Friday, January 8, 2010

Samuel Seabury: Anglican Minister and 'Westchester Farmer'

In the midst of rising tensions between the colonies and the Mother Country, England could count on her clergy in America to be among her staunchest supporters. In Samuel Seabury, they would not be disappointed.

Samuel Seabury Rises to England's Defense

In 1774, a youthful and exceedingly energetic Alexander Hamilton published his "Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress", a piece aimed at drumming up support for the First Continental Congress.

Alarmed at the compelling nature of Hamilton's pen and the growing disenchantment many Americans were feeling towards Britain, Anglican minister Samuel Seabury took up the Crown's cause.

In the first of his "Letters from A Westchester Farmer," Seabury expressed dismay that the colonies were "involved in a scene of confusion and discord." Lamenting the persecution of Loyalists, Seabury wrote:

The bands of civil society are broken; the authority of government weakened, and in some instances taken away: Individuals are deprived of their liberty; their property is frequently invaded by violence, and not a single Magistrate has had courage or virtue enough to interpose.

As for the First Continental Congress, Seabury charged that, rather than helping ease tensions and mend relations, they "have either ignorantly misunderstood, carelessly neglected, or basely betrayed the interests of all the Colonies."

Seabury went on to criticize the specific decisions made by the Congress, namely the Non-Importation Agreement, Non-Exportation Agreement, and Non-Consumption Agreement. Seabury claimed that these measures would hurt people who had done the colonies "no harm" and would only excaberate tensions between America and Britain.

Seabury's letters, taken together, were a comprehensive, thorough, and spirited defense of British policies and interests. In his letters, he unmistakably and fairly articulately aligned himself with the British Crown.

Seabury and the Church of England

Americans today are accustomed to the institutional separation of Church and State. So accustomed are we, in fact, that many have called for such a separation to go even further, arguing that religion itself (and all morals or values stemming from religion) should be separated from the public square.

What the founding era generation was dealing with, however, was not whether a certain person or group might be made to feel "uncomfortable" should they happen to hear a public prayer or hear a valedictorian utter the word "Jesus" in her graduation speech. No, for the founding generation, the issue was something much more serious and real.

Samuel Seabury wasn't simply a pamphleteer. He was an official in the Church of England, which was legally and politically intertwined with the British government. The Church of England was indeed under the sovereign authority of the Crown. As an Anglican minister, Seabury was advancing the interests of not simply the British government, but his boss, King George III.

It should be noted, though, that Seabury's letters were at first not tied to him by name, but rather to "A.W. Farmer." However, Seabury's identity as the author would eventually become known (based on his own claims).

The timing of Seabury's authorship being known aside, Seabury's advocacy for the Crown illustrated an important truth. Anglican ministers were personally, professionally, and spiritually vested in the British government.

This, of course, isn't to suggest that's inappropriate for ministers to address questions of public policy (though, I'm sure, there are some who would take that position). Ministers have as much right to speak out on issues as any citizen. The take-away from Seabury's activism is that his involvement was not incidental, nor was it driven solely by personal conviction. As an Anglican clergyman, he was expected to support the Crown.

Seabury (and England) Refuted

Alexander Hamilton would take up his pen once again to defend the American cause and refute Seabury. In his famous "The Farmer Refuted," Hamilton encouraged the "Westchester Farmer" (aka Seabury) to study the "law of nature" by reading "Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui."

Considerable writing, discussion, and debate has been offered on this site concerning the Divine Right of Kings, the Enlightenment, and the theological beliefs of the religiously affiliated Founders. I will not re-hash all that, except to say that the exchanges between Hamilton and Seabury illustrate part of that divide.

While traditional England-oriented Christians (especially those within the Anglican Church) leaned toward (or, in some cases, embraced) the Divine Right of Kings, a growing consensus in America was that the people were accountable to God directly and not through the government.

To put it in layman's terms, one who embraced the Divine Right of Kings would claim the authority ran from God to the Government and then to the People. Americans increasingly saw it as God to the People and then to the Government.

