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is aware of." [Sidenote: Edward Johnson]

The general sentiment of the early New England writers was like that
of the "Wonder-working Providence," though it did not always find such
rhapsodic expression. It has left its impress upon the minds of their
children's children down to our own time, and has affected the opinions
held about them by other people. It has had something to do with a
certain tacit assumption of superiority on the part of New Englanders,
upon which the men and women of other communities have been heard
to comment in resentful and carping tones. There has probably never
existed, in any age or at any spot on the earth's surface, a group of
people that did not take for granted its own preeminent excellence. Upon
some such assumption, as upon an incontrovertible axiom, all historical
narratives, from the chronicles of a parish to the annals of an empire,
alike proceed. But in New England it assumed a form especially apt to
provoke challenge. One of its unintentional effects was the setting up
of an unreal and impossible standard by which to judge the acts and
motives of the Puritans of the seventeenth century. We come upon
instances of harshness and cruelty, of narrow-minded bigotry, and
superstitious frenzy; and feel, perhaps, a little surprised that
these men had so much in common with their contemporaries. Hence the
interminable discussion which has been called forth by the history of
the Puritans, in which the conclusions of the writer have generally been
determined by circumstances of birth or creed, or perhaps of reaction
against creed. One critic points to the Boston of 1659 or the Salem of
1692 with such gleeful satisfaction as used to stir the heart of Thomas
Paine when he alighted upon an inconsistency in some text of the Bible;
while another, in the firm conviction that Puritans could do no wrong,
plays fast and loose with arguments that might be made to justify the
deeds of a Torquemada. [Sidenote: Acts of the Puritans often judged by a
wrong standard]

From such methods of criticism it is the duty of historians as far as
possible to free themselves. If we consider the Puritans in the light
of their surroundings as Englishmen of the seventeenth century and
inaugurators of a political movement that was gradually to change for
the better the aspect of things all over the earth, we cannot fail to
discern the value of that sacred enthusiasm which led them to regard
themselves as chosen soldiers of Christ. It was the spirit of the
"Wonder-working Providence" that hurled the tyrant from his throne at
Whitehall and prepared the way for the emancipation of modern Europe. No
spirit less intense, no spirit nurtured in the contemplation of things
terrestrial, could ever have done it. The political philosophy of a Vane
or a Sidney could never have done it. The passion for liberty as felt
by a Jefferson or an Adams, abstracted and generalized from the love
of particular liberties, was something scarcely intelligible to the
seventeenth century. The ideas of absolute freedom of thought and
speech, which we breathe in from childhood, were to the men of that age
strange and questionable. They groped and floundered among them, very
much as modern wool growers in Ohio or iron-smelters in Pennsylvania
flounder and grope among the elementary truths of political economy. But
the spirit in which the Hebrew prophet rebuked and humbled an idolatrous
king was a spirit they could comprehend. Such a spirit was sure to
manifest itself in narrow cramping measures and in ugly acts of
persecution; but it is none the less to the fortunate alliance of
that fervid religious enthusiasm with the Englishman's love of
self-government that our modern freedom owes its existence. [Sidenote:
Spirit of the Wonder-working Providence]

The history of New England under Charles II. yields abundant proof that
political liberty is no less indebted in the New World than in the Old
to the spirit of the "Wonder-working Providence." The theocratic ideal
which the Puritan sought to put into practice in Massachusetts and
Connecticut was a sacred institution in faults of the defence of
which all his faculties were kept perpetually alert. Much as he loved
self-government he would never have been so swift to detect and so
stubborn to resist every slightest encroachment on the part of the crown
had not the loss of self-government involved the imminent danger that
the ark of the Lord might be abandoned to the worshippers of Dagon.
It was in Massachusetts, where the theocracy was strongest, that the
resistance to Charles II. was most dogged and did most to prepare the
way for the work of achieving political independence a century later.
Naturally it was in Massachusetts at the same time that the faults
of the theocracy were most conspicuous. It was there that priestly
authority most clearly asserted itself in such oppressive acts as are
always witnessed when too much power is left in the hands of men whose
primary allegiance is to a kingdom not of this world. Much as we owe to
the theocracy for warding off the encroachments of the crown, we cannot
be sorry that it was itself crushed in the process. It was well that
it did not survive its day of usefulness, and that the outcome of
the struggle was what has been aptly termed "the emancipation of
Massachusetts." [Sidenote: Merits and faults of the theocracy]

