DIFFICULTIES IN MERCER UNIVERSITY, FOLLOWED BY HIS RESIGNATION.
In 1843 it became evident to the friends of Mercer University that the Institution was suffering for want of better management. This condition of affairs was so well known to the members of the Faculty that they agreed some radical change was absolutely necessary to bring the University back to its former prosperity. Some members of the Faculty, Prof. Mell among the number, sent in their resignations and stated to the Board that they "considered a radical change in its present organization essential to its prosperity, and desired to leave the Brethren of the Board unembarrassed to make that change." The Board elected Dr. Dagg President and refused to accept the resignations of the members of the Faculty. The Institution soon began to revive, and the outlook greatly brightened. This disposition on the part of Professor Mell, shown in this incident, proves what was true of him throughout his life, that he was ready to sacrifice his own convenience and self-interest whenever he thought that by so doing he would advance the cause for which he was working.
In 1851 he was elected Secretary of the Southern Baptist Publication Society, located in Charleston, S. C., but he declined this office because the position would take him out of the State, and away from his field of labor and many warm, personal friends, lie served, however, for a number of years on the Board of Managers of this Society.
On the 10th of June, 1854, he was unanimously elected President of Wake Forest College of North Carolina, but this position he also declined.
From this date until 1855 the affairs at Penfield moved on very smoothly. At this time, however, a crisis occurred in the history of the University that resulted in serious trouble. Dr. Dagg, the venerable President, was requested by the Board to resign; and such reasons were assigned for this course as were calculated, in the opinion of Prof. Mell, to do great injustice to a capable and faithful officer. At that time it was the intention of the Board to elect Prof. P. h. Mell as Dr. Daggs successor. Prof. Mell, in writing of this period, says: This I learned from members of the Board, and from Prof. Crawford, who had made the necessary inquiries, and who was the first to inform me that the Board had requested Dr. Daggs resignation. Not willing to avail myself of this opportunity for personal aggrandizement at the expense of injustice to my venerable colleague, I united with all the other Professors, excepting Prof. Crawford (who declined to do so), in a respectful and legitimate testimony to the Board of Trustees. with the design to disabuse their minds in regard to Dr. Dagg." This availed nothing, however, and Dr. Dagg was retired. Very soon after Prof. Crawford was elected to fill the position of President, although against the wishes of almost the entire Faculty. There soon sprang up between Prof. Mell and President Crawford a difference of opinion in regard to the duties belonging to each, which resulted in an estrangement, and their resignations were offered to the Board. The matter was partially healed, by the friends of the two officers, for a time and their resignations were withdrawn. It was not long, however, before the trouble between them was fanned into a flame and Prof. Mell preferred to retire rather than to remain connected with the Institution under the management of a gentleman with whose administration he could not agree. So on October 23, 1855, he resigned the Professorship of Ancient Languages. Dr. Dagg realizing the great sacrifice made in his behalf, wrote the following letters to show his keen appreciation of the warm friendship extended him by Prof. Mell:
"REV. P. H. MELL:
DEAR BROTHER: The late act of the Board of Trustees has deprived the University of your valuable services, and you of the employment on which you were relying for the support of your growing family. It will also tend very seriously to affect, for a time, your reputation abroad. The public will not take pains to investigate the facts; but will conclude that a board of twenty-one men, selected for their wisdom to manage the University, would not permit such an act to pass, and stand responsible for it to the world, if it were without just cause. This influence is now bearing against you. In these circumstances, the opinions of those who know you best will at least be consolatory to you. One who has been intimately associated with you in the service of the University for nearly twelve years, offers his, in the subjoined copy of a letter this day enclosed to the President of the Board of Trustees. If it can further serve you, it is committed to your discretion.
October 27th, 1855.
J. L. DAGG."
"To THE HON. THOMAS STOCKS, President of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University:
DEAR BROTHER: From documents which I have seen, it appears that at the meeting of the Trustees, on Tuesday last, Prof. Mell was dismissed from office on a charge of hostility to the President, which charge was preferred against him by the President. Prof. Mell is regarded by the Board as a worthy Christian minister, and as a competent and laborious instructor. No failure in duty to the University appears to be laid to his charge. I had the pleasure of testifying before the Board in December last, that during the whole period of my Presidency (ten and one-half years), he had been the right arm of our discipline; and I consider the present prosperity of the University attributable to no one more than to him.
