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In the survey of this field, the first feature which arrests our attention is the peculiar condition of the four millions of people now emerging from slavery into manhood, and the light and liberty of the sons of God. Deprived hitherto of all opportunities for education, they now hunger and thirst after learning. Never before did any people manifest such eagerness to acquire the rudiments of education and the knowledge of God's Word. In Virginia, North and South Carolina, and along the banks of the Mississippi, they began early in the war to come within our lines, and were immediately provided with schools and teachers by the American Missionary Association. In the progress of the war, this work has continually grown in magnitude and importance, until, by the overthrow of the rebellion, the whole colored population of the South are soon to be brought within the reach of Christian teachers and missionaries. Never was a missionary field more inviting. The soil is rich and mellow, and all prepared for the “good seed of the kingdom.” Blessed are they that shall so cultivate this field as to reap the rich harvest of which it is capable.
How far the way is open for home missionary labors among the white people of the South, the committee is unable to speak with much definiteness, for the want of accurate information. But we rejoice to know that hostile armies no longer overrun those States. The rebellion is crushed; and the way is prepared for a thorough and accurate survey of the moral desolation which slavery and war have left in their track. Let such survey speedily be made, and the result laid before the churches. In the meantime, the following facts, reported from certain portions of the field which have been longer under Federal control, and therefore better known, may be taken as specimens of the whole.
Missouri, in its general condition and history, may be taken as representing, in the main, the region of country under consideration, and is, in position, territory, and population, no inconsiderable part of it. In 1860 it had the largest white population of any of the slave States, and is in territory larger than the whole of New England, and much richer in natural resources. But from its earliest settlement slavery has been there, paralyzing its energies, depressing its industry, corrupting its politics, perverting its theology, and poisoning the whole surrounding atmosphere. From this blighting curse the State is now delivered by a war undertaken in the interest of slavery, and having for its object its perpetuation, and lasting domination over a continent.
While emancipation in Missouri is a consequence of the war, it is a consequence wrought out through conviction, - a radical change in the opinions and feelings of the people. It is not the result of military coercion operating upon the elections. It rests on the deliberate choice of the people, ascertained through the ballot box, and that, too, by a most decisive and significant majority. * An ocean of changed thought and feeling” has rolled over the State in these last four years. And what has happened in Missouri in this respect, we believe will be found, to a considerable extent, to be true in the other slave States.
Missouri came into the Union in a convulsive struggle that shook the nation. New England protested; but her protest was unavailing, and for the time slavery triumphed. This was forty-five years ago. On the eleventh day of January last, she was born again, amid the rejoicings and congratulations of millions of freemen from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In January, 1852, there was not a Congregational Church in this State. Nine years later, at the outbreak of the slaveholders' rebellion, there were two, and the only two in the slave States, one at St. Louis, and one at Hannibal, both situated
on the eastern boundary line of the State, and together containing scarcely more than three hundred members. At this date ten are reported, and the door is wide open for the planting of as many more as Christian zeal and enterprise may elect. Old temples and altars have been thrown down. The priests of slavery, with their followers, are scattered and gone, or are fast going. The society of Missouri is no longer suited to their tastes. They prefer a hiding-place anywhere else to the scene of their former pride, where all is now so changed, and where the friends of the Union and the enemies of slavery are in the popular ascendant.
What has been said indicates, in general, the state of things in Missouri. To a great extent, except in a few counties, it is, in respect to religious organizations, a mighty waste. We give an example or two, by way of illustration: Jefferson City, the capital of the State, is situated on the south bank of the Missouri River, one hundred and twenty-five miles west of St. Louis, with which it is connected by railway. It has a population of about four thousand. In 1861 it had four churches, representing as many different denominations; viz., Presbyterian (O. S.), Baptist, Episcopal, and Methodist (South). All these churches are now, or were as late as March last, closed. No services have been held in the Presbyterian Church for four years, and only occasionally, if at all, in the three others during the same period. A Methodist Church (North) has in the mean time been organized, and a small house of worship erected, of dimensions to accor
commodate, perhaps, a hundred and fifty persons. This is the only Protestant house of worship now in use in the capital of the State of Missouri, although it has been constantly within the Federal lines, and in daily connection with St. Louis.
If such a state of things exist in the protected capital, it is not to be imagined that religious institutions are in a more satisfactory condition where bushwhackers and guerillas have roamed at large.
In a growing town of some two thousand inhabitants, on the Pacific Railroad, West of Jefferson City, no Church organization or house of worship exists. An agent of the American Missionary Association visited it last summer, and was much encouraged by the friendly temper of the people, and their readiness to hear. His chief difficulty during his short stay was to find a room large enough to accommodate. those who wished to attend upon his services.