The basis of the theocratic constitution of this commonwealth was the
provision by which the exercise of the franchise was made an incident of
church-membership. Unless a man could take part in the Lord's Supper, as
administered in the churches of the colony, he could not vote or
hold office. Church and state, parish and town, were thus virtually
identified. Here, as in some other aspects of early New England, one is
reminded of the ancient Greek cities, where the freeman who could
vote in the market-place or serve his turn as magistrate was the man
qualified to perform sacrifices to the tutelar deities of the tribe;
other men might dwell in the city but had no share in making or
executing its laws. The limitation of civil rights by religious tests is
indeed one of those common inheritances from the old Aryan world that
we find again and again cropping out, even down to the exclusion of
Catholics from the House of Commons from 1562 to 1829. The obvious
purpose of this policy in England was self-protection; and in like
manner the restriction of the suffrage in Massachusetts was designed
to protect the colony against aggressive episcopacy and to maintain
unimpaired the uniformity of purpose which had brought the settlers
across the ocean. Under the circumstances there was something to be
said in behalf of such a measure of self-protection, and the principle
required but slight extension to cover such cases as the banishment of
Roger Williams and the Antinomians. There was another side to the case,
however. From the very outset this exclusive policy was in some ways
a source of weakness to Massachusetts, though we have seen that the
indirect effect was to diversify and enrich the political life of New
England as a whole. [Sidenote: Restriction of the suffrage to church
members]

At first it led to the departure of the men who founded Connecticut,
and thereafter the way was certainly open for those who preferred the
Connecticut policy to go where it prevailed. Some such segregation was
no doubt effected, but it could not be complete and thorough. Men who
preferred Boston without the franchise to Hartford with it would remain
in Massachusetts; and thus the elder colony soon came to possess a
discontented class of people, always ready to join hand in glove with
dissenters or mischief-makers, or even with emissaries of the crown. It
afforded a suggestive commentary upon all attempts to suppress human
nature by depriving it of a share in political life; instead of keeping
it inside where you can try conclusions with it fairly, you thrust it
out to plot mischief in the dark. Within twenty years from the founding
of Boston the disfranchisement of such citizens as could not participate
in church-communion had begun to be regarded as a serious political
grievance. These men were obliged to pay taxes and were liable to be
called upon for military service against the Indians; and they naturally
felt that they ought to have a voice in the management of public
affairs. [Sidenote: It was a source of political discontent]

Besides this fundamental ground of complaint, there were derivative
grievances. Under the influence of the clergy justice was administered
in somewhat inquisitorial fashion, there was an uncertainty as to just
what the law was, a strong disposition to confuse questions of law with
questions of ethics, and great laxity in the admission and estimation of
evidence. As early as 1639 people had begun to complain that too much
power was rested in the discretion of the magistrate, and they clamoured
for a code of laws; but as Winthrop says, the magistrates and ministers
were "not very forward in this matter," for they preferred to supplement
the common law of England by decisions based on the Old Testament rather
than by a body of statutes. It was not until 1649, after a persistent
struggle, that the deputies won a decisive victory over the assistants
and secured for Massachusetts a definite code of laws. In the New Haven
colony similar theocratic notions led the settlers to dispense with
trial by jury because they could find no precedent for it in the laws of
Moses. Here, as in Massachusetts, the inquisitorial administration of
justice combined with partial disfranchisement to awaken discontent, and
it was partly for this reason that New Haven fell so easily under the
sway of Connecticut. [Sidenote: Inquisitorial administration of justice]

