Part 3 out of 7
appear almost as would a gigantic lizard which, having been severed in an
ancient conflict, was now making a violent but only half-conscious effort
to cause the head and body to unite with the tail, so that the two might
function once more as a single organism, governed by a single will. Under
our present form of capitalistic life there would seem to be no reason why
this fluid capital should not fuse and by its energy furnish the motor
which should govern the world. Rome, for centuries, was governed by an
emperor, who represented the landed class of Italy, under the forms of a
republic. It is not by any means necessary that a plutocratic mass should
have a recognized political head. And America and England, like two
enormous banking houses, might in effect fuse and yet go on as separate
institutions with nominally separate boards of directors.
But it is inconceivable that even such an expedient as this, however
successful at the outset, should permanently solve the problem, which
resolves itself once more into individual competition. It is not
imaginable that such an enormous plutocratic society as I have supposed
could conduct its complex affairs upon the basis of the average
intelligence. As in Rome, a civil service would inevitably be organized
which would contain a carefully selected body of ability. We have seen
such a process, in its initial stages, in the recent war. And such a civil
service, however selected and however trained, would, to succeed, have to
be composed of men who were the ablest in their calling, the best
educated, and the fittest: in a word, the representatives of what we call
"the big business" of the country. Such as they might handle the
railroads, the telegraph lines, the food supply, the question of
competitive shipping, and finally prices, as we have seen it done, but
only on condition that they belonged to the fortunate class by merit.
But supposing, in the face of such a government, the unfortunate class
should protest, as they already do protest in Russia, in Germany, and even
in England and here at home, that a legal system which sanctions such a
civilization is iniquitous. Here, the discontented say, you insist on a
certain form of competition being carried to its limit. That is, you
demand intellectual and peaceful competition for which I am unfit both by
education, training, and mental ability. I am therefore excluded from
those walks in life which make a man a freeman. I become a slave to
capital. I must work, or fight, or starve according to another man's
convenience, caprice, or, in fine, according to his will. I could be no
worse off under any despot. To such a system I will not submit. But I can
at least fight. Put me on a competitive equality or I will blow your
civilization to atoms. To such an argument there is no logical answer
possible except the answer which all extreme socialists have always
advanced. The fortunate man should be taxed for all he earns above the
average wage, and the State should confiscate his accumulations at death.
Then, with a system of government education, obligatory on all, children
would start equal from birth.
Here we come against the hereditary instinct, the creator and the
preserver of the family: the instinct which has made law and order
possible, so far as our ancestors or we have known order, as far back as
the Ice Age. If the coming world must strive with this question, or
abandon the "democratic ideal," the future promises to be stormy.
But even assuming that this problem of individual competition be overcome,
we are as far as ever from creating a system of moral law which shall
avail us, for we at once come in conflict with the principle of abstract
justice which demands that free men shall be permitted to colonize or move
where they will. But supposing England and America to amalgamate; they now
hold or assume to control all or nearly all the vacant regions of the
earth which are suited to the white man's habitation. And the white man
cannot live and farm his land in competition with the Asiatic; that was
conclusively proved in the days of Rome.
But it is not imaginable that Asiatics will submit to this discrimination
in silence. Nothing can probably constrain them to resignation but force,
and to apply force is to revert to the old argument of the savage or the
despot, who admits that he knows no law save that of the stronger, which
is the system, however much we have disguised it and, in short, lied about
it, under which we have lived and under which our ancestors have lived
ever since the family was organized, and under which it is probable that
we shall continue to live as long as any remnant of civilization shall
Nevertheless, it seems to be far from improbable that the system of
industrial, capitalistic civilization, which came in, in substance, with
the "free thought" of the Reformation, is nearing an end. Very probably it
may have attained to its ultimate stages and may dissolve presently in the
chaos which, since the Reformation, has been visibly impending. Democracy
in America has conspicuously and decisively failed, in the collective
administration of the common public property. Granting thus much, it
becomes simply a question of relative inefficiency, or degradation of
type, culminating in the exhaustion of resources by waste; unless the
democratic man can supernaturally raise himself to some level more nearly
approaching perfection than that on which he stands. For it has become
self-evident that the democrat cannot change himself from a competitive to
a non-competitive animal by talking about it, or by pretending to be
already or to be about to become other than he is,--the victim of infinite
QUINCY, _July_ 20, 1919.
THE EMANCIPATION OF MASSACHUSETTS.
The mysteries of the Holy Catholic Church had been venerated for ages when
Europe burst from her mediĉval torpor into the splendor of the
Renaissance. Political schemes and papal abuses may have precipitated the
inevitable outbreak, but in the dawn of modern thought the darkness faded
amidst which mankind had so long cowered in the abject terrors of
superstition. Already in the beginning of the fifteenth century many of
the ancient dogmas had begun to awaken incredulity, and sceptics learned
to mock at that claim to infallibility upon which the priesthood based
their right to command the blind obedience of the Christian world. Between
such adversaries compromise was impossible; and those who afterward
revolted against the authority of the traditions of Rome sought refuge
under the shelter of the Bible, which they grew to reverence with a
passionate devotion, believing it to have been not only directly and
verbally inspired by God, but the only channel through which he had made
known his will to men.
Thus the movement was not toward new doctrines; on the contrary, it was
the rejection of what could no longer be believed. Calvin was no less
orthodox than St. Augustine in what he accepted; his heresy lay in the
denial of enigmas from which his understanding recoiled. The mighty
convulsion of the Reformation, therefore, was but the supreme effort of
the race to tear itself from the toils of a hierarchy whose life hung upon
its success in forcing the children to worship the myths of their
Three hundred years after Luther nailed his theses to the church door the
logical deduction had been drawn from his great act, and Christendom had
been driven to admit that any concession of the right to reason upon
matters of faith involved the recognition of the freedom of individual
thought. But though this noble principle has been at length established,
long years of bloodshed passed before the victory was won; and from the
outset the attitude of the clergy formed the chief obstacle to the triumph
of a more liberal civilization; for howsoever bitterly Catholic and
Protestant divines have hated and persecuted each other, they have united
like true brethren in their hatred and their persecution of heretics; for
such was their inexorable destiny.
Men who firmly believe that salvation lies within their creed alone, and
that doubters suffer endless torments, never can be tolerant. They feel
that duty commands them to defend their homes against a deadly peril, and
even pity for the sinner urges them to wring from him a recantation before
it is too late; and then, moreover, dissent must lessen the power and
influence of a hierarchy and may endanger its very existence; therefore
the priests of every church have been stimulated to crush out schism by
the two strongest passions that can inflame the mind--by bigotry and by
In England the Reformation was controlled by statesmen, whose object was
to invest the crown with ecclesiastical power, and who made no changes
except such as they thought necessary for their purpose. They repudiated
the papal supremacy, and adopted articles of religion sufficiently
evangelical in form, but they retained episcopacy, the liturgy, and the
surplice; the cross was still used in baptism, the people bowed at the
name of Jesus, and knelt at the communion. Such a compromise with what
they deemed idolatry was offensive to the stricter Protestants, and so
early as 1550 John Hooper refused the see of Gloucester because he would
not wear the robes of office; thus almost from its foundation the church
was divided into factions, and those who demanded a more radical reform
were nicknamed Puritans. As time elapsed large numbers who could no longer
bring themselves to conform withdrew from the orthodox communion, and
began to worship by themselves; persecution followed, and many fled to
Holland, where they formed congregations in the larger towns, the most
celebrated of them being that of John Robinson at Leyden, which afterward
founded Plymouth. But the intellectual ferment was universal, and the same
upheaval that was rending the church was shaking the foundations of the
state: power was passing into the hands of the people, but a century was
to elapse before the relations of the sovereign to the House of Commons
were fully adjusted. During this interval the Stuarts reigned and three of
the four kings suffered exile or death in the fierce contest for mastery.
The fixed determination of Charles I. was to establish a despotism and
enforce conformity with ritualism; and the result was the Great Rebellion.
Among the statesmen who advised him, none has met with such scant mercy
from posterity as Laud, who has been gibbeted as the impersonification of
narrowness, of bigotry, and of cruelty. The judgment is unscientific, for
whatever may be thought of the humanity or wisdom of his policy, he only
did what all have done who have attempted to impose a creed on men.
The real grievance has never been that an observance has been required, or
an indulgence refused, but that the right to think has been denied.
Provided a boundary be fixed within which the reason must be chained, the
line drawn by Laud is as reasonable as that of Calvin; Geneva is no more
infallible than Canterbury or Rome. Comprehension is the dream of
visionaries, for some will always differ from any confession of faith,
however broad; and where there are dogmas there will be heretics till all
have perished. But in their fear and hatred of individual free thought
regarding the mysteries of religion, Laud, Calvin, and the Pope agreed.
With the progress of the war, the Puritans, who had at first been united
in their opposition to the crown, themselves divided; one party, to which
most of the peers and of the non-conforming clergy belonged, being anxious
to reestablish the monarchy, and set up a rigid Presbyterianism; the
other, of whose spirit Cromwell was the incarnation, resolving each day
more firmly to crush the king and proclaim freedom of conscience; and it
was this doctrine of toleration which was the snare and the abomination in
the eyes of evangelical divines.
Robert Baillie, the Scotch commissioner, while in London, anxiously
watching the rise of the power of the Independents in Parliament, with
each victory of their armies in the field wrote, "Liberty of conscience,
and toleration of all and any religion, is so prodigious an impiety that
this religious parliament cannot but abhor the very meaning of it." Nor
did his reverend brethren of the Westminster Assembly fall any whit behind
him when they rose to expound the word. In a letter of 17th May, 1644, he
thus described their doctrine: "This day was the best that I have seen
since I came to England.... After D. Twisse had begun with a brief prayer,
Mr. Marshall prayed large two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of
the members of the assembly, in a wonderful, pathetick, and prudent way.
After, Mr. Arrowsmith preached an hour, then a psalm; thereafter, Mr.
Vines prayed near two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached an hour, and Mr.
