By Dr. Samuel Seabury


New London, Aug. 15th, 1785.
[The Rev. Wm. Smith (the elder)]

Revd and dear Sir, The grand difficulty that defeated my application for Consecration in England, appeared to me to be the want of an application from the State of Connecticut. Other objections were made, viz: That there was no precise diocese marked out by the civil authority, nor a stated revenue appointed for the Bps support: But those were removed. The other remained—for the civil authority in Connecticut is Presbyterian, & therefore could not be supposed would petition for a Bp. And had this been removed, I am not sure another would not have started up: For, this happened to me several times. I waited, and procured a copy of an Act of the Legislature of Connecticut, which puts all denomination[s] of Christians on a footing of equality, (except the Roman Catholics, & to them it gives a free toleration) certified by the Secretary of the State: For to Connecticut all my negotiations were confined. The Abp. of Cant. wished it had been fuller, but thought it afforded ground on which to proceed. Yet he afterward said it would not do; & that the minister, without a formal requisition from the State, would not suffer the Bill, enabling the Bp. of London to ordain foreign Candidates without their taking the Oaths, to pass the Commons, if it contained a Clause for the Consecrating American Bps. And as his Grace did not choose to proceed without parliamentary authority—though if I understood him right, a majority of the Judges & Crown Lawyers were of opinion he might safely do it—I turned my attention to the remains of the old Scots Episcopal Church, whose Consecrations I knew were derived from England, & their authority in an ecclesiastical sense, fully equal to the English Bps. —No objection was ever made to me on account of the legacies left for American Bps. Some people had surmises of this kind, but I know not whence they arose.

I can see no good ground of apprehension concerning the titles of estates or emoluments belonging to the Chch in your State. Your Chch is still the Chch of England subsisting under a different civil government. We have in America the Chch of Holland, of Scotland, of Sweden, of Moravia, & why not of England[?] Our being of the Chch of England, no more implies dependence on, or subjection to England, than being of the Chch of Holland implies subjection to Holland.

The plea of the Methodists is something like impudence. Mr Wesley is only a Presbyter, & all his Ordinations Presbyterian, & in direct opposition to the Chch of England: And they can have no pretence for calling themselves Chchmen till they return to the unity of the Chch, which they have unreasonably, unnecessar­ily and wickedly broken, by their seperation & schism

Your two cautions respecting recommendations & titles are certainly just. Till you are so happy as to have a Bp of your own, it will be a pleasure to me to do every thing I can, for the supply of your Chches: And I am confident the Clergy of Maryland, & the other States, will be very particular with regard to the quali­fications & titles of persons to be admitted into their own Order. Should they think proper to send any Candidates hither, I could wish that it might be at the stated times of Ordination; because the Clergy here living so scattered, it is not easy on every emergency to get three of them together; & never without some expence which they cannot well afford....

I thank you for your communications respecting Washington College, & the various Conventions you have had in your State, & neighbourhood. The Clergy & Laity have particular merit in making so great exertions to get our Chch into a settled & respectful State. But on objects of such magnitude & variety it is to be expected that sentiments will differ. All men do not always see the same object in the same light: And persons at a distance are not always masters of the precise reasons & circumstances which have occasioned particular modes of acting. Of some things therefore in your proceedings I cannot be a competent judge, with­out minute information; & I am very sorry that my present circumstances, & duty here, will not permit me to make so long a journey at this time; because by personal interview & conversation only can such information be had.

But, my dear Sir, there are some things which, if I do not much misappre­hend, are really wrong. In giving my opinion of them, I must claim the same privilege of judging for myself which others claim; & also that right of fair & candid interpretation of my sentiments which is due to all men.

1.  I think you have done wrong in establishing so many, & so precise, funda­mental rules. You seem thereby to have precluded yourselves from the benefit of after consideration. And by having the power of altering fundamental rules dif­fused through so large a body, it appears to me next to impossible to have them altered, even in some reasonable cases, because cases really reasonable may not always appear so to two thirds of a large assembly. It should also be remembered that while human nature is, as it is, something of party, passion, or partiality, will ever be apt, in some degree, to influence the views & debates of a numerous & mixed assembly.

2.  I think you have too much circumscribed the power of your Bp. That the Duty & Office of a Bishop, differs in nothing from that of the other Priests, except in the power of Ordination & Confirmation, (Pamph. p. 16) & the right of Precedency &c is a position that carries Jeroms opinion to the highest pitch— Quid facit Episcopus, quod Presbyter non faciat, excepta ordinatione? But it does not appear that Jerom had the support of the Chch, in this opinion, but rather the contrary. Government as essentially pertains to Bps as ordination; nay ordination is but the particular exercise of government. Whatever share of gov­ernment Presbyters have in the Chch, they have from the Bp, & must exercise it in conjunction with, or in subordination to him. And though a Congregation may have a right—& I am willing to allow it—to choose their minister, as they are to support him & live under his ministry, yet the Bps concurrence or licence is nec­essary, because they are part of his charge; he has the care of their souls, & is accountable for them; & therefore the ministers authority to take charge of that congregation must come through the Bp.

