THE Ecclesiastical Union here intended is that association of Episcopal Churches in the States of the Civil Union of this Country, on the basis of a common Constitution voluntarily adopted for purposes of common government, which was established at the end of the eighteenth century; and which has since continued to exist under the legislative authority of the representative body known as the General Convention, composed of Bishops, Clergy and Laity, and deriving its powers from that Constitution which is the basis of the association.
Our present concern with this Union relates chiefly to the connection with it of the subject of these memoirs: and the effort here made will be to show in what the Union consisted, and to point out some of the difficulties which had to be overcome in the completion of it.
From the first Journals of General Convention, and from the Memoirs of the venerable Bishop White, to whom belongs the honor of having been the father of the plan on which the Churches in the different States were associated in this Union, the following facts appear.
In May, 1784, a meeting of some of the Clergy of New-York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was held at New Brunswick, New Jersey, for the revival of a charitable Corporation chartered in the Colonial period, at which meeting were also present certain of the lay members of the Church. [The Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Children of Clergymen, still perpetuated in the three States of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.] Opportunity was taken to consider the condition and prospects of the Church in the United States, and to submit certain measures, recently adopted in Pennsylvania, tending to the organization of the Church throughout the Civil Union. The result was a more general meeting in New York in the following October; at which there appeared deputies from the three States above named, and others. The greater number of these deputies were vested with no powers to bind their constituents, the Churches in the States from which they came; and their only act was the recommendation to the Churches in the various States to unite under a few articles considered to be fundamental. [Bishop White's Statement prefixed to Bioren's Reprint of General Convention Journals.] At Philadelphia in September, 1785, a Convention assembled at which were present deputies, Clerical and Lay, from the States of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.
The Convention thus assembled adopted what may be called a draft of a Constitution, as the basis of the association of the Churches represented, and such others as might be disposed to join them; and the members of that Convention, being still possessed of no authority to bind their constituents, provided in their proposed Constitution, that when that Instrument should be ratified by the Church in the different States, it should be fundamental, and unalterable by the Convention of the Church in any State. [Bioren's Journals, p. 8.]
In 1786, representatives from the seven States above named adopted another draft or proposed Constitution, a modification in some respects of that of 1785, but in the main to the same effect, and with the same want of authority; the deputies being still without power to bind their constituents. But in the year 1786, a resolution was adopted which led to putting the authority of the Convention in future upon a different basis: it being by this resolution "recommended to the Conventions of this Church in the several States represented in this Convention, that they authorise and empower their deputies to the next General Convention, after we shall have obtained a Bishop or Bishops in our Church, to confirm and ratify a General Constitution, respecting both the doctrine and discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." In accordance with this action the proposed Constitution of 1786 provided that that Instrument "when ratified by the Church in a majority of the States assembled in General Convention, with sufficient power for the purpose of such ratification, shall be unalterable by the Convention of any particular State which hath been represented at the time of such ratification."
In 1787, Dr. White was consecrated Bishop for Pennsylvania, and Dr. Provoost for New York, and at the General Convention, following these Consecrations, in the summer of 1789, the members being called upon to declare their powers relative to the resolution of 1786, recommending their being appointed by their State Conventions with the full power "to confirm and ratify a General Constitution respecting both the doctrine and discipline, of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America gave information, that they came fully authorized to ratify a Book of Common Prayer, &c. for the use of the Church."
The Constitution adopted in August, 1789, was thus authoritative, and of obligation upon the Churches in the States represented in the Convention then sitting; and, having reached this point, the Convention adjourned to another session in the autumn of the same year, to which were invited, and at which attended, representatives from the Church in Connecticut and other Eastern States; and in October of that year the Constitution which had been adopted in the previous August was, after certain amendments, re-adopted, and agreed to also by those representatives. From thenceforth, there was established the Ecclesiastical Union, under that Constitution, of all the Churches of the several States which had been represented in that Convention. In Connecticut there appears to have been a further formal ratification of the acts of their deputies; but the authority of the Constitution as the basis of the Ecclesiastical Union dates from the second session of General Convention, in October, 1789; and although that Union did not then extend over all the States of the Civil Union, all were ultimately included within it.
The course pursued by the Convention from the beginning of its sessions was, in several respects, such as to cause serious distrust among the Connecticut Churchmen and those who were like minded with them. The attitude of the Convention toward the Episcopate, which indeed it was solicitous to procure for each of the States represented, but which it seemed disposed to put in a subordinate position, and make rather incidental than essential to the system; the somewhat hasty and crude revision of the Book of Common Prayer; the association of laymen on equal terms with the Clergy, not only in legislative but even in judicial functions; the reduction of Bishops to an ex ofiicio membership in a House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, without even provision (at first) for having a Bishop preside when one should be present; and the making of every Clergyman,--Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon--amenable to the Convention in his State, so far as related to suspension or removal from office, were measures for which there was no precedent in the previous practice of the Church, and no justification in the principles on which that practice had been founded.