In Massachusetts after 1650 the opinion rapidly gained ground that all
baptized persons of upright and decorous lives ought to be considered,
for practical purposes, as members of the church, and therefore entitled
to the exercise of political rights, even though unqualified for
participation in the Lord's Supper. This theory of church-membership,
based on what was at that time stigmatized as the "Halfway Covenant,"
aroused intense opposition. It was the great question of the day. In
1657 a council was held in Boston, which approved the principle of the
Halfway Covenant; and as this decision was far from satisfying the
churches, a synod of all the clergymen in Massachusetts was held five
years later, to reconsider the great question. The decision of the synod
substantially confirmed the decision of the council, but there were some
dissenting voices. Foremost among the dissenters, who wished to retain
the old theocratic regime in all its strictness, was Charles Chauncey,
the president of Harvard College, and Increase Mather agreed with him
at the time, though he afterward saw reason to change his opinion, and
published two tracts in favour of the Halfway Covenant. Most bitter of
all toward the new theory of church-membership was, naturally enough,
Mr. Davenport of New Haven. [Sidenote: The "Halfway Covenant"]

This burning question was the source of angry contentions in the First
Church of Boston. Its teacher, the learned and melancholy Norton, died
in 1663, and four years later the aged pastor, John Wilson, followed
him. In choosing a successor to Wilson the church decided to declare
itself in opposition to the liberal decision of the synod, and in token
thereof invited Davenport to come from New Haven to take charge of it.
Davenport, who was then seventy years old, was disgusted at the recent
annexation of his colony to Connecticut. He accepted the invitation
and came to Boston, against the wishes of nearly half of the Boston
congregation who did not like the illiberal principle which he
represented. In little more than a year his ministry at Boston was ended
by death; but the opposition to his call had already proceeded so far
that a secession from the old church had become inevitable. In 1669
the advocates of the Halfway Covenant organized themselves into a new
society under the title of the "Third Church in Boston." A wooden
meeting-house was built on a lot which had once belonged to the late
governor Winthrop, in what was then the south part of the town, so that
the society and its meeting-house became known as the South Church; and
after a new church founded in Summer Street in 1717 took the name of the
New South, the church of 1669 came to be further distinguished as the
Old South. As this church represented a liberal idea which was growing
in favour with the people, it soon became the most flourishing church
in America. After sixty years its numbers had increased so that the old
meeting-house could not contain them; and in 1729 the famous building
which still stands was erected on the same spot, - a building with a
grander history than any other on the American continent, unless it be
that other plain brick building in Philadelphia where the Declaration of
Independence was adopted and the Federal Constitution framed. [Sidenote:
Founding of the Old South Church, 1669]

The wrath of the First Church at this secession from its ranks was
deep and bitter, and for thirteen years it refused to entertain
ecclesiastical intercourse with the South Church. But by 1682 it had
become apparent that the king and his friends were meditating an attack
upon the Puritan theocracy in New England. It had even been suggested,
in the council for the colonies, that the Church of England should be
established in Massachusetts, and that none but duly ordained Episcopal
clergymen should be allowed to solemnize marriages. Such alarming
suggestions began to impress the various Puritan churches with the
importance of uniting their forces against the common enemy; and
accordingly in 1682 the quarrel between the two Boston societies came to
an end. There was urgent need of all the sympathy and good feeling that
the community could muster, whereby to cheer itself in the crisis that
was coming. The four years from 1684 to 1688 were the darkest years in
the history of New England. Massachusetts, though not lacking in the
spirit, had not the power to beard the tyrant as she did eighty years
later. Her attitude toward the Stuarts - as we have seen - had been
sometimes openly haughty and defiant, sometimes silent and sullen, but
always independent. At the accession of Charles II. the colonists had
thought it worth while to send commissioners to England to confer with
the king and avoid a quarrel. Charles promised to respect their charter,
but insisted that in return they must take an oath of allegiance to the
crown, must administer justice in the king's name, and must repeal their
laws restricting the right of suffrage to church members and prohibiting
the Episcopal form of worship. [Sidenote: Founding of the Old South
Church, 1669] [Sidenote: Demands of Charles II.]

