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donation) they have a natural right to do with it as they please. They may appropriate it for the support of public worship, or they may not. And if they do thus appropriate it, as in most cases they probably will, they certainly have the right, and it is their duty, to appropriate it for the support of such worship as they in conscience approve. Is not this the natural right of the churches; a right which they may exercise, without reasonable offence to any one? We appeal to the candor and common sense of the community. But, by the late decisions of the Judges, the churches are deprived of this inherent right. They cannot any longer do what they will with their own. Every church is indissolubly bound to some parish, and she must humor the parish in every thing, or she is at once stripped of all. She must receive just such a pastor, and hear just such a teacher, as the parish gives her, and the most she can do with her property, even then, is to have the trouble of taking care of it, and of regularly paying it over to her civil master.
2. The views of the Judges are totally inconsistent, not only with the natural rights of the churches, but with their corporate rights, and with existing laws. We have shown at large that the churches of Massachusetts were early in the possession of corporate rights and powers. They were gathered and organized according to law. It was their province to decide for many years, not only who should be eligible to office, but who should exercise the rights of a freeman. They assessed and collected taxes, of their members and others, for the building of meeting houses, and the support of ministers. They were virtually incorporated, by the legal acceptance and approval of the Cambridge Platform. They long exercised the powers of a legal incorporation, in holding and managing different kinds of property. And, finally, their corporate powers were confirmed and settled, by the act of 1754, which went to secure them in the possession of their property, and to make it certain, both to them and the world, that it never could be wrested from them. But this most equitable intention of the law of 1754 is set aside and perverted, and the corporate rights of the churches are annulled, by the late decisions. For no sooner now is there a collision between church and parish, and the church is compelled in conscience to withdraw, then the parish tells her, “You are bound to us for life, and you cannot withdraw. You may vote to withdraw, and may go, in a majority ever so large ; but those who remain will be the church, and will retain the property, even to the records. Indeed, if you all go, and go by solemn vote, you go only as individualsyou die as a church-your property remains to us—and we are competent to institute a new church, which will succeed to all the rights and immunities which you have left.
We thus see that, as the case now stands, there needs but a collision between church and parish, in order to strip the church
members, and ordinances, and are in close connexion with regular societies, and appear to be really alive; but it would seem, according to the new order of things, that this is all an imaginary being, their actual existence having long since terminated.
Perhaps it will be said, that, although the legal existence of a church ceases, in the dissolution of a parish, its ecclesiastical existence continues; and consequently, it stands ready, without reorganization, to assume legal existence with a new society, when such an one is formed. Between the legal existence of a church, and its ecclesiastical existence, Chief Justice Parker intimates that there is a distinction. * But what better is this than a concession, that the laws of the land, which give to the churches their legal existence, and the laws of Christ, which give them their ecclesiastical existence, do not coincide. Christ owns and blesses certain bodies as his churches, which the State refuses to acknowledge or protect. And even should we admit the distinction here claimed, the difficulty would not be relieved; for many of the churches now in question, are in the possession of property. What becomes of this, when their legal existence terminates? They cannot hold it themselves, for they are legally dead; and it cannot revert to the society or parish, for this is dissolved and dead also. What, then, is to become of it? And how is church or parish ever to get possession of it more? In such utter confusion and uncertainty does the doctrine of the late decisions involve the ecclesiastical concerns of this whole community.
9. The positions taken, in the decision of the Dedham case, are, several of them, inconsistent with historical truth. We shall notice a few, selecting those which are most material to the argument.
Chief Justice Parker supposes, that “ before the migration of our ancestors to this country, a Congregational church was, as it was in the earliest times of Christianity, an assembly of Christians meeting together in the same place for the public worship of God,” making no distinction between the church and the whole congregation.t But we have shewn that, both “before the migration of our ancestors to this country,” and “in the earliest times of Christianity,” the distinction in question cristed, and was strongly marked. See Feb. number, pp. 57–59, 63.
Chief Justice Parker says, again, “ There was little practical distinction between church and congregation, for several years after our ancestors came here.”| We have traced the bistory of Massachusetts to the first years of the settlement, and have found this distinction, from the beginning, wide and palpable—the church comprehending those, and only those, who had made an open profession of their faith, and entered into solemn covenant with God. See Feb. number, pp. 60—65.
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. pp. 503. 503. + Ibid. p. 498. Ibid. p. 514. Chief Justice Parker presumes, that, in the early settlement of this State, “ almost, if not quite all the adult inhabitants of the towns were church members."* We have shewn that this, also, is incorrect. There were many, from the first, who were not connected with the churches. See Feb. number, p. 61.
Chief Justice Parker insists everywhere that the churches of Massachusetts are not, and never were, legally incorporated. We know not how the evidence we have exhibited of their corporate existence may strike other minds, but in our apprehension it is incontrovertible and conclusive. We see not how it can be evaded or resisted.
Chief Justice Parker asserts, that, “ from the foundation of the colonies," the churches have been connected with parochial corporations; and indeed “ that they cannot subsist,” but in such a connexion.t But there were no such bodies as parishes in existence, for many years after the settlement of the country; and the Judge himself allows that parochial power was not committed to the towns, until 1652. Where, then, are the parochial corporations, with which the churches were at first connected, and without which, it is now pretended, that they cannot subsist? So far from being connected with parishes, we have shewn that the first churches, the communicants, the brethren in covenant, possessed and exercised parochial power. They were authorized by the civil authority to assess and collect taxes, of members and others, for the building of meeting houses, and the support of ministers. See pp. 114, 115.
