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But to the colonists of that day, this seemed a perfectly natural and unavoidable course. To do otherwise than they did, says one of Roger Williams's biographers,
"was to subvert the foundations of their civil and religious institutions; and it became in their opinion a measure of selfpreservation, and of paramount duty to God, to expel Mr. Wilsiams from the colony."
The action of the Massachusetts government cannot be held to be justifiable. It is, however, by no means unaccountable.
THE PRINCIPLE OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS SEPARATION,
AS HELD BY ROGER WILLIAMS. It is perhaps easy to lay too much stress on the connection of Roger Williams with the well known doctrine of freedom of conscience. It is altogether probable that by natural temperament, he would be strongly inclined to embrace a belief of this kind. Yet he must have had abundant opportunity, even before leaving England, for familiarizing himself with the utterances in favor of toleration, in one form and another. They may be traced from Sir Thomas More's “Utopia”, (1516), and the utterances of the Chancellor de l’Hopital, in France, (so early perhaps as 1550); through the degrees of the Diet of Augsburg, (1555); the writings of Menno, (1561); and the writings of Robert Brown, ("the father,” as he is called by Masson, of the crude English independency of Elizabeth's reign ”), down to books published in Mr. Williams's own time. The tract,” says Mr. Masson," which “is, certainly, the earliest known English publication in which full liberty of conscience is openly advocated," is “Religious peace,” by Busher, a working man of London,
(1) Knowles's “Roger Williams," p. 80.
published in 1614. It had been preceded in 1609 by Jacob's “Humble supplication for toleration.”
It is therefore plainly an error, (to quote from Dr. Ellis), to assume that the assertion of the right and safety of liberty of conscience” was “a novelty that was alarming, because it was a novelty, to the authorities of Massachusetts.” “They knew it well, and what must come of it, and they did not like it.” “They identified freedom of conscience with the objectionable and mischievous results which came of it,” which (he suggests), they had personally observed and abhorred in England. “They had an intense—by us an unappreciable—horror and distrust of those who professed to be favored with private interpretations, revelations, and inspirations."
Great confusion, it is scarcely necessary to add, has resulted from attributing to the founders of the Massachusetts colony the desire to establish "a refuge for civil and religious freedom.”+ A careful study of their charter, of their legislation, and of their private and public utterances, reveals no such purpose. “They did not cross the Atlantic," says President Quincy , "on a crusade, in behalf of the rights of mankind in general, but in support of their own rights and liberties. 98
But it is an even more interesting question to consider how far this idea was consciously in the mind of Roger Williams himself, in settling here. An examination of his career will show that the growth in his own mind of this far-reaching principle was very gradual, and was not wholly foreseen. Not at Plymouth, not at Salem, not even in his final answers to the General Court at Newtown, did he so enunciate it as to leave no doubt as to its extent and significance. When once removed from association with the Massachusetts community ; finding himself at Providence the centre of a company of persons distressed for conscience," enlarging his original plan to include under a common government both this and the Aquidneck group of colonists avowedly associated for a similar purpose" ;he was brought into contact with the unforeseen problem of organizing a body politic, and it was thus that his theories crystallized into convictions. It was nearly ten years after he went out from the Salem community into the wilderness, before he published the first of those singularly comprehensive treatises and letters in which these views were expressed in their fulness. Moreover, it is necessary to remember that there is a doctrine which he was almost the first to enunciate, and which is inseparably associated with his name. Not so much the question of liberty of conscience, as the far broader and more fruitful principle,”; to quote Professor Diman, of the complete and radical separation of civil and religious concerns. It was this which he advocated, says Professor Tyler, with “ripeness of judgment, uttermost sincerity, all-consuming earnestness, the inspiration of being in the right and of knowing it.?
(1) Besides the review of authorities in Masson's chapter already quoted from,
see the careful tracing of the principle by Rev. Dr. H. M. Dexter, in his volume, “As to Roger Williams," p. 86–87, note. Compare also Rev. Dr. Caldwell's remarks, Baptist Quarterly, VI. 397-98. Also Professor
Diman's “Orations and essays," p. 127-28. (2) Lowell Institute lectures, 1869, p. 84. (3) Ibid., p. 81. (4) This language, strange to say, is that of Dr. Palfrey, usually a most care
ful and exact writer. (Palfrey's "History of New England,” I. 314). (5) The charter nowhere alludes to the matter. (Mass. Col. Records, I. 1-20). (6)Quincy's “Address to the citizens of Boston,” 200th anniversary, 1830, p.