When the people of Massachusetts received this message they consented to
administer justice in the king's name, but all the other matters were
referred for consideration to a committee, and so they dropped out of
sight. When the royal commissioners came to Boston in 1664, they were
especially instructed to ascertain whether Massachusetts had complied
with the king's demands; but upon this point the legislature stubbornly
withheld any definite answer, while it frittered away the time in
trivial altercations with the royal commissioners. The war with Holland
and the turbulent state of English politics operated for several years
in favour of this independent attitude of the colonists, though during
all this time their enemies at court were busy with intrigues and
accusations. Apart from mere slanders the real grounds of complaint
were the restriction of the suffrage, whereby members of the Church of
England were shut out; the claims of the eastern proprietors, heirs
of Mason and Gorges, whose territory Massachusetts had absorbed;
the infraction of the navigation laws; and the coinage of pine-tree
shillings. The last named measure had been forced upon the colonists by
the scarcity of a circulating medium. Until 1661 Indian wampum had been
a legal tender, and far into the eighteenth century it remained current
in small transactions. "In 1693 the ferriage from New York to Brooklyn
was eight stivers in wampum or a silver twopence." [35] As early as
1652 Massachusetts had sought to supply the deficiency by the issue of
shillings and sixpences. It was an affair of convenience and probably
had no political purpose. The infraction of the navigation laws was a
more serious matter. "Ships from France, Spain, and the Canaries traded
directly with Boston, and brought in goods which had never paid duty in
any English port." [36] The effect of this was to excite the jealousy
of the merchants in London and other English cities and to deprive
Massachusetts of the sympathy of that already numerous and powerful
class of people. [Sidenote: Complaints against Massachusetts]

In 1675, the first year of King Philip's War, the British government
made up its mind to attend more closely to the affairs of its American
colonies. It had got the Dutch war off its hands, and could give heed to
other things. The general supervision of the colonies was assigned to
a standing committee of the privy council, styled the "Lords of the
Committee of Trade and Plantations," and henceforth familiarly known
as the "Lords of Trade." Next year the Lords of Trade sent an agent to
Boston, with a letter to Governor Leverett about the Mason and Gorges
claims. Under cover of this errand the messenger was to go about and
ascertain the sentiments which people in the Kennebec and Piscataqua
towns, as well as in Boston, entertained for the government of
Massachusetts. The person to whom this work was entrusted was Edward
Randolph, a cousin of Robert Mason who inherited the property claim to
the Piscataqua county. To these men had old John Mason bequeathed his
deadly feud with Massachusetts, and the fourteen years which Randolph
now spent in New England were busily devoted to sowing the seeds of
strife. In 1678 the king appointed him collector and surveyor of customs
at the port of Boston, with instructions to enforce the navigation laws.
Randolph was not the man to do unpopular things in such a way as to dull
the edge of the infliction; he took delight in adding insult to injury.
He was at once harsh and treacherous. His one virtue was pecuniary
integrity; he was inaccessible to bribes and did not pick and steal from
the receipts at the custom-house. In the other relations of life he
was disencumbered of scruples. His abilities were not great, but his
industry was untiring, and he pursued his enemies with the tenacity of a
sleuth-hound. As an excellent British historian observes, "he was one of
those men who, once enlisted as partisans, lose every other feeling in
the passion which is engendered of strife." [37] [Sidenote: The Lords of
Trade] [Sidenote: Edward Randolph]

The arrival of such a man boded no good to Massachusetts. His reception
at the town-house was a cold one. Leverett liked neither his looks nor
his message, and kept his peaked hat on while he read the letter; when
he came to the signature of the king's chief secretary of state, he
asked, with careless contempt, "Who is this Henry Coventry?" Randolph's
choking rage found vent in a letter to the king, taking pains to remind
him that the governor of Massachusetts had once been an officer in
Cromwell's army. As we read this and think with what ghoulish glee the
writer would have betrayed Colonel Goffe into the hands of the headsman,
had any clue been given him, we can quite understand why Hubbard and
Mather had nothing to say about the mysterious stranger at Hadley.
Everything that Randolph could think of that would goad and irritate the
king, he reported in full to London; his letters were specimens of that
worst sort of lie that is based upon distorted half-truths; and his
malicious pen but seldom lay idle.

