John Wesley became increasingly concerned about what would happen to the Methodist movement after his death. The Minutes of the 1769 Conference spelled out his thinking at that time on how a division might be avoided. Fifteen years later he executed a Deed Poll, enrolled in Chancery on 9 March 1784, to deal with the future of the connexion after his death by clearly defining the identity, constitution and powers of 'the Conference of the People called Methodists'.
By this Deed of Declaration he gave authority for the Legal Hundred to be the supreme legislative body, and laid down rules for the annual meetings, procedure, records and officers (i.e. President and Secretary) of the Conference. The Conference thus constituted had the right to admit preachers on trial, to receive them into full connexion and expel them where necessary. For those preaching houses and other property settled upon John and Charles Wesley, the Conference was to be the body referred to in the trust deeds as having after their death the power to appoint preachers to the chapels. In the Warrenite controversy the Deed was at the basis of the litigation which resulted in the decision of Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst upholding the authority of the Conference.
A similar Deed Poll declaring the names, objects, rules and fundamental regulations of the PM connexion was executed in 1831. Other branches of Methodism used the same method (MNC, 1846; UMFC in 1857, adopting the 1840 Foundation Deed of the WMA; BC, 1831) culminating in the Deed of Foundation of the UMC in 1907.Under the authority of the Methodist Church Union Act 1929 the Uniting Conference of 1932 adopted the Deed of Union which superseded the previous Deeds.
Minutes of the 1769 Conference:
'You [the itinerants] are at present one body. You act in concert with each other and by united counsels. And now is the time to consider what can be done in order to continue this union. Indeed, as long as I live, there will be no great difficulty. I am, under God, a centre of union to all our travelling, as well as local preachers. They all know me and my communication. They all love me for my work's sake; and therefore, were it only out of regard for me, they will continue connected with each other. But by what means may this connexion be preserved when God removes me from you?...
'Those who aim at anything but the glory of God and the salvation of men … will not, cannot continue in the connexion; it will not answer their design. .. But what method can be taken to preserve a firm union between those who choose to remain together?
'On notice of my death, let all the preachers in England and Ireland repair to London within six weeks.
'Let them seek God by solemn fasting and prayer.
'Let them draw up articles of agreement, to be signed by those who choose to act in concert.
'Let them choose, by votes, a committee of three, five, or seven, each of whom is to be moderator in his turn.
'Let the committee do what I do now: propose preachers to be tried, admitted, or excluded; fix the place of each preacher for the ensuing year, and the time of the next Conference.'
Joseph Benson's account of the origin of the Deed:
'In the morning of July 27 , the Declaration Deed, and the Appeal which some of the brethren had published against it, were considered. Mr. Wesley traced his power from its first rise, and showed that the Conference, from its commencement, had consisted of persons whom he had desired to meet for the purpose of conferring with him. He insisted, that he had a right to name the members of it, and fix their number. This Appeal, he said, represented him as unjust, oppressive and tyranncal, which he was not; and that the authors of it had betrayed him; and, by doing so, had hurt the minds of many, and kindled a flame throughout the kingdom. Hence he required that they should acknowledge their fault, and be sorry for it, or he could have no further connection with them… [2 August] Our Brethren who had been concerned in the Appeal rejoiced our hearts by acknowledging their fault and making submission. In consequence of their doing so, they were admitted among their brethren and appointed to Circuits.'
Quoted in James Macdonald, Memoirs of the Rev. Joseph Benson (1822) p. 160