The loyalists and the churches

The loyalist story is most difficult to reconstruct. Estimates of the number in their camp vary, but many scholars believe that at least one-third of the population would have preferred to remain citizens of Great Britain. Many of these loyalists had religious reasons for doing so. Thus Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the most prominent colonial Lutheran cleric and the father of John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, one of George Washington's notable generals, remained loyal to King George III until at least 1776 on both rather simplistic and dedicatedbiblical grounds. Lutherans had learned and often in the colonies still taught that the prime biblical text on this subject was Romans 13. There Paul the apostle had written that the 'powers that be', in this case, the king, were ordained of God. Every Christian soul was to be subject to such powers, and those who resisted them would receive damnation. That was a pretty heavy penalty for joining the patriot cause. However, Muhlenberg and most hitherto reluctant Lutherans segued and even turned to the patriot cause after the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of new colonial authority. Now he and they could sign up with Washington and the other founders, who were the new 'powers that be', ordained of God, worthy of obedience.

The Anglicans and the few Methodists could not move so deftly. Their oaths and their instincts were not revocable or to be changed because some American militants wielding muskets and drums and flags came along to agitate against and then set out to dethrone the king. For them, an oath was an oath, binding and permanent. Habits led them to be sincerely devoted to long traditions of Britain and to English liberties. They tried to make the case that English laws by and large were among the most protective and lenient of the day. If parliament and the crown were momentarily insensitive and obtuse enough to impose taxes on colonists, often and especially to pay for their own policing and the expenses that their colonial status imposed on all of England, these loyalists were sympathetic to those parliamentary figures across the Atlantic who were counselling patience and working for change.

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