Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules: A History of the Episcopal Church in Alabama

Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules: A History of the Episcopal Church in Alabama

by J. Barry Vaughn

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Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules tells the story of how the Episcopal Church gained influence over Alabama’s cultural, political, and economic arenas despite being a denominational minority in the state.

The consensus of southern historians is that, since the Second Great Awakening, evangelicalism has dominated the South. This is certainly true when one considers the extent to which southern culture is dominated by evangelical rhetoric and ideas. However, in Alabama one
non-evangelical group has played a significant role in shaping the state’s history. J. Barry Vaughn explains that, although the Episcopal Church has always been a small fraction (around 1 percent) of Alabama’s population, an inordinately high proportion, close to 10 percent, of Alabama’s significant leaders have belonged to this denomination. Many of these leaders came to the Episcopal Church from other denominations because they were attracted to the church’s wide degree of doctrinal latitude and laissez-faire attitude toward human frailty.

Vaughn argues that the church was able to attract many of the state’s governors, congressmen, and legislators by positioning itself as the church of conservative political elites in the state—the planters before the Civil War, the “Bourbons” after the Civil War, and the “Big Mules” during industrialization. He begins this narrative by explaining how Anglicanism came to Alabama and then highlights how Episcopal bishops and congregation members alike took active roles in key historic movements including the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement. Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules closes with Vaughn’s own predictions about the fate of the Episcopal Church in twenty-first-century Alabama.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817318116
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 12/15/2013
Series: Religion & American Culture Series
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

J. Barry Vaughn received a masters of divinity from Yale University and a PhD in divinity from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. From 2000 to 2004 he served as rector of an Episcopal parish in Philadelphia, and in 2004 he returned to his native Alabama to serve as the rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham. He is presently the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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A History of the Episcopal Church in Alabama

By J. Barry Vaughn


Copyright © 2013 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1811-6


How Anglicanism Came to America

Long before there was an Episcopal Church, the Church of England established itself in English settlements on the east coast of the North American continent. It has been said that Great Britain acquired its empire in a fit of absent-mindedness; one could say the same about the Anglican Communion. The cross followed the flag, and wherever English colonists sought riches or adventure, the Church of England came along to minister to their spiritual needs. Thus a global empire spawned a global church. In eighteenth-century Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, members of the Church of England worshiped in impressive churches and could count governors, legislators, and wealthy merchants among their number. Although never as numerous as the more evangelical churches, Anglicans in the larger towns along North America's east coast had respectably large congregations. From elegant wine glass pulpits, clergy educated at Oxford or Cambridge rehearsed the stories of the Bible and exhorted the faithful comfortably seated in their rented box pews to do their Christian duty.

The Church of England in America

There was no British "plantation" or colony in the land that became Alabama, but when Great Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War forced France to cede Mobile in 1763, British troops arrived and France's Fort Condé became Britain's Fort Charlotte, named after George Ill's queen. In 1768–69, the British civil list included an annual salary of £100 for a minister in Mobile. The minister, Samuel Hart, stayed for only a year, leaving because "he had no church building, parsonage, nor hope of promotion to chaplainship of the fort, and found it impossible to support his family." Hart preached "a lengthy and quite dogmatic sermon" to the Indians and "was utterly unable to impart any idea of his subject matter to his hearer." Finally, the native chief cut him short and said, "Beloved man, I will always think well of this friend of ours, God Almighty, of whom you tell me so much; and so let us drink his health." The British authorities may have addressed some of Hart's concerns, because his successor, William Gordon, seems to have had both a house and a church, although they were probably burned during the Spanish assault on Mobile in 1780.

