The date when the revolution of hearts and minds began was January 30, 1750, and the leader of the incipient revolt was the Congregationalist minister Jonathan Mayhew, who preached what was perhaps the most important sermon in American history.
That sermon was only one highlight of a life dedicated to human rights.
Like most New Englanders, Mayhew
(1720-1766) was a Congregationalist, an intellectual descendant of the English puritans.
Three years after graduating from Harvard, the premier training ground for the Congregational clergy, Jonathan Mayhew was called to the pulpit by the congregation of the Old West Church in Boston.
Right from the start, he
was a theological liberal.
Congregationalists had always emphasized the importance of the individual in religion.
In "Seven Sermons," preached in 1748 and published thereafter, Mayhew
took Congregational principles to their logical conclusion, arguing that everyone has the right and duty to make personal judgments in matters of religion and conscience.
rejected these Calvinist principles in favor of modern, Enlightenment views.
even rejected the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity (that the Godhead is composed of three persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Mayhew contended that God was One-which implied that Jesus was not God, but instead was simply mankind's mediator and advocate with God.
was one of the most influential forerunners of Unitarianism in America.
always considered himself a Congregationalist, as did the members of the Old West Church
, which could have dismissed him if they chose.
And Harvard was so impressed with Mayhew that he was named a lecturer in 1765.
insistence on the importance of the individual conscience became not only a Unitarian doctrine but also a cornerstone of broader American cultural beliefs about religious freedom.
is most famous, however, for preaching the principles of political freedom.
preaching appealed to theological conservatives as well as theological liberals--indeed, to persons of all religious persuasions, all over America, and abroad.
January 30, 1750, was the centennial of the execution of Charles I of England, condemned by Parliament for treason and other crimes.
had repeatedly and infamously abused the rights of Englishmen, had attempted to destroy the checks and balances of England's government, and had claimed a divine right to rule with near-absolute powers.
Charles's son was later restored to power, and Charles was proclaimed a martyr by the Church of England
Although a second son was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in Mayhew's
time the Church of England
still promoted the cult of Charles with a major feast day every January 30.
Each year, priests of the Church of England
venerated Charles's martyrdom and propounded the duty of submission to government.
The New England Congregationalist ministers-whose Puritans ancestors had helped to execute Charles I-generally tried to ignore this topic in their own January 30 sermons.
took the pulpit and preached "A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers.
According to Mayhew
, God had created hierarchical authorities, and people were expected, under ordinary circumstances, to obey the government, just as children were expected to obey their parents-for their own good.
On the other hand, if a father lost his
mind and tried to slit his
children's throats, the children should not obey him.
A tyrannical government was like a father trying to murder his
children, and must not be obeyed.
expounded the natural law theory of government: "God himself does not govern in an absolute arbitrary and despotic manner.
Like most other Congregationalist ministers, Mayhew
had studied Locke at Harvard
, and considered him a Christian intellectual ally.
To the contrary, Mayhew
announced, a people must use the means "which God has put into their power, for mutual and self-defense.
The publication of Mayhew's
January 30 sermon added to his
already significant international prestige.
As Adams recalled, Mayhew
"had raised a great reputation both in Europe and America, by the publication of a volume of seven sermons in the reign of King George the Second, 1749, and by many other writings, particularly a sermon in 1750, on the 30th of January."
was alive to that threat.
Five years later, he was a staunch advocate for American interests during the Stamp Act crisis.
It was then that he
coined the phrase "no taxation without representation.
On May 23, 1766, Mayhew
celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act by preaching a sermon ("The Snare Broken.
A Thanksgiving Discourse Preached at the Desire of the West Church in Boston") that recalled American fears that Stamp Act revenues were "partly intended to maintain a standing army of bishops, and other ecclesiastics.
Fear of oppressive standing armies was part of the right-to-bear-arms ideology, and would eventually become one of the ideological foundations of the Second Amendment.
borrowed the proto-Second Amendment philosophy to make a point about freedom of religion that would later become part of the First Amendment: a government-controlled corps of bishops and their minions could trample the freedom of the people, just as a government-controlled corps of professional soldiers could.
A standing army of soldiers and a standing army of bishops threatened liberty in the same way, by centralizing and monopolizing power.
"The Snare Broken" is one of many examples of the way in which pre-revolutionary Americans identified connections between religious rights and other rights.
It is not a coincidence that the constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion was placed adjacent to the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms.
In gratitude for repeal of the Stamp Act, Mayhew praised King George and extolled William Pitt, the British Prime Minister who had urged a policy of moderation and conciliation with America.
, it was obvious that the kingdom of heaven was a kingdom of rights and liberty.
recalled that in his
had studied Plato, Demosthenes, Cicero, and other ancients, and among the moderns, had liked Algernon Sidney, John Milton, and John Locke, all advocates of individual freedom.
The Bible taught Mayhew
that the Israelites angered God when they asked for a king, and that "the Son of God came down from heaven, to make us 'free indeed'.
Mayhew's own father taught him "the love of liberty" with "a chaste and virtuous passion.
In middle age, he
was proud to say that he
was unable "to relinquish the fair object of my youthful affections, liberty; whose charms, instead of decaying with time in my eyes, have daily captivated me more and more."
had grieved at the promulgation of the Stamp Act, when liberty "seemed about to take her
final departure from America, and to leave that ugly hag slavery, the deformed child of Satan, in her
Now, however, he
was "filled with a proportionable degree of joy in God, on occasion of her
speedy return, with new smiles on her
face, with augmented beauty and splendor.
Once more then, Hail!
Celestial maid, the daughter of God, and, excepting his
Son, the first-born of heaven!
was "the delight of the wise, good and brave; the protectress of innocence from wrongs and oppression, the patroness of learning, arts, eloquence, virtue, rational loyalty, religion!"
scripturally-influenced view of history was optimistic.
Although the Stamp Act had been dreadful, "God often bringeth good out of evil," just as Joseph's enslavement in Egypt led to his
rescue of his
American liberties were like an oak tree that grows stronger roots and broader branches after being buffeted by "storms and tempests.
"And who knows," he
said, "our liberties being thus established, but that on some future occasion, when the kingdoms of the earth are moved, and roughly dashed one against another…we, or our posterity may even have the great felicity and honor to 'save much people alive' and keep Britain herself from ruin."
"The Snare Broken" was Mayhew's last great sermon.
He died six weeks later, at the age of 46, an inspired and devoted servant of Liberty.
, "Sermons," ed.
Jonathan Mayhew, "A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission . . ." http://www.founding.com/library/lbody.cfm?id=230&parent=52 .
Jonathan Mayhew, "The Snare Broken," Ellis Sandoz, ed., "Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805"(Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991).