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An Examination of the Review of the Minutes of the
Southern Baptist Convention, held at Augusta, Ga., May, 1844. Published in the December No. of the Christian Review, 1845.
[It has hitherto been deemed proper, in the conduct of the Christian Review, to lay down principles which we have supposed to exhibit essential truth, and not to afford its pages as an arena for the contests of opponents. In all points pertaining to literature, theology, or phiJosophy, we regard this as the true policy. In a point of opinion and of measures, however, where something admits of being said on both sides without a violation of truth, we see no objection to the admission of candid and fair discussion between persons of sincerity, talent, and piety, who see cause to differ from one another. The present case is one of those in which we feel at liberty to depart from our course, so far as to exhibit to the extended denomination which we represent, what may be said on the other side in a discussion which has wrought a very serious influence on the economy of our benevolence. In a publication in which every part of our country has an equal interest, it is just that the two classes of views which divide us should be exhibited, if it were only as a matter of record for future time. The following article, by an eminent Southern Baptist, may be regarded as containing the sentiments of the part of the country in which he is widely known and esteemed. ED.]
The leading article in the Christian Review for December, 1845, is a review of the Minutes of the Southern Baptist Convention, held at Augusta, Ga., May, 1845. The design of the article is to vindicate the decision of the Acting Board of the Baptist General Convention, touching the resolutions of the Alabama Convention, and to cast the responsibility of the recent division of the Baptist denomination, in the missionary enterprise, on the South. This is the first vigorous attempt which we have noticed, to justify the proceeding of the Board. The defence was tardy in making its appearance. It has, no doubt, been carefully prepared. Every thing which legal knowledge and ingenuity can do, has been done, to make good the defence. The article merits a respectful notice. It is a grave and ingenious discussion of a deeply interesting subject, published in a permanent form, and likely to produce an impression, very unfavorable to the Southern Convention, on those who have not an opportunity of seeing the other side. We had hoped that the subject would be permitted to sleep, not because we felt unprepared to vindicate the course of the Southern Convention, but because the discussion is likely to arouse and perpetuate feelings which all good men desire to see allayed. The Board, or their friends, however, have deemed it proper to pursue a different course. They had a perfect right to do so. We feel imperatively called on to buckle on our armor for the defence of our course; and we will solemnly endeavor to be governed in the combat by the principles of fairness and generosity.
The reviewer maintains, that the action of the Boston Board was constitutional, but if it were otherwise, that the South did not seek the proper remedy for the evil. We join issue with him, on both these points. We assert that the decision of the Acting Board was unconstitutional; but even if it were not, that the South adopted the only prudent and feasible course.
We address ourselves, without delay, to the discussion of the question, Was the decision of the Boston Board, in reply to the Alabama resolutions, constitutional ?
The General Convention of the Baptist denomination was formed for the promotion of “Foreign Missions, and other important objects relating to the Redeemer's kingdom.” For many years, its attention has been directed, almost entirely, to the work of Foreign Missions. Its constitution was originally framed, and from time to time it has been so amended as to promote this object. The constitution provided for the appointment of a Board of Managers. This Board is the creature of the Convention. k is appointed solely to execute the purposes of the body creating it. It has no power but from the Convention; and only so much as is plainly expressed, or implied in the action of the Convention. The members of the Board have, as individuals, all the rights which they possessed previous to entering the Board ; but, as a Board, their power is delegated, and limited by the will and design of their constituents. These propositions, we prestime, are indisputable.
The powers conferred on the Board are partly defined, and partly discretionary. The constitution clearly prescribes the qualifications of missionaries. As amended and passed, May, 1826, it contained the following article. “Such persons only as are in full communion with some church of our denomination, and furnish satisfactory evidence of genuine piety, good talents, and fervent zeal for the Redeemer's cause, are to be employed as missionaries." These qualifications are essential in missionaries; and, in the judgment of the General Convention, none other is. The qualifications not included in this enumeration are, by a fair construction of the article, pronounced unessential. All who possess these qualifications are eligible to be appointed as missionaries, and none others are. The Board has no right, nor shadow of right, to declare any thing to be an essential qualification in a missionary, which the Convention has not declared to be so. To exercise such a right, is to render the constitution nugatory. For the Board to decide that no slaveholder shall be appointed a missionary is, not to observe, but to change the constitution. This any man must perceive whose mind is unperverted. The amended constitution would read, “That such persons only, as are in full communion with some regular church of our denomination, and who furnish satisfactory evidence of genuine piety and good talents, and fervent zeal for the Redeemer's cause, and are not slavehollers, are to be employed as missionaries.” And what, we inquire, would be the value of an instrument which might be thus changed to suit the interests or caprice of a Board ?
