Compromise with slavery seemed to many whites the only way to maintain peace in the church. To others it appeared a yielding of the church's helm to the devil. These latter persons began to churn up church support for the abolition of slavery. Their agitation provoked resentment and attempts were made to silence them. The Methodist bishops in 1836 announced, "We have come to the solemn conviction, that the only safe, Scriptural, and prudent way for us, both as ministers and people, to take, is wholly to refrain from this agitating subject (the abolition of slavery), which is now convulsing the country."
The flood of abolitionism was not dammed by episcopal rhetoric, however. It poured into the 1844 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and cut the church in half. By the time the month-long conference adjourned, provision had been made for the organization of a Methodist church in the South that would be congenial to slavery. This possibility became a reality in 1846 when the first General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was convened in Petersburg, Virginia.
The next decade, that of the 1850s, was a time of often ruthless competition between the northern and southern branches of Methodism for the allegiance of Methodists in the border states. Increasingly bitter words were spoken as slavery's friends and foes sought biblical underpinnings for their positions. The churches expanded their educational, publishing, missionary, and moral reform agencies. New ministries among Scandinavian and other immigrants were started, and evangelistic outreach to blacks and Native Americans was intensified. The first Methodist church in the Gothic style was erected in Pittsburgh in 1855. Combined Methodist, Evangelical, and United Brethren membership figures indicated they represented 5.73 percent of the population in 1860. Meanwhile, sensitive spirits felt the coming of a tidal wave.
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