REMOVAL OF MERCER UNIVERSITY.
At the first meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention after the war, the Board of Trustees of Mercer University urged, in their report, that the college be removed from Penfield to some other town or city that would offer the best inducements. It was argued by them that the patronage of the Institution had fallen off so much because of its inaccessibility that it must be moved in order to save it. Dr. Mell, and a number of other brethren in the State, were opposed to the change for several reasons:
1st. The fathers of the denomination had placed the college at Penfleld, and it had flourished there for many years. 2nd. Penfield was a quiet village, where the boys had the fewest temptations possible. 3rd. That it was not inaccessible. 4th. That the best influences existed in Penfleld for the welfare of the college, because the people were almost entirely Baptists. 5th. The removal of a long established Institution would be almost fatal to its interests. The effects of the war had not entirely disappeared and in a few years the University would recover its old-time prosperity. They thought the Baptists of the State would rally to the support of the college at Penfield as well as they would if it was located in any other portion of Georgia. The old Georgia Association, that gave the college its birth, was almost unanimously opposed to its removal.
This question came up in the Convention every year, and the motion to remove was defeated each time until the session at Newnan, in 1870, when it was carried by a large majority of the delegates present. – A committee, consisting of one member from each Association, was appointed to examine places bidding for the college and consider all questions relating to the removal. Dr. Mell was President of the Convention during these years, and therefore took no part in the discussions on the subject, though he did not conceal the fact, in conversation with leading Baptists, that he was opposed to the removal of the Institution.
Rev. D. E. Butler, President of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University, and also chairman of the committee that had in charge the removal of the college, wrote to Dr. Mell the following letter, and received from him a characteristic reply:
“MADISON, GA., July 4th, 1870.
DEAR BROTHER MELL:
When returning from the Convention, you said to me, if my memory is right, that you would cooperate with Us in the removal of Mercer University. With that declaration in mind, and believing that all the brethren will gladly accept your influence in this behalf and having consulted with some of them upon the subject, and they agreeing with meI cordially invite you to Penfleld next week, say Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, or all three days.
The brethren will receive you kindly and by free, frank interchange of views endeavor to establish that cordiality, harmony and confidence, which for some years seem to have been wanting in their and your intercourse. Removing Mercer University is a great workthe success of it requires all the influence of all the Baptists in the State. And with harmony and union in the present condition of the subject, between those in favor and those against removal, half of the work is done and an united front prepared for all future questions and difficulties. Believing that you will receive this in the Christian spirit by which it is prompted, I am, Dear Brother,
Yours in Christian bonds,
D. E. BUTLER.”
To this letter Dr. Mell replied as follows:
“ATHENS, GA., July 5th, 1870.
DEAR BROTHER BUTLER:
Your kind letter of yesterday has just been received. I reply to it immediately. You are laboring under a mistake in regard to a remark you think I made on the cars in reference to co-operation in the removal of Mercer University. I do not remember saying anything to you on the subject except some jocose remarks about the house on wheels, and the necessity for you gentlemen to go to Penfield with your tents. It was in my heart, and I said to Dr. Tucker, which you may have overheard, that, when the college is removed, I will use all the influence I have to induce the Baptists to rally around it. But it is not removed yet; and in my opinion it ought not to ho. I sincerely think it to be wrong in principle and suicidal in policy to take it away from Penfield with such connections. I could not cooperate to secure or facilitate your removal. On the contrary I candidly confess that I am prepared to rejoice should you yet be legitimately defeated–especially if all the advocates of removal should waive all factious opposition and rally around the University where it is. I deem it proper to continue though the line of policy I have marked out for myself, i. a., to take no active part, pro or con. on the question of removal. When the result is arrived at, whatever it may be, I shall actively use all the influence I have to induce the Baptists to abide by it, to acquiesce in it, and to sustain Mercer University.
I thank you for your polite and fraternal invitation to attend Commencement. It would give me great pleasure to do so, but my college duties will prevent. Besides our Chancellor is absent and his duties and responsibilities devolve on me.
