The Founding of New England/VII
|←VI. New England and the Great Migration||The Founding of New England by
VII. An English Opposition Becomes a New England Oligarchy
|VIII. The Growth of a Frontier→|
AN ENGLISH OPPOSITION BECOMES A NEW ENGLAND OLIGARCHY
IN an earlier chapter, in discussing the problems which confronted Elizabeth, we spoke of an established church as a necessity in her day from all three standpoints—of religion, morals, and politics. We also touched upon the simplicity of problems as they appear to those in opposition, as contrasted with their aspect to those who bear the responsibility of power. In England, in the earlier part of the seventeenth century, in spite of the example of Holland, the doctrine of the necessity of a state church, to which all men must conform, in their capacity of citizens as well as of Christians, was still held, although the influence of the “dissidence of dissent,” as the logical outcome of individual interpretation of the Bible, was beginning to be felt. Voices were being raised in many quarters denouncing the intolerance of the various sects, both Anglican and Puritan; and, although the Protestants might consider that the religious glacier which held all men in its embrace was as rigidly frozen as ever, the ice was, in truth, rapidly melting beneath the surface. To Englishmen in tolerant Leyden, John Robinson was preaching that “magistrates are kings and lords over men properly and directly, as they are their subjects, and not as they are Christ’s,” and that by “compulsion many become atheists, hypocrites, and Familists, and being at first constrained to practise against conscience, lose all conscience afterwards.” In England, Chillingworth, through the doctrine of the innocence of error, was elevating toleration into a principle of justice and a practicable rule of government. In the New World, Roger Williams was soon to begin his life-long struggle against what he vehemently denounced as “that body-killing, soule-killing, and State-killing doctrine” of religious persecution by the arm of the civil power.
We cannot, perhaps, blame men for not being in advance of their age, or even for being behind it. The founders of the Bay Colony were but little qualified, by reason of the narrowness of their views and the intensity with which they were held, to lead men to any higher ground than that which they had been accustomed to tread. Moreover, having changed their place from members of an opposition to members of a government, their new responsibilities would tend to foster even more strongly that fear of innovation which is nearly always characteristic of the middle-class man in power. The exercise of authority is apt to prove an intoxicating draught, even to the best-intentioned men who have been unaccustomed to it; and, of the tiny group who now claimed absolute sway over two thousand subjects, rapidly increasing to sixteen thousand, none had held any position of administrative importance in the old country. Some of them had, indeed, occupied offices, but they were rather of a nature to encourage that intolerance of contradiction, and tendency to arbitrary action upon a small stage, which are apt, in time, to become characteristic of the petty judge, the schoolmaster and the clergyman. Of Endicott’s whole career in England, for example, we know only that his rector spoke of him as “a man well knowne to divers persons of good note,” which, in reference to a parishioner in a small country town, more probably referred to his moral character than to any administrative experience. Winthrop had held an unimportant position in a law court. Dudley had managed the estate of a nobleman. Cotton was the rector of a large provincial parish. The work which they and the other leaders did was done honestly; and although the course they pursued, in regard both to the religious qualification for the franchise, and to the later persecutions for religious beliefs, was, in the long run, to hamper the growth of the colony and to be partly responsible for the eventual loss of the charter, they should not be too severely condemned, perhaps, for the illegal and unjust, as well as politically unwise, course, upon which they now entered. It must be said, however, that, when the great opportunity was offered them of advancing the cause of religious liberty, they turned aside. To the new voices being raised on behalf of justice and humanity, the Massachusetts leaders were as deaf as Laud and the Anglican hierarchy. Equally, and for the same reason, each party solidly and consciously blocked the path to toleration in so far as lay in its power.
The problems of government in the new country soon came thick upon the little group from the opposition in the old. The notorious Morton, for example, was once more singing and trading in “his old nest in the Massachusetts,” in the autumn of the year in which Winthrop landed. There were valid reasons, notably his selling fire-arms to the Indians, which might have served adequately as warrant for his arrest by the authorities; but when that action was decided upon, the alleged grounds bore a curiously trumped-up appearance. In the official order for his apprehension, no crime was mentioned; and in his sentence the only matters cited were the “many wrongs he hath done” the Indians, and the theft of a canoe from them. Whatever the moral nature of his intercourse with the natives, it was not likely that, from their standpoint, there had been any very serious crime committed against them by a man living almost isolated in their midst, and whose sole business was trading with them. The convenient, but apparently unfounded, suspicions of a murder committed by him in England, and a warrant procured from the Chief Justice for his shipment thither, could not have served as a basis for any sentence inflicted in Massachusetts. The probable truth is that the Puritans either wanted to teach the discontented “old planters” a lesson, for which purpose Morton offered himself as an easy victim, or they suspected, what was indeed the fact, that he was in communication with Gorges. Obviously, neither of these could be openly alleged as a cause for the punishment they inflicted, which was extraordinarily severe. He was put in the stocks and deported to England; his entire property was confiscated, and his house burned to the ground. Set at liberty in England with little delay, he got into communication with Gorges, and was soon joined by two other victims of colonial methods.
Gorges, though a stanch supporter of the Church of England, was in close relations with the Puritan peers. He and Warwick were having constant dealings, as both were active in the Council for New England, and his son John was a brother-in-law of the Earl of Lincoln, in whose house, as we have seen, the Massachusetts project took shape. There is nothing to indicate any hostility upon his part to the Massachusetts colony until 1632; and the several emissaries whom he secretly sent there were probably dispatched for the sole purpose of seeing whether or not the settlers were encroaching upon the lands claimed by himself and his son Robert, whose rights, it will be recalled, he specifically reserved when he consented to the granting of the Massachusetts charter. The grantees of that instrument, however, denied that the Gorges rights had any legal validity, and claimed and occupied the disputed land as their own. A quarrel was, therefore, inevitable, and as the Puritans, it must be confessed, had little respect for legality themselves, they could, when need required, be counted upon to take such steps as they might see fit to oppose any action of Gorges.