By the year 1663 these principles of "full libertie in religious concernements” and the radical separation of the latter from
(1)R. I. Col. Records, I. 22. (2)R. I. Hist. Soc. Collections, IV. 83. (3)“The bloudy tenent, of persecution, for cause of conscience,” 1644. (4) See his admirable letter of Jan., 1655, (printed at pages 47-49 of this vol
ume), in which he disclaims an indefensible and "infinite liberty of con. science;” that of August, 1654, in which he refers with evident affection to the grand cause of truth and freedom of conscience,” (page 52, ante); that of August 27, 1654, in which he felicitates the settlers of Providence, on being “free from the iron yokes of wolfish bishops,” (page 53, ante);
and other letters, printed in Vol. 6, of the Narragansett Club Publications. (5) Diman's “Orations and essays,” p. 127. (6) Tyler's "History of American literature,” I. 256.
the civil power, had become “household words” in Rhode Island. When therefore they make their appearance in the charter of that year, by which the colony of Rhode Island was at last placed on a permanent footing, there is little occasion to wonder. Coming gradually to this position, Roger Williams had adopted it unconditionally, and did not now shrink from putting it to the severest tests of actual trial in administration. The far-reaching consequences of this permanent embodiment of it in organic law are not easily measured. It is not too much to say that but for Roger Williams's masterly and convincing advocacy of these principles, they would not have become what they are to-day, “the accepted and fundamental maxim of American politics."
THE ORIGINAL RECORDS OF THE TOWN OF PROVIDENCE.3
Where as the Towne of providence did upon ye : 12th: - of August : 1678: at a Towne meeting upon Ajornement, order and Appoynt mr.Roger "Williams, and Daniell Abbott, Clerke, to receive of John Whipple junr the former Towne Clerke, the Townes Books, and recordes belonging to the Towne now in
(1)R. I. Col. Records, II. 5. (2)Diman's “Orations and essays," p. 129. See also page 67 of this volume. (3)This decidedly interesting schedule of the early records is preserved in the
Foster Papers, I. 7. The portion above printed is written on the first two pages of a sheet of foolscap. On the back are the two endorsements given below, on an inside and outside fold, respectively.
(1) A Coppie of my disscharge for the Delivery of ye Towne Bookes in ye yeare 1678.”
(2)“List of the Records of the Town of Providence Signed by Roger Williams and Daniel Abbot in 1678."
The first endorsement is evidently in the land of John Whipple, Jr.
The second is apparently that of Governor Hopkins. (4) The letters "th" are written above the figures. 5) The letter "w" throughout this record is so written as to make it practi
cally impossible to pronounce it either a capital or a small letter,
ye handes of the sayd John Whipple, and to take a List of what they Receive, and to give ye sayd John Whipple a cleare and full Disscharge for the same, the which wee have Done, Vizt Impri The Towne old Booke: Containeing of: 70:1 leaves,
and one not wrott upon, . . . . . . . . . [Item']. The longe Booke with parchment Covers Cheifely Con
sisting of recordes of Deedes, and of landes, Containeing of: 69 : leaves, and 78 peces of leaves all wrott upon,
besides two leaues pinned to an other, . . . . . " The Booke with Brass Clapses, Containeing of : 164 pages
wrott upon besides fower leaves wrott upon which are not paged, as also : 18 :* leaues wrott upon at that end
of ye Book where the Alphabett is, . . . . . . " Papers of Generall Assemblys Acts to ye number of: 24:6
Each of them haveng the seale of ye Collony affixed, the seales being all of them in Good Condition nott defaced, saueing one which is an Assemblys Acts beareing
date may yes : 4 :: 1662". . . . . . . . . The new Booke, for ye entry of Towne Acts and orders,
with eight pages wrott upon besides part of the ninth wrott upon," . . . . . . . . . . . .
(1)Above the figures, 70, is written "th,” perhaps by an inadvertency. (2) The characters used before each item are an “M,” crossed with one line. (3) The letters “th,” as before. (4) The letters "th,” as before. (5) The three foregoing entries plainly refer to the three earliest volumes of
town records now preserved, known respectively as Nos. 1, 2, and 3. They were copied (1800) in the volume, lettered on the back “Deeds,
etc., transcribed,” now preserved in the Registry of Deeds. (6) The letters "th,” as before. (7) No doubt official copies sent to the town by the colony. (8)The letter "e" is written above the “y," in "ye.” (9) The letters “th,” as before. (10) The fourth and final figure of this date has been worn from the margin
through age. (11)Obviously, from this description, the volume preserved in the City Clerk's
office, and lettered “Town meetings No. 3."