The choice of the Bp. is in the Presbyters, but the neighbouring Bps who are to consecrate him must have the right of judging whether he be a proper person or not. The Presbyters are the Bps council, without whom he ought to do noth­ing but matters of course. The Presbyters have always a check upon their Bp. because they can, neither Bp nor Presbyters, do any thing beyond the common course of duty without each other. I mean with regard to a particular diocess; for it does not appear that Presbyters had any seat in general Councils, but by partic­ular indulgence.

The people being the patrons of the Chches in this country, & having the means of the Bps & Ministers support in their hands, have a sufficient restraint upon them. In cases that require it, they can apply to their Bp, who, with the assistance of his Presbyters, will proceed, as the case may require, to censure, suspension or deposition of the offending Clergyman. If a Bp behaves amiss the neighbouring Bps are his judges. —Men that are not to be trusted with these powers are not fit to be Bps or Presbyters at all. This, I take it, is the constitution of the Christian Chch, in its pure & simple state. And it is a constitution which, if adhered to, will carry itself into full effect. This constitution we have adopted in Connecticut; & we do hope & trust that we shall, by Gods grace, exhibit to the world, in our government, discipline & order, a pure & perfect model of primitive simplicity.

Presbyters cannot be too careful in choosing their Bp; nor the People in choosing their Minister. Improper men may, however, sometimes succeed: And so they will, make as exact rules, & circumscribe their power, as you can. And an improper man in the Chch, is an improper man, however he came there, & however his power be limitted. The more you circumscribe him, the greater Temptation he is under to form a party to support him; & when his party is formed, all the power of your convention will not be able to displace him. In short if you get a bad man, your laws & regulations will not be effectual—if a good man the general laws of the Chch are sufficient.

Where civil States have made provision for ministers, it seems reasonable that they should define the qualification, & regulate the conduct of those who are to enjoy the emolument. But voluntary associations for the exercise of such powers as your Convention is to have, are always apt—such is the infirmity of human nature—to fall into parties; & when party enters, animosity & discord soon follow. —From what has been said you will suppose I shall object.

3. To the admission of Lay members into Synods &c: I must confess I do, especially in the degree your fundamental rules allow. I have as great a regard for the laity as any man can have. It is for their sake that Ministers are appointed in the Chch. I have no Idea of aggrandizing the Clergy at the expense of the laity: Nor indeed of aggrandizing them at all. Decent means of living is all they have a right to expect. But I cannot conceive that the Laity can with any propriety be admitted to sit in judgment on Bps & Presbyters, especially when deposition may be the event; because they cannot take away a character which they cannot con­fer. It is incongruous to every idea of Episcopal government. That authority which confers power can, for proper reasons, take it away: But where there is no authority to confer power, there can be none to disanul it. Wherever, therefore, the power of Ordination is lodged, the power of deprivation is lodged also.  

Should it be thought necessary that the laity should have a share in the choice of their Bp—if it can be put on a proper footing, so as to avoid party & confu­sion—I see not but that it might [be] admitted. But I do not apprehend that this was the practice of the primitive Chch. In short, the rights of the Christian Chch arise not from nature or compact, but from the institution of Christ, & we ought not to alter them, but to receive & maintain them, as the holy Apostles left them. The government, sacraments, faith & doctrines of the Chch are fixed & settled. We have a right to examin[e] what they are, but we must take them as they are. If we new model the government, why not the sacraments, creeds & doctrines of the Chch; but then it would not be Christs Chch, but our Chch; & would remain so call it by what name we please.

I do therefore beseech the Clergy & Laity, who shall meet at Philadelphia, to reconsider the matter before a final step be taken: And to endeavour to bring their Chch government as near to the primitive pattern as may be. They will find it the simplest, & most easy to carry into effect; & if it be adhered to it will be in no danger of sinking or falling.  

I do not think it necessary that the Chch in every State should be just as the Chch in Connecticut is; though I think that the best model. Particular circum­stances, I know, will call for particular considerations. But in so essential a mat­ter as Chch government is, no alterations should be made that affect its founda­tion. If a man be called a Bp who has not the Episcopal powers of government, he is called by a wrong name, even though he should have the power of Ordination & Confirmation.