Saturday, August 25, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 26

Texans Prepare to Vote on Constitution, late August, 1836

Most Texans know that delegates at Washington on the Brazos issued a Declaration of Independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. What is not so widely known is that the delegates also wrote a constitution for the government they hoped would result from the Declaration. The victory at San Jacinto made the Republic of Texas possible, and the constitution, written in haste, needed the approval of the electorate. An election for that purpose was scheduled for the first Monday in September, 1836.

The delegates at Washington on the Brazos worked under considerable duress. Generals Santa Anna and Urrea, at the head of Mexican armies, were sweeping through Texas. News and rumors about those advancing armies meant that the delegates had to consider not only constitution writing, but also military affairs and possible escape routes.

The constitution writers naturally incorporated large parts of U. S. and state constitutions with which they were familiar. There were several provisions concerning religion. #3 in the Declaration of Rights stated No preference shall be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship over another, but every person shall be permitted to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.

Article V Sec. 1 stated Ministers of the gospel being, by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, ought not to be diverted from their great duties of their functions: therefore, no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to the office of the executive of the republic, nor to a seat in ether branch of the congress of the same.

One of the delegates at Washington on the Brazos representing Shelby County was a Methodist preacher, William C. Crawford. Homer Thrall gives Crawford credit for blocking an even greater prohibition against political participation by clergy. Thrall maintains that the original motion called for disenfranchising preachers and thereby preventing them from holding any office.

These clauses had two interesting effects related to Methodism in the early days of the Republic. The first concerned hiring chaplains for the Texan Congress. Although motions to authorize chaplains were introduced in October when the Congress convened, some members thought that hiring a chaplain would be an indication of favoritism toward that chaplain’s denomination and opposed the office. Chaplains were finally authorized on Dec. 22. Littleton Fowler and William Allen, whom you know through previous columns assumed the chaplaincies.

The other effect was even more important. Methodists were eager to establish colleges and needed the Congress to charter them and provide subsidies in the form of land grants. The granting of a charter to a sectarian institution was seen by many Congress members to be a governmental preference for one denomination. Rutersville College’s original charter submitted to the Congress had to be modified to satisfy those concerns. The word "Methodist" did not appear in Rutersville's charter. The college eventually received a land subsidy too.

The language banning ministers from the high political office was retained in the constitutions of 1845 and 1866.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 19

Trustees Name Georgetown as Site for Central University, Aug. 21, 1873

One of the main activities of 19th century Texas Methodists was establishing schools. Unfortunately one of the other main activities was closing schools. The enthusiasm for establishing schools created an unsustainable number. As John McLean said in his Reminiscences, “. . .we overdid the school business.”

Francis Asbury Mood came from South Carolina to be president of Soule University and almost immediately realized that a central university supported by all of the conferences in Texas would have a better chance of survival than schools with support from only one conference. The task of getting the conferences to unite behind a central university was tremendously difficult, but Mood threw his efforts into that cause and eventually succeeded.

One of the incentives Mood had to offer was the prospect of the central university’s location. As long as conference members thought their conference might contain the university, they would be more likely to support the establishment of the university. Mood used that incentive skillfully. At one point he had to stop a movement to locate the university in Waxahachie. Criteria for the location were established. The desertion of Soule because of a yellow fever epidemic meant that coastal Texas was completely excluded from consideration. That exclusion also silenced some of Mood’s critics who suspected him of trying to make Soule the central university.

Several cities vied for the university and presented Mood with another problem. How could he keep from offending potential patrons in the cities that were not chosen? Mood solved that problem by adding new conditions until only Georgetown remained. The formal announcement for establishing the central university in Georgetown was made August 21, 1873.

To read more about Southwestern University’s founding and location, see To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University, 1840-2000 by William B. Jones.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 12

Reading the minutes of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the Texas Conference is a truly inspiring experience. This reader is particularly drawn to the minutes from the 1930s. Many Methodist women had cut their teeth on two successful campaigns, for woman’s suffrage and the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. They were now ten years older, more mature, and seasoned organizers. Many of them turned to the Woman’s Missionary Society as the main channel for their activism. The minutes from the annual meetings in the 1930s reveal a wonderful mix of idealism and pragmatism as they came to grips with the expanding needs and shrinking budgets brought about by the Great Depression. Here are some highlights from the minutes.

