In 1818 the Presbyterian General Assembly unanimously agreed that:


We consider the voluntary enslaving of one part of the human race by another, as a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature; as utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of the gospel of Christ . . . it is manifestly the duty of all Christians who enjoy the light of the present day, when the inconsistency of slavery, both with the dictates of humanity and religion, has been demonstrated, and is generally seen and acknowledged, to use their honest, earnest, and unwearied endeavours, to correct the errors of former times, and as speedily as possible to efface this blot on our holy religion, and to obtain the complete abolition of slavery throughout Christendom, and if possible throughout the world.[1]


This statement was forged in the context of a refusal to endorse the idea of immediate emancipation, even as both northern and southern Presbyterians agreed that emancipation was a desirable goal.[2] But as we have seen, Presbyterian moral discourse was changing, and traditional interpretations of biblical passages were being set aside as a common sense literal hermeneutic replaced the older contextual interpretation.[3]

            Many historians have tackled the challenge of understanding the relation between antebellum religion and slavery. Edward Crowther has suggested that the traditional narrative argued that “the cessation of anti-slavery policy” was “the result of southern evangelicals caring more about converting lost souls [presumably an illegitimate purpose for a church] than in getting rid of slavery [presumably the real purpose of evangelicalism].”[4] Crowther challenges this interpretation, suggesting that the evangelical churches in the south were not particularly anti-slavery prior to 1830. But Crowther may go too far in asserting an unqualified proslavery movement in the south prior to 1830. He is certainly correct that few southerners expected slavery to end soon, and that even fewer took any steps to bring about the end of slavery; but that is not the same thing as articulating a coherent proslavery ideology.[5] John Patrick Daly has argued that the difference between the pre- and post-1831 defenses of slavery is that “after 1831 proslavery ideology became much more self-conscious, more thoroughly articulated, and more central to white southerners’ identity.”[6] Certainly southern Presbyterians believed that something changed in the 1830s.

            Two events in 1835 set the context for the Old School debates. That November the Synod of Virginia debated the question of slavery. George Baxter presented a paper claiming that “Slavery is recognized by Scripture in precisely the same way as the other domestic relations of life. . . expressly affirming that slavery has the same scriptural authority as the marriage relation.” This prompted considerable debate. Dr. Hill objected that marriage was a divine ordinance, while slavery was an evil that was merely tolerated in scripture. When Dr. George Baxter insisted that the only way to combat the abolitionists was to insist that the “master has a moral right to retain his relation to his slaves,” Dr. Carroll, the president of Hampden-Sydney College, replied that he did not think that one had to go so far to combat the abolitionists. The Rev. Benjamin F. Stanton, thought the paper “extenuated slavery, and left false impressions upon the mind. I justify slavery, sir, not from Scripture, but from circumstances. Slavery is a moral evil, and ought to be done way as soon as possible. Better contend for immediate emancipation than for perpetual servitude.” Only the present condition of the slaves, he thought, could justify their continued slavery.[7]

            Ruling elder William Maxwell was bothered by the claim that slavery had “precisely” the same relation as marriage. “For if the Bible sanctioned it, the thing was morally right; and if morally right, we were under no obligations to remove it. But is this scripture? Must we sit still, and do nothing for the removal of this crying evil?” There was no slavery in Eden. “It is preposterous to go to the Bible to defend slavery.” Circumstances could never make slavery right, only permissible. In a telling comment he affirmed that “I found my position not on Scripture, nor on the moral lawfulness of slavery; but simply on the fact of a necessity.” Killing a man is just as unlawful, but it may be permissible if I cannot avoid it. “Unless I do my best to get rid of the necessity, I am guilty of the sin of unjustifiable slavery.” In conclusion he declared, “God forbid, Sir, that this Synod should ever assume a position favorable even in appearance to the perpetuity of human bondage!”[8]

            Dr. Baxter explained that he was not arguing for the moral rectitude of slavery in the abstract. He was dealing with the present relations between master and slave. This is what is placed on the same basis as all other domestic relations. “I grieve deeply, and as sincerely as any one, when I view the evil in its length and breadth throughout our land; and I will go as far as any one to remove it.” He agreed with Maxwell that “The principles of the gospel tend to mitigate the evil, and ultimately to abolish it altogether. These are my principles, Moderator. And I am not afraid therefore to say that he relation is lawful, under existing circumstances.”[9]

            Maxwell thought that Baxter’s explanation was helpful. Nonetheless, “I would rather say that slavery is tolerated in consequence of circumstances, than to say it is morally lawful. There may be no essential difference; but it is dangerous to use terms in any way that will quiet the consciences of men.” Therefore he still opposed Baxter’s paper. “Slavery is not lawful before God or man!”[10]

            Cortlandt Van Rensselaer reported that the Synod seemed moved by Maxwell’s argument. The final statement of the Synod was drafted by a committee consisting of Maxwell, Baxter, Hill, Wilson, and ruling elders Caski, J. Jones and Payne.[11] That statement declared that the abolitionist dogma “that slavery as it actually exists in our slave-holding states, is necessarily sinful, and ought immediately to be abolished. . . [is] directly and palpably contrary to the plainest principles of common sense, and common humanity, and to the clearest authority of the word of God.” Further they declared that “it is the duty of all ministers of the Gospel to follow the example of our Lord and Savior, and of his Apostles in similar circumstances, in abstaining from all interference with the state of slavery,” focusing instead on inculcating the duties of masters and slaves.[12]

            The debate, however, is instructive. Many in the Synod of Virginia found Baxter’s paper disturbing and even Baxter himself insisted that the principles of Christianity would eventually remove the “evil” from the land.

            Earlier that year, however, another author went a step further and declared that slavery was a positive good. According to contemporary accounts, the first overtly proslavery exegetical argument came from the Rev. James Smylie, the first settled Presbyterian minister in Mississippi.[13] In 1854 the Rev. John H. Van Court (PTS 1820), who had settled in Mississippi shortly after his ordination in 1821, reminisced in the Watchman and Observer about the novelty of Smylie’s views: Smylie had “found that the teachings of Scripture were greatly at variance with the popular belief that scripture condemned slavery. His initial sermon on the subject in 1835 “gave great offence, not only to the church, but also to his brethren in the ministry, who seriously advised him to preach that sermon no more.” When the Presbytery of Chillicothe wrote a letter to the South, “exhorting them to abandon [slavery] as a heinous sin,” Smylie’s initial response was rejected by the presbytery, and they urged him not to publish his views, since few agreed with him. But “convinced of the correctness of his own conclusions” he published anyway. Van Court reported that

for a while he was covered with odium, and honored with a large amount of abuse from the abolitionists of the North, for teaching that the Bible did not forbid the holding of slaves, and that it was tolerated in the primitive church. These doctrines are now received as true, both North and South, and they constitute the basis of action of the most respectable religious bodies even in the North itself. So that Mr. Smylie has the high honor of giving the true exposition of the doctrines of the Bible in relation to slavery in the commencement of the abolition excitement, and of giving instruction to others far more learned and talented than himself.[14]


In 1860, the Mississippi native, Richmond McInnis (Oakland College Theological Dept 1839), editor of the True Witness, recalled hearing Smylie as a theological student at Oakland College, and how “every person without exception, thought him somewhat fanatical. The idea that the Bible did sanction slavery was regarded as a new doctrine even in Mississippi.” Yet twenty-five years later, McInnis believed that virtually all southern Christians had come to agree with Smylie. “His scriptural argument has never been answered, nor can it be.”[15]

            While others had shown that scripture did not consider slaveholding a sin, few had argued from scripture that slavery was a positive good that should continue indefinitely.[16] Smylie insisted that if Scripture was taken as the only guide, then the “the evils of slavery, like the evils of matrimony, may be traced to the neglect of the duties incumbent upon the individuals sustaining the relation.”[17] The patriarchal ideology of slavery was born. After reprinting the whole of Smylie’s argument, ruling elder M. Maclean commented that Smylie had convinced him.

We once doubted the lawfulness of slavery, not from any examination of the word of God, but from a sort of natural impulse of feeling, as we suppose to be the case with most who entertain similar doubt; and we entered upon an investigation of the subject, determined that to whatever conclusion the word of God might lead, we should implicitly obey its authority. The result of the investigation was a thorough conviction that the Bible as clearly warrants slavery as it does the subordination of children to parents, or of citizens and subjects, to the powers that be.[18]


Maclean urged greater circulation of Smylie’s article, along with Hodge’s statement in the Princeton Review.[19]

            South Carolinians resonated with Smylie’s article. Fearing the growing power of the abolitionists in the north, one writer praised Maclean for taking the position “that Slavery is not sin,” but he admitted that it was still a novel view. “Which one of all the weekly religious periodicals, north or south, has assumed this ground?”[20]

            While historians have clearly demonstrated that various authors had articulated many of the elements of the proslavery position as early as the 1780s, the testimony of contemporary southerners indicates that it was only in the 1830s that a coherent proslavery ideology took root in the South.[21]

            This was largely due to the rise of a concerted abolition movement in the North in the early 1830s.[22] John R. McKivigan has argued that while William Lloyd Garrison and a handful of abolitionist leaders renounced orthodox Christianity, a large proportion of the abolitionist movement remained within the traditional churches working to try to convince the churches to endorse the cause of the immediate emancipation of the slaves. He claims that while Christian abolitionist groups “pursued different tactics after 1840, they all contributed to moving the churches closer to abolitionist principles and practices by the coming of the Civil War.”[23] While most northern Old School Presbyterians were generally antislavery, few qualified as overt abolitionists.[24]He also mistakenly identifies James Gilleland as an Old School Presbyterian, but he only appears in the minutes of the New School.

            The role of British abolitionism in the American project should not be underestimated. The vigorous rhetoric of the English anti-slavery movement had moved the entire nation and had successfully removed slavery from the British colonies.[25] But, as R. J. Breckinridge and Charles Hodge pointed out, that sort of rhetoric could only be counterproductive in America. Diatribes against the evils of slavery might inflame northern passions, but the only way to end slavery was to convince southerners–and for that task, abolitionist rhetoric had little hope.[26] Most Old Schoolers believed that if the church divided on the question of slavery, the nation would divide as well. Therefore they poured their antislavery efforts into plans for gradual emancipation in the border south and colonization[27]

            William W. Freehling has helped explain the persuasiveness of colonization in the antebellum era. Contrary to some historians, he insists that “the hope of dispatching slaves elsewhere never died in the Upper South. Nor did Garrison’s contempt for the idea prevail in the North, except among the most extreme abolitionists.”[28] Most viewed the south’s resolute opposition as the main obstacle to ridding the United States of both slavery and blacks.


1. The Old School Center: Breckinridge and Hodge

            At the same time that James Smylie was developing his proslavery argument, Old School Presbyterians in the north and west were attempting to fashion a program of gradual emancipation that would result in the end of American slavery.[29] An example of this was in Kentucky, where the leaders of the Old School movement were working hard to prepare a plan of emancipation for their state. In 1833 the Synod of Kentucky had indefinitely postponed any consideration of the “difficult and delicate subject of slavery” by a vote of 41 to 36. It is reported that the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge left the meeting immediately after the vote, declaring, “Since God has forsaken the Synod of Kentucky, Robert J. Breckinridge will forsake it too.”[30] After further discussion, the following year the synod adopted a resolution condemning slavery by a 56-8 vote:

This Synod, believing that the system of absolute and hereditary domestic slavery as it exists among the members of our Communion is repugnant to the principles of our holy Religion. . . and that the continuance of the System any longer than is necessary to prepare for its safe and beneficial termination is sinful, feel it their duty earnestly to recommend to all Presbyteries, Church Sessions and people under their care to commence immediate preparation for the termination of slavery among us.[31]


They appointed a committee of five ministers and five ruling elders, who drafted a plan of emancipation for the state that would provide for the emancipation of all slaves by their twenty-fifth birthday.

            But when the committee presented the plan the following year, the synod refused to endorse the plan, suggesting that while the church could encourage its members to end slavery, it was inappropriate for the church to determine which plan was best. This prompted many anti-slavery Presbyterian laymen, such as James G. Birney, to move across the Ohio River to free soil. But the majority of anti-slavery Presbyterians remained in Kentucky, including John C. Young (PTS 1828), president of Centre College, Lewis Warner Green (PTS 1832), professor at Centre College, and Nathan L. Rice (PTS 1832) of Bardstown, Kentucky.[32]

            The Virginia-born, Cincinnati minister, Joshua L. Wilson suggested a solution to the impasse. He wrote to the Hon. Belamy Storer in 1836, “I consider slavery in these United States sinful, impolitic, contrary to the revealed will of God, as unfolded in the supreme law of love, contrary to reason. . . repugnant to our declaration of independence. . . and a foul blot upon our national escutcheon,” but the only constitutional way to end slavery was by a mutual renunciation of slavery and its benefits by both the north and the south: “Let the South agree to give up the slave trade and the slave labour,” he suggested, “and let the North give up the Slave wealth. . . to indemnify the South.”[33] His younger colleagues in the Old School would try to persuade the nation of the wisdom of his plan.