When such an officer, on such a charge, so unsustained by proof, is dismissed from service by the Board, the reward of fidelity is too uncertain to render office desirable. It is my wish to retire from the University; I therefore respectfully present to you my resignation, to take effect six months from hence.
PENFIELD, GA., October 27th, 1855."
The students, hearing of Prof. Mells retirement from the University, held a meeting, at which resolutions were passed, expressing sorrow and disapprobation at the dismissal of an officer whom they had learned to love and whose attainments they so much admired. The following is a copy of these resolutions:
"WhereasThe pleasant relationship which Prof. Mell has heretofore sustained to the students of Mercer University as Professor of Ancient Languages no longer exists, ResolvedThat we, students of Mercer University, take this method of expressing our appreciation of his exalted merits as a true friend of the student, as an able and accomplished instructor, and as a faithful minister of the Gospel, and that we, with feelings of deep regret, see him retire from the responsible position which he has for so many years so honorably and successfully maintained. ResolvedThat in his retirement he will carry with him our best wishes for his future happiness and the earnest desire that in whatever sphere his lot may be cast, his labors may be rewarded with the same eminent success that has attended them during his connection with Mercer University.
ResolvedThat as a testimonial of the high esteem and admiration which we entertain towards him, both as a man and as a laborious and competent Professor, we tender him a gold-headed cane, bearing the inscription: Prof. P. H. Mell, from students of Mercer University."
Mr. E. L. Compere, in company with the other young men, repaired to Prof. Mells residence, and after a neat address presented the cane. Prof. Mell thanked the students for the beautiful testimonial of their esteem, and said:
It shall be an ornament to me in my manhood, and, in old age, should Providence grant it to me. it shall be the support of my tottering steps. Even now there is a moral sentiment contained in it which enables me to stand more erect and tread with firmer footsteps in the midst of the inequalities and impediments that obstruct my pathway."
This promise was faithfully kept. The cane did support him through his manhood, and in old age became his daily companion. He kept the memento with the greatest care throughout his long eventful life as a pleasant reminder of the few bright rays that penetrated the dark clouds surrounding him in 1855 and 1856. The writer of this biography now possesses this cane and it shall be as sacredly kept through his life as it was preserved through that of his father.
About the same time the citizens of Penfield assembled in the town hall and presented Prof. Mell with a handsome gold watch as an evidence of the kind regard they had for him, and the high estimate they placed upon his character as a public-spirited citizen. This watch he wore until a few years since, when he gave it to his son, T. S. Mell, who now keeps it as one of his most valuable possessions.
While these troubles were crowding around Prof. Mell thick and fast at Penfleld, the great Baptist Denomination did not stand silently by and see him crushed without raising a hand in his behalf and in his defense, but he was elected Moderator of the Georgia Baptist Association. This is the oldest and most influential Association in the State. He was elected to this position in October, 1855, and here began the manifestation of that knowledge of Parliamentary Law which made him justly famous in after years as the "Prince of Parliamentarians." While attending the meetings of this Association he became intimately acquainted with such men as Sanders, Dagg, Hillyer, Call away, Tupper, the Kilpatricks, Absalom Jones, Thomas Stocks, Dickinson, Thornton, John L. West, Jesse Mercer, Sherwood, Mallory, Marshall, and others.
The members of Dr. Mells churches at Antioch and Bairdstown rallied around him during his troubles with the Board of Trustees of Mercer University, and without an exception, warmly Sustained him during those dark days. Besides giving him all the moral support in their power, they largely increased his salary so that his family should not want. This great kindness and deep affection, extended by his people when he most needed their friendship and sympathy, touched him very deeply, and he never lost an opportunity to express his gratitude.
At this time his friends in Georgia and other States, knowing that he was disengaged, and appreciating his work as a preacher and teacher, offered him a number of positions of importance and distinction, as President of colleges and pastor of churches. The following are given to indicate the character of these positions:
In 1855 he was elected President of the Baptist College of Mississippi; also Principal of the Montgomery, Alabama, Female Institute; and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia.
In 1856 the Mississippi College authorities, declining to accept his refusal of the Presidency tendered him a short time before, re-elected him to that position, which he again declined. In reply to the notification of the election to the Presidency of the Mississippi College, he wrote as follows:
"PENFIELD, GA., November 26th, 1855.
