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Methodists, Politics, and the Coming of the American Civil War

  • Richard Carwardine (a1)

In 1868 Ulysses S. Grant remarked that there were three great parties in the United States: the Republican, the Democratic, and the Methodist Church. This was an understandable tribute, given the active role of leading Methodists in his presidential campaign, but it was also a realistic judgment, when set in the context of the denomination's growing political authority over the previous half century. As early as 1819, when, with a quarter of a million members, “the Methodists were becoming quite numerous in the country,” the young exhorter Alfred Branson noted that “politicians… from policy favoured us, though they might be skeptical as to religion,” and gathered at county seats to listen to the preachers of a denomination whose “votes counted as fast at an election as any others.” Ten years later, the newly elected Andrew Jackson stopped at Washington, Pennsylvania, en route from Tennessee to his presidential inauguration. When both Presbyterians and Methodists invited him to attend their services, Old Hickory sought to avoid the political embarrassment of seeming to favor his own church over the fastest-growing religious movement in the country by attending both—the Presbyterians in the morning and the Methodists at night. In Indiana in the early 1840s the church's growing power led the Democrats to nominate for governor a known Methodist, while tarring their Whig opponents with the brush of sectarian bigotry. Nationally, as the combined membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church [MEC] and Methodist Episcopal Church, South [MECS] grew to over one and a half million by the mid-1850s, denominational leaders could be found complaining that the church was so strong that each political party was “eager to make her its tool.” Thus Elijah H. Pilcher, the influential Michigan preacher, found himself in 1856 nominated simultaneously by state Democratic, Republican, and Abolition conventions.

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1. Posey, Walter B., The Development of Methodism in the Old Southwest, 1783–1824 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Weatherford, 1933), 1;Jones, Donald G.,The Sectional Crisis and Northern Methodism: A Study in Piety, Political Ethics and Civil Religion (Metuchen N.J.,: Scarecrow, 1979), 226–27;Brunson, Alfred, A Western Pioneer: or, Incidents in the Life and Times of Rev. Alfred Brunson, A.M., D.D., Embracing a Period of over Seventy Years (Cincinnati, 1872), 1:217–18, 344–45;Clark, Robert D., The Life of Matthew Simpson (New York: MacMillan, 1956), 105–11;Christian Advocate and Journal (New York; hereafter cited as CA), 12 June 1856;Pilcher, James E., Life and Labors of Elijah H. Pitcher (New York, 1892), 115–16.

2. Mathews, Donald G., “Evangelical America: The Methodist Ideology,” in Rethinking Methodist History: A Bicentennial Historical Consultation, eds. Richey, Russell E. and Rowe, Kenneth E. (Nashville: Kingswood, 1985), 91.The “alternative value system” of early Methodists has long been a feature of the movement's historiography. Over the last twenty years or so, since Mathews, in Religion in the Old South (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), offered an analysis of the egalitarian elements of Southern evangelicalism in the early republic, the countercultural and antielitist thrust of early Methodism has been the subject of increasing scrutiny, most notably inWilliams, William H., The Garden of American Methodism: The Delmarva Peninsula, 1769–1820 (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1984);Hatch, Nathan O., The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989);Richey, Russell E., Early American Methodism (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1991);Heyrman, Christine Leigh, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf, 1997);Wigger, John H., Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998);Lyerly, Cynthia Lynn, Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770–1810 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

3. Richey, Russell E., Early American Methodism (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1991), xii–iii, xvii–iii, 33,35–44,102;Hood, Fred J., Reformed America: The Middle and Southern States, 1783–1837 (University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1988).

