In 1775 news of protest and rebellion in the American colonies galvanized Britons and ‘American-Britons’, igniting war in America and political turmoil in Britain. The evangelical Protestant sect that came to be called ‘Methodism’ had spread widely in America and John Wesley (1703-1791), one of the movement’s founders, wrote a tract, published as A Calm Address to Our American Colonies. Wesley argued that American colonists owed a duty of obedience to King and Parliament, deprecating their objections to ‘taxation without representation’, one of the key slogans justifying rebellion in British America. Much of the text plagiarised a pamphlet, Taxation no Tyranny, by the lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, and it included the text of a Sermon on the Present Situation of American Affairs by what would soon be called a ‘Loyalist’ clergyman of Philadelphia.
Wesleyans, as Methodists were known, fostered ideas of spiritual egalitarianism which arguably imperilled the status quo, although its social conservatism in the long run worked to defuse political protest in Britain. Wesley’s respect for authority impelled him to oppose the colonists’ opposition to taxation by the British government, a gesture embraced by the British government.
About 100,000 copies of Wesley’s tract appeared, in up to 19 editions, distributed in Britain and in America. There, Methodists who were also ‘Patriots’ vilified Wesley in pamphlets of their own and reacted violently to his ‘calm address’, destroying copies of the tract arriving later in 1775.
Wesley’s tract demonstrates how the American rebellion, which was soon to grow into a war for independence, involved not just Americans and British military forces, but impinged upon the political, intellectual and even spiritual life of Britain itself.
Digital Collections | Library (20th May 2020). A calm address to our American colonies. In Website Digital Collections | Library. Retrieved 24th Jan 2022 15:17, from https://digitalcollections.library.unsw.edu.au/nodes/view/1596