DEAR BROTHER PHILIPS:
I regret very much that your letters conveying the flattering announcement of my unanimous election to the Presidency of your college have found me in such circumstances.
Accompanying this you will receive a printed document which makes an exposition of recent events in Mercer University. The day after the catastrophe here I requested Brother Compere to address you and inform you of the fact that you might be prevented from acting in the dark in regard to your proposed election. I have reason to infer, therefore, that your Trustees were not in possession of at least all of the facts when they met. If you were so uninformed at the time, duty to myself as well as to you, would compel me to decline the appointment. And even if you acted with a full knowledge of the facts it would not be, in my opinion, judicious for either of us to consent to the proposed connection until I had had time to repel the onsets which are made on me and to wipe out the stain which it is attempted to affix to me. With this object in view I have declined other brilliant offers, and have concluded to remain for the next year right here (Penfield), serving my two churches who have nobly come up to the rescue, offering to pay me at the rate of $1600 per year. Thus far I have no reason to complain of the manner in which the Denomination, in all parts of the State, receive the action of a fragment of the Board of Trustees.
It is gratifying to me to know of the magnanimity displayed by your Board in waiving objections to me on the ground of my reputed opposition to revision. But the fact is they are misinformed in reference to my position on the subject. I have never taken ground of opposition to revision: on the contrary, I told Brother Walher that if the Society could be formed to revise the English Scriptures, and to dissolve as soon as completed. I would join it and labor for it with all my might. I have never even taken public ground of opposition to the Bible Union, and never expect to. There are some features which I wish were different, hut the whole thing is a foregone conclusion and resistance to it now can, in my opinion, do no good.
I have been opposed to connecting the Revision Movement, either in fact or in appearance, with the Southern Baptist Convention, because it is a question that elicits a difference of sentiment, and I am unwilling that our missionary enterprises should be embarrassed by it, but I have never had an opportunity publicly to express even this. . . .
I am sorry to say that circumstances leave me no option in the case, and compel me to respectfully decline the appointment to the Presidency of Mississippi College.
P. H. MELL."
Upon his re-election to the Presidency of Mississippi College, in spite of the above letter, Prof. Mell wrote as follows:
"PENFIELD, GA., June 22nd, 1856
DEAR BROTHER PHILIPS:
I received your letter informing me that I had again been elected President of Mississippi College, and requesting my acceptance of the post. . . .
While I have an exalted conception of the post you offer me, for the honor attached to it, and for the opportunity for usefulness it affords, and while I can never forget the magnanimity with which your Board have treated me, I still feel constrained respectfully to decline the Presidency of Mississippi College for the following reasons:
Your design, I learn, in electing a President now is to give your Institution an impulse by gathering to its support those who have stood aloof because the organization was not complete, and by inspiring confidence in the minds of all its friends. To secure this result the President-elect must come to you with seine degree at least of prestige. It is not enough that he be one able to meet difficulties and discouragements and remove them: and by patience and continued efficiency win the confidence, and co-operation that are not at first unhesitatingly ac corded to him. What you need is not a man who can acquire capital, but one who has it now to put into the concern. . . . In a case like yours, when there are so many other gentlemen, to say the least, fully as competent as myself, whose services can be secured, and who can enter upon office with eclat, I should not for selfish considerations subject you to the danger of a failure in your main design. I have been for some time engaged in a controversy here which has not as yet been entirely settled. During the progress of it I have been the object of no little disparagement, public and private, and the subject of summary, not to say ignominious treatment from those with whom I have been long associated. Now while I am convinced that the course of conduct which invited all this was the most honorable and disinterested of my life, yet it is certain that many, not being in possession of the facts of the case, do not at the present so esteem it. It would be selfish in me, therefore, to permit great interests in other States to embarrass themselves by connection with me until I have succeeded in removing misapprehensions, refuting calumnies and demonstrating to the candid and the discerning in my own State that I have been misapprehended and misjudged. Besides this I instinctively shrink from the proposition to accept office, when by accepting I would dislodge or even disquiet in his relations, an officer whose commission is of an older date and whose services are appreciated. You were candid enough to say to me that my acceptance might probably involve the resignation of one of the professors. Now I do not know what personal objections that officer, who has had a long and intimate association with me, raises to me; but I feel under obligations to respect them. He was my pupil for three years: and I feel competent and free to say that he possesses the intellectual qualifications and literary attainments to make you a competent professor. . . . . (This Professor, in after years, was most bitter in his opposition to the writer of this letter.)