The assertion “ that a church cannot subsist,” but in connexion with a parish, and that such “ has been the understanding of the people of New England from the foundation of the colonies,” is refuted by the frequent removal of churches, at the period of our early history. The original church at Plymouth was not formed after landing, but came into the country in an embodied state. I This church afterwards contemplated and voted a removal to what is now Eastham; but, on maturer consideration, the enterprize was abandoned. “The first church in Boston was organized in Charlestown, and removed to Boston. The Old South church was also organized in Charlestown.” The first church in Dorchester was formed at Plymouth, England, and removed in a body to this country. This same church afterwards removed from Dorchester, and was established at Windsor in Connecticut. The first church at Newtown (now Cambridge) also removed to Connecticut, and was established at Hartford. In both these removals, individuals were left behind; but, contrary to the doctrine of the late decisions, these individuals were not reckoned the churches. The churches were gone with their pastors, and their * Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. p. 498. Hubbard, p. 117. + Ibid, p. 505.
|| Morton's Memorial, pp. 231, 406,
majorities, and those who remained were subsequently formed into churches—at Dorchester by Mr. Mather, and at Cambridge by Mr. Shepard.* About the year 1639, a church was formed at Lynn, which removed in a body, and settled at Long Island.t The first church in Rowley removed in a body to this country, from some part of Yorkshire in England. The first church in Wenham removed in 1656, and commenced the settlement at Chelmsford.
We really cannot reconcile facts such as these with the doctrine, “ that a church cannot subsist,” but in connexion with a parishthat when thus connected, it cannot be separated—that, if it votes and attempts a separation, the minority who remain are to be considered the church—and that all this “ has been the understanding of the people of New England, from the foundation of the colonies."
10. The author of the decision in the Dedham case, is often inconsistent with himself.
“There was no very familiar distinction,” says he, “at the time" of making the grants to the church in Dedham, “ between the church and the whole assembly of Christians in the town." But in one of the earliest grants to this church, and one commented on by the Judge himself, this distinction is expressly recognized-one part of the land granted being given to the church, and another to the town.s
Again, Chief Justice Parker intimates that, in the early settlement of Massachusetts, “the distinction between church and town or parish” was not known; so that “ a grant to the church, under such circumstances, could mean nothing else than a grant to the town.” But we are told in another place, that one of the grants to the church in Dedham was made by the town; consequently, the town must have made a grant to itself!! And we are told repeatedly that “the church was intended to be a trustee" for the town; i. e. (putting both assertions together) one and the same body, call it which you will, was intended to be a trustee for itself!!
On one page we are told, that “property bestowed upon churches, has always been given for some pious or benevolent purpose, and with a particular view to some associated town or parish.” But how can this be true, if, as is asserted on another page, “there was little practicul distinction between the church and the town or parish, for several years after our ancestors came here."**
In one place it is said, that before the passing of the law of 1754, the church “held" their “legal estate as trustees, and used it as such.” But in other places, it is asserted, that the church,
* See Hutchinson, vol. i. pp. 98, 418. Mather, vol. i. pp. 75, 348, 407. Winthrop, vol. i. pp. 179, 183, 194. + Hubbard, p. 245.
Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. pp. 495, 498. Winthrop, vol. i. pp. 278, 279.
IT Ibid. pp. 495, 496, 500. | Mather, vol. i. p. 431.
** Ibid. pp. 506,514.
“ not being a body politic, could neither take nor hold a legal interest in land."*
It is implied in many parts of this decision, that there is no such body as the church, and that church members, as they are sometimes called, are in no way distinguished from other members of the parish. “ Those who withdraw from the society, cease to be members of the church.” “The secession of a whole church from the parish would be an extinction of the church.” A minister“ ordained over the parish only, by virtue of that act becomes the minister of the church.” “ The condition of the members of a church is thought to be hard, when the minister elected by the parish is not approved by them : but this can only be because they are a minority.”+-But, in other parts, it is as strongly implied, that there is such a body as the church. Indeed, the real, separate eristence of the church is essential to the Judge's argument. There must be a church, and there must be deacons, to hold the property in trust.
If any person skilled in law, or in anything else, will analyze the following sentence, reconcile its different members, and make sense of the whole, we will be very much obliged to him. “Considering then, that the land' granted was for the beneficial use of the assembly of Christians in Dedham, which were no other than the inhabitants of that town who constituted the religious Society within which the church was established; these inhabitants were the cestui que trusts, and the equitable title was vested in them, as long as they continued to constitute the assembly denominated the church in the grants.”I-Here we are told, first, that the grants were made “for the beneficial use of the assembly of Christians in Dedham, who were the same as the inhabitants of the town who constituted the religious society;" second, that within this assembly, town, or society, (all meaning the same,) "the church was established;" third, that this assembly, town, or society," was denominated the church in the grants,” or was the church; and fourth, that this assembly, town, or society, were the cestui que trusts, for whom the church was trustee. Putting all these assertions together, we bring out the following very remarkable facts,—that in the early settlement of Dedham, the assembly, town, or society, and the church, were the same; that within this assembly, or church, the church was established; and that this assembly, or church, were the cestui que trusts, for whom this assembly, or church, were the trustees !! A most wonderful state of things truly.
Finally, we object to the decisions in question, that they have not been generally acquiesced in, and will not be. They were not, in the case of the church in Dedham. By a great majority of
Ibid. pp. 503, 501,514,521.
Ibid. p. 500.
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. pp. 495,501. VOL. I.