A HISTORY LESSON
A major argument the independent diocesan lawyers are making before the state supreme court involves history. They hold that the Diocese of South Carolina existed before the Episcopal Church and remained a sovereign, independent, and autonomous entity. Since it voluntarily joined the Episcopal Church, they said, it could voluntarily leave it. It is useful at this point to revisit this problem for a history lesson on how the diocese and the Church came into being and what relationship they saw to each other.
Fortunately, we have all the necessary primary documents in Dalcho's classic history of the early Church in South Carolina, the original journals of the early conventions of the Episcopal Church, and the journals of the state conventions. Let us review what these tell us about our question at hand.
Space here limits us to salient facts and main interpretations:
---6-7 October 1784. Representatives from 8 state associations of Episcopalians met in New York City to begin organizing a national church. South Carolina was not present as it had not organized a state body. The convention resolved to invite South Carolina to organize a state association and send delegates to the next general convention.
---the Rev. William White, president of the above convention, sent a letter to the Rev. Robert Smith, rector of St. Philip's in Charleston, inviting him to make a state association which would choose delegates to a general convention.
---8 Feb. 1785. Rev. Smith and the Rev. Henry Purcell, rector of St. Michael's in Charleston, joined their vestries to invite the 20 other old Anglican parishes to a state organizational meeting.
---12 May 1785. Eight parishes sent representatives to a state meeting in Charleston. The assembly read aloud the letter from the Rev. White and resolved to call another meeting in hopes of uniting more than 8 parishes. They adjourned.
---12 July 1785. Eight parishes sent representatives. They read aloud the letter from White then elected delegates to the Episcopal Church general convention.
---27 Sept. to 7 Oct. 1785. General convention of Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The two delegates from South Carolina were named to the committee of 14 charged with composing the preliminary constitution of the Episcopal Church, called the "Ecclesiastical Constitution." This would become the basis for the formal Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons adopted in 1789.
---26 April 1785. Nine parishes sent representatives to a state convention in Charleston that 1-set up a committee to compose a state church constitution and 2-agreed to the new Ecclesiastical Constitution except for article number 6 that required a bishop in each state. This state convention was opposed to having a bishop in South Carolina. Otherwise they approved the new Episcopal Church Ecclesiastical Constitution.
---29-31 May 1786. Delegates met for a state convention in Charleston. They approved the liturgy drawn up by the 1785 general convention of the Episcopal Church and unanimously approved and adopted a constitution for the Episcopal Church in the state of South Carolina. It was signed by 23 representatives from 13 parishes. This was a preliminary constitution that was to be completed later in a detailed set of "Rules and Regulations." They set up a committee to accomplish this. (20 years later the state convention adopted the "Rules and Regulations" thus finishing the state constitution.)
---20-26 June 1786. 3 deputies from South Carolina attended the Episcopal Church general convention in Philadelphia. The delegates resolved to call a general convention of the Church to compose and ratify a formal Constitution and Canons. A resolution was passed calling on the several states to "authorize and empower their deputies to the next General Convention...to confirm and ratify a general Constitution." All of the states present accepted that they would sent representatives who would ratify the new constitution in convention on behalf of their states.
---22 Feb. 1787. State convention in Charleston read and accepted the resolution of the last general convention.
---8 May 1789. State convention elected deputies for the general convention to meet in Philadelphia on 28 July of 1789. The South Carolina state meeting understood they were sending their delegates to compose and ratify the new Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons on behalf of the state.
---July-October 1789. The Episcopal Church general convention met in two sessions (July-Aug. and Sept.-Oct.). One delegate from South Carolina sat on the committee of 7 to compose the constitution and 1 sat on the committee of 7 to draw up the canons. The entire delegation from South Carolina signed all the documents and did so on behalf of the state. The Constitution and Canons were ratified by the nine state associations present and went into effect immediately.
---19 Oct. 1790. State convention in Charleston made as first order: "The General Constitution and Canons being read, were unanimously agreed to."
---16 October 1794. State convention unanimously agreed that South Carolina should have no bishop. Immediately, a delegate arose and suggested a reconsideration on the fear their continued refusal to have a bishop would cause a schism in the Episcopal Church and cause the state to be removed from the rest of the national Church. Following further discussion, the delegates set up a committee to select a bishop.
---10 Feb. 1795. State convention unanimously elected a bishop, the Rev. Robert Smith. Consecrated in Philadelphia by 4 bishops 13 Sept. 1795.
---1799-1804. State conventions suspended. Church moribund.
