Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO DR. J. MORSE. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO DR. J. MORSE. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO DR. J. MORSE.
Quincy, 2 December, 1815.
If I ever comply with your request, I must make haste and employ the few intervals of light which my eyes afford me.
Where is the man to be found at this day, when we see Methodistical bishops, bishops of the church of England, and bishops, archbishops, and Jesuits of the church of Rome, with indifference, who will believe that the apprehension of Episcopacy contributed fifty years ago, as much as any other cause, to arouse the attention, not only of the inquiring mind, but of the common people, and urge them to close thinking on the constitutional authority of parliament over the colonies? This, nevertheless, was a fact as certain as any in the history of North America. The objection was not merely to the office of a bishop, though even that was dreaded, but to the authority of parliament, on which it must be founded. The reasoning was this. The archbishops and bishops in England can neither locate and limit dioceses in America, nor ordain bishops in any part of the dominions of Great Britain, out of the realm, by any law of the kingdom or of any of the colonies, nor by any canon law acknowledged by either. The king cannot grant his congé d’élire to any people out of his realm; there is no power or pretended power, less than parliament, that can create bishops in America. But if parliament can erect dioceses and appoint bishops, they may introduce the whole hierarchy, establish tithes, forbid marriages and funerals, establish religions, forbid dissenters, make schism heresy, impose penalties extending to life and limb as well as to liberty and property. Here, Sir, opens an extensive field of investigation, even for a young historian, who might be disposed to undertake so laborious an enterprise.
The opinions, the principles, the spirit, the temper, the views, designs, intrigues, and arbitrary exertions of power, displayed by the church of England at that time towards the dissenters, as they were contemptuously called, though in reality the churchmen were the real dissenters, ought to be stated at full length. The truth is, that the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians, the Anabaptists, the Methodists, or even the Quakers, or Moravians, were each of them as numerous as the churchmen; several of them immensely more numerous, and all of them together more than fifteen to one.
In Virginia, the church of England was established by law, in exclusion and without toleration of any other denomination. The British statute, called the act of uniformity, was acknowledged as law, and carried into execution by the magistrates. It is worthy of inquiry, whether the same law was not in force in Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia. In Pennsylvania, the Quakers, the Presbyterians, the German Lutherans and Calvinists, the Anabaptists, the Methodists, the Dunkers, the Mennonists, and the Roman Catholics, were so numerous, and the church of England so few, that the latter found it difficult to support their cause; and the ridiculous incurvations and tergiversations of the Proteus, Dr. Smith, and that other weaker Proteus, Duché, and the bigotry of Coombs, showed their awkward struggles to preserve their cause from contempt. White, now bishop, then young, behaved with uniform candor, moderation, and decorum.
In New York, the church of England displayed its essential character of intolerance. The royal governors, counsellors, judges, &c., had such overbearing influence, that they dared to grant large tracts of fertile lands to the churches of England, and laid the foundation of the ample riches they still hold, while no other denomination could obtain any. Even Dr. Rogers’s congregation, numerous and respectable as it was, could never obtain a legal title to a spot to bury their dead. The writings of Livingston and Smith furnish evidence enough of the spirit of these times. Great exertions were made in New York to propagate Anglican Episcopacy in Connecticut; and a famous Dr. Cutler, and a more famous Dr. Johnson, and his still more celebrated son, were employed with success in that service,—with such success, indeed, that an English church and an Episcopal priest soon appeared in all the towns from New Haven to New York.
The efforts in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, though they ought to be recorded, I pass over, and hasten to Massachusetts. And here I want to write a volume. Here the clergy, and principal gentlemen among the laity, were high churchmen indeed. Passive obedience and non-resistance, in the most unqualified and unlimited sense, were their avowed principles in government, and the power of the church to decree rites and ceremonies, and the authority of the church in controversies of faith, were explicitly avowed. I know not where to begin, nor when to end. The anecdotes which I could relate as an eye and an ear-witness, would be innumerable. This north precinct of the large and ancient town of Braintree, now called Quincy, in which I was born and bred, and in which my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, lived, died, and lie buried, was a very focus of Episcopal bigotry, intrigue, intolerance, and persecution. I could introduce here a dramatis personæ of names, which I will not now commit to paper, and entertain you with plots and intrigues, which would compose a comedy equal to any of Molière or Shakspeare, if corruption, prostitution, and dupery can compose a comedy. Waving this for the present, we will proceed to Cambridge. Several branches of our Braintree family of Vassals had removed and planted themselves in the very front of the university, and they must have an Episcopal church. Our Braintree family of Apthorps instantly turned their attention to that seat of the muses and dissenters. Mr. East Apthorp, hot from Oxford, and still more warmed by holy orders from Episcopal hands, returned to his native country, and soon after arose a splendid edifice, as it was then thought, which every-body immediately concluded was intended for an Episcopal palace and in time for a Lambeth. All sensible men knew that this system could not be effected but by act of parliament; and if parliament could do this, they could do all things; and what security could Americans have for life, liberty, property, or religion? The Society for Propagating the Gospel had long perverted their revenues from their original design to the support of the church of England ministers. Upon the death of Dr. Miller, of Braintree, a satirical irony appeared in a newspaper, the point of which turned upon this abuse of the society’s resources. This jeu d’esprit soon produced an explosion. Mr. Apthorp came out with an eloquent and zealous pamphlet. Dr. Mayhew appeared with his comparison between the charter and conduct of the society, showing their non-conformity with each other. The controversy soon interested all men, spread through America and in Europe, brought forward the aged Dr. Johnson, and at last the Archbishop of Canterbury. All denominations in America became interested in it, and began to think of the secret, latent principle upon which all encroachments upon us must be founded, the power of parliament. The nature and extent of the authority of parliament over the colonies was discussed everywhere, till it was discovered that it had none at all, a conclusion still more forcibly impressed upon the people by the Canada bill, by which the Roman Catholic religion and Popish bishops were established in that province by authority of a British parliament. The people said, if parliament can do this in Canada, they can do the same in all the other colonies; and they began to see and freely to say, that parliament had no authority over them in any case whatsoever.