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Many of those who were leaders on both sides at the time of the disruption had either passed from this life, or had entered into other ecclesiastical relations. Personal prejudices, those most powerful of all agencies in producing the separation, were thus to a large degree eliminated from the question. A new generation had risen in the ministry and membership of the Church, having but little information, and less interest as to the separation itself. Social and ecclesiastical intercourse, except when vain attempts were made by a few to keep alive old distinctions, had done much to obliterate former lines. Ministers on both sides were accustomed to exchange pulpit services. Members of churches passed from one side to the other, dismissed and received on the ordinary certificate. This practical union had been largely promoted by co-operation in good causes in cities and towns. When it pleased God to pour out his Spirit and excite an unwonted prayerfulness over the country, the hearts of Christian people were drawn together in visible unity. For its general extent and influence, it was like the breath of Spring. There seemed to be floating in the very air a sentiment of Christian confidence and love. Indifferent to things of minor importance, the hearts of men were made to converge on those things supreme and ultimate relating to the kingdom of Christ. In such an atmosphere and current of events, all projects for union among Christians seemed to meet with a ready response.
Then came the memorable struggle for national integ rity and life. Before the mighty enthusiasm and inflexible purpose of the nation to save itself from dismem berment and to preserve its Constitution, all subordin
ate distinctions in Church and State instantly disap peared. In large cities, in towns, villages and scattered settlements, there was one and the same high-wrought patriotism, drawing men together in the closest and firmest unity. Both Assemblies, though with different degrees of unanimity, took the same position in relation to the duty of the Church in the fiery trial to which our national life was subjected. As the conflict proceeded, it became apparent that the continued existence of slavery was involved in its issue. As this was the cause of the war, so had it much to do with the separation of the Presbyterian Church. It was not generally recognized as such in public debate. But large ships are turned about by that plank which is out of sight and under water. The New School Assembly at the time of the disruption had but few churches and ministers who endorsed slavery by theory and practice. All these withdrew and founded a separated organization of their own in the South before the war, and before negotiations between Old School and New School were opened for Reunion. The General Assembly Old School had a large slave-holding constituency for which it always manifested, in debate and legislation, the utmost tenderness and caution. The time came when it was evident that slavery was to go down forever before the well-nigh unanimous purpose to maintain the national existence. This cause removed, there went with it what had long tended in Church judicatories to produce irritation, repulsion, and strife. Much has not been said or written in the discussions of the last few years upon this subject, but all who are personally acquainted with the affairs of the Presbyterian Church in this
country, for the last thirty-five years, will, in all candor, be prompt to admit that the existence of slavery had more to do with the division of the Church than has generally been supposed; and that its entire extinction has been among the many causes which have made the Reunion of the two Northern Assemblies more easy and more certain.
In view of all these circumstances, it was inevitable that the subject of Reunion should become a matter of discussion. Several religious papers representing both branches made unequivocal expression of opinion in its favor.
In May, 1862, the Old School Assembly, then in session at Columbus, Ohio, adopted a resolution proposing a "stated annual and friendly interchange of commissioners between the two General Assemblies." This, it will be perceived, was not a movement towards organic union. It has been understood as intended by some by a flank movement to defeat Reunion, by establishing friendly relations between two independent bodies, always to be retained in this position. The above resolution was communicated to the New School Assembly at its next meeting, May, 1863, in Philadelphia. Its action on the subject is contained in the following resolution:
"Resolved, That this Assembly, with heartfelt pleasure and Chris tian salutations, accepts the proposition thus made, hoping and praying that it may result in securing a better understanding of the relations which, in the judgment of this Assembly, are proper to be maintained between the two Assemblies."
The Old School Assembly being in session at this time in Peoria, Illinois, was at once informed by tele
graph of this action, and immediately delegates were chosen by both bodies, in accordance with the terms of the resolution. So far from operating, as some of its advocates supposed that it would, as a measure looking to continued independency of the two branches, with honorable and friendly recognition of each other as between distinct denominations, it tended immediately to strengthen the wish for a closer union.
The very next year (1864), when the Old School General Assembly was in session at Newark, N. J., a meeting of ministers and elders, members of that body, and others casually in attendance, was held for conference upon the expediency and feasibility of organic Reunion. This, so far as is known to the writer, was the first action in favor of Reunion on the part of a public and representative body. It was not the action of the General Assembly itself, but of those, in large part, who were members of it. The paper prepared and published by this meeting, was signed by seventy ministers and fifty-three elders. From this document we make the following extract:
"It is believed that the great majority in each branch sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and approve the same government and discipline. On this basis we may reunite, mutually regarding and treating the office-bearers and church courts of each branch as co-ordinate elements in the reconstruction. There are difficulties in the way of repairing the breaches of Zion, which must be met and overcome by well-considered methods, and in a spirit of forbearance and prudence. Reunion cannot be accomplished, nor is it to be desired, without the restoration of a spirit of unity and fraternity. We believe this spirit exists, and is constantly increasing. That which should first engage the attention of the friends of Reunion
should be to find out how far unity of sentiment and kindness of feeling prevail."
The same year, at the opening of the New School Assembly at Dayton, Ohio, a sermon was preached by. the retiring Moderator, the Rev. Henry B. Smith, D.D., which presented the whole subject of a Reunited Church with singular felicity and power. documents were widely circulated and freely discussed throughout the country; signs multiplied in every direction of an ever-increasing disposition and purpose to unite the two branches of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
That the two Assemblies should meet simultaneously in the city of St. Louis in the year 1866, was no accident. It was an evidence of pre-concert on the part of influential members of both branches, and indicated a general expectation that some formal action in favor of Reunion would soon be inaugurated. Scarcely had these Assemblies been organized, before it appeared that each had been memorialized by a considerable number of Presbyteries in different parts of the country between New York and San Jose, to take action in favor of reunion.
It was necessary that these overtures should receive official notice. Moreover, in that city, so remote from all memories and associations of the disruption, a Christian spirit was prevalent which made it easy for memhers of the two Assemblies to meet together for social worship and the sacrament of the Communion. At these services, popular sentiment expressed itself de cidedly in favor of Reunion. At length the General