The Price of Dissent

LOYALISTS, especially strong in New York and among many Anglicans in the South, opposed armed resistance for two reasons. First, many were monarchists, who believed that society must have a central sovereign, else it lapse into anarchy, where every person was a law unto himself.

Second, they were traditional Christians who believed that scriptural injunctions to obey government were absolute. Was England any worse than Rome at the time of Christ? Of course not. Yet neither Christ nor his disciples counseled revolution. Indeed, they counseled just the opposite: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”

For their loyalty to England, these “royalists” suffered every form of insult and humiliation. The freedom of expression desired by patriots was not a freedom they extended to their antagonists. Loyalist presses were smashed, and loyalists often tarred and feathered (an extremely painful and even life-threatening form of humiliation). Their civil rights were suspended and their properties seized. Most of them fled to Canada or to England. A few (most notoriously, Benedict Arnold) served in the British army. In hardly any cases did they recover what was lost in the Revolution.

Pacifist opposition to the war was concentrated in Pennsylvania. Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish refused to fight, and for their refusal were suppressed and humiliated like the royalists. Still, they stubbornly held their ground. In one graphic account, Quakers met in the midst of the battle of Monmouth and refused to leave their meeting even as the battle raged all about.

Often the pacifists served in hospitals, tending to both British and American wounded. This infuriated the patriots, but they could do little about it if they wanted their own tended to. In fact, the hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, became a medical center in the Revolution.

By Harry S. Stout

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #50 in 1996]

Harry S. Stout Harry Stout is Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Christianity at Yale University. He is author of The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England(Oxford).]
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