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memorable date, November 11 (= 21), 1620, when, arrived
off the shore of Cape Cod, the little company, without
charter or warrant of any kind from any government on
earth, about to land on a savage continent in quest of a
home, gathered in the cabin of the " Mayflower," and after
a method quite in analogy with that in which, sixteen years
before, they had constituted the church at Scrooby, entered
into formal and solemn compact " in the presence of God
and one of another, covenanting and combining themselves
together into a civil body politic."

It is difficult, in reading the instrument then subscribed,
to avoid the conviction that the theory of the origin of the
powers of civil government in a social compact, which had
long floated in literature before it came to be distinctly
articulated in the " Contrat Social " of Jean Jacques Rous-
seau, was familiar to the minds of those by whom the
paper was drawn. Thoughtful men at the present day
universally recognize the fallacy of this plausible hypothesis,
which once had such wide currency and so serious an in-
fluence on the course of political history in America. But
whether or not they were affected by the theory, the prac-
tical good sense of the men and their deference to the
teachings of the Bible secured them from the vicious and
absurd consequences deducible from it. Not all the names
of the colonists were subscribed to the compact, — a clear
indication of the freedom of individual judgment in that

1 li. Bacon, " Genesis," p. 245.


company, — but it was never for a moment held that the
dissentients were any the less bound by it. When worth-
less John Billington, who had somehow got " shuffled into
their company," was sentenced for disrespect and disobe-
dience, to Captain Myles Standish " to have his neck and
heels tied together," it does not seem to have occurred to
him to plead that he had never entered into the social com-
pact ; nor yet when the same wretched man, ten years later,
was by a jury convicted of willful murder, and sentenced
to death and executed. Logically, under the social-com-
pact theory, it would have been competent for those dis-
senting from this compact to enter into another, and set up
a competing civil government on the same ground ; but
what would have been the practical value of this line of
argument might have been learned from Mr. Thomas
Morton, of Furnivall's Inn, after he had been haled out
of his disorderly house at Merry Mount by Captain Stand-
ish, and convented before the authorities at Plymouth.

The social- compact theory as applied to the church,
implying that the mutual duties of Christian disciples
in society are derived solely from mutual stipulations, is
quite as transparently fallacious as when it is applied to
civil polity, and the consequences deducible from it are not
less absurd. But it cannot be claimed for the Plymouth
men, and still less for their spiritual successors, that they
have wholly escaped the evil consequences of their theory
in its practical applications. The notion that a church of
Christ is a club, having no authority or limitations but what
it derives from club rules agreed on among the members,
would have been scouted by the Pilgrims; among those
who now claim to sit in their seats there are some who
would hesitate to admit it, and many who would frankly
avow it with all its mischievous implications. Planted in
the soil of Plymouth, it spread at once through New Eng-


land, and has become widely rooted in distant and diverse
regions of the American church.^ >

The church of Plymouth, though deprived of its pastor,
continued to be rich in faith and in all spiritual gifts, and
most of all in the excellent gift of charity. The history of
it year after year is a beautiful illustration of brotherly
kindness and mutual self-sacrifice among themselves and
of forgiving patience toward enemies. But the colony, be-
ginning in extreme feebleness and penury, never became
either strong or rich. One hundred and two souls em-
barked in the " Mayflower," of whom nearly one half were
dead before the end of four months. At the end of four
years the number had increased to one hundred and
eighty. At the end of ten years the settlement numbered
three hundred persons.

It could not have been with joy wholly unalloyed with
misgivings that this feeble folk learned of a powerful move-
ment for planting a Puritan colony close in the neighbor-
hood. The movement had begun in the heart of the
national church, and represented everything that was best
in that institution. The Rev. John White, rector of Dor-
chester, followed across the sea with pastoral solicitude the
young men of his parish, who, in the business of the fish-
eries, were wont to make long stay on the New England
coast, far from home and church. His thought was to
establish a settlement that should be a sort of depot of sup-
plies for the fishing fleets, and a temporary home attended
with the comforts and safeguards of Christian influence.
The project was a costly failure ; but it was like the corn
of wheat falling into the ground to die, and bringing forth
much fruit. A gentleman of energy and dignity, John

1 The writer takes leave to refer to two essays of his own, in " Irenics
and Polemics " (New York, Christian Literature Co., 1895), for a fuller state-
ment of this point.


