Chapter IV - The Contributions of Independency
OTHER ideals than those of Winthrop and Cotton, fruitful or feculent according to the special bias of whoever judges them, came out of England in the teeming days of the Puritan revolution to agitate the little settlements. A Hebraized theocracy could not satisfy the aspirations of advanced English liberals who were exploring all the avenues to freedom, and who, now that the old feudal bonds were loosening, were projecting a more generous basis for the reorganization of society. The democratic elements were beginning to make their voices heard in England; the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was bearing fruit in the minds of obscure Independents; and the eventual outcome would be the shouldering aside of a snug Presbyterian order, and the clarification of a program for a democratic commonwealth. In those excellent words commonweal and commonwealth-words much on men's tongues in the creative later years of the Puritan revolution was fittingly summed up the political ideal of Independency. English liberalism had come to believe that social conformity, established in the practice of coercion, with its monarchical state and hierarchical church, must give way to an order founded in good will, that conceived of the political state as a publicservice corporation, concerned solely with the "respublica," or public thing, careful of the well-being of all, allowing special rights or grants to none. The state, it was coming to be argued freely, rightly understood, was no other than society organized to further the great end of the commonweal; no longer must it remain a private preserve for gentlemen to hunt over.
But before that should come about a great battle must be fought, in New England as well as in old England. The principle of individual freedom must first be established securely in the public mind, and to that business the party of Independents devoted its energies. In the theory and practice of Independency two fundamental rights were implied: the right of the individual to determine his own belief, uncoerced by external authority; and the right to join freely with his fellows in the institutional expression and spread of such belief. In order to realize the first, it was a necessary preliminary to establish the right of free inquiry on a firm constitutional basis-the principle that the state shall safeguard the citizen in the exercise of such right, and not hinder or thwart him; and in order to realize the second, it was necessary to establish in social practice a much more fiercely disputed principle, namely, the right to proselytize, to spread one's views freely, to endeavor to make them prevail over contrary views. Certainly neither right would be freely granted; they must be won in the teeth of supposedly divine sanctions to conformity. However intimately the two are related, it is over the second that the long fierce battle has been waged in modem history. Liberalism faces no severer test than in its attitude towards the right of unpopular minority propaganda. The broad principle of toleration of differences, so vital to a democratic society, searches out and lays bare every insincerity of liberal professions. The will to power is so universal in appeal, it is so quick to attack every threatening nonconformity, that no other social right has traveled so arduous a road, or lags so far in the rear of the liberal advance. The principle of religious toleration that was involved in the movement of Independency was the ecclesiastical form of a struggle, which, shifting later to the field of politics and then to economics, is still raging about us. The long battle is still far from being won. In few countries today do more than a small minority regard the principle of toleration otherwise than as a social luxury to be indulged in only when times are settled.
It was in the nature of things that a clash should soon come in Massachusetts Bay. There Independency would certainly be looked upon as no better than a weed from the devil's wilderness, and in the name of God and the theocracy it would be trampled under foot. Liberalism and the Cambridge Platform would no more mix than oil and water. But the more immediate and narrower question of religious toleration was only incidental to the broader divergencies that lay in antagonistic principles of church and state, and that brought on the clash. A general engagement was preparing between the principles of Presbyterianism and Independency, and the real issue at stake was the future form of society in New England - whether it was to be aristocratic or democratic. The free environment was a strong stimulus to idealists who looked upon the new field as a heaven-sent opportunity for their own special Utopias to take root, and who would bitterly resent any intrusion by a rival. Commonwealth building is a great adventure, and the Independents with their carefully elaborated plans would not sit quietly by and permit the Saints to preempt the land for their inhospitable theocracy without a struggle. In such a contest the more liberal party was fortunate in its leaders. Thomas Hooker and Roger Williams were men of creative ability, of inflexible purpose, of fine idealism, the ablest amongst the entire group of Puritan immigrants, in whom the great principles of Independency found worthy stewards; and the long struggle they carried on, each in his own way, with the theocratic leaders of Massachusetts was to affect profoundly the later development of New England. In the end the Presbyterianism of Boston was to surrender to the Congregationalism of Hartford. From Connecticut and Rhode Island, it must be recalled, rather than from the Bay colony, came those democratic principles and institutions that were to spread widely in later years, and create the New England that after generations have liked to remember.
THOMAS HOOKER - Puritan Liberal
Among the Englishmen who came to Massachusetts were some to whom the "New England way" seemed to promise a democratic organization of the church, and who looked with disapproval upon the Presbyterizing policy of the oligarchy. Of this number the congregations of Newtown, Dorchester, and Watertown were noteworthy for the quiet determination with which they seceded from the theocratic commonwealth, and set up for themselves in the Connecticut wilderness. Their leaders were liberals who believed that everything should be done decently and in order, but who were determined that the outcome of such decent orderliness should be a free church in a free state; and so while Roger Williams was engaged in erecting the democracy of Rhode Island, Thomas Hooker was as busily engaged in erecting the democracy of Hartford.
Concerning the "grave and judicious Hooker" surprisingly little is known, in spite of the important work that he did and the influence that he wielded during a masterful life. He was evidently a man regardless of fame, who took small pains to publish his virtues for the edification of posterity; what record he left behind bears evidence of being the expression of a man to whom desire for celebrity was nothing in comparison with the needs of his Master's work. Unlike his fellow ministers he was not much given to making books. The works that bore the name of Thomas Hooker on the title-page were put through the press usually by other hands than his, and were taken from shorthand notes. His great contribution, A Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline, published anonymously and in an imperfect form, was written against his will in consequence of his having been drafted for the service by his fellow ministers. In removing from Newtown he cut himself off from the group of diarists who diligently recorded the happenings of the day, and so failed of being portrayed and praised by divers busy pens. Lacking exacter information, we are forced to rely mainly upon such hearsay reports as have come down to us, pieced out by Puritan tradition; and these reports make Thomas Hooker to have been a strong and resourceful man, a better democrat than his fellow ministers, the father of New England Congregationalism as it later came to be when the Presbyterianizing tendency was checked - a practical leader who rejected equally the reactionary theocracy of John Cotton, and the leveling radicalism of Roger Williams.
