. One author in the Protestant and Herald tried to show that the Bible tolerates wine, “but not the use of intoxicating drinks,” which must mean that the wines of the Bible were not fermented. But the vast majority of Old Schoolers rejected the claim that alcohol was evil in itself, and argued for total abstinence (except for medicinal and sacramental purposes) on the grounds of expedience.
But if drinking alcoholic beverages was wrong on the grounds of expedience, could one be disciplined for manufacturing, selling, or drinking such beverages? Kentucky was a major battleground in the Old School debate on temperance. In 1841 the Synod of Kentucky voted to approve the formation of a Total Abstinence Society in Kentucky, and called for a “radical change in the existing License Laws” to eliminate tippling.
In the fall of 1842, William L. Breckinridge, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Louisville, set forth what he considered the “Bible Doctrine of Temperance,” in response to those who were arguing for total abstinence as a test of Christian character. Breckinridge denied that the church of Jesus Christ could forbid the use of beverage alcohol on the grounds that Christ never forbade it. He took it as proven by Maclean that the middle east never produced a non-alcoholic wine. Therefore in the language of the temperance advocates, the Savior was “either ignorant of, or rejected, the only safe and effectual way of arresting intemperance--from which I argue, either that we live in a very enlightened age, or that all this is profane and blasphemous irreverence towards the Son of God.” Breckinridge zeroed in on the central problem: “the irreverence of pleading conscience for avoiding, as a violation of moral obligation, an act in common life which he encouraged and approved.” If you rebuke those who will not sign the total abstinence pledge as encouraging drunkards, then “the Saviour stands among the drunkards.” Breckinridge pointed out that a Roman Catholic priest had advocated total abstinence as a way of gaining eternal happiness (in an article published in the Kentucky Temperance Banner). This was not strange for a “popish priest,” but that “professedly sound and evangelical Christians should publish such doctrines without any comment. . . and should afterwards defend the expression of them. . . is to be accounted for by the fact, which I am trying to illustrate, that the influence and tendencies of total abstinence societies are adverse to the doctrines of the gospel.” How else, Breckinridge asked, could evangelical Christians defend the idea that taking and keeping the total abstinence pledge would “secure the favor of God and eternal happiness!”? Breckinridge concluded his series by pointing to the odd tendency to view drunks as “excellent men” other than this one “tragic failing.” The reformed drunkard has become a hero–“fastening then in the public mind that distinction between drunkenness and other vices, favorable to the former, which renders it less odious and revolting.” What had happened, Breckinridge wondered, to the traditional Calvinist understanding of sin?
The editor, S. S. McRoberts, had been willing to attack the extremism of Delavan, but he was by no means willing to let Breckinridge’s attack on total abstinence societies pass unchallenged. McRoberts expressed his disappointment that Breckinridge had sided with the drunkards (and was even more upset that he had tried to put the Savior there too!). “We are pleased to learn that the communications of brother B. have met with such general disapprobation, and in some instances, strong indignation.” Convinced that he was speaking for the vast majority of Kentucky Presbyterians, McRoberts claimed that the total abstinence pledge was not a test of Christian character. Rather, he argued that since 1) drunkenness is a great sin; 2) it is a habit formed by moderate, social drinking; 3) after it is acquired, it cannot be extirpated by reversing the process, that is, by moderate drinking; 4) the utmost that can be said in favor of intoxicating drinks is that they are luxuries; 5) the Bible does not enjoin their use nor forbid their disuse; 6) total abstinence is the only sure cure and the only infallible preventive of intemperance; thus 7) it is the duty of every Christian and philanthropist to unite in this certain mode of rolling back a great tide of misery; and so therefore 8) no Christian or minister who habitually drinks alcoholic beverages is setting a good example. McRoberts argued that because the total abstinence movement had such tremendous success in reforming the nation, it could not possibly be considered evil. While admitting the lawfulness of wine, McRoberts nonetheless argued that “total abstinence does become a duty under certain circumstances.” The Christian, he argued, is bound to adopt the best plan to eliminate drunkenness. Nothing could be more revolting, he claimed, than Breckinridge’s portrayal of Jesus as a wine-bibber. No one is bound by conscience to drink alcohol. Since it is expedient to abstain, all Christians should take this path.
Before publishing Breckinridge’s reply, the new editor, the Rev. William W. Hill (PTS 1838 and former pastor at Shelbyville), defended his decision to print the response, saying “we ought at least to hear before we condemn,” and, revealing the strength of prejudice in the matter, affirmed that he himself was still a member of a temperance society.
Breckinridge likewise began by claiming that he himself practiced total abstinence. His objection to the total abstinence societies was that they claimed abstinence as a Christian duty. Pointing out that McRoberts had written in the Protestant and Herald on June 9, 1842, censuring those who would not take the total abstinence pledge, Breckinridge insisted that the moderate use of wine had the sanction of Christ, and so could be used without censure. He objected to McRobert’s insinuation that “my position as to the pledge and these societies subjects me to suspicions.”
B. The General Assembly of 1843
In the middle of this debate, the Protestant and Herald published the decision of the Synod of Pittsburgh declaring that retailers of alcoholic drinks were guilty of tempting others to drunkenness and therefore should be excluded from the church. The synod refused to say that retailing alcohol was in itself a sin, but claimed that it was nonetheless an “offense.” “X” declared that this decision was entirely wrong-headed. Disclaiming any desire to get caught up in the Breckinridge/McRoberts debate, “X” declared that the question was simply whether the church could exclude someone from the church for something that is not itself sinful. Pleading Christian liberty of conscience, “X” rejected the synod’s decision and hoped that the General Assembly would overturn it.
The question before the Assembly was whether retailing alcoholic beverages was an offense (namely, “anything in the principles or practice of a church-member, which is contrary to the word of God; or which if it be not, in its own nature, sinful, may tempt others to sin, or mar their spiritual edification”), and if so, whether the offense was grave enough to warrant exclusion from the church. The Synod of Pittsburgh had declared that retailing alcoholic beverages was in fact sufficient ground for excommunication, since it destroyed the evidence of Christian character, arguing that “the man who, at the present time, is ignorant of the effect of the practice referred to, in tempting others to sin, and marring their spiritual edification, must be criminally regardless of what is going on around him,” which demonstrates that he cannot have been a subject of regenerating grace. When the committee of the Assembly that reviewed the Synod’s minutes found this statement, they recommended that the Assembly take exception to it because it virtually made “the retailing of intoxicating drinks a test of piety and a term of membership in the Presbyterian church.”
This launched a lengthy debate on the floor of the Assembly, which was nearly evenly divided. A motion to affirm the Synod’s decision only failed by a 55-63 vote. The Rev. George Hill, pastor at Blairsville, Pennsylvania, and a member of the Synod of Pittsburgh, argued that it was not “the intention of Synod to cast members out of the church, who were already in it,” but to “provide against the reception of those, now out of the Church, who were engaged in this business.” The temperance cause, he insisted, depended upon such measures, and he hoped that the Assembly would uphold the Synod’s decision. The Rev. Isaac. W. Platt of Bath, New York, replied that “if then we proceed on the principle that every thing is a sin in us that another finds fault with, we shall find reason to exclude every body from communion, and make the Church a desolation.”
But Dr. John C. Lord, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Buffalo, thought that the committee was too hard on the Synod, and offered a substitute which would condemn the use and sale of ardent spirits, but leave each particular case to the discretion of the church courts. Rev. William L. Breckinridge objected to the implication that retailing alcoholic beverages could be used as a new term of communion. He argued that the Assembly could rejoice in the success of the temperance reforms, but it “cannot sanction any new terms of communion.” But in the end the Assembly adopted Lord’s substitute, which took exception to the Synod of Pittsburgh’s decision only “so far as they seem to establish a general rule in regard to the use and sale of ardent spirits, which use and sale are generally to be decidedly disapproved, but each case must be decided in view of all the attendant circumstances that go to modify and give character to the same.” Lord argued that since “public opinion would not sustain the conduct of church members in retailing intoxicating liquor,” the church had to be clear in its condemnation of retailing alcohol.
Charles Hodge commented on this by suggesting that the differences in both church and society on temperance (as also on slavery) boiled down to “certain questions in morals, which are indeed of great practical importance.” Is a thing wrong in itself, “or for reasons extraneous to its own nature”? Citing the resolutions of the National Temperance Convention in 1841, Hodge showed that the “temperance men” viewed the use and sale of alcoholic beverages as “in itself an immorality.” This was no circumstantial argument–no appeal to expedience–but a declaration that alcohol was evil in itself. And since the scripture speaks of alcoholic beverages in a positive fashion, Hodge insisted that such doctrines were “infidel in its spirit and tendency.” As further proof, he reminded his readers that Dr. Maclean had been “constantly more or less defamed, because he refuses to submit his judgment and conscience to this new and self‑created tribunal of moral principle and conduct.” While no one in the whole Assembly had taken the “ultra” position openly, Hodge argued that the “ultra” position was the only one that could make retailing alcoholic beverages an offense worthy of discipline. If one took the ground of expedience (which all Old Schoolers claimed to do), then the question of the use or sale of alcohol was an indifferent matter–and no indifferent matter could be considered a case for discipline. “It follows, therefore, that any rule of duty founded on expediency must be variable. . . . If the obligation arises from circumstances, it must vary with circumstances.” Indeed, Hodge argued, in some contexts abstinence from alcohol could “countenance false doctrines, or false principles of morals, or sanction infidel sentiments, or add weight to infidel measures,” in which case drinking alcohol could be most expedient. If the matter is to be decided by expedience, then the question must be left to the individual conscience.