In 1750 the 289 Anglican churches in the thirteen colonies that became the United States were second in number only to the 465 Congregational churches. Almost half of the Anglican churches were in Virginia and Maryland (ninety parishes in Virginia and fifty in Maryland). Anglicanism even penetrated the Puritan stronghold of Massachusetts in 1686, when King's Chapel was founded in Boston. Quaker William Penn's "holy experiment" in Pennsylvania tolerated all Protestants and even welcomed Jews, but his sons, Thomas, Richard, and John, converted to Anglicanism (although they maintained their father's principle of toleration). On the eve of the American Revolution, there were twenty-two Anglican churches in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia's prestigious Christ Church (1695). The Church of England became the established church in New York in 1693, and four years later Trinity Church was organized in lower Manhattan and given a large grant of land. Trinity's real estate holdings made it the wealthiest congregation of any denomination in the United States and also enabled it to support the extension of Anglicanism throughout the New York area. Thus New York became "the launching stage for the spread of Anglicanism into Connecticut, New Jersey, and the developing area up the Hudson River." Anglicanism also flourished in Charleston and the surrounding tidewater region of South Carolina. The Anglicans in Charleston helped organize churches in nearby Savannah and Augusta, and although Anglicanism was never as strong in Georgia as in South Carolina, John Wesley served as a missionary in Savannah in 1736.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, the Church of England was growing, but it was not keeping pace with the growth of the population. One-fourth of all Americans were Anglican in 1700, but only one-sixth were Anglican by 1750 and one-ninth in 1775. The Church of England was mostly confined to the eastern seaboard and was not moving westward into the interior; nor was it converting newly arrived immigrants. However, on the eve of the American Revolution, the Church of England was beginning to make great strides. "In the fifteen years after 1760 no less than 100 new churches were built, whereas for the longer forty-year period 1720-1760, a relatively smaller number of parishes, 130, were constructed."

A major obstacle to the growth and health of Anglicanism in North America was the Church of England's failure to provide episcopal leadership. American Anglicans were some three thousand miles from the Bishop of London, who (from 1688) had authority over the Anglican parishes in North America. Ordination and even confirmation required a difficult and dangerous sea voyage of several weeks. There was precedent for the creation of new dioceses: Henry VIII had created six dioceses after breaking from Rome. So why did the Church of England lack the will and the vision to provide episcopal oversight for Britain's colonies ? There were many obstacles. First, English bishops administered vast dioceses, as well as serving in the House of Lords. Recasting themselves in the role of missionaries was an imaginative leap they simply could not make. But more importantly, the American colonists (including some Anglicans) were not eager to welcome yet another official of the Crown to oversee affairs in the colonies, and New England's Puritans were hostile to the idea. To Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766), minister of Boston's Old West Church, bishops were not only "unscriptural," they were "a pernicious set of men, both to church and state." In lieu of establishing a diocese in America, the Bishop of London sent agents known as "commissaries" to represent him; these commissaries frequently served as rectors of large and influential churches, but their presence may have done more harm than good to the Anglican cause. Because they were priests, not bishops, they could perform only the most unpopular functions of the bishop they represented—enforcing discipline and doctrine—and were unable to ordain, confirm, or provide the kind of strategic planning that American Anglicans needed.

Some of America's most important leaders were members of the Church of England. More signers of the Declaration of Independence belonged to the Church of England than to any other religious group. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington were raised as Anglicans, as were many other staunch patriots. At various times Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, and Francis Hopkinson attended Philadelphia's Christ Church. Nevertheless, the American Revolution caused havoc among members of the Church of England in America, because as part of their ordination, Anglican clergy swore loyalty to the Crown and fidelity to the Book of Common Prayer, which included prayers for George III as "supreme governor" of the Church of England. The overwhelming majority of Anglican laypeople favored American independence, but more than half of America's Anglican clergy remained loyal to the Crown.

The Organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA

With the end of the American War of Independence and the establishment of the United States, Anglicanism was profoundly weakened. It had lost not only many of its clergy and some of its lay leaders, it had also lost its favored position as the established church in several of the colonies. The members of what had been the Church of England faced several challenges: they had to secure episcopal leadership; they had to redefine themselves, because in most states they were no longer the "church by law established" but just one denomination among many; and finally, they had to rebuild their membership because of the losses they had suffered during the war.

The first task—securing episcopal leadership—was in some ways the least complicated, although it caused a crisis that threatened to divide the American church even before it was organized. In 1783 the clergy of Connecticut chose Samuel Seabury to be their bishop and sent him to England to seek consecration from bishops of the Church of England. However, the English bishops were bound by law to require new bishops to swear loyalty to the Crown, something that Seabury could not do. Thus Seabury turned to the bishops of Scotland who did not demand that he swear allegiance to the Crown, and he was duly consecrated in Aberdeen on November 14, 1784.

