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town meeting, the boldest privateer, the stoutest Revolu-
tionary soldier, the most adventurous merchant, carried
forward this principle of expanding growth, proceeding
from Williams' discovery and the struggle of pioneers
for political life. A soul freed from ecclesiastical oppres-
sion and the bonds of expiring feudalism, must possess
at last material things. Progress was slow in attaining
such wealth and culture as the surrounding colonies inher-
ited passively. But through every political and social
movement a discerning eye can trace the individual man
forming a larger community of individuals ; thus lifting
his own life and social opportunity into a freer atmos-
phere. If this were not so, how could the little state
acquire wealth relatively equal to the most favored quar-
ters of the Union. How else could a modern republican
state be formed on accidental charters of the common-
wealth and of Charles II. ; which latter charter should es-
sentially outlast two centuries, unchanged.

Wherever we turn in the record of the past, signs of
representative government appear, as a great controlling
principle seeking expression as history opens out. Japa-
nese scholars claim that this is not confined to. Anglo-
Saxon nor even to Aryan nations ; but prevails East and
West. " I believe that the seed of representative govern-



12 Foundations of Rhode Island

ment is implanted in the very nature of human society
and of the human mind." 2i

So far as our own part of the large question is con-
cerned, let us look into the course of affairs in Massachu-
setts and Connecticut, to learn by contrast the true
essence and the essential characteristics of our own insti-
tutions here in Rhode Island.

The colony of Massachusetts existed for fifty-five years
under a royal charter granted to the " Governor and
Company of the Massachusetts Bay in England." The
charter empowered the freemen of the Company forever
to elect from their own number, a Governor, Deputy-
Governor, and eighteen Assistants, and to make laws " not
repugnant to the laws of England." The executive, not
including the assistants, was authorized, but not required,
to administer to freemen the oaths of supremacy and
allegiance.

Winthrop, the Governor, with Deputy-Governor and As-
sistants, had been chosen in England. There were some pre-
liminary meetings at Salem, but the first American Court
of Assistants was convened at Boston, August 23, 1630.
Some one hundred and eighteen persons gave notice at
this Court asking admission as freemen. There were eight
plantations or towns that participated in this assembly.
The Court voted that Assistants only should be chosen by
the Company at large, and that the Assistants with the
Governor and Deputy-Governor, elected from themselves,
should have the power of "making laws and choosing offi-
cers to execute the same." This movement, erratic in a dem-
ocratic government, lasted only about two years. May 9,
1632, the freemen resumed the right of election, limiting
the choice of Governor to one of the existing Assistants.

£4 Iyenaga, " Constitutional Development of Japan," J. H. U.,
IX., 20.



1636] Early Massachusetts 13

These issues are interesting as revealing the tides of pub-
lic sentiment for more or less aristocratic restriction in
the process of government.

In 1634 there were about three hundred and fifty free-
men, more than two-thirds of whom, according to Pal-
frey, had been admitted since the establishment of the
religious test, some three years previous. It was " ordered
and agreed that, for the time to come, no man shall be
admitted to the freedom of this body politic, but such
as are members of some of the churches within the limits
of the same." 25 As Borgeaud 26 remarks, " by law the
civic government was distinct from the ecclesiastical, but
in fact was strictly subordinate. The pastors and elders
spoke in the name of the Divine Will revealed in the Bible."
Compare the opinion after more than three-score years'
experience of a sufficiently orthodox interpreter, Cotton
Mather, 27 given below.

A curious side-light is thrown on the working of democ-
racy in New England, by the aberrations of the freemen
in creating and abolishing a " Standing Council for life."
It was a new order of magistrates not contemplated by
the charter, constituted March 3, 1636. Winthrop, Dud-
ley, and Endicott only were appointed under this author-
ity " for term of their lives, as a standing council, not to
be removed but upon due conviction of crime, insufficiency,
or for some weighty cause, the Governor for the time
being to be always President of this Council and to have
such further power out of Court as the General Court

25 « Mass. Col. Rec," I., 87.

26 " Democracy in Old and New England," p. 148.