Winthrop had been scarcely a month on the shores of the Bay, when another newcomer arrived in the shape of one of the most picturesque and mysterious characters who were ever to stroll on Boston Common. Sir Christopher Gardiner, Knight of the Sepulchre (somewhat whited), suddenly appeared, with no ostensible business, but with that unexpected phenomenon in the Puritan colony, a pretty young mistress. To be sure, he called her cousin, but it was soon suspected, as Bradford somewhat quaintly wrote, that “she (after the Italian manner) was his concubine.” In spite of the fact that a late defender has claimed that “he was unfitted for the quiet pleasures of domestic life,” he seems to have made some efforts in that direction; for the authorities soon received word from London to the effect that he had two wives there, who were then in conference, and of whom one was calling loudly for his conversion, and the other for his destruction. On the first of March, 1631, it was ordered by the Massachusetts court that he and seven others should be sent prisoners to England by the good ship Lyon; but the knight, getting word of what was proposed, fled to the Indians. Some weeks later he was taken into custody by the Plymouth people, who asserted that they had found on his person evidence that he was a Roman Catholic. While he was lodged in jail in Boston, letters addressed to him by Gorges, as well as one to the absent Morton, came into the hands of Winthrop, who opened them, and decided that they indicated a design on the part of Gorges to regain possession of his land—an ambition not wholly unnatural. Whether or not the authorities decided that it was wiser that Gardiner should not appear in England to add his testimony to that of Morton, nothing further seems to have been done to carry into effect the order for his deportation, and he was soon set at liberty.
Meanwhile a lonely settler from Maine had appeared in Boston, and had looked with favor upon Gardiner’s fair companion. He decided to marry the lady and to take her back to the Eveless Eden of the Androscoggin. Gardiner himself accompanied them, and the curiously assorted trio spent the winter together at Brunswick, from which season there was an odd echo in the Maine law courts nine years later, when Gardiner’s host, and not himself, was properly sued for a warming-pan stolen by the knight during his chilly stay. In the summer of 1632, Gardiner landed in England just in time to add his witness to that of Morton and Ratcliffe in Gorges’s attack upon the Massachusetts charter.
Ratcliffe, who was a mentally unbalanced servant of Cradock, had apparently talked loosely about the government and the Salem church. For these “mallitious and scandulous speeches,” as the crime was designated in his sentence by the court, he was whipped, had both his ears cut off, was fined the impossible sum of £40, and banished from the colony. He was not long in joining Morton and Gardiner in England, and becoming one more arrow in Gorges’s quiver.
These cases, moreover, though they proved more important individually, in their reaction upon the colony, by no means stood alone. A certain Thomas Gray, for an unspecified crime, was banished, his house was pulled down, and all Englishmen were enjoined from giving him shelter, “under such penalty as the Court shall thinke meete to inflicte.” Thomas Dexter, for saying, “This captious government will bring all to naught,” adding that “the best of them was but an atturney, &c.,” was put in the stocks, fined £40, and disfranchised. Henry Lynn, “for writeing into England falsely and mallitiously against the government and execuccion of justice here,” was ordered whipped and banished; while Thomas Knower was put in the stocks for saying that, if punished, he would have the legality of his sentence tried in England.
The course of justice, if no worse than in contemporary England, was evidently but little improved by its passage overseas, or by being administered by those who had been so loud in their denunciations of the summary methods of Laud and the High Commission. It seemed to many, as to the “old planter” Blackstone, that the tyranny of the “Lord-Bishops” had merely been exchanged for that of the “Lord-Brethren”; and it was evident also that the fixed policy of the leaders was to allow no appeals from their decisions to the home courts of England. All the colonists, therefore, who would not, on the one hand, wholly refrain from criticizing the policy and acts of the leaders, and, on the other, prove themselves acceptable to the clergy, and so secure the franchise by being elected freemen, were wholly without representation, without voice in the making of their laws, and without recourse to the courts and king at home.
As the charter was that of a trading corporation, the levying of taxes was a mere development of the right to assess shareholders, and, therefore, extended only to freemen. But no such legal restriction was observed, and from the beginning, the authorities taxed the non-freemen equally with themselves, though denying them the political rights which they themselves possessed. Indeed, not only their property was thus subject to enactments in which they had no voice, but their time and the work of their hands as well; for the General Court passed a law that all except members of the court, and officers of the church and commonwealth, were liable to be impressed for manual labor on all public works. The town meeting, indeed, seems to have been the only place in which the great majority of the colonists could legally make their voice heard at all, and there only upon questions concerning the most trivial local matters.
The New England town, already noted as one of the three typical institutions in the development and influence of that section, may be considered in its origin as “the politically active congregation,” bound together, in addition to its church ties, by a peculiar agrarian policy. Originating at Plymouth, it became universal throughout the Puritan colonies on the mainland, and was reproduced with extraordinary fidelity of detail wherever New Englanders migrated. The New England colonies, for the most part, neither sold nor rented their land, but granted it freely in fee to actual settlers, in rough proportion to their present ability to use it. In general most of it was granted primarily to towns, which owned it in their corporate capacity; and by them it was allotted to individuals in the form of home-lots or arable land and meadow. The remainder formed the “common,” for the use of all, under certain restrictions. The whole land-system, as well as the methods of cultivation, exhibited many striking resemblances to those of our early Teutonic ancestors; and, some years ago, these coincidences were largely insisted upon as cases of genuine survival. It is more probable that a return to favorable wilderness conditions merely strengthened those primitive elements still remaining in the manorial system, with which the settlers were familiar in England. As we have already pointed out, the geographical environment in New England, as contrasted with that of the other colonies, tended strongly to develop the type of compact settlement. This was further reinforced by the form of emigration, which was distinctly of neighborhood groups, and by the type of church government.
The exigencies of the situation, when the settlers first landed, had necessitated their dispersal in various communities, whose members at once found it needful to manage their local affairs to some extent by meeting together among themselves. The charter made no provision for any but a general government; nor, under it, did the company have any legal right to incorporate other bodies. These more or less informal local governments were, therefore, extra-legal both before and after the passage of a township act by which it was attempted specifically to give them certain rights of local administration. At the town meetings, which at first were spontaneous, and afterward regulated, all the inhabitants had the right to be present and to take part in the discussion of public affairs, although only the freemen were entitled to vote, except upon a few questions of minor importance. The distinction was somewhat similar to that in the churches, which all could attend, but in the management of which only church members had a voice. The town meeting, therefore, was a completely democratic institution in only one of its aspects, although it came to have great influence upon both political theory and practice.