Seaman prayed near two hours, then a psalm; after, Mr. Henderson brought
them to a sweet conference of the heat confessed in the assembly, and
other seen faults to be remedied, and the conveniency to preach against
all sects, especially Anabaptists and Antinomians. Dr. Twisse closed with
a short prayer and blessing." [Footnote: Baillie's _Letters and Journals_,
But Cromwell, gifted with noble instincts and transcendent political
genius, a layman, a statesman, and a soldier, was a liberal from birth
"Those that were sound in the faith, how proper was it for them to labor
for liberty, ... that men might not be trampled upon for their
consciences! Had not they labored but lately under the weight of
persecution? And was it fit for them to sit heavy upon others? Is it
ingenuous to ask liberty and not to give it? What greater hypocrisy than
for those who were oppressed by the bishops to become the greatest
oppressors themselves, so soon as their yoke was removed? I could wish
that they who call for liberty now also had not too much of that spirit,
if the power were in their hands." [Footnote: Speech at dissolution of
first Parliment, Jan. 22, 1655. Carlyle's _Cromwell_, iv. 107.]
"If a man of one form will be trampling upon the heels of another form, if
an Independent, for example, will despise him under Baptism, and will
revile him and reproach him and provoke him,--I will not suffer it in him.
If, on the other side, those of the Anabaptist shall be censuring the
godly ministers of the nation who profess under that of Independency; or
if those that profess under Presbytery shall be reproaching or speaking
evil of them, traducing and censuring of them, as I would not be willing
to see the day when England shall be in the power of the Presbytery to
impose upon the consciences of others that profess faith in Christ,--so I
will not endure any reproach to them." [Footnote: Speech made September,
1656. Carlyle's _Cromwell_, iv. 234.]
The number of clergymen among the emigrants to Massachusetts was very
large, and the character of the class who formed the colony was influenced
by them to an extraordinary degree. Many able pastors had been deprived in
England for non-conformity, and they had to choose between silence or
exile. To men of their temperament silence would have been intolerable;
and most must have depended upon their profession for support. America,
therefore, offered a convenient refuge. The motives are less obvious which
induced the leading laymen, some of whom were of fortune and consequence
at home, to face the hardships of the wilderness. Persecution cannot be
the explanation, for a government under which Hampden and Cromwell could
live and be returned to Parliament was not intolerable; nor does it appear
that any of them had been severely dealt with. The wish of the Puritan
party to have a place of retreat, should the worst befall, may have had
its weight with individuals, but probably the influence which swayed the
larger number was the personal ascendancy of their pastors, for that
ascendancy was complete. In a community so selected, men of the type of
Baillie must have vastly outnumbered those of the stamp of Cromwell, and
in point of fact their minds were generally cast in the ecclesiastical
mould and imbued with the ecclesiastical feeling. Governor Dudley
represented them well, and at his death some lines were found in his
pocket in which their spirit yet glows in all the fierceness of its
"Let men of God in Courts and Churches watch
O're such as do a Toleration hatch,
Lest that Ill Egg bring forth a Cockatrice,
To poison all with heresie and vice."
[Footnote: _Magnalia_, bk. 2, ch. v. section 1.]
In former ages churches had been comprehensive to this extent: infants
had been baptized, and, when the child had become a man, he had been
admitted to the communion as a matter of course, unless his life had given
scandal; but to this system the Congregationalist was utterly opposed. He
believed that, human nature being totally depraved, some became regenerate
through grace; that the signs of grace were as palpable as any other
traits of character, and could be discerned by all the world; therefore,
none should be admitted to the sacrament who had not the marks of the
elect; and as in a well-ordered community the godly ought to rule, it
followed that none should be enfranchised but members of the church.
To suppose such a government could be maintained in England was beyond the
dreams even of an enthusiast, and there can be little doubt that the
controlling incentive with many of those who sailed was the hope, with the
aid of their divines, of founding a religious commonwealth in the
wilderness which should harmonize with their interpretation of the
The execution of such a project was, however, far from easy. It would have
been most unsafe for the emigrants to have divulged their true designs,
since these were not only unlawful, but would have been highly offensive
to the king, and yet they were too feeble to exist without the protection
of Great Britain, therefore it was necessary to secure for themselves the
rights of English subjects, and to throw some semblance at least of the
sanction of law over the organization of their new state. Accordingly, a
patent [Footnote: March 4, 1629.] was obtained from the crown, by which
twenty-five persons were incorporated under the name of the Governor and
Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England; and as the extent of the
powers therein granted has given rise to a controversy which is not yet
closed, it is necessary to understand the nature of that instrument in
order to comprehend the bearings of the bitter strife which darkens the
history of the first fifty years of the colony.
The germ of the written charter is so ancient as to be lost in obscurity.
During the Middle Ages, oppression was, speaking generally, the accepted
condition of society, no man not noble having the right in theory, or the
power in practice, to control his own actions without interference from
his feudal superior. Under such circumstances the only hope for the weak
was to combine, and most of the early triumphs of freedom were won by
combinations of commons against some noble, or of nobles against a king.
Organization is difficult for a peasantry, but easy for burghers, and from
the outset these seem to have united for their common defense against the
neighboring barons; and thus was born the mediĉval guild.
The ancient townsmen were not usually strong enough to fight for their
liberties, so they generally resorted to purchase; they agreed with their
lord upon a price to be paid for a privilege, and were given for their
money a grant, which, because it was written, was called a charter.
The following charter of the Merchants' Guild of Leicester is very early
and very simple. It presupposes that there could be no doubt about the
local customs, which are therefore not enumerated, and it shows that the
guild of Leicester existed as a corporation at the Conquest, and must
already have held property in succession and been liable to suit through
"Robert, Earl of Mellent, to Ralph, and all his barons, French and
English, of all his land in England, greeting: Know ye, that I have
granted to my merchants of Leicester their Guild Merchant, with all
customs which they held in the time of King William, of King William his
son, and now hold in the time of Henry the king.
"Witness: R., the son of Alcitil."
The object of these ancient writings was only to record the fact of
corporate existence; the popular custom by which the guilds were regulated
was taken for granted; but obviously they must have had succession, been
liable to suit, able to contract, and, in a word, to do all those acts
which were afterward set forth. And such has uniformly been the process by
which English jurisprudence has been shaped; a usage grows up that courts
recognize, and, by their decisions, establish as the common law; but
judicial decisions are inflexible, and, as they become antiquated, they
are themselves modified by legislation. Lawyers observed these customary
companies for some centuries before they learned what functions were
universal; but, with the lapse of time, the patents became more elaborate,
until at length a voluminous grant of each particular power was held
necessary to create a new corporation.
A merchants' guild, like the one of Leicester, was an association of the
townsmen for their common welfare. Every trader was then called a
merchant, and as almost every burgher lived by trade, and was also a
landowner, to the extent at least of his dwelling, it followed that the
guild practically included all free male inhabitants; the guild hall was
used as the town hall, the guild ordinances were the town ordinances, and
the corporation became the government of the borough, and as such chose
persons to represent it in Parliament, when summoned by the king's writ to
send burgesses to Westminster.
London is a corporation by prescription and not by virtue of any
particular charter, and to this day its city hall is called by the ancient
name, Guild Hall. But with the growth of wealth and population the
original fraternity divided into craft organizations (so long ago, indeed,
that no record of its existence remains), and each trade organized a
guild, with a hall of its own; and thus it came to pass that the twelve
livery companies--the Mercers, the Grocers, the Goldsmiths, the Drapers,
the Fishmongers, and the rest--became the government of the capital of
All mediĉval institutions tended to aristocracy and monopoly, and,
accordingly, after the merchant guilds had split into these corporate
trade unions, boroughs waxed exclusive, and membership, instead of being
an incident of citizenship, grew to confer citizenship itself; thus the
franchise, being confined to freemen, and freedom or membership having
come to depend on birth, marriage, election, or purchase, the
constituencies which returned a majority of the House of Commons grew so
petty and corrupt as to threaten the existence of parliamentary government
itself, and the abuse at last culminated in the agitation which produced
the Reform Bill.
When legal forms had taken shape, the land upon which a town stood was not
unusually granted to the mayor and commonalty by metes and bounds,
[Footnote: See Charter of Plymouth, granted 1439. _History of
Plymouth_, p. 50. The incorporation was by statute.] to them and their
successors forever, upon payment of a rent; and the mayor and common
council were empowered to make laws and ordinances for the local
government, and to fine, imprison, and sometimes whip and otherwise punish
offenders, so as their statutes, fines, pains, and penalties were
reasonable and not repugnant to law. [Footnote: _History of
Tiverton_, App. 5.] The foreign trading company was an offshoot of the
guild, and was intended to protect commerce. Obviously some such
organization must have been necessary, for, if property was insecure
within the realm, it was far more exposed without; and, indeed, in the
fourteenth century, English merchants domiciled on the Continent could
hardly have been safer than Europeans are now who garrison the so-called
factories upon the coast of Africa.
At the Conquest, the Hanse merchants had a house in London, which was
afterward famous as the Steel Yard. They lived a strange life,--a
combination of that of the trader, the soldier, and the monk. Their
fortified warehouse, exposed to the attacks of the ferocious mob, was
occasionally taken and sacked; and the garrison shut up within was subject
to an iron discipline. They were forbidden to marry, no woman passed the
gates, nor did they ever sleep a night without the walls; but, always on
the watch, they lay in their cells ready to repulse a storm. For many
years these Germans seem to have monopolized the carrying trade, for it
was not till the thirteenth century that Englishmen appear to have made an
effort at competition. However, about 1296 certain London mercers are said
to have obtained a grant of privileges from John, Duke of Brabant, and to
have established a wool market at Antwerp. [Footnote: Andersen's
_History of Commerce_.] The recognition of the Flemish government was
of course necessary; but they could hardly have maintained themselves
without some support at home; for, although their warehouse was abroad,
they were English merchants, and they must have relied upon English
protection. No very early documents remain; but an elaborate charter,
granted by Edward IV. in 1463, proves that the corporation had then had a
long legal existence. [Footnote: Hakluyt's _Voyages_, i. 230.] The
crown thereby confirmed one Obrey, the governor, in his office during
pleasure, with the wages theretofore enjoyed; existing laws were approved;
the governor and merchants were empowered to elect twelve Justicers, who
were to hold courts for all merchants and mariners in those parts; and the
company was authorized to regulate the trade and control the traders,
provided no laws were passed contrary to the intent of that charter.
