2. Churchmen and Dissenters: Continuities and Discontinuities 53
CHAPTER 2 Churchmen and Dissenters: Continuities and Discontinuities “This has been a Presbyterian war from the beginning as certainly as that in 1641.”1 William Jones of Nayland William Jones of Nayland’s statement that the War of Independence was from its inception a “Presbyterian War” reflected the frustration of many High Churchmen over the British government’s failure to establish a colonial bishopric before the outbreak of the war in 1776. It also described the underlying causes of the conflict simplistically, but the choice of words carries a very direct and frequented memory. “Presbyterian” refers here not to a particular religious denomination but rather the dissenters in general, often also called “Puritans” in the eighteenth century. 2 The phrase highlights the great divide both between the colonists and England, and between the dissenters and the established church. The clash between Anglican views of tolerance, the appropriate bounds of tolerance for religious nonconformity, and the insistence on liberty of conscience by Dissenters amounted to a confrontation between eighteenth and seventeenth century perspectives over the meaning of liberty that revived long-standing grievances and heightened tensions. The two sides viewed the idea of liberty, particularly religious liberty very differently. The Anglicans understood liberty as freedom within the constraints of the Church, which allowed for toleration of those who were Trinitarian but for conscience’ sake would not conform to its episcopal polity. The Dissenters, on the other hand, particularly in New England, came to define their freedom in relation to the existing religious pluralism, their...
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