For the pronounced democratic sympathies of this "light of the western churches"- a sympathy quite unusual in his day and world-some grounds will be discovered in his commonplace origin. Unlike John Cotton, who had a "descent from honourable progenitors," Hooker was sprung from a plain yeoman family that had made no stir in the world. His native hamlet, Marfield in Leicestershire, numbered no more than six houses, tucked away in a secluded countryside. His schooling was got by the aid of scholarships: at Market-Bosworth and later at Cambridge, where he entered as sizar, which meant among other things that he was waiter on tables in the Hall. When he was settled in a fortypound living at Esher, in Surrey, he married a "waiting-woman" to the wife of his patron; and when he died, after a laborious life spent in the cause of righteousness, he left an estate appraised at,
846 pounds, 15 shillings, exclusive of his books, more than half of which modest sum was represented by the Hartford homestead.1Which scanty information is sufficient to tell us that Thomas Hooker was a simple man in worldly ambitions as well as in origin, not given to climbing or feathering his own nest, with none of the great associates or aristocratic ties of Winthrop and Ward and Cotton, a churchman more inclined to the ways of Independency than to Presbyterianism.
In his professional work he was rather the pastor than the teacher, caring more for experimental religion than for theological disputation. He was an embodiment of the moral fervor of the Reformation that protested against the scandal of "dumb priests." He seems to have been the most stimulating preacher of early New England, and it was as a lecturer that he had made a name for himself before he was driven from his English charge by Laud. The lecturer was a characteristic Puritan innovation, much hated by the Anglicans. Translated into a modem equivalent, it meant an agitator who used the pulpit to spread the new gospel of free judgment in religious matters, and other gospels displeasing to absolutism. That such men were not liked by Charles and his Archbishop goes without saying; they were "the people's creatures" -a certain Tory churchman complained to the King-and "blew the bellows of their sedition." Such being the case it seemed but common prudence to muzzle them, and as early as 1622 James laid down an orthodox program, forbidding any of lesser rank than Is a bishop or dean [to] presume to preach in any popular auditory on the deep points of predestination, election, reprobation, or of the universality, efficacy, irresistibility of God's grace," and restricting Sunday afternoon sermons to such innocuous themes as the "Catechism, Creed, or Ten Commandments." 2 It was an endeavor to stop men's thinking by putting the crown of martyrdom on the lovers of truth. To forbid the Puritan to talk of such things, to shut up the Word of God from him, was to blow the bellows of his sedition indeed.
That Thomas Hooker was not a man to be muzzled must have been clear to all who knew his stubborn English will. In his homely vigor he was not unlike Hugh Latimer, direct and vigorous in speech and action, not easily turned aside from the path of duty,possessing much of the old bishop's courage in dealing with great men and their follies. He knew a fool and a tyrant in high places, and was bold to call them by their true names. "He was a person," said Cotton Mather, "who while doing his Master's work, would put a king in his pocket." He was the more dangerous because he had put his own temper under strict governance-" For though he were a man of cholerick disposition, and had a mighty vigour and fervour of spirit . . . yet he had ordinarily as much goverment of his choler as a man has of a mastiff dog in a chain; he 'could let out his dog, and pull in his dog, as he pleased."
So ardent a temperament, joined to remarkable powers of oratory, gave to Thomas Hooker very unusual popular influence, some measure of which is revealed in a letter of a certain sycophant of the court party, who wrote to Laud's tool, Chancellor Duck, under date of May 20, 1629, as follows:
All men's eares -are now filled with ye obstreperous clamours of his followers against my Lord ... as a man endeavouring to suppress good preaching and advance Popery. All would be here very calm and quiet if he [Hooker] might depart.... If he be suspended its the resolution of his friends and himself to settle his abode in Essex, and maintenance is promised him in plentifull manner for the fruition of his private conference~ which hath already more impeached the peace of our church than his publique ministry. His genius will still haunte all the pulpits in ye country, where any of his scholers may be admitted to preach. . . . There be divers young ministers about us ... that spend their time in conference with him; and return home and -preach what he hath brewed. . . . Our people's pallats grow so out of tast yt noe food contents them but of Mr. Hooker's dressing. I have lived in Essex to see many changes, and have seene the people idolizing many new ministers and lecturers, but this man surpasses them all for learning and some other considerable partes and . . . gains more and far greater followers than all before him.... If my Lord tender his owne future peace . . . let him connive at Mr. Hooker's departure.3
Clearly the England of Laud with its pursuivants and tattling tongues of "dumb ministers"-who might well be jealous of his eloquence-was no fit place for the activities of Thomas Hooker. Even though he should be suspended, he would still be reckoned dangerous to prerogative with his private conferences and his following of young ministers. So he was driven overseas into Holland, whence after a few years' experience with the Archbishop's spies, and dislike of the Presbyterian system there practiced, he set forth for America where he arrived on the same boat with John Cotton and Samuel Stone, and was inducted as pastor of the church at Newtown which had been awaiting his coming over. Shortly thereafter began the open dissatisfaction of the Cambridge congregation with the policy of the oligarchy, which resulted three years later in the removal of Hooker and his church to Hartford. The causes of this removal-an event that profoundly agitated the colony-have been much discussed, but they have never been cleared of what may have been an intentional vagueness. Possibly, as Hubbard suggests, there were jealousies between Hooker and Cotton, Winthrop, and Haynes, which it would have been unseemly to expose in open court; 4 but the likelier explanation would seem to lie in the incompatibility of political views, which at bottom was a division on the question of aristocracy or democracy in church and state. The Cambridge men seem to have disliked the oligarchic rule of the magistrates; they doubtless sympathized with the popular party and may have encouraged the counter aggressions of the deputies, whose assertiveness fills so much space in Winthrop's journal and betokens his concern. It is likely that there was more dissatisfaction than got into journals, either private or official; and it is equally likely that Thomas Hooker was a prime force in quickening the democatic unrest. "After Mr. Hooker's coming over," said Hubbard in an often quoted passage, "it was observed that many of the freemen grew to be very jealous of their liberties." Nevertheless, Hooker was not a contentious person, to spread a clamor through the commonwealth and endanger the success of the plantation. He believed that "Time, Place, Outward Decency and Comelinesse" were desirable in the management of public affairs; and so instead of descending to sharp dispute with men whom he respected and loved even though he disagreed with them in political views, he chose to remove quietly out of their jurisdiction, making as little cause for embroilment as possible.