Hodge therefore argued that the action of the Assembly had in effect created a new term of communion. If Jesus created no such terms, then we may not either. Hodge feared that in her haste to avoid the sin of intemperance, the church was falling into the opposite extreme.
So while making it clear that the Old School would proceed on the basis of expedience, the Assembly of 1843 did not provide any closure to the temperance issue. In 1848 the Synod of Cincinnati determined that “in the present state of society, to manufacture or sell ardent spirits (except for mechanical or medicinal purposes) is in the judgment of this Synod an offence of such a character, as justly to debar persons so engaged from the communion of the church.” The year before, “Philos” had urged this action, claiming that “it is a great sin for a Christian to pursue a calling which results in no good, but in great evil to his neighbor. . . . We therefore come to this conclusion, that no person can pursue a calling that necessarily results in great evil to society, without sinning grievously against God.”
“L” replied to the synod’s action by wondering why they still used wine for the Lord’s Supper. “Why not go as far as others have gone before them, and substitute molasses and water, or some such miserable invention, instead of wine?” If Jesus was known as a wine-bibber, why was the church so afraid of alcohol? He complained that the synod had devised a new term of communion unknown to Christ.
“Kappa” argued in return that the moral principle was clear. Claiming that he was not trying to establish a new term of communion, he argued that simply moral reasoning vindicated the synod:
the thief is morally guilty, because his practices, if universal, would take away all security from property. . . adultery discourages marriage. . . . By parity of reasoning, the liquor manufacturer, or seller, takes the property of men without an equivalent; ministers to a depraved appetite, which, in most cases, ends in his ruin--breaks the heat of his wife, and causes neglect of the proper education of his children.
Therefore the church should not allow a man who sells or manufactures liquor to the ruin of countless thousands to remain a member of the church of Jesus Christ.
Subtly, the practice of the church was beginning to alter her theology. While the formal doctrine taught in the seminaries and from the pulpits of the church remained orthodox Calvinism, the theology reflected in the total abstinence writings suggests that a different theology was at work. In “The Tippling Elder,” W. S. bemoaned the thought that “such an appellation should ever be applied to one bearing rule in the house of God!” The elder who merely takes an occasional dram sets a bad example to the church. When he comes to prayer meeting with “that peculiar odor on his breath. . . no one cares to hear him pray, or feels much confidence that his prayers will avail with God.” Indeed, he remarked, this “grieves the church, especially the more spiritual members.” The suggestions that an occasional dram of whisky could affect one’s standing with God, or that the “spiritual members” of the church would be the ones most offended by this action, do not seem to mesh with the formal theology of the Presbyterian church.
C. The Political Turn
But with a new practical understanding of the theology of sin came a new focus on how to solve the problem of drunkenness. While occasional legal and political action was urged in the earlier phase of the temperance movement, only in the 1840s did liquor license laws became a center-piece of the reform, as it connected with anti-Catholic fears to establish the Know-Nothing Party.
In the early 1850s, Old School newspapers constantly debated the propriety and wisdom of the “Maine Laws.” The temperance societies had accomplished a great deal, reducing the per capita consumption considerably. But the goal of the temperance reformation–the complete reformation of the country–was still unfulfilled, and the recent immigrants from Ireland and Germany seemed impervious to traditional moral reform.
Edward C. Delavan had argued that it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens, which should result in laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages. Indeed, Delavan argued that such laws were of God. The Old School was divided in its response. While most Old School Presbyterians found Delavan too extreme for their tastes, some tended to agree that prohibitory laws would have a salutary benefit for society–as well as for the church.
Some feared that legal action against alcoholic beverages might have undesirable implications. The Rev. Samuel Beach Jones (PTS 1836 and pastor of Bridgeton, NJ) thought that civil action could be useful, but argued that “all natural rights, the exercise of which does not interfere with the obvious rights of others, or with the necessary power of the State, should be left to the individual.” Claiming that atheism, communism and Mormonism, if “extensively adopted and acted upon. . . would curse society worse than drunkenness,” Jones reminded his hearers that “unless the abettors of these sentiments so reduce their theories to practice as to threaten social order and civil interests, it is best, on the whole, to tolerate their doctrines.” Since the state of New Jersey had determined that “the general use of intoxicating drinks is a habit dangerous to society,” it was appropriate to penalize those who became drunk, as well as those who helped them become drunk. Nonetheless, Jones argued that Christians should not put their hope in legislation. The only way to eradicate evil was through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 1853, the Rev. Robert P. Dubois (PTS 1836 and pastor at New London, PA) revealed the way in which the revision of the doctrine of sin affected political theory. Arguing that moral suasion had failed, Dubois suggested that attempts at regulation through liquor licenses were “radically wrong,” because they merely tried to regulate sin. The only way to succeed against intemperance is through absolute prohibition. “After long dealing with persuasive words, and still longer with inefficient regulations, the time has come to act.” Vending intoxicating drinks should be considered a crime. The confiscation and destruction of all alcoholic beverages was the only way to end the curse once and for all. The time for moderation, Dubois argued, was past.
The earliest references come from the mid-1840s, when Allegheny city voted against allowing liquor licenses, leading William Annan, editor of the Presbyterian Advocate to rejoice that alcohol distribution had been declared “an unmitigated nuisance and curse to all the best interests of society.” While the historical literature has focused on the north, the Watchman and Observer noted that such laws were prevailing in a number of southern communities by 1852.
In 1854 Ohio passed a regulatory law prohibiting the sale of alcohol for consumption in the same location (along with forbidding the sale of alcohol to those who were intoxicated, or to minors without parental consent). Writers in the Presbyterian Herald of Louisville and the Presbyterian of the West of Cincinnati urged the prohibition of liquor licenses for the sake of the temperance cause. The Rev. Joseph G. Monfort, pastor at Greensburg, Indiana, published an influential sermon in both papers, entitled “The Maine Law God’s Law.” The sermon’s text was Exodus 21:28-30, which says that if an ox is known to be dangerous, and the owner does not keep it controlled, then if the ox kills someone, the owner is guilty of murder and should be put to death. Using a traditional Presbyterian argument from the equity of the Old Testament civil law, Monfort applied the same principle to alcohol. Property that is known to cause harm to others should be destroyed. Monfort argued that while the death penalty for such crimes was no longer applicable, the principle that a person should be held responsible for his property remained in force.
But would legislation work? Initially, the reports from Maine sounded quite positive. Six months after the law went into effect, Neal Dow, the Mayor of Portland, Maine, claimed that the house of correction for drunkards was empty, and he expected that steady enforcement would eliminate “a large proportion of the poverty, pauperism, crime, and suffering with which we have been afflicted.” Four months later, Maine claimed that the drunkenness rate had dropped fifty to seventy-five per cent. After three years, however, Presbyterian editors had to acknowledge that the Maine laws hadn’t worked out very well in Maine. In 1855 the Presbyterian Magazine published a list of states that had attempted to enact some sort of Maine Law. Eleven states had prohibited the sale of intoxicating drinks (in varying degrees), but in four of these states, the statutes had been struck down. While recognizing the legal challenges of such laws, the author suggested that it was encouraging to note that legislatures passed the laws fairly easily, and the people ratified constitutional amendments willingly. The main problem was in the courts.
By the 1860s two camps had emerged: those who advocated immediate political action, and those who argued that the church must rely upon moral suasion, though allowing that the state could “prohibit by law the manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks as an article of common beverage.”
Alfred Nevin, editor of the Presbyterian Standard in Philadelphia, objected to those who argued that the simple preaching of the gospel would bring moral reform. “The men to whom the Gospel is preached, and who profess to have given it the throne of their hearts, must let its elevating, purifying and sanctifying influence exert itself through them upon the corrupt and putrid mass of society.” Every Christian must “realize his personal responsibility in the great business of the world's regeneration. . . . He must not only wish that God's kingdom might come, and wait for it, but work for this grand issue with all his might.”
The rhetoric of the temperance movement had overpowered the pragmatic reasons why Old School Presbyterians had entered the movement. While some historians have tried to make direct connections between abolitionism and teetotalism, as far as the Old School is concerned the similarity is theological and ideological rather than individual. The Kentucky debates reveal that the Breckinridge brothers themselves were divided over the temperance issue. But subtly the church was beginning to allow matters of individual conscience to become matters for the corporate conscience.
2. A Brief Excursus on Tobacco
While tobacco did not excite nearly the level of discussion that alcohol did, there was still a fair amount of debate. Elijah Slack argued that tobacco squanders money, destroys health (his claim was that it required an “unnatural draw upon the salivary glands”), and created an artificial excitement inconsistent with Christian character. Other writers identified the use of tobacco with that of alcohol as inherently intemperate, “and viewing the habit in this light, it is a sin which ought to be repented of and put away, or forsaken.” Still others pointed to the addictive properties of tobacco and connected it in that respect to alcohol. But others defended the moderate use of tobacco, arguing that no moral or religious principle was compromised. “Erskine” even republished a poem by the famous eighteenth-century Scottish minister, Ralph Erskine, as a semi-humorous means of defense.
This Indian weed, now wither'd quite,
Though green at noon, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay,
All flesh is hay,
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
The pipe, so city-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak,
Thou art ev'n such,
Gone with a touch,
Thus think and smoke tobacco
And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff,
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul, defil'd with sin;
For then the fire
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco, &c, &c.
Source: St Louis Presbyterian (October 28, 1858).
3. The Marriage Question
The second case regarding moral discipline at the 1843 General Assembly was the judicial appeal of the Rev. Archibald McQueen. On January 5, 1842, McQueen was suspended from the gospel ministry and from “church ordinances” by the Presbytery of Fayetteville (North Carolina) for the sin of incest, having recently married the sister of his deceased wife.
