By William Meade (November 11, 1789 - March 14, 1862)
Third Bishop of Virginia
Dear Brethren and Friends: ...
Having thus presented a statement of those things pertaining to our Diocese which the canon requires of me, I now ask your attention to a few remarks concerning the present unhappy condition of our State and Country.
My brethren and friends will bear me witness how carefully I have ever avoided, in all my communications, the least reference to anything partaking of a political character, and how I have earnestly warned my younger brethren against the danger of injuring the effect of their sacred ministry, by engaging in discussions which are so apt to disturb the peace of society. But in the present circumstances of our country the cause of religion is so deeply involved, that I feel not only justified, but constrained to offer a few remarks for your consideration.
It has pleased God to permit a great calamity to come upon us. Our whole country is preparing for war. Our own State, after failing in her earnest effort for the promotion of peace, is, perhaps, more actively engaged in all needful measures for maintaining the position which she has, after much consideration, deliberately assumed, than any portion of the land.
A deeper and more honest conviction that if war should actually come upon us, it will be on our part one of self-defense, and, therefore, justifiable before God, seldom, if ever, animated the breasts of those who appealed to arms. From this consideration, and from my knowledge of the character of our people, I believe that the object sought for will be most perseveringly pursued, whatever sacrifice of life and comfort and treasure may be required. Nor do I entertain any doubt as to the final result, though I shudder at the thought of what may intervene before that result is secured. May God, in great mercy and with His mighty power, interpose and grant us speedy peace, instead of protracted war! But can it be, that at this period of the world, when so many prayers are offered up for the establishment of Christ's kingdom in all the earth, and such high hopes are entertained that the zealous efforts put forth will be successful, and our country be one of the most effective and honored instruments for producing the same, that the great work shall be arrested by such a fratricidal war as that which is now so seriously threatened ? Is there not room enough for us all to dwell together in peace in this widely extended country, so large a portion of which is yet unsettled, and may not be until the world that now is shall be no more ? The families or nations which sprung from two venerable patriarchs of old, could find room enough in the little pent-up land of Judea to live in peace, by going the one to one hand and the other to the opposite. At a later period, when Israel and Judah separated, and the latter having the city and temple in possession, and the supremacy, according to prophecy, was preparing to go up against the former and reduce the people to submission, and bring them back to union, the Lord himself came down and forbade it, saying: "Thou shalt not go up, nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel. Return every man to his house, for this thing is of me." And they hearkened unto the Lord, and ever after the history of the two kingdoms is written in the same sacred volume, in which are also recorded the evidences of God's favor to both, and though sometimes at controversy, yet how often were they found side by side defending the ancient boundaries of Judea against surrounding nations. God grant that our country may learn a lesson from this sacred narrative. Let none think that I am not mindful of law and order, and of the blessings of Union. I was trained in a different school. I have clung with tenacity to the hope of preserving the Union to the last moment. If I know my own heart, could the sacrifice of the poor remnant of my life have contributed in any degree to its maintenance, such sacrifice would have been cheerfully made. But the developments of public feeling and the course of our rulers have brought mo slowly, reluctantly, sorrowfully, yet most decidedly, to the painful conviction, that notwithstanding attendant dangers and evils, we shall consult the welfare and happiness of the whole land by separation. And who can desire to retain a Union which has now become so hateful, and by the application of armed force, which, if successful, would make it ten times more hateful, and soon lead to the repetition of the same bloody contests ?
I trust, therefore, that the present actual separation of so many and such important portions of our country may take place without further collision, which might greatly hinder the establishment of the most friendly and intimate relations which can consist with separate establishments. I trust that our friends at a distance, and now in opposition to us, will most seriously review their judgment, and inquire whether the evils resulting from a war to sustain their wishes and opinions as to a single Confederacy, will not far exceed those apprehended from the establishment of a second—an event far more certain than the result of the American Revolution at the time of its occurrence.
In connection with this civil and geographical separation in our country, and almost necessarily resulting from it, the subject of some change of the ecclesiastical relations of our Diocese must come under Consideration. There is a general and strong desire, I believe, to retain as much as possible of our past and present happy intercourse with those from whom we shall be, in other matters, more divided. A meeting is already proposed for this purpose in one of the seceded States, whose plans, so far as developed, I will submit to the consideration of this body at its present session.