After all, the most illuminating commentary upon the causes of the removal is the spirit of the institutions set up in the new
settlement. While we need not go so far as to assert, with the historians of Connecticut, that "the birthplace of American democracy is Hartford," we must recognize in the Fundamental Orders adopted by the General Assembly, January 14, 1639, a plan of popular government so broadly democratic as to entitle it to be called "the first written constitution of modem democracy." 5 Concerning the important part played by Hooker in this work there can be no doubt. His influence was commanding, and the sneer of old Samuel Peters - "Hooker reigned twelve years high-priest over Hertford "-scarcely overstates the fact. And this great influence was thrown persistently in favor of democratic procedure in church and state. He definitely rejected the Boston practice of magisterial autocracy. In opposition to Winthrop, who asserted, "Whatsoever sentence the magistrate gives, the judgment is the Lord's, though he do it not by any rule prescribed by civil authority," Hooker argued:
That in the matter which is referred to the judge, the sentence should lie in his breast, or be left to his discretion, according to which he should go, I am afraid it is a course which wants both safety and warrant. I must confess, I ever looked. at it as a way which leads directly to tyranny, and so to confusion, and must plainly profess, if it was in my liberty, I should choose neither to live nor leave my posterity under such a government. 6
At another time, replying to Winthrop's justification of oligarchic rule on the ground that "the best part is always the least, and of that best part the wiser is always the lesser," Hooker frankly rested his case for democracy on the good sense of the people as a whole:
It is also a truth that counsel should be sought from counsellors; but the question yet is, who should those be. Reserving smaller matters which fall in occasionally in common course, to a lower counsel, in matters of greater importance which concerns the common good, a general counsel chosen by all, I conceive, under favour, most suitable to rule and most safe for relief of the whole.7
Before the General Court, on May 3 1, 1638, eight months before the Fundamental Orders were adopted, Hooker preached a remarkable sermon on popular sovereignty. Taking for his text Deut. 1:13 - the passage on which John Eliot later erected his fantastic Utopia-he elaborated the thesis that "the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people," and therefore that "the choice of public magistrates belongs unto he people by God's own allowance," and "they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power also, to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them." 8 This was Hooker's reply to the oligarchic policy of the Bay in limiting the number of freemen in order to maintain the supremacy of the magistrates; and it throws light on the comment written out of England in the spring of 1636, to John Wilson, that "there is great division of judgment in matters of religion amongst good ministers & people which moved Mr. Hoker to remove"; and that "you are so strict in admission of members to your church, that more than halfe are out of your church in all your congregations, & that Mr.Hoker before he went away preached against yt (as one reports who hard him)."9 In the new commonwealth there was neither a property qualification nor a religious test limiting the right of franchise; the admission of freemen was reckoned a political matter and left to the several township democracies. The reaction against the oligarchic policy of Massachusetts Bay carried far.
If we had Hooker's sermon in full we should know much more bout his political theory; yet even from the meager and tantalizing notes that have been preserved, we can deduce fairly certainly he major principles of his philosophy. Three creative ideas seem to have determined his thinking: the compact theory of the state, he doctrine of popular sovereignty, and the conception of the state as a public-service corporation, strictly responsible to the ill of the majority-ideas that Roger Williams elaborated in detail and during many years of service reduced to a working system in the commonwealth of Rhode Island. That Hooker should have grasped so firmly the essentials of the new democratic theory will surprise no one who is acquainted with the political speculations of English Independency. They were all implicit the new theory of church and state that, such thinkers as Williams and Vane and Milton were clarifying, and since the days of Robert Browne they had been familiar in one form or another to the young Puritan radicals at the universities. The compact idea, which held in solution the doctrine of natural rights, had established itself firmly in New England with the coming of the Pilgrims. The Mayflower compact and the church covenant provided the basis for the social organization of Plymouth; and the covenant idea had taken so strong a hold on the popular mind of Massachusetts Bay that the astute leaders of the oligarchy were quick to see the advantage of investing the charter, in the popular imagination, with the sanctity of the compact idea; and by a subtle process of idealizing, they transmuted the charter of a trading company into a fundamental organic law, that was reckoned an adequate written constitution to safeguard the rights of the people. It was a clever political move, but it seems not to have satisfied Thomas Hooker, who was too liberal in his views to accept the shadow for the substance. As a left-wing Independent he would have a real compact, and a popular fundamental law to safeguard the liberties of the people; and he saw to it that the new commonwealth was broadly based on the common will, rather than narrowly on the rule of the gentry. The democractic order of Connecticut was English Independency transplanted to the new world.
