James Manning, D.D., may be mentioned next in chronological order, as a Baptist leader at the time of the Revolution. He was born at Elizabeth, N.J., October 22d, 1738, and died July 29th, 1791, so that in 1776 he was in the prime of his days. Under his influence, the Rhode Island College had come to be an established fact, the Warren Association had become a powerful body, and his influence throughout New England was very great. The exactions of the crown upon the Colonies had become so onerous in 1774 that they determined to meet in a common Congress for the purposes of calm deliberation and resistance, if necessary, but to defend their rights under any circumstances. The delegates met in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, September 5th, 1774. At the meeting of the Warren Association, held at Medfield. September 14th, they resolved to address this first Continental Congress not only upon the political wrongs inflicted on the Colonies but
upon their own privations, in that they were denied their rights as men to the free worship of God, and they sent Isaac Backus to present their case. He reached Philadelphia, October 8th, and on the 12th of that month the Philadelphia Association appointed a large committee to co-operate with the agent of the Warren Association. After consulting with a number of leading Quakers, they determined to seek a conference with the Massachusetts delegates rather than to address the Congress as such. Such a meeting having been arranged, they went to Carpenter's Hall, where they met Samuel and John Adams, Thomas Cushing and Robert Treat Paine, from Massachusetts; James Kenzie, of New Jersey; Stephen Hopkins and Samuel Ward, of Rhode Island; Joseph Galloway and Thomas Miffin, of Pennsylvania, and several other members of Congress; with many members of the Society of Friends, as Joseph Fox, Israel and James Pemberton, who sympathized with the suffering Baptists. Dr. Manning opened the case in behalf of his brethren in a brief but eloquent address, and then submitted a memorial which they had adopted. Dr. Guild says of this paper, that it 'should be written in letters of gold and preserved in lasting remembrance.'
The first sentence couches the full Baptist doctrine in these ringing words: 'It has been said by a celebrated writer in polities, that but two things are worth contending for — Religion and Liberty. For the latter we are at present nobly exerting ourselves through all this extensive continent; and surely no one whose bosom feels the patriotic glow in behalf of civil liberty can remain torpid to the more ennobling flame of RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.' They go on to declare that the inalienable rights of conscience rank too high to be subjected to fallible legislators, as that dignity belongs to God alone. Men may legislate hypocritical consciences into existence, but cannot decree their fellow-men Christians. They had come to the free soil of Pennsylvania, to plead for that inestimable blessing which every lover of mankind should desire. They then described the sufferings of their brethren in
Massachusetts, amongst those who had fled from oppression because they scorned domination over conscience, and yet had become ignoble oppressors themselves. They claimed their right to the free exercise of their religion under the charter, and referred to some ameliorations which had been granted to them in Massachusetts, but showed that these were a hollow mockery. For example, in 1728 their persons were exempted from the religious tax, but not their property, if they did not live within five miles of a Baptist meeting-house; yet, in 1729, thirty persons, many of them Baptist, were confined in Bristol jail. In 1729, 1733, 1734, and 1747, under pretense of exempting their property from this tax, they had been subjected not only to all sorts of annoyances but to much severe suffering, until these systematic wrongs culminated in the outrages which robbed the Baptists at Ashfield, and sold their burying-grounds to build a Congregational meetinghouse; and they closed their appeal by pointing out the limits of human legislation, the just tenure of property, and the holy principles of Christianity, with the declaration that they were faithful citizens to all civil compacts; and hence, as Christians, they had a right to stand side by side with other Christians in the use of their consciences in religion.