In one respect the case was rather simple. The church’s Confession of Faith declared that “the man may not marry any of his wife's kindred, nearer in blood then he may of his own: nor the woman of her husband's kindred, nearer in blood than of her own.” Since it was manifestly forbidden to marry one’s own sister, marrying one’s deceased wife’s sister was equally incestuous in the eyes of the church.
A. The General Assembly of 1842
But McQueen argued that the Confession was wrong, and appealed to the Bible. The General Assembly of 1842 agreed that this was a proper appeal (since the Confession was not considered infallible) and engaged in a long debate on the “marriage question.” In McQueen’s absence, the Rev. John Krebs, the pastor of Rutgers Street Church in New York City, was appointed to speak on his behalf. In his annual review of the Assembly, Charles Hodge complained that this resulted in a confused defense, since Krebs had not come to the Assembly prepared for such a case. McQueen’s close friend, the Rev. Colin McIver, pastor of the Galatia and Barbacue churches in North Carolina, who under any other circumstances would have been the counsel for the defense, now stood on the opposite side as the prosecutor.
The issue before the church was the question of conscience. If the Word of God did not forbid the marriage of Archibald McQueen to his deceased wife’s sister, then the church had no business forbidding it. As the same Confession declared, “God alone is the Lord of the conscience; and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.” What happened when an individual conscience could not concur with the corporate conscience of the church, as expressed in the Confession?
The Rev. Benjamin F. Stanton, an older pastor in Hanover, Virginia, argued that the church must distinguish between “what is fundamental in the confession and what is of minor importance.” The Confession forbade people from marrying infidels or papists, but he had never heard of anyone being subjected to censure for such marriages. Stanton argued that the question could not be decided by an appeal to the authority of the Westminster Divines, or what the Reformers thought. “Nor is this question to be decided by expediency.” The question is simple. “If you cannot show a Thus saith the Lord; if you cannot produce an express command of God prohibiting the marriage in question, the appellant cannot be condemned.”
The question revolved around the interpretation of the one passage of scripture that spoke directly to the subject: “Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime” (Leviticus 18:18). Stanton argued that these laws did not refer to marriage, but to “certain aggravated forms of fornication and adultery.” Therefore the Confession was wrong, and the matter should be left, “as the Bible leaves civil and ecclesiastical governments, to be decided by the views and exigencies of society.” But, even if they did relate to marriage, they would have no authority over us, being a part of the “Levitical law which Christ has abrogated.” Stanton claimed that “it is altogether arbitrary and unauthorized for any man, or set of men, to take a code of laws and retain what they please and throw out what they please, and then expect their expurgated code to be received as of divine authority. If this law is binding, it is binding in all its parts; we must not wear linsey‑woolsey garments, nor sow diverse seed in the same field.” And finally, even if they could be shown to be binding, “we have still the stronger ground that the marriage of a man with the sister of his deceased wife, is nowhere forbidden in the Levitical law.” The phrase, “in her lifetime” makes it clear that once she is dead, a man is free to marry her sister. Pointing to the Hebrew institution of Levirate marriage, where a man was required to marry his deceased brother’s wife, he argued that such marriages could not be considered sinful. Stanton warned in conclusion that the Assembly should not seek to go against “public sentiment” in the matter, since the largest portion of the Christian world approved of such marriages.
In reply, the Presbytery of Fayetteville (represented by the Rev. Colin McIver) argued that if indeed, Stanton was correct regarding the “great mass of Christian men in all ages,” then he would have created a presumption in favor of McQueen. But they claimed antiquity was on their side, arguing that the language of the Confession was a simple rendition of the old canon law, which they traced back to the Apostolic Constitutions in the third century. “As this law was of authority in all the western churches before the reformation, so the various Protestant communions adhered to its provisions as far as our Confession retains them.” It had also been uniformly enforced by the Presbyterian Church in America, both during the colonial era and as recently as 1827 (a situation also stemming from a case in the Presbytery of Fayetteville).
Having established the pedigree of his argument, McIver turned to the reason why such a marriage should be considered incestuous. The relations between a sister and her brother are incompatible with the relations between a woman and her husband. “Habitual, familiar, confidential intercourse, such as must and should exist among members of the same family, between young persons of different sexes,” cannot be allowed among those who are allowed to intermarry. The sister-in-law, he claimed, was in the same relation to a man as his own sister. “He is her brother-in-law, that is in the sight of the law of God and man.” As such, it is “in the highest degree dangerous” to allow the possibility that she might one day marry him. “She will shrink from him as from every other man. She will become a stranger in her sister's house, and to her sister's children,” because she is forced to look upon her brother-in-law no longer as a protector, but a stranger. This, then was the reason why God forbade such marriages in Leviticus 18. “It has its foundation in the essential principles of our nature; and in the constitution of society. Men may legalize such marriages, but they never can cease to be violations of the law of nature.”
Turning then to the scriptures, McIver confessed that he was horrified to hear Stanton’s claim that the Scripture had no law against incest. McIver argued that those laws are binding which “express the will of God in reference to those duties which arise out of our permanent relations to him and to our fellow men.” He claimed that Levirate marriage was an exception to the general rule. “It is a sin for a brother to marry his sister, but if required by a divine command, it is a sin no longer. Thus, also, if any one can produce a divine command to marry his sister‑in-law, the lawfulness of the marriage will be readily admitted.” McIver tried to escape the force of the phrase “in her lifetime” by pointing out that Stanton’s reading (that a man was forbidden to take a woman’s sister as a second wife) would mean that God was approving of polygamy. Since this could not be the case, McIver argued that the verse was actually a prohibition of polygamy, rendering “sister” in a figurative sense: “Thou shalt not take one wife to another, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her life time.” Utilizing the same approach to scripture found by the radical temperance movement, McIver could not accept the thought that God might have at one time tolerated something now judged “evil,” and therefore rejected the literal meaning of the text.
The vote, which was concluded on June 3rd (the fifteenth, and next to the last day of the Assembly) was overwhelmingly against McQueen’s appeal, 11-68, with eight voting to sustain in part (which usually meant that they agreed with the verdict, but thought that the sentence was too extreme). Of the nineteen who voted to sustain at least in part, nine were from the northeast, and three were from the southwest, and only two southwesterners voted against McQueen.
This prompted considerable discussion of the marriage question throughout the church, resulting in several overtures from two synods and four presbyteries requesting the 1843 General Assembly to begin the process of amending the Confession to eliminate the prohibition. The geographical location of these overtures is intriguing. They came from the synods of New Jersey and Alabama, along with the presbyteries of Troy (upstate New York), New York (New York City), West Lexington (central Kentucky) and the Western District (western Tennessee). The northeast and the southwest led the movement to change the Confession.
B. The General Assembly of 1843
At the 1843 Assembly, the committee of Bills and Overtures recommended that the Assembly approve the amendment to the Confession, and send it to the presbyteries for consideration. The minority of the committee, Dr. John C. Lord of Buffalo, and the Rev. Hiram Chamberlain of St. Louis dissented, insisting that the present wording of the Confession was entirely adequate.
In the debate, Dr. Maclean of the College of New Jersey argued that the Confession of the Presbyterian Church should only contain those things that the church agreed upon. Since “hundreds of our ministers and thousands of our church‑members, with whom the speaker fully sympathized,” believed that the confession was erroneous on this point, and since “the other churches by which we are surrounded, the laws of the land, and the general sentiment of the country were in favour of the lawfulness of marriages which our book condemns,” it would be expedient to revise the Confession.
Dr. James Hoge suggested that the whole matter should be referred to a committee which could give the church better direction on the matter. While he agreed wholeheartedly with the Confession, he thought that in fairness to those who desired the change, more work needed to be done. The Assembly accepted William L. Breckinridge’s suggestion of a committee of James Hoge, Gardiner Spring, Aaron Leland, Charles Hodge and Nathan L. Rice.
But no sooner had the committee been created than Maclean proposed that the Fayetteville Presbytery be directed to restore Archibald McQueen “to the communion of the church and the exercise of the ministry,” both because the church was divided on the question, and because it was unfair to leave this one man under censure, while several other men who were in similar marriages were permitted to remain in the ministry.
Several men opposed this motion, but it was the speech of Chancellor Kensey Johns of Delaware that killed it. Johns pointed out that the motion had the effect of reversing a disciplinary case by an administrative act. “To take up such a case when the parties are out of court, the record gone, and all the pleadings out of view would be an unheard of proceeding.” The General Assembly was indeed the highest court, and therefore should not prejudice the case by expressing an opinion before an appeal had been made. “Let Mr. McQueen, if he is so disposed, apply to his presbytery, and if they refuse to entertain his application or to do him justice in the premises, let him complain or appeal to the Synod or General Assembly.” This argument sealed the fate of Maclean’s motion, and the Assembly overwhelmingly defeated it. But the twin issues of confessional revision and the restoration of Archibald McQueen would occupy considerable time in the church courts and space in the newspapers over the next two years.
Having been appointed to the committee charged with studying the question, Charles Hodge surveyed the question for the church: there were three different questions involved in the debate: “1. Is the doctrine now taught on this point in our Confession in accordance with the word of God? 2. If so, ought the article in question, to be made a term of Christian and ministerial communion? 3. If not, is the striking out the clause proposed to be erased, the right remedy for the difficulty?”