■27 " The civil magistrate should put forth his coercive power, as
the matter shall require, in case a church become schismatical, or
walke incorrigibly or obstinately in any corrupt way of their own,
contrary to the rule of the Word." — " Magnalia," Book V.,
Part II.



14 Foundations of Rhode Island

shall from time to time endue them withal." 2S It was
claimed that this movement proceeded from Cotton, who
derived his inspiration from Lord Sayand Sele. 29 The
act lasted only two years, and Mr. Savage 30 claimed that
this institution was the only example of a political election
for life in our country. It was a bone of contention
until 164-2. The extraordinary tenacity of this socio-
political barnacle shows that Cotton, not to speak of
Winthrop, did not easily give up the hope of bringing
some of the ragged offshoots of feudalism across the
Atlantic, to be planted in the soil of the new Puritanism.
Winthrop treats the affair earnestly, though patiently.
His caustic sagacity in construing popular characteristics
speaks forth in the following general consideration. " And
here may be observed how strictly the people would seem
to stick to their patent, when they think it makes for
their advantage, but are content to decline it where it
will not warrant such liberties as they have taken up with-
out warrant from thence, as appears in their strife for
three deputies," etc. 31

These are small matters, but they were beginnings of
popular government and they indicate one set of condi-
tions which hampered Roger Williams in any search after
soul-liberty. Puritans like Winthrop and Dudley were
not only church-bound, they were so wrapped in the
panoply of a feudal aristocracy that they could not con-

28 " Mass Col. Rec," I., pp. 16T, 168, 178.

29 " Palfrey," I., 442.

so He was completely honest and judicious in interpreting history.
Rufus Choate had humor and was examining Savage once, in
some casual matter, wherein he treated the witness most courteously.
Then in a stage whisper, delighting the hearers, he said, " Now I
have him under oath, I would like to ask him why he hates Cotton
Mather so thoroughly."

si " Winthrop, N. E.," I., 303.



1636] Development of Massachusetts 15

ceive of freedom — whether ecclesiastical or political — in
any modern sense.

In 16*3 the Magistrates and Deputies established
bicameral legislation, the great modem improvement
adopted by all the colonies and by the Union of the
States. ' As Winthrop states, " there fell out a great
business upon a very small occasion." Mrs. Sherman's sow,
or her claim for one, became the occasion of a suit against
Captain Keayne. The suit went through the inferior
courts, and coming into the General Court set Magistrates
and Deputies at variance, and in a most unseemly way.
Sympathy for the poor woman against a rich man affected
the more popular representatives — the deputies — and jeal-
ousy between the two classes of legislators or judges con-
fused the whole matter. The judicious saw that oppor-
tunity for such disputes must be stopped, and henceforth
the two houses held their sessions " apart by themselves."
Moreover, according to the Governor, " this order deter-
mined the great contention about the negative voice."

Without doubt the simple trading corporation, while
making plantations, put forth more essential powers than
was ever intended in England; whether in controlling the
souls of men, or in extending the ground-work of a state.
But such was inevitable. A corporation puts forth suckers
of sovereignty, and these branch out into more and more
power, as contingent life forces the issues.

Mr. Charles Francis Adams sums up his conclusions,
" the organization of the Massachusetts colony was dis-
tinctly and indisputably legal, commercial and corporate ;
and not religious, ecclesiastical or feudal." 32 In this he
is supported by Professor Parker and Judge Chamberlain
and by Doyle in his Puritan Colonies. Others have viewed
the matter differently, and much learning has been devoted
32 Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc, VII., pp. 196, 205.



16 Foundations of Rhode Island

to this historic question. We may be content with the
poetic rendering and rare insight of James Russell Lowell,
as he interprets the founding of Massachusetts Bay
through " the divine principle of Authority based on the
common interest and common consent."

A definition of an ordinary charter prevailing in the
seventeenth century runs thus : The owner does what he
will with his cattle " only by virtue of a grant and charter
from both his and their maker." A royal charter, based
on land and the feudal tendencies then inhering in land,
conveys legal and commercial privileges ; but in the hands
of an active, intelligent body of freemen, it conveys much
more. The Frenchman De Castine says " a charter can-
not create liberty; it verifies it." No words could more
clearly explain the legitimate course of the chartered col-
onies of New England.