It is believed that these are only specimens tending to give a true idea of the condition of a large part of the State. And, as far as the committee can judge from the information in their possession, they believe a very similar state of things exists in all the States, which, at the outbreak of the rebellion, were under the controlling influence of slavery. Religious organizations existing previous to the rebellion are overturned. The Church, in its various denominations, was as thoroughly pervaded and corrupted by slavery as the State, and as completely involved in the rebellion, and consequently has been equally dissolved and destroyed by the overthrow of slavery and the rebellion. And, if the work of political reconstruction is to tax the mind and heart of the nation to the utmost, the reconstruction of religious society in the South is a work no less difficult and momentous. If the restoration of government in the South on the basis of universal freedom is the trial question of our political institutions, the restoration of religious society on the basis of the gospel of Christ is no less the trial question of our Protestant Christianity.
No graver question at present demands the attention of the churches which we represent, than the inquiry, " What part in this mighty work belongs to those men and those churches which adhere to that conception of the Church which found its
way to this continent in the cabin of the May-flower?” The committee certainly is not prepared fully to answer this question. But to say that in all this Congregationalism is to have no share seems to us like saying that the principles of that polity are not worthy of what our Pilgrim Fathers suffered for them, nor of the tenacity with which we hold them. If we have a conception of the Church, which must be laid aside before we can enter upon the greatest Christian enterprise of the nineteenth century, the sooner we discard it everywhere the better, that we may take up some other polity which is capable of universal application.
In reconstructing religious society at the South, it seems to the committee as most obviously important to adopt a policy analogous to that pursued in military affairs. There are many cities and large towns which are as truly strategic points in our moral as in our carnal warfare. No time should be lost in taking possession of them in the name of our Great Captain, and in erecting in them fortresses of evangelical truth furnished with all the munitions of spiritual warfare. Persons who, in connection with the army, have had opportunity to study the South, testify on this point with great unanimity and earnestness.
Commencing at Cairo, Illinois, every considerable town on the Mississippi and its tributaries, quite down to the Gulf, should receive early and earnest attention.
At Memphis, an organization has already been effected under favorable auspices, and a self-sustaining Church established.
In New Orleans, a handful of men, noble and true, are already soliciting our coöperation. Congregational polity was once at home in Charleston, and in Savannah, and other parts of Georgia. Is it not our duty to make haste to rebuild what slavery has corrupted and destroyed ?
In Wilmington, Norfolk, Richmond, Baltimore, and Washington, and doubtless in many less prominent cities of the Atlantic States of the South, we may soon expect openings for the introduction of a pure gospel, and the establishment of permanent religious institutions by our instrumentalities for home evangelization. In the prosecution of this great work, why should we not imitate the example of the apostolic age? The apostles of Christ were appointed to plant the Christian Church, not for the Roman Empire, but for the world; not for one age, but for all time. They began, indeed, at Jerusalem; but, as soon as they began to go abroad from that center, they hastened to the centers of that influence which controlled the world, the cities that lay around the Mediterranean Sea. In them they preached the gospel and planted churches; and from Ephesus and Philippi and Thessalonica and Corinth and Rome, the gospel spread into the surrounding populations.
The Valley of the Mississippi is the Mediterranean region of this continent, and in the great centers of influence in this valley our work must begin. These strategic points must be speedily garrisoned for Christ; and it must be done by hands that are clear of all participation in the great rebellion.
To no portion of the Christian people of the United States does the call to engage in this great religious enterprise come more imperatively than to the churches represented in this Council. In this connection, the committee deem it proper to call attention to the following passage from Bancroft's History of the United States, volume i., pp. 467–8: “I have dwelt the longer on the character of the early Puritans of New England,” says the historian," for they are the parents of one-third of the white population of the United States. In the first ten or twelve years, — and there was never afterwards any considerable increase from England, - - we have seen that there came over twenty-one thousand two hundred persons, or four thousand families. Their descendants are now (1831) not far
from four millions. Each family has multiplied, on the average, to one thousand souls. To New York and Ohio, where they constitute one-half of the population, they have carried the Puritan system of free schools; and their example is spreading it through the civilized world.”
If this calculation be brought down to the present time, it will be found that the descendants of the early Puritans of New England now number about ten millions, and that they have not only carried the Puritan system of free schools to New York and Ohio, but that they have carried these, and all the ideas and institutions of a society founded on the doctrine of the equal rights of man, beyond the Great Lakes, beyond the Mississippi and the Missouri, to the banks of the Columbia and the shores of the Pacific. It is patent to every observant eye, that that great current of opinion which made the lamented Lincoln President of the United States, and overturned the iniquitous system of slavery, and with it the whole structure of Southern society, followed everywhere along the ramifications of this stream of New England emigration. It is no wonder that the rebels and their Northern allies proposed to leave New England out in the cold. New England ideas were found utterly incompatible with the continued existence of slavery.