The Fate of Samuel Seabury

Seabury's Loyalist sympathies would land him in prison for several weeks. Eventually, he escaped to Long Island, once it was safely in British hands. Granted a chaplaincy in the British military, Seabury spent the war as a dutiful minister in the service of King George III.

By 1783, it was clear that Britain would not reclaim her thirteen American colonies. In March of that year, Seabury was elected by ten of his New England Episcopal peers to serve as bishop over the Episcopal Church in America.

That Seabury would choose to remain in the United States was an interesting choice. After all, to say that he was not fully embraced or trusted by the Americans would be something of an understatement.

The Episcopal Church in America, however, needed structure and organization. It had been created as a result of the American Revolution. Anglicans supportive of the American Revolution could, after all, no longer comfortably worship and take Communion (a practice they saw as sacramental) in a church officially tied with King George III, the man they were waging war against. So, the Episcopal Church came into existence.

Seabury sailed for England for his consecration. Even though the Episcopal Church was formally separate from the Church of England, it was still spiritually and theologically aligned. An awkward situation, to say the least. So awkward, in fact, that the London-based Anglican Church refused to consecrate Seabury.

Seabury then turned to the Scottish Church, which granted his request. Seabury then returned to America to bolster and expand the Episcopal Church in the newly recognized United States of America.

Seabury's challenge was a tall one, as he did not enjoy a great deal of support from the new American government and, frankly, not even from all Episcopalians. Perhaps the most famous Episcopalian (former Anglican) in America was George Washington, who refused to even send a letter to Seabury, when asked by a young Episcopal minister for a note of recommendation.

High Church vs. Low Church Anglicanism

Not only was Seabury persona non grata in many quarters for his Loyalist politics, he was also not popular in "Low Church" circles of the American Episcopal Church.

High Church Anglicanism (Seabury's school of thought) was more liturgical and more philosophically aligned with the doctrine of apostolic succession, as originally embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. The difference, of course, was that (according to Anglicans) the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke with apostolic authority for the day -- as opposed to the Vatican in Rome.

The influence of the Protestant Reformation in England, however, had divided the Anglican Communion into two groups over this doctrine. High Church Anglicans favored strict apostolic succession, whereas Low Church Anglicans adhered more toward scriptural authority and local church autonomy.

Not surprisingly, High Church Anglicans like Seabury sided with King George III during the American Revolution, whereas Low Church Anglicans like George Washington were more open to the Patriot cause.

Washington's Low Church Anglicanism also made him more open to other denominations, as seen in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, in which he wrote: "Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church, that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct plainest easiest and least liable to exception."

Seabury's consecration as the American Episcopal Bishop was seen as an affront to many Low Church Anglicans, like Washington. In his impressive work George Washington's Sacred Fire, Peter Lillback explains:

[Seabury] had sought ordination independent of the concerns of Anglicans in the Low Church tradition, and he did so from the hands of Scottish bishops, who were more sympathetic to the Catholic side of the royal family, not the normal bishop of London, who had Protestant sympathies. This ecclesiastical maneuvering left the Low Church patriotic laymen in America feeling uncomfortable with Bishop Seabury and with little incentive or enthusiasm to embrace his leadership.

Samuel Seabury is not only one of the more interesting and unknown figures of the American Revolution, but his life and legacy provide an important view of the cultural and religious backdrop of the conflict.

29 comments:

Pinky said...

.
Thanks for your good report.
.
Have YOU received a chaplaincy?
.

Daniel said...

Interesting. I had barely heard of Seabury. His was an impossibly sticky situation.

An interesting example of low church Anglicanism (but also a movement of his own) was John Wesley, who was originally sympatheic to the position of the American colonies but opposed the Revolution. He ordered his (Methodist) ministers to preach against revolution; they did not. He published a pamphlet and had it sent to American. His Methodist ministers decided their best position was to destroy all copies. The Methodist movement in America almost disappeared during the revolution but flourished shortly after (but not within the Anglican or Episcopal Church).

Pinky said...

.
Don't forget that Seabury was paid by the state as a representative of government.
.
That entire concept plays into the Revolutionary thrust.
.
No small thing.
.

Brad Hart said...