There was no disposition on the part of the Bishop, or the Diocese, of Connecticut, to hold aloof from the Union, or to make any opposition to it--quite the contrary. But in all the Eastern States there were grave apprehensions of unchurchly tendencies in the Middle and Southern States. Bishop White thought that these were not well founded, but they existed; and they had as strong an influence in one direction, as the objections to the independent action of Connecticut, and the uneasiness about the anticipated extension of Bishop Seabury's universal American jurisdiction had in the other.
In addition to the opposition of feeling thus indicated, it is necessary also to observe that the attitude of the Convention toward Bishop Seabury himself, was not such as to encourage his confidence in the desire of the Churches represented in that body to have any connection or association with him, or the Church under his jurisdiction. Instigated at first by Dr. Pro-voost of New York, and afterward promoted by Dr. Robert Smith of South Carolina, an effort was made to set a stigma upon Bishop Seabury's consecration, by impugning the validity of ordinations performed by him. And although the Convention could not be influenced to this extent by those deputies, yet it is hardly surprising that the action which that body did take, should be viewed by Bishop Seabury in connection with those attacks upon him, and be considered accordingly as far from reassuring.
It seems worth while to record here the several resolutions which were formulated in order to guard against what was supposed to be the dangerous tendency of Bishop Seabury's existence at that period.
In the New York Convention, May 16, 1786, after the appointment of Clerical and Lay deputies to the next General Convention, it was "Resolved, That the persons appointed to represent this Church be instructed not to consent to any act that may imply the validity of Bishop Seabury's ordinations." [New York Journals, I, p. 9.]
In the General Convention, June, 1786, it was moved by the Rev. Robert Smith of South Carolina "That the Clergy present produce their letters of Orders, or declare by whom they were ordained." [Bioren's Journals, p. 19.]
This resolution having been lost, it was moved by Dr. Provoost and seconded by Dr. Smith, "That the Convention will resolve to do no act that shall imply the validity of ordinations made by Dr. Seabury." This motion was also lost, New York (as instructed,) New Jersey and South Carolina voting for it; and Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia voting against it."
On a motion made by Dr. White, and seconded by Dr. Smith, it was "Resolved unanimously that it be recommended to this Church in the States here represented, not to receive to the pastoral charge within their respective limits, clergymen professing canonical subjection to any Bishop, in any State or Country, other than those Bishops who may be duly settled in the States represented in this Convention."
This Resolution fairly covered the only ground on which reasonable objection could be made to the admission of persons ordained by Bishop Seabury; viz. that those who were amenable to the Convention, ought not to have a divided allegiance, as being also amenable to a Bishop not connected with the Convention. If the Convention anticipated such danger it had a right to guard against it: and if this resolution had stood alone, although it showed but little confidence in Bishop Seabury, and no great desire for union with him, no exception needed to be taken to it. But such moderate measure could not satisfy those who either had, or affected to have, doubts of the Scottish succession; or who were anxious to acquire merit in the eyes of the English Bishops by refusing to fraternize with a Bishop who had scandalized their Lordships by his Scottish consecration. This latter significance seems to be involved in the resolution next adopted unanimously on the motion of Dr. Robert Smith; "Resolved, That it be recommended to the Conventions of the Church represented in this General Convention, not to admit any person as a minister within their respective limits, who shall receive ordination from any Bishop residing in America, during the application now pending to the English Bishops for Episcopal Consecration." [Bioren's Journals, pp. 21, 22. No such ulterior motive is attributable to Dr. White, who did not entertain doubts of the validity of the Scotch Succession, and who was above any such indirect modes of conciliation. "It was Dr. White," writes Dr. William Smith to Bishop Seabury, "who seconded, on a former occasion, my motion for not suffering any question in Convention, which might imply even a doubt of the validity of your consecration, and that at a time when admitting a doubt of that kind was considered by some as a good means of forwarding his own and Dr. Provoost's consecration." (Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, p. 364.)]
Notwithstanding these covert, but obvious, attacks, upon him; and notwithstanding the anxieties which the reports of the action of the Convention aroused in him, Bishop Seabury was desirous that nothing should be wanting on his part, which he could properly do, for the promotion of union between the Churches in all the States. He proved this earnest desire by his courteous overtures to the Bishops of Pennsylvania and New York upon their return from England in that capacity; by his kindly criticism of the measures of the Convention from which he apprehended evil results; and by his willingness at last to accede, for the sake of the unity and peace of the Church, to a system which, as being an entirely new departure, he was prone to distrust; but which, rather than risk the dangers of having different organizations of the same Communion in the United States, he thought it most wise to support--provided certain essentials could be preserved--in the hope of the ultimate settlement of the system upon a more trustworthy basis. [See for instance his manly, clear and cogent letter to Dr. William Smith of August 15, 1785, printed in Bishop White's Memoirs, pp. 286-292.]
