Skip to comments.The Presbyterian Rebellion [Happy Presbyterian Rebellion Day, everyone!]
Posted on 07/04/2012 9:04:56 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
American Presbyterians frequently circulate the claim that King George III of England referred to the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian War.”
Several years ago I set out to find the original source from which the quote is taken since I was curious about the context in which the king made this statement — if indeed he even did.
The first time I discussed this quest with my dissertation director (who happens to be an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)), he suspected I may discover it is a fiction manufactured by proud Presbyterian myth-makers, for indeed many such writers have spun their yarn.
So begins a doctoral dissertation I found this week in researching an idea for my blog post for today. In his dissertation, titled The Presbyterian Rebellion: An Analysis of the Perception that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian War, Robert Gardiner pursues this quote and investigates the cultural context in which it might have been made.
Did King George say this? Here is how Dr. Gardiner summarizes his research on whether King George III would have said this -
The answer to the overarching question, then, is a nuanced affirmative. Did King George III call the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion? Maybe, or even probably, but primary source documentation is lacking. Did King George III consider the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion? Definitely. …[H]e gave every impression that it was a sentiment he held. Nothing suggests that George III disagreed with the opinion of his advisor, William Jones, who said that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian war from the beginning [Gardiner, p. 275-276].
He puts together a good line of evidence to support this and traces the quote itself, in a couple of different variations, back to the late 19th century and suggests the quote may have been manufactured, or misattributed, between 1876 and 1919.
But the rebellion, or on our side the War of Independence, was a Presbyterian cause. American Presbyterians are today well aware that the only active minister to sign the Declaration of Independence was John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, a Presbyterian school. And people also point to the Mecklenburg Declaration from May of 1775 where a group of local citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, who were all Scots-Irish Presbyterians (one account) passed a resolution declaring independence. While the exact timing and existence of that first document are sometimes questioned for their historical accuracy, it is good enough that North Carolina carries the date on its flag today.
So yes, Presbyterians played a part, but Gardiner does point out that it was not just the Presbyterians who were involved, or maybe even dominant.
Anyone attempting to allege a Presbyterian vs. Episcopalian controversy at the bottom of the revolt must explain the contradictory evidence. In particular, some of the most important leaders of the revolution were, in fact, Episcopalians — members of the Church of England. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence 34 were Episcopalians while only 6 were Presbyterians. In that light, it seems that the king would have had more warrant to call the revolution an “Episcopal Rebellion” than a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” All one has to do is cite the examples of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Patrick Henry, and George Wythe; and the Anglican vs. Presbyterian interpretation of the war quickly breaks down. These men were all bona fide Episcopalians, but at the same time, promoters of American independence [Gardiner, p. 279].
He goes on to say
The loyalists were quite aware of these facts, but they did not concede the point. According to loyalists, although many of the rebels wore Anglican masks, their hearts were not in harmony with their facade. Such was the observation of a loyalist named Tingly who tried to explain in 1782 the contradictory behavior of these revolutionary Episcopalians.
Tho they always professed themselves Churchmen [i.e., Episcopalians], they have proved that their principles & professions were not unisons; or, in other words, that they are Churchmen by profession, but Presbyterians by trade, i.e., no friends to Church and state … And those of this stamp joined with the hot brained Zealots among the Presbyterians who have almost all, without exception, proved fiery advocates for independency [Gardiner, p. 279-280].
Embedded in all of this is a distinction that is very important to make, and that is the cultural meaning of the term “presbyterian” at that time in England. It carried a lot of baggage, to say the least, after the restoration and was a catch-all term for trouble-makers and those that opposed the crown. (Remember, Jesus Christ is the “ head over all things to the church“) As Dr. Gardiner put it in the abstract of his dissertation
The label “Presbyterian” was a much more ambiguous designation than it is at present. Employed broadly as a synonym for a Calvinist, a dissenter, or a republican, the term was used with considerable imprecision in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, it was used as a demagogic tool to inflame popular passions. The term Presbyterian carried with it the connotation of a fanatical, anti-monarchical rebel.
Well, maybe those Mallard Fillmore cartoons are just a bit anachronistic.
Dr. Gardiner describes his motivation for this dissertation in the abstract by observing that “there indeed was a profound religious factor at the heart of the conflict, both perceived and real” and the Revolution can not be attributed solely to “socio-economic factors.”
So in that respect it was a Presbyterian Rebellion where he describes the situation saying “Calvinists and Calvinism permeated the American colonial milieu, and the king’s friends did not wish for this fact to go unnoticed.”