Here, as in the Merchant Guild, the inevitable aristocratic revolution
took place, and the old democratic brotherhood became a strict monopoly.
The oppression was so flagrant that a petition was presented to Parliament
in 1497 against the exactions of the Merchant Adventurers, as the
association was then called, by which it appeared that interlopers,
trading to Holland and Flanders, were fined £40, whereas any subject might
have become a freeman in earlier times for an old noble, or about 6s. 8d.;
[Footnote: 12 Henry VII. ch. vi.] and the scandal was so great that the
fine was fixed at 10 marks, or £6 l3s. 4d., by statute. During the
stagnation of the Middle Ages few traces of such commercial enterprises
are to be found, but with the sixteenth century Europe awoke to a new life
and thrilled with a new energy. Trade shared in the impulse. In 1554
Philip and Mary incorporated the Russia Company in regular modern form; in
1581 the Turkey Company was organized; in 1600 the East India Company
received its charter; and, to come directly to what is material, in 1629
Charles I. signed the patent of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts
Bay in New England.
Stripped of its verbiage, the provisions are simple. The stockholders, or
"freemen," as they were then called, were to meet once a quarter in a
"General Court." This General Court, or stockholders' meeting, chose the
officers, of which there were twenty, the governor, deputy governor, and
eighteen assistants or directors, on the last Wednesday in each Easter
Term. The assistants were intrusted with the business management, and were
to meet once a month or oftener; while the General Court was empowered to
admit freemen, and "to make laws and ordinances for the good and welfare
of the said company, and for the government and ordering of the said lands
and plantation, and the people inhabiting and to inhabit the same, as to
them from time to time shall be thought meet,--so as such laws and
ordinances be not contrary or repugnant to the laws and statutes of this
our realm of England." The criminal jurisdiction was limited to the
"imposition of lawful fines, mulcts, imprisonment, or other lawful
correction, according to the course of other corporations in this our
realm of England."
The "course of corporations" referred to was well established. The Master
and Wardens of the Guild of Drapers in London, for example, could make
"such ... pains, punishments, and penalties, by corporal punishment, or
fines and amercements," ... "as shall seem ... necessary," provided their
statutes were reasonable and not contrary to the laws of the kingdom.
[Footnote: Herbert's _Livery Companies_, i. 489.] In like manner,
boroughs such as Tiverton might "impose and assess punishments by
imprisonments, etc., and reasonable fines upon offenders." [Footnote: See
_History of Tiverton_, App. 5.]
But all lawyers knew that such grants did not convey full civil or
criminal jurisdiction, which, when thought needful, was specially
conferred, as was done in the case of the East India Company upon their
petition in 1624, [Footnote: Bruce, _Annals_, i. 252.] and in that of
Massachusetts by the charter of William and Mary.
Such was the undoubted theory, and evidently there must always have been
some practical means of checking the abuse of power by these strong
organizations. In semi-barbarous ages the sovereign took matters into his
own hands by seizing the franchise, and even the Plantagenets repeatedly
suspended or revoked the liberties of London,--often, no doubt, for cause,
but sometimes also to make money by a resale; and a succession of these
arbitrary forfeitures demonstrated that charters to be of value must be
beyond the grantor's control. Resort was had to the courts, as a matter of
course, and finally it was settled that relief should be given by a writ
of _quo warranto_, upon which the question of the violation of
privileges could be tried; and curious records still remain of ancient
litigations of this nature.
In 1321 complaint was made against the London Weavers for injuring the
public by passing regulations tending to raise the price of cloth.
[Footnote: _Liber Customarum_, i. 416-424.] It was alleged that the
guild, with this intent, had limited the working hours in the day, the
working days in the year, and the number of apprentices the freemen might
employ; and the prayer was that for these abuses the charter should be
The cause was tried before a jury, who found the truth of some of the
charges; but the judgment is lost, as the roll is imperfect.
There was danger, moreover, to the citizen from the oppression of these
powerful bodies, as well as to the public from their usurpations; and were
authority wholly wanting, argument would be almost unnecessary to prove
that some appellate tribunal must always have had jurisdiction to pass
upon the validity of corporate legislation; for otherwise any summary
punishment might have been inflicted upon an individual, though
notoriously unlawful, and the only redress possible would have been
subsequent proceedings to vacate the charter.
Through appeals, corporations could be controlled; and by none was this
control so stubbornly disputed, or its necessity so clearly demonstrated,
as by the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England. A good
illustration is the trial of the Quaker, Wenlock Christison, for his life
"William Leddra being thus dispatch'd, it was resolved to make an end also
of Wenlock Christison. He therefore was brought from the prison to the
court at Boston, where the governor John Indicot, and the deputy governor
Richard Billingham, being both present, it was told him, 'Unless you will
renounce your religion, you shall surely die.' But instead of shrinking,
he said with an undaunted courage, 'Nay, I shall not change my religion,
nor seek to save my life; neither do I intend to deny my Master; but if I
lose my life for Christ's sake, and the preaching of the gospel, I shall
save my life.' ... John Indicot asked him 'what he had to say for himself,
why he should not die?' ... Then Wenlock asked, 'By what law will you put
me to death?' The answer was, 'We have a law, and by our law you are to
die.' 'So said the Jews of Christ,' (reply'd Wenlock) 'we have a law, and
by our law he ought to die. Who empowered you to make that law?' To which
one of the board answered, 'We have a patent, and are the patentees; judge
whether we have not power to make laws.' Hereupon Wenlock asked again,
'How, have you power to make laws repugnant to the laws of England?' 'No,'
said the governor. 'Then,' (reply'd Wenlock,) 'you are gone beyond your
bounds, and have forfeited your patent; and that is more than you can
answer.' 'Are you,' ask'd he, 'subjects to the king, yea or nay?' ... To
which one said, 'Yea, we are so.' 'Well,' said Wenlock, 'so am I.' ...
'Therefore seeing that you and I are subjects to the king, I demand to be
tried by the laws of my own nation.' It was answered, 'You shall be tried
by a bench and a jury.' For it seems they began to be afraid to go on in
the former course, of trial without a jury ... But Wenlock said, 'That is
not the law, but the manner of it; for I never heard nor read of any law
that was in England to hang Quakers.' To this the governor reply'd 'that
there was a law to hang Jesuits.' To which Wenlock return'd, 'If you put
me to death, it is not because I go under the name of a Jesuit, but of a
Quaker. Therefore, I appeal to the laws of my own nation.' But instead of
taking notice of this, one said 'that he was in their hands, and had
broken their law, and they would try him.'" [Footnote: Sewel, pp. 278,
Yet, though the ecclesiastical party in Massachusetts obstinately refused
to admit appeals to the British judiciary up to the last moment of their
power, for the obvious reason that the existence of the theocracy depended
upon the enforcement of such legislation as that under which the Quakers
suffered, there was no principle in the whole range of English
jurisprudence more firmly established. By a statute of Henry VI. passed in
1436, corporate enactments were to be submitted to the judges for
approval; and the Court of King's Bench always set aside such as were bad,
whenever the question of their validity was presented for adjudication.
[Footnote: Stat. 15 H. VI. ch. 6. Stat 19 H. VII. ch. 7. Clark's Case, 5
Coke, 633, decided A. D. 1596. See Kyd on Corporations, ii. 107-110, where
authorities are collected. Child v. Hudson Bay Co., 2 P. W. 207.]
But discussion is futile; the proposition is self-evident, that an
association endowed with the capacity of acting like a single man, for
certain defined objects, which shall attempt other objects, or shall seek
to compass its ends by unlawful means, violates the condition upon which
its life has been granted, transcends the limits of its existence, and
forfeits its privileges; and that under such circumstances its ordinances
are void, and none are bound to yield them their obedience.
Approached thus from the standpoint of legal history, no doubt can exist
concerning the scope of the franchise secured by the Puritans for the
Massachusetts colony. The instrument obtained from Charles I. embodied
certain of their number in an English corporation, whose only lawful
business was the American trade, as the business of the East India Company
was trade in Hindostan. To enable them to act effectively, a tract of land
in New England, between the Merrimack and the Charles, was conveyed to
them, as the soil upon which a town stood was conveyed to the mayor and
commonalty. Within this territory they were authorized to established
their plantations and forts, which they were empowered to defend against
attack, as the Hanse merchants defended the Steel Yard in London. They
were also permitted to govern the country within their grant by reasonable
regulations calculated to preserve the peace, and of much the same
character as the municipal ordinances of towns, subject, of course, to
judicial supervision. The corporation itself was created subject to the
municipal laws of England, and could have no existence without the realm;
and though perhaps even then the American wilderness might have been held
to belong to the British empire, it formed no part of the kingdom,
[Footnote: Blackstone's _Commentaries_, i. 109.] and was altogether
beyond the limits of that jurisdiction from whose customs and statutes the
life of this imaginary being sprang. Therefore, the governing body could
legally exercise its functions only when domiciled in some English town.
[Footnote: On this subject see the able paper of Mr. Deane, in
_Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings_, December, 1869, p.
Sir Richard Sheldon, the solicitor-general, advised the king that he was
signing a charter containing "such ... clauses for ye electing of
Governors and Officers here in England, ... and powers to make lawes and
ordinances for setling ye governement and magistracye for ye plantacon
there, ... as ... are usuallie allowed to Corporacons in England."
[Footnote: _Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc._ 1869-70, p. 173.] And there can
be no question that his opinion was sound.
