Folly, Falsehood, and Disfellowship: Religious Discord and Disunity in 19th-Century America

The October release of American Pamphlets, Series 1, 1820-1922: From the New-York Historical Society includes works that illustrate tensions between different religions, within Presbyterianism, and between believers and free-thinkers.  

An Exposure of the Folly and Falsehood of the Rev'd George C. Light (1829)
By Archibald Cameron

Archibald Cameron wrote this pamphlet in response to one titled, “True State of the Case, or Slander Repelled” by Reverend George C. Light. Light claimed Presbyterians were secretly traveling throughout the country arguing against the separation of church and state.  Cameron clarifies the Presbyterian position, saying:

The object…was to influence the public to choose good men for official stations in society. It seems to aim at giving a general influence to Christianity in all things over the minds of men; but not the union of church and state, or the establishment of Presbyterianism by state authority. Presbyterians know that their system is sufficiently obvious in the Bible and they think it more glorious it should make its way by its own intrinsic excellence than by any human authority. There is no threatening here as the Advocate says about “filling every office in the state and national government with a good orthodox Presbyterian.” What if Dr. Ely should prefer a sound Presbyterian to be a judge or ruler if he should otherwise be a man competent to occupy that station, there is nothing objectionable in it: has he not as much right to his own choice as those people who exclaim against him.

Reasons, Assigned by the Church in North Wrentham, for Withdrawing from Their Masonic Brethren and Others (1830)
By Church of Christ in North Wrentham

On October 21, 1830, nearly 50 members of the Church of Christ in Wrentham, Massachusetts, requested their dismissal “for the purpose of being organized into a distinct and separate Church.” The separatists were concerned about the influence of Freemasonry, believing it had corrupted church members. They resolved to “have no fellowship for Freemasonry, viewing it as Anti-Christian in its oaths, rites and principles...” They explain their position, writing:

There are other reasons, however, why we totally disfellowship Freemasonry, and why we think it should be a bar to Christian communion; some of which we will briefly state.—Freemasonry is a system of deism in its first degrees, and of atheism in the end. It erases the name of Jesus from all its formulas; adapts it religion to the caprice and accommodation of Deists, Jews, Mohammedans and Pagans; and leads the noviciate along from step to step, until, in the higher degrees, if qualified by hardness of heart and recklessness of moral principle, he is let into the true nature, design and spirit of the institution….

The Masonic institution, then, is a school of infidelity. There is no system on earth so artfully contrived, and so completely fitted to make deists and atheists, as Freemasonry. It doubtless has made more skeptics in religion than any other system of means that was ever put in operation.

The Other Side, No. II, or “The Right Side” Shown To Be The Wrong One (1850)
By A Member of the Newark Presbytery

One intriguing aspect of this pamphlet is its authorship. The writer—“A Member of the Newark Presbytery”—begins by excoriating a critic of his earlier work for using a pseudonym, writing:

A pamphlet entitled “The Right Side,” being a brief review of “The Other Side,” has been discovered in secret circulation in Newark….Written by nobody knows whom, and printed nobody knows where; at one time we hear that a D.D. of Elizabethtown is the author; at another, an M.D. of Newark; but the professions have little occasion to dispute about the honor of the production, be it joint or single. It will add nothing to any man’s reputation, except to make a bad one worse.

However, not until this work’s postscript is its authorship claimed:

P.S. “The Other Side No. I” having been denounced as libelous, and an attempt made to suppress it as such, and to lay the blame on “two or three” other members of the Newark Presbytery, who were entirely innocent in the matter; for this, and for no other reason, we at once, and unhesitatingly, acknowledged the authorship, and sole responsibility of publication, in a public card. And we now do the same in reference to “The Other Side, No. II.” GEORGE DUFFIELD, Jr.

Duffield was engaged in an ongoing debate that in 1837 had lead to a schism in the Presbyterian Church. Known as the Old School-New School Controversy, this schism was also the subject of the following pamphlet, published about 15 years later.  

A Sermon on the Doctrinal Differences in the “Old” and “New School” Parties in the Presbyterian Church (1853)
By Frederick Thomas Brown

Frederick Thomas Brown supported the “Old School,” differing with George Duffield, who he describes here as “one of the mighty men in the New School ranks.” Beginning by quoting Duffield, Brown explains what he considers to be an irreconcilable doctrinal problem for the “New School,” namely, their disbelief in original sin.

    …“The infant has not yet actually become a moral agent, and, consequently, possesses no moral character. It has not risen above the level of a mere animal.” So Dr. Duffield wrote…that the infant is born, not only sinless, but without any character whatever, and with a heart like a white sheet of paper, on which a moral nature is yet to be written. If this be so, then infants to not need regeneration,—so Dr. Duffield avows—do not need atonement of Christ, and those dying in infancy have no interest in Christ as the Savior of sinners, and no interest in the regenerating, sanctifying Holy Ghost. From such a doom may God save every child of mine! and of yours! that he may be pleased to take from us in their infancy. Thus you see another New School dogma—growing out of the previous dogma—is, to deny the doctrine of Original Sin. And if these doctrines be rejected, who shall tell us why, in the government of a merciful, just God, sinless infants suffer? and why they die?

Mormonism Considered, Being “Thoughts Suggested By a Study of Mormonism” (1897)
By A. Theodore Schroeder

Theodore Schroeder was an American author and firm supporter of freedom of expression. In 1900, Schroeder took part in the formation of the Free Speech League, a precursor of the American Civil Liberties Union. Although he largely focuses on criticizing Mormonism in this pamphlet, he concludes with remarks on free thought in general:

If there is a God who endowed us with intellect, he certainly will never punish us for honestly doubting the infallibility of what seems to us absurd.The mere fact that the Bible says that young men shall dream dreams, and old men see visions, does not make these hallucinations an infallible guide in life.

The moment we admit that any book or man expresses the will of an infallible God, we become intellectual serfs….

By clearing away the supernatural rubbish heap which now rests upon many an uncultivated mind, we are only doing what is necessary to prepare a fertile intellect for the proper cultivation of intellectual fruit.


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