While the Declaration signed on this day in 1776 may make heavy reference to political and socio-economic factors, it opens and closes (concluding words below) with passages heavy with divine imagery. So, a happy Independence Day to my American friends as we remember this Presbyterian Rebellion.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
....The answer to the overarching question, then, is a nuanced affirmative. Did King George III call the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion? Maybe, or even probably, but primary source documentation is lacking. Did King George III consider the American Revolution a Presbyterian Rebellion? Definitely. [H]e gave every impression that it was a sentiment he held. Nothing suggests that George III disagreed with the opinion of his advisor, William Jones, who said that the American Revolution was a Presbyterian war from the beginning....
...Anyone attempting to allege a Presbyterian vs. Episcopalian controversy at the bottom of the revolt must explain the contradictory evidence. In particular, some of the most important leaders of the revolution were, in fact, Episcopalians members of the Church of England. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence 34 were Episcopalians while only 6 were Presbyterians. In that light, it seems that the king would have had more warrant to call the revolution an Episcopal Rebellion than a Presbyterian Rebellion. All one has to do is cite the examples of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Patrick Henry, and George Wythe; and the Anglican vs. Presbyterian interpretation of the war quickly breaks down. These men were all bona fide Episcopalians, but at the same time, promoters of American independence.
The loyalists were quite aware of these facts, but they did not concede the point. According to loyalists, although many of the rebels wore Anglican masks, their hearts were not in harmony with their facade. Such was the observation of a loyalist named Tingly who tried to explain in 1782 the contradictory behavior of these revolutionary Episcopalians. Tho they always professed themselves Churchmen [i.e., Episcopalians], they have proved that their principles & professions were not unisons; or, in other words, that they are Churchmen by profession, but Presbyterians by trade, i.e., no friends to [Anglican] Church and state And those of this stamp joined with the hot brained Zealots among the Presbyterians who have almost all, without exception, proved fiery advocates for independency....
....So, a happy Independence Day to my American friends as we remember this Presbyterian Rebellion.
Happy Presbyterian Rebellion Day!
Well, although a number of Episcopalians joined the rebellion, it tended to be people who had a problem with the Established Church of England.
In the mid seventeenth century, it was the Presbyterians who led the way in the Civil War and Puritan Revolution. But in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, some of the chief opponents of the Hanoverian rule were Scottish and English Catholics, who fought several times to try to restore the House of Stuart to the throne. See several of Walter Scott’s novels for some good accounts.
And in the American Revolution, Catholics played an important role—notably the Maryland Catholics such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton—who put up a ton of money to support the rebellion and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
So, perhaps oddly from the perspective of many of the Catholic-baiters on this thread, it was a coalition of Puritans and Catholics, among others, who defeated the British.
I’m reading CROMWELL Our Chief of Men by Antonia Fraser.
It’s a very difficult read because of the scope of time, events, and various parties and views involved.
I find it particularly interesting because A. Fraser is a Catholic historian discussing Cromwell, the Presbyterians/Covenanters as a political movement, working to remove the monarchy and institute representative government.
Reading this article, I see that it is important to know that Presbyterianism and government goes way back to the 1600’s and is integral to English history...it certainly didn’t start with America.
I am not a scholar, and state that this is clumsily written.
Great article to be reading at this time.
Just adding my two-bits.
The liberal pcusa and some if not most of the pca would never rebel against the same circumstances now. They’ve ignored Gods instruction on the doctrine of interposition so why would they fight for it now?
I’m still Prebyterian but I really miss John Knox.
In North Carolina, the Presbyterians joined with the royal Governour (Tryon) to persecute Baptists, Quakers, and other groups, and to try to force them to pay taxes to the king to support the religious establishment.
I know the quote you’re looking for, I’ve run across it when reading about ‘Huck’s Defeat’, a small Patriot victory in which my ancestor John Carroll shot Captain Christian Huck, the leader of the Loyalists terrorizing the South Carolina back country. This is the actual quote:
“Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American Rebellion: it is nothing more or less than a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Rebellion.”
It was made in 1778 by a Hessian officer in the service of King George III and is cited from this source:
Ronnie Hanna, Land of the Free (Lurgan, Co. Armagh, N. Ireland: Ulster Society Publications Limited, 1992)
You can read about Huck’s Defeat, the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation here:
Oliver Cromwell, reporting back to the authorities in England in 1651 about his campaign in Ireland, had this to say:
All is not well with Ireland yet. You gave us the money, you gave us the guns. But let me tell you that every house in Ireland is a house of prayer, and when I bring these fanatical Irish before the muzzles of my guns, they hold up in their hands a string of beads, and they never surrender.
