Chapter V - Other Dreamers In Israel


NATHANIEL WARD - Elizabethan Puritan

THE most caustic pen of early New England was wielded by the lawyer-minister and wit, Nathaniel Ward of Ipswich, author of the crochety little book, The Simple Cobler of Aggawam, and chief compiler of the celebrated Body of Liberties. He is a strange figure to encounter in the raw little settlements. To come into his presence is to feel oneself carried back to an earlier age, when the courtly wits were weaving their silken terms into gorgeous tapestries. Born about the year 1578, he was only five years younger than Ben Jonson. Highly educated and intimate with the best society of England and the continent, he was well advanced in middle life when he set foot in the new world, and in his late sixties when he wrote The Simple Cobler. Far more strikingly than any of his emigrant brethen he belonged in taste and temperament to the later Elizabethan world, which lingered on into the reigns of James and Charles, zealously cultivating its quaint garden of letters, playing with inkhorn terms, and easing its cares with clever conceits. Faithful disciple of Calvin though he was, he was something of a courtier as well, with a rich sap of intelligence, which, fermented by much thought and travel in many lands, made him the raciest of wits, and doubtless the most delightful of companions over a respectable Puritan bottle. "I have only Two comforts to Live upon," Increase Mather reported him as saying. "The one is in the Perfections of Christ; The other is in The Imperfections of all Christians."

The Simple Cobler of Aggawam is certainly the brightest bit of Renaissance English penned in America- an Elizabethan clipped garden set down in a wilderness of theology. It deserves to be far better known than it is, not only for its 64 convenient condiments" of speech that will tickle the palate of an epicure, but for its quaint exposition of the muddled state of England in the year 1645. Like a belatedd Euphuist, Nathaniel Ward delighted in fantastic words.

If I affect termes [he confessed, by way of apology] it is my feeblenesse; my friends that know me, thinke I doe not: I confesse, I see I have here and there taken a few finish stitches, which may haply please a few Velvet eares; but I cannot now well pull them out, unlesse I should seame-rend all. It seems it t a fashion with you to sugar your papers with Carnation phrases, and spangle your speeches with new quodled words. . . . I honourthem wit h my heart, that can expresse more than ordinary matter in ordinary words; it is a pleasing elpquence; them more, that study wisely and soberly to inhance their native language. . . . Affected termes are unaffect' ing things to solid hearers; yet I hold him prudent, that in these fastidious times, will helpe disedged appetites with convenient condi- ments, and bangled ears, with pretty quicke pluckes.1

The casual reader is chiefly impressed by the quaint satire of the book, with its caustic comment on women's fashions-the "foolefangles" of "nugiperous Gentledames," who "transclout" themselves into "gant bar-geese, ill-shapen-shotten-shell-fish"; and it is such bits that are commonly picked out for reprinting in the antholcgies. But the real significance of the work lies elsewhere. The Simple Cobler is an old man's plea for accommodation of differences. It is bitter with intolerance of toleration; it is torn between an old loyalty to King Charles whom Ward knew and loved-" my long Idolatry towards you," as he confesses sadly-and a new loyalty to Parliament; and it is sobered by a strong concern over the desperate condition of England, which required looking to speedily, he believed, if the realm were not to be torn past all mending. On both sides there was abundant "misprision of Treason," which properly considered, he held to be no other than a "misprision of Reason"; and it was in the hope of summoning reason back to the national councils that the Cobbler offered his humble suggestions for the consideration of Englishmen.

Ward had been a lawyer before he turned to the ministry, and he seems to have impressed himself upon his fellow emigrants chiefly as a "subtile statesman." In hisown way he was apolitical philosopher, little given like Roger Williams to exploring theory and examining principles, but applying rather a shrewd common sense to the problems of the times. He was convinced that old ways no longer sufficed; that prerogative and liberty could not much longer strain and pull against each other without rending the whole fabric of the commonwealth; and the kernel of the book lies in a new theory of constitutional government for England which he offers as a convenient way out of the difficulties. Ward recognized that new interests were challenging the long sway of King and Tories; and as the antagonismsof rival interests strengthened, the insufficiency of the traditional use and wont to maintain a due balance of power was daily becoming more apparent. Hence had resulted confusion, and out of the confusion, civil war. From these patent facts Ward had convinced himself that there must be an overhauling of the fundamental law of England: the twilight zones must be explored and charted; the several rights and privileges of King, Lords, and Commons, must be sharply delimited; and thus every party in the government be brought to understand the exact bounds of its sphere. Neither King nor Commons would then encroach upon the other, and royal prerogative and popular will no longer dwell at sword's point with each other. What was needed, in short, was a written constitution, carefully arrived at by common consent, the terms of which should be just to all. Hitherto God "hath taken order, that ill prerogatives, gotten by the Sword, should in time be fetched home by the Dagger, if nothing else will doe it: Yet I trust there is both day and means to intervent this bargaine."