A further development brought these local communities into working relations with the General Court. Owing to the distance of the scattered settlements from Boston, and the danger of all the freemen being absent at once from their homes, it was enacted, in 1634, that every town should elect two or three deputies, who should have the power of the whole, and who should act as their representatives in the General Court. As the charter provided that seven of the eighteen Assistants must be present in the Court in order to constitute a quorum, that body was now composed of a small number of Assistants and a steadily growing number of Deputies. As the Virginia House of Burgesses had been established in 1619, and the Bermuda Assembly in 1620, the representative government provided for in Massachusetts was the third in the colonies.
Owing to the close alliance maintained between the clergy and the Magistrates, as the Assistants soon came to be called, the body of deputies grew to be considered the more popular element in the Court. It was clear that real grievances and the democratic influences at work in the town meeting were likely to develop into attacks upon the arbitrary power of the very limited body of freemen. The form that the struggle assumed was that of a contest, lasting twenty years, between the deputies and the magistrates, with the influence of the clergy constantly on the side of the latter. The freemen themselves were, indeed, not all in favor of the arbitrary exercise of power by the small oligarchical group which for so long remained in control. As early as 1631, the people of Watertown, when taxed for fortifying Newtown, declared that “it was not safe to pay moneys after that sort, for fear of bringing themselves and posterity into bondage.” Although legally in the right, they accepted Winthrop’s interpretation of the charter, which is interesting as showing how completely the unjustified transformation from a company into a commonwealth had already been effected in the minds of the leaders.
Although the people, until well into the eighteenth century, probably had little thought of becoming independent of England, it seems clear from all the acts of the leaders, especially the transfer of the charter itself, that it was their intention, even before leaving England, to govern in as complete independence of that country as future circumstances might permit. They wished, it is true, to found a state for the glory of God and the establishment of true religion, but in which, nevertheless, they themselves should constitute the supreme power. Every encroachment upon it, from any direction, was grudgingly yielded to; and it is not unlikely that, even then, some of them dreamed of an actual political independence. “We are not a free state,” wrote Pyncheon to Winthrop, in 1646, evidently with this in mind; “neither do I think it our wisdom to be a free state; though we had our liberty, we cannot as yet subsist without England.”
The political history of Massachusetts under the charter was thus made up of two separate elements. The first was the resistance of the governing group to any effort of England, legal or illegal, to assert her rights, even justly, over her colony; and the second was the struggle of a part of the colonists themselves, for toleration and liberty, against the governing class. Even had the colony never separated from England, we should, in all probability, have come to possess the same measure of civil liberty and religious toleration that the English have to-day; but that separation having taken place, had the Puritan oligarchy retained and extended their power, we should have but little of either. It is, therefore, the second conflict which, although less dramatic, is the more vital in the history of human freedom. We must now turn to consider the earliest important attacks from both of the quarters indicated.
Of those from across the water, the first was launched, as could well have been for seen, by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, and was brought upon the colony directly through the policy pursued by its leaders. The untiring interest of Gorges in the affairs of New England, and his hope of yet creating a profitable settlement there for himself, were both well known to the Puritans. The old knight had spent vastly greater sums in the effort to plant the wilderness than had been contributed by any individual among themselves. He had attempted the colonization of Maine at a time when the men who were now engaged in banishing his agents were hardly more than children. He had made no effort to disturb the Pilgrims during their ten-years’ stay at Plymouth, and would probably have left the Massachusetts settlers also in peace, had it not been for their denial of the rights he claimed in a part of the soil they had preempted, and for their treatment of his emissaries. The Massachusetts authorities, by throwing down the gauntlet, had created a powerful enemy who was not slow in picking it up.
In 1632, Gorges and Mason, with the assistance of Gardiner, Morton, and Ratcliffe, prepared a petition, which was presented to the Privy Council in December. Winthrop stated that among many false accusations and “some truths misrepeated,” it accused the colony of separating from the Church of England, and of threatening to cast off its political allegiance. Supporters of the company in England hastily put into motion those unseen agencies that were most efficacious in doing business at the court of Charles; and, in spite of what seemed overwhelming odds against them, in courtly influence, won an unexpected victory, even gaining a word of commendation from the King. Their success is involved in a mystery, which, however, we suspect might be unlocked by that same “golden key” which the Pilgrims were using contemporaneously at another of the royal doors. Meanwhile, the Council for New England had requested that the Company’s charter be presented for examination, and Humphrey had been forced to confess that it was in New England, stating that, though he had often written for it, he had been unable to obtain it.
The demand, however, was repeated from a more powerful source two years later. In 1633, Laud had become Archbishop of Canterbury, and had declared war upon the Puritans. Colonial affairs, which had heretofore been considered, when considered at all, by the Privy Council, were now put into the hands of a body styled “the Lords Commissioners for Plantations in General,” which was headed by the Archbishop, and given almost royal powers in both civil and ecclesiastical matters, including that of revoking all charters and patents unduly obtained. Gorges utilized this new opportunity, and at once began to work upon the Archbishop’s hatred of Puritanism, in order to recover his own legal claims. On February 21, 1634, the Board, having taken into consideration the great numbers of persons “known to be ill-affected and discontented, as well with the Civil as Ecclesiastical government,” who were daily resorting to New England, ordered that Cradock produce the Massachusetts charter. Upon receipt of Cradock’s first letter requesting its return, the authorities at Boston decided to return an evasive answer, ignoring the Council’s demand. After the first communication had been followed by an official copy of the order itself, word was returned by Winslow, who was acting as agent for both Plymouth and Massachusetts, that the charter could not be sent except by a vote of the General Court, which body would not meet until September.
