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Jonathan Mayhew: Conservative Revolutionary
Unformatted Document Text:  superiors, whether in age or office,” he asserted in a 1763 sermon, was “an heinous offense against the laws of God and against society.” 44 Scripture even justified “some distinction of dress in persons, answerable to the differences in their stations and circumstances in life.” Were people to “aspire” after clothing “[un]suitable to their degree and circumstances,” he argues, the “natural order of things” would be inverted, “by settling poor people of low degree above the rich” and thus defeating the “good ends which might otherwise be answered in society.” 45 Hence on the accession of George III he urged his parishioners to be “faithful and diligent in discharging the duties of our several stations in life.” 46 This conception of a hierarchically structured cosmos had far reaching implications for his political thought. Most obviously, his belief that God created natural distinctions among men and “that some men are superior to others” led Mayhew to adhere to the norm of deference, both socially and in politics. While God did not ordain any particular person or people to govern, Mayhew believed that only men of a particular station were fit to rule. All labor was honorable; industrious persons, regardless of their station, contributed to the welfare of society. Still, “great talents were given for great occasions,” Mayhew writes in the dedication to The Snare Broken, “to be employed in defence of the innocent and feeble. GOD made some men strong, on purpose to “bear the infirmities of the weak”; that they might be able to assist and support them in their dangers and extremities,” much as Pitt used his great talent to reinstate the colonists to their liberty (Snare Broken, 235-36). The dedication to Pitt points towards two additional leading components of his political conservatism. First, it demonstrates his faith in a self-correcting British constitution. The theme of a self-correcting British constitution was articulated by other colonial thinkers, perhaps most 44 Mayhew, Christian Sobriety (1763), quoted in Corrigan, hidden balance, 89. 45 Ibid., 89-90. 46 Mayhew, A Discourse Occasioned by the Death of King George II (1761), quoted in ibid., 88. 21

Authors: Lubert, Howard.
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superiors, whether in age or office,” he asserted in a 1763 sermon, was “an heinous offense
against the laws of God and against society.”
Scripture even justified “some distinction of
dress in persons, answerable to the differences in their stations and circumstances in life.” Were
people to “aspire” after clothing “[un]suitable to their degree and circumstances,” he argues, the
“natural order of things” would be inverted, “by settling poor people of low degree above the
rich” and thus defeating the “good ends which might otherwise be answered in society.”
Hence
on the accession of George III he urged his parishioners to be “faithful and diligent in
discharging the duties of our several stations in life.”
This conception of a hierarchically structured cosmos had far reaching implications for
his political thought. Most obviously, his belief that God created natural distinctions among men
and “that some men are superior to others” led Mayhew to adhere to the norm of deference, both
socially and in politics. While God did not ordain any particular person or people to govern,
Mayhew believed that only men of a particular station were fit to rule. All labor was honorable;
industrious persons, regardless of their station, contributed to the welfare of society. Still, “great
talents were given for great occasions,” Mayhew writes in the dedication to The Snare Broken,
“to be employed in defence of the innocent and feeble. GOD made some men strong, on purpose
to “bear the infirmities of the weak”; that they might be able to assist and support them in their
dangers and extremities,” much as Pitt used his great talent to reinstate the colonists to their
liberty (Snare Broken, 235-36).
The dedication to Pitt points towards two additional leading components of his political
conservatism. First, it demonstrates his faith in a self-correcting British constitution. The theme
of a self-correcting British constitution was articulated by other colonial thinkers, perhaps most
44
Mayhew, Christian Sobriety (1763), quoted in Corrigan, hidden balance, 89.
45
Ibid., 89-90.
46
Mayhew, A Discourse Occasioned by the Death of King George II (1761), quoted in ibid., 88.
21


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