Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From John Jay

From Thomas Jefferson

From William White, 26 November 1785 White, William Adams, John
From William White
Sir Philadelphia Novr 26. 1785.

I presume on the Circumstance of being not intirely unknown to your Excellency, to offer to you the inclosed Papers: knowing, that the President of Congress has already written to you on the Subject of them.1


As you formerly, Sir, communicated to Congress Information of the friendly Disposition of the Danish Government & Clergy towards the Episcopal Church in these States,2 it may be proper for me to state to you the Reason of the Non-Acceptance of their kind Offer of ordaining for us: however gratefully we acknowledge the Favor, as well as your Excellency’s liberal Intention to serve us on that Occasion.

I believe I might mention, that there are Objections against the Succession of the Danish Bishops; but have not sufficiently informed myself of the Constitution of that Church, to say any Thing more on this Head.

I might also mention, that before the Information reached us of a Door being opened in that Quarter, an Act had passed the British Parliament, allowing the Bp: of London to admit to the Orders of Priest & Deacon, Persons out of Allegiance to the King; without administering the Oaths.3

But, Sir, it is the Wish of all the well informed Members of our Church, to be independent & self-governed; principally from a Conviction of the unhappy Influence which a foreign spiritual Jurisdiction has always maintained in civil Matters, wherever it has been acknowleged. This we have severely felt in the late War; and, if persevered in, must at last be fatal, either to our Church or to the Commonwealth: in those States at least, where the Members of our Communion are a Majority of the People. There is Nothing wanting to the establishing of our Constitution, but the obtaining the Episcopal Succession in the first Instance from the English Bishops; which we trust will fix our Church on such a Footing, as must be desired by all who wish well to the present civil System of Confederate America. Should any political Objection arise from the British Ministry on the Point of Delicacy as to intermeddling with the Concerns of this Country, I cannot doubt of your Excellency’s Endeavours to remove it.

With my best Wishes, Sir, for your Health & Happiness, I have the Honour to subscribe myself, / Your Excellency’s most obedient / & very humble Servant,

Wm. White.4

PS. The Specimans of the Prayer Book herewith enclosed go as far as the Press has yet furnished.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency John Adams / Esqre. / Minister Plenipotentiary of / the United States of America, / at the Court of / Great 609Britain.”; internal address: “His Excelly. John Adams Esqre.”; endorsed: “Revd. William [White] / 26. Nov. 1785. / ansd. 28. Feb. 1786.” Some loss of text due to a cut manuscript.


The enclosed papers have not been found, but Richard Henry Lee’s letter was of 24 Oct., above.


This was JA’s 22 April 1784 letter to the president of Congress, vol. 16:173–174.


Adopted in Aug. 1784, this was 24 Geo. 3, ch. 35, “An Act to impower the Bishop of London for the Time being, or any other Bishop to be by him appointed, to Admit to the Order of Deacon or Priest, Persons being Subjects or Citizens of Countries out of His Majesty’s Dominions, without requiring them to take the Oath of Allegiance as appointed by Law.”


William White (1748–1836) graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1765 and was ordained in Britain in 1772. Returning to Philadelphia he became rector of the joint parish of St. Peter’s and Christ Church in 1779 and served as chaplain to Congress. After his consecration as bishop by Scottish non-juring bishops in 1785, he presided over the first general convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church and helped in drafting its constitution, for which see Lee’s 24 Oct. letter, and note 1, above. White would serve as the presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1795 to 1836 ( ANB ).