"I beg the Board of Trustees to accept the expression of my lasting gratitude for the magnanimity with which they have treated me.
With the highest esteem for yourself, personally, my dear Brother,
Yours in Christs bonds,
P. H. MELL.
The preceding and following letters are given in this connection in order to bring out some of the salient points in Professor Mells position during his contest with the authorities of Mercer University. They go to show, in a striking manner, how earnestly he combated the difficulties crowding around him. Many men would have yielded under such pressure, but the early training to which he was subjected, the hard blows he received from the world from the time he was fourteen years of age, well prepared him for these stormy times; and the successful surmounting of all these difficulties in after years, no doubt, was largely due to the rough experiences of his young life.
"PENFIELD, GA., September 17th, 1856.
DEAR BROTHER PHILIPS:
I have just returned home after an almost continuous absence of seven weeks. Knowing that your Board would not meet until October I have delayed as long as possible with the hope that, by some possibility, I might be so relieved from the embarrassment, as to answer you in accordance with your expressed wishes. When I declined your call I was influenced chiefly by the apprehension that if I accepted with (as appeared to me) my disabilities, I would be the occasion of division among you. That apprehension has been entirely removed by the subsequent action and testimony of your Board. Your last official communication, however, found me laboring under new embarrassments. In the first place my two churches had extended me a call indefinite as to duration, offering to me an amount adequate to my support. This I had Unconditionally accepted. Then again two other colleges in my own state had elected me each as their President, and a company of friends in Columbus had offered to me an independent school with a salary of $4,000 a year, and the colleges have been up to this time offering tome the most urgent appeals to accept. Among them all no position (in an Institution) has seemed to me to afford so great an opportunity for usefulness as that tendered by you; and surely, so far as honor is concerned, it contains enough to satisfy the cravings of the most eager ambition. I have found, however, on cautious inquiry (and I have delayed in order that I might make such inquiry) that my brethren are unwilling to give me up. I suppose if I should make formal application to be released they would not refuse; but this I do not feel at liberty to do, when I remember how generously they stood up to me in my hour of trialwhen the storm was raging most fiercely against me. Besides, the Lord has continued to bless my ministry most signally among them; and I am led from Providential indications, as well as from impressions made upon my mind, to believe that it is the Lords will that I should give myself exclusively to the work of the gospel ministrythat which has been the cherished desire of my heart ever since I took the ministerial vows upon me.
I see it stated in the newspapers that I have accepted the Presidency of the Cherokee Baptist College; but it is all news to me. They themselves requested me not to give them an answer until October, knowing that if I answered at the time they wrote me, it would be in a declination.
Under all the circumstances, therefore, having weighed the subject carefully, and I trust, prayerfully, I have Come to the conclusion that it is out of my power to withdraw the declination of the post offered to me by the Trustees of Mississippi College. I feel impelled to do so. I shall ever retain as a cherished memory the acquaintance I have formed with the character of the Mississippi Baptists, and the kind and magnanimous treatment I have received at their hands. I hope I shall ever have some place in their confidence and affections; and I beg to assure them that I have delayed my reply to their last official communication solely by the desire to see whether the way might not be opened for forming more intimate relations with brethren who have done so much to command my gratitude and esteem.
Yours in gospel bonds,
P. H. MELL.
"PENFIELD, GA., October 21st, 1856.
HON. M. A. COOPER, Etowah, Ga.:
DEAR BROTHER: You have doubtless heard ere this that I have considered it my duty to decline the Presidency of Cherokee Baptist College. Prior engagements to my churches, from which I could not have been honorably released, prevented my acceptance.
Besides, there were other serious difficulties in the way if these had been removed. In the first place there was the danger that my acceptance would be the occasion of the perpetuation of party spirit and strife among the Baptists of Georgia. It is evident that the gentlemen connected with this Institution hero (Mercer) whom I have offended, because I protested against their treatment of. Dr. Dagg, are determined that I shall attain to no denominational position in Georgia. (On this point the history of their. secret action in regard to the Christian Index would be edifying). My acceptance, therefore, would have been the signal for onsets upon me as the enemy of Mercer University, as impelled by motives of revenge, as determined to rule or ruin. This would have roused in turn my friendsnot a fewwho consider that I have not been justly treated by these brethren: and the danger would have been that the two Institutions would have been arrayed in open hostility, and the Baptist Denomination exhibited to the world as a divided, discordant, belligerent community. Now while I have no reason to feel the slightest temptation to refrain from any thing because these gentlemen object, I feel entirely unwilling to strike even them a blow which, feeble as it may be, may fall in any measure upon the denomination I love.