Meanwhile, Gorges was plying the English authorities with letters advising that a governor, “neither papistically nor scizmatically affected,” be appointed for New England, modestly suggesting that he himself was an eminently proper person for the office, and urging that the Massachusetts charter be repealed. His wish was gratified as to the first two points, and it looked as if he was at last to see the shores of that land which had been the chief object of his thoughts for thirty years. Winslow, whose suit, at first, had seemingly prospered, was suddenly and dramatically confronted, in the presence of Laud, with his old enemy Morton of Merry Mount, and, as a result of the latter’s accusations, was temporarily committed to prison.
The grandiose scheme that Gorges had conceived contemplated the division of all New England among certain members of the old Council, and the validating of the individual assignments by legal sanctions. It was also arranged that the charter should then be resigned by that body, which had only too truly become, as the declaration read, “a Carcass in a manner breathless.” This was done in April, and in the following month a writ of Quo Warranto was entered, to deprive the Massachusetts company of its own charter, as the final step in the transformation of New England. Aside from the play of conflicting influences involved, the leaders, by their handling of affairs, had, without question, violated the terms of that instrument, and so had given their adversaries a reputable cause to plead. The verdict was adverse to the Company, judgment was entered against such of the patentees as appeared, and the remainder were outlawed. The patentees, however, refused to acknowledge the action of the courts, and the charter was not returned, though again demanded two years later. Meanwhile, Gorges’s new-risen hopes had been wholly dashed. Though he had been appointed governor, the King had provided him with no funds from the empty treasury, and Gorges’s own resources were always inadequate for his undertakings. Mason, who was aiding him, suddenly died. The ship which was to have carried the knight to his new province broke as it was being launched, and delay followed delay, while the aspect of public affairs was rapidly changing.
This favorable turn, however, was not foreseen in the colony, and immediately upon receipt of the news of the appointment of the new Commission for Plantations, the Massachusetts government prepared for armed resistance. A sentry was posted on a hill near Boston, to give notice of the arrival of any hostile ships; £600 was raised for the completion of the fortifications on Castle Island; a military committee was appointed; and, a few weeks later, the clergy were consulted as to what should be done if a general governor were sent out from England. Their unanimous answer was that “We ought not to accept him, but defend our lawful possessions (if we are able), otherwise to avoid or protract.” It must be recalled that the Massachusetts settlers were as yet Englishmen, and not independent Americans; and the home government, whose subjects they were, could hardly regard these acts and utterances otherwise than as rank rebellion, however different an aspect they might come to wear in the eyes of ourselves as heirs of a subsequent and successful revolution. Political events in England soon developed in such a way as to prevent any very serious consideration of colonial affairs for another quarter of a century, and the policy of “avoid or protract,” seemed temporarily to serve all purposes.
The colonial government, which had thus assumed what was practically a position of avowed independence of the king and courts of England, next decided to take up a stronger line in regard to its own subjects in the colony itself, for the spirit of the Watertown freemen against taxation had evidently spread. Just prior to the meeting of the General Court in the spring of 1634, every town deputed two men to consider such matters as might come up; and after consultation, a demand was made upon the governor to allow them to inspect the charter. Having found upon examination that the General Court was the only legal body entitled to legislate, they apparently inquired why that power had been usurped by the magistrates. Winthrop replied that it was because the General Court had become unwieldy in size; and he made the suggestion that, for the present, “they might, at the general court, make an order, that, once in the year, a certain number should be appointed, (upon summons from the governor) to revise all laws, etc., and to reform what they found amiss therein; but not to make any new laws, but prefer their grievances to the court of assistants; and that no assessments should be laid upon the country without the consent of such a committee, nor any lands disposed of.” It is difficult to conceive of a more complete abrogation of the rights of even the very limited body of freemen; and, though Winthrop does not tell us how this astonishing offer was received, the records leave us in no doubt. At the meeting of the General Court, it was immediately voted that there should be no trial for life or banishment except by a jury summoned by themselves; that there should be four such courts a year, not to be dissolved without their own consent; that none but the General Court had power to make laws or to elect and remove officials; and that none but the General Court had power to dispose of lands or to raise money by taxation. Another incident, of less importance, but interesting as showing the feeling abroad and the means by which it might, for a time, be suppressed, occurred at a meeting of the inhabitants of Boston later in the year, to choose some men to divide additional town-land. The voting was by secret ballot, for the first time, and Winthrop, Coddington, and the other leaders failed of election. The first stated in his account of the affair, that the electors chose mostly men of “the inferior sort,” fearing that the richer men would give the poor an unfairly small proportion of land, the policy, he added, having been to leave a large amount undivided for newcomers and commons. The argument, which was sound, might perhaps have been considered sounder by the discontented, had the governor himself, for example, not acquired by that time above eighteen hundred acres, Saltonstall sixteen hundred, and Dudley seventeen hundred. After Winthrop had made a speech, and the Reverend Mr. Cotton had “showed them that it was the Lord’s order among the Israelites to have all such businesses committed to the elders,” a new vote was ordered and the magistrates were elected.
It was evident that, if the little group of leaders, lay and ecclesiastic, were to retain power permanently, in view of the spirit evinced by the people, and the extremely rapid growth of the population, it could be only by securing a firmer hold upon the body of magistrates and the election of freemen. A few months previously, Cotton had preached a sermon arguing that the magistrates, who were annually elected under the charter, were entitled to be perpetually reëlected, except for “just cause”; and he compared their rights to office with those of a man in his freehold estate. This suggestion seems to have borne fruit something more than a year afterward, when, it having been shown “from the word of God, etc., that the principal magistrates ought to be for life,” it was voted that a council should be created, to have such powers as the General Court should grant them, and not to be subject to removal except for crimes or “other weighty cause.” This, of course, was again a violation of the charter, and, like so much of the reactionary legislation, was due to the direct influence of the clergy. Though Winthrop, Dudley, and Endicott were elected to the new offices, the council was never granted any powers, and the plan failed.
Of somewhat more practical service, in view of the fact that church membership was an indispensable qualification for the franchise, was the law, passed at the same court, that no new churches could be organized without the approbation of the magistrates and a majority of the elders of the preëxisting churches, and that no man could become a freeman who was not a member of a church so approved of. By this means a degree of control, at least, could be maintained over the great numbers of newcomers now arriving.