To Hooker New England Congregationalism owes as great a debt as does New England democracy. The last great work he undertook was a defense of the New England way against the criticism of the English Presbyterians. He was to prove a powerful advocate, for not only was he intellectually equipped to write a knotty book in answer to other knotty books, but unlike Cotton and Davenport and Mather, he was wholly in sympathy with Congregationalism, and had no mind to conceal or equivocate concerning its democratic tendencies. He would write no apology, but a frank and vigorous defense. His church polity, as elaborated in his Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline, is professedly Hebraic. "Ecclesiastical Policy," he asserts baldly, "is a skill of ordering the affairs of Christ's house, according to the pattern of his word," and he then proceeds to postulate the principle of absolutism by accepting a divine sovereign will. But this divine overeignty was a blow struck at all temporal absolutisms, for it poke through no vicegerent of pope, bishop, presbytery or magistrate, but only through the voice of the individual subject. It is the priesthood of all believers. "The Supreme and Monarchicall power resides onely in our Saviour, can onely be given and attributed to him, and to none other." There remained, then, the difficult business of determining how the sovereign will of Christ is to be wrought on earth, and into this Hooker delved with such convincing thoroughness that, in his own words, "no man that hath supped on Logick, hath a forehead to gainsay" his conclusions. He was bold in innovation-" a cause is not the lesse true, because of late discovered"; but after quieting "the stomachs of such, whose expectations are not answered in any opinion, unless it be moldy with age," he proceeds to explain the true nature of church organization thus:
But whether all Ecclesiasticall power be impaled, impropriated, and rightly taken in to the Presbytery alone: Or that the people of the Particular Churches should come in for a share, according to their places and proportions; This is left as the subject of the inquiry of this age, and that which occasions great thought of heart of all hands: Great thoughts of hearts in the Presbytery, as being very loth to part with that so chief privilege, and of which they have taken possession so many years. Great Thoughts of heart amongst the Churches, how they may clear their right, and claim it in such pious sobriety and moderation, as becomes the Saints: being unwilling to loose their cause and comfort, meerly upon a nihil dicit: or forever to be deprived of so precious a legacy, as they conceive this is, though it bath been withheld from them, by the tyranny of the Pope, and prescription of times. Nor can they conceive it lesse, then a beedless betraying of their speciall liberties, and not selling but casting away their inheritance, and right, by a careless silence, when the course of providence, as the juncture of times now present themselves, allows them a writt Ad melius inquirendum. . . . These are the times when people shall be fitted for such priviledges, fit I say to obtain them, and fit to use them. . . . And whereas it hath been charged upon the people, that through their ignorance and unskilfulnesse, they are not able to wield such priviledges, and therefore not fit to share in any such power, The Lord hath promised: To take away the vail from all faces in the mountain, the weak shall be as David, and David as an Angel of God.10
The church of Visible Saints confederating together to walk in the fellowship of the faith . . . is Totum essentiale. . . . Election of the People rightly ordered by the rule of Christ, gives the essentials to an Officer, or leaves the impression of a true outward Call, and so an Officepower upon a Pastor . . . there is a communicating of Power by Voluntary Subjection when, though there be no Office-power, formaliter in the people, yet they willingly yeelding themselves to be ruled by another, desiring and calling of him to take that rule; he accepting of what they yeeld, possessing that right which they put upon him, by free consent; hence ariseth this Relation and authority of Office-rule.11
It is crabbed prose, not altogether worthy of a man who kept
the thorns crackling under the pot when he stood face to face with
his congregation, and though we may feel inclined to accept the challenge of a certain old Puritan, and "lay a caveat against the author's sweet and solid handling" of his matter, we shall be little inclined to lay a caveat against his doctrine. Here is no cauistry like John Cotton's, denying Congregationalism while ostensibly defending it; but a frank acceptance of the supreme power of the people. "The Lord hath promised to take away the veil from all faces"-in this faith Thomas Hooker walked all his days, and what he could himself do to remove the veil from the faces of the common people, he did heartily as unto the Lord, thereby proving his right to be remembered among the early stewards of our American democracy.
ROGER WILLIAMS - Seeker
The gods, it would seem, were pleased to have their jest with Roger Williams by sending him to earth before his time. In manner and speech a seventeenth-century Puritan controversialist, in intellectual interests he was contemporary with successive generations of prophets from his own days to ours. His hospitable mind anticipated a surprising number of the idealisms of the future. As a transcendental mystic he was a forerunner of Emerson and the Concord school, discovering an indwelling God of love in a
world of material things; as a speculative Seeker he was a fore-
runner of Channing and the Unitarians, discovering the hope of a
more liberal society in the practice of the open mind; as a political philosopher he was a forerunner of Paine and the French romantic school, discovering the end of government in concern for the respublica, and the cohesive social tie in the principle of good will. Democrat and Christian, the generation to which he belongs is not yet born, and all his life he remained a stranger amongst men. Things natural and right to John Cotton were no better than an-achronisms to him. He lived and dreamed in a future he was not to see, impatient to bring to men a heaven they were unready for. And because they were unready they could not understand the
grounds of his hope, and not understanding they were puzzled and angry and cast him out to dream his dreams in the wilderness. There was abundant reason for his banishment. A child of light, he came bringing not peace but the sword. A humane and liberal spirit, he was groping for a social order more generous than any theocracy-that should satisfy the aspirations of men for a catholic fellowship, greater than sect or church, village or nation, embracing all races and creeds, bringing together the sundered societies of men in a common spirit of good will.
Roger Williams was the most provocative figure thrown upon
the Massachusetts shores by the upheaval in England, the one original thinker amongst a number of capable social architects.
An intellectual barometer, fluctuating with every change in the
rising storm of revolution, he came transporting hither the new and
disturbant doctrines of the Leveler, loosing wild foxes with fire
brands to ravage the snug fields of the Presbyterian Utopia. He
was the "first rebel against the divine church-order established in
the wilderness," as Cotton Mather rightly reported. But he was
very much more than that; he was a rebel against all the stupidities that interposed a barrier betwixt men and the fellowship of their dreams. Those who found such stupidities serviceable to their ends, naturally disliked Roger Williams and believed they were serving God by undoing his work. There is a naive passage in the Magnalia that suggests how incomprehensible to the theocratic mind was this stormy petrel that came out of England to flutter and clamor about Boston and Salem, until he was driven forth to find such resting place as he might, there to bring forth after his kind.
In the year 1654, a certain windmill in the Low Countries, whirling round with extraordinary violence, by reason of a violent storm then blowing, the stone at length by its rapid motion became so intensely hot as to fire the mill, from whence the flames, being dispersed by the high winds, did set a whole Town on fire. But I can tell my reader that, above twenty years before this, there was a whole country in America like to be set on fire by the rapid motion of a Windmill in the head of one particular man. 12
And John Cotton, worsted in his bout with his brilliant antagonist,and perhaps frightened at the latter's free speculation, found such satisfaction as he could in epithets. Roger Williams was an "evill worker"; his "head runneth round"; "it would weary a sober minde to pursue such windy fancies," such "offensive and dis-
turbant doctrines"; when "a man is delivered up to Satan . . .
no marvell if he cast forth fire-brands, and arrows, and mortall-
things"; "it is such a transcendent light, as putteth out all the
lights in the world besides."