The organizing convention of the Episcopal Church met in Philadelphia in 1785. The next two American bishops—William White, rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, and Samuel Provoost of Trinity Church, New York—sought and received consecration from English bishops, after Parliament changed the law that required bishops to swear loyalty to the Crown. However, White and Provoost regarded Seabury with suspicion and distrust for two reasons: First, they had been patriots, but Seabury had been a loyalist. Second, Seabury's theological views were decidedly "high church"; White and Provoost represented the "low" or evangelical side of the church. If the two groups had not found a way to work out their differences, the American church might have been fatally weakened.

Delegates to the 1789 General Convention hammered out a compromise that brought the two sides together and also gave the new church a name—the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA). Seabury favored the English model of ecclesiastical polity in which bishops wield enormous power, but White and Provoost favored a more democratic model in which laypeople would be involved in church governance. The compromise created an ecclesiastical polity that resembled the civil polity in many ways. The new church would have a bicameral structure: an upper house of bishops alone and a lower house composed of priests, deacons, and laymen. The bishops of the Episcopal Church would have the dignity of English bishops but not their enormous power. Like the US president, bishops of the Episcopal Church are constrained by checks and balances. They can articulate a vision, set priorities, and establish goals, but laypeople are involved at almost every level of decision making.

At the 1789 General Convention, the Episcopal Church made great strides. It had episcopal leadership, a workable polity, and a name. However, it had not yet established an identity that would enable it to compete in the religious marketplace of the new republic. The Church of England was the "church by law established" in England, but what did it become when it was transplanted to a new republic that had rejected the monarch who was the church's "supreme governor" and implicitly rejected the bishops who sat in the House of Lords as "lords spiritual"?

The Hobartian Synthesis and the Evangelical Alternative

The vision that ultimately prevailed was that of John Henry Hobart (1775–1830), who became assistant bishop of New York in 1811 and diocesan bishop in 1816. Hobart reinvented the Episcopal Church as a latter-day incarnation of the apostolic church. "From the parochial American perspective Episcopalians might be a weak minority, with odd and peculiar views, but in actuality, Hobart insisted, they uniquely represented the catholic and apostolic faith." For Hobart, the fact that the bishops of the Episcopal Church possessed an authority they had inherited from the apostles both differentiated them from other Reformed churches and also united them to the Church of England whose bishops possessed the same authority. However, the Episcopal Church was different from the Church of England in being less burdened by irrelevant and unnecessary "trappings," such as cathedrals, deaneries, canons, and so on. The theological position Hobart articulated emphasized baptismal regeneration, apostolic succession, and sacramental grace.

Hobart drew a sharp a line between church and state. His ideal was the pre-Constantinian church—that is, the Christian church before Constantine's conversion and patronage began a long and uneasy relationship between church and state. The fact that religious toleration was enshrined in the US Constitution and that the US government did not officially give any religion a favored position made the pre-Constantinian church an obvious model for Hobart. Furthermore, the young American republic was bound to receive favorably Hobart's rejection of an alliance between the hierarchies of the church and state. Hobart's vision of the Episcopal Church as the one, true successor of the apostolic church made him reluctant to make common cause with other Christian bodies. For example, Hobart opposed Episcopalian participation in the American Bible Society and instead formed the Bible and Common Prayer Book Society as an alternative. In Hobart's time, however, reform was in the air and the evangelical churches were the great engines of reform. Thus the Episcopal Church was largely a bystander as Methodists, Baptists, and others tried and often succeeded in ameliorating the conditions of prisoners, the sick in body and mind, the poor, and above all, slaves. Hobart's vision goes a long way toward explaining why the slavery issue did not divide the Episcopal Church.

