The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Editor of The Lorain County News
5 March 1870
[Manuscript in the hand-writing of Rebecca Finney, in the Finney Papers, microfilm, roll 6, #2067. This was evidently a copy of the letter.]
In February 1870, Mr. E. P. Brown, the editor and proprietor of The Lorain County News, terminated his short connection with the newspaper and handed over to Richard Butler, formerly the editor of the Oxford Citizen. The first edition of the paper under the new management was on February 17th. In the issue published on March 3rd an editorial article under the heading "School Board Meeting" appeared on the third page, in which Butler gave details about a conflict that had arisen over the Board's appointment of a new superintendent of the public school in Oberlin. The following is a copy of the letter that Finney wrote to Richard Butler:
Oberlin 5th March 1870
Editor of the Lorain News,
saw in your last number, in an editorial
& in a short article, statements which regarding
the actions of our Union School Board, with its results
that surprised & pained me much. I understand the
school Board disclaim all connection with, or res-
ponsibility regarding those articles. I also learn
that you say that you picked up in the street that
which you embodied in your article, & after
it was written you consulted some one per-
son in regard to the facts. Now, My dear Sir,
will you take it as kindly as it is intended, if
I express the hope that this is not to be what we
may hereafter expect of the editor of our village
paper. You are, as I understand, a stranger here.
This editorial is in your second issue. My
dear Sir, is it discreet, is it fair, is it chris-
tian to meddle with a most unhappy contro-
versy which you find existing ^ in our midst, &
write as you did on no better authority than
street reports? I have had mournful occasion
to observe, in the course of my life, that a village
newspaper is frequently a most divisive influence
& a nuisance in a community. If edited by a
reckless, divisive spirit, it is a sore evil.
Our former editors have been on their guard in
a good degree, & have done us but little harm, &
I trust considerable good. I am a stranger to
you. I am here to promote the cause of Christ.
I have been studying, praying, & preaching to make peace.
I do not wonder that the school Board are anxious to
have it understood that they are not at all responsible for
the articles in your paper. They saw that instead of
tending to peace they were in a high degree calcu-
lated to widen the breach. Now suppose the parties
in this controversy should go into your columns
with this matter, & each tell his story, where would
this end & what would probably be the result, in a
community where peace is so essential to our suc-
cess in our Christian enterprise? My dear Sir
& Brother, if you are a christian, let me entreat
you to stand aloof as editor, from this con-
troversy & keep your columns closed against
all partisan articles upon this subject. This
course will give you the confidence of the wisest
& best in this community & ultimately the mass of
the people will approve your course as ^ editor who
refused to meddle with strife that belonged not to
him. But please my Br. allow me to say that
if you proceed as partisans would have you
do, we shall mourn over you as one
to whom is applicable Prov. 26th 17.
Rather, My Dear Bro. let Prov. 17th 14. be
your motto. This is, of course confidential
& not for other eyes than your own.
God bless and help you so to manage
your paper as to subserve the cause
of peace and unity in our midst.
C. G. Finney
Referring to this conflict, William E. Bigglestone, has written:
The public school system was governed by an elected school board that oversaw a Superintendent of Schools who was also principal of the high school. The student body, aged five to twenty-one, numbered around one thousand. A controversy arose in 1869 over a decision not to rehire popular Oberlin College graduate Samuel Sedgwick, the town's first Superintendent of Schools, after he had served nine years. Sedgwick was dismissed because his administration was found wanting in modern methods, the schools did not meet standards in study, discipline or teaching, and the high school lost too many pupils to the College's Preparatory Department. Education was important at all levels in Oberlin where an 1870 report indicated that over eighty-eight percent of the youth were enrolled in school. By contrast Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron and the larger villages of Ohio were said to have a much lower rate of attendance. Offsetting this enrollment was a pattern of irregular attendance that the superintendent could not account for other than to blame a high family mobility in and out of a college town. (Oberlin: From War to Jubilee, 1866-1883 [Oberlin, Ohio: Grady Publishing Co., 1983], pp. 112-3.)
The articles were in fact in the third issue of the paper.
"He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears."
"The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water; therefore leave off contention before it be meddled with."