Advocacy for independence from South Carolina's first Episcopal bishop and founder of the College of Charleston
This selected edition of twenty-seven sermons delivered by Bishop Robert Smith (1732–1801) from the pulpit of Charleston's oldest Episcopal church gives voice to an influential clergyman and his rhetoric in support of a colonial rebellion. At the age of twenty-five Smith became the rector of St. Philips. He later became the first Episcopal bishop in South Carolina and the founder and first president of the College of Charleston. Charles Wilbanks has edited Smith's previously unpublished sermons, which were written, delivered, and sometimes repeated during a forty-year career. In his analysis of these sermons, Wilbanks illustrates how a theology of community, civic duty, and national piety led to Smith's advocacy of American independence.
Wilbanks suggests that Smith articulated a southern perspective that constituted a radically distinctive justification for the American Revolution, a view drawn from Smith's notion of a righteous community. Contrary to Puritan teachings of individual rights and responsibilities, which often served as a validation for revolution, Smith's call for righteous community also justified the War of Independence. While New England republicans worked to separate the business of church and state, Smith insisted that in spirit the two were inseparable. His theology enabled him to join with revolutionaries who held quite different beliefs, and his rhetorical strategies allowed him to be heard more clearly and effectively than other public figures who held similar philosophies.
Wilbanks investigates Smith's rhetorical strategies in light of Max Weber's analysis of the evolution of religion in society and Robert Bellah's work on American civil religion. Wilbanks also integrates the perspectives of philosophers and theorists Mircea Eliade, Emile Durkheim, and Kenneth Burke to explicate Smith's rhetoric of the righteous community.
Charles Wilbanks is the director of the speech communication program at the University of South Carolina. Editor of Walking by Faith: The Diary of Angelina Grimké, 1828–1835, Wilbanks specializes in American public address, the history of rhetoric, and argumentation. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
"The American Revolution and Righteous Community is one of the most successful attempts to understand and depict the religious sinews holding together a newly independent American community. It ranks with Edmund S. Morgan's Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles and Rhys Isaacs's Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1970. Bishop Robert Smith emerges from these pages as a masterful interpreter of an Episcopal version of the Christian Enlightenment. Charles Wilbanks has done a magisterial job of editing the sermons and placing these sources in broader religious, intellectual, and social contexts."—Robert M. Calhoon, professor of history, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and author of Dominion and Liberty: Ideology and the Anglo-American World, 1660–1801