We do not wish to convey the impression that the leaders of the colony were animated by mere love of power or a vulgar ambition, strong though the former was in most of them. But the danger to the liberties of their subjects was no less great because Winthrop and Cotton were wholly convinced of the divine nature of their mission. It is too frequently assumed that despotic acts are necessarily those of a self-conscious despot; whereas, in most cases, they are merely the readiest means employed for reaching ends which authority may think itself rightly privileged, or morally bound, to attain. Charles and Laud were no less certain than the rulers of Church and State in Massachusetts, that their mandate was a heavenly one. Liberty cannot mean one thing in old England and another in New, nor can intolerance be condoned in the one and condemned in the other. The King and the Archbishop were no more closely allied, nor more bent upon forcing their own will upon that of the people, than were the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the little American commonwealth, however worthy or unworthy the motives of each may have been. Pride in the valiant work that the Massachusetts leaders did in subduing the wilderness, and in the sacrifices that they made for their religious beliefs, has tended to make their descendants, in the words of the old English saw, “to their faults a little blind, and to their virtues very kind”; but if the nations of the world are to grow in mutual understanding and brotherly feeling, their histories must be written from the standpoint of justice to all, and not from that of a mistaken national piety.
We now come to the case of the first, and perhaps the most conspicuous, individual who was to fall under the discipline of both Church and State in New England. Roger Williams had arrived in Boston as early as 1631. Added to a most winning nature and a personality that ever exerted a charm over friends and enemies alike, he brought with him a reputation for being a godly minister, and within a few months after his arrival, was invited by the church at Salem to become their teacher. He had also, apparently, within only a few weeks of his landing, been chosen to the same office by the Boston congregation, but had refused to join with them because they would not acknowledge themselves to be separated from the Church of England. He had also, thus early, declared his doctrine that the power of the magistrates should be limited to civil matters, and that they had no authority to punish the breach of the Sabbath or other religious offenses. For these reasons, the General Court wrote a letter to Endicott, expostulating with the Salem church for accepting Williams, which that church apparently ignored. He did not, however, remain long, but removed to Plymouth, where he stayed preaching until again called to Salem in 1634.
Meanwhile, he had not only so extended his doctrine of the separation of church and state as to deny that a magistrate had power to require an oath, but had added a new and, it is needless to say, fundamentally dangerous doctrine for the legal foundation of the colony, in his declaration that, the Indians being the true owners of the soil, the King had had no right to grant a charter, and the colony should repent of having received it. The authorities might, perhaps, fear the expression of such opinions, and his subsequent banishment, the motives for which have always been the subject of heated dispute from his own day to this, may have been caused by his denial of the legal basis of the colony, as much as by his theory of religious toleration. It was without doubt the latter, however, which brought down upon him the special hostility of the clergy. Winthrop, who like Bradford and Winslow, had an affectionate regard for the young clergyman, specifically stated that the ministers rendered their judgment “that he who should obstinately maintain such opinions, whereby a church might run into heresy, apostacy, or tyranny, and yet the civil magistrate could not intermeddle,” should be removed.
The civil power was at once brought into play. Williams was cited to appear, and the town of Salem was denied title to certain lands which it claimed as its own, until it should discard its teacher. Williams then endeavored to have the Salem church separate from all the others, and the congregation addressed a sharp letter of reproof to the magistrates. The final triumph was, of course, on the side of the established authorities. Williams, after what seems to have been a fair trial, was ordered to be banished, the decree being subsequently revised to take effect in the spring, provided Williams would refrain from attempting to spread his opinions, which, apparently, he was unable to do. The authorities, having heard that he was planning to lead a colony to Narragansett, and fearing that the “infection” would spread from there throughout the churches, undertook to ship him back to England; but he escaped in the middle of January, making his way through the snow-filled forests to the safe confines and hospitable savages of Rhode Island.
His subsequent prominence as the founder of that state, and his written advocacy of the principle of toleration, have tended to overemphasize the contemporary importance of the proceedings just described. The authorities had a fair basis for their action, on civil grounds alone; and although the religious aspect undoubtedly entered largely into the case, it marked, in that respect, no new departure in policy. It merely showed somewhat more clearly, perhaps, that, in any case which threatened to weaken the established relations of church and state or to question the right of the latter to require the most rigid conformity to the doctrines and practices of the former, the magistrates and clergy could be counted upon to act rigorously together. Although personally popular, Williams had acquired few adherents who were willing to follow him beyond a certain point in his struggle, and the victory of the court created but a slight disturbance. The colony, however, in order to avoid even the possibility of strife, had lost what it could ill afford to spare—a mind of wider vision than its own.
If Williams’s expulsion had caused no tumult, that was not to be true of another case with which the authorities soon had to deal. Ann Hutchinson, who had been a parishioner of John Cotton in England, had come to Massachusetts with her husband, later followed by her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, and had been in Boston about two years at the time of Williams’s banishment. She had acquired a considerable influence among the women, due more, perhaps, to her kindly spirit and helpfulness in sickness, than to her brilliant mind, which seems to have impressed itself upon many of the ablest men in the colony. The New England of that day, as for long after, offered almost no opportunity for the play of such a restless intellect as hers except upon religious questions, and Mrs. Hutchinson was, in addition, a sincerely religious woman. After some time, during which we hear nothing of her, she appeared as holding Thursday meetings in her house for those women who had been unable to attend church on the preceding Sunday, and to whom she rehearsed the sermons preached. She soon passed on to comparing those of various clergymen, and gradually evolved the doctrine that, while Mr. Cotton and her brother-in-law preached a “Covenant of Grace,” all of the others preached a “Covenant of Works”—a theological distinction which has often been considered so baffling as to elude understanding. Even at the time, Winthrop wrote that “no man could tell (except some few, who knew the bottom of the matter) where any difference was.” It may be inferred, however, that by a “Covenant of Grace” she meant a religion based upon a direct revelation in the individual soul of God’s grace and love, while by a “Covenant of Works” was intended a religion founded upon a covenant between God as judge and man as fallen, which men had merely to obey unquestioningly, as they obeyed the civil law, and of which the minister was the official interpreter.
