PROGRESS OF DISSENSION.
The General conference of the Unitarian church, recently held at Alton, in Illinois, was distracted and divided on the slavery question. Forty or fifty members were present from Boston, New York, Syracuse, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, and other Northern and Western places. The Southern members were from Louisville and St. Louis. After the conference had been in session about a week, and got through their regular business, a set of resolutions was introduced by a preacher from Cincinnati, declaring opposition to slavery to be one of the reforms which demand the action of the church. A vehement debate followed, in which the affirmative was maintained that the Unitarian Church is anti-slavery, and ought to declare so publicly. And this was so evidently the opinion of a majority of the conference, that the opponents of the doctrine labored to prevent any declaration at all as a point upon which the body had no right to act. A large part of the minority were prepared to contest the declaration against slavery. Some of them were anti-slavery in principle, but opposed to making of an anti-slavery platform for the Unitarian Church. Some of the preachers present from St. Louis admitted their concurrence in the sentiment of the resolution against slavery, whilst they refused to assent to the proposed action. Other delegates—and among them Mr. Robert Sneak, of Alton, the member elect to Congress from that district of Illinois—were very severe upon the “fast” members for obtruding this question there to excite and distract the church unnecessarily. But the pleadings were in vain. Seeing themselves about to be overpowered by numbers, and out-voted, the Southern delegations withdrew from the meeting, and the report of the committee, favorable to abolitionism, was adopted almost unanimously!
There is no binding force in the declaration, for the constitution of the Unitarian Church recognizes no power in any general convention to make dogmas of faith or of discipline binding on all. Their churches are independent of each other, and the strong point in the opposition to these declarations was that they assume an ecclesiastical power which conflicts with the rights of the several churches to regulate their own action on slavery and other questions. The church is not split as in the case of the Methodists, but the churches are set against each other in an attitude of hostility on this most irritating question, and the fever of partisanship has extended itself to this, unusually one of the most calm and reflecting of Christian denominators.
The American Tract Society, of New York, an association of large means and great influence, escaped a late attempt to make the slavery question a test question in their operations—but in a way which is practically an evasion of the topic, not a settlement or dismissal of it from their councils. The real point of the dissension is, whether the publications of the society, which by the great influence of its members, the vast number of copies which it circulates under their patronage, has immense power as a means of disseminating options, should be used to circulate the theories and promote the objects of Abolitionists. After reference, report and discussion, it was resolved that the Tract Society “cannot allow itself to be made the special organ of any one system of religious or moral reform, such as temperance, peace, anti-Popery, anti-Slavery,” &c., while within its “proper sphere” it will bear testimony against “all forms of doctrinal error and practical immorality,” with a cautionary provision, is respect to slavery, that while its “political aspects” lie entirely without the spheres of the society, its “moral evils and vices” do fall within the province of the society, and may be discussed. The resolutions leave the subject just where it was before.
It amounts to very little that the society repudiates being a “special organ” of anti-slavery, while at the same time it declares its duty to bear its general testimony against “the moral evils and vices” which slavery “is known to promote.” Under such vague definitions all is open to discussion and proselytism. There is nothing that may not be said and inculcated against slavery and slaveholders, and defended on the plea that it is the bearing of testimony against what is evil and immoral. The course of the society will be decided by the opinions its managers may happen to entertain of the degree of immorality there is holding slaves, and the kind of influence slaveholding has on the community which contains it, and this may produce as rampant abolitionism as is to be found in the Tribute or Evening Post, and more dangerous because it is likely to be clothed in greater dignity of language, and blended with influences and efforts which command wide sympathy and cooperation. There is no bulwark in all this against the inroads of the more fanatical abolitionism, on the works of the society; and we therefore find no warrant for receiving it, as some of our Southern cotemporaries do, for a defeat of the anti-slavery movement.
It is truce and a check, but these are not to be found in the declarations of the society, but in the personal administration of those who have the present management of its affects. We are told that they accept the decision in its most conservative sense, and will not hereafter issue any tract or books which are offensive to Southern feeling or adverse to Southern rights in the respect. So long as they hold sway the society may be free from the sectionalism which the abolitionists are struggling to fasten upon it; but when the opposition prevails, as it may well do, there is nothing in these resolves which will conflict with a thorough devotion of the vast funds and greater influence of the society to the anti-slavery crusade. The struggle is not over, it is only postponed, and if we may judge by what is daily transpiring in other societies, and in Christian churches of various denominations, it is a struggle to be renewed constantly, and to be watched constantly in its progress as one of the most ominous signs of the times.