It has been customary to treat Massachusetts Bay as
the headquarters and general source of Puritanism in New
England. But Connecticut was a better example in ap-
plying the principles of the Puritans to every-day living;
it was more advanced, and, so to speak, more civilized in
the application. This was not by chance, but by natural
political evolution. The Connecticut men fully believed
in theocracy ; in a state governed by the immediate direc-
tion of God; yet this principle was to be in some degree
regulated by the action of the people, and not absolutely
controlled by the " inspiration " of certain pastors and
elders of the church rendering the will of God.

Let us examine the beginnings of government in this
colony. Hooker's migration from the Bay had occurred
in 1636. A commission issued from the General Court
of Massachusetts, March 3, 1636, to eight of the persons
who " had resolved to transplant themselves and their
estates unto the River of Connecticut." This commission



1636] Connecticut Best Puritan Example 17

was plainly limited, in that it took " rise from the desier
of the people whoe removed, whoe judged it in Convenience
to goe away without any frame of Government, not from
any clame of the Massachusetts Jurisdiction ower them by
virtew of Patent." 33

This was manifestly a semi-political and not a corporate
and commercial evolution of power. The forthcoming
Yankees were careful to take to themselves only one side
of the obligation ; to profit by receiving the attributes of
power, without rendering any allegiance in return. But
they took a political prerogative, not a commercial privi-
lege ; a function of government and not a function of trade.
Just as the colony of Massachusetts, based on territorial
grants with trading privileges from the British Crown,
made war and peace or coined money if necessary, so it
put out a sucker of practical sovereignty which rooted in
the Connecticut valley.

The planters met January 14, 1638-9, and adopted the
" eleven fundamental orders," 34 by which the colony was
substantially governed until the year 1818, though it
obtained legitimate authority by charter from the British
Crown, as we shall see later on. This is an early record
of a " frame of government." The men of Connecticut
claim it to be the first written constitution in history.

The germ of constitutional government in Connecticut,
whether it was by a formal constitution or otherwise, is
justly considered by investigators to have been in a sermon
of Thomas Hooker preached before the General Court in
May, 1638, viz., " The foundation of authority is laid,
firstly, in the free consent of the people, — The choice of
public magistrates belongs unto the people by God's own
allowance, — They who have power to appoint officers and

33 Cited Trumbull, " Constitutions of Connecticut," p. 1.

34 Baldwin, " Constitutions," p. 180.



18 Foundations of Rhode Island

magistrates, it is in their power also, to set the bounds
and limitations of the power and place into which they
call them." 35

These views, as has been stated indirectly, were advanced
to a higher ground than that held by the rulers of Massa-
chusetts Bay. They were still entangled in those jun-
gles of sovereignty — where church members only adminis-
tered the state — jungles which easily put forth essential
tyranny. The Connecticut men found it better to get
out and move on. As above stated, it was not chance, but
political sagacity which precipitated the issue. We should
study Hooker's Survey of Church Discipline, 36 published
after his death in 1648. As cited below, we find a dim
recognition of the absolute difference in administration of
spiritual and temporal things ; and this perception of
Hooker's brought about important results in Connecticut.
It is true, the freemen were practically church members,
but pastor or elder could not go into town meeting and
cry out in form or substance " thus saith the Lord " after
such teaching as Hooker gave them.

Hooker was thoroughly Puritan, and believed in theo-
cratic ascendancy. Yet though he might be loyal to the
dictates of conscience, he perceived that the will of the

35 Col Conn, Hist. Soc, I., 20.

36 At page 4 we read, " Men sustain a double relation. As mem-
bers of the Commonwealth, they have civil weapons, and in a civil
way of righteousness, they may and should use them. But as mem-
bers of a Church their weapons are spiritual, and the work is
spiritual, the censures of the Church are spiritual, and reach the
souls and consciences of men." He did not hold and is careful
at page 14 to guard himself from religious toleration. In the
passage he farther elaborates the idea of separation. " No civil
rule can properly convey over an Ecclesiastical right. The rules
are in specie distinct, and their works and ends also, and therefore
cannot be confounded. . . . But the taking up an abode or
dwelling in such a place is by the rule of policy and civility. Ergo
this can give him no Ecclesiastical right to Church fellowship."