            R. J. Breckinridge wrote in 1833 that American slavery did not correspond to slavery as found in the scriptures.[34] 4. To set up between parents and their children an authority higher than the impulse of nature and the laws of God; which breaks up the authority of the father over his own offspring, and, at pleasure separates the mother at a returnless distance from her child; thus abrogating the clearest laws of nature; thus outraging all decency and justice, and degrading and oppressing thousands upon thousands of beings created like themselves in the image of the most high God!” (292) God had never sanctioned the particular practices of American slavery, such as selling children away from their parents, forbidding education, or denying the ordinance of marriage. He declared that the American slave system was “founded upon the principle of taking by force that which is another's,” namely, his labor. While the word of God called slaves to submit to their masters, it also condemned oppression and injustice. Therefore Breckinridge insisted that “Nature, and reason, and religion unite in their hostility to this system of folly and crime. How it will end time only can reveal; but the light of heaven is not clearer than that it must end.”[35] While Breckinridge was willing to give his fellow southerners time to formulate a wise and just plan of emancipation, he insisted that “justice never can permit one man to take without return the labour of another, and that by force.”[36] Suggesting that colonization could serve as “the great and effectual door which God has set for the deliverance of this country, for the regeneration of Africa, and for the redemption of the black race,” since he could not imagine the two races living together in harmony, and he was repulsed at the thought of “amalgamation.”[37]

            An expatriate Kentuckian, Breckinridge took an equally strong stand against abolitionism.[38] Breckinridge warned in 1835 that the virulent attacks of the abolitionists would only make southerners more defensive. “Then will follow, increasing jealousy and hatred between the different sections of the Union--the breaking up of churches--the danger of personal intercourse, and finally disunion, and bloody wars.” How, Breckinridge asked, would this help the slaves?[39] In its place, Breckinridge urged gradual emancipation and colonization. Fearing that emancipation without colonization would result in “amalgamation” and “universal leveling,” he argued that the two races could not live in proximity to each other without a continual “alternation of bloody revolutions, and a succession of black and white servitude without end.”[40]

            Charles Hodge added his voice in 1836, in a review of William Ellery Channing’s Slavery. Lamenting the recent rise of the proslavery movement in the South, Hodge noted that as recently as the 1820s, “it was spoken of in the slaveholding states, as a sad inheritance fixed upon them by the cupidity of the mother‑country in spite of their repeated remonstrances;”[41] but now proslavery sentiment was on the rise in the north as well as the south, and Hodge was convinced that it was the virulent rhetoric of the abolitionists that was driving both southerners and thoughtful northerners away from the anti-slavery ranks. “The idea of inducing the southern slaveholder to emancipate his slaves by denunciation, is about as rational as to expect the sovereigns of Europe to grant free institutions, by calling them tyrants and robbers.”[42] Appealing to the authority of scripture, and especially to the example of Jesus, Hodge argued that Jesus’ approach to ending slavery was “not by appeals to the passions of men on the evils of slavery, or by the adoption of a system of universal agitation. On the contrary, it was by teaching the true nature, dignity, equality and destiny of men; by inculcating the principles of justice and love; and by leaving these principles to produce their legitimate effects in ameliorating the condition of all classes of society.”[43] Hodge insisted that the biblical writers “did not regard slaveholding as in itself sinful,” but reminded his readers that they did “condemn all unjust or unkind treatment (even threatening) on the part of masters towards their slaves.” Christian masters must treat their slaves according to the law of love.[44] The slave system of the American south, however, did not meet this biblical standard for slavery. Though he defended slavery theoretically, as an institution, the actual practice of the south fell so far short of the biblical law of love that he could not justify its continuation. Hodge argued that the abolitionist attempt to declare slavery itself to be sinful was self-defeating, since an attack on specific slave laws could be much more effective in the south itself.[45] By enlisting conscience in the cause of abolition, they were driving towards “the disunion of the states, and the division of all ecclesiastical societies in this country.” While “feeling” could be aroused temporarily, “conscience” could not rest until the object was attained. “If the conscience. . . becomes the controlling principle, the alienation between the north and the south must become permanent. The opposition to southern institutions will be calm, constant, and unappeasible [sic].” No sacrifice would be too great for a conscience convinced that slavery was inherently sinful.[46]

            Hodge’s moral reasoning followed a line of comparison between slavery and despotism. Arguing that both are comparatively evil (free labor and republicanism being better), Hodge argued that neither were inherently evil (since Jesus and the apostles tell Christian subjects to submit to Roman government, and Christian slaves to submit to their masters).[47] Following this line of reasoning, Hodge argued that a republican society had no use for slavery. It was not a matter of conscience, but of utility, or expedience.

            Since southern slavery failed to meet the biblical standard for treatment of slaves, and because slavery was inconsistent with the American vision of liberty and republicanism, it simply could not survive. Christian moral influence would eventually eliminate it–unless prevented by the reactionary forces of abolitionism and proslavery. Like Breckinridge, Hodge feared the alternative:

the south. . . has to choose between emancipation by the silent and holy influence of the gospel, securing the elevation of the slaves to the stature and character of freemen, or to abide the issue of a long continued conflict against the laws of God. . . . If the south deliberately keep these millions in a state of degradation, they must prepare themselves for the natural consequences, whatever they may be.[48]


More than twenty years later, this essay was reprinted in Elliot’s Cotton Is King. Curiously, this concluding statement is absent. The reason is unknown. If Hodge himself edited the copy sent to Elliot in 1859-1860, he may have wished to remove such a prophetic utterance in the face of the impending crisis. More likely, however, is the possibility that since this statement is not favorable to the designs of the proslavery movement, it was quietly eliminated from the essay by the editor himself. The result has been that many scholars, who seem to have read only the Cotton Is King version have not recognized that Hodge viewed the indefinite perpetuation of the American version of slavery as utterly contrary to the law of God.[49]

            Mark Noll has pointed out that the hermeneutical stance of both Breckinridge and Hodge “was a tacit abandonment of biblical literalism. Both took for granted that the Bible must be an interpreted book, and that the meaning of its words must be conditioned by other realities–with Breckinridge, shifting social conditions over time, with Hodge the fuller context of the Scriptures themselves.”[50] Whereas southerners would appeal strictly to the letter of the law, Hodge and Breckinridge attempted to demonstrate that there was more at stake.

            But Hodge’s attempt to provide a distinction between slavery in the abstract and the American slave system was not appreciated by all. Samuel Steel of Chillicothe Presbytery, replied in Breckinridge’s Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine that the biblical practice of “slavery” was so unlike that of the American south that the same term should not be used for both. Pointing out that Abraham armed 318 of his servants and led them into battle, he asked, “is this the case with slaves in the South?”[51] Old Testament slaves were under the same law as their masters–but not in America. Therefore, he argued “that slavery, such as exists in these United States, is designated in the Bible by the term oppression, and forbidden to be practiced by the Jews, under the heaviest penalties.[52] Nonetheless, Steel agreed that gradual emancipation was the best plan for ending slavery. The fact that Breckinridge was willing to publish this article at the very moment when the Old School most needed southern support (the winter of 1837-1838) is indicative both of the fact that Breckinridge did not believe that slavery was a major factor in the debate (since he risked alienating southern support), and also of Breckinridge’s inability to stay out of any controversy that came his way.[53]

            The Old School newspapers in the north generally concurred with Hodge and Breckinridge. The Philadelphia Presbyterian and the New York Observer generally supported Hodge, agreeing that the “odium brought upon the Abolition cause by the ultraism of its modern advocates” was the catalyst that “emboldened the friends of perpetual slavery to utter their offensive sentiments.”[54]



2. South Carolina and the Charleston Union Presbytery

            In the wake of the excision of the New School synods, many presbyteries and synods divided into two or sometimes three camps (in many presbyteries a moderate party refused to side with either the Old School or the New School). One of the divisions presaged the challenges that the Old School would face over the ensuing decades.

            When Elipha White returned home to Charleston Union Presbytery in 1837, some questioned his stance against the exscinding acts. White defended his vote, arguing that the Old School had a strong abolitionist faction, and that southern Presbyterians should form a separate Assembly in order to protect themselves from abolitionist attacks. The presbytery concurred–but not without protest. That fall, the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia faced a determined minority that wanted to refuse adherence to either Assembly, so long as the 1818 declaration against slavery remained on the books. After several days of debate, the synod approved the abrogation of the Plan of Union 94-5 (the only negative votes were Dwight, White, Legare, Yates, and ruling elder Elliott), and approved the excision of the mixed synods 84-16 (the negative votes coming exclusively from Hopewell and Charleston Union Presbyteries–the centers of New England influence in the synod).[55] But while approving of the Assembly’s actions, the synod also took a stand on slavery: “Resolved 1, That this Synod consider Slavery as a civil institution, with which the General Assembly has nothing to do, and over which it has no right to legislate. Resolved 2, That this Synod look upon whatever acts heretofore passed by the Assembly which have been of the nature of legislative acts on the subject of Slavery, as without authority and void, and shall so consider all similar acts in time to come.” Then the synod called on the Assembly to give “an open and decided assent” to the principle embraced in the first resolution.[56] Some in the deep south still wanted to agitate on slavery.

            But the divisions in Charleston could not be assuaged. While the majority followed Elipha White and Thomas Magruder, the minority had a resolute champion in Thomas Smyth, the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church. When the presbytery voted on remaining connected with the General Assembly, a 7-7 tie prompted Smyth, Basil Gildersleeve (editor of the Charleston Observer) and several others to secede from the presbytery in order to remain connected to the General Assembly. Smyth and Gildersleeve insisted that the presbytery had to accept the actions of the 1837 General Assembly: “all who fail to send in their adoption of this resolution, and their consequent adherence to the Presbyterian Church on the basis aforesaid, within one year from this time, be no longer considered as connected with this Presbytery.”[57]

            The Charleston Union Presbytery was a study in contrasts. Not surprisingly for the leading southern port, it had strong connections to New England. Of its twenty-eight ministers in 1837, only two are known to have done all of their studies in the South. At least ten were born in New England, and several others had New England parentage. Of the twenty-three whose educational background is known, twelve had attended New England colleges (and another five had attended other colleges in the north), while fifteen had studied at Princeton Seminary and four at Andover. It is worth noting that only two of the New England-born ministers stayed with the Old School after 1839, and that these two were Aaron Leland (professor at Columbia Theological Seminary) and Benjamin Gildersleeve (editor of the Charleston Observer), the only two who had developed institutional connections that tied them to the Scots-Irish in the backcountry.

            The irony is that these transplanted New Englanders quickly became the most zealous defenders of slavery, and the most outspoken opponents of remaining united with any northern General Assembly. Given the Congregationalist background of the New Englanders, their tendencies toward independency are understandable, but the way in which New Englanders tended to become fire-eaters in South Carolina is somewhat more complex.

            Charleston’s New England contingent denounced the Old School for violating the constitution of the church, and feared that the antislavery movement would follow the same procedure. William Dana called it a “consolidated despotism” which could move against slaveholders as easily as heretics.[58] Convinced that northern Old Schoolers were just as anti-slavery as the New School, Thomas Magruder proposed a southern Assembly in the Southern Christian Sentinel of March 2, 1839, as a means of permanently freeing “the Southern Churches from Abolitionist aggression, and from foreign interferences of every description.” But when I. S. K. Legare called for the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia to declare itself independent in 1838, his motion failed 9-60, with support coming only from Charleston Union Presbytery. In an attempt to create a southern Assembly, the Cassville Convention met in 1840 with sixteen ministers and a dozen elders, but in 1840 few southern Presbyterians were willing to surrender the national influence of the General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church for a regional Assembly.[59] Slavery was not a sufficiently powerful enough issue in 1840 to divide the Presbyterian church.[60]

The Charleston Union Presbytery insisted that the statement of 1818 was “erroneous in itself, injurious to the Christian character of the Southern states, and unworthy of a place on the records of the Presbyterian church. If it remained “in full force,” the presbytery would be forced to withdraw from the church.[61] The New York Observer astutely commented that the Charleston Union Presbytery did not speak for the whole south.[62] Indeed, after the General Assembly of 1839 refused to even reply to the presbytery’s demand to repeal the Act of 1818, the Charleston Union Presbytery withdrew from the Old School.[63] The minority of the presbytery remained in the Old School as the Charleston Presbytery, confident that South Carolinians should not fear an Old School led by Breckinridge and Hodge.[64]

Ministers of the Charleston Union Presbytery, 1837

Name                                      Dates                      Birth       College                                   Seminary                Grad

Edward Palmer                      (1788-1882)            SC           Phillips Academy                 AndTS                   1824

Reuben Post                         (1792-1858)            VT           Middlebury College             PTS                         1818

William States Lee               (1793-1875)            SC           CNJ                                         private                    1812

Dyer Ball                                (1796-1866)            MA         Yale College                          AndTS                   1829

George W. Boggs                (1796-1871)            SC           Amherst College PTS                         1831

James L. Merrick  (1803-1866)            MA         Amherst College PTS & CTS            1833

John A. Mitchell (1806-1838)            TN          Washington C, TN              PTS                         1830

William B. Yates   (1809-1882)            SC           Aberdeen University           UTSVA& PTS      1833

William C. Dana    (1810-1880)            MA         Dickinson College                AndTS & CTS      1835

I. S. K. Legare                       (1810-1874)            SC           Yale College                          CTS                        1834

Erastus Hopkins                   (1810-1872)            MA         Dartmouth College               PTS & AndTS      1834

Elipha White                                                         New England        ?                              ?