4. Richey, , Early American Methodism, 40–41,88–91.

5. Tefft, Benjamin F., The Republican Influence of Christianity: A Discourse (Bangor, Maine, 1841), 18.See also Doggett, Daniel S., A Sermon on the Death of General William Henry Harrison, Late President of the United States, Delivered in the Chapel of Randolph Macon College, April 18, 1841 (Richmond, Va., 1841);Peck, George, National Evils and Their Remedy: A Discourse Delivered on the Occasion of the National Fast, May 14,1841 (New York, 1841);Western Christian Advocate (Cincinnati; hereafter WCA), 24,31 July, 7 Aug. 1840, 24 Sept. 1841 (Leonidas Hamline), 19,26 Feb., 9 Apr. 1841 (Rezin Sapp), 21 May 1841 Qames B. Finley).

6. Marsden, George M., Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 7, 8593, 252.Kleppner, Paul, The Third Electoral System, 1853–1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), esp. xix–xx, 185–97, distinguishes between “evangelical pietists,” who saw conversion as only part of a broader obligation to sanctify society, and “Salvationist pietists,” who felt no responsibility to transform the wider culture. His categories correspond respectively to Marsden's “Calvinists” and “pietists,” which are less cumbersome and no less theologically nuanced.

7. Hobart, Chauncey, Recollection of My Life: Fifty Years of Itinerancy in the Northwest (Redwing, Minn., 1885), 202–3;Fletcher, Calvin, The Diary of Calvin Fletcher, eds. Thornbrough, Gayle, Riker, Dorothy L., and Corpuz, Paula, 6 vols. (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 19721977), 3:80;Miller, Thomas B., Original and Selected Thoughts on the Life and Times of Rev. Thomas Miller, and Rev. Thomas Warburton (Bethlehem, Pa., 1860), 17;Bangs, Heman, The Autobiography and Journal of Rev. Heman Bangs (New York, 1872), 316;Smith, Leonard F., “Diary,” 29 August, 17 November 1860, Illinois State Historical Society, Springfield.Watson, Harry L., Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict: The Emergence of the Second American Party System in Cumberland County, North Carolina (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1981), 240–41, identifies a high proportion of political abstainers among the Methodists of that county.

8. Northwestern Christian Advocate (Chicago; hereafter NWCA), 12 November 1856; WCA, 6 January 1843;McAnally, D. R., Life and Times of Rev. S. Patton, D.D., and Annals of the Holston Conference (St. Louis, 1859), 239.

9. Moody, Granville, A Life's Retrospect: Autobiography of Rev. Granville Moody (Cincinnati, 1890), 311;Lewis, William G., Biography of Samuel Lewis, First Superintendent for Common Schools for the State of Ohio (Cincinnati, 1857), 369;Spottswood, Wilson L., Brief Annals (Harrisburg, Pa., 1888), 39.

10. McDonald, William and Searles, John E., The Life of Rev. John S. Inskip, President of the National Association for the Promotion of Holiness (Chicago, 1885), 49; WCA, 25 June 1856;Lawrence, William H., The Earnest Minister: A Record of the Life, Labors and Literary Remains of Rev. Ruliff S. Lawrence (Philadelphia, 1873), 29; New York Evangelist, 4 January 1844.

11. CA, 5 June 1829; Lee, Luther, Autobiography (New York, 1882), 233;Lee, Luther, A Sermon for the Times: Prohibitory Laws (New York, 1852);Clark, Davis W., Evils and Remedies of Intemperance: An Address (New York, 1847), 11, 1315;Goodwin, Thomas A., Seventy-Six Years Tussle with the Traffic; Being a Condensation of the Laws Relating to the Liquor Traffic in Indiana from 1807 to 1883 (Indianapolis, 1883), 89.

12. McDonald, and Searles, , The Life of Rev. John S. Inskip, 49; WCA, 25 June 1856.

13. Berg, Barbara, The Remembered Gate: Origins of American Feminism: The Woman and the City, 1800–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 167–68;Ginzberg, Lori, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990), 7179;Spottswood, , Brief Annals,135–36.

