Who was William Livingston?



We have hinted that the Church and State in England worked in concert for the enslavement of the Americans. So early as 1748, Dr. Secker, Archbishop of Canterbury, had proposed the establishment of Episcopacy in America, and overtures were made to several eminent Puritan divines to accept the mitre, but they all declined it. It was known that among other reforms in the colonies, proposed by the ministry at the beginning of the reign of George the Third, was the curtailment or destruction of the Puritan, or Dissenting influence in the provinces, and to make the ritual of the Anglican Church the State mode of worship. This movement was made as secretly as possible, but it could not be wholly concealed. Rev. George Whitefield said to Dr. Langdon, a Puritan divine at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, "I can't, in conscience, leave this town without acquainting you with a secret. My heart bleeds for America. O poor New England! There is a deep-laid plot against both your civil and religious liberties, and they will be lost. Your golden days are at an end. You have nothing but trouble before you. My information comes from the best authority in Great Britain. I was allowed to speak of the affair in general, but enjoined not to mention particulars. Your liberties will be lost."

Remembering the aspect of Episcopacy or rather of the Anglican Church in the early colonial days, the Americans had ever looked upon that Church as a partner of the State in its acts of oppression, and they feared its power. They well knew that if Parliament could create dioceses and appoint bishops, they would establish tithes and crush out dissent as a heresy. For years controversy on the subject was very warm and sometimes acrimonious in this country. The Anglican Church had many adherents in nearly all the colonies, and they naturally desired its ascendency. Essays by able writers appeared in pamphlets and sometimes in newspapers for and against Episcopacy. Among those of its opponents, none held a more trenchant pen than William Livingston. Dr. Ewer, Lord Bishop of Llandaff, had preached a sermon before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in which he recommended the scheme for establishing Episcopacy in America, and heaped abuse upon the colonists, who were mostly Dissenters. "Upon the adventurers themselves," he said, "what reproach could be cast heavier than they deserved? Who, with their native soil abandoned their native manners and religion, and ere long were found in many parts living without remembrance or knowledge of God, without any divine worship, in dissolute wickedness and the most brutal profligacy of manners. Instead of civilizing and converting barbarious infidels, as they undertook to do, they became, themselves, infidels and barbarians." With this view of the state of religion in the colonies, the prelate concluded that the only remedy for the great evil was to be found in a church establishment. His recommendations were laid hold of with a firm grasp by churchmen in this country, and urged with zeal. Dr. Chandler of Elizabethtown, in New Jersey, published "An Appeal to the Public in behalf of the Church of England" - an able and moderate performance. Men of less note followed, and echoed the sentiments of the worthy rector.

The Dissenters were aroused. They perceived in the Bishop's sermon the spirit of the old persecuting Church, and visions of Laud and the Star Chamber troubled them. They felt that their "liberties were in danger," without a doubt. The unjust reproaches of the prelate were severely commented upon, and his erroneous assertions were met with truth. Dr. Chauncey of Boston first entered the lists against him and his abettors; and early in 1768, Mr. Livingston issued, in pamphlet form, his famous Letter to the prelate, in which, with sarcastic indignation of tone, he refuted the charges of that dignitary so completely that they were not repeated. The pamphlet was republished in London, and excited much attention in England. It was highly commended by all Dissenters in America; and in the summer of 1768, when Massachusetts was in a blaze of indignation because of the instructions of Hillsborough and the duplicity of Bernard, the consociated churches of the colony of Connecticut assembled in convention at Coventry with Noah Wells as their scribe or secretary, passed a vote of thanks to Mr. Livingston "for vindicating the New England churches and plantations against the injurious reflections and unjust aspersions cast upon them in the Bishop of Llandaff's sermon." This compliment was travestied by one of the champions of the church in a poem of fifty lines, which was published in Hugh Gaines' New York Mercury. It was entitled "A Reviving Cordial for a Fainting Hero." The following is its conclusion:

"March on, brave Will, and rear our Babel On Language so unanswerable; Give Church and State a hearty thump, And knock down Truth with Falsehoods plump; So flat shall fall their church's fair stones, Felled by another Praise-God-Bare-Bones. Signed with consent of all the Tribe, By No--h W--s our fasting scribe, The Scribe and Pharisee in meeting To William Li--n send greeting."

This theological controversy ceased when the vital question of absolute resistance or submission to the encroachments of both Church and State upon the liberties of the Americans was brought to a final issue. In the war for independence which followed the ten years of discussion, appeal and remonstrance, many adherents to the republican cause were found among the members of the Anglican Church. The intimate relations of that Church with the State, however, caused many of its communion, especially of the clergy, to take the side of the crown.





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