Hodge admitted that while some were arguing that all the disputed marriages were unlawful and incestuous, the majority in the church was satisfied with the Confession, but “are disposed to leave the parties already living in such connexions, unmolested in the enjoyment of their church privileges. But this they could not do, if they believed their marriages to be invalid.” Hodge explained that this view operated on the principle that while it “may be wrong to enter into certain engagements, yet the engagement when formed is binding.” In this respect, Hodge argued that McQueen’s marriage was unlawful, but not invalid.
On the second point, Hodge agreed with Maclean that “we are not at liberty to make every truth contained in the word of God, a term of communion,” and he recognized that there was strong difference of opinion, much of which depended upon what part of the country one was in. But Hodge was not convinced that the solution was to amend the Confession. The present practice of leaving the matter practically in the hands of the sessions and presbyteries was probably the best course. “If a man is a member of a session or presbytery who are known to believe the word of God condemns such marriages, he acts with his eyes open when he contracts them. He has no right to force his brethren to tolerate what they think wrong; or to insist upon being a member of a body against the judgment and conscience of all his fellow members.” While Hodge admitted that it was not an ideal situation to have “one presbytery suspending from his office a minister for an act, which another presbytery passes without censure,” but as far as Hodge could see, “You must either allow this diversity of opinion and practice, or you must split the church.” And as his opposition to Breckinridge’s tactics in 1834-1837 demonstrated, dividing the church was not an acceptable option for Hodge.
The committee of Hoge, Spring, Hodge, Leland and Rice, reported back to the 1844 Assembly that confessional amendment was not necessary in this case. Echoing Hodge’s language from the previous summer, the report stated that while the confession condemned incestuous marriages, it did not necessarily support the excommunication of the parties to such marriages because “1. . . . it does not declare that conjugal cohabitation is so incestuous that the parties must separate. 2. It is a general rule of interpreting law, especially criminal law, that the meaning must be taken from the express terms used, or necessary implication showing certain intention; or in other words, that it is understood favourably to the party accused.” They also appealed to the historic practice of the church which had tended to be more lenient than the 1842 McQueen case. Finally they suggested that since the Levitical law distinguished between those marriages that should result in death and those that would simply result in being childless, the Church should make a similar distinction and simply rebuke or admonish those who marry the deceased wife's sister.
But others desired a stricter approach. Indeed a small minority, led by William L. Breckinridge argued that presbyteries should not ordain men who disagreed with the Confession’s stance on prohibited marriages. When Hugh S. Dickson, a licentiate from the Presbytery of New York was ordained by the Louisville Presbytery even after he openly disagreed with the Confession’s statement on prohibited marriages, William L. Breckinridge authored a protest stating that “No discretion is allowed to the Presbytery to dispense with the adoption of any part of the confession.” The protest went on to insist that no reservations or exceptions to the Confession were permissible. In reply the presbytery pointed out that Dickson had received the rest of the Confession, and had promised to abide by the practice of the church. The presbytery was convinced that Dickson’s willingness to practice the confessional position was sufficient: “we cannot, therefore, regard our proceedings, in this case, as sanctioning the practice of candidates taking exceptions to our Confession of Faith.” This waffling, however, troubled a few hardliners. They insisted that no one should take ordination vows “unless they ‘do sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith.’ . . . none, (of our office bearers especially), have a right, none are at liberty, to ‘differ from the Confession of Faith,’ unless they have a right, and are at liberty, to 'lie, not (only) unto man, but unto God.’” One author went so far as to argue that this called for another division of the church.
But a well-known layman took the opposite approach and argued that the Confession was simply wrong. He pointed out that the reason why English law had forbidden marriage to a deceased sibling’s spouse was because Henry VIII had found recourse to Leviticus 18:18 in order to get rid of Catherine of Aragon. Requiring a law formed under such “circumstances strongly tending to error and prejudice,” this legal scholar did not think that the church should hold so tightly to this particular application “of Jewish municipal law.” Further, a deceased wife’s sister is not among the forbidden relations. If God omitted it, he argued, then it cannot be an accident. Leviticus 18.18 expressly forbids such marriages while the wife is alive, but not after she is dead. Quite remarkably, this layman was the only writer in the debate who understood the cultural background to Leviticus 18:
under polygamy a very different estimate is made of man and woman. A man has two wives as a lawful thing: for a woman to have two husbands would be an abomination. For two brothers to have in succession the same wife, might be gross impurity in common estimation: while no feeling of delicacy would be wounded by a man’s marrying two sisters.
Reminding his readers that the ancient Hebrews had different moral sensibilities from modern Americans, he asked “Can we understand habits of thinking and states of morals under a system in which Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, Rachel and Leah gave their servant maids to Jacob, the nation of Israel was involved in war through a Levite’s concubine, and woman was in the degradation of polygamy, concubinage, and capricious divorce?” Concerned by the simplistic approach that most Presbyterians had embraced, he asked “Can we enter into the principles of laws made in such a state of society, and take upon ourselves to correct the Legislator, our Maker, in supplying his defects?” Returning to the present, he pointed out that after the Declaration of Independence, every state removed the restriction. The levitical laws were not intended for the nations, but for Israel. Therefore he insisted that “their obligation by Divine Authority ceased, expired, and died at the death of Christ.” This approach blended the traditional Reformed understanding of the continuing validity only of the general equity of the Mosaic law with a new historicist concern for understanding the customs of ancient cultures in their original contexts. But this sort of interpretation clashed with the common sense literalism employed by most of those engaged in the debates.
C. The General Assembly of 1845
The marriage question came back before the 1845 General Assembly, with continued agitation for confessional revision. In reply Nathan Rice urged a resolution condemning such marriages and enjoining presbyteries and sessions to enforce discipline against such marriages. His motion failed narrowly by a vote of 80-84. But the Assembly was still unwilling to encourage confessional revision, and the motion to send the overture to the presbyteries failed 76-98.
Rice had been appointed by his presbytery to speak on this issue. Revealing how emotional the issue had become, Rice declared “I cannot admire the piety of any man who will sacrifice the peace of the church and his own usefulness, merely to gratify feelings which should never have been for one moment cherished.” The practice of marrying a deceased wife’s sister interfered with the purity of the domestic circle, “the first organization of human society, and the foundation of all others. . . . If confusion and corruption commence there, what will become of the purity of the church? What will become of civilized society?” This sort of statement reveals the fact that those who defended the traditional position had very little interest in considering the original situation of the Mosaic text. They read the Old Testament law as though it had been written for a nineteenth-century audience. Some of the legal minds in the Assembly were more astute on this point. Judge Robert Grier (who was appointed to the United States Supreme Court the following year) argued that the biblical prohibition against taking a wife’s sister “to vex her” was in the context of polygamy. But Rice could not accept this: God never “approved the practice of polygamy, but only regulated an existing evil.” Likewise, Rice pointed out that Leviticus 18 forbade a man to marry his brother’s wife. “I should be glad to see some of the brethren take measure, and inform us how much nearer of kin we are to one sister-in-law than to another. . . . Both are sisters by affinity. This sort of argument failed to recognize the distinct cultural differences between the ancient near east and the modern west.
J. L. Jernegan, a ruling elder from northern Indiana, replied to Rice that Leviticus 18 was a part of the civil code of Israel, and therefore no longer directly binding on the church. A straightforward read of Leviticus 18:18, however, contained “an express permission and authority to marry the wife’s sister after the death of the wife.” Jernegan was more concerned, though, with Rice’s appeal to the “preservation of domestic purity. This is a grave consideration, and appeals to the most powerful motions of the human heart. . . And yet this appeal is rather to our feelings than our judgment. . . . If God has not deemed this prohibition necessary to domestic purity, be assured that the wisdom of man will err in adding to the Word of God.”
The McQueen case also came back before the Assembly, after the Presbytery of Fayetteville denied Archibald McQueen’s request to be restored to the ministry. Dr. William T. Hamilton, pastor of Government Street church in Mobile, Alabama, urged the Assembly to “recommend to the Presbytery of Fayetteville to reconsider their action in the case of Archibald McQueen, and if in their judgment it should appear conducive to the peace of the church, and to the promotion of religion in the region around them, to restore Mr. McQueen to the communion of the church, and to the exercise of the functions of the gospel ministry, on the ground that in his case, the ends of discipline are attained by the operation of the sentence under which McQueen has been lying for a period of three years.” The resolution was adopted, 96-62.
Charles Hodge commented that a sizeable majority of the church had come to the view that while the marriage in question was not lawful, it was still valid. While both extremes continued to flourish in the church, Hodge argued that division was not necessary on this issue, since the church had differed on this point for more than one hundred years, but he warned both sides that if either party sought to make their view a term of communion for the church, “then the church must divide.”
D. The General Assembly of 1847
The action of the Assembly, however, in recommending the restoration of Mr. McQueen, created problems for the Fayetteville Presbytery. Since the Assembly had declared that the purpose of discipline had been met, many members of the Fayetteville Presbytery believed that their hands were tied. Therefore they restored McQueen, at which point Colin McIver, his erstwhile best friend, appealed the decision first to the Synod of North Carolina, and then to the Assembly. The appeal asked the Assembly to revoke McQueen’s restoration.
Charles Hodge took the lead in arguing that the Assembly could not reopen a judicial case. Since the Assembly of 1845 had decided that “the ends of discipline in his case were answered,” and now that McQueen had been restored, it was not possible for a subsequent Assembly to reverse that decision (otherwise any case could be reopened at will and no sentence would be final). But, Hodge made it clear that this did not have the effect of reversing the 1842 verdict against McQueen. The 1845 Assembly had agreed that the 1842 verdict was correct, but that the suspension of McQueen had sufficiently demonstrated the heinousness of his sin, and that now he should be restored. “The point really decided by the Assembly was that temporary suspension is an adequate punishment for the offence for which Mr. McQueen had been condemned.”