This danger, however, may have been avoided by watchfulness: and it is more than half obviated as soon as we become aware of its existence.
Another difficulty in the way of my acceptance was the ignominious treatment I had received from the Baptist Denomination through its agents, in the fact that I was disgracefully expelled from position in Mercer University. I still stand before the world, so far as the action of Georgia Baptists is concerned, as one whose conduct was such as to deserve summary expulsion from office. Now I feel unwilling to embarrass the promising educational interests in Cherokee by aiding it to form a connection with a man who appears before the world as under the ban of his brethren.
At the Convention I asked not for full reparation, hut merely that justice might be done to my reputation. These trustees so fat from showing a disposition to acquit my moral and professional character of all blame, trumped up a set of frivolous and unfounded charges against me, (which were evidently an after thought or they would not have testified at the time they expelled me that I was a worthy Christian minister, and a competent and laborious officer long connected with the University), and then were driven to the humiliating necessity of voting for a report which, whatever might be to me its objectionable features, bore inferential testimony to my competency and faithfulness as a college officer-the very things (the latter, at least) which they attempted before your committee to impugn.
Now if they had reported to the Convention that they had removed me merely because they thought Dr. Crawford and I could not co-operate, and that they preferred Dr. Crawford to me, insinuating no blame to me, I should not have opened my mouth. But instead they came there with the most meagre statements, after spreading the rumor all over the State that they would be provided with another report containing charges against me which, if presented, would ruin my reputation. And I have authentic information that some of them are still whispering that they have private reasons for their action which if divulged would ruin me.
I announced to the Convention that if they would print only the conclusion to which the committee arrived I would be satisfied; and I understood that body so to order, but such a showing does not appear on the minutes. Nor am I ignorant of the influences the most active of these Trustees brought to bear on the Clerk to accomplish this result. The conclusion of the committees report based the action of the Trustees upon the want of harmony; the Synopses, which precedes the conclusion, intimates that Dr. Dagg and I were to blame for that want of harmony. I had no opportunity to meet the statements in that synopsis before your committee, for I was ignorant of its existence until it was read out in public; but if I did not demonstrate its inaccuracy on the floor of the Convention it has been done conclusively by Dr. Dagg in a letter to Brother Burney, a copy of which in justice to you I suppose the Trustees have sent you.
Now I do not mention these things in a way of querulousness; for I do not murmur on the field of battle, especially when I am contending for the right. I did not fail entirely to foresee the consequences which would result to me when I dared (ignoring self-interest) to protest against the injustice of those in power; and whatever of those consequences I may not be able to ward off and repel, I trust I have manliness and fortitude enough to endure. I have mentioned these things as facts which constitute disabilities in the way of my acceptance of office in an Institution. Some may call this pride; others, looking at it from a slightly different point of view, may characterize it as self-respect; while others still may view it as common prudence and a disinterested desire to avoid injury to an Institution that honors me with an invitation to exalted position.
This objection the college at Cassville may have over-ruled; and by its election of me to its Presidency, with a knowledge of all the facts, it evinced a willingness to assume all the responsibilities in the premises. It will give me pleasure to aid, to the extent of my ability, the educational interests of Cherokee, Georgia. I agree with you most heartily in the wish that the Georgia Baptists could unite in establishing an Institution in such locality and under such auspices as to command the confidence and secure the patronage of all .
With great respect I remain
P. H. MELL."
The following are the extracts referred to in the above letters, and a full account of the proceedings of the State Baptist Convention will be found by reference to the minutes of 1856 of the session of the convention in Savannah, Georgia.
"Read the Report of the Trustees of Mercer University, and on motion of brother Gaskill, adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, That the report of the Board of Trustees be referred to a select Committee of Seven, and that said Committee be requested to examine the proceedings of the Board of Trustees, concerning their dealings with Professor Mall, seeking all the information they can get from both parties.
In accordance with this resolution the Moderator announced the following committee: Brethren M. A. Cooper, R. L. McWhorter, V. A. Gaskill, E. Dyer, J. S. Baker, D. W. Lewis, and III. C. Hornady. . . .