It is needless to point out that the latter accorded with the whole doctrine and polity of the Massachusetts church and state, while the former would have undermined both as constituted. To many, the preaching of a religion of love, as contrasted with the harsh tenets of the established doctrine of law and judgment, brought a joy and peace they had sought in vain in the latter, and Mrs. Hutchinson’s followers grew rapidly in number. Among them were included Mr. Cotton himself,—who, however, drew back in the succeeding turmoil,—and the new young Governor of the colony, Sir Harry Vane.
Vane, as yet but twenty-three years old, high-born and brilliant, but immature, had arrived in the autumn of 1635 in the ship that brought the Reverend Hugh Peter and John Winthrop, Jr. He had come over, as had the younger Winthrop, in connection with the plantation project of Lords Say, Brook, and others; but he remained in Boston, and was soon admitted a member of Cotton’s church. During the preceding years there had been from time to time various disagreements between Winthrop and Dudley, both of whom had occupied the office of governor, the troubles arising largely from Dudley’s touchy and overbearing nature. Reconciliations had been effected by the kindly and patient Winthrop, and the petty quarrels are of practically no historical importance, save in that the people had taken sides to a certain extent. Vane and Peter had been but a few months in the colony, when, for reasons best known to themselves, they undertook to arrange a meeting between Governor Haynes, the two ex-governors, the three clergymen, Cotton, Hooker, and Wilson, and themselves. The discussion finally centred upon whether the mildness of Winthrop or the severity of the fanatical Dudley was the wiser in governing the colony. The question, as usual, was referred to the ministers for their opinion, who gave it in favor of “strict discipline” for the honor and safety of the gospel. Whereupon, Winthrop acknowledged that he had been too lenient, and promised a stricter course thereafter, and Massachusetts took one more step backward. The following spring Vane was elected governor.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hutchinson had won over practically all the Boston church, except Wilson, Winthrop, and a few others, who, however, were strong enough to defeat the proposal to install Wheelwright as teacher. The strife was gradually spreading, and Vane, who had allied himself with the Hutchinson party, made a flimsy excuse to resign the governorship. The Boston church and the Court both refused to consider his reasons valid, and the resignation was withdrawn. A conference of the ministers, called by the Court, was held in December, to try to compose the differences, but accomplished nothing except to increase the bitter feeling between the parties. A day of fasting was proclaimed, and although Wheelwright had removed to Mt. Wollaston, he attended the Boston church on that occasion, and preached his famous “fast-day sermon.” For expressions contained in it, as falsely interpreted by the authorities, he was declared by the Court to have been guilty of contempt and sedition, the same body condemning Stephen Greensmith to a fine of £40 for saying that all the ministers, except Cotton, Wheelwright, and, possibly, Hooker, taught a covenant of works.
Wheelwright having next been summoned to appear before the General Court, a petition was presented, signed by nearly all the members of the Boston church, asking that the hearings should be open to freemen, and that cases of conscience might be first dealt with by the churches. This was declared to be “a groundless and presumptuous act.” Wheelwright’s examination was begun in private, and the authorities stated that it would proceed ex officio. This raised loud complaints among the people, who avowed that it was but one of those High Commission proceedings which they had left England to escape. Wheelwright refused to answer the questions put, and the hearings were finally allowed to be open. The clergy were then asked by the Court whether they did teach a covenant of works. All but Cotton replied in the affirmative, and the verdict was thus foreshadowed. Nevertheless, it took two days of further struggling, again behind closed doors, before the sentence of sedition and contempt could be agreed to, and the party of the priests and magistrates secure their victory. A petition, denying that any of Wheelwright’s utterances had been seditious, was presented to the Court, signed by sixty members of the Boston church, for which they were rebuked by Winthrop.
The majority of the Court, however, evidently feared the next election, and secured the passage of a resolution requiring that the elections should be held at Newtown, and not, as had always been customary, at Boston. At the election, in May, Vane and Winthrop were the opposing leaders, and although the former attempted some ill-judged political manœuvres, the ecclesiastical party was wholly successful. Winthrop was elected governor, Dudley deputy-governor, and Endicott, apparently as a reward for his share in the proceedings, was made a member of the unconstitutional life council, while all the Boston Antinomians were defeated for the magistracy. When, in answer to this, that town next day returned Vane, Coddington, and Hoffe as deputies, the Court “found a means to send them home again,” claiming that two of the Boston freemen had not been notified of the election. The next morning, Boston held a new election, and returned the same deputies, and “the court not finding how they might reject them, they were admitted.”
The victory over Boston, however, was evidently not considered sufficient, and the Court proceeded to pass an immigration law, to the effect that no town could receive any person for a longer time than three weeks without permission of one of the council or two of the magistrates. In other words, no Englishman could settle in Massachusetts without personal permission from Winthrop, Dudley, or Endicott, or two of their eight associates. The law had evidently been framed to prevent any accession to the ranks of the Hutchinson party, and was promptly put into execution on the arrival of a considerable body of newcomers, including a brother of Mrs. Hutchinson, who were forced to leave the colony after having reached its shores. Feeling naturally ran high, and Winthrop defended, while Vane attacked, the validity and justice of such an enactment. With the law already alluded to, placing the whole control of the franchise in the hands of the magistrates and the clergy, and with this new law, which gave the right of admission to the colony wholly to the former, the control of the oligarchy would seem to have been fairly complete.
The Court, however, even as constituted as a result of the May election, did not move rapidly enough in the prosecution of Wheelwright, and was summarily dissolved in September. Sixteen members were dropped, and the new Court, comprising forty-two members, contained twenty-two new names. Even this purge was not enough, and two deputies were expelled, one for declaring that the Boston petition was lawful, and the other for declaring that he believed Wheelwright was innocent and was being persecuted for the truth.
Meanwhile, Vane had returned to England, and a synod of all the clergy had met and declared that there were eighty-two erroneous or blasphemous opinions involved in the controversy. Mr. Cotton, who had no taste for that banishment which he claimed was no hardship, now went over to what was evidently to be the winning side. With a broader mind and wider vision than any of the other clergy of the colony, he had not the courage to stand alone, beyond a certain point, against their unanimity in intolerance. The higher promptings of his nature were crushed by the united voice of the priesthood, as Winthrop’s had been so short a time before, and the noblest of the colony’s leaders, lay and clerical, from that time tended to sink to the lower level of their fellows.