Excellent! This is why we love having you, Brian. A very even-handed and thorough summary of an important aspect to the church/state separation argument. I wish I had some point on which to disagree so that we could sprout a discussion but I just can't find one. Perhaps I could argue that it is too simplistic to dissolve the church/state argument into an argument over Divine Right kingship and the ties between Britain and the Anglican Church. After all, the issue was tossed around quite a bit by people who had nothing to do with those connections.

Again, wonderfully done!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Exc work, Brian, on "The Farmer" of The Farmer Refuted.

My only question is, did the Divine Right of Kings still have currency in America in the 1700s? I thought the argument was simply that the King was a legitimate ruler, but that Divine Right had been dispensed with, with Locke's Second Treatise, and on the ground, with Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688, which established Parliament, not the Crown, as the boss.

Jonathan Rowe said...

My only question is, did the Divine Right of Kings still have currency in America in the 1700s?

Of course it had currency. Or at least the idea of unlimited submission to government did. Seabury was, as noted, the FIRST BISHOP of the Anglican-Episcopal Church in America. Also notably arguing that position was Jonathan Boucher, Washington's good childhood friend.

According to J. Adams, at the start of the conflict 1/3 were Whigs, 1/3 Tories, and 1/3 in between. That 1/3 in between were convinced, not by arguing traditional, historic orthodox Christian doctrines, but John Locke's "enlightenment" understanding of the Bible/Romans 13.

Even if you can connect Locke's position with pre-enlightenment "Christian" theology, what's undeniable is that the pro-revolt position was, like unitarianism, universalism, Gnosticism, before it, "dissident" and "heretical" strains within "Christdenom."

See my next post within an hour or two.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Even if you can connect Locke's position with pre-enlightenment "Christian" theology, what's undeniable is that the pro-revolt position was, like unitarianism, universalism, Gnosticism, before it, "dissident" and "heretical" strains within "Christdenom."

Yeah, you keep saying that. But John of Salisbury [1150] and Aquinas [1250] begin to open the door to revolt against tyrants. And the principle of God giving sovereignty to the people, who in turn invest it in their rulers goes back that far, too.

But Divine Right isn't the same as
submission to legitimate government, which is still an uncontroversial sense of Romans 13, and indeed Mayhew ends his famous sermon of 1750 with

For which reason I would exhort you to pay all due Regard to the government over us; to the KING and all in authority; and to lead a quiet and peaceable life.--And while I am speaking of loyalty to our earthly Prince, suffer me just to put you in mind to be loyal also to the supreme RULER of the universe, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice. To which king eternal immortal, invisible, even to the ONLY WISE GOD, be all honor and praise, DOMINION and thanksgiving, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. AMEN.

So I'm asking a different question here.

Brad Hart said...

TVD writes:

Yeah, you keep saying that. But John of Salisbury [1150] and Aquinas [1250] begin to open the door to revolt against tyrants. And the principle of God giving sovereignty to the people, who in turn invest it in their rulers goes back that far, too.

Tom, Tom, Tom. You keep mentioning John of Salisbury (and rightfully so) but have you checked out Pierre Abelard yet? He was Salibury's mentor and one of the BIG LEAGUE forces in motivating this change. I'm telling ya, you'll love this cat. He's a good dude. Besides, he had one of the most messed up affairs in history. Lost his manhood over it!

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yeah, you keep saying that. But John of Salisbury [1150] and Aquinas [1250] begin to open the door to revolt against tyrants. And the principle of God giving sovereignty to the people, who in turn invest it in their rulers goes back that far, too.

Yes I keep saying that because my point stands. From what you've uncovered re "John of Salisbury" if he did argue a position like Mayhew's then you've proven -- what I've conceded -- that the Mayhew's position on the right to revolt is exactly like his ARIANISM, something whose roots trace way back before enlightenment, but that nonetheless constituted dissident-heresy, according to historic Christian standards for some 1600+ years.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Then Salisbury and Aquinas are heretics?

You're mixing things like Trinitarianism with Christian political theology. That's where you and Gregg keep hitting the wall. But Calvinism is a "heresy." Arminian Methodism is a heresy from Calvinism. So what?