Resumed the reading of the report of the committee to whom was referred the report of the Board of Trustees, which was adopted. It was agreed that the historical part of the report be omitted in the printed record, and conclusion of the committee published as follows:
From the foregoing state of facts, your committee are of the opinion, that the proceedings of the Board of Trustees in their dealings with brother Mell. have been prompted by a desire faithfully to administer the trust confided to them; that in the course of administration, they were under the painful necessity of re-organizing the Faculty of the college under circumstances of great trial arising from the want of harmony and co-operation in the Faculty. The difficulty and magnitude of these trials arose, mainly from the fact, that the schism existed between most worthy brethren and eminent professors, making it indispensable in either alternative to set aside one or more professors, who, under other circumstances, they might and would have gladly retained.
As regards the wrong and injury complained of by Brother Mell, your committee are of opinion,
1st, That Professor Mell was not removed on account of charges preferrednot as the result of a trial and conviction for malfeasance and nonfeasanceacts committed or duties neglectedbut simply for and on account of the fact, that there was not and could not obtain a co-operation between him and Dr. Crawford, whom the Trustees deemed it best to retain. In doing which they hare borne testimonial to the eminent services and distinguished ability of Professor Mell, and their confidence in him as a Christian minister. Your committee think it indispensable to a successful administration of the trust reposed, that the Trustees should exercise the power of removal, with or without a trial, or charges preferred. The committee find that such has been the course in Professor Mells case, and that the result ought not to disparage his character as a Professor and Instructor, and may well have been done without imputation on his high character as a Christian and a minister of the gospel."
In an appendix to this minute the following note occurs, signed by the Clerk, and it was the publication of this Report in full which Prof. Mell objected to in his letter to Mr. Cooper.
"On page 12 the following record appears in connection with the report of the committee on the report of the Board of Trustees: It was agreed that the historical part of the report be omitted in the printed record, and the conclusion of the committee published.
"Since the printing of this portion of the minutes I have received such information as leaves in doubt the design of the Convention respecting the printing of the report. On the last morning of the late meeting, when the minutes of the preceding day were read, some alterations were made by general consent, without a formal vote. One was to suppress a notice of a minority report: another was to erase the vote on the adoption of the majority report. It was also suggested, that all the details of the majority report be omitted, except the conclusions of the committee. No opposition to this suggestion was expressed at the time, and after the Convention I had such testimony from prominent brethren, including those who voted for the report as well as those who opposed it, as satisfied me that it was the wish of the Convention to publish only the conclusions of the committee. The author of the minority report, in consenting to withdraw his paper, understood that nothing but the conclusions of the majority would appear. In an interview between the Moderator (Brother Stocks) and myself, he agreed to affix his signature to the minutes, on the supposition that the brethren most interested in the report concurred in the omission But after I had sent the minutes to press, I received such counter testimony as convinced me that there was no unanimity on this point; and the Moderator revoked his decision on the following principle: I am satisfied where any difference of opinion exists with members of the Convention as to facts, the officers must have recourse to the original manuscript. Being thus left without satisfactory evidence that the Convention designed to omit the committees narrative, my only alternative is to publish the whole report, leaving out only such portions as the expressed vote of the Convention, and the general consent of the members, authorized to be omitted. I have, therefore, published the report in full, except the documents which were ordered to be returned to the Trustees and Brother Mell, and the letters of the committee in correspondence with the parties just named, which, I have no doubt, the Convention intended to suppress. This note is published on my own responsibility and at my own expense.
Before the meeting of this Convention there was considerable apprehension on the part of the Board of Trustees and their friends that some move would be put on foot before the body to disquiet them and re-establish Professor Mell in the estimation of the Denomination. A number of letters were written to leading Baptists in the State and much canvassing was done to create an opposition to such a contemplated move The following is a specimen of some of these documents, written by the friends of the Board at that time. This was addressed to Professor Mell on the 21st of April, 1856. For valid reasons the name signed to this letter is not published.
"DEAR BROTHER MELL:
Although from the course you pursued in Montgomery last year, I have no reason to believe that you regard me as a friend, I still feel a desire to see you doing wellprospering and doing honor to yourself and our denomination. I will, therefore, take the liberty to express my views freely and candidly in reference to matters affecting your interests directly and the interests of the cause of Christ indirectly. It is a matter of little consequence to me whether you receive this favorably or-unfavorably.