Endicott, pledged his personal service as leader of a new
colony. In September, 1628, he landed with a pioneering
party at Naumkeag, and having happily composed some
differences that arose with the earlier comers, they named
the place Salem, which is, by interpretation, " Peace."
Already, with the newcomers and the old, the well-pro-
vided settlement numbered more than fifty persons, busy
in preparation for further arrivals. Meanwhile vigorous
work was doing in England. The organization to sustain
the colony represented adequate capital and the highest
quality of character and influence. A royal charter,
drawn with sagacious care to secure every privilege the
Puritan Company desired, was secured from the fatuity of
the reigning Stuart, erecting in the wilderness such a free
commonwealth as his poor little soul abhorred ; and prep-
aration was made for sending out, in the spring of 1629,
a noble fleet of six vessels, carrying three hundred men and
a hundred women and children, with ample equipment of
provisions, tools and arms, and live stock. The Company
had taken care that there should be " plentiful provision
of godly ministers." Three approved clergymen of the
Church of England — Higginson, Skelton, and Bright —
had been chosen by the Company to attend the expedition,
besides whom one Ralph Smith, a Separatist minister, had
been permitted to take passage before the Company " un-
derstood of his difference in judgment in some things "
from the other ministers. He was permitted to continue
his journey, yet not without a caution to the governor that
unless he were found " conformable to the government "
he was not to be suffered to remain within the limits of its
jurisdiction. An incident of this departure rests on the
sole authority of Cotton Mather, and is best told in his own
words :

" When they came to the Land's End, Mr. Higginson,



calling up his children and other passengers unto the stern
of the ship to take their last sight of England, said, ' We
will not say, as the Separatists were wont to say at their
leaving of England, Farewell, Babylon! farewell, Rome!
but we will say, Farewell, dear England! farewell, the
church of God in England, and all the Christian friends
there ! We do not go to New England as Separatists from
the Church of England, though we cannot but separate
from the corruptions in it ; but we go to practice the posi-
tive part of church reformation and propagate the gospel
in America.' "

The story ought to be true, for the intrinsic likeliness
of it ; and it is all the likelier for the fact that among the
passengers, kindly and even fraternally treated, and yet the
object of grave misgivings, was the honest Separatist min-
ister, Ralph Smith. ^ The ideal of the new colony could
hardly have been better expressed than in these possibly
apocryphal words ascribed to Mr. Higginson. These were
not fugitives seeking asylum from persecution. Still less
were they planning an asylum for others. They were in-
tent on the planting of a new commonwealth, in which the
church of Christ, not according to the imperfect and per-
verted pattern of the English Establishment, but accord-
ing to a fairer pattern, that had been showed them in their
mounts of vision, should be both free and dominant. If this
purpose of theirs was wrong ; if they had no right to deny
themselves the comforts and delights of their native land,
and at vast cost of treasure to seclude themselves within
a defined tract of wilderness, for the accomplishment of an
enterprise which they concoived to be of the highest benef-
icence to mankind — then doubtless many of the measures
which they took in pursuance of this purpose must fall
under the same condemnation with the purpose itself. If

1 X.. Bacon, " Genesis," p. 467.


there are minds so constituted as to perceive no moral
difference between banishing a man from his native home,
for opinion's sake, and declining, on account of difference
of opinion, to admit a man to partnership in a difficult and
hazardous enterprise organized on a distinctly exclusive
basis, such minds will be constrained to condemn the Puri-
tan colonists from the start and all along. Minds other-
wise constituted will be able to discriminate between the
righteous following of a justifiable policy and the lapses of
the colonial governments from high and Christian motives
and righteous courses. Whether the policy of rigorous ex-
clusiveness, building up communities of picked material,
homogeneous in race, language, and rehgion, is on the
whole less wise for the founders of a new commonwealth
than a sweepingly comprehensive policy, gathering in peo-
ple mutually alien in speech and creed and habits, is a
fairly open question for historical students. Much light
might be thrown upon it by the comparative history of
Massachusetts and Rhode Island, of New England and
Pennsylvania. It is not a question that is answered at
once by the mere statement of it.