The Divine Right of Kings is in opposition to the idea that God give sovereignty to the people, who invest in their ruler[s]. As Bellarmine asked in 1600, by what right does one man rule another? And his answer was, not by the Divine Right of Kings!

Bellarmine was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Another heretic or "theistic rationalist," I suppose. Somebody get me a scorecard!

Tom Van Dyke said...


Tom, Tom, Tom. You keep mentioning John of Salisbury (and rightfully so) but have you checked out Pierre Abelard yet?


At your urging, I did, Brad.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01036b.htm

But I couldn't link him directly to medieval political theology, so I lost the trail. But if you've got anything, render it onto Caesar, baby.

Abelard's influence on his immediate successors was not very great, owing partly to his conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities, and partly to his personal defects, more especially his vanity and pride, which must have given the impression that he valued truth less than victory.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm not convinced of Aquinas' position on Romans 13. However, yes, doctrines like unitarinaism, universalism, and the Whig idea of a right to revolt WERE heresies/dissident doctrines, as was Luther's initial Protestantism. The only reason why the pro-revolt idea on Romans 13 isn't currently a heresy is because of the movement of history.

The same can be said of orthodox "Protestantism." In a majority demographic Protestant nation like America, the term "heresy" rings hollow to our modern ears.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Aquinas isn't all the way there on tyrannicide. Neither is Bellarmine. All I'm saying is the questioning of the "traditional" reading of Romans 13 was already hundreds of years before the Founding and even the Reformation.

All I'm really asking here is an open question for the sake of clarity, since the Divine Right of Kings doesn't rest solely on Romans 13, but on a historical-Biblical-natural argument of "patriarchy" [see Filmer's Patriarcha, which triggers Locke's 2nd Treatise].

In other words, was Divine Right explicitly argued by the Tories, or simply the less rigid [and more universal] argument of Romans 13 that legitimate authority must be obeyed?

[It has already been argued, and I think successfully, that the Founding era sermons as well as the D of I rest their arguments not on a right to revolt whenever you feel like it, but only in the face of illegitimate authority, which carries no authority at all.]

_______

As for "heresy," Jon, that goes to the point of the Frazer thesis, that at some point, we declare a date where all theological change that happens thereafter is "heresy." However, historians aren't qualified to draw that line; theologians can, but their authority extends only to theology, not history.

The same 18th century churches Gregg uses to draw a consensus and authority to judge what is and isn't "Christian" are the same churches he considers "heretical" for deviating from the literalist reading of Romans 13!

But again, Divine Right isn't synonymous with even a literalist reading of Romans 13. It's sort of its own thing, which is what's behind this call for clarity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well Frazer's thesis avoids the "divine right of Kings" species but rather focuses on the "unlimited submission to government" genus as the prevailing history of Christendom until around 1600 or so.

By late 18th Cen. America, the churches there were united ecclesiastically on "orthodoxy"/what is "Christianity"? but less so on the Romans 13 issue.

Still Frazer notes (something we aren't done with yet) convincingly that originally (the 1600s) the historic/biblical (that is the Tory) understanding of Romans 13 prevailed in America and over tens of years (around a hundred years somewhere between the 16 and 17 hundreds) the "Whig" view came to dominate mainly thru Mayhew et al. citing Locke.

Joe Winpisinger said...

This just keeps coming up! Jon I would urge caution with using dissent and heresy as synonyms. I have not decided whether to pursue the whole Calvin thing yet but it is clear that his contemporary Ponnet had a dissident view of Romans 13 and the Divine Right of Kings.

Joe Winpisinger said...

posted with my real estate blog again sorry. This is King of Ireland.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well Frazer's thesis avoids the "divine right of Kings" species but rather focuses on the "unlimited submission to government" genus as the prevailing history of Christendom until around 1600 or so.

So let's kick that to the curb once and for all, since it was in doubt at least as early as 1150 AD.

The Divine Right question was a separate one, in its own right, for clarity's sake. if there are Divine Right arguments in colonial America,I'd just like to see them. I'm not saying there weren't, only that I've never run across them, and it seems to me Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688 put the Divine Right of KIngs to bed well before the Founding era.

