First Bishop of a Louisiana Conference
Joshua Soule was born in Bristol, Maine on August 1, 1781. He died in Nashville, Tennessee on March 6, 1867. His father was a man of great local influence, went by the name of " Captain Soule," and was one of the select-men of Bristol. When Joshua was sixteen he joined the Methodist church, and about a year later introduced himself to a Methodist presiding elder and asked that he might travel with him. The elder agreed and Soule began his career as "boy preacher." Though young, he was tall, dignified, and able, and became known as an opponent of Calvinism, Unitarianism, and Universalism. He studied hard and made great progress.
When he was twenty-three he was appointed presiding elder over the state of Maine. He was on the committee to draft the constitution of the delegated general conference, which, since 1813, has been the fundamental law of the church. He was a delegate to the general conference of 1812, and also to that of 1816. At the latter he was elected book-agent and editor of the "Methodist Magazine." He did not like these posts, and had made up his mind not to accept a re-election ; but in 1820, before that question was raised, he was elected a bishop.
A great debate had occurred on whether presiding elders should be elected or, as before, appointed by the bishops. Mr. Soule was opposed to their election, but the majority of the conference voted in favor of it. Having full confidence in his sincerity, they elected him bishop, but he declined rather than administer what he believed to be an unconstitutional law, reentered the pastorate, and was stationed first in New York and then in Baltimore.
In 1824 the general conference reversed its action and reelected him bishop. These circumstances have no parallel in the history of the denomination, and re indisputable proofs of his great ability and influence. Up to 1842 he continued in the duties of the office, and then visited Great Britain as a delegate from the general conference of the United States to the British Wesleyan conference.
In 1844 the general conference was held in New York. Bishop James O. Andrew had become complicated with slavery, and the conference passed a resolution asking him to desist from the exercise of his functions until this encumbrance should be removed. It was Bishop Soule's opinion that the conference had no right to pass such a resolution. Bishop Andrew declined the proposition, and the result was a division of the church. Bishop Soule adhered to the southern members, and when the Methodist Episcopal church, south, was established he went with it, and became its senior bishop.
In 1848 he visited the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal church at Pittsburg, but was not recognized as a bishop or a delegate, though he was courteously received as a visitor. At the age of seventy-two he retired from public life. Bishop Soule was a great man intellectually, of remarkable personal appearance, dignified and even ostentations in bearing, of a strong and imperious will. Had he been thoroughly educated, and in early life brought into close relations with educated men, his infirmities, if not eradicated, would have been concealed. As it was, few men in church or state have exerted greater influence over their contemporaries.