So great, however, was the anxiety entertained in Connecticut in regard to the tendencies which they apprehended, that the Bishop and Clergy of that State thought it wise to try to secure another Bishop to act as Coadjutor to Bishop Seabury, and to succeed him in case of his decease; and the Convocation in the latter part of February, 1787, elected the Revd. Mr. Jarvis to go to Scotland to receive consecration from the Bishops of that Country. Writing on March 2d. of that year to Bishop Skinner, and speaking of the recent meeting of his Clergy, Bishop Seabury says: "They are much alarmed at the steps taken by the Clergy and Laity to the south of us, and are very apprehensive that, should it please God to take me out of the world, the same spirit of innovation in the government and Liturgy of the Church would be apt to rise in this State, which has done so much mischief in our neighborhood. . . . and should this See become vacant, the Clergy may find themselves under the fatal necessity of falling under the Southern establishment, which they consider as a departure from Apostolical institution.
To prevent all danger of this, they are anxious to have a Bishop coadjutor to me, and will send a gentleman to Scotland for consecration as soon as they know that the measure meets with the full approbation of my good and highly respected brethren in Scotland. It has not only my approbation, but my most anxious wishes are, that it may soon be carried into execution."
Communication in those days was slow, and the custom of correspondents adapted itself to that deliberation. Not until June 20, 1787, was Bishop Skinner's answer to this letter dated; and of course its arrival here was much later. In the meantime Drs. White and Provoost had been consecrated in England, and had returned to this Country. Aware of their consecration, Bishop Skinner, in his reply to Bishop Seabury, says, "We can hardly imagine that the Bishops of Philadelphia and New York will refuse their brotherly assistance in the measure which you propose to us, or yet take upon them to impose their own Liturgy as the sole condition of compliance. Should this be the case, and these new Bishops either refuse to hold communion with you, or grant it only on terms with which you cannot in conscience comply, there would then be no room for us to hesitate. But fain would we hope better things of these your American brethren, and that there will be no occasion for two separate communions among the Episcopalians in the United States. [Cf. Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, pp. 293-298.]
The "brotherly assistance" of the Bishops mentioned was not sought for the consecration of the Coadjutor for Bishop Seabury. Later it was sought by Massachusetts and New Hampshire clergy for the consecration of Dr. Bass to be Bishop for the Church in those States; and was declined.
Reference will hereafter be made to this; but, in order of time, there are other matters to be first noted. It is to be observed, however, in passing that the "brotherly assistance" was sought from a different quarter, through the request made by the Convention in Virginia, in May, 1787, that Bishops White and Provoost would consecrate the Rev. Dr. Griffith Bishop for the Church in that State. The request was, consistently, denied on the ground that it behoved those Bishops not to act without first obtaining the three Bishops from England, and partly on the further ground that a consecration by only two Bishops would be a precedent for irregularity in future; though apparently it was not convenient to remember that there was another Bishop within easy reach if regularity had been the thing desired. [Bishop White's Memoirs, p. 144.]
In a letter to his friend William Stevens Esqr. of London, on the 9th of May, 1787, Bishop Seabury writes: "It is so long since I heard from any of my friends in London, that I cannot help feeling some uneasiness on that account. I did hope that I should have received some intelligence respecting the two American Bishops, and particularly, whether they were laid under any restrictions? And if so, what those restrictions were? Those Gentlemen are returned, but I do not find their arrival has made much noise in this Country. I have written to them both, proposing an interview with them, and an Union of the Church of England through all the States, on the ground of the present Prayer Book, only accommodating it to the Civil Constitution of this Country; and the government of the Church to continue unaltered as it now is, with a body of canons to give energy to it, and direct its operation. I know not what effect this overture may have. But my fears are greater than my hopes. Everything I can fairly do to procure Union and uniformity, shall certainly be done." [Ms. Letter Book.]
Bishop White and Bishop Provoost landed at New York, in the afternoon of Easter Day, April 7, I787. The letters respectively addressed to them by Bishop Seabury, are said by Dr. Beardsley to "bear the same date and breathe the same spirit." Bishop White replied with courtesy, but otherwise not very satisfactorily. Bishop Provoost seems not to have replied at all. A copy of the letter to him as preserved in the Letter Book is here presented.
"May 1, 1787.
The Right Reverend Bishop Provoost, New York. Right Reverend and dear Sir,
It is with pleasure I take this opportunity of presenting my congratulations on your safe return to New York, on the success of your application to the English Archbishops, and on your recovery from your late dangerous illness.
You must be equally sensible with me of the present unsettled state of the Church of England in this Country, and of the necessity of union and concord, among all its members in the United States of America, not only to give stability to it, but to fix it on its true and proper foundation. Possibly nothing will contribute more to this end than uniformity in worship and discipline among the Churches of the different States. It will be my happiness to be able to promote so good and necessary a work: and I take the liberty to propose, that before any decided steps may be taken, there may be a meeting of yourself and Bishop White with me at such time and place as shall be most convenient; to try whether some plan cannot be adopted that shall, in a quiet and effectual way, secure the great object which I trust we should all heartily rejoice to see accomplished. For my own part I cannot help thinking, that the most likely method will be to retain the present Common Prayer Book, accommodating it to the civil constitution of the United States. The government of the Church, you know, is already settled: a body of canons will however be wanting to give energy to the government, and ascertain its operation.