Benjamin M. Palmer, Sr                                       New England        ?                              ?

Zabdiel Rogers                                                     CT                           ?                              ?

Thomas Magruder               (????-1854)            GA          Franklin College GA            CTS                        1835

John Dickson                                                        ?                              ?                              ?


Aaron Leland                       (1787-1871)         MA         Williams College                private                    1810

William A. McDowell         (1789-1851)         NJ           CNJ                                        PTS                        1813

Benjamin Gildersleeve       (1791-1875)         CT          Middlebury College            PTS                        1818

Arthur Buist                        (1798-1842)         SC          College of Charleston        private                    1822

John B. Van Dyck               (1800-1840)         NY          Amherst College                 PTS                        1829

James Lewers                      (1806-1868)         Ireland   Belfast College                    PTS                        1832

Adam Gilchrist                    (1806-1861)         SC          Dickinson College              PTS                        1830

Thomas Smyth                     (1808-1873)         Ireland   Belfast College                    PTS                        1831

Edward T. Buist   (1809-1877)         SC          private                                    PTS                        1831

John F. Lanneau (1809-1867)         SC          Yale College                         PTS                        1832

John B. Adger                      (1810-1899)         SC          Union College                      PTS                        1833

Joseph Wallace                                                   ?                              ?                              ?

Bold=those who stayed with the Old School after the division of Charleston Union Presbytery in 1839


3. The Northwestern Debates, 1841-1845

            With the departure of the most radical pro-slavery presbytery, the northwest became the focus of the slavery discussion in the Old School, centered in the three western papers, the Presbyterian Advocate of Pittsburgh, the Protestant and Herald of Louisville, Kentucky, and from 1841, the bimonthly Presbyterian of the West of Springfield, Ohio.

            In Kentucky, the Protestant and Herald generally engaged the issue of slavery only when the Ohio synods raised the subject. Though their plan of gradual emancipation had failed in 1834, Kentucky Presbyterians remained generally in favor of emancipation, but feared that the abolitionist movement had dashed any hope of a peaceful solution. Editors William L. Breckinridge and Nathan L. Rice commented in 1839 that “if the Abolition party had sufficient strength, [it] might sever the Union, but can never abolish slavery.” Both anti-slavery in conviction, they agreed with R. J. Breckinridge and Hodge that only persuasion could succeed at ending slavery.[65]

            In Pittsburgh, William Annan, editor of the Presbyterian Advocate, declared that “we regard slavery as in many respects an evil. We admire and most cordially approve the old Pennsylvania system of emancipation, and most heartily pray that the time may speedily come when all her sister states will go and do likewise. This is the extent of our abolitionism. . . . We are resolved to have no quarrel upon the subject” between immediate and gradual emancipation.[66] The Pittsburgh paper maintained this stance during Annan’s eighteen years as editor, periodically encouraging emancipation and colonization.

            The Ohio River valley, however, was the center of a small group of Old School abolitionists. William A. Adair (WTS 1833) published an attack on Western Seminary and the Old School Presbyterian Church in the abolitionist Christian Witness in 1841. The occasion for the attack was the installation of Kentuckian slaveholder Lewis Warner Green (PTS and private 1833) as professor of Oriental and Biblical Literature in 1840. Adair waxed eloquent in his tirade against the influence of slavery in the Old School: “Is it not enough that Slavery shall sit in the moderator's chair in our GAs–. . . is it not enough that it enters our seminaries and takes its seat as expounder of the Bible--is it not enough that it shall bring upon our platform to defend truth and orthodoxy against the New School, a man notorious for his robbery and murder.” Since Green was a slaveholder, he must therefore, in Adair’s abolitionist logic, be a thief and a murderer. With Green on the faculty, the seminary had become “a sanctuary to Slavery's Legions.” Therefore, Adair asked, “Will the God of Mercy and Justice, the Avenger of the poor, and the Refuge of the needy smile upon an institution which incorporate with pure religion a system which is the fittest emblem of hell there is upon earth?”[67]

            The editor, William Annan, remarked on his “deep and sickening sense of shame and wonder--that such an ebullition of spleen, and envy, and personal dislike, and settled hostility to, and denunciation of our church, and its institutions, and many of its most aged and venerable men, should be sent forth tho the world with the initials annexed of one of our youngest members.” Further, Annan pointed out that Adair had misfired in his attack on professor Green. No one else in the Synod of Pittsburgh has done more “both by his example and his purse, to advance the great cause of negro emancipation.” As the cousin of J. G. Birney and the brother of the late Judge Green “who led the Kentucky Emancipationists,” Green purchased slaves solely for the purpose of emancipating them, and had expended a “vast sum” in purchasing families to prevent them from being separated.[68] Three weeks later the facts were published in the Presbyterian Advocate. Green presently owned twenty slaves. Seven were aged, diseased, or blind, and had no means of supporting themselves. Eleven were children unable to support themselves, but had already been emancipated (which would take formal effect on their eighteenth birthdays), while the other two were healthy men who had been purchased by Green, and were presently working to pay him back for the purchase price. Annan concluded with but a single comment: “would each abolitionist be the means of emancipating one half as many, slavery would disappear very soon from our soil. Would each Presbyterian of his native State do as much, slavery would be immediately abolished there.”[69]

            But such anecdotes did not assuage all northwesterners. Two years later more than fifty members of churches within the bounds of Richland Presbytery (in Central Ohio) petitioned their presbytery to make a clear statement against slavery. Echoing the language of the 1818 General Assembly declaration, the memorialists urged the presbytery to do all in their power to “purge the Church of this ‘blot upon Christianity.’” Expressing traditional Presbyterian deference to authority, the members declared that they did not wish to agitate but would “submit to your authority in the Lord.”[70] The presbytery replied that its silence did not imply approval, and suggested that “there is a wide difference between enslaving mankind, and in certain circumstances retaining them in slavery.” It could not agree with the petition to exclude “slave holding ministers from their pulpits, and slave-holding members from their communion” because “slavery. . . has never been regarded by the church as such a crime per se, as disqualified from ministerial fellowship or church communion.” Abuses could certainly result in exclusion from the church, but they would need a concrete case, not an abstract question in order to do this. Echoing Hodge and Breckinridge, the presbytery reminded the petitioners that “slavery did exist in both the old and new testament churches, without depriving persons of church membership.” The New Testament is contrary to the practice of enslaving men, but where it existed the apostle merely enjoins Christian love and brotherhood between master and slave, but does not reject the relation itself.[71]

            Later in 1843, New School minister John Rankin began to inquire if abolitionists in the Old School would be interested in forming a church that would formally exclude slaveholders from membership. John A. Dunlap (PTS 1835) and William D. Smith (private 1830), editors of the Presbyterian of the West, commented that few Old School abolitionists were likely to go. “They are, it is true, decided Abolitionists, but with very few exceptions they are not ultra. Abolitionism with them is one thing, and that of great importance in their estimation; but it is not every thing.” In 1843, even abolition-minded Old School Presbyterians were unwilling to force the dictates of their conscience on others. While they earnestly desired “to see the church take stronger ground on the subject of slavery than it has done, they are far from thinking it their duty to leave the church, because that is not done in the time and manner they wish.”[72]

            Therefore several northwestern presbyters took steps to reassert the anti-slavery thrust of the 1818 declaration. In November of 1843, Dr. Robert H. Bishop, a professor (and former president) of Miami University of Ohio, and a minister in Oxford Presbytery,[73] brought an overture to the Synod of Cincinnati resolving that “the time has fully come, when every minister, and every member of the Presbyterian church, whose lot is cast in any of the free States, ought to cease from defending, either directly or indirectly, slavery, in any of the forms in which it exists in the slave-holding States.” Bishop argued that “every attempt to justify or excuse slavery, in any of the forms in which it exists in these States, by scripture, is particularly unbecoming the character of the christian ministry, and must, in the present advanced state of religious knowledge, be highly criminal,” and urged the “full and friendly discussion (rather than division)” of the issue of slavery at the next General Assembly. Since the 1844 Assembly would be held in Louisville, Kentucky (the first time the Assembly had ever met in a slave state), Bishop suggested that this would be a particularly good time to discuss the matter. The fact that the Assembly “will be partaking of the hospitalities of slaveholders” would provide a healthy context for a fair discussion–and would prove that even the most zealous of the Old School anti-slavery advocates were not radical abolitionists.[74] George Junkin, president of Miami University, and Joshua L. Wilson of the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati led the opposition, arguing that the north needed to deal with the abolitionists first before they could effectively persuade the south to end slavery. After considerable debate and various proposals, the synod voted to indefinitely postpone the whole subject 39 to 29.[75] But emancipationist Kentuckians saw such decisions as evidence that the “great body of the Presbyterian church whose views are compared will be found in the main of one mind on this subject, opposed both to the system of American slavery, and to modern Abolitionism.”[76]

            As the General Assembly of 1845 approached, Presbyterian newspapers watched the divisions in the Methodist and Baptist churches. The Methodist church had divided in the summer of 1844, and the Baptists followed a year later. William Swan Plumer of the Watchman of the South published news of these events in successive issues, along with an article on “The American Board of Missions and Slavery,” which gave notice from ABCFM headquarters that slaveholders could not become corporate members or missionaries, and that no agents were being sent to the south to raise money, in order to avoid the taint of slave money.[77] A few months later the Charleston Observer spoke of the increasing abolitionism of the northern religious press. “Such being the tone and spirit of these papers, it is obvious that should it continue and increase, all Christian intercourse between the North and South must soon cease, and with it all friendly political relations. Upon the facts here stated, it is not necessary to make any comment. Our readers can draw conclusions for themselves, and supply what we may have left unsaid.”[78] A month later, as the Baptists divided, Plumer wondered if the Presbyterians would follow.[79]

            But after further reflection, Plumer thought that perhaps the division of the churches would actually benefit the Union. If the churches were no longer torn apart by internal strife, perhaps these divisions would actually work toward peace.[80] Gildersleeve concurred: “Many have imagined that the large Ecclesiastical bodies in our country, each embracing under one common standard the North and the South–the East and the West–were among the greatest safeguards to the perpetuity of the Union.” But the political differences between the regions were becoming so great that he wondered whether the “separate embodiment of feelings and sentiments, as they exist in different latitudes” with respect to slavery might not suggest the wisdom of having separate southern religious organizations.[81] Certainly the Baptists and Methodists were better off with separate churches “than to preserve a nominal union with embittered strife upon a subject which is foreign to the purposes of all legitimate ecclesiastical action.”[82] Would the Presbyterians follow suit?


4. The General Assembly of 1845

            In April of 1845, the English-born minister Thomas E. Thomas (private 1836), pastor at Hamilton, Ohio, launched the Christian Monthly Magazine, a monthly periodical designed to facilitate communication among antislavery Old School Presbyterians.[83] Thomas, one of the few self-proclaimed abolitionists in the Old School, both advertised and reported on the pre-Assembly anti-slavery convention held on May 14, 1845. The convention, which only managed to attract five commissioners for the upcoming Assembly, drew only three ministers and three elders from outside of Ohio.

Figure 6.3. Attendance at the Presbyterian Anti-Slavery Convention in Cincinnati, 1845

Presbytery             State       Ministers               Elders

Chillicothe             OH          5                              5

Coshocton            OH          1*                            1*

Cincinnati              OH          1                              1

Beaver                    PA          1*                            3

Steubenville          OH          1*

Peoria                     IL            1

Oxford                    OH          2                              1

New Lisbon           OH          1*

Indianapolis          IN            1

St. Clairsville         OH          1

Total                                       14                            12

*Commissioners to 1845 General Assembly


Only one of its ministerial members had attended seminary (Benjamin C. Critchlow–WTS 1836), while the rest had all trained privately–mostly in Ohio.