I think you have erred seriouslyto the injury of yourself and to that of the common cause of our denomination, which we believe to be identified with the cause of Christ. My acquaintance with you and your situation in life, leads me to make many allowances for what I consider your errors, which others might not be disposed to makeI allude particularly to the course you have pursued in reference to the college difficulties. The publication of your pamphlet and speeches has done you far more injury than good, made more enemies than friends. Had you submitted in silence to the action of the Board, the sympathies of the denomination would have been with you, and you might have attained to a situation fully as honorable and as profitable as that which was lost to you, and at some future day have conferred on you all the honors and emoluments now withheld from you.
The continued agitation of the subjectthe letters written and agencies employed, to rally your friends and revolutionize things at Penfield and in Savannah, has had fully as much effect to arouse your opponents as your friends. I regret to learn that it is in contemplation to agitate the subject in our State Convention, and to endeavor to elicit some action of that body in your favor. . . .Now suppose the effort fails? Will it not leave you in a worse situation than that in which you now are? If it does not fail it will advance your interest but very little at present; it will make enemies of many who now esteem you highly, and who would be willing to aid in your elevation, provided they can do it without taking sides with you against the Board; and worst of all it will divide and cripple the energies of our denomination. If you make an issue with the Board at the Convention, you risk far more than you can possibly gain by any action that the Convention can be induced to take in your favor. I ask you to think seriously of this matter, and not to risk all upon a pitched battle.
I learn that an effort will be made, in the first instance to elect you to the Presidency of the Convention (I hope not with your concurrence). If your permit your friends to run you for the Presidency of the Convention, you will do what your rival has refused to do, and will thus present a contrast that cannot result in your favor. . . .I am anxious to save you for your own sake, for the sake of your family, and particularly for the sake of our denominational interestsbut if you pursue a course which I conceive cannot fail to be injurious to our denominationif constrained to come out for or against either, you know me too well to doubt on which side I will be found standing.
I have no favor to ask for myself, but I do ask for the sake of the cause of Christ, that you abstain, and seek to influence your friends to abstain, from any unnecessary agitation of your difficulties with the college. My disapprobation of your acts does not induce any feelings towards you personally to prevent my subscribing myself sincerely
Your friend and Brother in Christ,
J. S. B."
This letter was treated with silence, but on the back of it is the following in Dr. Mells handwriting: "This letter is ludicrously transparent. The author has never found reason to congratulate himself for having written it."
The entire case was thoroughly discussed before the Baptist State Convention that assembled at Savannah in 1856, and the denomination, in most unmistakable terms, pronounced its disapproval of the action of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University. As already indicated, Prof. Mell was elected President of the Convention at the next session.
In the meantime Dr. Crawford had given up the Presidency of Mercer University because of his inability to harmonize the internal forces opposed to him. The Board of Trustees were making strenuous efforts to create a sentiment among the Baptists throughout the State to have him recalled at the coming Convention which would assemble at Americus in 1858. Looking to this purpose, Dr. David E. Butler, a member of this Board, wrote Dr. Mell the following letter of April 13th, 1858:
"DEAR BROTHER MELL:
I have but one object in writing this letter, that is to do right. I have hoped some brother would obtain your sentiments from whom I might learn them; but knowing of none such, I have concluded to do so for myself. I address you frankly, because we are brethren and if we confide not in each other our faith is vain.
You are aware that the Board of Trustees of Mercer University are looking to such an action at Americus as may call Brother Crawford back to the Presidency. It is believed an expression of opinion by the brethren generally, who may be there, will have its just weight with the Board. Among them to be present is yourself, and in some way your opinion will be consulted.
It is your views of this matter I now seek. Not as a member of the Board alone, but as your brother, desiring to know the right and then pursue it.
If you can co-operate with the Board many, many, brethren will rejoice. If your views do not accord with the movement many will deeply regret it. I write for my own benefit and for no other object or purpose, unless you allow me to repeat what you may say.
Very truly yours in Christian bonds,
D. E. BUTLER."
To this the following reply was sent:
"ATHENS, GA., April 16th, 1858.