A stated Convocation of the Clergy of this State is to be held at Stamford on Thursday after Whitsunday. As it is so near to New York, and the journey may contribute to the re-establishment of your health, I should be much rejoiced to see you there; more especially as I think it would promote the great object, the union of all the Churches. May God direct us in all things!
Believe me to be Rt. Revd. and dear Sir, your aff. Br. and humb1. Servt."
Bishop Frovoost's ignoring of Bishop Seabury's overture was consistent with his previous, and indeed his subsequent, attitude. In a letter to Dr. White, of May 20, 1786, Dr. Provoost says that it would be highly improper to give any sanction to Bishop Seabury's ordinations. "It would also," he continues, "be an insult upon the Church and to the truly venerable prelates to whom we are now making application for the succession. For my own part I carry the matter still further, and as a friend to the liberties of mankind, should be extremely sorry that the conduct of my brethren here should tend to the resurrection of the sect of Non-Jurors (nearly buried in oblivion) whose slavish and absurd tenets were a disgrace to humanity, and God grant that they may never be cherished in America, which, as my native Country, I wish may always be saved to liberty, both civil and religious." [Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, p. 254.]
"Our state in this Country," remarks Bishop Seabury in his letter of November 1, 1788, to Bishop Abernethy Drummond of Edinburgh, "is still unsettled, and like I fear to continue so. Bishop White, of Philadelphia, seems disposed to an Ecclesiastical Union, but will take no leading or active part to bring it about. He will risk nothing; and Bishop Provoost seems so elated with the honor of an English consecration that he affects to doubt the validity of mine." [Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, p. 337.]
Besides the apprehension that Bishop Seabury had, that there was a disposition on the part of the Churches to the southward to exclude him from the Ecclesiastical Union, it was made apparent to him that there was somewhere in those quarters a disposition to give the impression that it was he who was striving to obstruct the completion of that Union: an imputation which he certainly was justified in resenting. In reference to this he writes to Dr. Parker, December 16, 1788, "As it appears to me, all the difficulty lies with those Churches, and not with us in Connecticut. I have several times proposed and urged a Union. It has been received and treated, I think, coldly. And yet I have received several letters urging such a union on me, as though I was the only person who opposed it. This is not fair. I am ready to treat of and settle the terms of union on any proper notice. But Bishops White and Provoost must bear their part in it actively as well as myself; and we must come into the Union on even terms, and not as underlings." [Ibid. pp. 333-4.]
This feeling is manifested again, some months later, in a manuscript which seems to be the Bishop's draft of a letter to Dr. Parker of May 27, 1789, in reference to the movement for procuring the consecration of Dr. Bass by himself and Bishops White and Provoost. This paper seems to me so suggestive, in several aspects of the situation, that I quote almost the whole of it, as follows: "I cannot but approve of your design to have a Bp. to the Eastward, and from Mr. Bass's character and standing in the Church, I am persuaded he would worthily and acceptably fill that station. With these sentiments I shall readily meet your and the Clergy's wishes, by contributing all in my power to accomplish an event which I much wish. But I have my doubts of the concurrence of the other Bps., yet I hope they will prove groundless. I have several times mentioned the propriety of a Union between all the Churches in the States and am ready to enter on and settle the terms of that Union as far as relates to Connecticut, whenever Bps. White and Provoost shall please to come into such a measure. But then we must meet them on even ground. It must be the union of the Church in Conn*., with the Church of the Southern States upon just and reasonable principles, not a subjection to them founded on a majority of votes. In this matter I think I shall have all the Clergy of Connecticut with me. To accomplish this I see no way but for the Bps. White and Provoost with as many Proctors from the Clergy as shall be thought necessary to meet with the Bp. and Proctors of the Church of Connecticut. If they cannot agree on a uniformity of Worship, they certainly can agree on terms of perfect Union, so as to keep up the most friendly intercourse by admitting each others Clergy and Communicants, and assisting each other by advice and mutual good offices. Indeed I do not see the absolute necessity of exact uniformity in public Liturgy to keep up Christian unity between Churches whatever advantages may attend it. While the analogy of Faith is preserved and a due regard paid to ancient Catholic practice, a variety in publick Liturgy will be attended with no real detriment. I must also mention another doubt I have--whether it is right that the merit or demerit of forms of P. Prayer should be ascertained by votes in a large, or even a small assembly, either of Clergy or Laity, or both? I cannot enlarge on this point--your own good sense will suggest many reasons against it.