We do not need to be told that to the little Separatist
settlement at Plymouth, still in the first decade of its
feeble existence, the founding, within a day's journey, of
this powerful colony, on ecclesiastical principles distinctly
antagonistic to their own, was a momentous, even a for-
midable fact. Critical, nay, vital questions emerged at
once, which the subtlest churchcraft might have despaired
of answering. They were answered, solved, harmonized,
by the spirit of Christian love.

That great spiritual teacher, John Robinson, besides his
more general exhortations to brotherly kindness and char-
ity, had spoken, in the spirit of prophecy, some promises
and assurances which came now to a divine fulfillment.


Pondering " sundry weighty and solid reasons " in favor
of removal from Holland, the pilgrims put on record that
" their pastor would often say that many of those who both
wrote and preached against them would practice as they
did if they were in a place where they might have liberty
and live conformably." One of the most affectionate of
his disciples, Edward Winslow, wrote down some of the
precious and memorable words which the pastor, who v/as
to see their face no more, uttered through his tears as they
were about to leave him. " ' There will be no difference,'
he said, ' between the unconformable ministers and you,
w^hen they come to the practice of the ordinances out of the
kingdom.' And so he advised us to close with the godly
party of the kingdom of England, and rather to study
union than division, viz., how near we might possibly with-
out sin close with them, rather than in the least measure
to affect division or separation from them."

The solitude of the little starving hamlet by the sea was
favorable to the springing and fructifying of this seed in the
good and honest hearts into which it had been cast. Be-
fore the great fleet of colonists, with its three unconform-
able Church of England clergymen, had reached the port
of Salem the good seed had been planted anew in other
hearts not less honest and good. It fell on this wise.
The pioneer party at Salem who came with Endicott,
" arriving there in an uncultivated desert, many of them,
for want of wholesome diet and convenient lodgings, were
seized with the scurvy and other distempers, which short-
ened many of their days, and prevented many of the rest
from performing any great matter of labor that year for
advancing the work of the plantation." Whereupon the
governor, hearing that at Plymouth lived a physician " that
had some skill that way," wrote thither for help, and at
once the beloved physician and deacon of the Plymouth


church, Dr. Samuel Fuller, hastened to their relief. On
what themes the discourse revolved between the Puritan
governor just from England and the Separatist deacon
already for so many years an exile, and whither it tended,
is manifested in a letter written soon after by Governor
Endicott, of Salem, to Governor Bradford, of Plymouth,
under date May ii (= 2i), 1629. The letter marks an
epoch in the history of American Christianity :

" To the worshipful and my right worthy friend, William
Bradford, Esq.,' Governor of New Plymouth, these :

" Right worthy Sni : It is a thing not usual that ser-
vants to one Master and of the same household should be
strangers. I assure you I desire it not ; nay, to speak
more plainly, I cannot be so to you. God's people are
marked with one and the same mark, and sealed with one
and the same seal, and have, for the main, one and the
same heart, guided by one and the same Spirit of truth ;
and where this is there can be no discord — nay, here must
needs be sweet harmony. The same request with you I
make unto the Lord, that we may as Christian brethren
be united by a heavenly and unfeigned love, bending all
our hearts and forces in furthering a work beyond our
strength, with reverence and fear fastening our eyes always
on him that only is able to direct and prosper all our ways.