With much respect
P. H. MELL.”
He kept the promise given in this letter and used all the influence he had to induce the Baptists to rally around Mercer University after it was removed to Macon. He bowed to the decision made by the majority of his brethren. After the Convention in 1871, when it was definitely settled to remove the University to Macon, he wrote the following letter. This shows clearly his loyalty to the interests of the denomination:
“A noticeable feature of the Convention just adjourned was the magnanimous, forbearing and fraternal spirit that generally prevailed. A question of threatening character, relating to the educational interests of the denominationone involving division of sentiment, deep feeling, and personal interest, was settled to the mutual satisfaction of those directly at issue.
Two Conventions in succession have unmistakably decided in favor of removal; and we, therefore, suppose that the majority of our people, who care anything about the subject, are of the same opinion. The question, then, of the removal of the University from Penfield, seems to be definitely and finally settled. If this be so, should, not those of us in the minority imitate the magnanimity of the people at Penfield, and submit and acquiesce? True, there are some important and delicate questions connected with the location of the University yet to be passed upon by the Board of Trustees; but may we not hope that the wisdom and piety of these brethren will be adequate to the occasion?
The sacrifices I recommend to othersand moreI am willing to submit to myself. Some, I am informed, think the position I occupy in the denomination in the State is a hindrance to harmony and union among our people. Very well; I am prepared to abandon it, however much I prize it. Whatever power I have had as President of the State Convention, I have endeavored to wield for harmony and, union. Ii now give notice that I lay it down for the accomplishment of the same ends.
P. H. MELL.”
The paper that published this communication made the following comments on the subject matter:
“The spirit of the letter from President Mell is worthy of all commendation. It is a fresh proof that he knows how to speak to the heart of his brethren. Even his eminent qualifications for the position which he has adorned through a series of years, scarcely become him so well as the willingness to retire from it in the interests of harmony and union.” Another paper, also speaking of this letter, at the time said:
“The letter of Dr. Mell breathes a magnanimous Christian spirit. Georgia Baptists would not have him retire from the position he has so long adornedthey only desire the aid of his comprehensive intellect, and the influence of his high character in shaping the future of their great denominational enterprises. He has touched a chord in the hearts of his brethren that will give forth no uncertain sound. . . .
WEST POINT, GA., May 5th, 1871.”
The Baptists decided in 1882 to try and raise an endowment fund of $100, 000 for the Institution, and representatives were sent to all the Associations to lay the question before the brethren and thus create an interest in the work. At the meeting of the Georgia Association, at Antioch, Oglethorpe county, in 1883, a motion was made to assume for the Association $5,000 of the $100,000. Before it could be seconded, Dr. Mell spoke from the Moderators chair and asked that it be made $10,000. This motion was unanimously adopted. A committee was appointed, consisting of eleven members, to take such steps as might be deemed advisable for raising said sum during the following year, or as soon thereafter as practicable.
When Dr. Mell reported the action of the Association to his churches at Antioch and Bairdstown, there was the strongest opposition manifested because the people objected to having the college moved from Penfield, and did not propose to extend a helping hand for the accomplishment of this purpose. But Dr. Mell not only persuaded them to withdraw their objections for the good of the denomination, but contributed a large portion of the assessment out of his own pocket. The amounts allotted to his churches were not only raised, but the entire $10,000 assumed by the Association was paid into the Treasury of the college. It is a matter of interest to note that the money raised by the Georgia Association was more than half the total amount contributed by all the other Associations in the State, and yet this Association stood alone in its opposition to the removal of the college from Penfield.
Another instance of the fulfilment of his promise made to Mr. Butler was the liberal annual contribution he made to the support of the Theological Chair in the Institution, and besides the help he extended a number of young men in the college who were studying for the ministry.
In 1870 Dr. Mell was elected President of Georgetown College, Kentucky, but he declined the honor. About this time, also, some of the most influential Baptists in Georgia began to agitate the question of electing him President of Mercer University. Before this movement took decided shape, however, several of his intimate friends approached him to find out what his decision would be if the position was tendered him. He refused to permit his name to go before the Board, and the matter was dropped.