---1806. State convention adopted the "Rules and Regulations" to complete the state constitution it had started in 1786. The preamble read: "Whereas, by General Conventions of the Protestant Episcopal Churches in the U.S.A. a constitution and canons have been formed for the government and discipline of the same." The finished state constitution remained in place until 1840.
---1807. State convention affirmed that state deputies to general convention in 1789 had ratified the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons on behalf of the state and this had been confirmed by state convention in 1790. The state convention reaffirmed that the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons were in effect in the state.
12-15 Feb. 1840. State convention adopted a new constitution and canons drawn closely on those of the national Church. "Article 1. Of Acceding to the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the General Convention. The Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina accedes to, recognizes and adopts the general Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., and acknowledges their authority accordingly."
1861-1865. State of war forced the state conventions in the Confederacy to form a separate Episcopal Church of the Confederate States almost identical to the parent Church. Church in U.S.A. held all places of southern states vacant for the duration. At end of war, states returned to national Church.
1866---State convention voted return to the general convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.
---The national Episcopal Church organized before the church in South Carolina.
---The national Episcopal Church invited South Carolina to organize a state association and send delegates to general convention.
---The South Carolina Episcopal Church formed a state meeting for the purpose of sending delegates to a national meeting.
---SC state convention approved the Ecclesiastical Constitution, the forerunner of the national Constitutional and Canons before it drew up a state constitution.
---The state convention drew up a preliminary, brief state constitution in 1786. This was mainly to please the national general convention. It was completed only 20 years later by adoption of "Rules and Regulations."
---State convention sent deputies to general convention in 1789 to compose and ratify a Constitution and Canons for the whole Episcopal Church.
It is important to note that the Episcopal Church C and C were self-effective in 1789 upon the signatures of the nine party states. There was no provision that they be ratified separately by the individual states such as the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The men signing in 1789 understood they were setting up a new structure for all the Episcopal Church, their states included. James Dator (Many Parts, One Body, How the Episcopal Church Works. 2010), the leading authority on the institutional structure of the Episcopal Church, described the Church government as a "unitary" system as opposed to a confederacy (as Articles of Confederation) or a federation (as U.S. Constitution). The individual states were "uniting" to form one single system. They saw themselves as integral to the structure and not separate from it except on matters of strictly local concern. The deputies from South Carolina understood their state was uniting with the eight others to form one single Church for the nation. They did not think of themselves as retaining separate independence for their local state. They saw sovereignty in the whole of the Church, not in its local parts.
From 1789 to 1861, the state convention, then Diocese of South Carolina worked hard to make itself more and more an integral part of the national Church, repeatedly reaffirming their allegiance to the Episcopal Church. Incidentally, the national Episcopal Church, to please the South Carolinians and other southerners, deliberately avoided the slavery issue all the way to 1861, and then the racial issue for a century after that.
The assertion that the Episcopal Church in South Carolina existed before the national Church is not sustained by the evidence. The idea that the Diocese of South Carolina saw itself as a sovereign entity that never accepted the superiority of the Episcopal Church is likewise non-historical. The conclusion that South Carolina voluntarily joined the Episcopal Church is indisputable. Of course, it joined voluntarily, just as the state of South Carolina voluntarily joined the United States. That point is not germane to the issue. The charge that South Carolina could voluntarily leave the Episcopal Church at any time as it wished is to misunderstand the "unitary" nature that the South Carolinians believed they had in the Episcopal Church.
The independent diocesan lawyers argue that two points allow a diocese to leave the Episcopal Church 1-lack of a provision in the Church Constitution and Canons forbidding a diocese from withdrawing from the Church, and 2-lack of a supremacy clause in the C and C giving the national Church power over the dioceses (the U.S. Constitution has a supremacy clause giving national laws authority over the states). In the first case, the U.S. Constitution also does not have a provision banning a state from withdrawing from the Union. However, the Civil War and Supreme Court decisions have settled that issue. Union is implicit in the Constitution. On the second point, if Dator is right and the Episcopal Church is a "unitary" system, then union is integral to the structure. It is understood that every diocese is incorporated in the union whose decisions are made by a general convention of all the dioceses. The general convention controls the admission to and release from the Episcopal Church. Moreover, canons require clerical vows of loyalty to the Episcopal Church, not to individual dioceses.
The body of historical evidence shows that the Episcopalians of South Carolina organized themselves as an integral part of the national Episcopal Church in the 1780's and 1790's. They did not see themselves as separate from it let alone sovereign apart from it.