On this day Americans commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which took place on July 4, 1776. The church in the U.S. incorporated this observance into the liturgy with a special mass asking for peace, justice, and truth. (Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003)
God of justice, Father of truth,
who guide creation in wisdom and goodness
to fulfillment in Christ your Son,
open our hearts to the truth of his Gospel,
that your justice guide our lives.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen
Father of all nations and ages,
we recall the day when our country
claimed its place among the family of nations;
for what has been achieved we give you thanks,
for the work that still remains we ask your help,
and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation,
grant that, under your providence,
our country may share your blessings
with all the peoples of the earth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you int he unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
Readings: from Masses for Various Occasions & Needs (For Public Needs)
The National Hymn
God of our Fathers
The Puritans like the Presbyterians were Calvinists. Most of the colonists outside of Episcopalians were Calvinists. and the Episcopalians at the time were much more reformed than they are today.
Besides the Presbyterians and Puritans, the Dutch, German, Swedish, Swiss Reformed churches scattered about the colonies were all Calvinists. As were the small number of French Huguenots.
Why Calvinists? The Calvinists were the big losers of the wars of the 17th century all over Europe.
The Presbyterians were the reason the articulation of a right to freedom of religion was necessary for the Constitution to be ratified. Less than 100 years before the Declaration of Independence it was illegal to be Catholic in many of the colonies and as late as 1654 Massachusetts actually executed 10 people for being Catholic. Although only 1.6% of colonists were Catholic estimates were that over 5% of all colonial troops were Catholic. Ironically, it was the contributions of heavily Catholic Pennsylvania militia, the intervention of Catholic France and Spain and the assistance of de Kalb and Pulaski that secured our independence.
Here in NC, the independence movement was a Baptist affair. A large share of the Regulators were Baptists, and the back-country in the state was heavily Baptist (the Presbyterians were mostly represented among the Highland Scots (loyalists, for the most part) in the Cape Fear region as well as among Scots-Irish in the Piedmont (from among whom, however, many of the Baptist converts were made).
John Leland and other Virginia Baptists were the ones who prevailed upon Jefferson and especially Madison to include the language of religious freedom (rather than mere toleration) in the 1st amendment.
Thank you, Dr. I am about 25% in on the book. It’s great, and has much to say on the subject that many here should read. Much refutation of mythology, to say the least.
What Presbyterian denomination are you in?
What Presbyterian denomination are you in?
What Presbyterian denomination are you in?
The Baptists suffered greatly at the hands of the Presbyterians in the Mass Bay Colony right along side of the Catholics. Many were punished and banished, not to other colonies but cast adrift in open boats out of sight of land without oars, sails or provisions. Others were left tied to trees three to five days walk into the western woods.
I won't try to discredit the sacrifice and bravery of the many Presbyterians who paid the ultimate price over the last 236 years, God Bless them all. I served along side more than a few and doctrinal differences are never discussed during a fire fight. My point is that it took the suffering and contributions of many groups to secure and keep our independence and freedoms. That is the magic and beauty of America. It just irks me when any one group trie to take credit for all of it.
Peace be with you.
My pleasure. I don’t have the physical book but downloaded the ebook version to my iPhone. I still haven’t gotten past the Forward but its on my list to do.
I should have pinged you to my previous post since I linked to an article you posted.
I’m in the pca but would be in the RPCGA if geography permitted.
The Prebyterians of today are PINO... Presbyterian in name only. John Knox would puke.
The “Presbyterians” who accept those things are not true Presbyterians and have no connection to John Knox, John Calvin or any of the other great forefathers in this tradition.
Episcopalianinos? Happy 4th indeed.
What authority sets the standards now days for what are "true Presbyterians"? I'm sure all Presbyterians can say about each other what you just did, and that they can all trace their roots along that convoluted/fractured chart of Presbyterianism.
For starters, I would say true Presbyterians affirm the infallibility of the Bible in the original autographs. I would also say they would affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith.
By supporting the ordination of women, abortions and homosexuality, I would say that “Presbyterians” who do so are being inconsistent with both Scripture and the Westminster Confession.
I'm not sure which of the Presbyterians have the "original autographs" to affirm, but I'm sure all Presbyterian denominations hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. It's just the variance in interpretation of those Scriptures that are at odds.
I would also say they would affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Even the Presbyterian Church USA affirms the Westminster Confession of Fairth.
No one has the original autographs-
The Northern wing of what would later become the PCUSA came up with a way to get around the WCF with the Confession of 1967-
for reading later
Further evidence to the madness of King George.
Well they did start them. In Germany they rebelled against the Lutheran dukes and lords and in France against the catholic King. In both cases, initially the lords had tolerated the calvinists initially...
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