            Their first resolution claimed that in the “character and course of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, in reference to the sin of slaveholding, and those other sins against God and man which it necessarily involves, we see many of the principles and practices by which the scriptures designate 'the man of sin.'” Connecting anti-slavery with anti-Catholicism, they declared themselves against such tyranny, and condemned the halfway measures of their fellow northern Old School Presbyterians,

who, while they acknowledge that the enslaving of one part of the human race is utterly inconsistent with the law of God, and totally irreconcilable with the spirit of the gospel, defend it as a divine institution by appeal to the Scripture, thus proclaiming as their faith, that the God of the Bible is not infinitely holy, and that the revelation which he has given us of his will is not infinitely pure, and that on the contrary it encourages a crime which, excepting when perpetrated on the African race, is punishable with death, by the laws of every civilized nation.

Attempting to maintain a traditional Presbyterian model of the catholicity of the visible church, they declared in a second resolution that they did not desire to secede, but admitted that the presence of antichristian tendencies in the Old School might force them to do so.[84] Instead they resorted to withholding funds from the Board of Domestic Missions so long as the Board furnished monies to “persons employed in imparting oral instruction, as a substitute for the Scriptures, to slaves held, in part, by ministers, elders and members of the Presbyterian Church.”[85] Economic pressure would become the new means of communicating dissent.

            The final action of the convention was to send a memorial to the General Assembly which stated their most basic concerns: “there exists in these United States, a system of personal slavery, founded on the assumed right of property in man--a system, the parallel to which can be found only in one or two Popish, and a few Pagan countries.” The Presbyterian Church, they argued, is “deeply implicated in the support of this system.” After citing the 1818 declaration, they reminded the Assembly of the Assembly’s letter to the Scottish United Secession Church in 1834 that stated: “We hope [your observations] may make us more sensible of the evils of this system, and rouse us to new and increased exertions to remove the iniquity from among us. We are verily guilty in this matter.” The convention then pressed their point home: were Presbyterian slaveholders making progress? Had the mandate of 1818 continued? Or, instead, “Is it not most manifest, on the contrary, that slavery has overleaped every barrier, civil and ecclesiastical; and that the numbers, both of slaves, and professedly christian slaveholders, are daily and hourly increasing?” Urging the Assembly to reaffirm earlier testimonies, the convention pled that such testimonies could only be reinforced by action.[86]

            The following day, May 15, 1845, the General Assembly opened its meeting in Cincinnati. In addition to the memorial from the convention, the Assembly had received several memorials from presbyteries asking for a resolution on the subject of slavery. Ever since the split with the New School in 1838, there had been some question as to where the Old School stood on the subject, and especially after the Methodists and Baptist divisions over slavery in 1844-45, many felt that a brief statement could help prevent suspicions on both sides from growing. The Moderator, the Rev. Dr. John Krebs of New York City, appointed a six man committee (ministers Nathan L. Rice of Cincinnati, John C. Lord of Buffalo, Alexander T. McGill of Western Theological Seminary, and Nathan H. Hall of Lexington, Kentucky, along with two elders: Judge Humphrey H. Leavitt of Steubenville, Ohio, and lawyer James Dunlap of Philadelphia) to consider the memorials and report back. The committee may have been stacked with northern men, but these were northern conservatives who had as little sympathy with abolitionism as they did with slavery. None had attended the anti-slavery convention. They reported back to the Assembly that since the scriptures did not condemn slaveholding as sinful, neither should the church.[87]

The 1845 Statement on Slavery

The question which is now unhappily agitating and dividing other branches of the church, and which is pressed upon the attention of the this: Do the Scriptures teach that the holding of slaves, without regard to circumstances, is a sin, the renunciation of which, should be made a condition of membership in the church of Christ?

                It is impossible to answer this question in the affirmative, without contradicting some of the plainest declarations in the Word of God. That slavery existed in the days of Christ and his Apostles, is an admitted fact. . . . This Assembly cannot, therefore, denounce the holding of slaves as necessarily a heinous and scandalous sin, calculated to bring upon the Church the curse of God, without charging the Apostles of Christ with conniving at such sin, introducing into the church such sinners, and thus bringing upon them the curse of the Almighty.

                In so saying, however, the Assembly are not to be understood, as denying that there is evil connected with slavery. Much less do they approve those defective and oppressive laws by which, in some of the states, it is regulated. . . . Nor is the Assembly to be understood as countenancing the idea that masters may regard their servants as mere property, not as human beings, rational, accountable, immortal. The scriptures prescribe not only the duties of servants, but of masters also, warning the latter to discharge those duties, "knowing that their master is in heaven, neither is there respect of persons with him."

                The Assembly intend simply to say, that since Christ and his inspired Apostles did not make the holding of slaves a bar of communion, we, as a court of Christ, have no authority to do so. . . . We feel constrained further to say that however desirable it may be to ameliorate the condition of the slaves in the Southern and Western States, or to remove slavery from our country, these objects we are fully persuaded, can never be secured by ecclesiastical legislation. Much less can they be attained by those indiscriminate denunciations against the slaveholders, without regard to their character or circumstances, which have, to so great an extent, characterized the movements of modern abolitionists, which, so far from removing the evils complained of, tend only to perpetuate and aggravate them. . . .

                In view of the above stated principles and facts,

                Resolved, First, That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States was originally organised, and has since continued the bond of union in the church upon the conceded principle that the existence of domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the southern portion of the country, is no bar to Christian communion.

                Second, That the petitions that ask the Assembly to make the holding of slaves a matter of discipline, do virtually require this judicatory to dissolve itself, and abandon the organization under which, by the Divine blessing, it has so long prospered. The tendency is evidently to separate the northern from the southern portion of the church; a result which every good citizen must deplore, as tending to the dissolution of the union of our beloved country, and which every enlightened Christian will oppose as bringing about a ruinous and unnecessary schism between brethren who maintain a common faith.


The yeas and nays being called on the adoption of this report, the vote stood, affirmative 164, negative 12, non liquet 3, excused 1. Mr. Robinson and six other members presented their dissent from this decision in the following words:

                “The undersigned ask leave to dissent from the action on the report on slavery, because they think it does in some important parts contravene former action on this subject, particularly the testimony of the Assembly in 1818.”


Source: Minutes (1845) 16-18.


This report was carefully crafted to gain the support of the entire church. Its central thrust was designed to assure southern Presbyterians that the Old School had no intention of joining the abolitionists. At the same time, it attempted to remain consistent with an earlier deliverance of the General Assembly in 1818 which had declared slavery an evil that needed to be eliminated. While a few, such as the Rev. Algernon S. MacMaster, pastor at Westfield, Pennsylvania, in Beaver Presbytery and ruling elder J. L. Jernegan of Lake Presbytery, Indiana, pled for more time to consider the report (and Dr. William T. Hamilton of Alabama moved to print the report for all commissioners and hold the debate three days later), the overwhelming majority of the Assembly agreed with Dr. George Junkin of Lafayette College and Dr. John C. Lord of Buffalo, New York, that the document was plain enough.[88]

            After less than an hour of discussion, the Old School was ready to vote. The vote was overwhelming: 168-13. Immediately after the decision, “L” wrote back to the Watchman of the South: “When I think of the probable good effects of this action of the Assembly on the whole church and on the whole country, I thank God and take courage. I feel now, more than I have done for the last ten years, that the Union is safe.” Unlike those denominations that had divided in the last year, “L” was convinced that “there is a strong conservative power in the principles of Presbyterianism–”[89] strong enough to hold the union together.

            But not everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Not everyone was convinced that the 1818 statement remained intact. Rev. James Robertson of New Lisbon Presbytery and six other northwestern members registered their protest against this decision: “The undersigned ask leave to dissent from the action on the report on slavery, because they think it does in some important parts contravene former action on this subject, particularly the testimony of the Assembly in 1818.”[90]

Protesters of the 1845 Decision on Slavery


Name                                      Born       Seminary                                Presbytery             Church

James Robertson                  ?              unknown 1820s                    New Lisbon           Hanover, OH

Adam B. Gilliland NC          J. Gilliland 1824                     Oxford                    Riley, OH

James McKean                     ?              unknown 1836                      Steubenville          Waynesburg, OH

John C. Eastman                   ?              unknown 1830s                    Crawfordsville      Crawfordsville, IN

John D. Whitham WV         PTS 1840                                Coshocton            Keene, OH

Samuel E. Hibben ?              ruling elder                            Chillicothe             OH

M. C. Williams                      ?              ruling elder                            Oxford                    OH

Other Negative Votes

Varnum Noyes                      ?              unknown 1830s                    Wooster                Guilford, OH

Algernon S. MacMaster     PA          G. MacMaster 1830s            Beaver                    Westfield, PA

Stephen Bliss                        ?              private 1825                           Palestine                Wabash, IL

Hugh Gaston                        ?              ruling elder                            New Lisbon           OH

Ezekiel Miller                         ?              ruling elder                            Allegheny             PA

Archibald Barton ?              ruling elder                            Coshocton            OH

The protesters backgrounds–most privately trained from Ohio, and all from the Northwest–suggests a distinctive regional culture that was developing in isolation from the rest of the church (similar to what was happening in the South).[91]

            Most northerners, however, echoed Charles Hodge in their praise of this decision. Having watched the Baptists and Methodists divide over slavery during the previous months, the overwhelming majority of Old School Presbyterians were convinced, as the second resolution indicated, that the unity of the nation depended at least in part upon their willingness to work together across sectional boundaries. Hodge rejoiced that “Our Church we trust is thus saved from the excitement which has rent asunder other denominations, and which threatens to weaken, if not to destroy, the bonds of our national union.”[92]

            Against New School claims that the General Assembly was controlled by the South, the Watchman of the South pointed out that only 68 of the 188 members of the General Assembly came from slaveholding states.[93] The statement had been written by northern men for a national assembly. It was crafted with language echoing Hodge’s distinction between the acceptable institution of slavery and the unacceptable southern slave codes.

            But not all were so pleased. Thomas E. Thomas, editor of the Christian Monthly Magazine, was incensed. Thomas declared that “iniquity was there” at the Assembly and claimed that southern sympathizers, such as Junkin and Lord, had hurried the committee’s report through the Assembly. Since the Assembly had made its decision with less than an hour of debate, Thomas hoped that further consideration would turn the Old School around: “On the whole, we are confident that Satan overshot himself for once (our brethren must pardon us; they are too orthodox to deny that the old Adversary has great influence, sometimes, even over good men); and that although he meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”[94]

            Thomas was intent on reminding the Old School of the historic Presbyterian testimony against slavery. In August he reprinted a series of presbyterial and synodical statements against slavery from Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, from 1829-1839.[95] In September he pursued the claim that the Old School was joining forces with the papacy: insisting that southern slavery entirely “reduces human beings to the condition of chattels personal. . . and instead of the pure word of God, dooms them to live on that filthy cup with which the 'Great Whore' feeds her bantlings--oral instruction.”[96] If, as the Assembly now declared, slaveholding could not be a ground for discipline, then the Assembly had entered “a covenant with death--an agreement with Hell,” and a “Jesuitical spirit of compromise” had taken over the church.[97] Yet in spite of the violence of the rhetoric, few Old School abolitionists left the church. Indeed, sparse subscription rates led to the demise of the Christian Monthly Magazine by the end of its first year.[98]



5. The Brief Comment of 1846

            The Assembly of 1845 did not, however, conclude the Old School’s official statements on slavery. The northwest remained the center of controversy. As an example of the tensions in the northwest, when the publisher of the Presbyterian of the West slipped in an article on slavery contrary to the policy of editors Dunlap and Smith, the editors apologized to their readers, saying that if they allowed discussions of slavery in their paper, at least a third of the paper would be devoted to nothing else.[99] As expected, controversy awaited Nathan L. Rice, the major author of the Assembly’s 1845 resolution, when the Synod of Cincinnati reviewed the General Assembly’s actions that October. This synod, after all, contained Thomas E. Thomas, as well as the Chillicothe Presbytery, which had been famous for its anti-slavery stance for nearly twenty years, and some of its members had threatened to withdraw from the Old School if some anti-slavery action was not taken.[100]

            In particular, the synod was concerned that the wording of 1845 might be understood by southerners to contradict the deliverance of 1818, thereby releasing them from the obligation to work to end slavery. Therefore the synod passed resolutions 1) approving the Assembly’s action “in refusing to make slave-holding in itself, without regard to circumstances, a bar to Christian communion;” 2) affirming that the 1845 action should not be understood as repealing the 1818 declaration; and 3) asking the 1846 General Assembly to reaffirm the 1818 deliverance as well.