DEAR BROTHER BUTLER:
One of the prominent designs of my action in Augusta, was to relieve myself and the Board of Trustees of Mercer University from mutual complications. Though I desire the prosperity of that Institution, I am at present, with reference to it, entirely an outsider. That position in the present state of things, for its welfare and my comfort, it is best that I should maintain. I hope, therefore, you will acquiesce in the propriety of my remaining isolated from all questions pertaining to Mercer University.
P. H. MELL.
The papers in the possession of the writer relating to this period in the history of Mercer University furnish sufficient excuse for Professor Mells position as outlined in the above correspondence. The Board of Trustees, instigated by Dr. Crawford, summarily ejected Professor Mell from office, injuring him, for a time, in reputation and pecuniary interest. This he publicly and privately declared to be an act of great injustice. Up to the meeting of the State Convention in 1858 no attempt had been made by Dr. Crawford nor by the Board to redress his grievance. On the contrary, up to the organization of the Convention at Augusta in 1857, the latter did all they could to keep him apparently under the ban of the Baptist Denomination. It is true a reconciliation took place in Augusta. What was the nature of itand how did it leave the parties related to each other?
The design of Professor Mells whole action in Augusta, (after if was evident that his reputation had been protected,) was, besides healing the breach in the Baptist Denomination, to disembarrass Mercer University in the then existing state of affairs, from any apparent antagonism with him and with those who sustained him, and to extricate himself from all complication with it and its Board of Managersthat they in their spheres and he in his might labor for the advancement of the cause of education, and for the harmony of the Baptist Zion in Georgia.
In the public reconciliation there was no concession made on either side, of any thing but. Feeling neither party acknowledged to any wrong. Professor Mell, on his part (impliedly) pledged himself to cultivate feelings of kindness towards members of the Board of Trustees and to unite with them in the burial of past differences. They, on their part (impliedly), to discontinue any line of policy which tended to bear invidiously upon him and his friends and which was calculated to produce a prolonged alienation of feeling: and both parties pledged themselves to unite their labors for the harmony of the Baptist denomination, and "so far as may be consistent with other obligations," for the prosperity of Mercer University. But it seems that the Board instead of trying to bury past differences were disposed to exhume them at the Convention at Americus and to bring into existence again that which was the original cause of all the differences. It should be borne in mind that neither Dr. Crawford nor the Board acknowledged that they had treated Mell with injustice. Until they did this, Mell and his friends would have stultified themselves if they had encouraged the Board to pursue a line of policy inaugurated by them in the beginning, and, as it then appeared, never abandoned by them.
But it may be said, Mell had attained to high office in the denomination, arid he and his friends should have been willing for the sake of harmony, that Dr. Crawford should be recalled to another high office. To this it is answered that if Mell did attain to office in the denomination, it was in spite of the combined and uncompromising opposition of all the friends of Dr. Crawford. The election of Mell to the Presidency of the Convention formed no part of the conditions of the reconciliation at Augusta. This plea for an equal division of the offices, implies that all the difficulty originated merely in the desire for the acquisition of office. Professor Mell always disclaimed this, and if he and his friends, merely because he had been elected to office, had turned round and supported that which they had opposed, they would have confessed in effect that Mells enemies spoke the truth when they said that he raised all the excitement merely because he failed to secure high office. The fact that he had attained to the office he held in spite of the combined opposition of the Board of Trustees and other friends of Dr. Crawford, proved only that he was no longer apparently under the ban of the Baptist Denominationnot that his grievances at the hands of the Board had been redressed, or that he was converted to that policy which was the cause of all the difficulty in the beginning. In speaking of this occasion at the time Professor Mell said to his friends, "If the Board of Trustees, on their own responsibility, elect Dr. Crawford, we have nothing to say; but it is to be hoped that they will not, by causing this subject to be introduced into the Convention, seek to compel us to vote either for or against their proposition. It should be our policy, as we are in duty bound, to seek for the harmony of the denomination by refusing to vote either way. The charter grants to the Trustees the right to officer the Institutiontheirs is the duty and theirs the responsibility. If they proceed to settle open questions in accordance with the spirit of the reconciliation at Augusta, they will doubtless secure the sympathy and support of all parties in the denomination. If, however, they violate that spirit, in any way, the responsibility ought to rest with them. Should they, however, seek for support for their foregone conclusion, by causing a resolution to be introduced into the Convention, our policy should be without excitement, to move a substitute denying jurisdiction to the Convention;if this be voted down, then we should permit them to carry their point with profound silence on our partwe not voting."
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