1636] Hooker Moulds Connecticut 19

citizen and his political action, whether as ruler, judge,
or constable, must be firmly set within the " bounds and
limitations " of power constituted in a legitimate way.
This is of the essence of constitution-making.

If we adopt the large historic view of Bancroft in re-
garding the Puritan, these beginnings of government in
Connecticut are worthy of constant notice. He says,
though the superficial may sneer at their extemporaneous
prayers and other formalities, if we look to the genius of
the sect itself, " Puritanism was religion struggling for
the people." Great England — freed in parts— absolutely
persecuted Nonconformists, until the repeal of the penal
statutes in 1690; driving two thousand ministers out of
their livings in 1662. Even after that repeal some stat-
utes had to be " liberally interpreted " through the nine-
teenth century to give Nonconformists practical religious
and political liberty. Puritans might live, as it were, in
a detached and drained receiver, but the atmosphere
around was not free. Occasionally now an unscrupulous
politician sneers at the " nonconforming conscience." A
disinterested critic might remark that, it may prove to
be quite as important in England's future as the betting-
book or tennis-racket. As Emerson remarked, it would
be well to stop the people from doing many things, before
stopping their praying.

•On the other hand, Puritanism proscribed in England
was virtually established in Massachusetts, where it
blocked religious liberty until well into the nineteenth
century.

The development of Connecticut was not toward liberty
of conscience, but along the lines of a modified theocracy.
By a series of legislative acts in 1697, 1699, 1708, 37 the
colony riveted an ecclesiastical system firmly on the necks

37 "Col. Rec. Conn.," IV., 198, 316; V., 87.



20 Foundations of Rhode Island

of all citizens. The act of 1708 was very positive, ap-
proving " the confession of faith, heads of agreement and
regulations in the administration of discipline agreed to
by the synod at Saybrook and enacting that all churches
thus united in doctrine, worship, and discipline, should be
owned and acknowledged established by law." 3S Political
government might proceed without interference from
church or clergy, as Hooker had laid down. But the
conscience of the individual must be held by the church.
Provision was made " for the ease of such as soberly dis-
sent from the way of worship and ministry established."
But however the dissenter might think, he must 39 pay as
ordinary citizens did and could not be excused " from
paying any such minister or town dues, as are now or shall
be hereafter due." 40

After much discussion of these questions in the agita-
tion for the constitution which replaced the charter in
1818; these restrictions were swept away and religion was
left entirely to voluntary support. With all his powerful
eloquence, Dr. Lyman Beecher preached against this, de-
claring " it would open the floodgates of ruin on the
state." Connecticut writers have called this condition of
things " complete religious liberty." Their conception of
liberty within the bounds of Connecticut assumed in naive
manner that this was equivalent to liberty everywhere.
Their society being homogeneous and sufficient unto itself,
liberty of opinion elsewhere did not enter into consider-
ation. This quietism is finely expressed in the words of
one of her ablest sons, Leonard Bacon, uttered in 1859.
He claimed that Episcopal, Baptist and Methodist
churches formed there were of the Connecticut sort, and

38 Trumbull, " Historical Notes," p. 30.

3» Ibid.

40 Bacon, " Historical Discourse," p. 70.



1636] Roger Williams an American Torch 21

" is there no meaning in the fact that not one of our
churches, and only one of our parishes fell in the Unita-
rian defection? " 41

The excellent political system of Connecticut created
a thriving and contented community under the charter, as
well as under the constitution. Perhaps no people in the
world were more happy. But such closed circuits and
local districts of universal truth could not survive the
free communication and exchange of thought prevailing
in modern times. The " land of steady habits," like
other parts of the United States, has become free in
thought and the open ground of liberty of conscience.

It is fair to observe that Thomas Hooker was the
greater statesman, while Roger Williams was the greater
prophet. Hooker brought a candle into state manage-
ment that lighted a community through peaceful life for
one or two centuries. Roger Williams kindled a flaming
torch 42 in the fire of truth, which burned through the
fierce democratic disputes and town-contentions of the
plantations until its serene beams are now shed abroad
through the civilized world.