McIver argued on the floor of the Assembly that the decision was unconstitutional, since “the marriage of a man with his deceased wife's sister, is incestuous, and therefore null and void in the sight of God and the church, and consequently that the parties to such a marriage cannot be admitted or restored to the privileges of the church, unless the marriage relation between them be dissolved.” But Hodge replied that not all incest is of the same kind. Did McIver really believe that marriage to the sister of a deceased wife was equally heinous with marrying one’s mother? But if there are degrees of incest, then there were also degrees of punishment (which were expressed in Leviticus itself). Hodge pointed out that the church had “always recognised the obvious distinction between what is unlawful and what is invalid, any thing contrary to the rule of duty laid down in the scriptures, is unlawful; but many engagements and contracts which men ought not to form, are, when formed, nevertheless binding.” This time the Assembly declared by a 95-53 vote that since the 1845 Assembly had decided the case judicially, it was not possible to appeal. Nonetheless, the Assembly made it clear that it was not approving his marriage.
Sixteen members of the Assembly filed a protest, objecting to the dismissal of McIver’s complaint, insisting that if the Assembly had acted judicially in 1845, then its action was null and void because the Confession of Faith plainly forbade McQueen’s marriage, and if “no law of man or consent of parties” could make his marriage valid, then the Assembly had acted unconstitutionally in restoring him. The protestants’ regional background fit the distribution of the fifty-three votes supporting McIver’s complaint. Only one came from the northeast (Robert T. Berry of Baltimore), nine came from the northwest (all but one from the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati corridor), and six came from the southeast. The protestants followed a strict construction of the Confession, and could not understand how the Assembly could ignore McIver’s protest.
In contrast, the Assembly denied that such a construction was necessary. In their answer to the protest, the Assembly declared that “the constitution. . . is to be interpreted by the Word of God, which, we apprehend, does not sustain the interpretation of the Protestants in that sense of it which they make the basis of their protest.” Neither original intent nor strict construction was accepted by the Old School General Assembly. They insisted that the Confession could only mean what the Word of God declared.
McIver, however, could not allow Hodge’s view to stand unchallenged. The Presbytery of Fayetteville had explicitly suspended McQueen “until he give satisfactory evidence of repentance and reformation.” The 1842 General Assembly had upheld this, thereby affirming that “Mr MQ's marriage was such an incestuous marriage as never could be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as to admit of their living together as man and wife.” In this light, the action of the 1845 Assembly was absurd. If one of the stated goals of discipline was repentance, then the claim that the “ends of discipline are attained,” was simply false. McIver reluctantly admitted that when the Assembly of 1842 sanctioned the presbytery’s judgment, it did not necessarily affirm the presbytery’s reasoning, but he felt betrayed.
Another author raised the underlying constitutional question. Asserting that the General Assembly derived its authority from the Constitution, he argued that the Assembly could not require a lower judicatory to take an action without an express or implied warrant from the Constitution. He insisted that the Assembly always had the authority to correct unconstitutional decisions of inferior judicatories, regardless of what previous Assemblies have determined.
Constitutional authority and the rights of conscience would remain at the center of both ecclesiastical and civil politics during the antebellum era. How could the corporate conscience be expressed in a manner that respected the rights of minorities who conscientiously disagreed with the majority? The sorts of answers given in the debates over alcohol and marriage reveal some of the polarities that would reappear in different forms in the debates over education and slavery.
Most studies have focused on the “inevitable” result of prohibition. John A. Krout, The Origins of Prohibition (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1925); Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986/1963); John J. Rumbarger, Profits, Power, and Prohibition: Alcohol Reform and the Industrializing of America, 1800-1930 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Thomas R. Pegram, Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800-1933 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998); Ann-Marie E. Szymanski, Pathways to Prohibition: Radicals, Moderates, and Social Movement Outcomes (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003). Gusfield complains about the incessant “moralistic condemnation of moralism” in the literature on temperance. (3)
Pegram acknowledges the serious social and moral problems associated with the liquor industry in the antebellum era (Battling Demon Rum, xii). He points out that between 1800-1830, Americans drank “each year between 6.6 and 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol” compared to 2.8 today (7). The 1850 census reported that Americans had manufactured over 42 million gallons of whisky, six and half gallons of rum, and a little more than one million gallons of beer that year, which amounted to more than two gallons per man, woman and child in the United States. W&O 8.47 (July 1, 1853).
Pegram, 17. This fits well with the evidence of the southern Presbyterian newspapers, which were all produced in southern towns by minsters closely associated with the market.
Pegram, 20. Robert Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). While the early temperance movement had focused on distilled spirits, on the assumption that beer, cider and wine was not as dangerous, by the 1820s chemists had determined that fermentation produced the exact same alcohol as distillation. This prompted the more perfectionist reformers to eliminate the consumption of alcohol altogether. The radical total abstinence reform (often still referred to as “temperance”) divided the temperance movement, but quickly became the dominant voice. Pegram, 24-39; Rumbarger, chapter 2.
Leo P. Hirrel, Children of Wrath: New School Calvinism and Antebellum Reform (Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1998).
On middle class leadership, see Stuart M. Blumin, The Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1760-1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
Minutes (1811) 474 (in Baird, 794). The committee largely consisted of ministers and elders from New York City. The Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance (1813) is widely considered the origin of the formal temperance movement, so Presbyterian interest was quite early.
Minutes (1812) 511 (in Baird, 795).
Minutes (1818) 689 (in Baird, 795).
Minutes (1829) 375-6 (in Baird, 796).
Minutes (1830) 24 (in Baird, 796). A brief repudiation of the attempt to make abstinence a term of communion in the church was published in the BRPR 2.2 (April, 1830) 242-249.
Minutes (1834) 31 (in Baird, 796).
Minutes (1837) 510 (in Baird, 796-7). One region that did not follow the Assembly was western Virginia. One writer declared the Presbyterians in that region to be a “whisky drinking” people. Southern Religious Telegraph 14.4 (January 23, 1835). Conditions reached the point that the Lexington Presbytery (which embraced a large portion of western Virginia) sent out a pastoral letter in the fall of 1835 warning all members that the presbytery viewed the sale and manufacture of ardent spirits as a sin. Southern Religious Telegraph 14.46 (Nov 13, 1835).
Southern Religious Telegraph 14.34 (August 21, 1835). Smith, a recent graduate of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (1833), and pastor of the Guinea church in West Hanover Presbytery, argued that while one should abstain from ardent spirits, a moderate use of wine was acceptable.
Southern Religious Telegraph 14.35 (August 28, 1835) 133. The debate was published in religious newspapers all over the country.
Southern Religious Telegraph 14.38 (September 18, 1835) 152. Sprague compared this to those who “twist” the supposed facts of geology in order to contradict Moses. Sprague voiced his complete conviction that in both cases the true result of scientific investigation would be the vindication of scriptural teaching.
Southern Religious Telegraph 14.42 (October 16, 1835).
“Rev Dr Miller on the Wine Question” Southern Religious Telegraph 14.48 (Nov 27, 1835).
Abstinence, “The Use of Wine” Southern Religious Telegraph 14.48 (Nov 27, 1835). “Abstinence” and Miller exchanged articles on the new total abstinence pledge in January of 1836.
There is evidence of interest in the subject. R. J. Breckinridge noted in January of 1841 without comment that the Journal of the American Temperance Union had urged churches to stop using fermented wine for the Lord’s Supper. BLRM 7.1 (January 1841) 48. This may suggest that Breckinridge was sympathetic to the movement, since he rarely refrained from mocking movements that he opposed. Also the Charleston Observer ran an advertisement from Daniel Pomeroy of New York offering an unfermented grape syrup guaranteed to remain free of alcohol--CO (March 28, 1840) 23–which suggests that there may have been some interest in removing wine from the Supper in South Carolina. There is some evidence from Kentucky and Missouri that by the 1850s some Old Schoolers had become convinced that biblical wine was unfermented, but whether they had changed the practice of any congregation is unclear. “The Wine of the Bible, and the Bible Use of Wine” St. Louis Presbyterian 16.2 (July 7, 1859). While some congregations had already adopted the practice, the southern Presbyterian General Assembly formally permitted the use of grape juice in 1892 (though affirming that Jesus used fermented wine), with the result that most churches had switched by 1915. Part of the rationale used was that many temperance advocates were departing early on communion Sundays, or simply partaking of the bread. The church was trying to increase participation in the sacrament. Robert Milton Winter, Shadow of a Mighty Rock: A Social and Cultural History of Presbyterianism in Marshall County, Mississippi (Franklin, TN: Providence House, 1997) 268, 271. Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963) 2:347-49, 432. The northern Assembly declared in 1881 that “The General Assembly has always recognized the right of each church session to determine what is bread and what is wine.” Minutes (1881) 548.
This is the only attempt to move away from fermented wine to which I have found newspaper references. Their minister was the Rev. David Murdock who transferred to the New School in 1851. Their previous minister was the Rev. Erasmus Darwin MacMaster (private 1829–see chapter eight) who subsequently served as president of Hanover College, Madison University, and Miami University, as well as professor of theology at New Albany Theological Seminary.
John Clancy (stated clerk of the Presbytery of Albany), “Wine at the Communion,” Presbyterian 11.9 (February 27, 1841) 34.
Lucius, "Ultraism" Presbyterian 11.14 (April 3, 1841) 53.
H, “Shall Wine Be Dispensed with in the Celebration of the Lord's Supper?” Presbyterian 11.48 (November 27, 1841) 190.