Nothing can be imagined more ill-suited to serve as the organic law of a
new commonwealth than this instrument. No provision was made for superior
or probate courts, for a representative assembly, for the incorporation of
counties and towns, for police or taxation. In short, hardly a step could
be taken toward founding a territorial government based upon popular
suffrage without working a forfeiture of the charter by abuse of the
franchise. The colonists, it is true, afterward advanced very different
theories of construction; but that they were well aware of their legal
position is demonstrated by the fact that after some hesitation from
apprehension of consequences, they ventured on the singularly bold and
lawless measure of secretly removing their charter to America and
establishing their corporation in a land which they thought would be
beyond the process of Westminster Hall. [Footnote: 1629, Aug. 29.] The
details of the settlement are related in many books, and require only the
briefest mention here. In 1628 an association of gentlemen bought the
tract of country lying between the Merrimack and Charles from the Council
of Plymouth, and sent Endicott to take charge of their purchase. A royal
patent was, however, thought necessary for the protection of a large
colony, and one having been obtained, the Company of Massachusetts Bay was
at once organized in England, Endicott was appointed governor in America,
and six vessels sailed during the spring of 1629, taking out several
hundred persons and a "plentiful provision of godly ministers." In August
the church of Salem was gathered and Mr. Higginson was consecrated as
their teacher. In that same month Winthrop, Saltonstall, and others met at
Cambridge and signed an agreement binding themselves upon the faith of
Christians to embark for the plantation by the following March; "Provided
always that before the last of September next, the whole government,
together with the patent, ... be first by an order of court legally
transferred and established to remain with us and others which shall
inhabite upon the said plantation." [Footnote: _Hutch. Coll._, Prince
Soc. ed. i. 28.] The Company accepted the proposition, Winthrop was chosen
governor, and he anchored in Salem harbor in June. [Footnote: 1630] More
than a thousand settlers landed before winter, and the first General Court
was held at Boston in October; nor did the emigration thus begun entirely
cease until the meeting of the Long Parliament.
From the beginning the colonists took what measures they thought proper,
without regarding the limitations of the law. Counties and towns had to be
practically incorporated, taxes were levied upon inhabitants, and in 1634
all pretence of a General Court of freemen was dropped, and the towns
chose delegates to represent them, though the legislature was not divided
into two branches until ten years later. When the government had become
fully organized supreme power was vested in the General Court, a
legislature composed of two houses; the assistants, or magistrates, as
they were called, and the deputies. The governor, deputy governor, and
assistants were elected by a general vote; but each town sent two deputies
For some years justice was dispensed by the magistrates according to the
Word of God, but gradually a judicial system was established; the
magistrate's local court was the lowest, from whence causes went by appeal
to the county courts, one of whose judges was always an assistant, and
probate jurisdiction was given to the two held at Ipswich and at Salem.
From the judgments entered here an appeal lay to the Court of Assistants,
and then to the General Court, which was the tribunal of last resort. The
clergy and gentry pertinaciously resisted the enactment of a series of
general statutes, upon which the people as steadily insisted, until at
length, in 1641, "The Body of Liberties" was approved by the legislature.
This compilation was the work of the Rev. Mr. Ward, pastor of Ipswich, and
contained a criminal code copied almost word for word from the Pentateuch,
but apart from matters touching religion, the legislation was such as
English colonists have always adopted. A major-general was elected who
commanded the militia, and in 1652 money was coined.
The social institutions, however, have a keener interest, for they reflect
that strong cast of thought which has stamped its imprint deep into the
character of so much of the American people. The seventeenth century was
aristocratic, and the inhabitants of the larger part of New England were
divided into three classes, the commonalty, the gentry, and the clergy.
Little need be said of the first, except that they were a brave and
determined race, as ready to fight as Cromwell's saints, who made Rupert's
troopers "as stubble to their swords;" that they were intelligent, and
would not brook injustice; and that they were resolute, and would not
endure oppression. All know that they were energetic and shrewd.
The gentry had the weight in the community that comes with wealth and
education, and they received the deference then paid to birth, for they
were for the most part the descendants of English country-gentlemen. As a
matter of course they monopolized the chief offices; and they were not
sentenced by the courts to degrading punishments, like whipping, for their
offences, as other criminals were. They even showed some wish at the
outset to create legal distinctions, such as a magistracy for life, and a
disposition to magnify the jurisdiction of the Court of Assistants, whose
seats they filled; but the action of the people was determined though
quiet, a chamber of deputies was chosen, and such schemes were heard of no
Yet notwithstanding the existence of this aristocratic element, the real
substance of influence and power lay with the clergy. It has been taught
as an axiom of Massachusetts history, that from the outset the town was
the social and political unit; but an analysis of the evidence tends to
show that the organization of the Puritan Commonwealth was ecclesiastical,
and the congregation, not the town, the basis upon which the fabric
rested. By the constitution of the corporation the franchise went with the
freedom of the company; but in order to form a constituency which would
support a sacerdotal oligarchy, it was enacted in 1631 "that for time to
come noe man shalbe admitted to the freedome of this body polliticke, but
such as are members of some of the churches within ... the same."
[Footnote: _Mass. Records_, i. 87.] Thus though communicants were not
necessarily voters, no one could be a voter who was not a communicant;
therefore the town-meeting was in fact nothing but the church meeting,
possibly somewhat attenuated, and called by a different name. By this
insidious statute the clergy seized the temporal power, which they held
till the charter fell. The minister stood at the head of the congregation
and moulded it to suit his purposes and to do his will; for though he
could not when opposed admit an inhabitant to the sacrament, he could
peremptorily exclude therefrom all those of whom he disapproved, for "none
are propounded to the congregation, except they be first allowed by the
elders." [Footnote: Winthrop's reply to Vane, _Hutch. Coll._, Prince
Soc. ed. i. 101.] In such a community the influence of the priesthood must
have been overwhelming. Not only in an age without newspapers or tolerable
roads were their sermons, preached several times each week to every voter,
the most effective of political harangues; but, unlike other party
orators, they were not forced to stimulate the sluggish, or to convince
the hostile, for from a people glowing with fanaticism, each elder picked
his band of devoted servants of the church, men passionately longing to do
the will of Christ, whose commands concerning earth and heaven their
pastor had been ordained to declare. Nor was their power bounded by local
limits; though seldom holding office themselves, they were solemnly
consulted by the government on every important question that arose,
whether of war or peace, and their counsel was rarely disregarded. They
gave their opinion, no matter how foreign the subject might be to their
profession or their education; and they had no hesitation in passing upon
the technical construction of the charter with the authority of a bench of
judges. An amusing example is given by Winthrop: "The General Court
assembled again, and all the elders were sent for, to reconcile the
differences between the magistrates and deputies. When they were come the
first question put to them was, ... whether the magistrates are, by patent
and election of the people, the standing council of this commonwealth in
the vacancy of the General Court, and have power accordingly to act in all
cases subject to government, according to the said patent and the laws of
this jurisdiction; and when any necessary occasions call for action from
authority, in cases where there is no particular express law provided,
there to be guided by the word of God, till the General Court give
particular rules in such cases. The elders, having received the question,
withdrew themselves for consultation about it, and the next day sent to
know, when we would appoint a time that they might attend the court with
their answer. The magistrates and deputies agreed upon an hour "and ...
their answer was affirmative, on the magistrates behalf, in the very
words of the question, with some reasons thereof. It was delivered in
writing by Mr. Cotton in the name of them all, they being all present, and
not one dissentient." Then the magistrates propounded four more questions,
the last of which is as follows: "Whether a judge be bound to pronounce
such sentence as a positive law prescribes, in case it be apparently above
or beneath the merit of the offence?" To which the elders replied at great
length, saying that the penalty must vary with the gravity of the crime,
and added examples: "So any sin committed with an high hand, as the
gathering of sticks on the Sabbath day, may be punished with death when a
lesser punishment may serve for gathering sticks privily and in some
need." [Footnote: Winthrop, ii. 204, 205.] Yet though the clerical
influence was so unbounded the theocracy itself was exposed to constant
peril. In monarchies such as France or Spain the priests who rule the king
have the force of the nation at command to dispose of at their will; but
in Massachusetts a more difficult problem was presented, for the voters
had to be controlled. By the law requiring freemen to be church-members
the elders meant to grasp the key to the suffrage, but experience soon
proved that more stringent regulation was needed.
According to the original Congregational theory each church was complete
and independent, and elected its own officers and conducted its own
worship, free from interference from without, except that others of the
same communion might offer advice or admonition. Under the theocracy no
such loose system was possible, for heresy might enter in three different
ways; first, under the early law, "blasphemers" might form a congregation
and from thence creep into the company; second, an established church
might fall into error; third, an unsound minister might be chosen, who
would debauch his flock by securing the admission of sectaries to the
sacrament. Above all, a creed was necessary by means of which false
doctrine might be instantly detected and condemned. Accordingly, one by
one, as the need for vigilance increased, laws were passed to guard these
points of danger.
First, in 1635 it was enacted, [Footnote: 1635-6, March 3.] "Forasmuch as
it hath bene found by sad experience, that much trouble and disturbance
hath happened both to the church & civill state by the officers & members
of some churches, which have bene gathered ... in an vndue manner ... it
is ... ordered that ... this Court doeth not, nor will hereafter, approue
of any such companyes of men as shall henceforthe ioyne in any pretended
way of church fellowshipp, without they shall first acquainte the
magistrates, & the elders of the greater parte of the churches in this
jurisdiction, with their intenctions, and have their approbaction herein.
And ffurther, it is ordered, that noe person, being a member of any
churche which shall hereafter be gathered without the approbaction of the
magistrates, & the greater parte of the said churches, shallbe admitted to
the ffreedome of this commonwealthe." [Footnote: _Mass. Rec._ i. 168.]
In 1648 all the elders met in a synod at Cambridge; they adopted the
Westminster Confession of Faith and an elaborate "Platform of Church
Discipline," the last clause of which is as follows: "If any church ...
shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the communion of other
churches, or shall walk incorrigibly and obstinately in any corrupt way of
their own contrary to the rule of the word; in such case the magistrate,
... is to put forth his coercive power, as the matter shall require."
[Footnote: _Magnalia_, bk. 5, ch. xvii. Section 9.]
In 1658 the General Court declared: "Whereas it is the duty of the
Christian magistrate to take care the people be fed with wholesome & sound
doctrine, & in this houre of temptation, ... it is therefore ordered, that
henceforth no person shall ... preach to any company of people, whither in
church society or not, or be ordeyned to the office of a teaching elder,
where any two organnick churches, councill of state, or Generall Court
shall declare theire dissatisfaction thereat, either in refference to
doctrine or practize... and in case of ordination... timely notice thereof
shall be given unto three or fower of the neighbouring organicke churches
for theire approbation." [Footnote: _Mass. Rec._ iv. pt. 1, p. 328.] And
lastly, in 1679, the building of meeting-houses was forbidden, without
leave from the freemen of the town or the General Court. [Footnote:
_Mass. Rec._ v. 213.]
