OK–I admit that my title is a little provocative. But as some of you know I have been doing a lot of research and thinking of late about the religious dimensions of the American Revolution. I have been exploring the way in which many Loyalists, Anglicans, and British officials viewed the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” For example, Ambrose Serle, General William Howe’s secretary, wrote in 1777 that “the War…at Bottom is very much a religious War.” He would later write that “Presbyterianism is really at the Bottom of the whole Conspiracy, has supplied it with Vigor, and will never rest, till something is decided upon it.” King George III said that the American Revolution was nothing more than a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” And I could provide dozens and dozens of similar quotations.
But why were Presbyterians so rebellious? This is a huge question–one in which I hope to address in book form. But today while reading letters from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), the Anglican missionary society to the British colonies, I came across an interesting explanation from Charles Inglis, a Church of England priest from New York City.
Inglis, writing on October 31, 1776 to the SPG in London, argues:
…yet is it now past all Doubt, that an Abolition of the Church of England was one of the principal Springs of the Dissenting Leaders’ Conduct; & hence the Unanimity of Dissenters in this Business, their universal Defection from Government—emancipating themselves from the Jurisdiction of Great Britain, & becoming Indpendent (sic) was a necessary step towards this grand object.
Inglis is saying that independence from England was the “necessary step” for “dissenters” (read Presbyterians) to achieve their ultimate design or “grand object,” namely the “Abolition of the Church of England” and not the other way around. Interesting.
If Inglis is right, perhaps there is more to be said about religion and the coming of the American Revolution. Stay tuned.