14. J. C. Chambers to M. Simpson, 2 May 1850; J. L. Smith to M. Simpson, 23 May 1850; W. Daily to M. Simpson, 5 December 1850, M. Simpson Papers, Library of Congress;Johnson, Lorenzo D., Chaplains of the General Government, with Objections to their Employment Considered (New York, 1856), 63 and passim;Smith, George G., The Life and Times of George Foster Pierce (Sparta, Ga., 1888), 324;Wade, John D., Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Culture of the South (1924; reprint Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1969), 123–24;Fitzgerald, Oscar P., John B. McFerrin: A Biography (Nashville, 1888), 91,116, 168–69,196–99,243.

15. Harrison Medal Minstrel: Comprising a Collection of the Most Popular and Patriotic Songs (Philadelphia, 1840), 3,21,65;Littell, J. S., The Clay Minstrel: or, National Songster (2nd ed.; Philadelphia, 1844), 235–36; J.Campbell to W. B. Campbell, 4 February 1840, quoted inAlexander, T. B., “Presidential Election of 1840 in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 1 (1942): 2627;The Life and Public Services of…J.K. Polk (Baltimore, 1844), 5; WCA, 7 Aug. 1840; Jonesboro Whig, 9 May 1840.

16. Bloch, Ruth H., Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 56, 61, 63, 204–5, and passim.

17. New York Tribune, 25 July 1856;Jonesboro Whig, 8 December 1847.

18. For ethnocultural approaches, see Benson, Lee, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), esp. 288328;Formisano, Ronald P., The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827–1861 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971);Holt, Michael F., Forging a Majority: The Formation of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, 1848–1860 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1969);Kleppner, The Third Electoral System. The classic economic interpretation is Schlesinger, Arthur M., The Age of Jackson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1945). Recent influential interpretations, based on the primary importance of a changing economy, include Watson, Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict;Ashworth, John, “Agrarians & Aristocrats”: Party Political Ideology in the United States, 1837–1846 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1983);Sellers, Charles, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

19. Boogher, Sophia Hogan, Recollections of John Hogan by His Daughter (St. Louis, 1927), 4041.

20. CA, 4 November, 23 December 1840, 17 November 1841;Fee, William I., Bringing the Sheaves: Gleanings from the Harvest Fields in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia (Cincinnati, 1896), 134–37;Anthony, James D., Life and Times of Rev. J. D. Anthony: An Autobiography (Atlanta, 1896), 8081;Rivers, Richard H., The Life of Robert Paine, D.D., Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Nashville: Publishing House of the M.E. Church, South, 1916), 99.

21. Goodman, Paul, “The Social Basis of New England Politics in Jacksonian America,” Journal of the Early Republic 6 (1986): 2358;Watson, , Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict, 23–24.

22. Baker, George C., An Introduction to the History of Early New England Methodism, 1789–1839 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1941), 41–9;Ninde, Mary L., William Xavier Ninde: A Memorial (New York, 1902), 5051.

23. Brunson, , Western Pioneer, 1:35–43,172–73.

24. Bangs, however, had his Methodist critics. Foster, Charles I., An Errand of Mercy: The Evangelical United Front, 1790–1837 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1960), 223–48.

25. Brunson, , Western Pioneer, 1:344–45.

26. Bangs, Nathan, A History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 4 vols. (New York, 18381841), 2:351;Cartwright, Peter, Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher, ed. Strickland, W. P. (New York, n.d.), 6472 and passim;Carwardine, Richard, “Unity, Pluralism and the Spiritual Market Place: Inter-denominational Competition in the Early American Republic,” in Studies in Church History: Unity and Disunity, ed. Swanson, R.N. (B. Blackwell, Oxford, 1996), 317–35.

27. Richardson, F., From Sunrise to Sunset: Reminiscence (Bristol, Term., 1890), 107–8.

28. CA, 14 December 1842; WCA, 18 November 1842; Carwardine, Richard J., Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993), 199234.

