John Wesley (1703–1791).
Thoughts upon Slavery.
Philadelphia: Joseph Cruckshank, 1774. (BRB0366)
In this treatise on the evils of slavery, the founder of Methodism clearly stated his conviction that “Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air. And no human law can deprive him of that right, which derives from the law of nature.” First published in London in 1774 and reprinted in Philadelphia for American readers in the same year, Wesley’s unconditional prohibition of slavery was ratified at the 1784 Baltimore Conference and was restated in the first Form of Discipline for American Methodists. However, Methodist policies on slavery after 1800 allowed a steady erosion of these founding principles. In 1804 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church published two different editions of the Form of Discipline so that the edition sold within the southern United States omitted any mention of slavery. The ownership of slaves was the central cause of the 1844 schism that created the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. This separation endured until the reunification of the southern body with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939.