Sunday, December 06, 2015

Suck it, Ichabod

I was supposed to look at a place on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights today but the realtor bailed out on me at the last minute, saying the place was locked and he didn't have the key.

But I took a little walking tour of Brooklyn Heights and on an old church I found this plaque dedicated to Ichabod Spencer who died in 1854. You know right away he was from the antique past with a name like Ichabod - I don't think a single child has been given that name since  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was published in 1820.

Well I thought this was rather quaint and charming. His parish sure seemed to like him - his plaque is faded at the bottom, but what I can read says:
Ichabod S. Spencer. D. D. The First Pastor of this Church was installed March 23rd 1832 and died November 23rd 1854 in the 57th year of his age. A man of God honored and beloved during his whole ministry of more than twenty ... years... 

and I can't read the rest.

So I decided to look this guy up, and sure enough he has an entry in Wikipedia:
(February 23, 1798 – November 23, 1854) was a popular 19th-century American Presbyterian preacher and author.[1]...
in the spring of 1832 he was solicited to move to the Second Presbyterian Congregation of Brooklyn,[1]:35 where he was installed on March 23, 1832.[1]:35 Spencer remained in Brooklyn for the rest of his life, where he wrote extensively, and "published verbatim reports of pastoral conversations that other ministers could use as a guide".[2]
You can see his published work here. However, his main claim to fame appears to be his sermon on the Fugitive Slave Law in which he says:
The matter before us is a very serious matter. The wicked principles of which I have spoken, disguise it as you will, tend directly to anarchy, confusion, and civil war! The question is not, whether slavery is right, or the Fugitive Slave Law right. It draws deeper. The question is, shall Law be put in force, and the government of the country stand; or shall Law be resisted, and the government of the country disobeyed, and the nation plunged into all the horrors of civil war? If Law cannot be executed, it is time to write the epitaph of your country!
Spencer was referring to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850:
The Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers.
This was one of the most controversial elements of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a "slave power conspiracy". It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. Abolitionistsnicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves.[1]
And of course many ministers did defy the law:
The Fugitive Slave Law brought the issue home to anti-slavery citizens in the North, as it made them and their institutions responsible for enforcing slavery. Moderate abolitionists were faced with the immediate choice of defying what they believed to be an unjust law, or breaking with their own consciences and beliefs. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) to highlight the evils of slavery.[11][12]
Many abolitionists defied the law openly. Reverend Luther Lee, pastor of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Syracuse, New York, wrote in 1855:

I never would obey it. I had assisted thirty slaves to escape to Canada during the last month. If the authorities wanted anything of me, my residence was at 39 Onondaga Street. I would admit that and they could take me and lock me up in the Penitentiary on the hill; but if they did such a foolish thing as that I had friends enough on Onondaga County to level it to the ground before the next morning.[13]

Spencer did not go so far as to justify slavery, but he certainly didn't need to write a sermon in defense of obeying that evil law.

According to the web site of the New York City chapter of American Guild of Organists - yes, it's a real thing - the church was renamed Spencer Memorial Presbyterian Church (obviously after Ichabod) but it was disbanded in 1994.

Suck it, Ichabod Spencer.