But legislation has never yet controlled the action of human thought. All
experience shows that every age, and every western nation, produces men
whose nature it is to follow the guidance of their reason in the face of
every danger. To exterminate these is the task of religious persecution,
for they can be silenced only by death. Thus is a dominant priesthood
brought face to face with the alternative, of surrendering its power or of
killing the heretic, and those bloody deeds that cast their sombre shadow
across the history of the Puritan Commonwealth cannot be seen in their
true bearing unless the position of the clergy is vividly before the mind.
Cromwell said that ministers were "helpers of, not lords over, God's
people," [Footnote: Cromwell to Dundass, letter cxlviii. Carlyle's
_Cromwell_, iii. 72.] but the orthodox New Englander was the vassal
of his priest. Winthrop was the ablest and the most enlightened magistrate
the ecclesiastical party ever had, and he tells us that "I honoured a
faithful minister in my heart and could have kissed his feet." [Footnote:
_Life and Letters of Winthrop_, i. 61.] If the governor of
Massachusetts and the leader of the emigration could thus describe his
moral growth,--a man of birth, education, and fortune, who had had wide
experience of life, and was a lawyer by profession,--the awe and terror
felt by the mass of the communicants can be imagined.
Jonathan Mitchel, one of the most famous of the earlier divines, thus
describes his flock: "They were a gracious, savoury-spirited people,
principled by Mr. Shepard, liking an humbling, mourning, heart-breaking
ministry and spirit; living in religion, praying men and women." And "he
would speak with such a transcendent majesty and liveliness, that the
people ... would often shake under his dispensations, as if they had heard
the sound of the trumpets from the burning mountain, and yet they would
mourn to think, that they were going presently to be dismissed from such
an heaven upon earth." ... "When a publick admonition was to be dispensed
unto any one that had offended scandalously... the hearers would be all
drowned in tears, as if the admonition had been, as indeed he would with
much artifice make it be directed unto them all; but such would be the
compassion, and yet the gravity, the majesty, the scriptural and awful
pungency of these his dispensations, that the conscience of the offender
himself, could make no resistance thereunto." [Footnote: _Magnalia_,
bk. 4, ch. iv. Sub-section 9, 10.]
Their arrogance was fed by the submission of the people, and they would
not tolerate the slightest opposition even from their most devoted
retainers. The Reforming Synod was held in 1679. "When the report of a
committee on 'the evils that had provoked the Lord' came up for
consideration, 'Mr. Wheelock declared that there was a cry of injustice in
that magistrates and ministers were not rated' (taxed), 'which occasioned
a very warm discourse. Mr. Stodder' (minister of Northampton) 'charged the
deputy with saying what was not true, and the deputy governor' (Danforth)
'told him he deserved to be laid by the heels, etc.'
"'After we broke up, the deputy and several others went home with Mr.
Stodder, and the deputy asked forgiveness of him and told him he freely
forgave him, but Mr. Stodder was high.' The next day 'the deputy owned his
being in too great a heat, and desired the Lord to forgive it, and Mr.
Stodder did something, though very little, by the deputy.'" [Footnote:
Palfrey's _History of New England_, in. 330, note 2. Extract from
_Journal_ of Rev. Peter Thacher.] Wheelock was lucky in not having to
smart more severely for his temerity, for the unfortunate Ursula Cole was
sentenced to pay £5 [Footnote: Five pounds was equivalent to a sum between
one hundred and twenty-five and one hundred and fifty dollars now. Ursula
was of course poor, or she would not have been sentenced to be whipped.
The fine was therefore extremely heavy.] or be whipped for the lighter
crime of saying "she had as lief hear a cat mew" [Footnote: Frothingham,
_History of Charlestown_, p. 208.] as Mr. Shepard preach. The daily
services in the churches consumed so much time that they became a
grievance with which the government was unable to cope.
In 1633 the Court of Assistants, thinking "the keepeing of lectures att
the ordinary howres nowe obserued in the forenoone, to be dyvers wayes
preiudiciall to the common good, both in the losse of a whole day, &
bringing other charges & troubles to the place where the lecture is kept,"
ordered that they should not begin before one o'clock. [Footnote: _Mass.
Rec._ i. 110.] The evil still continued, for only the next year it was
found that so many lectures "did spend too much time and proved
overburdensome," and they were reduced to two a week. [Footnote: Felt's
_Eccl. Hist._ i. 201.] Notwithstanding these measures, relief was not
obtained, because, as the legislature complained in 1639, lectures "were
held till night, and sometimes within the night, so as such as dwelt far
off could not get home in due season, and many weak bodies could not
endure so long, in the extremity of the heat or cold, without great
trouble and hazard of their health," [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 324.] and a
consultation between the elders and magistrates was suggested.
But to have the delights of the pulpit abridged was more than the divines
could bear. They declared roundly that their privileges were invaded;
[Footnote: _Idem_, i. 325.] and the General Court had to give way. A
few lines in Winthrop's Journal give an idea of the tax this loquacity
must have been upon the time of a poor and scattered people. "Mr. Hooker
being to preach at Cambridge, the governor and many others went to hear
him.... He preached in the afternoon, and having gone on, with much
strength of voice and intention of spirit, about a quarter of an hour, he
was at a stand, and told the people that God had deprived him both of his
strength and matter, &c. and so went forth, and about half an hour after
returned again, and went on to very good purpose about two hours."
[Footnote: Winthrop, i. 304.] Common men could not have kept this hold
upon the inhabitants of New England, but the clergy were learned,
resolute, and able, and their strong but narrow minds burned with
fanaticism and love of power; with their beliefs and under their
temptations persecution seemed to them not only their most potent weapon,
but a duty they owed to Christ--and that duty they unflinchingly
performed. John Cotton, the most gifted among them, taught it as a holy
work: "But the good that is brought to princes and subjects by the due
punishment of apostate seducers and idolaters and blasphemers is manifold.
"First, it putteth away evill from the people and cutteth off a gangreene,
which would spread to further ungodlinesse....
"Secondly, it driveth away wolves from worrying and scattering the sheep
of Christ. For false teachers be wolves, ... and the very name of wolves
holdeth forth what benefit will redound to the sheep, by either killing
them or driving them away.
"Thirdly, such executions upon such evill doers causeth all the country to
heare and feare, and doe no more such wickednesse.... Yea as these
punishments are preventions of like wickednesse in some, so are they
wholesome medicines, to heale such as are curable of these eviles....
"Fourthly, the punishments executed upon false prophets and seducing
teachers, doe bring downe showers of God's blessings upon the civill
"Fifthly, it is an honour to God's Justice that such judgments are
executed...." [Footnote: _Bloody Tenent Washed_, pp. 137, 138.]
All motives combined to drive them headlong into cruelty; for in the
breasts of the larger number, even the passion of bigotry was cool beside
the malignant hate they felt for those whose opinions menaced their
earthly power and dominion; and they never wearied of exhorting the
magistrates to destroy the enemies of the church. "Men's lusts are sweet
to them, and they would not be disturbed or disquieted in their sin. Hence
there be so many such as cry up tolleration boundless and libertinism so
as (if it were in their power) to order a total and perpetual confinement
of the sword of the civil magistrate unto its scabbard; (a notion that is
evidently distructive to this people, and to the publick liberty, peace,
and prosperity of any instituted churches under heaven.)" [Footnote:
_Eye Salve_, Election Sermon, by Mr. Shepard of Charlestown, p. 21.]
"Let the magistrates coercive power in matters of religion (therefore) be
still asserted, seing he is one who is bound to God more than any other
men to cherish his true religion; ... and how wofull would the state of
things soon be among us, if men might have liberty without controll to
profess, or preach, or print, or publish what they list, tending to the
seduction of others." [Footnote: _Eye Salve_, p. 38.] Such feelings
found their fit expression in savage laws against dissenting sects; these,
however, will be dealt with hereafter; only those which illustrate the
fundamental principles of the theocracy need be mentioned here. One chief
cause of schism was the hearing of false doctrine; and in order that the
people might not be led into temptation, but might on the contrary hear
true exposition of the word, every inhabitant was obliged to attend the
services of the established church upon the Lord's day under a penalty of
fine or imprisonment; the fine not to exceed 5s. (equal to about $5 now)
for every absence. [Footnote: 1634-35, 4 March. _Mass. Rec._ i. 140.]
"If any Christian so called ... shall contemptuously behave himselfe
toward ye word preached, or ye messengers thereof called to dispence ye
same in any congregation, ... or like a sonn of Corah cast upon his true
doctrine or himselfe any reproach ... shall for ye first scandole be
convented ... and bound to their good behaviour; and if a second time they
breake forth into ye like contemptuous carriages, either to pay £5 to ye
publike treasury or to stand two houres openly upon a block 4 foote high,
on a lecture day, with a pap fixed on his breast with this, A Wanton
Gospeller, written in capitall letters ye others may fear & be ashamed of
breaking out into the like wickednes." [Footnote: 1646, 4 Nov. _Mass.
Rec._ ii. 179.]
"Though no humane power be Lord over ye faith & consciences of men and
therefore may not constraine ym to beleeve or profes against their
conscience, yet because such as bring in damnable heresies tending to ye
subversion of ye Christian faith ... ought duely to be restrained from
such notorious impiety, if any Christian ... shall go about to subvert ...
ye Christian faith, by broaching ... any damnable heresy, as deniing ye
immortality of ye soule, or ye resurrection of ye body, or any sinn to be
repented of in ye regenerate, or any evill done by ye outward man to be
accounted sinn, or deniing yt Christ gave himselfe a ransome for or sinns
... or any other heresy of such nature & degree ... shall pay to ye common
treasury during ye first six months 20s. a month and for ye next six
months 40s. p. m., and so to continue dureing his obstinacy; and if any
such person shall endeavour to seduce others ... he shall forfeit ... for
every severall offence ... five pounds." [Footnote: 1646, 4 Nov. _Mass.
Rec._ ii. 177.]