As merely one of hundreds of examples, “The Road to Ruin,” Watchman of the South 5.10 (October 28, 1841) 38, tells of a St. Louis judge who sentenced a counterfeiter to the shortest sentence because of his tale of debauchery and drunkenness. The counterfeiter apparently wanted to show himself as an example to others--and was shown mercy.
P. L. McAboy, letter to the editor, Western Presbyterian Herald 8.3 (Dec 13, 1838).
“A Plea for Total Abstinence from Intoxicating Liquors,” BLRM 6.11 (June 1840) 510-7; quote from page 516. Breckinridge had caused no little controversy when he preached on total abstinence in Baltimore, in spite of the fact that one of the ruling elders in the Second Presbyterian Church was a wine merchant. When challenged, he offered his resignation with a show of indignation that presaged how he would respond in future conflicts. Edmund Arthur Moore, “The Earlier Life of Robert J. Breckinridge, 1800-1845” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1932) 35.
“Intemperance” Watchman of the South 4.26 (February 18, 1841), 4.27 (February 25, 1841), 4.28 (March 4, 1841), 4.29 (March 11, 1841).
New York Observer extra (August 29, 1840). This essay had earlier been praised by New York University professor George Bush in, “The Wine Question,” New York Observer (July 4, 1840) 106.
New York Observer (October 24, 1840) 170.
Conscience, “Wine at the Communion Table,” NYO 19.10 (March 6, 1841) 38. The NYO was the most open to the elimination of wine in communion. When Joseph McCarrell, an Associate Reformed minister who taught at the Associate Reformed seminary in Newburgh, New York openly attacked the total abstinence plan as unbiblical, a reviewer in the NYO responded in a multi-part review in September and October of 1841, concluding that McCarrell had become the “toast of drunkards,” and feared that mere temperance would result in more drunkenness. (October 26, 1841) 175.
Totidem Verbis, “Sacramental Wine Question,” Presbyterian (Feb 12, 1842) 26.
J. W. Alexander, “The Wine Question,” CO 16.7 (February 12, 1842) 26 (reprinted from the New York Observer); Alexander was responding to Delavan’s article on “Rev. Dr. Nott’s Views,” New York Observer (December 25, 1841) 207. Benjamin Gildersleeve was convinced by this. He insisted that “to propose a substitute for wine, is both impious and abominable–and shows the dangerous extreme to which a good cause may be perverted.” Editorial, “Wine in the Communion,” CO 16.29 (July 16, 1842) 114.
Jonadab, “The Pledge of Total Abstinence, no. 3” CO 17.38 (September 23, 1843) 151.
“Aminadab” authored a defense of old temperance in December 1843-January 1844 in the Charleston Observer, but Gildersleeve considered the attempt a total failure (Jan 13, 1844).
Eliab, “No. 2" CO 18.5 (February 3, 1844) 18.
Eliab, “No. 2" CO 18.5 (February 3, 1844) 18.
CO 18.6 (February 10, 1844). Three weeks later “Melanchthon” defended the two-wine theory, arguing that the primary sense of wine was the unfermented juice of the grape, since it was inconceivable that the same substance should be both a blessing and a curse. (March 2, 1844) 35. He had obviously never considered the role of water in the scriptures.
“Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus,” BRPR 13.2 (April 1841) 268.
“Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus,” BRPR 13.2 (April 1841) 268-9. It is, perhaps, illustrative of how little care the radical temperance authors used in their study of the Bible, that they chose to use the phrase, “touch not, taste not, handle not” (from Colossians 2:21) approvingly–since the apostle Paul is condemning the phrase!
“Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus,” BRPR 13.2 (April 1841) 269.
“Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus,” BRPR 13.2 (April 1841) 271.
The conclusion of “Bacchus and Anti-Bacchus” is found in BRPR 13.4 (October 1841) 471-523.
P&H (October 14, 1841). All the professors signed the pledge except for Albert Dod and President James Carnahan, who were ill (and signed later).
James W. Alexander, “Temperance in the College of New Jersey” Watchman of the South 5.14 (November 25, 1841) 54. Similar views were dispensed by Anti-Lyaeus, “The Wine Question” Presbyterian 11.24 (June 12, 1841) 94.
“Temperance” P&H 9.52 (November 26, 1840).
P&H 10.2 (December 10, 1840). Rice expressed astonishment
P&H (Feb 10, 1842). Delavan was often cited as having proven the adulterated character of most American wines. E.g., Benjamin Gildersleeve, “Adulteration of Liquors,” W&O 6.24 (March 20, 1851) 126. Temperance writers frequently tried to frighten people away from drinking wine, though few went so far as “To Wine-Drinkers” in the W&O 2.2 (August 27, 1846) 5, which claimed–without citing any sources–that the French often bathed in wine that they later bottled and sold to the English and Americans. Even those who defended the moderate use of pure wines complained of “the vile stuff which we have been called upon to administer to communicants.” “Wine at the Communion Table,” PH 28.11 (September 9, 1858).
P&H (Feb 10, 1842). The phrase “pure fruit of the vine” is used both by those arguing for grape juice (Delavan), as well as by those arguing for pure fermented wines. It is not clear which side Grundy is taking–although the lack of outcry against him leads me to believe that he wished to use pure fermented wines. Other papers noted Delavan’s position, and sided with McRoberts. “Ultraism” Watchman of the South 5.27 (February 24, 1842). One month later the Watchman of the South gave notice of the Respondent, a paper issued from Albany, New York (home of William B. Sprague), devoted to defending the Lord’s Supper from Delavan’s attacks. 5.31 (March 24, 1842).
V. “Wine at Communion, from the Christian Intelligencer,” Watchman of the South
V. “Wine at Communion, from the Christian Intelligencer,” Watchman of the South 5.33 (April 7, 1842) 129. Once again, the editor (in this case, William Swan Plumer) included articles on the formation of temperance and total abstinence societies in the same issue, thereby assuring readers that the paper was not challenging the temperance cause. See also “Wine at the Lord's Supper” Presbyterian 11.45 (November 6, 1841) 178, which was part of a running commentary against Delavan in the Presbyterian that fall.
H, “Temperance” P&H 10.4 (December 24, 1840), 10.5 (December 31, 1840).
The range of views within this “expedience” position varied considerably. On the one hand some argued for exacting a pledge on the grounds of expedience: R. C. Grundy, “Temperance” P&H 10.17 (March 25, 1841), and James, “The Wine Question” The PW 1.13 (March 16, 1842) 49, argued that total abstinence is a duty for every citizen--and especially every Christian, so long as it was done on right principles--namely, “the broad basis. . . of public welfare, and the good of my neighbor.” Another author argued that the positive scriptural references to wine were all figurative, and that the sacramental use of wine favored the total abstinence position (though he did not explain why he did not advocate total abstinence from bread). Jonadab, “The Pledge of Total Abstinence from the Charleston Observer,” Watchman of the South 7.7 (September 28, 1843). The Watchman of the South 5.39 (May 19, 1842) reported that the Presbytery of Winchester (in western Virginia) had endorsed a teetotal pledge on the grounds of expedience. But S. C. P., “Expediency,” Watchman of the South 8.21 (January 9, 1845) 83, while approving the practice of total abstinence, argued from a thorough exegesis of 1 Corinthians 9 that “the proper use of wine being right, is not necessarily to be abandoned, because by an improper use of it, it has been injurious to others.” Cf. Anti-Lyaeus, “The Wine Question III,” Presbyterian 11.26 (June 26, 1841) 102. Likewise SW argued that wines made from the pure juice of the grape were lawful, but claimed that since 95% of the wines in the United States were “filled with the most unhealthy ingredients,” this became another reason why it was expedient (though not required) to totally abstain even from wine. SW, “Genuine Wine,” Presbyterian Advocate 4.27 (March 30, 1842), 4.28 (April 6, 1842).
P&H 10.51 (November 18, 1841). Other papers applauded lay efforts, such as the memorial signed by more than 6,000 ladies of Cincinnati “praying for the suppression of tippling houses.” “Temperance,” Watchman of the South 7.33 (April 4, 1844).
William L. Breckinridge, “The New Test of Christian Character Tested, or, the Bible Doctrine of Temperance” P&H 12.1 (October 6, 1842).
Breckinridge, “The New Test of Christian Character Tested.”
Breckinridge, “The New Test of Christian Character Tested.”
S. S. McRoberts “A Review of WLB vs Total Abstinence No 1,” P&H 12.6 (November 10, 1842).
S. S. McRoberts “A Review of WLB vs Total Abstinence No 2,” P&H 12.7 (November 17, 1842).
S. S. McRoberts “A Review of WLB vs Total Abstinence No 3,” P&H 12.8 (November 24, 1842).
S. S. McRoberts “A Review of WLB vs Total Abstinence No 4,” P&H 12.9 (December 1, 1842).
P&H 12.12 (December 22, 1842).
McRoberts had said that all others who had ever defended moderate drinking were themselves either drinkers or associated with alcoholic interests. WLB, “The Review Reviewed” P&H 12.12 (December 22, 1842). McRoberts replied briefly that “his last piece is made up of gross perversions,” and declared that he had no wish to continue the discussion. P&H 12.14 (January 5, 1843). While Breckinridge’s tone was a bit strident, it was no worse than McRoberts had been. The condemnation of drinking was such that when William T. Dickson spread rumors in Missouri that there were five Old School ruling elders in Butler County, Pennsylvania, who were drunkards, the Presbyterian Advocate launched an ad hoc investigation into the congregations named by Dickson, which resulted in the verdict that “no one of them is in the habit of drinking intoxicating liquor as a beverage.” Presbyterian Advocate 7.48 (September 24, 1844).