Although Hobart's vision prevailed, it was not the only way of understanding the Episcopal Church. Evangelicals had a different vision of the Episcopal Church. Leading evangelicals included William Meade (1789–1862), who became the third bishop of Virginia in 1842, and Charles Pettit McIlvaine (1799–1873), who became the second bishop of Ohio in 1832. Its intellectual leader was William H. Wilmer, a faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary and father of the second bishop of Alabama, Richard Hooker Wilmer. The main differences between the evangelical and high church wings of the PECUSA in the early nineteenth century were more about emphasis than substance. Both used the Book of Common Prayer, although many evangelicals pleaded for more flexibility in using the Prayer Book while high churchmen insisted on rubrical precision. (Rubrics are instructions for performing liturgical acts, e.g., "Here the minister lays his hand upon the bread and wine." They were usually printed in red because rubric is derived from the Latin rubrica, meaning red.) Both parties accepted episcopal polity but some evangelicals regarded episcopacy (government of the church by bishops) as only one form of polity among many while high churchmen viewed it as a divine institution. Probably the most substantial differences between evangelical and high church Episcopalians in the early nineteenth century concerned their respective attitudes toward baptism and conversion. The evangelicals believed that baptism was "a badge of Christian profession; a symbol of regeneration; a covenanting and sealing act; and an evidence to the identity of the church ... from generation to generation." However, the evangelicals, regarding scriptural truth as more important than church order, were among the few prophetic voices in the Episcopal Church in the early nineteenth century. The few members who spoke out against slavery were mostly evangelicals. Among them were laymen William Jay and John Jay and the Reverends Alexander Crummell (an African American), Evan Johnson, John P. Lundy, and Thomas Atkins.

Theology was not the only factor that shaped the identity of the Episcopal Church. Culture and geography were also important, and colonial America's religious culture differed from region to region. A communitarian impulse was deeply embedded in the culture of New England puritanism. Soon after their arrival in the early seventeenth century, the Puritans began to establish schools and colleges. The Puritan ethic encouraged the formation of strong families, and there was rough parity between the numbers of men and women in New England. Un like the New England Puritans, the Anglicans in Virginia had not emigrated from England expecting to bring their families, put down roots, and stay permanently. The culture of the Chesapeake Bay area (primarily Virginia and Maryland) did not encourage the establishment of schools, colleges, churches, and other institutions. Because of a preponderance of young, unmarried men, the environment of the Chesapeake Bay tended to be more violent, alcohol abuse was common, and there were fewer stable families. These cultural differences may help account for the fact that Puritan New England produced more educational institutions than Anglican Virginia, and that America's evangelical churches have created more of the institutions (colleges, hospitals, and so on) that have woven more of America's cultural and institutional fabric.

Evangelizing the New Country

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Episcopal Church had to grapple with the overwhelming question of how to transmit the Christian faith in its Anglican form to a new republic already spreading westward to fill a vast continent. In 1821 the PECUSA formed the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), and then radically reorganized it in 1835. Even though it was slow to begin evangelizing the American frontier, the Episcopal Church did not make the Church of England's mistake and fail to provide Episcopal leadership for its far-flung parishes. Thus in 1835, Jackson Kemper was consecrated to serve as the first missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church and given responsibility for the northwestern frontier. West point graduate Leonidas Polk followed Kemper in 1838, although Polk was charged with serving the southwestern frontier.

Excerpted from BISHOPS, BOURBONS, and BIG MULES by J. Barry Vaughn. Copyright © 2013 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 How Anglicanism Came to America 5

2 "No gentleman would choose any but the Episcopalian way": From the Beginning to the 1850s 14

3 "This worldliness that is rushing upon us like a flood": Secession and Civil War 41

4 "How is the South like Lazarus?": Reconstruction 57

5 The Age of "Dread-Naughts and Sky-Scrapers": The End of the Nineteenth Century and the Beginning of the Twentieth 78

6 "Great and untried experiments": From the 1920s to the 1950s 107

7 "The Carpenter of Birmingham must not be allowed to forever deny the Carpenter of Nazareth": The Civil Rights Era 133

8 "O thou who changest not…": From 1968 to the Present 168

Conclusion: "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required" 185

Appendix A Episcopal Churches in Alabama in Chronological Order 193

Appendix B Bishops of the Diocese of Alabama and the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast 204

Appendix C Membership of the Episcopal Church and US Population at Ten-Year Intervals from 1830 to 2010 206

Appendix D Episcopal Church Membership and Population of Alabama from 1830 to 2010 207

Appendix E Percentage of Alabamians Twenty-Five Years Old and Older with Four or More Years of Postsecondary Education from 1950 to 2010 209

Abbreviations Used in Notes 211

Notes 213

Bibliography 245

Index 255

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