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The era of theological schools came a little later. In 1839 a convention was called in Boston to consult for such a means of ministerial education. The proposed institution obtained a very shadowy existence, in fact a merely theoretical standing, in connection with the Wesleyan University; then appeared as the Biblical Institute at Newbury, Vermont; then was metamorphosed, in 1847, into the Concord Biblical Institute ; and finally, in 1867, was transferred to Boston, where in 1871 it became a part of the Boston University. The patriarch of the school was John Dempster, who became theological professor in 1845. His enterprise was a chief factor in the success of the struggling institution. Having won this crown in the East, it was his happiness to win a second in the West, as he was among the founders of Garrett Biblical Institute at Evanston, Illinois, which was opened in 1854. Twelve years later the foundation was provided for the Drew Theological Seminary, at Madison, New Jersey.
A conservative progress in respect of polity was mentioned as characteristic of Methodism during the nineteenth century. This has been illustrated in the feature of itinerancy. While the scheme of annual appointments has been steadfastly maintained, the rule determining the possible number of reappointments to the same station has been modified. In 1804 the limit of the pastoral term was fixed at two years, in 1864 at three years, in 1888 at five years.
Another illustration of cautious advance appears in connection with the subject of lay delegation. The inception of the agitation on this subject seems to have been closely connected with the discussion of the proposition to make the presiding elders elective. A proposition of this kind was made at the General Conference of 1808, and was a subject of earnest debate for the next twenty years. The question concerned the prerogatives of the ministers as against those of the bishops. By a not unnatural transition, the canvassing of the rights of one party in the church economy led to a consideration of the rights of other parties. The local preachers began to inquire whether they were assigned a suitable share in the management of the church. Finally the question was raised whether the laity ought not to be represented in the higher tribunals. A mouthpiece for the advocates of democratic changes was obtained in 1821 in the “ Wesleyan Repository,” which a few years later was merged in the “ Mutual Rights” published at Baltimore. Since it was made manifest at the General Conference of 1828 that the proposed measures could not be carried, their more zealous supporters seceded from the Methodist Episcopal Church. In forming a new communion, called the Methodist Protestant Church, they discarded episcopacy, made the president of their Annual Conferences elective, and admitted an equal number of laymen with the ministers to their General Conference. The principles of lay delegation and non-episcopal organization were also adopted by the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, though the slavery question, as was noticed, gave the principal incentive to their separation. After the formation of the Methodist Protestant Church, the subject of lay delegation was laid comparatively to rest for an interval in the main body of Methodists. Probably its serious consideration was postponed by the intervention of the slavery agitation and the disruption of 1844.
The circumstances of the disruption have already been noticed in part. The best feature in the affair was the solemnity and absence of passion with which steps toward a separation were taken. One who was intimately acquainted with the General Conference of 1844 says: “I do not believe that any one can point to a single incident which might warrant a word of reproach against that body of holy men. They were sometimes, perhaps frequently, wanting as to etiquette in the eagerness of individuals to get the floor, but neither their speeches nor their personal intercourse in Conference, in committees, or in private, can be adduced to prove anything more as to their spirit or temper than that they honestly differed in judgment, while their hearts were strictly right at all times." Unhappily, this good understanding was not perfectly conserved in the following years. The plan of separation which was reported to the General Conference of 1844, was taken by the Methodists of the South more in the character of a finality than was deemed proper by their Northern brethren. In the view of the latter the conditions of its validity were not fulfilled. Their standpoint was expressed in the following declaration at the General Conference of 1848: (1) “ The report of the committee of nine, adopted in 1844, was intended to meet a necessity which might arise. (2) It was made dependent on the concurrence of three fourths of the members of the Annual Conference (3) It was made dependent, also, upon the observance of the provisions for a boundary line between the two churches should a new church be formed. (4) Action was taken in the premises by the Southern delegates without waiting for the anticipated necessity. (5) The Annual Conferences have refused to concur in that part of the plan which was submitted to them. (6) The provisions respecting a boundary have been violated by the separating body. (7) There is therefore no obligation resting upon the Methodist Episcopal Church to observe the plan. (8) The plan is hereby declared null and void.” In the issue, however, the South obtained the benefit of the plan of separation, inasmuch as the decision of the Supreme Court supported its claim to a proportionate share of denominational property.
After the division the Northern and Southern branches enjoyed about the same rate of increase till the outbreak of the Civil War. In that terrible ordeal the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, suffered a loss which was not fully offset till six or seven years after the return of peace. While in 1860 the number of her white members was 542,489, in 1866 it was but 429,233. A larger proportionate reduction occurred in her colored membership, though here the attraction of rival bodies, rather than the simple ravages of war, was in large part the effective cause. The two African churches, which previously had operated mainly in the North, drew off many, and others were brought into connection with the Northern branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1866 the colored membership, which once numbered 207,766, was reported as 78,742. They were constituted in 1872 an independent body under the name of “The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America.” 1
1 The African Methodist Episcopal Church originated in 1815, with its headquarters at Philadelphia. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was started at New York in 1820. Both were formed by seces. sion from the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Zion Church is distinguished in polity by the assignment of a limited term of office to its bishops or superintendents. In 1892 a plan was projected for the union of these two African churches.
At the second General Conference after the separation between the Northern and Southern wings of Methodism, or in 1852, attention was again called to the subject of lay delegation. The report of the committee to which the matter was intrusted discountenanced the proposed innovation as being neither needed by the laity nor desired by the greater part of them. The latter assumption received a seeming confirmation in 1861. The people being allowed to vote on the question in that year gave a considerable majority against lay delegation. But the agitation for the change was now prosecuted under better conditions than in the early part of the century, when the issue was compromised by being conjoined with a disaffection toward the episcopate. A decade sufficed to reverse the verdict of 1861. At the General Conference of 1872 lay delegates took their seats beside their ministerial brethren. In the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the provision for lay delegation went into effect in 1870. In the Southern scheme a larger place was given to the laity than in the Northern. While the latter simply opened the door of the General Conference to two lay delegates from the limits of each Annual Conference (providing at the same time that a Conference so small as to have only one ministerial delegate should have but one lay representative), the former secured that the laity should be equally represented with the clergy in the General Conference,
1 The figures in this paragraph are from McTyeire's History of Methodism.