If we revert to the main colony, the home of Pilgrims
and Puritans, the early political aspirations of Massachu-
setts can be hardly separated from the strong theocratic
tendency which moved her in applying a religious test
to practical government. There are not only the promi-

4i Rhode Island was moving in the opposite direction. In 1716
an act was passed preventing churches from using " the civil power
for the enforcing a maintenance for their respective ministers."
Support " may be raised by a free contribution and no other way." —
"Arnold," II., 58.

4 2 In the words of Doctor King " he became not only an orthodox
Puritan, as Mr. Bryce calls him, but an intense logically consistent
ultra-orthodox, radical Puritan, outstripping his human teachers, a
Pilgrim of the Pilgrims."—" The True Roger Williams," p. 11.



22 Foundations of Rhode Island

nent proceedings like the banishment of Williams and
the Antinomians, the expulsion of Baptists and Quakers,
but other incidents, which show a constant adminis-
tration of affairs on the narrow lines held by the In-
dependent Congregational churches. In 1629, Endicott
sent out John and Samuel Browne, because they insisted
on using the Pra} r er Book. " New England was no place
for such as they." The case of William Vassall in 16-16 43
is very interesting.

It is pathetic to enter into the doings of Massachusetts
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to per-
ceive the struggles of well-meaning men trying to work
out their idea of good, yet producing only evil. The
ecclesiastical politicians of that time were centuries be-
hind either Connecticut or Rhode Island ; but they fancied
they were the Lord's anointed. From John Cotton and
Hubbard, through Cotton Mather to Quincy and Palfrey,
one story filled the ears of these men and colored their
imagination, when applied to the facts of history and
government. In their distorted vision, an inevitable,
providential necessity 44 forced the admisistration of their
state from one form of bigotry to another, until the
widening political and social activities of the community
compelled her into a complete separation of church and
state.

When the nineteenth century was well advanced, Massa-
chusetts finally swept away the despotic foundations of

*> « Winthrop," II.,, ,261

44 " But to excommunicate an Heretick is not to persecute; that
is, it is not to punish an innocent, but a culpable and damnable
person, and that not for conscience, but for persisting in error
against light of conscience, whereof it hath been convinced." Cot-
ton's answer to Williams.—" N. Club," III., 48. 49; also II., 27.
The back action of the conscience of a theocratic persecutor could
turn any evil into good, or vice versa.



1636] World-Made States 23

her religious system. In the words of Mr. C. F. Adams,
" a modified form of toleration was grudgingly admitted
into the first constitution of the state in 1780; it was
not until 1833 that complete liberty of conscience was
made part of the fundamental law." 4t>

The Puritans of the Bay fondly fancied that they were
creating a commonwealth, which through the support and
interaction of the churches should absorb the old political
functions of a state, and thus turn the world at large
into a kingdom of heaven. Orderly political develop-
ment was impossible under this fanciful ideal ; it was the
lack of such development that kept Massachusetts seething
and vibrating in political unrest. The actual movement
developing a modern state was in the opposite direction,
just as Mr. Doyle 46 viewing us from Europe, clearly
comprehended. The " worldly people," the men in the
street in Massachusetts as in other states, worked out a
political freedom culminating in the American Revolution ;
this finally penetrated the congregations of the churches
and converted them to practical Christianity. No episode
in history indicates more clearly the large currents of
evolution, which turn the swirling eddies of theocratic cul-
ture to wider political development. As the eighteenth
century moved on, America discovered, by the second
quarter of the nineteenth she had developed into prac-
tical politics, the large idea that a free 'democratic
expression at the polls was better political freedom and
even better religion than imperial decree, mandate of
synod or papal bull.

It is often asserted in apology for the early rulers of
the Bay that, their course was inevitable — under the tacit
assumption that theocratic absolutism was the only pos-

45 " Mass. Historians," p. 33.

46 " Puritan Colonies," I., pp. 187, 188.



24 Foundations of Rhode Island

sible working government. But the Netherlands had a
comparatively liberal administration, and Connecticut, as
we have shown, under Hooker was adapting theocracy to
democratic representation without persecution. We need
not change the colors of the rainbow to justify Cotton



Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 2 of 29)