X, “Decision of the Synod of Pittsburg, on the Question of Continuing the Retailer of Alcoholic Drinks in Church Membership,” P&H 12.10 (December 8, 1842). Just three months later, the Kentucky paper announced the new temperance monthly, the Rechabite, edited by the Rev. Robert C. Grundy (PTS 1835, and pastor of the Maysville church).
“Book of Discipline” I.3 The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1839) 460.
Cited in “General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 461.
Cited in “General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 461.
“Debates in the General Assembly,” Presbyterian 13.25 (June 24, 1843) 97.
“Debates in the General Assembly,” Presbyterian 13.25 (June 24, 1843) 97.
“Debates in the General Assembly,” Presbyterian 13.25 (June 24, 1843) 97.
Cited in “General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 461. The Presbyterian report indicates that Dr. Maclean and the Rev. J. S. Watt spoke on behalf of Breckinridge’s substitute, while the Rev. D. X. Junkin argued that Lord’s substitute was wise. It appears that Breckinridge’s substitute was defeated 52-68.
Minutes (1843) 189. This will be the same sort of argument that many (especially northwesterners) would follow in their antislavery arguments. See chapter eight.
“Debates in the General Assembly,” Presbyterian 13.25 (June 24, 1843) 97.
“General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 462.
“General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 464.
“General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 465.
“General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 466.
“General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 467.
L., “New Term of Communion in the Presbyterian Church,” PW 4.10 (November 30, 1848) 38. In the same issue, it was reported that the Synod of New York refused to make temperance a test of church membership. The Synod of Pittsburgh went unchallenged in 1855 when it declared that “members of the Church engaged in the traffic of intoxicating drinks as a beverage are liable to discipline when they sell contrary to the law of the land, or the laws of God.” PM 5.12 (December 1855) 562. Indeed, the 1848 “Narrative of the State of Religion,” adopted by the General Assembly, for the first time urged all Presbyterians to “have nothing to do with the traffic in intoxicating liquors, and discountenance in every proper way the drinking usages of society.” Minutes (1848) 168. The committee consisted of ministers Dr. Samuel McFarren, pastor of Congruity, PA, Dr. William Smith, editor of the Presbyterian of the West, Lancelot G. Bell, pastor of Fairfield, IA, and Melanchthon W. Jacobus, professor at Western Theological Seminary, along with elders S. Millspaugh of Hudson Presbytery (NY), Alexander Cromartie of Florida Presbytery (FL), and C. S. Carrington of West Hanover Presbytery (VA). The fact that the three leading ministers on the committee were members of synods that had taken similar actions suggests that the moderator, Alexander T. McGill of Western Theological Seminary, may have desired some such statement.
Philos, “No 1--Church Membership” PW (November 18, 1847) 234.
L., “New Term of Communion in the Presbyterian Church,” PW 4.10 (November 30, 1848) 38.
Kappa, “Tests of Communion,” PW 4.11 (December 7, 1848).
“Alcohol a Poison--Can the Traffic in it be Right?” W&O 1.51 (August 6, 1846) 204. This article pointed to scientific studies that showed that alcohol actually killed a great proportion of those who drink it. One Dublin physician (Dr. Cheyne) claimed that two ounces of alcohol per day could reduce life by 10 years. The same author argued that “alcohol naturally tends to destroy life,” so those who sell alcohol are guilty of supplying the weapons for murder. “Alcohol vs. the Bible,” W&O 2.2 (August 27, 1846).
W. S. “The Tippling Elder,” PW 16.22 (February 19, 1857). If W. S. are the author’s initials, then he might possibly be Dr. William M. Scott, pastor of Seventh Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Dr. J. W. Scott, president of Oxford Female College, or Rev. W. S. Rogers, professor in Oxford Female College. The former is the most likely case, given his proximity to the newspaper.
Pegram notes that 728 out of 856 New York towns went dry between 1846-1848. (38)
Tyler Anbinder has connected the success of the Maine Laws with the rise of the Know Nothings. Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) 142; also Pegram, 40-42.
“Letter of Mr Delavan to the Editor of the State Register, New York” W&O 8.52 (August 4, 1853).
Samuel Beach Jones, “Temperance, The Civil Law, and the Gospel” PM 2.9 (September, 1852) 387. This was given as a lecture at a Temperance Mass Meeting in Bridgeton NJ.
Samuel Beach Jones, “Temperance, The Civil Law, and the Gospel” PM 2.9 (September, 1852) 385-395.
“Robert P. Dubois, “The Three Ways of Dealing with Intemperance,” PM 3.9 (September 1853) 402.
Presbyterian Advocate 9.13 (January 20, 1847). The Presbyterian Advocate probably discussed the Maine Law more than any other Presbyterian paper in 1851.
W&O 7.44 (June 24, 1852). Indeed Virginians Presbyterians could applaud the abolitionist Wendell Phillips as late as 1859 for publicly rebuking Lemuel Shaw, chief justice of Massachusetts, and James Walker, president of Harvard, for defending the consumption of alcohol. As the editors noted, “his rabid ultraism on one topic does not disqualify him for administering reproof to those whose example may lead many astray.” CP 4.39 (Sept 24, 1859) 156.
PW (May 11, 1854). The law also forbade the sale of alcohol on Sundays.
“A Just Ground for Alarm” PH 23.46-49 (July 13, 20, 27, August 3, 1854).
J. G. Monfort, “The Maine Law God's Law” PH 24.6 (October 12, 1854), reprinted in the PW 14.13 (December 14, 1854). It is noteworthy that an Indianan published first in the Kentucky paper. The editor of the Presbyterian of the West, John D. Thorpe (a ruling elder and friend of the former editor, Nathan L. Rice), was opposed to the social agenda of the Monforts. In December, however, Monfort arranged to take over the Presbyterian of the West as of January 1, 1855. His sermon, therefore, heralded the change in perspective that would turn the Cincinnati paper into the most radical Old School periodical.
“Maine Liquor Law” PW 7.22 (February 19, 1852) 85.
PW 7.35 (May 20, 1852).
W&O 10.36 (April 4, 1855).
“The Maine Law” PM 5.2 (February, 1855) 88.
Northwestern Presbyterian 1.10 (Feb 10, 1865). The Presbyter took the more radical temperance ground. An article in the Northwest Presbyterian argued in 1866 for the complete eradication of temperance societies. Such societies are worthless, because “the State is Gods institution for the repressing of depravity in its more immediately destructive manifestations. . . let her lay a hand of iron upon saloons, those slaughter houses of our young men, those ‘breathing holes of hell,’” and then true reformation will come. But far from advocating teetotaling, this author suggested that if pure fermented wines would replace the drugged slops of the day, then a true temperance would result. “A Subscriber” to the Presbyter replied with horror that this sort of argument would promote moderate drinking. “Temperance and the Church, from the Northwest Presbyterian” Presbyter (January 31, 1866).
Editorial, “Let the Gospel Do It,” Presbyterian Standard 4.3 (April 14, 1864).
The authors in this chapter who argued that total abstinence was a Christian duty include Robert J. Breckinridge, William Swan Plumer, John C. Lord, Robert C. Grundy, S. S. McRoberts, Robert P. Dubois, William Annan, Joseph G. Monfort, and Alfred Nevin. Monfort and Nevin would be zealous leaders of the antislavery cause in the late 1850s, while Lord and Plumer were prominent conservatives.
Elijah Slack, “Physical Excitement. Tobacco--Its Moral Character,” PW 6.29 (April 10, 1851).
L. A. S., “Tobacco” PW 6.45 (July 31, 1851), 6.46 (August 7, 1851). “Luke,” in the W&O 6.21 (February 27, 1851), attacks tobacco usage by Ministers and professors as a disgusting and filthy habit, unbecoming a minister of Christ. The latest scientific analysis was published in “Tobacco and Snuff” PM 5.9 (September, 1855) 417, which suggested that twenty thousand Americans were dying every year due to tobacco related diseases: “They say that the article exhausts and deranges the nervous powers, and produces a long train of nervous diseases to which the stomach is liable, and especially those forms that go under the name of dyspepsia. It also exerts a disastrous influence upon the mind.”
Aliquis, “The Confession of a Tobacco Chewer,” CO 16.30 (July 23, 1842) 119. Gildersleeve replies by insisting that it is possible to break the habit, just like alcohol.
Erskine, “Is the Use of Tobacco Sinful?” St Louis Presbyterian 14.18 (October 28, 1858) 70.
McQueen had been privately trained in the 1820s in North Carolina and until his suspension was pastor at Laurel Hill, NC. After his suspension he remained in regular attendance at the Laurel Hill church in quiet submission to the decision of the presbytery. A second case of suspension at around the same time was the case of the Rev. Joseph Huber, who had married his deceased wife’s sister in 1835, and was merely rebuked by the synod; but then married the niece of his two deceased wives in 1840, which resulted in the Louisville Presbytery suspending him from office and excommunicating him from the church due to his contumacy in repeating an offense for which he had been previously rebuked. One author praised the Presbytery of Louisville for bearing “decisive and effectual testimony against this insidious enormity which faithfulness to the Lord Jesus peremptorily demands.” JHR, “Action of the Presbytery of Louisville, in the Case of Rev'd Mr. Huber,” BLRM 7.5 (May, 1841) 210; cf. “Presbytery of Louisville,” Watchman of the South 4.21 (Jan 14, 1841) which consisted of a letter from the stated clerk, William L. Breckinridge.
“The Confession of Faith” 24.4, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1839) 136.
A difficult task, since he had never spoken with McQueen. “The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 498.
“The Confession of Faith” 20.2, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1839) 113. While this was a major concern in the marriage question, it is interesting that few appealed to it in the temperance debates.
