Plan of Union of 1801

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The Plan of Union of 1801 was an agreement between the Congregational churches of New England and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America for mutual support and joint effort in evangelizing the American frontier. It lasted until 1852.


Prior to 1801, Congregationalists and Presbyterians had enjoyed friendly relationships. Both denominations shared a common Calvinistic theology, while differing in church polity. There were also many instances stretching back to colonial times where Puritan congregations embraced presbyterian polity.[1]


The Plan of Union was initially agreed upon between the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and the General Association of Congregational Churches in Connecticut. The Plan was later approved by the Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts State Associations of Congregational churches.[2]

It enabled churches of either denomination to hire ministers from the other. Congregations were given the choice whether to be governed by congregational polity or by the Presbyterian model of a session of ruling elders.[3] The Plan also made it possible for the Middle Association of Congregationalists in New York to become a subordinate jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Synod of Albany.[2]

As part of the Plan, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church designated the Congregational American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) as its recognized missions agency in 1826.[4] By 1831, the majority of board members and missionaries of the ABCFM were Presbyterians. As a result, most of the local churches established by the organization were Presbyterian. Congregationalists essentially "turned over domestic evangelistic efforts to Presbyterians".[5]


A consequence of this arrangement was that the Presbyterian Church received an influx of pastors and congregations sympathetic to the New England theology that prevailed within the Congregational churches. This ultimately led to the Old School-New School Controversy that divided the Presbyterian Church in 1837.[2]

The Old School Presbyterian Church ended cooperation with the Congregationalists in 1837, but the New School Presbyterian Church would remain in union with the Congregational churches until 1852. That year the Congregationalists ended their participation in the Plan of Union.[6]


  1. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 4-5.
  2. ^ a b c Thompson 1895, pp. 72.
  3. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 58.
  4. ^ Heuser 1988, pp. 1.
  5. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 83,58.
  6. ^ Hall 1982, pp. 103.