Sui Juris to the Boston Gazette
Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the Armies of the living God?
Not many Years ago, were transmitted to the Public, thro’ the Channel of the Boston-Gazette, a few desultory Essays, on the Spirit of the Canon and Feudal Law: in some of which were expressed Apprehensions of the future Mischiefs, that might be caused in America by the Efforts and Exertions of those expiring and detested systems.1 That those apprehensions were too well founded, Time has, already, sufficiently shewn: and we have now, perhaps, stronger Reasons to fear, a still further Increase of those Mischiefs, than we had then. It is therefore the opinion of many Persons, who wish well to the Religion, the Learning, the Liberty and Happiness of this injured and insulted Country, that a Reassumption of that inexhaustible Subject, would not be improper, at the present Juncture. And it is, without any further Apology, proposed, to continue a Series of Dissertations upon that and similar Subjects, for some Months, if not Years to come. It is claimed as an incontestible Right to pursue our own Plan, Method and Style: and, if in the Course of our Lucubrations, we should depart from the Rules, of established Logicians and Rhetoricians, if we should sometimes in Haste throw our Thoughts together in rude Heaps, if a few Blunders and Solecisms should escape us, or if we should now and then mis-spell and mis-point, we shall not think it worth our While to engage in any Contention, concerning such Matters, with the little Scribblers, and paltry Critics, whose Ambition never aspired, and whose Capacity never attained to greater Objects. Our Labours will be interrupted whenever the Paroxisms of the Gout or the Spleen, the Fits of Dulness or Lazyness, or the Avocations of Business or Amusement shall make an Interruption expedient. These Reservations have been thought proper to be made for our own Ease and Advantage. And we now take the Freedom to inform the Reader, that the Champion,2 who has lately, with so much Heroism challenged America, to contest with him the Right of Diocaesan Episcopacy, first roused us, from our long Lethargy, and determined us, once more to try our Fortune in the Field.
But to renounce Metaphor and speak soberly: The Appeal to the Public in favour of an American Episcopate, is so flagrant an Attempt to introduce the Canon Law, or at least some of the worst Fruits of it, into these Colonies, hitherto unstained with such Pollution, uninfected with such Poison, that every Friend of America ought to take the Alarm. Power, in any Form, and under any Limitations, when directed only by human Wisdom and Benevolence, is dangerous: but the most terrible of all Power, that can be entrusted to Man, is spiritual. Because our natural Apprehensions of a Deity, Providence and future State, are so strong, and our natural Disposition to Enthusiasm and Superstition, so prevalent, that an Order of Men entrusted with the sacred Rites of Religion, will always obtain an Ascendency over our Consciences: and will therefore be able to perswade us, (by us I mean the Body of the People) that to distinguish between the Cause of God and the Clergy, is Impiety; to speak or write freely of the Clergy, is Blasphemy; and to oppose the Exorbitancy of their Wealth and Power, is Sacriledge, and that any of these Crimes will expose us, to eternal Misery.
And whenever Conscience is on the Side of the Canon Law, all is lost. We become capable of believing any Thing that a Priest shall prescribe. We become capable of believing, even Dr. Chandler’s fundamental Aphorisms, viz. that Christianity cannot exist without an uninterrupted Succession of Diocaesan Bishops, and that those who deny the Succession to have been uninterrupted, must prove it to have been broken: which very curious and important Doctrines will be considered more at large hereafter.3 Mean Time, I am, and ever will be
MS not found. Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 23 May 1768). For attribution to JA, see below, note 1.
1. No draft of “Sui Juris” has survived, and JA is not known to have claimed the essay as his work, but there is substantial evidence that he was, indeed, its author. The opening lines of “Sui Juris” announce that it will extend the arguments advanced in JA’s “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” (see May–21 Oct. 1765, above). Furthermore, Andrew Eliot confided to Thomas Hollis in the autumn of 1768 that: “I have now authority to inform you that the Dissertation on the canon and feudal law, was written by John Adams. . . . He also wrote the piece signed Sui Juris; but though he seemed in that to promise more, he has not written any thing further” (MHS, Colls. description begins Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections and Proceedings. description ends , 4th ser., 4 :434). For further discussion of JA’s probable authorship of “Sui Juris,” see Roger B. Berry, “John Adams: Two Further Contributions to the Boston Gazette, 1766–1768,” NEQ description begins New England Quarterly. description ends , 31:97–99 [March 1958]).
2. Thomas Bradbury Chandler (1726–1790), an Anglican cleric in New Jersey, had published in Oct. 1767 An Appeal to the Public, in Behalf of the Church of England in America (Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., 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. 10578). This “Appeal” for the creation of an episcopate in the colonies evoked a bitter response from dissenters, and debate on the issue in the provincial press continued for several years. Leaders in the anti-episcopal campaign were William Livingston and his collaborators in the “American Whig” essays originally published in New York and eventually reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies. JA’s close friend and pastor at the Brattle Street Church, Samuel Cooper, corresponded with Livingston in the spring of 1768 concerning the need to mount a similar propaganda campaign in Boston (Livingston to Cooper, 26 March, and Cooper to Livingston, 18 April 1768, MHi:Livingston Papers). “Sui Juris” may have been prepared in response to a suggestion from Cooper. For a discussion of the response to Chandler’s Appeal, see Carl Bridenbaugh, Mitre and Sceptre: Transatlantic Faiths, Ideas, Personalities, and Politics, 1689–1775, N.Y., 1962, chap. II.
3. No further contributions by “Sui Juris” have been found.