"For ye honnor of ye aetaernall God, whome only wee worshippp and serve,"
(it is ordered that) "no person within this jurisdiction, whether
Christian or pagan, shall wittingly and willingly presume to blaspheme his
holy name either by wilfull or obstinate denying ye true God, or reproach
ye holy religion of God, as if it were but a polliticke devise to keepe
ignorant men in awe, ... or deny his creation or gouvernment of ye world,
or shall curse God, or shall vtter any other eminent kind of blasphemy, of
ye like nature and degree; if any person or persons whatsoeuer within our
jurisdiction shall breake this lawe they shall be putt to death."
[Footnote: _Mass. Rec._ iii.98.]
The special punishments for Antinomians, Baptists, Quakers, and other
sectaries were fine and imprisonment, branding, whipping, mutilation,
banishment, and hanging. Nor were the elders men to shrink from executing
these laws with the same ferocious spirit in which they were enacted.
Remonstrance and command were alike neglected. The Long Parliament warned
them to beware; Charles II. repeatedly ordered them to desist; their
trusted and dearest friend, Sir Richard Saltonstall, wrote from London to
Cotton: "It doth not a little grieve my spirit to heare what sadd things
are reported dayly of your tyranny and persecution in New England, as that
you fyne, whip, and imprison men for their consciences," [Footnote:
_Hutch. Coll._, Prince Soc. ed. ii. 127.] and told them their "rigid
wayes have laid you very lowe in the hearts of the saynts." Thirteen of
the most learned and eminent nonconforming ministers in England wrote to
the governor of Massachusetts imploring him that he and the General Court
would not by their violence "put an advantage into the hands of some who
seek pretences and occasions against our liberty." [Footnote:
_Magnalia_, bk. 7, ch. iv. section 4.] Winthrop, the wisest and
ablest champion the clergy ever had, hung back. Like many another
political leader, he was forced by his party into measures from which his
judgment and his heart recoiled. He tells us how, on a question arising
between him and Mr. Haynes, the elders "delivered their several reasons
which all sorted to this conclusion, that strict discipline, both in
criminal offences and in martial affairs, was more needful in plantations
than in a settled state, as tending to the honor and safety of the gospel.
Whereupon Mr. Winthrop acknowledged that he was convinced that he had
failed in over much lenity and remissness, and would endeavor (by God's
assistance) to take a more strict course thereafter." [Footnote: Winthrop,
i. 178.] But his better nature revolted from the foul task and once more
regained ascendancy just as he sunk in death. For while he was lying very
sick, Dudley came to his bedside with an order to banish a heretic: "No,"
said the dying man, "I have done too much of that work already," and he
would not sign the warrant. [Footnote: _Life and Letters of Winthrop_, ii.
Nothing could avail, for the clergy held the state within their grasp, and
shrank from no deed of blood to guard the interests of their order.
The case of Gorton may serve as an example of a rigor that shocked even
the Presbyterian Baillie; it must be said in explanation of his story that
the magistrates condemned Gorton and his friends to death for the crime of
heresy in obedience to the unanimous decision of the elders, [Footnote:
Winthrop, ii. 146.] but the deputies refusing to concur, the sentence of
imprisonment in irons during the pleasure of the General Court was agreed
upon as a compromise. "Only they in New England are more strict and rigid
than we, or any church, to suppress, by the power of the magistrate, all
who are not of their way, to banishment ordinarily and presently even to
death lately, or perpetual slavery; for one Jortin, sometime a famous
citizen here for piety, having taught a number in New England to cast oft
the word and sacrament, and deny angels and devils, and teach a gross kind
of union with Christ in this life, by force of arms was brought to New
Boston, and there with ten of the chief of his followers, by the civil
court was discerned perpetual slaves, but the votes of many were for their
execution. They lie in irons, though gentlemen; and out of their prison
write to the admiral here, to deal with the parliament for their
deliverance." [Footnote: Baillie's Letters, ii. 17, 18.]
Like all phenomena of nature, the action of the mind is obedient to law;
the cause is followed by the consequence with the precision that the earth
moves round the sun, and impelled by this resistless power his destiny is
wrought out by man. To the ecclesiastic a deep debt of gratitude is due,
for it was by his effort that the first step from barbarism was made. In
the world's childhood, knowledge seems divine, and those who first acquire
its rudiments claim, and are believed, to have received it by revelation
from the gods. In an archaic age the priest is likewise the law-giver and
the physician, for all erudition is concentrated in one supremely favored
class--the sacred caste. Their discoveries are kept profoundly secret, and
yet to perpetuate their mysteries among their descendants they found
schools which are the only repositories of learning; but the time must
inevitably come when this order is transformed into the deadliest enemy of
the civilization which it has brought into being. The power of the
spiritual oligarchy rests upon superstitious terrors which dwindle before
advancing enlightenment; hence the clergy have become reactionary, have
sought to stifle the spirit of free inquiry, and have used the schools
which they have builded as instruments to keep alive unreasoning
prejudice, or to serve their selfish ends. This, then, has been the
fiercest battle of mankind; the heroic struggle to break down the
sacerdotal barrier, to popularize knowledge, and to liberate the mind,
began ages before the crucifixion upon Calvary; it still goes on. In this
cause the noblest and the bravest have poured forth their blood like
water, and the path to freedom has been heaped with the corpses of her
In that tremendous drama Massachusetts has played her part; it may be said
to have made her intellectual life; and it is the passion of the combat
which gives an interest at once so sombre and so romantic to her story.
In the tempest of the Reformation a handful of the sternest rebels were
cast upon the bleak New England coast, and the fervor of that devotion
which led them into the wilderness inspired them with the dream of
reproducing the institutions of God's chosen people, a picture of which
they believed was divinely preserved for their guidance in the Bible. What
they did in reality was to surrender their new commonwealth to their
priests. Yet they were a race in whose bone and blood the spirit of free
thought was bred; the impulse which had goaded them to reject the Roman
dogmas was quick within them still, and revolt against the ecclesiastical
yoke was certain. The clergy upon their side trod their appointed path
with the precision of machines, and, constrained by an inexorable destiny,
they took that position of antagonism to liberal thought which has become
typical of their order. And the struggles and the agony by which this poor
and isolated community freed itself from its gloomy bondage, the means by
which it secularized its education and its government, won for itself the
blessing of free thought and speech, and matured a system of
constitutional liberty which has been the foundation of the American
Union, rise in dignity to one of the supreme efforts of mankind.
Habit may be defined with enough accuracy for ordinary purposes as the
result of reflex action, or the immediate response of the nerves to a
stimulus, without the intervention of consciousness. Many bodily functions
are naturally reflex, and most movements may be made so by constant
repetition; they are then executed independently of the will. It is no
exaggeration to say that the social fabric rests on the control this
tendency exerts over the actions of men; and its strength is strikingly
exemplified in armies, which, when well organized, are machines, wherein
subjection to command is instinctive, and insubordination, therefore,
An analogous phenomenon is presented by the church, whose priests have
intuitively exhausted their ingenuity in weaving webs of ceremonial, as
soldiers have directed their energies to perfecting manuals of arms; and
the evidence leads to the conclusion that increasing complexity of ritual
indicates a densening ignorance and a deepening despotism. The Hindoos,
the Spaniards, and the English are types of the progression.
Within the historic ages unnumbered methods of sacerdotal discipline have
been evolved, but whether the means used to compass the end has been the
bewildering maze of a Levitical code, or the rosary and the confessional
of Rome, the object has always been to reduce the devotee to the implicit
obedience of the trooper. And the stupendous power of these amazingly
perfect systems for destroying the capacity for original thought cannot be
fully realized until the mind has been brought to dwell upon the fact that
the greatest eras of human progress have begun with the advent of those
who have led successful insurrection; nor can the dazzling genius of these
brilliant exceptions be appreciated, unless it be remembered how
infinitely small has been the number of those among mankind who, having
been once drilled to rigid conformity, have not lapsed into automatism,
but have been endowed with the mental energy to revolt. On the other hand,
though ecclesiastics have differed widely in the details of the training
they have enforced upon the faithful, they have agreed upon this cardinal
principle: they have uniformly seized upon the education of the young, and
taught the child to revere the rites in which he was made to partake
before he could reason upon their meaning, for they understood well that
the habit of abject submission to authority, when firmly rooted in
infancy, would ripen into a second nature in after years, and would almost
invariably last till death.
But this manual of religion, this deadening of the soul by making
mechanical prayers and genuflexions the gauge of piety, has always roused
the deepest indignation in the great reformers; and, un-appalled by the
most ghastly perils, they have never ceased to exhort mankind to cast off
the slavery of custom and emancipate the mind. Christ rebuked the
Pharisees because they rejected the commandment of God to keep their own
tradition; Paul proclaimed that men should be justified by faith without
the deeds of the law; and Luther preached that the Christian was free,
that the soul did not live because the body wore vestments or prayed with
the lips, and he denounced the tyranny of the clergy, who arrogated to
themselves a higher position than others who were Christian in the spirit.
On their side priesthoods know these leaders of rebellion by an unerring
instinct and pursue them to the death.
The ministers of New England were formalists to the core, and the society
over which they dominated was organized upon the avowed basis of the
manifestation of godliness in the outward man. The sad countenance, the
Biblical speech, the sombre garb, the austere life, the attendance at
worship, and, above all, the unfailing deference paid to themselves, were
the marks of sanctification by which the elders knew the saints on earth,
for whom they were to open the path to fortune by making them members of
Happily for Massachusetts, there has never been a time when all her
children could be docile under such a rule; and, among her champions of
freedom, none have been braver than those who have sprung from the ranks
of her ministry, as the fate of Roger Williams had already proved. In such
a community, before the ecclesiastical power had been solidified by time,
only a spark was needed to kindle a conflagration, and that spark was
struck by a woman.
So early as 1634 a restless spirit was abroad, for Winthrop was then set
aside, and now, in 1636, young Henry Vane was enthusiastically elected
governor, though he was only twenty-four, and had been but a few months in
the colony. The future seemed bright and serene, yet he had hardly taken
office before the storm burst, which not only overthrew him, but was
destined to destroy that unhappy lady whom the Rev. Thomas Welde called
the American Jezebel. [Footnote: Opinions are divided as to the authorship
of the _Short Story_, but I conclude from internal evidence that the
ending at least was written by Mr. Welde.]