I cannot conclude without expressing the earnest desire that the ministers and members of our Church, and all the citizens of our State, who are so deeply interested in the present contest, may conduct it in the most elevated and Christian spirit, rising above uncharitable and indiscriminate imputations on all who are opposed. Many there are equally sincere on both sides, as there ever have been in all the wars and controversies that have been waged upon earth; though it does not follow that all have the same grounds of justice and truth on which to base their warfare.
It was the maxim of an ancient sage that we should always treat our friends as those who might one day be our enemies, and to treat our enemies as those who may one day be our friends. While abhorring, as I am sure we all do, the former part of this cold-hearted maxim, let us cherish and adopt the latter, so congenial with the spirit of our holy religion. The thought of even a partial separation from those who have long been so dear to me is anguish to my soul. But there is a union of heart in our common faith and hope which can never be broken. The Church in Virginia has more dear friends and generous patrons amongst those who are on the opposite side of this painful controversy than any other, and feels most deeply the unhappy position in which we are placed.
As our State has, to its high praise, endeavored to avert the evils now threatened, so may our Church, and all the others in Virginia, by prayer and the exercise of true charity, endeavor to diminish that large amount of prejudice and ill-will which so unhappily abounds in our land.
Let me, in conclusion, commend to your special prayers all those who have now devoted themselves to the defense of our State. From personal knowledge of many of them, and from the information of others, there is already, I believe, a large portion of religious principle and genuine piety to be found among them. I rejoice to learn that in many companies not only are the services of chaplains and other ministers earnestly sought for, but social prayer meetings held among themselves. Our own Church has a very large proportion of communicants among the officers of our army, and not a few among the soldiers. Let us pray that grace may be given them to be faithful soldiers of the Cross, as well as valiant and successful defenders of the State.
If all of us do our part faithfully and according to the principles of our holy religion, we may confidently leave the issue to God, who will overrule all for good.
The following resolution was offered by Judge Thomas S. Gholson, and adopted:
Resolved, That so much of the Bishop's address as refers to the present condition of our political and ecclesiastical affairs, be referred to a Special Committee of three Clergymen and three Laymen, with instructions to report as soon as practicable to the Convention some plan of action.
The Chair appointed the following gentlemen such committee: Rt. Rev. John Johns, D. D., Judge Thomas S. Gholson, Rev. J. Grammer, Mr. James Gait, Rev. William Sparrow, D. D., Mr. R. H. Cunningham.
Source: Journal of the Sixty-sixth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia, May 16-17, 1861.
From Bishop Johns' address the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia, 1866: From Norfolk I proceeded to Richmond, and thence to Augusta, Georgia, to attend the General Council, which met in that city on the 8th of November. ... They involved nothing of special interest to us at present, except the recognition of the right of each of the Southern Dioceses to determine its
ecclesiastical relations, as its own Council might elect. Under this recognition every other Diocese of our late confederation has returned to its former connection with the Church in the United States, of which formal notice has been communicated to the ecclesiastical authority of this Diocese. It remains for us to avail ourselves of this annual meeting of our Council to take such action as our christian duty, the interest of the Diocese, and the unity and fellowship of the general Church may require. My own views on this subject were frankly and fully expressed in my address to our last Council. I have since seen no reason to change, but much to lead me
to reaffirm them with more decided emphasis.
By the withdrawal of the other Diocese, which, with our own, formed the ecclesiastical organization in the Southern States, that organization has ceased to exist, and now, certainly, we are free to act as we may think proper, without being embarrassed by the fear of appearing to be discourteous to our late respected associates. And as all apprehension as to the mind and bearing of our Northern brethren toward us has been happily removed by the christian spirit which characterized the last General Convention, and the conciliatory measures by which it expressed itself, the way is fairly open for a becoming re-union, and I cordially recommend, what I trust you will unanimously approve, (the adoption of a resolution that the Diocese of Virginia now resume her former connection with the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.)