To preserve a just balance between rival interests in the state, and to hold all parties to their responsibility to God, were then the two problems to which Nathaniel Ward addressed himself, and the manner and terms of his argument are sufficiently revealed in the following passages:

Authority must have power to make and keep people honest; People, honesty to obey Authority; both a Joynt-Councell to keep both safe. Morall Lawes, Royall Prerogatives, Popular Liberties, are not of Mans making or giving, but Gods: Man is but to measure them out by Gods Rule: which if mans wisdome cannot reach, Mans experience must mend: And these Essentialls, must not be Ephorized or Tribuned by one or a few Mens discretion, but lineally sanctioned by Supreame Councels. In pro-re-nascent occurrences, which cannot be foreseen; Diets, Parliaments, Senates, or accountable Commissions, must have power to consult and execute against nitersilient dangers and flagitious crimes prohibited by the light of Nature: yet it were good if States would let People know so much beforehand, by some safe woven manifesto, that grosse Delinquents may tell no tales of Anchors and Buoyes, nor palliate their presumptions with pretense of ignorance. I know no difference in these Essentialls, between Monarchies, Aristocracies, or Democracies. . . . And in all, the best Standard to measure Prerogatives, is the Ploughstaffe; to measure Libert' es, the Scepter: if the tearms were a little altered into Loyall Prerogatives and Royall Liberties, then we should be sure to have Royall Kings and Loyall Subjects. . . .

He is a good King that undoes not his Subjects by anyunodnoee onfohisthuenirlimited Prerogatives: and they are a good People, that Prince, by any one of their unbounded Liberties, be they the very least. I am sure either may, and I am sure neither would be trusted, how good soever. Stories tell us in effect, though nor in termes, that over-risen Kings, have been the next evills to the world, unto fallen Angels; and that over-franchised people, are devills with smooth snaffles in their mouthes. A King that lives by Law, lives by love: and he that lives above Law, shall live under hatred doe what he can. Slavery and knavery goe as seldome asunder, as Tyranny and Cruelty. I have a long while thought it very possible, in a time of Peace . . . for disert Statesmen, to cut an exquisite thred between Kings Prerogatives, and Subjects Liberties of all sorts, so as Caesar might have his due, and People their share, without such sharpe disputes. Good Casuists would case it, and case it, part it, and part it; now it, and then it, punctually.2

Nathaniel Ward was no democrat like Hooker and therefore no Congregationalist. "I am neither Presbyterian, nor plebsbyterian, but an Interpendent," he said of himself. But his "Interpendency" would seem to have been only an individualistic form of Presbyterianism. For the radical Sectaries who were rising out of the turmoil of revolution, he had the contempt of a thoroughbred Jacobean gentleman; and for their newfangled notion of religious toleration and their fetish of popular liberties-founded and nourished he believed in sentimentalism-he would substitute the solid reality of absolute truth, the faithful friend and coadjutor of which he professed himself to be. "Justice and Equity were before time, and will be after it"; and he regarded it as folly to try to circumvent them. He would have no great altering of society, such as Independents like Roger Williams were seeking. The solidarity of church and state was an anciently accepted principle,far safer to trust in, he believed, than the vagaries of unhistorical sects.

Experience will teach Churches and Christians, that it is farre better to ive in a State united, though a little Corrupt, then in a State, whereof some Part is incorrupt, and all the rest divided. . . . The Scripture saith, there is nothing makes free but Truth, and Truth saith, there is no Truth but One. . . . He that is willing to tolerate any Religion, or discrepant way of Religion, besides his own, unlesse it be in matters meerly indifferent, either doubts of his own, or is not sincere in it... He that is willing to tolerate any unsound opinion, that his own may also be tolerated, though never so sound, will for a need hang Gods Bible at the Devils girdle.3