Stanton had graduated in the first full class from Princeton Seminary in 1815. “The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 499. Hodge states that most of his report comes from the New York Observer, but since he was a commissioner to the Assembly, he seems to have supplemented that report with his own recollections.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 500.
I quote the King James Version, which was the version used by all Protestants at the time. Other verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy were also involved in the discussion.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 501.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 501.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 502.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 504. McIver then traced the history from the Reformation through the colonial Presbyterian church, citing numerous cases where the old Synod had regularly decided against such marriages. In 1762 the Synod declared: “That as the Levitical law, enforced by the law of the land, is the only rule whereby we are to judge of marriages, whosoever marry within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden therein act unlawfully, and have no right to the distinguishing privileges of the church. . . while they continue in this relation.” 506. McIver admitted that in 1782 the Synod had restored a couple after a three year suspension, but they had plainly affirmed that the marriage had been unlawful.
The 1827 General Assembly had declared that the only way to change the practice of the church was to alter the Confession, and had asked the presbyteries to report if they wanted this change. Only eighteen of the ninety presbyteries had replied in the affirmative. “The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 508. McIver would publish An Essay concerning the Unlawfulness of a Man’s Marrying with his Sister by Affinity (Philadelphia: H. Hooker, 1842), which was favorably reviewed in R. J. Breckinridge’s Spirit of the XIXth Century 2.3 (March, 1843) 151-157.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 510.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 511.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 512. That this argument should have occupied such a central place in McIver’s speech is helpful for understanding why he could not possibly accept Stanton’s argument (or that of his close friend, Archibald McQueen).
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 515.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 517.
“The General Assembly,” BRPR 14.3 (July 1842) 519.
Minutes (1842) 44. Since the Assembly had orginally consisted of over 150 members, this means that nearly half of the Assembly had left before the McQueen case was concluded.
The Synod of New Jersey had voted 57-24 for the overture, convinced by the arguments of Dr. Maclean, the vice-president of the College of New Jersey, and Dr. Yeomans, the president of Lafayette College. Albert Dod of the College of New Jersey and Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary had defended the confessional position. “The Synod of New Jersey” Presbyterian 12.44 (October 29, 1842) 174. The Synod of Alabama later concurred. “Synod of Alabama,” Presbyterian 13.13 (April 1, 1843) 50. The 1826 General Assembly had sent the same overture down, but fewer than a quarter of the presbyteries had supported it. “Marriage Question,” Watchman of the South 8.42 (June 5, 1845) 165.
The amendment process required the Assembly to send any proposal for constitutional change to the presbyteries. Then if a majority of the presbyteries approved, the Assembly could enact it. Form of Government (1834)12.6 (p431).
One western author surveyed state marriage laws, pointed out that only in Virginia was it illegal to marry one’s deceased wife’s sister. Connecticut and Kentucky had revoked those laws in 1793 and 1798 respectively. In Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the only requirement was that the male must be 18 and the female must be 14 (unless they were nearer than cousins). South Carolina permitted any to marry “except when forbidden by the law of God.” Indiana was similar, except it added the 18 and 14 year old restrictions. Z, “Controverted Marriages--No. 5,” P&H 12.22 (March 2, 1843).
Hodge, “The General Assembly,” BRPR 15.3 (July 1843) 450; cf. “Debates in the General Assembly: The Marriage Question” Presbyterian 13.24 (June 17, 1843) 93. The geographical spread of the committee reflected the church well: Hoge was pastor in Columbus, Ohio, Spring was pastor of the Brick Church in New York City, Leland was professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina, Hodge was professor at Princeton Seminary, and Rice was a pastor in Paris, Kentucky.
Hodge, 456. There was considerable debate whether this motion was in order, since the case had been resolved the previous year. But the Assembly agreed with the moderator that since the General Assembly was the highest court of the church, it was competent to review its own actions from previous years.
Hodge, 457. Other speakers included Breckinridge, Junkin and ruling elder Isaac Platt. Hodge, in his review, pointed out that the Scottish General Assemblies had always retained the right of original jurisdiction, and while he doubted that Maclean’s motion would have been a wise exercise of the Assembly’s authority, he insisted that the Assembly had the right to do what Maclean desired. “It is certain that the Assembly of the Church of Scotland has ever claimed and exercised original jurisdiction, acting, as the presbytery of the whole church. It is certain that similar ecclesiastical councils, have in all ages of the church, acted on the same principle. And our own Assembly, in some few cases has done the same. It has taken up a foreign minister whom one of our presbyteries refused to receive, examined him touching his qualifications, and passed a vote of approbation, and authorized any presbytery to whom he should apply to receive him as a member.” Hodge argued that the Assembly could “remit even the most justly inflicted sentence, if the occasion called for the exercise of this executive grace.” (458) Nonetheless, he agreed that the Assembly was wise to reject Maclean’s motion, since there was no necessity of immediate action, and it would have had the effect of requiring the Fayetteville Presbytery of accepting into their number a man whom they had judged to be unworthy of the office of minister. Hodge pointed out that presbyteries “have a right to refuse to receive any man as a member whom they judge for any reason to be unsuitable.” As an example, Hodge asked “Could the Assembly force an abolitionist on a southern presbytery?” The absurdity of the question demanded a negative answer.
Hodge, “The General Assembly,” 450. Hodge thought that the northeastern portion of the church was the most desirous of change, but that the west and south was content with the confession as it was. (452)
Recall that Hodge used this same distinction in his argument for the validity of Roman Catholic baptism.
Hodge, 455. The one remedy that appealed to Hodge was one that he understood to be proposed by James Hoge, namely amending the Confession to make it clear that not all the forbidden marriages were therefore invalid.
Minutes (1844) 424. One author had shown that a case in 1761 was the last case in which a man was suspended for marrying his deceased wife's sister. From 1772-1821 there had been seven cases which were all decided as inadvisable but not to be annulled. Z, “Controverted Marriages--No. 3,” P&H 12.20 (Feb 16, 1843).
Minutes (1844) 425.
P&H (April 20, 1843).
Cogitatus, “The Three Opinions Respecting Prohibited Marriages,” W&O 1:8 (October 16, 1845) 29.
A Layman, “McQueen’s Case–Marriage with a Deceased Wife’s Sister,” BLRM (August, 1842) 361ff. The editor, Robert J. Breckinridge, said that if the author was known it would give great force to his argument. There were several Old School ruling elders who had the requisite theological, historical and legal background to write this essay, but it is probably Joel Jones of Philadelphia. Jones (1795-1860) served as president of Girard College and Mayor of Philadelphia. He retired to study and to devote himself to the church. An expert in theology and law, he was well-versed in oriental, classical and modern languages, and was called the “most learned layman” in the church, even developing a European reputation for his rabbinical and millennial studies.
A Layman, “McQueen’s Case,” 372.
A Layman, “McQueen’s Case,” 373. He also pointed out that Paul did not appeal to Moses in the incest case in 1 Corinthians 5, but appealed to “the law of nature–immoral indecency–‘not so much as named among the Genitles.’” (376).
A Layman, “McQueen’s Case,” 376.
“Marriage Question,” Watchman of the South 8.42 (June 5, 1845) 165.
“The Marriage Question,” by N. L. Rice (speech at GA) PH 8.45 (June 26, 1845) 177.
“Argument of J. L. Jernegan, Ruling Elder from No Indiana on the Marriage Question,” PW 4.21 (July 3, 1845) 81.
Hodge, “General Assembly,” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 443.
Hodge, “General Assembly,” BRPR 17.3 (July, 1845) 445.
Hodge, “General Assembly,” BRPR 19.3 (July, 1847) 413.
Minutes (1847) 395-396. Again the Assembly voted whether to “overture the Presbyteries” in order to strike out the section that declared that incestuous marriages could never be made lawful. And once again, the Assembly defeated the motion 57-89.
Of the fifty-three negative votes, only four came from the northeast, two from the far northwest and only one from the southwest.
Minutes (1847) 404. The committee that drew up the answer to the protest was chaired by Dr. James Hoge, pastor at Columbus, Ohio, along with Dr. Nathan Hoyt, pastor at Athens, Georgia, and ruling elder Francis H. Simril of South Carolina. The New Hampshire born Hoyt (1793-1866) was one of the older transplants to the South who did not embrace the strict constructionism that was growing especially in the deep south.
This would lead the Presbyterian Church eventually to eliminate the section under consideration in 1887 by a vote of 156 presbyteries to eleven (four took no action and thirty-one made no report). Minutes (1887) 97-98.
Colin McIver, “The Biblical Repertory's Review of the M'Queen Case,” PW 3.2 (Oct 7, 1847) 209. Others who found Hodge’s arguments less than persuasive included William Hill of the PH (June 17, 1847), who said that while Hodge’s theology was sound, his legal arguments were not so impressive. Cf. Knox, “The Biblical Repertory’s Review of the McQueen Case,” W&O 3.3 (Sept 2, 1847) 9.
Respondent, “The Questions for the Consideration of Church Judicatories Answered,” W&O 3.8 (October 7, 1847) 31. In the same issue the editor noted that the Synod of Pittsburgh had overtured the Assembly to either enforce the Confession or amend it. The following year a member of another North Carolina church was suspended for marrying his deceased wife’s sister. He lost his appeal at the Assembly 26-55. Minutes (1848) 57. The Assembly also indefinitely postponed a resolution from the Synod of Pittsburgh requiring all presbyteries and sessions to “inflict the censures of the Church” upon all who contract such marriages. And then it also indefinitely postponed a resolution endorsing presbyterial differences due to the “conscientious difference of opinion” that existed. (57-8).