I take it for granted that the G. Con. will make no abatement in the power of Lay Ds. in Ec. matters--and I think the C of C will be averse to putting themselves into the same state. However, as our Convocation is to meet the next week, the question shall come fairly before them.
I cannot but think it a little hard that I should be represented as being averse from a union between the Churches. The opposition comes from another quarter, and there the blame ought to lie. I think the Church in C. as respectable on acct. of its numbers and Clergy as the Church in any of the States, and feel that in some instances it has been treated in a manner bordering on contempt. Judge you, whether it would be right in them to put themselves in a situation that will intail this treatment on them? Or whether it would be doing themselves justice always to bear it with the same tameness they hitherto have done rather than throw any impediment in the way of union with those She fondly hoped would treat her as a Sister. I repeat it; If a union with Con. be desired, it may be had on reasonable and even terms--If more be aimed at, I hope it will never be effected. You must excuse a little warmth, as I feel myself hurt by having it represented that I stood in the way of perfect union. You know it cannot be obtained till the nonsensical objection about my Cons, be given up. This matter does not stick with Bp. W. But while it does subsist it must preclude both myself and Clergy from appearing at their general Convention. With regard to Mr. Bass--I believe it will be found that Bps. W and P are under engagements not to consecrate any Bp. till they have another Bp. from England. You can however make the experiment; or if you choose it, you can ascertain whether they would join in such a Cons, before Mr. B. be elected."
The extreme policy for which Bishop Provoost stood--based as it was in part upon political prejudice, and in part upon the "nonsensical objection" above mentioned, did not, however, command much support even in his own Diocese.
At first, indeed, his influence carried the Convention of New York to the point of instructing delegates to General Convention not to consent to any act that would imply the validity of Bishop Seabury's ordinations: but in the New York Convention of 1788, the desire to have the succession carried on in the English line was not deemed inconsistent with the desire to promote the union of the Churches in all the States, which of course involved the inclusion of the Scottish line; as may appear from the following two resolutions: "Resolved, That it is highly necessary in the opinion of this Convention, that measures should be pursued to preserve the Episcopal succession in the English line--and
Resolved also, That the union of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America is of great importance and much to be desired; and that the delegates of this State in the next General Convention, be instructed to promote that union by every prudent measure, consistent with the Constitution of the Church, and the continuance of the Episcopal succession in the English line." [Journal New York Convention, November 5, 1788. Cf. Bishop White's Memoirs, p. 14m.]
Bishop Seabury's impression that Bishop White was unwilling to take the lead in promoting the Union was not quite correct. Bishop White's way of working was not understood by Bishop Seabury, to whose simple and outright character diplomatic processes were uncongenial. In fact Bishop White's was the master mind in the whole movement for Union, and it had all along been his object to bring the Episcopacy of the Church in Connecticut within that union. [Memoirs, p. 141.] Had Bishop Provoost possessed the same feeling, probably the result would have been reached through conference, as Bishop Seabury desired. Failing that, Bishop White pursued his purpose otherwise. One mode of operation was to work through Dr. Parker of Massachusetts, the friend of Bishop Seabury. To him Bishop White wrote that as the Clergy of Massachusetts had not been concerned either in the application to England or to Scotland, they had it in their power to act the part of mediators in bringing the Clergy of Connecticut and those of the other States together. Out of this move grew the application, which, as we have seen, was made by the Massachusetts Clergy for the consecration of Dr. Bass by the three Bishops, Seabury, White and Provoost. This application met with favour in the General Convention, which united in making request of those Bishops to perform that action; and although neither White nor Provoost were, as has appeared, willing to grant that request, yet the fact that the General Convention made the request, involved the recognition by that body of the validity of Bishop Seabury's Episcopate, and so removed the chief hindrance to Bishop Seabury's co-operation with the General Convention. This was assured by the passage of the following resolution on the 30th of July, 1789: "Resolved unanimously, That it is the opinion of this Convention, that the consecration of the Right. Rev. Dr. Seabury to the Episcopal office is valid." And when the Convention adjourned for the express purpose of having the Connecticut Clergy meet with it in September, the movement for the Consecration of Dr. Bass was thought to have accomplished its object, and Dr. Bass soon afterward resigned his election. [See Bishop White's account of this matter, Memoirs, pp. 142-4. A statement of the application and of the resolves of General Convention thereupon will be found in the same volume, pp. 333-335.]
With reference to this application the General Convention, in August, 1789, adopted a series of five resolutions, drawn and moved by Dr. William Smith, the first and fourth of which it will suffice for our purpose to record here.
"Ist Resolved, That a complete order of Bishops, derived as well under the English as the Scots line of Episcopacy, doth now subsist within the United States of America, in the persons of the Right Rev. William White D. D. Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Pennsylvania; the Right. Rev. Samuel Provoost, D. D. Bishop of the said Church in the State of New York, and the Right. Rev. Samuel Seabury, D. D. Bishop of the said Church in the State of Connecticut.
