Adams Papers

To John Adams from Richard Henry Lee, 24 October 1785

From Richard Henry Lee

New York October the 24th. 1785

Dear Sir

Having yesterday written a long letter to you, I have now only to request your attention to the following business, which is of very great importance to those whom it concens; and who form a considerable portion of the Citizens of these States. The Representatives of those professing the Church of England system of religion, having been lately assembled at Philadelphia, where Lay & Clerical deputies from seven States were convened in General Convention for the purpose, among other things, of preserving and maintaining a succession of divines in their Church, in a manner which they judge consonant to the gospel, and no way interfering with the religious or civil rights of others—have sent an address to the Archbishops and Bishops of England proposing a plan for the consecration of American Bishops— It is imagined, that before anything is done in this business by the Bishops of England, that they will consult the King and Ministry; who, it is apprehended may now, as heretofore, suppose that any step of the kind being taken in England, might be considered here as an officious intermeddling with our affairs that would give offence on this side the water— Should this be the case, the Church of England Members in Congress have the greatest reliance on your liberal regard for the Religious rights of all men, that you will remove mistaken scruples from the mind of administration, by representing how perfectly consonant it is with our Revolution principles professed thro-out all the States, that every denomination of Christians has a right to pursue its own religious modes, interfering not with others. That instead of giving offence, it must give consent, by evidencing a friendly disposition to accommodate the people here who are members of the Church in question.1

In proof of this, Congress did lately shew their attention to the accommodation of this Class of Christians, by communicating to the different Executives your information from the Danish Minister of that Kings willingness to facilitate the business of ordination for our church— And the Assembly of Virginia hath incorporated this Scociety—Under which act of incorporation the Convention was held in that State that sent both Lay & Clerical deputies to the General Convention lately held in Philadelphia.

I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the truest esteem and regard, dear Sir Your most obedient and very humble servant

Richard Henry Lee.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “R. H. Lee Oct: 24. 1785 / ansd. 4. Jan. 1786.” This letter was enclosed with John Jay’s third letter of 1 Nov., below. The LbC of JA’s 4 Jan. 1786 reply indicates that it was directed to both Jay and Lee, but the internal address to the RC of the 4 Jan. letter indicates that it was directed only to Jay (LbC, APM Reel 112; NNC:John Jay Papers).

1From 27 Sept. to 7 Oct., delegates from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and South Carolina met in Philadelphia for the first general convention of the newly formed Protestant Episcopal Church in America. The delegates adopted an ecclesiastical constitution, made key changes to the liturgy, and put forth a proposed new Book of Common Prayer. Finally, they drafted a letter on 5 Oct. to the archbishops of Canterbury and York (Journal of a Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, 1785, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 19209). The delegates asked the archbishops to consecrate the American nominees for ordination and thereby avoid the obstacles Bishop Samuel Seabury had faced, for which see John Jay’s third letter of 1 Nov., in which he enclosed this letter from Lee, and note 3, below. The English prelates replied on 24 Feb. 1786 with cautious support for the reorganized American Church (Clara O. Loveland, The Critical Years: The Reconstitution of the Anglican Church in the United States of America: 1780–1789, Greenwich, Conn., 1956, p. 152–158, 175–177).

JA carried this letter, and Jay’s copy of the convention’s appeal, to his 3 Jan. 1786 meeting with John Moore, archbishop of Canterbury, both of which Moore “read attentively.” Moore told JA that “it was a great satisfaction to him to see that gentlemen of character and reputation interested themselves in it; for that the Episcopalians in the United States could not have the full and complete enjoyment of their religious liberties without it.” Privately, Moore supported the validity of American prelates ordained by Scottish non-juring bishops, and on 4 Feb. 1787, Moore presided over the consecration of two American nominees, William White and Samuel Provoost (to John Jay, 4 Jan. 1786, JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 8:361–362; DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements; rev. edn., description ends ).

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