29. Sellers, , Market Revolution, 137–38, 157–61, 164–65, 178, 299–300;Fletcher, , Diary, passim;Boogher, , Recollections of John Hogan, 18;Crane, William W., Autobiography and Miscellaneous Writings (Syracuse, 1891), 8485;Smith, L. F., “Diary,” 9 October 1860;Carwardine, Richard J., “‘Antinomians’ and ‘Arminians’: Methodists and the Market Revolution,” in Melvyn Stokes andConway, Stephen, The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political and Religious Expressions, 1800–1880 (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 1996), 282307.

30. Williams, William W., The Garden of American Methodism, 174–75;Brunson, , Western Pioneer, 1:173;Cartwright, , Autobiography, 98;Smith, L. F., “Diary,” 3 September 1860.

31. Holder, Ray, William Winans: Methodist Leader in Antebellum Mississippi (Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1977), 103–4;Crane, , Autobiography, 79;Brunson, , Western Pioneer, 2:139 and passim;Lewis, William G., Biography of Samuel Lewis, First Superintendent for Common Schools for the State of Ohio (Cincinnati, 1857), 200–2, 211;Dictionary of American Biography, s.v. “David Rice McAnally”;James, Edmund J., “Reverend Colin Dew James: a Pioneer Methodist Preacher of Early Illinois,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 9 (1917): 451.

32. For an extended discussion of this theme, see Carwardine, , Evangelicals and Politics, 199–234.

33. Gienapp, William E., The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), passim;Adams, B., “Diary,” 1, 4 11 1856, Methodist Center, Drew University;Haven, Gilbert, “The National Midnight,” in Gilbert Haven, National Sermons: Sermons, Speeches and Letters on Slavery and Its War (Boston, 1869), 120–21;Allen, Stephen, The Life of Rev. John Allen, Better Known as “Camp Meeting John” (Boston, 1888), 41;Gienapp, William E., “Who Voted for Lincoln?” in Thomas, John L., ed., Abraham Lincoln and the American Political Tradition (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 75;Smith, L. F., “Diary,” 8, 29 08, 3, 10 September, 15 october 1860; Chicago Tribune, 25 May 1860;Hamilton, W. to M. Simpson, 23 02 1861, M. Simpson Papers, Methodist Center, Drew University.CfSwaney, Charles Baumer, Episcopal Methodism and Slavery: With Sidelights on Ecclesiastical Politics (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1926), 283, which underestimates Methodist support for Lincoln in 1860.

34. Fitzgerald, , McFerrin, 186;Pittsburgh Christian Advocate, 30 April 1840; CA, 30 October 1844, 14 May 1845;Stringfield, T. to his wife, 4 June 1844, Stringfield Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. For the schism in the MEC in 1844, and its implications for the Union and for sectional alienation,see Goen, Clarence C., Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985);Swaney, , Episcopal Methodism and Slavery.

35. Jones, Arthur E., “The Years of Disagreement, 1844–61,” inBucke, Emory Stevens et al. , eds., The History of American Methodism, 3 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1964), 2:159–76;Fee, , Bringing the Sheaves, 242–34;Bascom, Henry et al. , Brief Appeal to Public Opinion, in a Series of Exceptions to the Course and Action of the Methodist Episcopal Church, from 1844 to 1848 (Louisville, Ky., 1848), 93106,127–34; CA, 12 January, 24 May 1848.

36. Hibbard, Freeborn Garrettson, Biography of Rev. Leonidas L. Hamline, D.D., Late One of the Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Cincinnati, 1880), 192–93, 216;Knoxville Whig, 22 07 1846; CA, 3 November 1847, 24 May 1848; WCA, 27 September, 25 October 1848, 9 October 1850;Southern Christian Advocate (Charleston, S.C), 9 06 1848.

37. Waugh, Lorenzo, A Candid Statement of the Course Pursued by the Preachers of the Methodist Church South, in Trying to Establish Their New Organization in Missouri (Cincinnati, 1848), 6061;Waugh, L., Autobiography of Lorenzo Waugh (San Francisco, 1896) 164–66;Knoxville Whig, 25 August 1849;Hibbard, , Hamline, 211–15;Thompson, J. to Bond, T., 30 October 1846;Twiford, P. to Bond, T., 24 November 1846,Bond, T. E. Papers, Dickinson College; CA, 5,12 October, 11,18, 25 November 1846, 20, 27 January, 3,10,24 February 1847.

