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Jonathan Mayhew: Conservative Revolutionary
Unformatted Document Text:  might undermine the very conditions that sustained liberty. Rarely had “so great a deliverance” from slavery “been brought about in any country, with so little criminal excess,” Mayhew declared, signaling his faith in these assumptions of British constitutionalism (Snare Broken, 264). What was needed was not political reform, not innovations, but a return to a previous rational and just order. Thus I suggest that contrary to Bailyn’s opinion, it may be apt to view The Snare Broken as “the expression of a political conservatism supposedly characteristic of a status-minded, “rationalist” clergy.” 56 It is true that Mayhew was “by temperament volatile and enthusiastic” and prone to “intense” indignation, traits that undoubtedly shaped his Considerations, his writings in the Mayhew Controversy, and his August 1765 sermon. 57 But while Mayhew himself noted that he could “forget myself” and be “hurried away by [my] enthusiasm,” his argument for vigilance and resistance to tyranny, as well as his arguments for Parliamentary authority, a self- correcting constitution, and a paternal king were fundamentally conservative (Snare Broken, 259). Indeed, far more radical claims than his August 1765 sermon appeared in colonial newspapers in reaction to the Stamp Act. Interestingly, Mayhew’s conservatism was in significant ways merely a reflection of prevailing colonial opinion. For example, he merely stated an accepted opinion when he affirmed Parliament’s authority “to superintend the general affairs of the colonies” while denying it the particular “right of taxation” (Snare Broken, 253). Similarly, his claim that the king “stood in a paternal relationship with his people” still resonated within the colonies. It would take more years of oppressive British policy and, ultimately, the rhetorical genius of Thomas Paine, to finally kill the king in the American political mind. 58 56 Ibid., 111. 57 Ibid. 58 Winthrop D. Jordan, “Familial Politics: Thomas Paine and the Killing of the King, 1776,” The Journal of American History 60 (September 1973), 299 and passim. 27

Authors: Lubert, Howard.
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might undermine the very conditions that sustained liberty. Rarely had “so great a deliverance”
from slavery “been brought about in any country, with so little criminal excess,” Mayhew
declared, signaling his faith in these assumptions of British constitutionalism (Snare Broken,
264). What was needed was not political reform, not innovations, but a return to a previous
rational and just order.
Thus I suggest that contrary to Bailyn’s opinion, it may be apt to view The Snare Broken
as “the expression of a political conservatism supposedly characteristic of a status-minded,
“rationalist” clergy.”
It is true that Mayhew was “by temperament volatile and enthusiastic”
and prone to “intense” indignation, traits that undoubtedly shaped his Considerations, his
writings in the Mayhew Controversy, and his August 1765 sermon.
But while Mayhew himself
noted that he could “forget myself” and be “hurried away by [my] enthusiasm,” his argument for
vigilance and resistance to tyranny, as well as his arguments for Parliamentary authority, a self-
correcting constitution, and a paternal king were fundamentally conservative (Snare Broken,
259). Indeed, far more radical claims than his August 1765 sermon appeared in colonial
newspapers in reaction to the Stamp Act. Interestingly, Mayhew’s conservatism was in
significant ways merely a reflection of prevailing colonial opinion. For example, he merely
stated an accepted opinion when he affirmed Parliament’s authority “to superintend the general
affairs of the colonies” while denying it the particular “right of taxation” (Snare Broken, 253).
Similarly, his claim that the king “stood in a paternal relationship with his people” still resonated
within the colonies. It would take more years of oppressive British policy and, ultimately, the
rhetorical genius of Thomas Paine, to finally kill the king in the American political mind.
56
Ibid., 111.
57
Ibid.
58
Winthrop D. Jordan, “Familial Politics: Thomas Paine and the Killing of the King, 1776,” The Journal of
American History 60 (September 1973), 299 and passim.
27


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