I quote from the Review, p. 494, “ The Convention has nowhere said what should not be a disqualification; there is not one word in the constitution or by-laws as to disqualification.” The writer blinds himself by the use of words. Neither the term qualification, nor disqualification, is found in the article under discussion ; and yet it does provide, beyond all cavil, that the want of genuine piety, good talents, fervent zeal, and connection with a Baptist church, shall be disqualifications for appointment as a missionary. The Convention did not, in their wisdom, deem it proper to prescribe other disqualifications. What then becomes of the sovereign claim set up on behalf of the Board, that, "what should be a disqualification in one who should offer himself for a missionary, was left entirely to the decision of the Acting Board ?' It has not even “ a slight show of authority.”
To the Acting Board, thus constituted, and with its powers thus defined, was committed the duty of selecting missionaries. This power is discretionary. Among those qualified as the constitution prescribes, the Board is authorized to choose such as, from their age, measure of piety and talents, adaptation to the field of labor, and promise of usefulness, are most likely to promote the great object of their appointment. This power was plainly implied in its organization ; was indispensable to the prosecution of the missionary enterprise; and was such as similar Boards usually exercised. It was the intent—the known and undeniable intent—of the Convention to confer on the Board this power, and no more, in the selection of missionaries. But, surely, it was not the purpose of the Convention to confer on the Board the power of multiplying, at their own discretion, the qualifications or disqualifications of missionaries—to decide that no man shall be appointed a missionary who has red hair, or a white skin, or was born south of the fortieth parallel of north latitude. To affirm that such a decision would be an abuse of power is erroneous. The Convention has conferred on the Board no such power, either express or implied. It would be an assumption of power not granted by the constitution.
What the South demanded of the Board was, not as the Reviewer intimates, that they should " never refuse for any cause to appoint any one who possesses these qualifications,"—those prescribed in the constitution. Such an addition to the article would be preposteroussuch a claim, derogatory to the South. Nor did the South require that the Board should appoint many slaveholders, or even any slaveholders, as missionaries. They claimed, and most rightfully, that slaveholders, qualified according to the express provision of the constitution, should not, as a class, be proscribed-declared ineligibleunfit to be appointed missionaries. But the Board, in the exercise of general and unlimited authority," and resolved “to manage that whole business according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings,” and finding that there was nothing to restrain them “from requiring other and additional qualifications," pp. 488, 492, did adopt, in December, 1845, a new quali. fication for missionaries—"If any one should offer himself as a missionary, having slaves, and insist on retaining them as his property, we could not appoint him.”
Let us examine this new law. It proscribes all slaveholders. They may be constitutionally qualified—may be men of fervent piety and shining talents—may be eminently fitted for missionary service—but if they insist on retaining their slaves as their property, no matter from what motives, of humanity or legal necessity, they could not be appointed missionaries. Slaveholders do not belong, in the judgment of the Board, to the class from which missionaries are to be selected.
The question returns, Has the Board the constitutional right to adopt this proscriptive rule? Did the Convention delegate to them this power? The import of the constitution must be ascertained by the circumstances of its formation, and the known sentiments of those who framed it. The debates on the adoption of the federal constitution have been held by all sound lawyers as the best.commentary on its meaning. The constitution of the Baptist General Convention was framed by slaveholders, and non-slaveholders. They met, and coöperated, on terms of perfect equality. “There was no concession of the South to the North, or of the North to the South. Nothing was settled in regard to slaveholding, nor was the subject referred to in any manner whatever.” p. 485. Can the Board, or the Reviewer, believe that the Southern men in the Convention, some of whom were slaveholders, and all of whom were associated in the strong bonds of Christian affection with ministers whose lot it was to own slaves, intended to confer on the Board the unlimited power claimed for them? In any of the changes since made in the instrument, was it designed to invest the Board with such authority ? Certainly not. If such power was given, it was bestowed unintentionally, ignorantly, and, therefore, not at all. The intent of the Convention is the limit of the authority of the Board ; and all beyond that point is usurpation.