            Rice and his supporters (most notably the patriarch of Cincinnati presbyterianism, Joshua L. Wilson), objected to the third resolution as unnecessary, but each resolution passed overwhelmingly. Of ninety-nine members present, the first resolution only received four negative votes, and the second resolution only nine.[101] The number of opponents, perhaps, was not significant. The names, however, were. Leading the roll of votes against Nathan Lewis Rice’s greatest ecclesiastical triumph were Francis Monfort and Erasmus Darwin MacMaster.[102]

            Several presbyteries followed the lead of the Synod of Cincinnati and asked the 1846 General Assembly for greater clarity on the subject of slavery.[103] In particular, several northern presbyteries wanted to know: did the 1845 statement reverse the 1818 declaration?

            In his opening remarks at the 1846 Assembly, Thomas E. Thomas acknowledged that it was obvious that the Assembly did not wish to have a lengthy discussion. “He would take occasion to say that those he represented, although opposed to slavery, were not what are called abolitionists.” But they were opposed to the 1845 statement because it was inconsistent with prior testimonies, regardless of what the 1846 Assembly might say. The Synod in 1787 and the Assembly in 1818 had recommended action in preparing slaves for freedom and working for emancipation. “It sympathized with the virtuous people of the South, but it warned its church members against using the plea of convenience for holding slaves.” As late as 1834 the Assembly had admitted to the Scotch Secession Church that “we are verily guilty” in the matter of slavery. But for more than ten years we have done nothing. “Why, sir, it seems we are never to be allowed to do any thing in regard to slavery. . . . There are, I hope, many slaves in heaven. They are looking down upon this Assembly. God is looking down upon it. And how shall we act? It is one thing to say, “Lord, Lord,” and it is another thing to do what he requires.” Thomas urged the Assembly to 1) declare that slavery must end; 2) appoint a day of prayer and fasting; 3) declare that they will discipline those who “voluntarily engage” in slave-holding; 4) forbid ministers to hold slaves; 5) reaffirm the 1818 statement; 6) direct masters to give to their slaves what is just and fair; 7) require slave-holders to teach their slaves how to read; and 8) direct the southern synods to report their progress to the each Assembly. He understood that slavery could not be “immediately abolished. But if the Churches were labouring to abolish slavery, he wished that they would come up, from time to time, and report progress.”

            Dr. John C. Young admitted that the difficulty was in the measures to be pursued. “He would prefer that the Assembly should state distinctly what it thought slave-holders should do.” The problem was that any ecclesiastical action “would be distorted” in the popular mind. But he did not think that the church had changed its testimony. Slavery is an evil that should be removed, but slave-holding is not a sin in itself.[104]

            After some debate the Assembly voted 119-33 to say simply “that no further action upon this subject is, at present needed.” When the Rev. Robert M. White (PTS 1837), pastor of Fairview, Virginia (now West Virginia), attempted to add the phrase, “except to say that the action of the General Assembly of 1845 is not understood by this Assembly to deny or rescind the testimony that has been uttered by the General Assembly previous to that date,” the amendment was quickly laid on the table. But later that afternoon, White succeeded at convincing the Assembly to adopt his language,[105] which caused four northeastern presbyters to switch their votes, so that the final tally stood at 133-29.[106] The Assembly had gone on record as saying that it held together both the 1818 condemnation of slavery and the 1845 declaration that slaveholding was not a bar to communion in the Presbyterian Church.

Votes on the “No Further Action” Resolution of 1846

Region            Ministers      Elders     Total

Northeast              26-4         14-2         40-6

Old Northwest      10-11       11-1         21-12      

New Northwest    8-9           4-2           12-11      

South                     36-0         24-0         60-0

Total                       80-24       53-5         133-29


State of Ohio         4-11         6-3           10-14                

The vote of the ruling elders is the most interesting. While northwestern ministers (especially in Ohio) were evenly divided about slavery, the ruling elders were convinced that no further statement was necessary. Only three of the eighteen northwestern ruling elder commissioners wanted to push the issue of slavery.[107] This suggests that while northwestern presbyteries were divided on the issue of slavery, in 1846 very few considered it an issue that should divide the church.

            The Old School position was explained to the congregationalist General Association of New Hampshire by Alexander T. McGill, the fraternal delegate of the 1845 General Assembly.[108] While acknowledging that there were more pro-slavery brethren in the Old School than abolitionists, McGill claimed that “the large majority of minsters and members in our church, believe that slavery is an evil; and never to be excused or indulged in the church; yet, that is an evil, over which she has no legitimate control, farther than to restrain abuses of it by individual members, and enforce scriptural injunctions respecting the relative duties of master and slave.” More precisely, McGill explained that the church does not have the authority to overthrow political despotism. “The religion of Christ is one of great principles, rather than minute precepts; and the church is commissioned to proclaim these principles, and teach them to all the world, rather than to combat specific evils with her special legislation.” As such, the statement of 1845 was “an indispensable explanation of the former [1818 statement]; giving the reason why the church spares in her communion, men who are involved in a system so strongly and justly condemned in 1818.” McGill warned against following the “clamors of the masses” lest the church surrender “all her distinctions, and subvert her most hallowed and precious institutions,” referring to the connection between the abolitionists and the teetotalers “who have reviled even the Lord's Supper, as a drunken ordinance.”[109] For McGill and most Old School Presbyterians, the moral issues of the antebellum era were interwoven, and the sorts of arguments that retained wine in the Lord’s Supper while endorsing the temperance movement, also resulted in an emphasis on emancipation rather than abolition.


6. 1849: The Last Gasp in Kentucky

            The 1849 General Assembly saw three memorials from Ohio presbyteries on the subject of slavery. The Presbytery of Chillicothe called upon the Assembly to “declare slavery to be a sin,” and to establish a “course of discipline which will remove it from our Church.” Likewise, the Presbytery of Coshocton asked the Assembly to create a committee to propose “a plan of abolition to be adopted by our Church.” The Presbytery of Erie requested some alterations to the statement of 1845 to come into greater conformity with the statement of 1818. The Assembly replied by stating that the proper forum for plans of abolition was the “secular Legislatures” of the various states–pointing to the emancipation efforts in Kentucky and Virginia that were being led by Old School Presbyterians. Further, the Assembly insisted that “the General Assembly is always ready to enforce” discipline against “those who neglect or violate the mutual duties of master and servant.” Concluding with exhortations for the increase of religious instruction for slaves, the Assembly refused to say anything further.[110]

            That same year, 1849, Robert J. Breckinridge made his final attempt to end slavery in his native state. As Kentucky’s first superintendent of public education, Breckinridge sought to trade on his reputation as a minister and educator to persuade the state constitutional convention to include an emancipationist provision in the new state constitution.[111] His essay, The Question of Negro Slavery and the New Constitution of Kentucky, urged Kentuckians to consider the benefits of emancipation for both black and white. Breckinridge objected to Kentucky’s system of slavery because

1st, The rights of property are absolutely and universally abolished as to slaves. 2nd, The rights of person and character are unknown, as to them, except as the interest of the master and of the public peace may demand their recognition. 3rd, The institution of marriage between slaves, has no legal recognition, nor do marital rights exist as to them. 4th, The relation of parent and child, as between slaves, is not recognised by law, except in determining questions of property.


These rights, according to Breckinridge, were “inherent in human nature,” and “are all of divine authority.” While slaveholding was sanctioned by scripture, the state had no authority to abolish the natural rights of slaves, and such an unholy slave system as existed in Kentucky must be eliminated.[112]

            After printing Breckinridge’s essay on page one of the March 1, 1849 edition of the Presbyterian Herald, William Hill declared that he agreed with Breckinridge and Hodge in rejecting the “ultra-pro-slavery” view that claimed that God had intended blacks for perpetual slavery, and urged his readers to engage in peaceful discussion of emancipation and colonization.[113] A few weeks later he printed a summary of Stuart Robinson’s speech at the Kentucky Colonization Society, calling colonization a “national plan” that could eliminate the “ranting fanaticism” of both sides.[114]

            Charles Hodge reviewed Breckinridge’s pamphlet in the fall of 1849.[115] Hodge reported that Henry Clay had joined Breckinridge at a convention in Fayette County (the Lexington area) which had declared “that hereditary slavery as it exists amongst us,

I. Is contrary to the natural rights of mankind;

II. Is opposed to the fundamental principles of free government;

III. Is inconsistent with a state of sound morality;

IV. Is hostile to the prosperity of the commonwealth.”[116]


Throughout the spring the leading Presbyterian ministers in Kentucky, William L. Breckinridge, John C. Young, and Stuart Robinson, joined Robert J. Breckinridge in urging the emancipationist platform.[117] The emancipationist convention met at Frankfort on April 25, 1849, elected Henry Clay as its president, and adopted a document prepared by R. J. Breckinridge:

 1. Believing that involuntary hereditary slavery, as it exists by law in this State, is injurious to the prosperity of the Commonwealth, inconsistent with the fundamental principles of free government, contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and injurious to a pure state of morals, we are of opinion that it ought not to be increased, and that it ought not to be perpetuated in this commonwealth.

 2. That any scheme of emancipation ought to be prospective, operating exclusively upon negroes born after the adoption of the scheme, and connected with colonization.

 3. That we recommend the following points as those to be insisted on in the new Constitution, and that candidates be run in every county in the State, favorable to these or similar constitutional provisions. 1. The absolute prohibition of the importation of any more slaves to Kentucky. 2. The complete power in the people of Kentucky to enforce and perfect in or under the new Constitution, a system of gradual prospective emancipation of slaves.[118]


The qualifications of the proposal are important. A decade before, Breckinridge and the committee of the Synod of Kentucky had urged the emancipation of all slaves. The social realities at the end of the 1840s gave them a more limited goal. Kentucky slaveholders were unwilling to surrender their present slaves, but Breckinridge hoped that they would consider prospective emancipation. Hodge admitted that if prospective emancipation was the only plan that would be acceptable to Kentucky voters, then it was better than nothing; but he urged consideration of the Spanish model, which allowed slaves to purchase their own freedom by working on the side. As soon as a slave earned enough money to purchase 1/6 of his time, he would be given one day off per week, and so on until he had purchased his entire freedom.[119]

            But Breckinridge used more than pragmatic arguments, and Hodge agreed with Breckinridge that “amalgamation is contrary to the will of God,” and that natural law prohibited the two races from living together as social equals. Pointing to the destruction of the American Indians, Hodge argued that it would be better for the intellectual and social improvement of the blacks for them to be in control of their own territory, and not kept in an inferior position.[120] While Hodge shared the racial views of most of his contemporaries, he genuinely wanted to give blacks the opportunity to develop their own potential–and therefore believed that colonization was the best way to do that. Since free blacks could not be forced to leave the country, they should be given full citizenship in the United States; but emancipated slaves should be educated and trained in Christian republicanism, and then sent to Liberia as a condition of their manumission.[121]

            Clay and Breckinridge brought great persuasive powers to their cause, but they never had a chance in Kentucky. According to newspaper reports, not more than a couple of emancipationists were elected to the state constitutional convention.[122] Nathan L. Rice, who had been a zealous proponent of emancipation in his native Kentucky, wrote from his editor’s chair across the Ohio River in Cincinnati that if the Baptists, Methodists, and Campbellites of Kentucky had stood with the Presbyterians in the emancipation cause, it would have passed, but that “to their shame they did not so act.”[123]

            Charles Hodge suggested that there was a more complex reason for the failure of emancipation. He argued that the failure of emancipation was not due to the slaveholders (they were too few in number), but to the “natural opposition between the free whites and the slaves, both as a race and as a class.”[124] While equal in their humanity, Hodge argued that in mental and moral development, “the blacks as a race are inferior to the whites,” which led ignorant whites to a “contempt and disregard of the rights and feelings of the inferior race.” Hodge claimed that poor whites “revolt at the idea that the distinction between themselves and those whom they have always looked upon as their inferiors, should be done away. They regard it as an insult, or as robbing them of a privilege.” This was only compounded by the fear that white laborers had of competition from a free black labor force. Hodge argued that the same phenomenon would occur in New York or Philadelphia if white laborers there had to vote on whether or not to bring “thousands of negroes to be their own associates and competitors in labour.”[125] Hodge was convinced that the cause of emancipation could not succeed until poor whites were educated in the benefits of a system of free labor.

            As he had done thirteen years earlier, Hodge concluded again with a warning to the South. Slavery could not be indefinitely perpetuated. As the slaves grew in number as well as in intellectual and moral sophistication, they would eventually rebel against the inhumane laws which deprived them of their natural rights. Indeed, the light of the gospel would inevitably accomplish this: “It will be out of the power of slaveholders to make laws to keep out the light and warmth of Christian truth. . . . The slaves will cease to be minors; they will outgrow their state of pupillage, and their bonds will either drop from their limbs or be shaken off.”[126] If masters do not start “to improve the slaves and to emancipate and remove them as rapidly as they are prepared for freedom” then “national calamity” will be the inevitable result. For Hodge it seemed so simple: it was an error to bring the Africans to America; therefore correct the error by sending them back. This would constitute a national repentance for a national sin, and would substitute free white labor for black slave labor, and both America and Africa would prosper.