1930 Port Arthur (Temple) hosted the 1930 gathering. Mrs. Harris Masterson reported on the Cause and Cure for War. Several Japanese-American children from the Terry Mission in Orange County attended. Besides the Terry Mission, deaconesses in the Texas Conference worked at Caledonia (Rusk County), the Houston Young Woman’s Cooperative Home, and the Wesley House for Spanish speakers in Houston. The Texas Conference supported building programs at both Scarritt and Mount Sequoyah.

1931 The next meeting was held in Nacogdoches, and the effects of the Depression were becoming more severe. The Terry Mission was reduced to a part time worker and the “Young People’s work” which had been a large part of the organization’s purpose was transferred to the Board of Education as per action of the 1930 General Conference.

1932 The delegates met in St. Paul’s Houston in 1932 and heard talks by some of the most distinguished women in Texas. Mrs. Masterson again spoke on peace. Jesse Daniel Ames spoke on interracial relations, and Oveta Culp Hobby spoke on Citizenship. A young Beaumont attorney, A. D. Moore, spoke on peace. Delegates were outraged by a lynching and passed a resolution in support of law enforcement. (note: Ames was well known as an anti-lynching activist.)

1933 Navasota provided the accommodations for 1933. Paul Harris, founder of Rotary International, came from Washington, D. C. The six deaconesses serving in the Texas Conference all gave their reports. Delegates were treated to a tour of Prairie View A&M, and reported how impressed they were.

1934 When delegates met in Galveston in 1934, they had the unpleasant task of closing two institutions. The Terry Mission was discontinued as was the Galveston Port Missionary. That mission had been in operation for twenty-five years with various ministries. It had been founded to facilitate immigrant reception, especially of unaccompanied children and young women. As the U. S. government assumed more of that role, the ministry shifted to a seaman’s center. By 1934 commerce had slowed so much that fewer seamen were entering Galveston and repatriation of aliens far exceeded new immigrants.

The grand tradition of social service, education, inspiration, and fund raising shown by the Woman’s Missionary Society and its successor organizations, the Woman’s Society of Christian Service, Wesleyan Service Guild, and United Methodist Women, deserves more recognition. Readers are invited to submit items of which they have knowledge.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 5, 2007

Sumertime Reading Report

Last week I reported on some of my summertime reading. (See post for July 28)

The biographies of Thomas O. Summers and George Pierce have been most instructive. Both men rose to great prominence in the MECS, Pierce as bishop and Summers as editor, Vanderbilt professor, and General Conference secretary. As I read about their entrance into the minstry, my thoughts kept turning to the hoops ordination candidates must jump through today and wondered how Summers and Pierce would have fared. Both men had questions raised about their adherence to the plain dress provisions required of Methodist preachers.

Summers attempted to join the Baltimore Conference. His vision was so weak that he had to wear glasses---gold rim glasses! The use of gold rim rather than base metal rim glasses was cause for challenge during his examination. There was even a faction that believed that the use of any glasses at all indicated a snobbery. The wearer was trying to impress people by making them think he had read so many books that he had ruined his eye sight.

Pierce's problems came from a blue "claw hammer coat with brass buttons." George Pierce's father, the famous Lovick Pierce, had sent his son to college. Rev. Pierce bought his son a suit like all the other students for graduation. The young graduate spent a few months reading law in his uncle's office, but received the call to preach. Naturally the only suit he owned was the one his father had bought for his graduation. Pierce's biographer records the following exchange:

George, these people want you to be recommended for a license, but if you get the recommendation, you must take that coat off. No man can be licensed to preach in a coat like that.

Well, but, Uncle Collinsworth, I have no other Sunday coat but this, and it would not be right to throw it away and ask pa to get me another one.

I tell you, my son, that coat must come off.

Well, if they are going to license my coat and not me, I will change it; but I do't expect to change it until I am obliged to get another.

George got him recommendation over the objections of Uncle Collingsworth who then turned to his next objection.

George, why do you wear your hair as you do? All the rest of the preachers wear their's like Bishop Asbury did, brushed down, and you brush yours up.

But Uncle Collingsworth, I have a cowlick.

References are in last week's column.