" I acknowledge myself much bound to you for your
kind love and care in sending Mr. Fuller among us, and
I rejoice much that I am by him satisfied touching your
judgments of the outward form of God's worship.^ It is,
as far as I can yet gather, no other than is warranted by
the evidence of truth, and the same which I have professed
and maintained ever since the Lord in mercy revealed him-

^ The phrase is used in a large sense, as comprehending the whole subject
of the nature and organization of the visible church (L. Bacon, " Genesis,"
p. 456, note).


self to me, being very far different from the common report
that hath been spread of you touching that particular. But
God's children must not look for less here below, and it
is the great mercy of God that he strengthens them to go
through with it.

" I shall not need at this time to be tedious unto you,
for, God willing, I purpose to see your face shortly. In
the meantime I humbly take my leave of you, committing
you to the Lord's blessed protection, and rest

" Your assured loving friend and servant,

"John Endicott."

"The positive part of church reformation," which Hig-
ginson and his companions had come into the wilderness
to practice, appeared in a new light when studied under
the new conditions. The question of separation from the
general fellowship of English Christians, which had lain
heavily on their consciences, was no longer a question;
instead of it arose the question of separation from their
beloved and honored fellow-Christians at Plymouth. The
Act of Uniformity and the tyrannous processes by which
it was enforced no longer existed for them. They were
free to build the house of God simply according to the
teaching of the divine Word. What form will the structure
take ?

One of the first practical questions to emerge was the
question by what authority their ministry was to be exer-
cised. On one point they seem to have been quite clear.
The episcopal ordination, which each of them had received
in England, whatever validity it may have had in English
law, gave them no authority in the church of God in Salem,
Further, their appointment from the Company in London,
although it was a regular commission from the constituted
civil government of the colony, could confer no office in


the spiritual house. A day of solemn fasting was held,
by the governor's appointment, for the choice of pastor and
teacher, and after prayer the two recognized candidates for
the two offices, Skelton and Higginson, were called upon
to give their views as to a divine call to the ministry.
" They acknowledged there was a twofold calling : the one,
an inward calling, when the Lord moved the heart of a
man to take that calling upon him, and fitted him with
gifts for the same; the second (the outward calhng) was
from the people, when a company of believers are joined
together in covenant to walk together in all the ways of
God." Thereupon the assembly proceeded to a written
ballot, and its choice fell upon Mr. Skelton and Mr. Hig-
ginson. It remained for the ministers elect to be solemnly
inducted into office, which was done with prayer and the
laying on of hands in benediction.

But presently there were searchings of heart over the
anterior question as to the constituency of the church.
Were all the population of Salem to be reckoned as of the
church of Salem ? and if not, who should " discern between
the righteous and the wicked"? The result of study of
this question, in the light of the New Testament, was this
— that it was " necessary for those who intended to be of
the church solemnly to enter into a covenant engagement
one with another, in the presence of God, to walk together
before him according to his Word." Thirty persons were
chosen to be the first members of the church, who in a set
form of words made public vows of faithfulness to each
other and to Christ. By the church thus constituted the
pastor and teacher, already installed in office in the parish,
were instituted as ministers of the church,^

Before the solemnities of that notable day were con-
cluded, a belated vessel that had been eagerly awaited

1 L. Bacon, " Genesis," p. 475.


landed on the beach at Salem the " messengers of the
church at Plymouth." They came into the assembly,
Governor Bradford at the head, and in the name of the
Pilgrim church declared their " approbation and concur-
rence," and greeted the new church, the first-born in
America, with " the right hand of fellowship." A thought-
ful and devoted student declares this day's proceedings to
be " the beginning of a distinctively American church his-
tory." 1