4th. Resolved, That the Right Rev. Dr. White and the Right Rev. Dr. Provoost be, and they hereby are, requested to join with the Right Rev. Dr. Seabury, in complying with the prayer of the Clergy of the States of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for the consecration of the Rev. Edward Bass, Bishop elect of the Churches in the said States; but that before the said Bishops comply with the request aforesaid, it be proposed to the Churches in the New England States to meet the Churches of these States, with the said three Bishops, in an adjourned Convention, to settle certain articles of union and discipline among all the Churches, previous to such consecration." [Bioren's Journals General Convention, pp. 53-54.]
On the 8th of August this Convention, after having adopted a Constitution, adjourned to meet at Philadelphia on the 29th of September following, and before its adjournment appointed a Committee, of Bishop White and others, for the performance of various duties, among which were the answering, so far as necessary, of Bishop Seabury's letters; the forwarding of the minutes and proceedings of the Convention to him, and to the eastern and other churches not included in the union; the notifying them of the time and place to which the convention should adjourn, and the requesting of their attendance at the same for the good purposes of union and general government. [Ibid., pp. 61-64.]
The letters of Bishop Seabury which were thus referred to the Committee had been addressed respectively to Bishop White, under date of June 29, 1789, and to the Rev. Dr. William Smith, under date of July 23, 1789. The letter to Bishop White has been printed in full by Dr. Beardsley. [Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, 349-356.] It goes very candidly and patiently over various matters in the proposed formularies, which the author deprecates, and discusses them with learning and with moderation. As to some of these matters the writer had opportunity to use his influence in the subsequent revision and settlement of the Book of Common Prayer. The whole letter is admirable. Further reference to it may be made hereafter; but at present it is proposed to give the part of it which relates particularly to the matter of the inclusion of the Church in Connecticut within the Union. The writer represents the Lay delegates at a recent Connecticut Convention as having declined every interference in Church Government or in the reformation of Liturgies, and then speaks of the feeling of the Clergy and of himself.
"The Clergy supposed that in your Constitution, any representation from them would be inadmissible without Lay Delegates, nor could they submit to offer themselves to make a part of any meeting where the authority of their Bishop had been disputed by one Bishop, and probably by his influence, by a number of others who were to compose that meeting. They therefore must consider themselves as excluded, till that point shall be settled to their satisfaction, which they hope will be done by your Convention.
For my own part, gladly would I contribute to the Union and Uniformity of all our Churches; but while Bishop Provoost disputes the validity of my consecration, I can take no step towards the accomplishment of so great and desirable an object. This point, I take it, is now in such a state that it must be settled, either by your Convention, or by an appeal to the good sense of the Christian World. But as this is a subject in which I am personally concerned, I shall refrain from any remarks upon it, hoping that the candor and good sense of your Convention will render the further mention of it altogether unnecessary.
You mention the necessity of having your succession completed from England, both as it is the choice of your Churches, and in consequence of implied obligations you are under in England. I have no right to dictate to you on this point. There can, however, be no harm in wishing it were otherwise. Nothing would tend so much to the unity and uniformity of our Churches, as the three Bishops now in the States joining in the consecration of a fourth. I could say much on this subject, but should I do so, it may be supposed to proceed from interested views. I shall therefore leave it to your own good sense, only hoping you and the Convention will deliberately consider whether the implied obligations in England, and the wishes of your Churches be so strong that they must not give way to the prospect of securing the peace and unity of the Church.
The grand objection in Connecticut to the power of Lay Delegates in your Constitution is their making part of a judicial consistory for the trial and deprivation of Clergymen. This appears to us to be a new power, utterly unknown in all Episcopal Churches, and inconsistent with their constitution. That it should be given up, we do not expect; power we know is not easily relinquished. We think, however, it ought to be given up; and that it will be a source of oppression, and that it will operate as a clog on the due execution of ecclesiastical authority. If a Bishop with his Clergy are not thought competent to censure or depose a disorderly brother or not to have sufficient principle to do it, they are unfit for their stations. It is, however, a presumption that cannot be made, and therefore can be no ground of action.
I observe you mention that the authority of Lay delegates in your Constitution is misunderstood. We shall be glad to be better informed, and shall not pertinaciously persist in any unfair constructions, when they are fairly pointed out to us. That the assent of the Laity should be given to the laws which affect them equally with the Clergy, I think is right, and I believe will be disputed nowhere, and the rights of the laity we have no disposition to invade." [Beardsley's life of Bp. Seabury, pp. 349-356.]
