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Anglican Church Policy, Eighteenth Century Conflict, and the American Episcopate

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Kenneth R. Elliott

Anglican Church Policy, Eighteenth Century Conflict, and the American Episcopate examines how leaders in the Church of England sought to reorganize the colonial church by installing one or two resident bishops at critical moments in the late 1740s, the early 1760s, and the mid 1770s when the British government moved to bring the colonies into closer economic and political alignment with England. Examining Anglican attempts to install bishops into the American colonies within the context of the Anglo-American world provides insight into the difficulties British political and ecclesiastical authorities had in organizing the management of the colonies more efficiently. Although the Church of England sustained wide influence over the population, the failure of the Anglicans’ proposal to install bishops into the colonies was symptomatic of the declining influence of the Church on eighteenth century politics. Differing views over political and ecclesiastical authority between the colonists and the Anglicans, and the possibility religious conflict might have on elections, concerned British authorities enough not to act on the Anglicans’ proposals for resident bishops for the colonies. The failure also highlights how eighteenth century British government increasingly focused on the political and economic administration of the expanded British Empire rather than its religious administration.

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4. Thomas Secker and Eighteenth Century Discourse 121

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CHAPTER 4 Thomas Secker and Eighteenth Century Discourse “We must try our utmost for bishops.” Secker to Samuel Johnson1 Although Thomas Sherlock died on July 18, 1761, his ability to perform his duties ceased many years before that. Sherlock’s dream of establishing resident bishops among the colonists had come to nothing, in the hands of an intransigent Whig government. The hope now fell to his protégé, Thomas Secker who had, as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted the infirmed Bishop of London in his duties. Secker, previously the Bishop of Oxford, strongly advocated the establishment of bishops in America, which his sermon before the SPG on February 20, 1741 exemplified. Now as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was in a better position to promote bringing bishops to the American colonies. Secker, through his political connections, his influence as president of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and close correspondence with the pro-episcopate colonial Anglicans, sought to preserve the legal status of the Church of England in the colonies. He aggressively promoted the Anglican Church by encouraging its membership, church structures, and labored behind the scenes to persuade government leaders of the necessity of a colonial bishopric. Secker understood the fears of the Nonconformists and the hesitation of the government but proceeded anyway out of a sincere conviction for the right and necessity of bishops for the colonial Church. His efforts, while sincere, awakened the old colonial fear that bishops were coming and would undermine religious liberties. Secker’s participation...

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