« AnteriorContinuar »
had little in common with the peaceably-disposed, excellent, and irreproachable people we now know as the Society of Friends. Strictly speaking, they were not Quakers, but Ranters, the Ranters whom Fox spoke of as “great opposers of Friends, and disturbers of our meetings. Yet these were the species of Quakers with which New England and Old England were made painfully familiar. At one time more than four thousand of them were in English jails. They were a disorderly and turbulent set of people, guilty of most censurable behaviour, the most wanton acts of outrage and indecency. They railed against ministers and magistrates when they met them on the road, interrupted public worship, harangued the people in public places with loud voice and excited gestures, and even women went naked through the public streets. A Quakeress appeared at a meeting-house in Massachusetts attired in sackcloth, and with her face painted black, in order to represent the coming of the small-pox. “The Quakers were drunk with religious zeal. They appeared naked in the streets and churches, hideous with grease and lampblack, breaking bottles, and raising riot and disturbance everywhere."
Undoubtedly the great error into which the authorities of Massachusetts fell was in attempting to extirpate them as fanatics and heretics, rather than as enemies of public order, and as disturbers of the peace. Some of the severities directed against them may be on the latter ground justly defended. For the more drastic
1 See chapter on “Quakerism in New England,” Bryant and Gay's History, vol. ii. p. 175.
2 “The magistrates took the ground that Massachusetts belonged
measures—those that were directed against dangerous, heretical, and blasphemous opinions—no apology can be offered. They are indefensible. The execution of Mary Dyer, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, and William Leddra was a piece of horrible and atrocious barbarity, and reflects upon Endicott and Norton, the principal agents concerned in it, lasting infamy and disgrace.
It is possible to reprobate and condemn the intolerance of the Puritans of Massachusetts, rather, we should say, the leaders of the Puritans of Massachusetts, for it is clear that the body of opinion and feeling in the colony was not with them, but against them,--and yet to disavow all sympathy with the reckless unmeasured denunciation which has been poured out upon them in connection with their treatment of the Quakers. It has been the fashion in these days to represent the case as if all the wrong were on one side, and all human sympathy should be with the Quakers. It seldom happens in any quarrel that all the wrong is on one side. Life would be much simpler if such were the
In this instance wrong was largely on one side, but not entirely so.” 1 Lowell's judgment upon this matter must, we think, constrain the sympathy, if it does not command the entire assent, of all who have fairly considered this question : “Whether they were right or wrong in their dealing with the Quakers is absolutely to its people, and that they had the right now, as in earlier days, to put down opposition, and banish all malcontents. The theory was correct enough.”—History of English Colonies in America, by Henry Cabot Lodge, p. 354.
1 Boston, by Henry Cabot Lodge, pp. 46–48.
not a question to be decided glibly after two centuries' struggle towards a conception of toleration very imperfect even yet, perhaps impossible to human nature. If they did not choose what seems to us the wisest way of keeping the devil out of their household, they certainly had a very honest will to keep him out, which we might emulate with advantage.”.
Massachusetts less advanced in regard to freedom and toleration than any other State." It is wrong," says Mr. Goldwin Smith, “ to say that the Puritans of Massachusetts left the mother country to assert the principle of liberty of conscience, and then shamefully violated that principle by their own practice. They came out, not to assert liberty of conscience, a principle which had not dawned on their minds, but to found a religious commonwealth on their own model, and in it to live the spiritual life to which they aspired.” “These men had come into the wilderness to build up a theocracy, and made no pretensions of securing liberty for anybody but themselves. They were quite as intolerarit of opinions that were not their own as the most inexorable persecutor that ever 'peppered' a Puritan.” 2
1 Among my Books : New England Two Centuries Ago, p. 269.
2 Bryant and Gay's History, vol. i. p. 537. Perhaps there is too much pepper in this criticism, and it needs to be read side by side with the statement of Mr. Douglas Campbell, in his work, The Puritan in Holland, England, and America. He condemns, and that strongly, the intolerance of Massachusetts. He says: “She was the only one of the colonies except Connecticut in which witches were put to death ; she alone hanged the inoffensive (save the mark) Quakers; and her records tell the worst tale—with the exception of those of Virginia-regarding the atrocities committed on the Indians,
We have already seen how Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts for having a broached and divulged divers new and dangerous opinions.” As this furnishes a crucial instance of the charge of exclusiveness and intolerance brought against the Puritans of Massachusetts, it will be well for us to try and ascertain what really were the grounds on which the action of the authorities was based in their treatment of Roger Williams. This raises the question,
Was Roger Williams persecuted on account of his religious opinions ? And we may say at once that this is one of those questions which probably never will be settled to the satisfaction of every one cerned in it. Opposite conclusions will be formed, and opposite answers given, according as the standpoint from which men view it varies, and according as their minds are swayed by varying prepossessions. On the one side, it is contended that Roger Williams suffered what he did in the cause of soul liberty; in other words, that it was his zeal for toleration, the rights and liberty of conscience, that made him obnoxious to the authorities of Massa
who were robbed of their land and constantly kidnapped and sold as slaves to the southern planters. He accounts for her obscurantism on this wise, on the theory which his work is mainly written to support, that she had come less than any other colony under the influence of the Netherlands. He adds : “Much has been said in history about the severe Puritanical laws of Massachusetts. They were severe when compared with the laws of some of the other colonies, like New York and Pennsylvania, which had come more fully under a Netherland influence. But in some features they were mildness itself with those enacted at an earlier period by the government of Virginia, a pure English settlement little tainted with Puritanism.” Vol. ii. pp. 414, 415.
chusetts, and led them to insist on his expulsion from the colony. On the other side, it is maintained that toleration and soul liberty or soul oppression had noth whatever to do with his being banished. No question of this kind was involved in it. He was not charged with heresy; the issue as between him and the Fathers did not turn upon any religious dogma. The questions which he raised, and by raising provoked opposition, were questions relating to political rights and the administration of government. It will put the matter in a clearer light if we consider for a moment what exactly were the charges brought against Roger Williams. Happily he himself has left us in no doubt as to what these were.
In Mr. Cotton's Letter Examined and Answered, he says: “After my public trial and answers, one of the most eminent magistrates, whose name and speech may by others be remembered, stood up and spoke. Mr. Williams holds forth these four particulars : First, That we have not our land by patent from the King, but that the natives are the true owners of it, and that we ought to repent of such a receiving it by Patent. Secondly, That it is not lawful to call a wicked person to sweare to pray as being actions of God's worship. Thirdly, That it is not lawful to hear any of the Ministers of the Parish Assemblies in England. Fourthly, That the Civil Magistrates' power extends only to the bodies and goods and outward state of men, etc. I acknowledge the particulars were rightly summed up." It is evident at a glance that it is only the last particular which contains any allusion whatever to the doctrine of toleration or “soul liberty.” Such allusion, indeed, as may