It will be convenient to observe here that the "grand difficulty" of conferring judicial character upon laymen for the discipline of the Clergy was removed in the Constitution of August, 1789, so that when the representatives of the Eastern Churches met the General Convention in October, they did not find any cause of objection on that score. The Article numbered VIII in the proposed Constitution of 1785 had made every Clergyman, Bishop, Presbyter or Deacon amenable to the authority of the Convention in the State to which he belonged, so far as related to suspension or removal from office. In that form the Constitution, with other papers, was submitted to the English Bishops in the application for consecration of American Bishops. In a letter to the members of the Convention laid before that body in 1786, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York strongly represent that the eighth Article of the Constitution submitted to them, appeared to them to be a degradation of the clerical, and still more of the Episcopal character, and express the hope that the Article may be changed. [Bioren's Journals, pp. 34-35.] The Convention declined to make any change in consequence of this representation, [Ibid., p. 42.] having already made a modification in one respect, which, however, did not go to the root of the matter. But in the new Constitution brought before the General Convention of 1789, and adopted in August, Article 6, taking the place of the former objectionable Article VIII, discarded the unwholesome ideas upon which that Article had been based--that the Convention possessed judicial authority, and that the Clergy were amenable to it as to a judicial body. For the power to judge, involved in making the Clergy amenable to it so far as related to the tenure of their Office, was wholly withdrawn; and for it was substituted the right to institute a mode of trial--which was distinctly a legislative power, to the exercise of which the objections formerly made in the matter were clearly inapplicable. [Bioren's Journals, p. 25.] How far the representations of Bishop Seabury on this point, which had been strongly and repeatedly made prior to the meeting of this General Convention, were influential in producing the new provision cannot perhaps be known. The Convention of 1786 had declined to heed the remonstrance of the English Prelates on that head, but their objection might naturally have had weight afterwards; and Bishop Seabury's views on the matter being also well known, and his inclusion in the Union being the desire of Bishop White, it is very probable that that desire was an additional incentive to the more satisfactory remodelling of the Article.
The letter to Dr. William Smith which was also before the General Convention of 1789, refers again to the doubt cast upon the validity of Bishop Seabury's consecration by Bishop Provoost and others; and also calls attention to the requirement of the Constitution that the Church in each State should send Lay as well as Clerical delegates, from which the Connecticut Clergy understood that they were inadmissible as representatives unless accompanied by Lay delegates.
The General Convention recorded, as a reason for their resolution recognizing the validity of Bishop Seabury's Consecration, that it appeared from his letters that he "lay under some misapprehensions concerning an entry in the minutes of a former Convention, as intending some doubt of the validity of his consecration." [Bioren's Journals, p. 51.] There was very little misapprehension as to the position of some members of the Convention; but the action of the Convention itself was capable of another construction, as resulting from the fear of having any of its members under the jurisdiction of a Bishop not connected with the Convention. With regard to the necessity of lay representation, Bishop Seabury does appear to have been under a misapprehension, owing to a change in the Constitution, of which he was probably unaware. In 1785 the Convention provided that "there shall be a representation of both Clergy and Laity of the Church in each State." In 1786 and 1789, the provision was that every Diocese should be entitled to Clerical and Lay representation. This change enabled the Church in Connecticut to send Clerical representatives, without Lay delegates, to the Convention; and the recognition of the validity of Bishop Seabury's Consecration, removed the obstruction which had hitherto precluded the attendance of himself and his Clergy: so that when the official invitation, dated Philadelphia August 16th, 1789, sent in accordance with the authority of the Convention, was received, Bishop Seabury readily accepted it.
The Committee charged with the duty of making this communication to Bishop Seabury, consisted of Bishop White, Rev. Dr. William Smith, Rev. Dr. Magaw, Hon. Francis Hopkinson, Tench Coxe Esqr, and William Ward Burrows Esqr. [Ibid., p. 64.]
The original of this document, now before me, apparently in the handwriting of Dr. Smith, and with the signatures of all of the Committee except Mr. Burrows, is so admirable a model of what such a communication should be, that I deny myself its publication here in full with great reluctance. But two or three paragraphs of the letter it seems most desirable to present, as showing with how much dignity, good feeling, and precision, the Committee gave effect to the candid desire on the part of the Convention to remove the obstacles which the action of that body might have seemed in any way to interpose to the inclusion of the Eastern Churches within the Ecclesiastical Union.
"By the second Article of our printed Constitution (as altered and inserted in our Journal) you will observe that your main difficulty, respecting Lay-Representation, is wholly removed, upon the good and salutary principle admitted on both sides, viz "That there may be a strong and efficacious Union between Churches where the Usage is in some part different"--(It was indeed long the case in many Dioceses of England)--"The admission of the Church of Connecticut and other Churches of the Eastern States (where there is no Lay-Representation according to their present practice or usage is, by the Article of our Constitution above mentioned, expressly provided for, upon your own principles of representation; while the Churches, within our present Union, are not required to make any sacrifice of their principles; it being only declared by the sd. Article--"That the Church in each State shall be entitled to a representation, either of Clergy or Laity, or of both. And if the Convention (or Church) of any State should neglect, or decline, to appoint their Deputies, of either Order, (or, which is the same, if it should be their rule or usage to appoint only out of one Order); or if any of those appointed should neglect to attend, or be prevented by sickness or any other accident; the Church in such State, (District or Diocese) shall nevertheless be considered as duly represented by such Deputy or Deputies as may attend, of cither Order.
