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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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6. Anglican Tactics and the British Government 175

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CHAPTER 6 Anglican Tactics and the British Government “Independency and religion will naturally produce Republicanism in the state.”1 Samuel Auchmutty Conflict over an American episcopate escalated dramatically after 1767 as positions hardened and both sides became more militant. Territorial acquisitions after the Seven Years’ War had forced the British government to reassess how it governed North America and led to a series of reforms aimed at increasing control over the colonies. Ministers held back from the question of appointing bishops, however, for fear that it would generate unrest. Their plans for reform nonetheless encouraged Church leaders in England to renew their advocacy for an American episcopate. Rather than convincing ministers, however, their renewed efforts agitated the Dissenters into further public confrontation. Tensions between Dissenters and Churchmen escalated, along with disagreements among colonial Anglicans over church governance, and the number of pamphlets and articles the public debate generated, matched that produced by the Stamp Act controversy. 2 Convincing the government to act became the main hurdle for supporters of episcopacy in the colonies, and trying to jump that hurdle only created other problems at a time when relations between Britain and the colonies increasingly became strained. Although taxation and other questions eclipsed the controversy over colonial bishops during the early 1770s, the rhetoric on both sides highlighted a divergence in political culture that made compromise impossible. Some observers even found an uncanny parallel with the confrontation between Charles I and Parliament in 1640. Secker worked for thirty years to persuade...

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