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“History of the Methodists in the United States of America” (probably the one written by Jesse Lee); but they deem it rather a simple and crude narrative of the proceedings of the Methodists than a history, and think it would be improper to publish it. If this was Mr. Lee's History, the author printed it at his own risk, having first secured several hundred subscribers in various states for it. The work is now valuable and interesting.) 5. Our traveling preachers are enjoined from publishing any pamphlet, hymn, or spiritual songs, either of their own or others' composing, in their individual or joint capacity; but all our publications should come through the channel of our general Book Concern.
On putting the report to vote on May 25th, it was all adopted, except the fifth item, which was amended so as to read: “No traveling preacher shall be permitted to publish any book or pamphlet without the approbation of the annual conference to which he belongs, or of a committee chosen by them."
Letters drafted to Dr. Coke and the British Conference were read and approved, and the secretary of the Conference was directed to sign them, and the members of the Committee on Correspondence to countersign them on behalf of the General Conference.
It was ordered that "Fletcher's Checks" be reprinted immediately, commencing with the first volume. (These Checks had been issued in America in six volumes, 16mo in size, the first volume of which had been printed for John Dickins, book steward, in 1791, the other volumes following soon afterward. Four volumes were finished by 1793. These six volumes were, according to this order, reprinted, all at once.)
After making a few minor alterations in the Discipline, and providing for a special edition of the same for South Carolina, by leaving out the section and the general rule on slavery, the General Conference adjourned on Thursday afternoon, May 26th. Thus early did the General Conference begin its compromises on the subject of slavery. Whether the special edition of the Discipline for South Carolina was ever printed is doubtful. No copies of it, if printed, are known to be in existence.
THE first delegated General Conference met this year in
the city of New York, May 1st. Eight conferences were represented, and the whole number of delegates was ninety. The session was opened with religious exercises conducted by Bishop Asbury. William M. Kennedy, of the South Carolina Conference, was elected secretary pro tempore. The question of admitting reserve delegates in place of their principals, who might be absent, was settled by allowing Joel Winch and Daniel Webb to occupy the seats of John Brodhead and Elijah R. Sabin, who could not attend. The precedent thus established has been followed ever since. When the roll of the Conference was made up, it was resolved that a secretary be appointed who was not a member of the Conference, and accordingly Daniel Hitt was elected.
A letter from Dr. Coke was read by Bishop Asbury. Rules of Order for the government of the Conference were reported by a committee that had been appointed for this purpose, and adopted. It appears from the records that heretofore none but members and officers of the Conference were allowed to be present at its sessions and to witness its proceedings. On motion, preachers in full connection were now allowed to sit in the church where the Conference met, as spectators; but they. must occupy seats in the gallery. In order to repress frequent addresses before the Conference by the same member, a person was appointed to keep tally of those that spoke, and mark the time which they consumed. Whether this plan served as an efficacious check is not stated.
A written address to the Conference by Bishop McKendree was read; and the separate matters treated of were referred to appropriate committees, to consider and report on. As this written address was a novel thing in Methodism, Bishop Asbury rose to his feet as soon as it was read, and, addressing McKendree, said, "I have something to say to you before the Conference.” McKendree arose, and the two bishops stood face to face. Asbury went on to say: “This is a new thing.
I never did business in this way; and why is this new thing introduced?” Bishop McKendree replied: “You are our father; we are your sons. You never had need of it. I am only a brother, and have need of it.” Asbury said no more, but addressed the Conference, giving a brief historical account of the work in past years, its present state, and what may probably be expected in the future upon this continent.
Early in the session, James Axley, of Tennessee, introduced a resolution, "That no stationed or local preacher shall retail spirituous or malt liquors without forfeiting his ministerial character among us.” It seems strange that there was any occasion for such a resolution. The Church had always retained among its General Rules the substance, if not the words, of Mr. Wesley's original admonition concerning the things to be avoided: "Drunkenness; buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.” But for some reason the second clause had dropped out. It now became common for members of the Church to buy and sell, if they did not drink, intoxicating liquors. There were also distillers among them. This laxity of discipline, or rather of morals, had invaded the ranks of the ministry. It is sad to record that this motion, after being postponed for action several times, was finally lost. The Conference had had ample time to deliberate upon it; the members well understood its nature and import; they were all total abstainers, so far as the use of strong drink as a beverage is concerned; and yet they temporized. But Mr. Axley was not discouraged by his defeat, as we shall see hereafter.
Jesse Lee moved that the members of the next General Conference be appointed by the annual conferences according to their seniority, and that there shall be one delegate for every six members thereof. This motion, after being postponed several times, was finally lost.
A communication was read from Benjamin Tanner, of Philadelphia, asking the concurrence and influence of the Conference in a request that Bishop Asbury should sit for his likeness, to have a portrait engraving made from it. It was thereupon resolved by the Conference, “That Bishop Asbury be, and is hereby, requested to sit to a good painter, employed by Benjamin Tanner, for his picture to be taken, for the purpose of engraving and publishing a portrait.” The Book Agents were authorized to negotiate with Mr. Tanner for such quantities of the portraits as might be expedient to supply the Connexion.
Committees were appointed on the Book Concern, the Episcopacy, Division of the Work in the West, Local Preachers, Doctrine, Discipline and Practice, Review and Revisal, Unfinished Business of the Last General Conference, Genesee Conference (to determine the eligibility of the delegates from that conference), and on Temporal Affairs.
The work in the West was divided into two conferences, to take the place of the Western Conference, namely, the Ohio and the Tennessee conferences; and the boundaries of each were established. The bishops were authorized to establish another conference down the Mississippi, in the interval of the General Conference, if they deemed it necessary.
The ordination of local deacons to the office of elder was authorized by a vote of 49 to 35, under certain regulations and restrictions.
The question of electing presiding elders by the annual conferences was introduced, and, after a free discussion, was lost by a vote of 42 for to 45 against it.
Bishop Asbury, in his address to the Conference, spoke of his desire to go to Europe on a visit; and this matter was referred to a committee of three, to report on. They reported that it was their sincere request and desire that Bishop Asbury would relinquish his thoughts of visiting Europe, and confine his labors to the American Connexion.
The secretary was directed to procure a convenient trunk in which to deposit the Journal and other papers belonging to the General Conference, and the Book Agents were ordered to take charge of the same. This action was probably taken because at the opening of the session the Journal of 1808 could not be found until a thorough search for it was finally made among the papers of the late John Wilson, Book Agent. It was found laid away with some old books.
The Committee on the Book Concern made a careful examination of the publishing interests of the Church, and recommended that the Methodist Magazine, two volumes of which had been heretofore published, be revived, and that the third volume be commenced, at furthest, by the next January. They also advised as to the discount to be allowed to the preachers on the sale of books, and that two book agents be elected, the first to be editor and general book-steward and the other assistant book-steward.
Daniel Hitt was elected editor and book-steward, and Thomas Ware, assistant. Ezekiel Cooper, Nathan Bangs, and Laban Clark were appointed a committee to attend, with the book agents, in selecting those parts of the Journal which needed to be incorporated in the Discipline; and they were granted the authority to modify the language and correct the grammatical construction of the next edition of the Discipline, but in no case to alter the sense therein contained.
A motion offered by John Sale, to prevent preachers and private members from buying lottery tickets, or having anything to do with lotteries, was postponed until May 1, 1816.
On motion of Jesse Lee, the Book Agents were instructed to leave out of the future editions of the Discipline all the Doctrinal Tracts, and to publish them in a separate volume.
Baltimore was selected as the place for holding the next General Conference; and on Friday, May 22d, the Conference adjourned, to meet May 1, 1816.