The open facts of Roger Williams' life are known to everybody. Born in the year 1603,13 he became a protege of the great Coke, was educated at Cambridge, and destined for the law, but forsook it for the ministry. He was well advanced in his studies and coming to conclusions that must have disturbed his conservative friends, at the time of the Great Migration. Beginning as an Anglican, then turning Separatist, then Baptist, and finally Seeker,14the is perhaps more adequately described as a Puritan intellectual who became a Christian freethinker, more concerned with social comonwealths than with theological dogmas. He passed rapidly through successive phases of current thought to end as a Leveler. Before quitting England he had embraced the principle of Separatism, and on his first coming over he refused the teachership of the Boston church-the position given to Cotton two years laterbecause it had not broken wholly with Anglicanism. He went to the more liberal Salem, where his inconvenient questioning of land titles and his views on the charter brought him into conflict with the Boston authorities. Refusing to be silenced he was banished and made his way to Rhode Island-" sorely tossed for one fourteen weeks, in a bitter winter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean "-there to found a commonwealth on democratic principles.
Yet how inadequately do such meager facts reveal the deeper sources of his militancy! He lived in the realm of ideas, of inquiry and discussion; and his actions were creatively determined by principles the bases of which he examined with critical insight. Instead of being a weather vane, blown about by every wind of doctrine, he was an adventurous pioneer, surveying the new fields
of thought laid open by the Reformation, and marking out the
several spheres of church and state in the ordering of a true
commonwealth. He was the incarnation of Protestant individualism, seeking new social ties to take the place of those that were loosening, and as a child of a great age of political speculation his religion issued in political theory rather than in theological dogma. Like other Separatist-Levelers he had penetrated to the foundations of the New Testament and had taken to heart the revolutionary ideals that underlie its teachings. It was the spirit of love that served as teacher to him; love that exalted the meanest to equality with the highest in the divine republic of Jesus, and gave an exalted sanction to the conception of a Christian commonwealth. He regarded his fellow men literally as the children of God and brothers in Christ; and from this primary conception of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, he deduced his political philosophy. Like Charming two hundred years later, lie sought to adjust his social program to the determining fact that human worth knows neither Jew nor Gentile, rank nor caste; and following the example of his Master he went forth into a hostile world, seeking to make it over.
With this spirit of Christian fellowship, warm and human and lovable, repudiating all coercion, there was joined an eager mysticism-a yearning for intimate personal union with Christ as symbolized in the parable of the vine and the branches, a union as close as that of the bride and her husband. Running through his writings is a recurrent echo of the Hebrew love-song that Puritan thought suffused with a glowing mysticism: "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies. . . . I
will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth." But when he went out into the broad ways of Carolinian England, seeking the rose of Sharon and the Illy of the valley, he discovered only abominations. The lover was tempted by false kisses; the Golden Image was set up in the high places, and the voice of authority commanded to bow down to it. And so as a Christian mystic Roger Williams became a Separatist, and set his mind upon the new world as a land where the lover might dwell with his bride. Yet upon his arrival there he found the churches still "implicitly National," and "yet asleep in respect of abundant ignorance and negligence, and
consequcntly gross abominations and pollutions of Worship,
in which the choicest servants of God, and most faithful Witnesses of many truths have lived in more or lesse, yea in maine and fundamental points, ever since the Apostasie." Which "abominations and pollutions of Worship," he now proposed to sweep away altogether."15 It was not an easy program, nor one entered upon lightly. Better than most, Roger Williams understood how closely interwoven were the threads of church and state. Separatism, with its necessary corollary of toleration, could not be unraveled from Carolinian society without loosening the whole social fabric. It was a political question even more than ecclesiastical; and it could Justify itself only in the light of a total political philosophy. No other man in New England comprehended so fully the difficulties involved in the problem, as Roger Williams, or examined them so thoroughly; and out of his long speculations emerged a theory of the commonwealth that must be reckoned the richest contribution of Puritanism to American political thought.
The just renown of Roger Williams has too long been obscured by ecclesiastical historians, who in emphasizing his defense of the principle of toleration have overlooked the fact that religious toleration was only a necessary deduction from the major principles of his political theory, and that he was concerned with matters far more fundamental than the negative virtue of non-interference in the domain of individual faith. He was primarily a political philosopher rather than a theologian-one of the acutest and most searching of his generation of Englishmen, the teacher of Vane and Cromwell and Milton, a forerunner of Locke and the natural-rights school, one of the notable democratic thinkers that the English race has produced. Much of his life was devoted to the problem of discovering a new basis for social reorganization, and his intellectual progress was marked by an abundant wreckage of
obsolete theory and hoary fiction that strewed his path. He was a social innovator on principle, and he left no system unchallenged; each must Justify itself in reason and expediency or be put aside. Broadly the development of his thought falls into three stages: the substitution of the compact theory of the state for the divineright theory; the rejection of the suppositious compact of the earlier school and the fictitious abstract state-still postulated by many thinkers-and the substitution of a realistic conception of the political state as the sovereign repository of the social will, and the government-or agent of the stateas the practical instrument of society to effect its desired ends; and finally, the difficult problem of creating the necessary machinery of a democratic commonwealth, as the exigencies of the Rhode Island experiment required. Throughout, the inspiration of his thinking was social rather than narrowly political or theological, and the creative source would seem to have been the middle ages with their fruitful principle of men in a given society enrolling themselves voluntarily as members of bodies corporate, finding in such corporate ties a sufficient and all-embracing social bond."16
In his substitution of the compact theory for divine right, Williams was brought face to face with the fundamental assumption of the Massachusetts theocracy, based on numerous passages of Scripture, that the political state is established and sanctioned by the God of the Hebrews-an assumption that was freely used to justify the engrossing of authority by the magistracy. As a theologian he critically examined the Scriptural authorities, and while conceding the divine source of government in general, he was careful to cut away all autocratic deductions from the Pauline assertion that "the powers that be are ordained of God." "Government and order in families, towns, etc., is an ordinance of the Most High, Rom. 13, for the peace and good of mankind" 11 he admitted; but he agreed with Richard Hooker in discovering this order of government to be no other than natural law. The state is divine in origin because it is natural, and what is natural is of God. The Hebraic commonwealth had been established immediately in an ordinance of Jehovah, but Christ and his disciples
regarded the state and God as distinct authorities, not to be confused-" Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." The conclusion at which he arrived, then, from the merging of divine ordinances and natural law, was expressed in a doctrine that sets apart the individual citizen in all his spiritual and intellectual rights, from the subject of the commonwealth, and provides the basis for his principle of toleration. "A Civill Government is an ordinance of God, to conserve the Civil peace of the people, so farre as concerns their Bodies and Goods," and no farther." From this position he never retreated.