38. WCA, 11 February, 17, 24, 31 March, 7, 28 April, 26 July 1848, 24 December 1851;CA, 19 July 1848, 21 March, 13 June 1850;Southern Christian Advocate, 28 March 1845, 2,16 June 1848, 28 November 1851, 5,19 November 1852;Knoxville Whig, 24 January, 6 April 1849;Bascom, et al. , Brief Appeal, 5;Hibbard, , Hamline, 218–22;Myers, Edwin H., The Disruption of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1844–46: Comprising a Thirty Years'History of the Relations of the Two Methodisms (Nashville, 1875), 151;Jones, , “The Years of Disagreement, 1844–61,” 177–81;Moody, , Life's Retrospect, 227.

39. CA, 6 October 1847;Bascom, et al. , Brief Appeal, 10,60,165–69.

40. Waugh, , Candid Statement, 70;Waugh, , Autobiography, 149–71;CA, 5 January, 15 March, 24 May, 19 July 1848, 17 October 1850;Hibbard, , Hamline, 205;Fee, , Bringing the Sheaves, 239–40;WCA, 27 September 1848;Stewart, John, Highways and Hedges; or, Fifty Years of Western Methodism (Cincinnati, 1870), 260;Thomson, Edward, Life of Edward Thomson, Late Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Cincinnati, 1885), 8788.

41. WCA, 9 July, 17 September, 1 October 1856;Dennis, L. B. to Simpson, M., 22 January 1856, M. Simpson Papers, Library of Congress.

42. WCA, 2, 23 May, 25 July, 15, 22 (quoting Central Christian Advocate), 29 August, 5, 26 September, 10 October, 7 November 1855;NWCA, 25 May, 29 October 1856;CA, 10 July, 7 August 1856.

43. Smith, Wesley, A Defence of the Methodist Episcopal Church against the Charges of Rev. S. Kelly and Others, of the M.E. Church, South (Fairmont, Va., 1855), 21, 42,45, and passim.

44. Richmond Christian Advocate, 13 January 1859;Southern Christian Advocate, 11 February 1858, 16 June, 21 July, 11 August 1859;Knoxville Whig, 15 May 1858, 8 October 1859, 21 January, 18 February 1860.

45. Ridgaway, Henry B., The Life of Edmund S. Janes, D.D., LL.D. (New York, 1882), 224–29;Central Christian Advocate (St. Louis), 26 September, 10 October 1860; CA, 27 September, 22 November 1860.

46. CA, 30 August, 27 September 1860;Central Christian Advocate, 26 September 1860.

47. CA, 10–31 May, 7–28 June, 5 July, 27 September 1860 (for New Orleans Christian Advocate); Knoxville Whig, 30 06, 29 September 1860; Southern Christian Advocate, 2 August 1860; Texas Christian Advocate, 31 May 1860, quoted in Wesley Norton, Religious Newspapers in the Old Northwest to 1861:A History, Bibliography and Record of Opinion (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1977), 122;Texas Christian Advocate, 13 September 1860, quoted in Central Christian Advocate, 26 September 1860; North Carolina Christian Advocate (Raleigh, ), 6 November 1860.

48. Goen, , Broken Churches, Broken Nation;Bucke, et al. , History of American Methodism. The Bewley affair is addressed inNorton, Wesley, “The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Civil Disturbances in North Texas in 1859 and 1860,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68 (1965): 317–11, andReynolds, Donald J., “Reluctant Martyr: Anthony Bewley and the Texas Slave Insurrection Panic of 1860,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 97 (1993): 345–61.

49. NWCA, 13 September 1860.

50. NWCA, 13 September 1860.

51. See, for example, Albany Evening Journal, 19 September 1860.

52. Haven, , National Sermons, 179.

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