This conference lasted four hours, and the Massachusetts delegation, having a hard case, tried to explain away the alleged facts as best they could, but exhibited much ill temper at the bare relation of these stinging facts. John Adams betrayed great weakness in this direction. He says that having been informed by Governors Hopkins and Ward, that President Manning and Mr. Backus wished to meet them on 'a little business,' they went to Carpenter's Hall, and there:'To my great surprise found the hall almost full of people, and a great number of Quakers seated at the long table with their broad brimmed beavers on their heads. We were invited to seats among them, and informed that they had received complaints from some Anabaptists and some Friends in Massachusetts, against certain laws of that province restrictive of the liberty of conscience, and some instances were mentioned in the General Court, and in the courts of justice, in which Friends and Baptists had been grievously oppressed. I know not how my colleagues felt, but I own I was greatly surprised and somewhat indignant, being, like my friend Chase, of a temper naturally quick and warm, at seeing our State and her delegates thus summoned before a self-created tribunal, which was neither legal nor constitutional. Isaac Pemberton, a Quaker of large property and more intrigue, began to speak, and said that Congress was here endeavoring to form a union of the Colonies; but there were difficulties in the way, and none of more importance than liberty of conscience. The laws of New England, and particularly of Massachusetts, were inconsistent with it, for they not only compelled men to pay to the building of churches and the support of ministers, but to go to some known religious assembly on first days, etc., and that he and his friends were desirous of engaging us to assure them that our State would repeal all those laws, and place things as they were in Pennsylvania.' He then goes on to call the simple Quaker 'this artful Jesuit,' and to accuse him of attempting to break up the Congress by drawing off Pennsylvania; and then he put in this flimsy plea, which none but an 'indignant' man would have
submitted when he was representing a great people in deliberation, concerning the surest way to break their fetters. He says that this was the substance of his own remarks:'That the people of Massachusetts were as religious and conscientious as the people of Pennsylvania, that their conscience dictated to them that it was their duty to preserve those laws, and, therefore, the very liberty of conscience which Mr. Pemberton invoked would demand indulgence for the tender consciences of the people of Massachusetts, and allow them to preserve their laws. . . They might as well turn the heavenly bodies out of their annual and diurnal courses as the people of Massachusetts at the present day from their meeting-house and Sunday laws. Pemberton made no reply but this:" "O! sir, pray don't urge liberty of conscience in favor of such laws!" . . . Old Isaac Pemberton was quite rude, and his rudeness was resented.'
Clearly it was; but not much to the honor of John Adams, by his own showing. The Baptists had less objection to the Congregationalists taxing themselves to support their own ministers for conscience sake, if their consciences were 'tender' on that subject, than they had to that tenderness of Massachusetts conscience which compelled Baptists to support the Congregational ministry and their own too. This distinction seems to have been the rudeness in which Isaac Pemberton indulged and which Adams 'resented,' but just how 'indignant' Adams would have been if Lord North had insisted that the tender conscience of England compelled her to enforce her laws in Massachusetts does not appear. Probably he would have been more 'indignant' still. Every kind of misrepresentation went abroad concerning this conference, and in high quarters the Baptists were accused of trying to prevent the Colonies from uniting against Britain, the effect of which was to throw stigma on them as the enemies of their country, and it is even said that Backus, their unflinching agent, was threatened with the gallows. This slander they refuted in various documents, but the answer which silenced all such empty clamor was the hearty unanimity with which the whole body threw themselves into the support of the war when independence of Britain was proclaimed. Another strange episode of hatred revealed itself in this desperate struggle. When they could obtain no justice here, they appealed for help to their own brethren in London, and Dr. Stennett appeared with a plea for them before his majesty's Commissioners for Trade and Plantations. He begged their lordships to induce the king:'To disallow an act passed in the Province of Massachusetts Bay in June, 1767, by which the Antipedo-Baptists and Quakers are compelled to pay to the support of a minister of a different persuasion. Their lordships thereupon read and considered the said act, and it was ordered that a draught of a representation to His Majesty should be prepared, proposing that it may be disallowed.' On July 31, 1771, the King held a council, and 'His Majesty taking the same into consideration was pleased with the advice of his Privy Council to declare his disallowance of the said act, and to order that the said act be and it is hereby disallowed and rejected. Whereof the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, or Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's said Province of Massachusetts Bay, for the time being, and all others whom it may concern, are to take notice and govern themselves accordingly.'