            Old School Presbyterians in the north generally concurred with Robert Baird’s statement on slavery: “We may deplore its existence; we may wish that it had never existed; but it does exist, and the question is, How shall it be treated?” The church should insist that “the master should instruct his servants in the knowledge of the Word of God, to be imparted in every practicable way; from the written page, when that can be done, and orally when it is not possible to teach them to read.” This would prepare the way “for the peaceful termination of slavery.” The master should grant freedom to those who have “a reasonable prospect that they will do well for themselves in the possession of it.” Indeed, speaking directly to slaveholders, Baird pointed out that “the law of Christian love requires you to grant it promptly and cheerfully; but if this be not possible, then you must wait, and in the meantime do for your slaves what you would have men do for you, if you were in a similar condition.”[127] If masters would treat their slaves according to the golden rule, then emancipation would soon result.



            Breckinridge and Hodge’s proposals for emancipation were also reviewed by “A Presbyterian in the Far South.”[128] The reviewer was particularly disturbed that Hodge would permit the political question of the termination of slavery into the Princeton Review. He insisted that the “church has determined that these are not ecclesiastical questions” and scored Hodge for treating the question of emancipation as a religious and moral question.[129] He was particularly astonished by Hodge’s statement that the perpetuation of slavery was “a national sin. . . and therefore will inevitably lead to a national calamity.”[130] But the reviewer preferred to deal with emancipation as a matter of political economy. Breckinridge had suggested that all freed slaves should be colonized, starting with those born after 1850 upon their twentieth birthday–around 1870. The reviewer pointed out that this would entail the complete break-up of families (since the parents would remain enslaved until their death). Further, the costs of training and transportation would be astronomical (since Breckinridge championed fair reimbursement of masters).[131] The plan of emancipation and colonization was simply impossible. To this author, the logical conclusion was clear: “God has cast our lot where it exists, and exists to such an extent that human wisdom has hitherto failed to devise any safe prudent plan of terminating it; and therefore we are forced to conclude that it is a part of the divine economy that it should continue to an indefinite period.”[132] He appealed to northern Presbyterians to avoid agitation, which “neither promote the peace and edification of the Church, nor the harmony and prosperity of the commonwealth.”[133]

[1]Minutes (1818) 692. One important textual error crept into some versions of this statement. The published edition of the Minutes from 1789-1820 (which was compiled in the 1850s) included a statement that “The manifest violation or disregard of the injunction here given, in its true spirit and intention, ought to be considered as just ground for the discipline and censures of the Church.” But as the editors of the Presbyterian pointed out, that statement was not found in the manuscript minutes. Editorial, “Baird’s Digest,” Presbyterian 28.7 (February 13, 1858) 26. I have been unable to ascertain how the extra phrase was added.

[2]The 1818 statement resulted from a controversy in Virginia over the writings and activity of George Bourne. Bourne claimed that Virginia Presbyterians regularly mistreated their slaves, but refused to name names. In 1815 he authored The Book and Slavery Irreconcileable, cited as the first thoroughly abolitionist volume. Bourne was charged with slander, and deposed from the ministry by Lexington Presbytery in Virginia in 1818. The General Assembly upheld the presbytery’s decision, but also passed the above statement in order to demonstrate their opposition to slavery. See Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One: 1607-1861 (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963) 328-335; John W. Christie and Dwight L. Dumond, eds., George Bourne and The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable (Wilmington: The Historical Society of Delaware and Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1969). Thompson points out that from 1805-1835 a large number of anti-slavery Presbyterians began to leave the South, resulting in a polarization between the sections (336-338).

[3]Noll, America’s God; Robert Bruce Mullin, “Biblical Critics and the Battle Over Slavery,” JPH 61:2 (Summer 1983) 210-226. Mullin’s study of Andover and Princeton suggests that professional biblical scholars tended to give more nuanced answers than the radicals on both sides. But nuance was not limited to the seminaries.

[4]Edward R. Crowther, Southern Evangelicals and the Coming of the Civil War (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2000) 58. The bracketed statements are Crowther’s.

[5]Crowther, 59. His documentation of pre-1830 proslavery writings all focuses on the pragmatic argument that scripture does not view slavery as sinful; none set forth slavery as a positive good.

[6]John Patrick Daly, When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002) 3. See also Douglas Ambrose, “Of Stations and Relations: Proslavery Christianity in Early National Virginia,” Religion and the Antebellum Debate over Slavery, edited by John R. McKivigan & Mitchell Snay (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1998) 35-67. This will be the focus of chapter 6.

[7]CVR, “Debate in the Synod of Virginia on Slavery,” New York Observer 13.49 (December 5, 1835) 196.

[8]CVR, “Debate in the Synod of Virginia on Slavery,” New York Observer 13.49 (December 5, 1835) 196.

[9]CVR, “Debate in the Synod of Virginia on Slavery,” 196.

[10]CVR, “Debate in the Synod of Virginia on Slavery,” 196.

[11]CVR, “Debate in the Synod of Virginia on Slavery,” 196.

[12]“Synod of Virginia,” New York Observer 13.45 (November 7, 1835) 177.

[13]Similar ideas can be found in Thomas Roderick Dew, Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832 (Westport, CT: Negro Universities Press, 1970/1832). Dew was a professor in William and Mary College. While most southerners seem to have believed that these ideas were new, Jewel L. Spangler points to Henry Patillo and William Graham who both articulated biblical defenses of slavery in the 1780s and 1790s. “Proslavery Presbyterians: Virginia’s Conservative Dissenters in the Age of Revolution,” JPH 78:2 (Summer 2000) 111-124.

[14]John H. Van Court, “Rev. James Smylie,” W&O 9.29 (Feb 23, 1854) 116. James Smylie, A Review of a Letter from the Presbytery of Chilicothe to the Presbytery of Mississippi on the Subject of Slavery (Woodville, MS, 1836).

[15]Richmond McInnis, “Smylie on Slavery” True Witness 7.24 (Aug 18, 1860).

[16]“Smylie on Slavery” Southern Christian Herald  4.48-5.4 (March 2-April 20, 1838) 193, 199, 203, 207, 208, 4, 8, 12, 13. After an introduction, Smylie treated the Old Testament, the Greco-Roman world, and then the teaching of Christ, Peter and Paul.

[17]James Smylie, “Slavery” Southern Christian Herald 4.49 (March 2, 1838) 193. Editor Maclean commented that while slavery was indeed encumbered with many evils “of no small magnitude,” this merely called for reform–not abolition. (p 195)

[18]Editorial, “Slavery,” Southern Christian Herald 5.23 (August 31, 1838) 90.

[19]Editorial, “Slavery,” Southern Christian Herald 5.23 (August 31, 1838) 90.

[20]A Friend, Southern Christian Herald 5.13 (June 22, 1838) 51.

[21]This will be explored further in chapter seven.

[22]On the rise of abolitionism, see Herbert Aptheker, Abolitionism: A Revolutionary Movement (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989); John R. McKivigan, The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984); Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan and the Evangelical War Against Slavery (Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969); Daniel J. McInerney, The Fortunate Heirs of Freedom: Abolition & Republican Thought (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994); John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002); Richard S. Newman, The Transformation of American Abolitionism: Fighting Slavery in the Early Republic (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002). For Presbyterian attitudes, see Andrew E. Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro–A History (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1966). Aptheker provides a useful definition of abolitionism: “the uncompensated emancipation, at once, of the slaves” which would have meant simply the “overthrow of the propertied ruling class in the only way such a class can be overthrown–by the elimination of the property upon which its power rests.” (Aptheker, xii). McInerney points out that abolitionists tended to see the world in dualistic terms: the free and republican north, and the slaveholding despotic south. (45) He also emphasizes the religious roots and evangelical focus of the abolitionist blending of Christian and republican discourse. He especially focuses on Congregationalists and Unitarians in New York, New England and Ohio. (Chapter 3). Newman’s study of early Pennsylvania and later Massachusetts abolitionism provides a useful study of the changes in antislavery tactics from the gradualist agenda of the early republic to the rise of the immediatist approach of the Garrisonians.

[23]John R. McKivigan, The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984) 16. McKivigan provides more nuance in his treatment of the slavery debates within the churches than many. Also see John R. McKivigan & Mitchell Snay, eds., Religion and the Antebellum Debate over Slavery (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1998). But McKivigan accepts the abolitionist critique of the evangelical churches too readily. See Victor B. Howard, Conscience and Slavery: The Evangelistic Calvinist Domestic Mission, 1837-1861 (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1990).

[24]McKivigan has identified three Old School Presbyterians who served as officers in abolitionist

organizations, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) and the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS). The first was black, and the other two were both trained and ordained in covenanter or seceder churches, both of which had a much stronger abolitionist stance than the Old School.


Name                   Sem                         Church                                                    Position, Society, Years

Samuel E. Cornish   private 1819            1st African, Philadelphia (1823-45)         manager AASS 1834-37

                                                                Emmanuel, New York (1845-51)            exec com AFASS 1840-55

Samuel Crothers      Mason 1809            Greenfield, Ohio (1820-56)                    vice pres AASS 1833-37

Samuel M. Gayley  Seceder 1828           Wilmington Classical I (1832-54)           manager AASS 1838-40



[25]David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966); Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975). The following chapter will include the breakdown in the official relations between the British churches and the Old School.

[26]The most nuanced account of Breckinridge and Hodge is found in Mark A. Noll, “The Bible and Slavery,” Religion and the Civil War edited by Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) 59-61. James Turner has also written on Hodge’s moderate stance in “Charles Hodge in the Intellectual Weather of the Nineteenth Century, in Charles Hodge Revisited: A Critical Appraisal of His Life and Work, edited by John W. Stewart & James H. Moorhead (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 41-62.

[27]For the history of colonization see Philip J. Stadenraus, The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961); the first history was written by Archibald Alexander, A History of Colonization on the Western Coast of Africa (Philadelphia, W.S. Martien, 1846); but Douglas R. Egerton shows that Charles Fenton Mercer of Virginia was the father of the colonization society, “‘Its Origin Is Not a Little Curious’: A New Look at the American Colonization Society,” in Proslavery Thought, Ideology, and Politics edited by Paul Finkelman (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989) 111-128.

[28]William W. Freehling, The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 145. Freehling points out that everyone from Henry Clay to Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Beecher Stowe favored colonization. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln urged free blacks to leave the United States, and Congress authorized $10-$20 million in federal bonds “to implement Lincoln’s plan in Missouri.” (147)

[29]Also in 1835 several Presbyterians formed the Rock Creek Anti-Slavery Society in Tennessee. They declared “that slavery is contrary to the laws of God, the spirit of the Gospel and the rights of Man.” Their small society was formed to diffuse correct information, “based on the principle of immediate and entire emancipation.” American Presbyterian 1.25 (June 25, 1835) 99. The editors agreed that “Slavery is certainly a very great evil–but it is one which we had no hand in originating. That it is an evil, it is presumed no one will question–but how is it to be remedied?” They doubted that immediate and entire emancipation was practicable, but still hoped for a method that would have good practical effects for the slaves.

[30]Recounted in Ernst Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South vol 1 (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1963) 345. Since Breckinridge was a member of the Presbytery of Baltimore in the Synod of Philadelphia, his presence at the meeting of synod was purely voluntary, and his departure entirely symbolic.

[31]Minutes of the Synod of Kentucky (1834) 98.

[32]Thompson, Presbyterians in the South I:345. Those who left generally joined the New School in 1838, while those who stayed to work in Kentucky generally sided with the Old School.

[33]Wilson to the Hon. Belamy Storer (January 21, 1836) in William Warren Sweet, ed., Religion on the American Frontier, 1783-1840: Vol II. The Presbyterians (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1936) 745-746. This would be the thrust of his book, Relations and Duties of Servants and Masters (Cincinnati, I. Hefley, 1839).

[34][Robert J. Breckinridge], “Hints on Colonization and Abolition,” BRPR 5.3 (July, 1833) 280-305. The editors noted that they did not unanimously agree with Breckinridge’s views, but hoped that his essay would prompt greater discussion on the subject. Breckinridge declared that American slavery gave the master the rights “1. To deprive them of the entire earnings of their own labour, except only so much as is necessary to continue labour itself, by continuing healthful existence, thus committing clear robbery;

 2. To reduce them to the necessity of universal concubinage, by denying to them the civil rights of marriage; thus breaking up the dearest relations of life, and encouraging universal prostitution;

 3. To deprive them of the means and opportunities of moral and intellectual culture, in many States making it a high penal offence to teach them to read; thus perpetuating whatever of evil there is that proceeds from ignorance;


[35]Ibid., 297. It is not surprising that Breckinridge had joined the Republican party by 1860, and was even considered as a potential candidate for the U. S. Senate by Kentucky Republicans in 1864.

