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


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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5. The Sermon Heard Round the World 147


CHAPTER 5 The Sermon Heard Round the World “Unlimited Submission” “This celebrated sermon may be considered as the Morning Gun of the Revolution, the punctum temporis when that period of history began.”1 John Wingate Thornton The continued attempt in the 1760s by the Anglicans to establish a colonial bishopric drew such notable figures into the pamphlet controversy as Thomas Secker and Jonathan Mayhew. The conflicting positions of Secker and Mayhew and fears about the growth of Anglicanism highlight the theological assumptions behind diverging political cultures that produced incompatible views on the bishopric question. Mayhew’s rhetoric resurrected old seventeenth century political and religious debates, which Churchmen in England like Secker believed were over. Secker, for his part, sought to promote the Church of England wherever he could because he believed it was the most distinguished Protestant ecclesiastical body of all and the bulwark against the advancement of European Roman Catholicism. Mayhew, on the other hand, viewed the Anglican Church, especially its hierarchy, as the revival of a new form of Roman Catholicism. He believed Secker, whom he saw as William Laud’s heir, aimed to promote High Church Anglicanism and theology to undermine the religious liberties of the colonies. The differing views of Anglicans and Dissenters on the concepts of religious liberty and toleration sharpened conflict over the issue of an American episcopate. No two men represented these differing views and the strong attitudes on both sides so clearly as Secker and Mayhew. The ideological views and attitudes of Mayhew in...

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