Here, then every case is intended to be provided for; and experience will either show that an efficacious Union may be accomplished upon those principles; or mutual love and goodwill, with a further reciprocation of sentiments, will eventually lead to a more perfect Uniformity, both of discipline and doctrine.
As to the second point, respecting your own Consecration, and the validity of the Scots-Episcopacy, we are persuaded that you have fallen into some misapprehension concerning the entry made in the Journal of a former Convention; or that you have been misinformed of the circumstances attending it. Nothing was ever agitated in that Convention concerning the Scots-Episcopacy; but, on the contrary, you may perceive by the Journal, that the Convention would not suffer any question to come before them, which implied even a doubt of the validity of your Consecration; and the proceedings of the present Convention upon that subject, we are persuaded, will be more than sufficient to remove every obstacle to our future Union, which might have been apprehended on that score."
In compliance with the most gracious and satisfactory invitation thus extended, Bishop Seabury attended, on the first day of October 1789, the adjourned session of the General Convention in Philadelphia; and with him attended two of his Clergy, the Rev. Mr Jarvis and the Rev. Mr. Hubbard as representing the Churches in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
"All things now appeared to tend to an happy union," writes Bishop White: but he goes on to relate that at this point certain laymen of the Convention expressed scruples as to admitting Bishop Seabury to membership in the Convention, on the ground that he was in receipt of half pay as a retired British Chaplain. The good sense and reasonable explanations of Bishop White seem to have disposed of the objection so that it was never formally made, though he says he was not without apprehensions that it might be so made. It was pointed out to the objectors that the half pay was a compensation to Bishop Seabury for former services, and not for any now expected of him; that it did not prevent him from being a citizen, with all the rights attached to the character, in Connecticut, and that any one in like circumstances who might be returned to Congress must necessarily be admitted a member of that body; and that, as there was no law covering the case, there was no reason why an Ecclesiastical body should be more particular in the matter than a civil body. [Bishop White's Memoirs, p. 145.]
The Convention having resolved that for the better promotion of union with the eastern Churches, the Constitution adopted by the same body in the previous session in August, was still open to amendment, by virtue of the powers delegated to the Convention; and having appointed a Committee to confer with the representatives of those Churches; and such conference having been held, the Committee reported on the following day, "That they have had a full, free and friendly conference with the deputies of the said Churches, who on behalf of the Church in their several States, and by virtue of sufficient authority from them, have signified, that they do not object to the Constitution, which was approved at the former session of this Convention, if the third article of that Constitution may be so modified, as to declare explicitly the right of the Bishops, when sitting in a separate House, to originate and propose acts for the concurrence of the other House of Convention; and to negative such acts proposed by the other House, as they may disapprove. Your Committee . . . recommend . . . that the third article of the Constitution may be altered accordingly. Upon such alteration being made, it is declared by the deputies from the Churches in the eastern States, that they will subscribe the Constitution, and become members of this General Convention." [Bioren's Journals, pp. 72-73.]
In the Constitution as it had been adopted in August 1789, Article 3 provided that the Bishops when there should be three or more in the Churches associated under the Constitution, should form a House of revision. To this House was to be submitted any proposed act adopted by the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies. If the House of revision concurred with the other house the act had the force of law. If the House of revision did not concur, the act was to be reconsidered by the other House; and if there adhered to by a three fifths majority the act became a law notwithstanding the negative of the House of revision. This provision, of course, assigned to the Bishops an entirely subordinate position in the system. What the representatives of the eastern Churches wanted was that the House of Bishops should be put on terms of equality with the other House; with the same right to originate acts as was possessed by it, and with the same right to negative its action, as it possessed to negative the action of the Episcopal House. In other words the consent of both Houses should be essential to give to any act the force of law; and each House was to have the same right as the other to originate measures, and to concur or not concur in measures submitted to it by the other House. Hence the condition proposed by the representatives of the eastern Churches to the Committee, and by the Committee recommended to be accepted by the Convention. The condition was not fully accepted, but it was so far accepted as to recognize the equality of the two Houses in the right to originate measures, though the equality in respect to the power of the negative was not conceded; the reservation being made that the negative of the House of Bishops might be overruled by a four fifths majority of the other House; and on this basis the matter was concluded, and the Constitution as thus amended was acceded to by the eastern men as well as by the other representatives.
This was the best arrangement that the then state of public opinion as reflected in General Convention permitted. The assertion of the right of absolute equality between the two Houses, however, had been made, and ultimately that right was recognized and conceded. In effect, it was established very soon afterwards, by giving the right of negative to the Bishops on certain conditions which were quite in their own power to comply with; so that the right was practically absolute, though formally conditional. But the equality was not established entirely without conditions until the revision of the Constitution in 1901--which seems to show that Bishop Seabury and his associates were, in this matter of fundamental principle, more than a hundred years in advance of their contemporaries.