Every lawful Magistrate whether succeeding or elective, is not only the Minister of God, but the Minister or servant of the people also (what people or nation so ever they be all the world over), and that Minister or Magistrate goes beyond his commission who intermeddles with that which cannot be given him in commission from the people . . . .19
Having thus reduced the divine-right field within narrow limits and translated it into an abstraction, he preempts all the ground of practical politics for his compact theory. In accord with a long line of liberal thinkers running back through Richard Hooker to Augustine and the earlier Roman school, he accepted the major deductions from the compact theory of the state: that government is a man-made institution, that it rests on consent, and that it is founded on the assumed equality of the subjects. He had only to translate these abstractions into concrete terms, and apply them realistically, to create a new and vital theory. The covenant idea of church organization had long been familiar to Separatists. To this the Pilgrims had added the Mayflower compact and Thomas Hooker had drawn up the Connecticut compact. Government resting on consent and authorized by written agreement was then no untried novelty when Roger Williams began his long speculations on the nature and functions of the political state.f Hobbes he traced the origin of the state to social necessity. The condition of nature is a condition of anarchy -a war of all against all; and for mutual protection the state takes its rise. "The World otherwise would be like a sea, wherein Men, like Fishes, would hunt and devoure each other, and the greater devour the lessee."20 But unlike the fiction assumed by Hobbes and Locke, this was no suppositious contract between ruler and ruled in prehistoric times, but present and actual, entered into between the several members of a free community for their common governance; nor on the other hand, like Burke's irrevocable compact, was it an unyielding constitution or fundamental law; but flexible, responsive to changing conditions, continually modified to meet present needs. It is no other than a mutual agreement, arrived at frankly by discussion and compromise, to live together in a political union, organizing the life of the commonwealth in accordance with nature, reason, justice, and expediency.
From this conception of the flexible nature of compact law came the sharp delimitation between state and government that he was at pains to make clear, and that constitutes a significant phase of his theory. Having rejected in his thinking the fictitious abstract state, the repository of an equally fictitious abstract sovereignty, he located sovereignty in the total body of citizens embraced within the community consciousness, acting in a political capacity. The state is society organized, government is the state functioning-it is the political machinery devised by the sovereign people to effect definite ends. And since the single end and purpose for which the body of citizens erect the state is the furtherance of the communal wellbeing, the government becomes a convenient instrument to serve the common weal, responsible to the sovereign people and strictly limited by the terms of the social agreement. "The Sovereign power of all civill Authority," he asserted, "is founded in the consent of the People that every Commonwealth hath radically and fundamentally. The very Common-weales, Bodies of People . . . have fundamentally in themselves the Root of Power, to set up what Government and Governors they shall agree upon. Since governments are but "Derivatives and Agents immediately derived and employed as eyes and hands and instruments," the state or sovereign people can make their "own severall Lawes and Agreements . . . according to their several Natures, Dispositions and Constitutions, and their Common peace and wellfare."22 Final appeal is to "the Bar of the People or Commonweal, where all may personally meet, as in some Commonweales of small number, or in greater by their Representatives "-a system that suits with the "Nature, Conditions and circumstances of the People," according to the "Circumstances of time and place.23"In a well-known passage he puts the matter more compactly, thus:
From this Grant I infer . . . that the Soveraigne, originall, and foundation of civill power lies in the People. . . . And if so, that a People may erect and establish what forme of Government seemes to them most meete for their civill condition: It is evident that such Governments as are by them erected and established, have no more power, nor for no longer time, hen the civill power or people consenting and agreeing shall betrust thern with. This is cleere not only in Reason, but in the experience of all commonweales, where the people are not deprived
of their naturall freedom by the power of Tyrants.24
The state, then, is society working consciously through experience and reason, to secure for the individual citizen the largest measure of freedom and well-being. It is armed with a potential power of coercion, but only to secure justice. In such a state government can subsist only by making proselytes to sound
reason, by compromise and arbitration, and not by force. But if
sovereignty inheres in the majority will, what securities remain for individual and minority rights? What fields lie apart from the
inquisition of the majority, and by what agencies shall the engross
ing of power be thwarted? The replies to such questions, so fun
damental to every democratic program, he discovers in a variety
of principles; to the former in an adaptation of the spirit of medieval society that restricted political functions by social usage, and to the latter by the application of local home rule, the initiative and the referendum, and the recall. In the large field he ascribes to social custom, he was a follower of Luther and a forerunner of French romantic thinkers. His creative conception was an adaptation of the medieval theory of the corporation, or group of persons voluntarily joining for specific purposes under the law; and this idea he applies to the vexed question of the relation of church and state. The legal status of the church, he argued, is identical with that of a trading company; it is a corporate body with corporate rights, and the several members enjoy all the freedoms and privileges that inhere in them by law and nature in their civil capacity. The character of its membership and the content of its creed are of no different concern to the civil magistrates than those of any other corporation. "The state religion of the world," he asserted, "is a Politic invention of men to maintain the civil state. 25 Elaborated at greater length, his thesis is this:
The Church or company of worshippers (whether true or false) is like unto a . . . Corporation, Society, or Company . . . in London; which Companies may hold their Courts, keep their Records, hold disputations; and in matters concerning their Societie, may dissent, divide, breake into Schismes and Factions, sue and implead each other at the Law, yea wholly breake up and dissolve into pieces and nothing, and yet the peace of the Citie not be in the least measure impaired or disturbed- because the essence or being of the Citle, and so the well-being and peace thereof is
essentially distinct from those particular Societies; the Citie-Courts, Citie Lawes, Citie-punishments distinct from theirs. The Citie was before them, and stands absolute and intire, when such a Corporation or Societie is taken down.21
Having thus effectively secularized the church on its institutional side, he laid down twelve theses, of which these reach to the heart of the matter:
(1) God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill state; which inforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the civill Warre, ravishing of conscience, persecution
of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisie and destruction of millions of souls. (2) It is the will
and command of God, that . . . a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships, bee granted to all men in all Nations and Countries: and they are onely to bee fought against with that Sword which is onely
(in Soule matters) able to conquer, to wit, the Sword of Gods Spirit, the Word of God. (3) True civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or Kingdome, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.21
Abhorrent as such doctrine was to the Massachusetts theocrats,
Roger Williams did not cease to press home to their minds and
consciences. "I know and am persuaded he wrote Winthrop on
July 21, 1637, "that your misguidings are great and lamentable,
and the further you pass in your way, the further you wander,
and the end of one vexation will be but the beginning of another,
till conscience be permitted (though erroneous) to be free amongst
you." 28 It was not toleration in the narrow sense of benevolent non-interference by an authority that refrained from exercising its reserved right, that Roger Williams was interested in; it was rather religious liberty as a fundamental right, that had never been surrendered to the civil power, that lay beyond its jurisdiction and was in no way answerable to it, that he upheld in his great work The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause
of Conscience; and the long dispute with John Cotton was, in its deeper significance, a dispute between two schools of political theory and two experiments in commonwealth building. In that notable debate aristocracy and democracy joined issues, and the vital question of the rights and liberties of the individual citizen in the political state for the first time was critically examined in America.
From the foregoing analysis of his political theory it should be
clear that Roger Williams was a confirmed individualist who carried to its logical conclusion the Reformation principle of the right of private inquiry. Only Vane and Milton of his generation of Englishmen went so far along that path. He had seen the liberalisms involved in Luther's premises submerged by the rising nationalism which ambitious princes found useful for selfish ends; and he had seen the policy of the Massachusetts magistrates drivng boldly in the same direction. That Rhode Island should not repeat the old unhappy mistake of coercive absolutism, was a matter therefore of vital concern to him. A great experiment in democracy was to be tried, and to that experiment he devoted his life. Into the form and structure of the new commonwealth wenhel best thought of English Independency. It was founded on theprinciples of "liberty and equality, both in land and governnent"29 and established in the sovereignty of the people. Thatgovernment should not engross its powers, the compact entered into provided for frequent elections, a single-chambered legislature, joint and individual initiative of laws, compulsory referendum, the right of recall of all laws including the constitution,and appeal to arbitration. A rigid constitution, augumenting in authority with age and veneration, Roger Williams feared as acutely as did Paine or Jefferson. To vest sovereignty in the courts through the right of review and interpretation was repugnant to his whole political theory. The fundamental law could be interpreted only by the power that created it originally, namely, the sovereign people acting in a political capacity. Within the larger framework of the state the
several towns retained the right of home rule in local matters. They were corporations, erected like the church in the spirit of medieval corporate law, competent to rule themselves, yet not
infringing on the sovereignty that granted them their powers. In short, to adapt the words of a modern student, the state of Rhode Island as erected by Roger Williams in accordance
with the principles of his political philosophy, was "nothing so much as a great public-service corporation.30 Or, as another student has put it, "If democracy . . . in its ultimate meaning be held to imply not only a government in which the preponderant share of power resides in the hands of the people, but
a society based on the principles of political and religious freedom, Rhode Island beyond any other of the American
Colonies is entitled to be called democratic." 31
It was a hazardous experiment to undertake in an age when the ark of the democratic covenant found few places of refuge.
Its friends were only a handful and its enemies many and powerful, and had it not been for a group of defenders in Parliament, the Rhode Island venture would have been brought to a speedy end. English Independency saved for America what English Presbyterianism would have destroyed. To Sir Harry Vane Rhode Island
owes a debt of gratitude second only to that due Roger Williams. But though its godly neighbors were not permitted to destroy
Rhode Island, they were free to slander and spread evil reports, and so thoroughly did they do their work that for upwards
of two hundred years the little commonwealth was commonly spoken of in such terms as Rogues Island and the State of Confusion; not indeed, till it left off following agrarian and Populistic gods, till it had ceased to be democratic, did it become wholly respectable. It was not so much the reputed turbulence of Rhode Island that was disapproved by the Boston magistrates; but rather the disturbing example of a colony at their very doors, which, in denying the right of the godly to police society, gave encouragement to evil -disposed persons in their own sober commonwealth. Every democracy, they believed, was so notoriously mad and lawlessas both sacred and profane authorities had sufficiently demonstrated that the Boston oligarchy never forgave Parliament for refusing them permission to establish a mandatory over their self-willed neighbors.