What then so fit as that, in reconstructing society at the South on the basis of freedom and Christianity, large room should be given to the spirit, the principles, and the modes of organization, of these Puritan Fathers? It is not the business of the committee to urge this matter. But we religiously believe and honestly affirm, that, if our Puritan Fathers had brought to New England a centralized Church government, they never could have exerted their mighty and benignant influence on the destinies of their country and the world. And we can assign no reason why their ideas are not just as precious and just as potent in restoring society at the South as they were in constructing it in New England. Bible principles never grow old, and their value and their adaptation undergo no change.
The committee cannot refrain from expressing their full conviction, that, in this work of religious reconstruction, an indispensable condition of success is our hearty recognition of our equal brotherhood with the colored man, and our earnest endeavor to raise him to the full enjoyment of all the privileges of the gospel. God has overturned society in the South for the crime of trampling on the rights of the negro; and let no one think to restore it, without fully recognizing his equal rights with the white man to citizenship, both under our government and in the kingdom of God.
He who is no respecter of persons will surely frown on all such attempts, however cunningly conceived and zealously prosecuted.
Such, then, is the vast work to which the providence of God calls the churches and people represented in this Council. And what shall we say of the machinery needed to accomplish it? On this point we have but little to suggest. We see no necessity for any new organization. The American Home Missionary Society and the American Missionary Association, those noble institutions through which we have been accustomed to act in the work of home evangelization, seem in the good providence of God to be raised up especially for this very time. They have a prestige, an experience, and an adaptation, that commend them to universal confidence.
The American Home Missionary Society, formerly the organ of another denomination as well as of our own, without its own seeking or ours, has been released from any obligation which would have restrained its action in promoting the Church polity of our Puritan Fathers. In the progress of events, the way seems now prepared for the universal acceptance of the anti-slavery principles which the American
Missionary Association has always maintained. Both societies have therefore an open field, and both enjoy largely the confidence and sympathy of the churches.
Nor do we find any difficulty in recognizing the respective spheres of these two societies. For while no separation is or can be made by a geographical line, and still less by any invidious distinction of color, we yet discover in the past labors of the American Missionary Association, among the colored people of America, the West India Islands, and Africa, and in the ready facility with which it has adapted itself to the peculiar condition of this people at the South, an instrumentality providentially prepared for their evangelization. We therefore commend to the churches this association for the work at the South, with special reference to the Freedmen.
The American Home Missionary Society, on the contrary, is limited by its Constitution to one specific work of aiding destitute communities and feeble churches to sustain the preaching of the gospel. For this distinctive work it will find comparatively little preparation among the Freedmen; but its glorious history, endearing it to the affections of all the churches, points it out still as the chosen instrumentality for its specific home missionary work in all parts of our country, — in the South, as far as the door may be opened, as well as in the North and Great West.
With these limitations of special adaptation and constitutional provision, each organization has a distinct work; and the field is so large, and the relation of the two societies so friendly, that each can expend its utmost energies without rivalry and collision.
In this connection we recognize the important mission of the Congregational Union, but forbear discussion of it here, since its claims are to be submitted outside of this report.
It is not, then, new machinery which we want, but to give greatly increased efficiency to the machinery which we have, by supplying a vastly greater moving power. The great question before this body is, How can this be done? It is perfectly obvious that our missionary societies cannot carry out the policy recommended in this report, without a large increase of their resources. They will need a yearly income of not less than half a million of dollars. Our resources for Church building, and all the other auxiliary instrumentalities, will need also to be proportionably increased.
How can such an increase be obtained ? That is the question of this occasion. One thing the committee will suggest in answer to this inquiry. We must determine in good solemn earnest to do the work whereunto God has called us. No man who has borne a part in the work of evangelization in any of our new States and Territories within the last ten or fifteen years can have failed to see, and with sickness of heart to feel, that the American churches, after all, are not half in earnest in this work. In times of prevailing worldly prosperity, men of the noblest endowments of mind and heart, who have given themselves to this sacred cause in the true spirit of self-sacrifice, have found themselves left, like soldiers in the field, without arms, without ammunition, and without rations. If this state of things is to continue, the hope of accomplishing the glorious work which now invites our efforts will prove utterly fallacious and delusive. The spirit of Christian selfsacrifice must not be confined to a few missionaries, teachers, and colporters, while the thousands of our Israel dwell in their ceiled houses, and suffer the house of God to lie waste. If we enter on this enterprise with some such all-pervading earnestness as that with which we undertook the work of subduing the great rebellion, there will be no difficulty in obtaining the needful resources. It will be as it has been in the war. When men are needed, they can be had; and when money is wanted, it will be poured out like water.