[36]Ibid., 300.

[37]Ibid., 303.

[38]Vivien Sandlund has explored part of Breckinridge’s efforts in “Robert Breckinridge, Presbyterian Antislavery Conservative,” JPH 78:2 (Summer 2000) 145-154. She points out that the rift between antislavery conservatives and abolitionists “ultimately helped to kill the southern antislavery movement.” (146)

[39]BLRM 1.9 (September 1835) 287.

[40]“Man--Womanry: Abolitionists in the Feminine Gender” BLRM 3.9 (September 1837) 415. Breckinridge’s comments came in the context of denouncing the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York City that May. He mockingly declared: “We sincerely hope that these excellent individuals have been safely restored to their homes, their housewifery and their proper cares: and that having done enough for glory, they will hereafter be content to abide in the sphere which God has appointed for them.” (411).

[41]Charles Hodge, “Slavery,” BRPR 8.2 (April, 1836) 267.

[42]“Slavery,” 270.

[43]“Slavery,” 274.

[44]“Slavery,” 279.

[45]“Slavery,” 297-298.

[46]“Slavery,” 301.

[47]“Slavery,” 282-286. Hodge frequently cites Paley’s Moral Philosophy in his argument.

[48]"Slavery," 304;

[49]Mark Noll and William Harris pointed me to this absence, but further exploration in the Hodge archives at Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University has not turned up any conclusive evidence for the reason behind its excision. Cf. “The Bible Argument on Slavery,” Cotton is King (1860), 841-877, and “Slavery,” BRPR 8.2 (1836), particularly pages 303-305.

[50]Mark A. Noll, “The Bible and Slavery,” Religion and the Civil War edited by Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) 60. Though, as we have seen, Hodge also saw changing social conditions over time.

[51]Samuel Steel, “The Bible Doctrine of Slavery” BLRM 3.9 (September 1837) 419. The Irish-born Steel (1796-1869) attended PTS for one year 1822-1823, before returning to Kentucky to finish his theological training. He spent nearly a decade as a pastor in Kentucky, where he befriended the young Breckinridge, before settling at the Old School church in Hillsboro, Ohio, in Chillicothe Presbytery, from 1834 to 1869.

[52]Samuel Steel, “The Bible Doctrine of Slavery. No. 2" BLRM 3.10 (October 1837) 477. The editor, Robert J. Breckinridge, added an editorial note in the January, 1838, volume, that he did not agree with all of the arguments of this essay, but thought that they were worth hearing. Its publication resulted in some southerners accusing him of being a closet abolitionist. “Foreign Labours in the Abolitionist Controversy, No. I,” BLRM 5.4 (April, 1839) 144. The Rev. Elipha White of the independent Charleston Union Presbytery (the radical proslavery presbytery in South Carolina that had advocated a separate southern General Assembly in 1837) and Amasa Converse, editor of the Southern Religious Telegraph, the New School paper in Richmond, Virginia (about to move to Philadelphia due to lack of southern support) accused him of being an abolitionist. (For the next five years Breckinridge would accuse Converse of inciting the burning of the Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine in Petersburg, Virginia, on the grounds of mere hearsay. The published letters reveal Breckinridge’s mania for defending his honor–“Conflagration in Petersburg in 1837,” Spirit of the XIXth Century 2.6 (June, 1843) 338-348). Garrison’s Liberator and the New School New York Evangelist were those that called him proslavery. Breckinridge’s comment was, “We have considered these opposite accusations indicative of two truths; first, that our opinions were pretty nearly correct, as both extremes denounced them; and secondly that our ecclesiastical opponents were very hard run for a handle against us.” Breckinridge could never pass up an opportunity to defend himself from accusations–usually with great bluster.

[53]He conducted a pamphlet debate with Robert Wickliffe of Kentucky in 1840-1841, after Wickliffe accused him of agitating for abolitionism. The rhetoric is so damning as to be hilarious. Wickliffe wrote: “He comes bearing to you the counsels of God--a vicegerent from heaven, charged with my utter ruin and desolation. But this boaster, fellow-citizens, will find, on Monday next, that he is a mere man, and among the same people he left in 1830--that he is just Robert J. Breckinridge, not much better than he used to be, and not a whit better than he should be, or I am much deceived.” (Breckinridge become notorious for his refusal to compromise in the Kentucky legislature from 1825-1828 before his conversion to Christianity). Concluding thirty pages of self-justification, Breckinridge replied: “Yea, even him, whom, in the defence of my character, my principles and my hopes; I have been obliged to consider--nay, have been obliged. . . to prove, a faithless public servant and a dishonored gentleman; even him, slanderer as he is, may God forgive, as I freely do this day.” Breckinridge, “Speech of Robert J. Breckinridge. . . in defense of his personal character, his political principles and his religious connections. More particularly in regard to the questions of the power of the Legislature on the subject of Slavery, of the Importation of Slaves, of Abolitionism, of British Influence, of Religious Liberty, etc.” BLRM 7.1 (January 1841) 1-34 (quotations from pages 3 and 34).

[54]“The Humiliating Pledge” New York Observer 15.17 (April 29, 1837) 66.

[55]“Synod of South Carolina and Georgia,” CO 11.47 (November 25, 1837) 185.

[56]“Synod of South Carolina and Georgia,” 186. This passed unanimously after White’s more radical version failed 12-67.

[57]“Charleston Union Presbytery” CO 12.49 (December 8, 1838) 195. A year later the synod (following the Assembly) made it clear that the only requirement was adherence to the Assembly–regardless of whether the presbytery approved of the actions of 1837. Smyth and Gildersleeve would come under fire from the Charleston Union Presbytery for their insistence upon presbytery approval of the 1837 General Assembly. CO 13.50 (December 14, 1839) 198; Thomas Smyth, “The Rev. Mr. Dana and the Rev. Mr. Magruder,” CO 14.15 (May 30, 1840) 57; editorial, “Notice of a Recent Letter,” CO 14.15 (May 30, 1840) 58. In the latter, Gildersleeve notes that William Dana and Thomas Magruder had argued that since Gildersleeve was not a pastor, but an editor and a school-teacher, he should not be entitled to a seat in presbytery. Gildersleeve replied that his editorial work was urged upon him by the ministers and elders of the church, and that his teaching had been taken up due to their threats that they will run the Charleston Observer into the ground, in order to ensure that the paper did not fold. Interestingly, R. J. Breckinridge and James Henley Thornwell frequently echoed some of Dana and Magruder’s arguments. See chapter 1.

[58]Thomas Erskine Clarke, “Thomas Smyth: Moderate of the Old South” (Th.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1970) 121-122. Clarke explains that when the Rev. John Witherspoon D. D., pastor at Camden, South Carolina, had said at Synod that he supported the 1818 act against slavery, Elipha White published the statement in an article in the Charleston Observer holding it up as an attack on slavery. Witherspoon replied that the 1818 act was a defense of emancipationism, which Witherspoon still supported against the radicals on both sides. Witherspoon pointed out that his slaves had all been inherited, while White had purchased his slaves. He claimed that it was New England men in South Carolina who were promoting slavery and secession.

[59]Harold Parker, The United Synod of the South (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988) 27-28. In an article originally written before the 1838 Assembly, one of the Charleston Union Presbytery wrote that except for Princeton and “some in the neighboring cities, there are few exceptions to the remark that the whole North believe that slavery is sinful and ought to be abolished.” “A Southern Organization,” Southern Christian Sentinel 1.3 (March 16, 1839).

[60]Justice, “A Southern Organization of the Presbyterian Church to the Editor of the Courier,” CO 13.11 (March 16, 1839) 42-43. “Justice” argued that while slavery “is distasteful to them, just as it was with their fathers who organized our nation,” they are no more likely to agitate on the subject than their fathers were. It should be remembered that these discussions were held in the wake of the Nullification controversy in South Carolina. See William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965).

[61]New York Observer 16.17 (April 28, 1838) 65. While the vote was nemine contradicente (no negative votes), the moderator, Benjamin M. Palmer, Sr., stated that he did “not consider himself responsible either for the preamble or resolutions adopted,” and several ministers who would later align themselves with the Old School were absent, including Aaron Leland of Columbia Theological Seminary, and William McDowell, the secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions. Of those who were present, only Benjamin Gildersleeve, editor of the Charleston Observer, stayed with the Old School after the presbytery withdrew.

[62]Ibid., 66

[63]The presbytery remained independent from 1839-1852, when it finally reunited with the Old School synod of South Carolina.

[64]Thomas Smyth, the Irish-born, Princeton-trained pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, praised Breckinridge in the Charleston Observer, assuring his South Carolina readers that while “Mr. B does not adopt the opinions circulated by many at the South on the subject of slavery,” he is one of the leading opponents of abolitionism. Thomas Smyth, “The Abolition and New School Explosion in the Charleston Union Presbytery” CO (January 26, 1839), quoted in “Memoirs, to Serve as a History of the Semi-Pelagian Controversy in the Presbyterian Church No. VII” BLRM 5.3 (March, 1839) 125.

[65]P&H 9.3 (December 19, 1839).

[66]“Emancipation” Presbyterian Advocate 1.1 (October 4, 1838).

[67]W. A. A., “Beauties of Abolitionism” reprinted in the Presbyterian Advocate 3.20 (February 10, 1841). Along the way he attacked both Princeton and Western Seminaries, the General Assembly, and the Boards of Foreign Missions and Education. Annan could not help but point out that Adair had failed to attack the Board of Domestic Missions, and surmised that the reason was that Adair was a home missionary of that Board.

[68]Ibid. Adair, who had been pastor at the Second Presbyterian Church of Allegheny, demitted the Presbyterian ministry and went into business in 1844.

[69]“Professor Green and Slavery” Presbyterian Advocate 3.23 (March 3, 1841).

[70]“Memorial to Richland Pby from L. W. Knowlton and 50 or 60 others” Presbyterian Advocate 6.5 (October 4, 1843).

[71]Ibid. The presbytery’s response was authored by Henry Hervey (private 1828, pastor at Martinsburg, OH–the largest church in the presbytery).

[72]PW 2.23 (Aug 17, 1843). Rankin had sided with the New School in 1838, forming the Ripley Presbytery with like-minded Ohioans. In 1847 this presbytery withdrew from the New School to form the Free Presbyterian Church. Old School Presbyterian ministers who joined the Free Presbyterians included Edwin H. Nevin (WTS 1834) in 1849, Joseph Gordon (licentiate) in 1847, his brother George Gordon (WTS 1835) in 1850, and Wells Bushnell (PTS 1825) in 1853. Willey says that four Old School ministers came from eastern OH and western PA with their congregations to form the Free Presbytery of Mahoning in 1847; in all 72 Free Church congregations existed at one time or another from NY to IA–though most in southern OH and western PA (166). It sponsored ecumenical anti-slavery conventions, which attracted Congregationalists along with a handful of Free Presbyterian, Baptist, and Wesleyan churches. It also sponsored the American Reform Tract and Book Society, with John Rankin as president, and published over 200 books and tracts, many written by Rankin. At its peak the denomination only had around 1500-2000 members. After the division of the New School in 1857 and the Old School in 1861 many returned to their parent churches. For more on Rankin and Gordon see Larry G. Willey, “John Rankin, Antislavery Prophet, and the Free Presbyterian Church,” American Presbyterians 72:3 (Fall 1994) 157-172; John R. McKivigan, “Prisoner of Conscience: George Gordon and the Fugitive Slave Law,” JPH 60:4 (Winter 1982) 336-354. A typical Old School response to the Free Presbyterian Church can be found in R. J., “American Free Church” Presbyterian Advocate (September 27, 1848), which claimed that divisions are the scandal of Christianity. (R. J.’s series ran from August through October). Likewise a layman called attention to the formation of the abolitionist Presbyterian church with two former members of the Beaver Presbytery and a former licentiate from St. Clairsville (whose license was revoked for using “reproachful language” against the General Assembly). A Layman, “A Schism,” from the Presbyterian Advocate, reprinted in the Presbyterian 17.52 (Dec 25, 1847) 206.