As an honest Christian and a loyal subject he would honor both the divine and temporal authorities; nevertheless, in order that the law of God and the law of the land might be known of all and march together, he would have the exact terms of the constitution written out by "disert statesmen" in time of peace, and published broadly, in Massachusetts as well as in England. And so when he was commissioned to draw up a body of liberties for the new commonwealth, he found the task congenial. As a lawyer he seems to have been concerned at the non-legal methods of the magistrates in dispensing judgment, so repugnant to the spirit of the Common Law; and in the election sermon of 1641, that he was invited to preach, he "advanced several things that savored more of liberty, than some of the magistrates were prepared to approve." 4 But it was the lawyer protesting against court methods that spoke out, not the liberal concerned with broader liberties. In a letter to Winthrop, December 22, 1639, dealing with the body of laws, he questioned, "Whether it will not be of ill consequence to send the Court business to the common consideration of the Freemen," adding:

I fear it will too much exauctorate the power of that Court to prostrate matters in that manner, I suspect both Commonwealth and Churches have discended to lowe already. I see the spirits of the people runne high, and what they gett they hould. They may not be denyed their proper and lawfull liberties, but a question whether be of God to interest the inferiour sort in that which should be reserved infer optimates penes quos est sancire leges [i.e. to the aristocracy with whom rests the power to establish the law].5

The celebrated Body of Liberties was presented three years after The Simple Cobler was written, and in spite of his frankly aristocratic bias, Nathaniel Ward did a real service to Massachusetts by incorporating into the law of the commonwealth many of the o1d English safeguards of person and property, in some instances advancing beyond Current English practice. Yet true to his Hebraic leanings, and in harmony with the spirit of the theocracy, he added certain brutalities drawn from the Mosaic code that were soon to drop away.

There is something refeshing in the extraordinary frankness of this old Puritan of the days of Elizabeth. He was no demagogue, but a stout upholder of authority, who accepted the rule of caste and the law of an eye for an eye. The militant severity of his judgments, and the caustic wit of his comments, suggest somewhat startlingly how long and bitter would be the struggle in New England before the spirit of liberalism should find wide acceptance there. Gentlemen of the immigrant generation were set in their ways, and none more inflexibly than Nathaniel Ward. He was too old to adjust himself to new conditions, a fact which he recognized by returning to England to die, leaving behind as a warning certain pithy quatrains of which this is one:

The upper world shall Rule,
While Stars will run their race:
The nether world obey
While People keep their place.


JOHN ELIOT - A Theocratic Utopia

At the session of the General Court holden at Boston, May 22, 1661, it was ordered:

This Court taking notice of a booke entituled Christian Commonwealth, written . . . by Mr. John Eliot of Roxbury in New England, which . . . is justly offensive and in speciall relating to kingly Gouvernment England, the which the said Mr. Eliot hath also freely and fully acknowledged to this Court. It is therefore ordered by this Court and the Authority thereof, that the said Booke be totally suppressed and the Authors acknowledgement recorded; and that all persons whatsoever in this Jurisdiction that have anv of the said Bookes in theire Custody shall on theire perrills within fowerteene dayes after publ Icatl on hereof either cancel or deface or deliver them unto the next Magistrate or to the Secretary, whereby all farther divulment and improovement of the said offensive Booke may be prevented.6

The little book over which such a pother was made by the New England magistrates in the days when they were under the censorious eye of the newly restored Stuart government was the single venture in the field of political speculation by the excellent John Eliot, apostle to the Indians. It was a slender volume, written about 1650, although not printed till 1659; but within the narrow compass of twenty-one pages this dreamer in Israel has sketched the outlines of an ideal Christian commonwealth. It was a day and a world of idealists, and so John Eliot paused in the midst of his missionary labors to fashion a brick for the building of that temple which the Puritans of the Protectorate were dreaming of. The idols had been broken by the hammer of Cromwell; the malevolent powers of this world were brought low; it remained now only for the people of God to enter into a solemn covenant to establish a commonwealth after the true divine model. That no mistake should be made in so important a matter, John Eliot was moved to send out of the American wilderness the plan of a Christian Utopia, sanctioned by the Mosaic example and buttressed at every point by chapter and verse, which he offered to the godly Puritans of England as a suitable guide to their feet.

Naked theocracy is nowhere else so uncompromisingly delineated as in the pages of The Christian Commonwealth. At the basis of Eliot's political speculations were the two germinal conceptions which animated his theocratic brethren generally: the conception that Christ is King of Kings before whom all earthly authority must bow, and the conception that the Scripture alone reveals the law of God. So long as the Stuarts were ruling at St. James's speculative theocrats found it expedient to gloss their principles with nice distinctions between temporal and spiritual overlords; but with monarchy overthrown, they came out boldly and urged the English people to put away all profane institutions. "Scripturae plentitudinem adoro," John Cotton had exclaimed; and to the same purpose John Eliot laid down the thesis:

There is undoubtedly a forme of civil Government instituted by God himself in the holy Scriptures; whereby any Nation may enjoy all the ends and effects of Government in the best manner, were they but perswaded to make trial of it. We should derogate from the sufficiency and perfection of the Scriptures, if we should deny it.