It was to prevent such meddling that Roger Williams bad been at pains to secure a Parliamentary charter; and he saw to it that the charter terms should not restrict the democratic liberties. His faith in the sobriety and good sense of the people of Rhode Island was never shaken. In spite of many difficulties that grew
out of the sharp individualism of vigorous characters, the colony proved to be a good place to dwell for those who were content to share the common rights and privileges. In a letter to Vane, written in 1654, the founder apologizes for some of the things reported of them, but the apology does not detract from the just pride with which he contemplated the solid achievements of the Rhode Island experiment:
Possibly a sweet cup hath rendered many of us wanton. We have long drunk of the cup of as great liberties as any people we can hear of under the whole heaven. We have not only been long free
(together with all New England) from the iron yolk of wolfish bishops, and their popish ceremonies . . . but
we have sitten quiet and dry from the streams of blood spilt by that war in our native Country. We have not felt the new chains of Presbyterian tyrants, nor in this colony have we been consumed
with the over-zealous fire of the (so called) godly christian magistrates. Sir, we have not known what an excise means; we have almost forgotten what tithes are, yea, or taxes either, to church or commonwealth. We could name other special privileges, ingredients of our sweet cup, which your great wisdom knows
to be very powerful (except more than ordinary Watchfulness) to render the best of men wanton and forgetful.32
England gave her best when she sent us Roger Williams. A great thinker and a bold innovator, the repository of the generous liberalisms of a vigorous age, he brought with him the fine wheat of long years of English tillage to sow in the American wilderness. How much America owes to him is perhaps, after all the intervening
years, not adequately realized; the shadow of Massachusetts Bay still too much obscures the large proportions of one who was certainly the most generous, most open-minded, most lovable, of the Puritan emigrants-the truest Christian amongst many who sincerely desired to be Christian. He believed in men and in their native justice, and he spent his life freely in the cause of humanity. Neither race nor creed sundered him from his follows; the Indian was his brother equally with the Englishman. He was a Leveler
because he was convinced that society with its caste institutions unjustly with the common man; he was a democrat because he believed that the end and object of the political state was the common well-being; he was an iconoclast because he was convinced that the time had come when a new social order must be
erected on the decay of the old. " Liberavi animam meam," he said with just pride; "I have not hid within my breast my souls belief." "It was more than forty years after his exile that he lived here," wrote Cotton Mather, "and in many things acquitted himself so laudably, that many juditious persons judged him to have the root of the matter in him, during the long winter of this retirement." Since those words were written increasing
numbers of "juditious persons have come to agree with the reluctant judgment of Cotton Mather, and are verily persuaded that Master Roger Williams" had the root of the matter in him." In his own day he was accounted an enemy of society, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts has never rescinded the decree of banishment issued against him; yet like so many unshackled thinkers, he was a seeker after a better order, friend to a nobler and more humane society. If he transported to America the democratic aspirations
of English Independency, it is perhaps well to recall the price that was exacted of him for his service:
Let the reader fancy him in 1640, a man of thirty-four, of bold and stout jaws, but with the richest and softest eyes, gazing out over the Bay of his dwelling, a spiritual Crusoe, the excommunicated even of Hugh Peters, and the most extreme and outcast soul in all America.33
1See Walker, Thomas Hooker, Preacher, Founder, Democrat
4The testimony of Roger Williams seems to imply as much: "Mr. Haynes, Governor of Connecticut, though he pronounced sentence of my long banishment against me, at Cambridge, then Newtown, yet said to me . . . 'I think, Mr. Williams, I must now confess to you, that the most wise God hath provided and cut out this part of His world for a refuge and receptacle for all sorts of consciences. I am now under a cloud, and my brother Hooker, with the Bay, as you have been we have removed from them thus far, and yet they are not satisfied."' (Letter to Major Mason , in Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. V1, p. 133 ff.)
5Borgeaud, The Rise of Modern Democracy, p. 123
6Quoted in J.T. Adams, The Founding of New England, p. 194
7Walker, Thomas Hooker, etc., p.122
10 Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline, Introduction.
11Ibid., Part II, pp.66,72.
12Magnalia, Vol.II, p.495.
13 For the date, see Rhode Island Historical Society, Vol. VIII, p. iS6; Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. V1, p. 599.
14The Seekers were thus described by a contemporary English pen: "Many have wrangled so long about the Church that at last they have quite lost it, and go under the name of Expecters and Seekers, and do deny that there is any Church, or any true minister, or anv ordinances; some of them affirm the Church to be in the wilderness, and they are seeking for it there; others say that It is it] the smoke of the Temple, and that they are groping for it there where I leave them praying to God." (Paget, Heresiography; quoted in Masson, Life of .1filton, Vol. 111, p. IS3.)
15 The Biblical authority for Separatism Williams found in both general and specific injunctions. The former, in the second commandment, in the third chapter of Daniel, in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of Revelation-the "wine of her fornication" being the ceremonial and ordinances of the English church-and in the Song of Solomon. The latter were: Revelation, 184: "And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins . . . ... ; Isaiah, 53:11: "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch not the unclean thing; go ye out in the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord"; 11 Corinthians, 6:17: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you." On these texts he based his argument with Cotton for the total separation of the New England churches. (See Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. 1, P. 300
16 For much of the material made use of here, I am indebted to The Political Theory of Roger Williams, a dissertation by Dr. James E. Ernst of the University of Washington.
17"Letter to the Town Clerk of Providence," in Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. VI, p. 401
18"The B1oudy Tenent," in Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. III, p. 349.
19 " The Bloudy Tenent Yet More Bloody," in Narragansett Club Publications, Vol.IV, p. 487
20"The Bloudy Tenent," in Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. III, P. 398.
21See Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. III, pp. 214, 355, 366.
22"The Bloudy Tenent Yet More Bloody," in ibid., Vol. IV, P. 487.
23,24"The Bloudy Tenent," in ibid., Vol. III, P. 248
25"The Bloudy Tenent Yet More Bloody," in ibid., Vol. IV, p. 222.
26"The Bloudy Tenent," in ibid., Vol. 111, P. 76.
27Preface to "The Bloudy Tenent " in ibid., Vol. 111, P. 3.
28Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. VI, P.51.
29 "Letter to the Town of Providence," in Narragansett Club Publications, Vol. V1, p. 263.
30Duguit, Law in the Modern State, p. 51.
31Gooch, History of Democratic Ideas, P.
32Narraganselt Club Publications, Vol. V1, P. 268.
33Masson, Life of Milton, Vol. II P. 563.