Events now moved more swiftly. At the November Court, Wheelwright was sentenced to be disfranchised and banished, and was refused the privilege of an appeal to England. He was given fourteen days in which to settle his affairs, and at the beginning of winter was on his way to New Hampshire. One of the expelled deputies was disfranchised and threatened with banishment should he “speake anything to disturbe the publike peace.” Another was also disfranchised and banished. Two weeks later, seven of the signers of the petition were disfranchised, and ten more, who acknowledged their “sin” in having signed, were pardoned. The following week, seventyfive men, in the towns of Boston, Salem, Newbury, Roxbury, Ipswich, and Charlestown, were condemned to have all their arms and ammunition taken from them unless they would likewise acknowledge their “sin.” A law was passed that any one who should “defame” any Magistrate or Court, or any of their acts or proceedings, should be fined, imprisoned, disfranchised, or banished.
In the meantime, Mrs. Hutchinson had been brought to trial. When, at its beginning, she asked what law had been broken, the Court answered, “the fifth commandment,” which enjoined her to honor father and mother, whereas she had brought reproach upon the “fathers of the commonwealth.” When the trial was over, and the sentence given that she should be “banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society,” she said, “I desire to know wherefore I am banished.” “Say no more,” answered the Governor; “the Court knows wherefore and is satisfied.”
It was evident now that no voice could be raised in criticism of any acts of the civil or ecclesiastical authorities, and that the minds and lives of the ten thousand or more inhabitants of Massachusetts had come wholly under the control of their rulers. One man, who with a group of people undertook to organize a church without having secured the permission of the magistrates and clergy, was fined £20 and imprisoned “during the pleasure of Court.” Hugh Buet, being found guilty of “heresy,” was condemned to leave the colony within three weeks or be hanged. Two others were imprisoned for criticizing the government and clergy; and, for the same offense, Katherine Finch was ordered to be whipped. In 1635, a law had been passed making church attendance compulsory for all inhabitants, under pain of fine and imprisonment. Three years later, it was enacted that every resident, whether a freeman and church member or not, should be taxed for the support of the ministers. In the Old World, the churches had been satisfied with excommunication, but in Massachusetts, a law was now passed that, if any person was excommunicated by the church, he must endeavor to have himself restored within six months, under penalty of “fine, imprisonment, banishment, or further.” That ominous “further” was evidently intended to mean death, and it is difficult to conceive of a measure more conducive to the rearing of a race of conforming hypocrites.
The policy so ruthlessly followed by the leaders can hardly be excused by attributing it to the spirit of the age or to the necessity of maintaining civil order. They were all familiar with the example of religious toleration in Holland; and in neither Plymouth, Rhode Island, nor Connecticut was church membership a legal requisite for the franchise. Moreover, Massachusetts, only a few years later, in annexing the northern settlements, permitted their inhabitants to vote without being church members, although denying that privilege to her own citizens.
Criticism of the leaders’ actions was severe and constant, even from their best friends in England. The real father of the colony, the Reverend John White, wrote to Winthrop in alarm, saying that he desired him “to have an eye to one thinge, that you fall not into that evill abroad, which you labored to avoyd at home, to binde all men to the same tenets and practise.” Stansby, in a letter to the Reverend Mr. Wilson, complained that, on account of their strictness, over one half of the people were not admitted to church membership, and that this would do them much harm. Stephen Winthrop, temporarily in London, sent home word to his brother John, that ”here is great complaint against us for our severity against Anabaptists. It doth discourage any people from coming to us for fear they should be banished if they dissent from us in opinion.” Sir George Downing, a cousin of the younger Winthrop, in a letter retailing English opinion of the colony, speaks of that “law of banishing for conscience, which makes us stinke everywhere.”
Nor must the standpoint of the English citizen be neglected. England’s American possessions, in spite of monopolies and charters, were coming more and more to be looked upon as the heritage of the English people, as the land of opportunity for those who fell by the wayside in life’s race at home, as well as for religious exiles. Yet here was one of the best parts of the whole continent being monopolized by a band of people who rejected, oppressed, and banished others, or at the least deprived them of all political rights, not because they were undesirable citizens, not because they were immoral, but because they refused to conform to the peculiar church polity and doctrine, neither Church of England nor English Puritan, which the first settlers had evolved in the American wilderness.
Winthrop, in his controversy with Vane over the immigration law, and apologist historians since, have made much of the possible technical rights under the charter possessed by the company members, and their successors in perpetuity, to choose their fellow citizens according to any standard, however fanatical, however unjust, of which they might approve. These rights were questionable, and the controversy has usually ignored those of the potential English colonist at home. But our interest does not lie in legal technicalities: it is concerned with the influences that moulded New England; and from that standpoint, we can only point to the results of the policy of the first leaders and to its baneful effects. As we noted above, Winthrop’s finer impulses had been permanently checked, while Cotton, who might have made a noble leader, was now content to follow natures lower than his own. The voices that had pleaded for religious toleration, for civil liberty, and for a religion of love, were silenced. The intellectual life of the colony ceased to be troubled and entered into peace, but it was the peace of death. The struggle for civil freedom did, indeed, go on, and in that alone lay the sole contribution of the colony to the cause of human progress; for the almost complete suppression of free speech and free inquiry surrendered the intellectual life of Massachusetts to the more and more benumbing influence of a steadily narrowing theology.1 For two centuries, from the day that Winthrop pronounced that verdict, “the Court knows wherefore and is satisfied,” the social and religious life of New England as a whole conformed to the rigid lines of Calvinism in its harshest and least attractive aspects. In England, Puritanism had been grafted upon a national stock of abundant sturdiness and health. In the forests of America, uncultured and ungrafted, the wild fruit grew steadily more gnarled and bitter.
- Robinson, Works, vol. ii, p. 41.
- Cited by A. A. Seaton, The Theory of Toleration under the later Stuarts (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1911), p. 56.