The immediate sequel of this transaction is characteris-
tic and instructive. Two brothers, John and Samuel
Browne, members of the council of the colony, took grave
offense at this departure from the ways of the Church of
England, and, joining to themselves others like-minded,
set up separate worship according to the Book of Common
Prayer. Being called to account before the governor for
their schismatic procedure, they took an aggressive tone
and declared that the ministers " were Separatists, and
would be Anabaptists." The two brothers were illogical.
The ministers had not departed from the Nationalist and
anti-Separatist principles enunciated by Higginson from
the quarter-deck of the "Talbot." What they had just
done was to lay the foundations of a national church for
the commonwealth that was in building. And the two
brothers, trying to draw off a part of the people into their
schism-shop, were Separatists, although they were doubt-
less surprised to discover it. There was not the slightest
hesitation on the governor's part as to the proper course
to be pursued. " Finding those two brothers to be of
high spirits, and their speeches and practices tending to
mutiny and faction, the governor told them that New
England was no place for such as they, and therefore he
sent them both back for England at the return of the ships
1 L. Bacon, " Genesis," p. 477.


the same year." ^ Neither then nor afterward was there
any trace of doubt in the minds of the New England set-
tlers, in going three thousand miles away into the seclu-
sion of the wilderness, of their indefeasible moral right to
pick their own company. There was abundant opportu-
nity for mistake and temptation to wrong-doing in the
exercise of this right, but the right itself is so nearly self-
evident as to need no argument.

While the civil and ecclesiastical foundations of the
Salem community are thus being laid, there is preparing
on the other side of the sea that great coup d'etat which is
to create, almost in a day, a practically independent Ameri-
can republic. Until this is accomplished the colonial or-
ganization is according to a common pattern, a settlement
on a distant shore, equipped, sustained, and governed with
authority all but sovereign by a commercial company
at the metropolis, within the reach, and thus under the
control, of the supreme power. Suppose, now, that the
shareholders in the commercial company take their char-
ter conferring all but sovereign authority, and transport
themselves and it across the sea to the heart of the settle-
ment, there ,to admit other planters, at their discretion, to
the franchise of the Company, what then ? This was the
question pondered and decided in those dark days of Eng-
lish liberty, when the triumph of despotism, civil and
spiritual, over the rights of EngHshmen seemed almost
achieved. The old officers of the Company resigned ;
their places were filled by Winthrop and Dudley and
others, who had undertaken to emigrate ; and that mem-
orable season of 1630 not less than seventeen ships, carry-
ing about one thousand passengers, sailed from English
ports for Massachusetts Bay. It was the beginning of
the great Puritan exodus. Attempts were made by the

1 Morton's Memorial, in Palfrey, vol. i., p. 298.


king and the archbishop to stay the flow of emigration,
but with only transient success. " At the end of ten
years from Winthrop's arrival about twenty-one thousand
Englishmen, or four thousand families, including the few
hundreds who were here before him, had come over in
three hundred vessels, at a cost of two hundred thousand
pounds sterling." ^ What could not be done by despotism
was accomplished by the triumph of the people over the
court. The meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640 made
it safe for Puritans to stay in England ; and the Puritans
stayed. The current of migration was not only checked,
but turned backward. It is reckoned that within four
generations from that time more persons went to old Eng-
land than originally came thence. The beginnings of this
return were of high importance. Among the home-going
companies were men who were destined to render eminent
service in the reconstruction of English society, both in
the state and in the army, and especially in the church.
The example of the New England churches, voluminously
set forth in response to written inquiries from England,
had great influence in saving the mother country from
suffering the imposition of a Presbyterian hierarchy that
threatened to be as intolerant and as intolerable as the
tyranny of Laud.

For the order of the New England churches crystallized
rapidly into a systematic and definite church polity, far
removed from mere Separatism even in the temperate
form in which this had been illustrated by Robinson and
the Pilgrim church. The successive companies of emi-
grants as they arrived, ship-load after ship-load, each with
its minister or college of ministers, followed with almost
monotonous exactness the method adopted in the organi-
zation of the church in Salem. A small company of the

1 Palfrey, vol. i., p. 584.


best Christians entered into mutual covenant as a church
of Christ, and this number, growing by well-considered

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 8 of 34)