In this sermon, he noted, “It deserves very particular attention that the doctrine of the gospel is called a law of LIBERTY. Liberty and law are perfectly consistent; liberty does not consist in living without all restraint; for were all men to live without restraint, as they please, there would soon be no liberty at all.”
Not only did Calvin’s shadow continue at the founding of America, but an erudite Swiss pastor led southerners in the faith and in application of scripture to the times. John Joachim Zubly was born in St. Gall in 1724 and ministered in London and Charleston, prior to serving as the first pastor of the Independent Presbyterian church in Savannah, Georgia, beginning in 1758. He preached in a brick building that was later used as a stable by British forces during the revolution. When needed, Zubly would also preach in German to Lutherans nearby, or he could preach in French to Huguenots in the low country. He was a scholar-pastor, recognized by Princeton with an honorary doctorate, and he published over 20 titles—no small feat for a Georgia pastor in the day. Two of those sermons became instrumental in pioneering planks for the American revolution, despite the fact that Zubly later protested against rebelling against the British Crown.
His first published political sermon, “An Humble Enquiry,” objected to the 1765 Stamp Act, and for his outspoken clarity, Zubly became one of Georgia’s five delegates to the Second Continental Congress. At that 1775 meeting, fellow-delegate John Adams noted his “warm and zealous spirit,” in addition to his erudition. However, Zubly also opposed the American Revolution and resigned from the convention in November 1775, unable to support American independence. He died in 1781, out of favor with the colonists, even being charged with treason on occasion due to his inability to vow allegiance to colonies beyond Georgia. Even though far from supportive of all British bills, he thought that some cooperation with Britain was more helpful than revolutionary fervor.
He eventually described himself as a “free holder from South Carolina” (to where he fled after being banished from Georgia in 1777—he became an indigo planter and land owner). Consistently, however, he cautioned (as had Calvin) against the tyranny of populist mobs, frenzied in their revolt against Britain.
He thought that the British Parliament had a right to levy taxes, and his text for this 1769 sermon was the well-used: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Zubly began by affirming that laws were improper if not assented to by those under the laws. The Stamp Act, of course, egregiously trampled on these rights. On the other hand, Zubly was not a fan of independence, and he thought that Americans owed taxes to the mother country.
Zubly sought to establish that the colonies were, indeed, under the British Parliament and constitution. Even when errant, he thought, laws should be obeyed. And the charters of these colonies did cede many privileges to Englishmen. Americans could not, he suggested, overthrow these laws without at the same time infringing on the liberties of other Englishmen (an identity that many colonists still took to themselves at the time).
Pastor Zubly was well acquainted with his British history, frequently alluding to legislative charters and actions in the various parts of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Ireland, and the colonies). The British colonies and islands in America owed their constitutional fealty to the British constitution and parliament. He went so far as to pronounce that America was dependent both on the crown and the constitution—surely unpopular sentiments.
Americans at the time were claiming rights to levy taxes (on their own, apart from the British parliament)—another token in their mind of true independence. Ireland, many Americans argued, was similar, i. e., it was only subject to the crown, not to parliament or the British constitution. Zubly asserted to the contrary. Whatever legislation passed in the colonies was still subject to English veto; the colonies, Zubly tried to remind his parish, were dependent on Great Britain. At one point, he rebuked Americans for not being willing to pay their share to Britain. They wanted, he thought, constitutional benefits without constitutional contribution.
Notwithstanding, Zubly also thought that when it came to property and ‘consent of the governed’ for new statutes (not, thus, those from earlier contracts), the Americans did retain property rights that were inviolable. And new laws could not be imposed on subjects without some kind of assent on their part.
The British constitution was designed to secure liberties and property—not to take them away. To do so, according to Zubly, was an act of forfeiture or an early instance of nullification. Original contracts were one thing; legislation like the Stamp Act, however, was encroachment on the constitution and not to be honored. Parliament could neither give nor take the properties that belonged to others. If the Reformation maxim held that “one could not give what he did not possess,” then surely that applied to colonial taxation and property.