The prayers, the expectation, and faith of the Saints in the Prophecies and Promises of holy Scripture, are daily sound Ing in the ears of the Lord, for the downfall of Anti-christ, and with him all humane Powers, Polities, Dominions, and Governments; and in the room thereof, we wait for the coming of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, who by his Divine Wisdom, Power, Government and Laws, given us . . . in the holy Scriptures, will reign over all the Nations of the earth in his due time: I mean the Lord Jesus will bring down all people, to be ruled by the Institutions, Laws, and Directions of the Word of God, not only in Church-Government and Administrations, but also in the Government and Administration of all affairs in the Common wealth. And then Christ reigneth, when all things among men, are done by the direction of the word of his mouth: his Kingdom is then come amongst us, when his will is done on earth, as It is done in heaven, where no Humane or Angelical Policy or Wisdom doth guide anything, but all is done by Divine direction (Ps. 103:20); and so it shall be on earth, when and where Christ reigneth.

Much is spoken of the rightful Heir of the Crown of England, and of the unjustice of casting out the right Heir; but Christ is the onely right Heir of the Crown of England (PS. 2:8) and of all other Nations also (Rev. I I: 15).

That which the Lord now calleth England to attend is not to search humane Politics and Platformes of Government, contrived by the wisdom of man; but as the Lord hath carried on their works for them, so they ought to go unto the Lord, and enquire at the Word of his mouth, what Platforme, of Government he hath therein commanded and prescribed.

From his Scriptural premises Eliot deduced a system of government that is altogether remarkable, not only for its rejection of the Separatist theory of natural rights, but for its naive simplicity. Since the law has been declared once for all, perfect and final, there is no need for a legislative branch of government; and since Christ is sole ruler and king, there is no place for a profane head of the state; it remains only for the Christian theorist to provide a competent magisterial system to hear causes and adjudicate differences. Society is concerned wholly with duties and not at all begins and ends with the with rights; government, therefore, begins and ends with the magistrate. In order to secure a suitable magistracy, Eliot proposed to divide society into groups of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands, each of which should choose its rulers, who in turn should choose their representatives to the higher councils; and so there was evolved an ascending series of magistrates until the supreme council of the nation was reached, the decisions of which should be final.

The duties of all the Rulers of the civil part of the Kingdom of Christ, are as followeth: . . . to govern the people in the orderly and seasonable practice of all the Commanders of God, in actions liable to Political observations whether of piety and love to God, or of justice and love to man with peace.

Far removed as The Christian Commonwealth was from the democratic political theory of the Army radicals, or the practical constitutionalism of Nathaniel Ward, it was the logical culmination of all theocratic programs. The ideal of social unity, of relentless conformity, according to which the rebel is a social outcast to be silenced at any cost, dominates this godly Utopia as mercilessly as it dominated the policy of Laud. In setting up King Jesus for King Charles, there was to be no easing of the yoke upon rebellious spirits; and in binding society upon the letter of the Scripture there was to be no consideration for the aspirations of the'un regenerate. It is not pleasant to consider what the Saints would have made of New England if their will had prevailed. Curious as this little work is-testifying rather to the sincerity of Eliot's Hebraism than to his political intelligence or his knowledge of men-it is characteristic of the idealist who consecrated his life to the Indian mission. How little disturbed he was by the perversities and limitations of everyday fact, is revealed in the policy which he laid down for his Indian converts:

And this Vow I did solemnly make unto the Lord concerning them; that they being a people without any forme of Government and now to chuse; I would endeavour with all my might, to bring them to embrace such Government, both civil and Ecclesiastical, as the Lord hath commanded in the holy Scriptures; and to deduce all the Lawes from the holy Scriptures, that so they may be the Lord's people, ruled by him alone in all things.

Which vow, considering the state of the Indian tribes to whom it was to apply, may serve to throw light upon the reason for the scant success of the Saints in their dealings with the red-men.         

1 The Simple Cobler, edition of 1843, pp. 89-90.
2 Ibid., pp. 54-55. 3 Ibid., pp. 8, 10.
4 Ibid., Introduction
5 Dean, Memoir of the Rev. Nathaniel Ward, pp. 56-57.
6 Massachusetts Historical Society Publications, Vol. IX, Third Series, p. 128.