- Mr. Cotton’s Letter examined; Narr. Club Pub., vol. i p. 44.
- White, Planters Plea, p. 43.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 74 f.
- Bradford, Plymouth, p. 253.
- C. F. Adams, New English Canaan of Thomas Morton (Prince Soc., Boston, 1883), p. 41. For a fair and full account, cf. the same author’s Three Episodes, vol. i, pp. 240-50. Morton’s own account is in his New English Canaan, pp. 108 ff.
- Bradford, Plymouth, p. 294.
- P. Oliver, The Puritan Commonwealth (Boston, 1856), p. 35.
- Dudley’s Letter, in Young, Chron. Mass., p. 333.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 83.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 65.
- Bradford, Plymouth, p. 295.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i p. 68.
- C. F. Adams, Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, Series I, vol. XX, p. 80.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 88; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 6].
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 77, 101, 103, 104, 102.
- H. L. Osgood, “New England Colonial Finance in the 17th Century”; Political Science Quarterly, vol. XIX p. 82.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 124.
- M. Eggleston, The Land System of the New England Colonies, Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies, Baltimore, 1886. Cf. also C. M. Andrews, The River Towns of Conn., J. H. U. S., 1889; W. E. Foster, Town Government in Rhode Island, J. H. U. S., 1886; A. B. Maclear, Early New England Towns, Columbia Univ. Studies, 1908; H. L. Osgood, American Colonies, vol. i, pp. 424 ff.; and for English towns on Long Island, J. T. Adams, History of the Town of Southampton (Bridgehampton, 1918), pp. 94-103.
- The occasional few and unimportant exceptions do not affect the general statement.
- Cf. H. B. Adams, The Germanic Origin of New England Towns, J. H. U. S., 1882; Id., Village Communities of Cape Anne and Salem, J. H. U. S., 1883; G. E. Howard, Local Constitutional History of the U. S., J. H. U. S., 1889. Too enthusiastic believers should read “The Survival of Archaic Communities,” in F. W. Maitland, Collected Papers (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1911), vol. ii, pp. 313 ff.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 118.
- Cf. J. H. Lefroy, On the Constitutional History of the Bermudas (Westminster, 1881), p. 6.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 84.
- Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series IV, vol. vi p. 383. The italics are mine.
- Winthrop was a lad of 19 in 1607, and Endicott but 16.
- Acts Privy Council, Colonial, vol. i, p. 183.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 122.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 123 n.
- Records Council for New England; American Antiquarian Society Proceedings, 1866, p. 107.
- C. M. Andrews, British Committees, Commissions, and Councils of Trade and Plantations, 1622-1675, J. H. U. S., 1908, pp. 16 f.
- Acts Privy Council, Colonial, vol. i, p. 199. The order is given in Hubbard, History, p. 153.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 161, 163.
- Baxter, Gorges, vol. iii, pp. 261-75.
- Bradford, Plymouth, p. 330.
- Hazard, Hist. Coll., vol. i, p. 391.
- Hutchinson, History, vol. i, p. 85; Hutchinson, Papers (Prince Soc., Albany, 1865), vol. i, p. 119.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 136-39; J. Winthrop, History, vol. x, pp. 170, 183. They were also asked whether it was lawful to retain the cross in the royal ensign, Endicott having chosen this inopportune moment to give an example of his blundering fanaticism, by cutting it out. Massachusers Records, vol. i, pp. 136, 147; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 175, 183, 199.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 153.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. I, pp. 117 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 181.
- Adams, Three Episodes, vol. i, p. 365.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 181.
- Ibid, vol. i, p. 157.
- R. C. Winthrop, J. Winthrop, vol. ii, p. 271.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 220; Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 167, 174, 195, 264.
- Letter to John Cotton, Jr., 1671 (Narr. Club Pub., vol. vi, p. 356).
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 63.
- The evidence is somewhat conflicting. Cf. citations of authorities in H. M. Dexter, As to Roger Williams (Boston, 1876), p. 5.
- Bradford, Plymouth, p. 310.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 194.
- Ibid., vol. i, p. 195.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 161.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i p. 209.
- Besides his works already referred to, his doctrine of religious liberty found expression in The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, 1644, and The Bloody Tenent yet more Bloody, 1652, reprinted as vols. iii and iiv of the Narr. Club Pub.
- Cf., however, besides the standard histories, J. L. Diman, Preface to Narragansett Club Publications, vol. ii, pp. 1-8; and Dexter, As to Roger Williams. The latter is strongly biased against Williams, and contains some untenable views as to the founders’ attitude toward the charter, but is useful as citing almost all known references to the case. It was critically reviewed by H. S. Barrage, American Historical Association Report, 1899, vol. i, pp. 10-12.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 255.
- The modern literature regarding the Antinomian controversy is large. Cf. C. F. Adams, Antinomianism in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay; Prince Society, Boston, 1894; also his Three Episodes, vols. i, pp. 363, and ii, 533-81. A very lucid account is given by R. N. Jones, The Quakers in the American Colonies (London, 1911), pp. 4-25.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 211 ff.
- Ibid., vol. i, pp. 241 ff.
- It is reprinted by C. H. Bell, John Wheelwright (Prince Society, Boston, 1876), pp. 153 ff.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 189.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 256.
- Adams, Three Episodes, vol. i, pp. 444 f.
- Adams, Antinomianism, pp. 133 ff.; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 183 f.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 191.
- Ibid., vol. i, pp. 195 ff.; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 261 ff.
- Ibid., p. 278.
- The documents are given in the Hutchinson Papers, vol. i, pp. 79-114.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 204, 205.
- They are given in full by Adams, Antinomianism, pp. 95-124; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp, 284 ff., gives an account of the meeting, but mentions only 80.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 207; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 294.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 207-13.
- Adams, Antinomianism, pp. 165, 237. Two reports of the trial are given in that volume, pp. 157-284.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 252, 312, 262, 269, 234.
- Ibid., pp. 140, 240, 242.
- Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series V, vol. i, p. 252; Series IV, vol. vii, p. 11; Series V, vol. viii, p. 200; Series IV, vol. vi, p. 537.