While waiting for the effects of these reports to ripen, Randolph was
busily intriguing with some of the leading men in Boston who were
dissatisfied with the policy of the dominant party, and under his
careful handling a party was soon brought into existence which was ready
to counsel submission to the royal will. Such was the birth of Toryism
in New England. The leader of this party was Joseph Dudley, son of
the grim verse-maker who had come over as lieutenant to Winthrop. The
younger Dudley was graduated at Harvard in 1665, and proceeded to study
theology, but soon turned his attention entirely to politics. In 1673 he
was a deputy from Roxbury in the General Court; in 1675 he took part in
the storming of the Narragansett fort; in 1677 and the three following
years he was one of the Federal Commissioners. In character and temper
he differed greatly from his father. Like the proverbial minister's son
whose feet are swift toward folly, Joseph Dudley seems to have learned
in stern bleak years of childhood to rebel against the Puritan theory of
life. Much of the abuse that has been heaped upon him, as a renegade and
traitor, is probably undeserved. It does not appear that he ever made
any pretence of love for the Puritan commonwealth, and there were many
like him who had as lief be ruled by king as by clergy. But it cannot be
denied that his suppleness and sagacity went along with a moral nature
that was weak and vulgar. Joseph Dudley was essentially a self-seeking
politician and courtier, like his famous kinsman of the previous
century, Robert, Earl of Leicester. His party in Massachusetts was
largely made up of men who had come to the colony for commercial
reasons, and had little or no sympathy with the objects for which it was
founded. Among them were Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists, who
were allowed no chance for public worship, as well as many others who,
like Gallio, cared for none of these things. Their numbers, moreover,
must have been large, for Boston had grown to be a town of 5000
inhabitants, the population of Massachusetts was approaching 30,000,
and, according to Hutchinson, scarcely one grown man in five was a
church-member qualified to vote or hold office. Such a fact speaks
volumes as to the change which was coming over the Puritan world. No
wonder that the clergy had begun to preach about the weeds and tares
that were overrunning Christ's pleasant garden. No wonder that the
spirit of revolt against the disfranchising policy of the theocracy was
ripe. [Sidenote: Joseph Dudley]

It was in 1679, when this weakness of the body politic had been duly
studied and reported by Randolph, and when all New England was groaning
under the bereavements and burdens entailed by Philip's war, that the
Stuart government began its final series of assaults upon Massachusetts.
The claims of the eastern proprietors, the heirs of Mason and Gorges,
furnished the occasion. Since 1643 the four Piscataqua towns - Hampton,
Exeter, Dover, and Portsmouth - had remained under the jurisdiction of
Massachusetts. After the Restoration the Mason claim had been revived,
and in 1677 was referred to the chief-justices North and Rainsford.
Their decision was that Mason's claim had always been worthless as based
on a grant in which the old Plymouth Company had exceeded its powers.
They also decided that Massachusetts had no valid claim since the
charter assigned her a boundary just north of the Merrimack. This
decision left the four towns subject to none but the king, who forthwith
in 1679 proceeded to erect them into the royal province of New
Hampshire, with president and council appointed by the crown, and an
assembly chosen by the people, but endowed with little authority, - a
tricksome counterfeit of popular government. Within three years an
arrogant and thieving ruler, Edward Cranfield, had goaded New Hampshire
to acts of insurrection. [Sidenote: Royal province of New Hampshire]

To the decisions of the chief-justices Massachusetts must needs submit.
The Gorges claim led to more serious results. Under Cromwell's rule in
1652 - the same year in which she began coining money - Massachusetts
had extended her sway over Maine. In 1665 Colonel Nichols and his
commissioners, acting upon the express instructions of Charles II.,
took it away from her. In 1668, after the commissioners had gone home,
Massachusetts coolly took possession again. In 1677 the chief-justices
decided that the claim of the Gorges family, being based on a grant from
James I., was valid. Then the young Ferdinando Gorges, grandson of the
first proprietor, offered to sell the province to the king, who had now


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Online LibraryJohn FiskeThe Beginnings of New England Or the Puritan Theocracy in its Relations to Civil and Religious Liberty → online text (page 17 of 20)