[73]Born and educated in the Church of Scotland, Bishop had come to Kentucky in 1802, where he had taught at Transylvania University from 1804-1824. Uncomfortable with slavery, he had welcomed the call as the first president of Miami University in 1824. In his twenty-one year presidency he built the university into one of the largest colleges in the country (see appendix four), and the premier college of the west. He had taken a moderate stance in the Old School/New School debate, editing the Western Peacemaker in an attempt to hold the two sides together. After the division he stayed with the Old School, though in 1845 he transferred to the New School, largely due to the issue of slavery. His tough anti-slavery language, however, upset many members of the Board of Trustees (appointed by the Ohio State legislature). In 1841 he was replaced as president by Dr. George Junkin, a former covenanter, who had served as president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania from 1832-1841. Junkin himself would be forced out three years later by Bishop’s abolition-minded supporters. Presbyterian (Sept 28, 1844) 154; History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County, Ohio  (1882), cited in “John W. Scott” at:

[74]“Synod of Cincinnati and Slavery” P&H 2.5 (November 2, 1843). It was well known that “abolitionists” would not accept hospitality from slaveholders–much less accept them as members of their churches. Indeed, it appears that a few Old School Presbyterian commissioners to the 1844 Assembly refused to spend the night on slave soil, and crossed the Ohio River to Jeffersonville, Indiana. P&H 2.33 (May 23, 1844).

[75]“Synod of Cincinnati and Slavery” P&H 2.5 (November 2, 1843); “The Synod of Cincinnati” WS 7.14 (November 23, 1843) 56.

[76]Quisquis, “Dr. Junkin” P&H 3.15 (January 9, 1845).

[77]The notice of the Methodists is in WS 8.2 (August 29, 1844) 6; followed by “The American Board of Missions and Slavery” on page 8. The Baptist anti-slavery foreign missions society is mentioned on the front page of the following issue (September 5, 1844) 9.

[78]“The North and the South” from the Charleston ObserverWS 8.26 (February 13, 1845) 104.

[79]“More Division” WS 8.30 (March 13, 1845) 118.

[80]WS 8.40 (May 22, 1845).

[81]Editorial, “Church and State,” CO 18.26 (June 29, 1844) 102.

[82]“The North and the South,” CO 19.21 (May 24, 1845) 82. Gildersleeve reported that Henry Clay had warned against the division of the churches: “I will not say that such a separation would necessarily produce a dissolution of the political union of these States; but the example would be fraught with imminent danger, and, in co-operation with other causes unfortunately existing, its tendency on the stability of the confederacy would be perilous and alarming.” “The Methodist Church,” CO 15.19 (May 10, 1845) 75.

[83]In his column, “Editor's Correspondence” Christian Monthly Magazine (CMM) 1.7 (August 1845) 157, Thomas declared that “our Magazine was originally established for this, among other objects--that it might furnish a medium of communication between anti-slavery Presbyterians, through which they might become acquainted with each others views and plans in respect to ecclesiastical action for the abolition of slavery.” Since forums for “venting” their views were few in the Old School, we “cheerfully offer our pages.”

[84]“Presbyterian Anti-Slavery Convention” CMM 1:3 (June, 1845). One minister, the Rev. W. S. Rogers of Oxford Presbytery, dissented from both resolutions. William Swan Plumer commented on the convention as being mostly drawn from the Chillicothe region, and assured his southern readers that such a small contingent was no cause for concern. “The General Assembly” WS 8.40 (May 22, 1845) 158. The convention was also noticed in “The Next General Assembly,” from the Presbyterian of the West reprinted in the Presbyterian 15.17 (April 26, 1845) 65.

[85]“Presbyterian Anti-Slavery Convention” CMM 1:3 (June, 1845).

[86]“Presbyterian Anti-Slavery Convention” CMM 1:3 (June, 1845).

[87]“The General Assembly,” BRPR 17:3 (July 1845) 438-441. See Minutes (1845) 16-18.

[88]“General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church” WS 8.42 (June 5, 1845) 165.

[89]“Letter from L” [possibly Drury Lacy] WS 8.41 (May 29, 1845) 163.

[90]“General Assembly,” BRPR 17:3 (July 1845) 441; “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church” WS 8.42 (June 5, 1845) 165.

[91]Since I have been able to identify all of those trained at Presbyterian seminaries, the designation “unknown” most likely refers to private training with a minister.

[92]“General Assembly,” BRPR 17:3 (July 1845) 441.

[93]“The General Assembly Not a Southern Body” WS 8.44 (June 19, 1845) 176.

[94]“General Assembly of 1845 and Slavery” CMM 1:3 (June 1845).

[95]“General Assembly of 1845 and Slavery” CMM 1.5 (August 1845) 133.

[96]“A New Cornerstone for the General Assembly” CMM 1.6 (September 1845) 168.

[97]Ibid., 170. The language echoes that of William Lloyd Garrison’s complaint about the United States Constitution.

[98]Since I was unable to find a complete set of the Christian Monthly Magazine (numbers 3-7 were at the Presbyterian Historical Society), I could not get reliable subscription numbers. But the three months of receipts that were printed only tallied 91 new subscriptions. It is likely that Thomas started with several hundred subscribers, but there does not seem to have been much interest in the paper outside of Ohio.

[99]“Slavery and the General Assembly” PW New Series 1.2 (October 2, 1845).

[100]A convention of 32 elders and deacons from Chillicothe Presbytery had resolved in February to withdraw from the Old School if the 1845 General Assembly did not strengthen its stand against slavery. PW 4:14 (March 27, 1845) 54. In April the presbytery disavowed this resolution, refusing to postpone electing commissioners to the Assembly (proposed as a sign of protest) 2-20 with nine abstaining. PW 4:15 (April 10, 1845) 58.

[101]This is count given by the P&H (November 6, 1845). Thomas E. Thomas, editor of the CMM 1:7 (October 1845), and later a professor on the New Albany Seminary faculty, claimed that there were ten negative votes on the first two resolutions (it is possible that the synod allowed absent members to record their votes at a later time, which would explain the discrepancy).

[102]“The Synod of Cincinnati” P&H 4.6 (Nov 6, 1845). Chapter seven will detail the feud between these Presbyterian leaders in the northwest.

[103]The presbyteries were: Beaver, Hocking, Blairsville, New Lisbon, and Albany. Minutes (1846) 206.

[104]“Debates in General Assembly: Slavery,” Presbyterian 16.24 (June 13, 1846) 93.

[105]“Debates in General Assembly: Slavery,” 94. Dr. Philip Lindsley commented that he was somewhat troubled at the change in the south. His students at the University of Nashville had formerly written essays against slavery, now they always wrote against Abolitionism. “They look forward to emancipation as a far distant thing. And this has all been brought about by the action of the Abolitionists. . . . They had put emancipation one hundred years behind-hand.” He had once served as the president of the colonization society in Tennessee, which had sent 120 men to Africa. But now colonization was viewed by most southerners as a part of the abolitionist movement.

[106]The Assembly also allowed commissioners who had been absent in the morning to record their votes after the afternoon resolution. Minutes (1846) 206-208. The vote came on Monday, June 1–on the tenth day of the Assembly. Of the twenty-eight commissioners who had gone home before the vote on slavery, only six were from the South, and nineteen were ruling elders.

[107]It should be noted that seventeen out of forty-one northwestern presbyteries failed to send ruling elder commissioners (though sixteen of twenty-seven southwestern presbyteries also neglected to send ruling elders, and while all but two northwestern presbyteries sent a minister, four southwestern presbyteries were entirely unrepresented). Minutes (1846) 186-188. In the 1840s that was fairly common. When the Assembly met in the midwest (Cincinnati in 1844 and Louisville in 1845), the northwest and southwest were well-represented, but when the Assembly was held in the East there were always at least twenty northwestern presbyteries that failed to send ruling elders. So a shortfall of seventeen presbyteries in Philadelphia in 1846 indicates that the northwest was trying to show up. During the same era, ministerial absences were much more rare (only 9-15 per year for the entire denomination).

[108]It was the practice of the Presbyterian Church to send delegates to other Reformed denominations as an expression of the catholicity of the visible church. The Pennsylvania-born McGill (1807-1889) had been reared, trained and ordained in the Associate Presbyterian church, a small Scottish church tracing its roots to the Secession of the 1740s. Forced to the South for health reasons, he spent three years as a lawyer and teacher in Georgia (1829-1831), including a brief stint as a surveyor for the Cherokee Land Reservation in 1830, before returning to Pennsylvania for his theological education. After serving two short pastorates in Pennsylvania, he transferred into the Old School in 1838 with a portion of his Associate Presbyterian congregation in Carlisle. In 1841 he was called to the chair of ecclesiastical history and church government at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, where he served until 1852. After a year at Columbia Seminary in South Carolina, he returned to Western in 1854, only to accept a call to Princeton Theological Seminary the following year where he taught pastoral theology until 1883.

[109]“The Slavery Question” Presbyterian Advocate 7.48 (September 24, 1845).

[110]Minutes (1849) 254-255. Edwin H. Nevin, James S. Fullerton, Joseph Porter and William Bonar signed a protest arguing that the “light of divine truth alone, shining through the living organization of the Church” could “instruct and stimulate the masses” in the duty of emancipation. Minutes (1849) 256-257.

[111]The emancipationist movement had been promoted by Cassius M. Clay in the True American of Lexington, Kentucky, which had started in 1845. For the details of the story, see Victor B. Howard, The Evangelical War against Slavery and Caste: The Life and Times of John G. Fee (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1996). Fee was reared in a Presbyterian church in Kentucky, but while his family sided with the Old School, he attended Lane Theological Seminary and joined the New School in 1842. He would eventually separate from the New School over his antislavery views in 1848, and was forced to leave Kentucky in 1859 after the John Brown raid, following more than a decade of abolitionist efforts.

[112]The Question of Negro Slavery and the New Constitution of Kentucky, 13, cited in Charles Hodge, “Emancipation,” BRPR 21.4 (October 1849) 601. Dr. Henry Ruffner president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, had published a similar pamphlet urging a more detailed plan for western Virginia in 1847. “Emancipation Movements in Virginia” PW 3.7 (November 25, 1847) 237. A Virginia native, Ruffner had been involved in the failed emancipation plan of 1832, and suggested that since the eastern portion of Virginia was the center of opposition, the plan should only have effect in the west. Ruffner’s plan tried to prevent the wholesale exportation of Virginia slaves further south by insisting that “children of slaves, born after a certain day, shall not be exported at all after they are five years old, nor those under that age, unless the slaves of the same negro family be exported with them.”

[113]“Our Position on the Subject of Slavery” PH 18.23 (March 1, 1849).

[114]“Substance of the Speech of Rev. Stuart Robinson before the Colonization Society of Kentucky” PH 18.29 (April 12, 1849).

[115]Charles Hodge“Emancipation,” BRPR 21.4 (October 1849) 581-606.

[116]Hodge“Emancipation,” 582.

[117]Hodge commented that not a single Presbyterian minister in Kentucky was known to have spoken out in favor of perpetuating slavery. “We advert to this fact with the more satisfaction because the steady opposition of our General Assembly to the principles of the abolitionists, has subjected our church to the reproach or misconstruction of fanatical parties both at home and abroad. It is now seen that the principles which our church has always avowed on this subject, are as much opposed to the doctrine that slavery is a good institution, which ought to perpetuated; as to the opposite dogma, that slave holding is in itself sinful, and a bar to christian communion.” (584)

[118]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 583. Howard reports that around 15% of the 150 delegates were clergymen: thirteen Presbyterians, six Methodists and a handful of others. Cassius Clay was the leader of the immediatists, while R. J. Breckinridge was the leader of the gradualists.

[119]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 591. Hodge had urged this model before in his essay on “West Indies Emancipation” BRPR 10:4 (1838): 604-644.

[120]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 593-594. It should be pointed out that Hodge believed that in Africa, or in the West Indies, where blacks were in the ascendancy, whites were the weaker race and would “sink and gradually perish.” 594.

[121]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 595-600.

[122]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 584. Hodge lamented that if Breckinridge and Clay could not sway Kentucky in this matter, then the cause of emancipation was indeed lost for the present.

[123]PW (October 25, 1849). I have been unable to locate responses to this charge, so I present it only as reflecting the perspective of one man. Rice had kept his readers informed of the progress of the Kentucky emancipationists, including publishing a “Letter from Henry Clay on the Emancipation of Slavery in Kentucky” PW 4.25 (March 15, 1849).

[124]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 586.

[125]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 587. See David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1991).

[126]Hodge, “Emancipation,” 605.

[127]R. Baird, “Reflections upon the Acts of the Late General Assembly,” PH 27.1 (July 2, 1857).

[128]A Presbyterian in the Far South, A System of Prospective Emancipation Advocated in Kentucky by Robert J. Breckinridge, D.D., and Urged and Supported in the Princeton Review (Charleston: Steam-Power Press of Walker & James, 1850). The author claimed to reside “several hundred miles” from Charleston, suggesting a resident of the Gulf States. This essay was commended in the Southern Presbyterian 3.40 (May 31, 1850) 158.

[129]Ibid., 7-8.

[130]Ibid., 10.

[131]Ibid., 12-14.

[132]Ibid., 19.

[133]Ibid., 23.