The loyalty of the Baptists to the American cause was so clearly evinced, their appeals for equal rights were so well-balanced and reasonable, and their unyielding struggles for liberty were so open and manly, that at last they began to be felt and respected in public affairs. Schooled in conscience and scourged to unconquerable resistance to tyranny, they were driven to the use of every honorable incentive; like wise men they organized for a long and severe contest, with Backus, Manning and Stillman at their head, and made their first attacks upon the strongholds of political Puritanism. Their powerful committee at Boston addressed a most statesmanlike document to the Congress of Massachusetts, which met at Cambridge, November 22d, 1774, in which they once more submitted their case. John Hancock, the president, presented the paper, and asked whether or not it should be read. The intolerants cried with one accord, 'No, no.' But a more considerate member rising said: 'This is very extraordinary, that we should pay no regard to a denomination who, in the place where he lived, were as good members of society as any, and were equally engaged with others in the defense of their civil liberties.' He moved that it be read, and the motion was adopted. After the reading the general disposition was to throw it out unacted upon. By that time Mr. Adams began to feel uneasy, and, rising to his feet, said that he apprehended if it were thrown out it might cause a division amongst the provinces, and he moved its reference to a committee. On consideration the Congress sent this soft and civil answer:
'IN PROVINCIAL CONGRESS, CAMBRIDGE, December 9, 1774. 'On reading the memorial of the Rev. Isaac Backus, agent to the Baptist Churches in this government; 'Resolved, That the establishment of civil and religious liberty to each denomination in the province is the sincere wish of this Congress; but being by no means vested with powers of civil government, whereby they can redress the grievances of any person whatever, they therefore recommend to the Baptist Churches that when a General Assembly shall be convened in this colony they lay the real grievances of said Churches before the same, when and where this petition will most certainly meet with all that attention due to the memorial of a denomination of Christians so well disposed to the public weal of their country. 'By order of the Congress. 'JOHN HANCOCK, President. BENJAMIN LINCOLN, Secretary. 'A true extract from the minutes.'
The moral effect of this action on the public mind was very great, for it advised the Baptists what course to take in the matter of their 'real grievances,' and when the Assembly met, in October, 1775, a new and strong paper was sent for its consideration. Upon its presentation Major Hawley declared to the body that without doubt the Baptists had been injuriously treated, and the memorial was committed to seven members for deliberate consideration. Dr. Asaph Fletcher, a Baptist, was on that committee, and after long debate it recommended redress of Baptist grievances. This caused great commotion in the House, and the memorial, with those who sent it, was severely attacked. Major Hawley defended both, and told
the Assembly 'that the established religion of this colony was not worth a groat, and wished it might fall to the ground,' as Dr. Fletcher writes. After long discussion it ordered that Dr. Fletcher 'have liberty to bring in a bill for the redress of such grievances as he apprehends the Baptists labor under.' When this was passed, Mr. Gerry moved that the Baptists withdraw their memorial, for he was offended with the plain and sound manner in which it had put their wrongs on record. Hawley opposed this motion, wishing the paper to be put on file, for it was worthy; 'and he hoped it would lie there till it had eaten out the present establishment.' Fletcher brought in a bill, which was read but never acted upon.
Dr. Manning was sent by the General Assembly of Rhode Island to the Continental Congress, 1786, where he served as their representative, with great honor to himself and his constituents, his voice and pen being ever ready to treat the great subjects under consideration with marked skill. He had great influence with the people of New England, and especially in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; which was felt in the most wholesome manner when the adoption of the Federal Constitution was strongly opposed, for he cast his entire weight in its favor when it was in danger of rejection. He was far in advance of his times, both as a Baptist and an American. Broad, disinterested and self-sacrificing, his memory cannot be too sacredly cherished. He was manly and engaging in his address, spontaneous and forceful in his eloquence, symmetrical and powerful in body and mind, and, better than all besides, he was true to his holy convictions and his redeeming Lord. ==========
[From Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, Vol. II, 1890; rpt. 1988. - jrd]
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