John Cotton, the former rector of St. Botolph's, was the teacher of the
Boston church. By common consent the leader of the clergy, he was the most
brilliant, and, in some respects, the most powerful man in the colony. Two
years before, Anne Hutchinson, with all her family, had followed him from
her home in Lincolnshire into the wilderness, for, "when our teacher came
to New England, it was a great trouble unto me, my brother, Wheelwright,
being put by also." [Footnote: Hutch. _Hist_. ii. 440.] A gentlewoman
of spotless life, with a kind and charitable heart, a vigorous
understanding and dauntless courage, her failings were vanity and a bitter
tongue toward those whom she disliked. [Footnote: Cotton, _Way of New
England Churches_, p. 52.] Unfortunately also for herself, she was one
of the enthusiasts who believe themselves subject to divine revelations,
for this pretension would probably in any event have brought upon her the
displeasure of the church. It is worth while to attempt some logical
explanation of the dislike felt by the Massachusetts elders to any
suggestion of such supernatural interposition. The half-unconscious train
of reasoning on which they based their claim to exact implicit obedience
from the people seems, when analyzed, to yield this syllogism: All
revelation is contained in the Bible; but to interpret the ancient sacred
writings with authority, a technical training is essential, which is
confined to priests; therefore no one can define God's will who is not of
the ministry. Had the possibility of direct revelation been admitted this
reasoning must have fallen; for then, obviously, the word of an inspired
peasant would have outweighed the sermon of an uninspired divine; it
follows, necessarily, that ecclesiastics so situated would have been
jealous of lay preaching, and absolutely intolerant of the inner light.
In May, 1636, the month of Vane's election, Mrs. Hutchinson had been
joined by her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, the deprived vicar of
Bilsby. Her social influence was then at its height; her amiable
disposition had made her popular, and for some time past she had held
religious meetings for women at her house. The ostensible object of these
gatherings was to recapitulate the sermons of the week; but the step from
discussion to criticism was short, and it soon began to be said that she
cast reproach "upon the ministers, ... saying that none of them did preach
the covenant of free grace, but Master Cotton, and that they have not the
seale of the Spirit, and so were not able ministers of the New Testament."
[Footnote: _Short Story_, p. 36.] Or, to use colloquial language, she
accused the clergy of being teachers of forms, and said that, of them all,
Cotton alone appealed to the animating spirit like Luther or St. Paul.
"A company of legall professors," quoth she, "lie poring on the law which
Christ hath abolished." [Footnote: _Wonder-Working Providence_, Poole's
ed. p. 102.]
Such freedom of speech was, of course, intolerable; and so, as Cotton was
implicated by her imprudent talk, the elders went to Boston in a body in
October to take him to task. In the hope of adjusting the difficulty, he
suggested a friendly meeting at his house, and an interview took place. At
first Mrs. Hutchinson, with much prudence, declined to commit herself; but
the Rev. Hugh Peters besought her so earnestly to deal frankly and openly
with them that she, confiding in the sacred character of a confidential
conversation with clergymen in the house of her own religious teacher,
committed the fatal error of admitting that she saw a wide difference
between Mr. Cotton's ministry and theirs, and that they could not preach a
covenant of grace so clearly as he, because they had not the seal of the
Spirit. The progress of the new opinion was rapid, and it is clear Mrs.
Hutchinson had only given expression to a feeling of discontent which was
both wide-spread and deep. Before winter her adherents, or those who
condemned the covenant of works,--in modern language, the liberals,--had
become an organized political party, of which Vane was the leader; and
here lay their first danger.
Notwithstanding his eminent ability, he was then but a boy, and the task
was beyond his strength. The stronghold of his party was Boston, where,
except some half-dozen, [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 212.] the whole
congregation followed him and Cotton: yet even here he met with the
powerful opposition of Winthrop and the pastor, John Wilson. In the
country he was confronted by the solid body of the clergy, whose influence
proved sufficient to hold together a majority of the voters in
substantially all the towns, so that the conservatives never lost control
of the legislature.
The position was harassing, and his nerves gave way under the strain. In
December he called a court and one day suddenly announced that he had
received letters from England requiring his immediate return; but when
some of his friends remonstrated he "brake forth into tears and professed
that, howsoever the causes propounded for his departure were such as did
concern the utter ruin of his outward estate, yet he would rather have
hazarded all" ... "but for the danger he saw of God's judgment to come
upon us for these differences and dissensions which he saw amongst us, and
the scandalous imputations brought upon himself, as if he should be the
cause of all." [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 207.]
Such a flight was out of the question. The weight of his name and the
protection given his supporters by the power of his family in England
could not be dispensed with, and therefore the Boston congregation
intervened. After a day's reflection he seems himself to have become
convinced that he had gone too far to recede, so he "expressed himself to
be an obedient child to the church and therefore ... durst not go away."
[Footnote: _Idem_, i. 208.]
That a young and untried man like Vane should have grown weary of his
office and longed to escape will astonish no one who is familiar with the
character and the mode of warfare of his adversaries.
In that society a layman could not retort upon a minister who insulted
him, nor could Vane employ the arguments with which Cromwell so
effectually silenced the Scotch divines. The following is a specimen of
the treatment to which he was probably almost daily subjected, and the
scene in this instance was the more mortifying because it took place
before the assembled legislature.
"The ministers had met a little before and had drawn into heads all the
points wherein they suspected Mr. Cotton did differ from them, and had
propounded them to him, and pressed him to a direct answer ... to every
one; which he had promised. ... This meeting being spoke of in the court
the day before, the governour took great offence at it, as being without
his privity, &c., which this day Mr. Peter told him as plainly of (with
all due reverence), and how it had sadded the ministers' spirits, that he
should be jealous of their meetings, or seem to restrain their liberty,
&c. The governour excused his speech as sudden and upon a mistake. Mr.
Peter told him also, that before he came, within less than two years
since, the churches were in peace.... Mr. Peter also besought him humbly
to consider his youth and short experience in the things of God, and to
beware of peremptory conclusions which he perceived him to be very apt
unto." [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 209.] This coarse bully was the same Hugh
Peters of whom Whitelock afterward complained that he often advised him,
though he "understood little of the law, but was very opinionative,"
[Footnote: Memorials, p. 521.] and who was so terrified at the approach of
death that on his way to the scaffold he had to drink liquor to keep from
fainting. [Footnote: Burnet, i. 162.]
"Mr. Wilson" also "made a very sad speech to the General Court of the
condition of our churches, and the inevitable danger of separation, if
these differences ... were not speedily remedied, and laid the blame upon
these new opinions ... which all the magistrates except the governour and
two others did confirm and all the ministers but two." [Footnote:
Winthrop, i. 209.] Those two were John Cotton and John Wheelwright, the
preachers of the covenant of grace.
Their brethren might well make sad speeches, for their cup of bitterness
was full; but they must be left to describe for themselves the tempest of
fear and wrath that raged within them. "Yea, some that had beene begotten
to Christ by some of their faithfull labours in this land" (England, where
the tract was published,) "for whom they could have laid downe their
lives, and not being able to beare their absence followed after them
thither to New England to enjoy their labours, yet these falling
acquainted with those seducers, were suddenly so altered in their
affections toward those their spirituall fathers, that they would neither
heare them, nor willingly come in their company, professing they had never
received any good from them." ... "Now the faithfull ministers of Christ
must have dung cast on their faces ... must be pointed at as it were with
the finger, and reproached by name, such a church officer is an ignorant
man, and knows not Christ; such an one is under a covenant of works: such
a pastor is a proud man, and would make a good persecutor ... so that
through these reproaches occasion was given to men, to abhorre the
offerings of the Lord." [Footnote: Welde's _Short Story_, Pref. Sections
"Now, one of them in a solemne convention of ministers dared to say to
their faces, that they did not preach the Covenant of Free Grace, and that
they themselves had not the seale of the Spirit.... Now, after our sermons
were ended at our publike lectures, you might have seene halfe a dozen
pistols discharged at the face of the preacher (I meane) so many
objections made by the opinionists in the open assembly against our
doctrine ... to the marvellous weakening of holy truths delivered ... in
the hearts of all the weaker sort." [Footnote: Welde's _Short Story_,
Pref. Sections 7-11.]
John Wheelwright was a man whose character extorts our admiration, if it
does not win our love. The personal friend of Cromwell and of Vane, with a
mind vigorous and masculine, and a courage stern and determined even above
the Puritan standard of resolution and of daring, he spoke the truth which
was within him, and could neither be intimidated nor cajoled. In October
an attempt had been made to have him settled as a teacher of the Boston
church in conjunction with Wilson and Cotton, but it had miscarried
through Winthrop's opposition, and he had afterward taken charge of a
congregation that had been gathered at Mount Wollaston, in what is now
On the 19th of January a fast was held on account of the public
dissensions, and on that day Wheelwright preached a great sermon in Boston
which brought on the crisis. He was afterward accused of sedition: the
charge was false, for he did not utter one seditious word; but he did that
which was harder to forgive, he struck at what he deemed the wrong with
his whole might, and those who will patiently pore over his pages until
they see the fire glowing through his rugged sentences will feel the power
of his blow. And what he told his hearers was in substance this: It maketh
no matter how seemingly holy men be according to the law, if ... they are
such as trust to their own righteousness they shall die, saith the Lord.
Do ye not after their works; for they say and do not. They make broad
their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments; and love the
uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues; and
greetings in the market place and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But
believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and ye shall be saved, for being
justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And the way we must take if so be we will not have the Lord Jesus Christ
taken from us is this, we must all prepare a spiritual combat, we must put
on the whole armor of God, and must have our loins girt up and be ready to
fight, ... because of fear in the night if we will not fight the Lord
Jesus Christ may come to be surprised.
And when his brethren heard it they sought how they might destroy him; for
they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his doctrine.
In March the legislature met, and Wheelwright was arraigned before a court
composed, according to the account of the Quaker Groom, of Henry Vane,
"twelve magistrates, twelve priests, & thirty-three deputies." [Footnote:
Groom's Glass for New England, p. 6.] His sermon was produced, and an
attempt was made to obtain an admission that by those under a covenant of
works he meant his brethren. But the accused was one whom it was hard to
entrap and impossible to frighten. He defied his judges to controvert his
doctrine, offering to prove it by the Scriptures, and as for the
application he answered that "if he were shown any that walked in such a
way as he had described to be a covenant of works, them did he mean."
