Political Anglicanism in the Chesapeake, 1760-1800
While the Church of England in the mother country had developed the organizational structure that permitted it to respond successfully to its critics, the Anglican Church in Virginia and Maryland struggled with structural failures and problems pertinent to the American geography and ethnic composition. The absence of a resident bishop, the diverse ethnic origins of the colonials, as well as the existence of large numbers of slaves and Indians, together with the great extent of the parishes, rendered the task of colonial ministers extremely difficult. Despite the diligence of some clergymen, the Anglican Church in the Chesapeake failed to bring large numbers of converts into its fold and to gain, therefore, a firm footing on the American soil. As a result, it took the form of an institution which was more appealing to the elite than to those of a low social background. Among the former, there were numerous examples of piety and devotion which exhibit a true attachment to the ideals of Anglican civil theology. The great power that local elites acquired within the colonial church establishment of Virginia and Maryland prevented Anglican clergymen from developing an independent stance which would have allowed them to influence public opinion in the colonies in a staunchly conservative way. As a result, Anglican clergymen failed to stem the revolutionary tide that swept the region in mid-eighteenth century. There are elements, however, of Anglican political thought in the arguments voiced by the statesmen of the new nation in Virginia and in Maryland. Such ideas as the perception of society as an organic whole, the propriety of elite rule, the authority of governmental institutions to promote public virtue, the right to depose a monarch - when he acted in an unconstitutional way - and the importance of moderate and peaceful demeanour were cherished by Anglicans at both sides of the Atlantic.