Joe Winpisinger said...

If one is honest "unlimited submission to government" really equates to "divine right of kings" one builds on the other. Filmer could accuse Frazer of heresy. That is because Filmer's view of this was the DOMINANT ONE for centuries. Wonder how Gregg would like his own logic being used against him?

Joe Winpisinger said...

I guess the "Enlightenment" understanding of things got a hold of Frazer too! It is watered down "historical" Christianity.

D.A. Ridgely said...

Mr. Tubbs writes:

"High Church Anglicanism (Seabury's school of thought) was more liturgical and more philosophically aligned with the doctrine of apostolic succession, as originally embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. The difference, of course, was that (according to Anglicans) the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke with apostolic authority for the day -- as opposed to the Vatican in Rome."

I find the second sentence of that paragraph remarkable theologically and inconsistent with my understanding of the prevailing theology of the Church of England at the time. Can you cite some authority in its support?

Thank you.

Jonathan Rowe said...

So let's kick that to the curb once and for all, since it was in doubt at least as early as 1150 AD.

Only in the sense that the Trinity had been in doubt since 325 AD. "Prevailing" doesn't mean no one thought any differently. Just prevailing.

Daniel said...

Jon,
'Heresy' is ordinarily understood as dissent from an article of faith. And 'heresy' is ordinarily defined by the church (or a church). Even adopting a fairly narrow view of heresy (such as the Nicene Creed), can give so bizarre results if the intent it is to define heretics a not Christian (such as defining the entire Eastern Church as not Christian). The 18th Century debate on Romans 13 is interesting as an example of evolving view of revelation and evolving political theology, but unless a church was defining a particular view of Romans 13 as 'heresy' at the time, I don't think it is fair to use that definition retrospectively.

Tom, there were people in Aquinas' time who were ready to call him a heretic. He did tinker a bit with at least one Article of Faith.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Daniel,

The Anglican Church did make it an article of faith that you submit to the authority of the King.

Daniel said...

Jon,
I wasn't aware of that, although I should not be suprised since he was the head of the church.

Brian Tubbs said...

D.A., the Roman Catholic Church holds that the Vatican possesses the same authority to reveal new truths (revelations) from God that the apostles did in the first century. Specifically, they believe that the Pope today has the same authority, when he claims it, as Peter.

http://www.catholic.com/library/Apostolic_Succession.asp

High Church Anglicans tended to see themselves as continuing to have this same unbroken line of succession back to the apostles. However, there was obviously tension between the Church of England and the Vatican as to the scope and extent of this succession.

Differences in certain practices and policies (like the ordination of female priests) have called attention to these tensions.

Brian Tubbs said...

Pinky, thanks for asking. Due to family demands, job changes, etc., I had to withdraw from the chaplain candidate program.

The Army says I can return, when I get further along in my studies. But, I wasn't able to continue with their schedule. :-(

Pinky said...

.
Ohoho will never be the same.

heh heh heh

So, do you have a church in the D.C. area?
.

D.A. Ridgely said...

Mr. Tubbs:

That's quite a different claim than the sentence I questioned. I know of no authority that ever claiming either that the English monarch, defender of the faith or not, spoke with any apostolic authority whatsoever or that the Archbishop of Canterbury assumed or claimed any special authority equivalent to that of the bishop of Rome except insofar as both are member of the episcopacy.

While it is true that the Anglo-Catholic tradition in Anglicanism in general and the Episcopal Church in particular has laid greater emphasis on the importance of apostolic succession than the more protestant or reformed tradition, the Anglican understanding of that importance is more in keeping with the ancient church understanding of the historic episcopacy gathering in counsel to decide church doctrine.

Indeed, the current doctrinal disputes within the Anglican Communion vis a vis the Episcopal Church regarding homosexuality, ordination and holy matrimony go at least as much if not more to the method by which such doctrinal changes are to be effected as to the theological arguments pro and con on those topics.

Brian Tubbs said...

@ Pinky - Yes, I'm pastoring Olney Baptist Church in Olney, MD.