[Footnote: Wheelwright, Prince Soc. ed. p. 17, note 27.] Then the rest of
the elders were asked if they "did walk in such a way, and they all
acknowledged they did," [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 215. Wheelwright, p. 18.]
excepting John Cotton, who declared that "brother Wheelwright's doctrine
was according to God in the parts controverted, and wholly and
altogether." [Footnote: Groom's _Glass for New England_, p. 7.] He
received ecclesiastical justice. There was no jury, and the popular
assembly that decided law and fact by a partisan vote was controlled by
his adversaries. Yet even so, a verdict of sedition was such a flagrant
outrage that the clergy found it impossible to command prompt obedience.
For two days the issue was in doubt, but at length "the priests got two of
the magistrates on their side, and so got the major part with them."
[Footnote: Felt's _Eccl. Hist._ ii. 611.] They appear, however, to
have felt too weak to proceed to sentence, for the prisoner was remanded
until the next session.
No sooner was the judgment made known than more than sixty of the most
respected citizens of Boston signed a petition to the court in
Wheelwright's behalf, In respectful and even submissive language they
pointed out the danger of meddling with the right of free speech. "Paul
was counted a pestilent fellow, or a moover of sedition, and a ringleader
of a sect, ... and Christ himselfe, as well as Paul, was charged to bee a
teacher of New Doctrine.... Now wee beseech you, consider whether that old
serpent work not after his old method, even in our daies." [Footnote:
Wheelwright, Prince Soc. ed. p. 21.]
The charge of sedition made against them they repudiated in emphatic
words, which deserve attention, as they were afterwards held to be
"Thirdly, if you look at the effects of his doctrine upon the hearers, it
hath not stirred up sedition in us, not so much as by accident; wee have
not drawn the sword, as sometimes Peter did, rashly, neither have wee
rescued our innocent brother, as sometimes the Israelites did Jonathan,
and yet they did not seditiously. The covenant of free grace held forth by
our brother hath taught us rather to become humble suppliants to your
worships, and if wee should not prevaile, wee would rather with patience
give our cheekes to the smiters." [Footnote: _Idem_.]
The liberal feeling ran so strongly in Boston that the conservatives
thought it prudent to remove the government temporarily to Cambridge, that
they might more easily control the election which was to come in May.
Vane, with some petulance, refused to entertain the motion; but Endicott
put the question, and it was carried. As the time drew near the excitement
increased, the clergy straining every nerve to bring up their voters from
the country; and on the morning of the day the feeling was so intense that
the Rev. Mr. Wilson, forgetting his dignity and his age, scrambled up a
tree and harangued the people from its branches. [Footnote: Hutch.
_Hist_. i. 62, note.]
Yet, though the freemen were so deeply moved, there was no violence, and
Winthrop was peaceably elected governor, with a strong conservative
majority in the legislature. It so happened that just at this time a
number of the friends of Wheelwright and the Hutchinsons were on their way
from England to settle in Massachusetts. The first act of the new
government was to exclude these new-comers by passing a law forbidding any
town to entertain strangers for more than three weeks without the consent
of two of the magistrates.
This oppressive statute caused such discontent that Winthrop thought it
necessary to publish a defence, to which Vane replied and Winthrop
rejoined. The controversy would long since have lost its interest had it
not been for the theory then first advanced by Winthrop, that the
corporation of Massachusetts, having bought its land, held it as though it
were a private estate, and might exclude whom they pleased therefrom; and
ever since this plea has been set up in justification of every excess
committed by the theocracy.
Winthrop was a lawyer, and it is but justice to his reputation to presume
that he spoke as a partisan, knowing his argument to be fallacious. As a
legal proposition he must have been aware that it was unsound.
Although during the reign of Charles I. monopolies were a standing
grievance with the House of Commons, yet they had been granted and
enforced for centuries; and had Massachusetts claimed the right to exclude
strangers as interlopers in trade, she would have stood upon good
precedent. Such, however, was not her contention. The legislation against
the friends of Wheelwright was passed avowedly upon grounds of religious
difference of opinion, and a monopoly in religion was unknown.
Her commercial privileges alone were exclusive, and, provided he respected
them, a British subject had the same right to dwell in Massachusetts as in
any of the other dominions of the crown, or, indeed, in any borough which
held its land by grant, like Plymouth. To subject Englishmen to
restriction or punishment unknown to English law was as outrageous as the
same act would have been had it been perpetrated by the city of London,--
both corporations having a like power to preserve the peace by local
ordinances, and both being controlled by the law of the land as
administered by the courts. Such arguments as those advanced by Winthrop
were only solemn quibbling to cloak an indefensible policy. To banish
freemen for demanding liberty of conscience was a still more flagrant
wrong. A precisely parallel case would have been presented had the
directors of the East India Company declared the membership of a
proprietor to be forfeited, and ordered his stock to be sold, because he
disapproved of enforcing conformity in worship among inhabitants of the
factories in Hindostan.
Vane sailed early in August, and his departure cleared the last barrier
from the way of vengeance. Proceedings were at once begun by a synod of
all the ministers, which was held at Cambridge, for the purpose of
restoring peace to the churches. "There were about eighty opinions, some
blasphemous, others erroneous, and all unsafe, condemned by the whole
assembly.... Some of the church of Boston ... were offended at the
producing of so many errors, ... and called to have the persons named
which held those errors." To which the elders answered that all those
opinions could be proved to be held by some, but it was not thought fit to
name the parties. "Yet this would not satisfy some but they oft called for
witnesses; and because some of the magistrates declared to them ... that
if they would not forbear it would prove a civil disturbance ... they
objected.... So as he" (probably meaning Winthrop) "was forced to tell one
of them that if he would not forbear ... he might see it executed. Upon
this some of Boston departed from the assembly and came no more."
[Footnote: Winthrop, i. 238.] Once freed from their repinings all went
well, and their pastor, Mr. Wilson, soon had the satisfaction of sending
their reputed heresies "to the devil of hell from whence they came."
[Footnote: _Magnalia_, bk. 3, ch. ii. Section 13.] Cotton, seeing
that all was lost, hastened to make his peace by a submission which the
Rev. Mr. Hubbard of Ipswich describes with unconscious cynicism. "If he
were not convinced, yet he was persuaded to an amicable compliance with
the other ministers; ... for, although it was thought he did still retain
his own sense and enjoy his own apprehension in all or most of the things
then controverted (as is manifest by some expressions of his ... since
that time published,"...) yet. "By that means did that reverend and worthy
minister of the gospel recover his former splendour throughout ... New
England." [Footnote: Hubbard, p. 302.]
He was not a sensitive man, and having once determined to do penance, he
was far too astute a politician to do it by halves; he not only gave
himself up to the task of detecting the heterodoxy of his old friends,
[Footnote: Winthrop, i. 253.] but on a day of solemn fasting he publicly
professed repentance with many tears, and told how, "God leaving him for a
time, he fell into a spirituall slumber; and had it not been for the
watchfulnesse of his brethren, the elders, &c., hee might have slept on,
... and was very thankfull to his brethren for their watchfulnesse over
him." [Footnote: _Hypocrisie Unmasked_, p. 76.] Nor to the end of his
life did he feel quite at ease; "yea, such was his ingenuity and piety as
that his soul was not satisfied without often breaking forth into
affectionate bewailing of his infirmity herein, in the publick assembly,
sometimes in his prayer, sometimes in his sermon, and that with tears."
[Footnote: Norton's _Funeral Sermon_, p. 37.]
Wheelwright was made of sterner stuff, and was inflexible. In fact,
however, the difference of dogma, if any existed, was trivial. The clergy
used the cry of heresy to excite odium, just as they called their
opponents Antinomians, or dangerous fanatics. To support these accusations
the synod gravely accepted every unsavory inference which ingenuity could
wring from the tenets of their adversaries; and these, together with the
fables invented by idle gossip, made up the long list of errors they
condemned. Though the scheme was unprincipled, it met with complete
success, and the Antinomians have come down to posterity branded as deadly
enemies of Christ and the commonwealth; yet nothing is more certain than
that they were not only good citizens, but substantially orthodox. On such
a point there is no one among the conservatives whose testimony has the
weight of Winthrop's, who says: "Mr. Cotton ... stated the differences in
a very narrow scantling; and Mr. Shepherd, preaching at the day of
election, brought them yet nearer, so as, except men of good
understanding, and such as knew the bottom of the tenents of those of the
other party, few could see where the difference was." [Footnote: Winthrop,
i. 221.] While Cotton himself complains bitterly of the falsehoods spread
about him and his friends: "But when some of ... the elders of neighbour
churches advertised me of the evill report ... I ... dealt with Mrs.
Hutchinson and others of them, declaring to them the erroneousnesse of
those tenents, and the injury done to myself in fathering them upon mee.
Both shee and they utterly denyed that they held such tenents, or that
they had fathered them upon mee. I returned their answer to the elders....
They answered me they had but one witnesse, ... and that one both to be
known." ... [Footnote: Cotton, _Way of New England Churches_, pp. 39, 40.]
Moreover, it is a remarkable fact that, notwithstanding the advantage it
would have given the reactionists to have been able to fix subversive
opinions upon their prominent opponents, it was found impossible to prove
heresy in a single case which was brought to trial. The legislature chosen
in May was apparently unfit for the work now to be done, for the
extraordinary step of a dissolution was decided on, and a new election
held, under circumstances in which it was easy to secure the return of
suitable candidates. The session opened on November 2, and Wheelwright was
summoned to appear. He was ordered to submit, or prepare for sentence. He
replied that he was guilty of neither sedition nor contempt; that he had
preached only the truth of Christ, the application of which was for
others, not for him. "To which it was answered by the court that they had
not censured his doctrine, but left it as it was; but his application, by
which hee laid the magistrates and ministers and most of the people of God
in these churches under a covenant of works." [Footnote: _Short Story_, p.
24.] The prisoner was then sentenced to be disfranchised and banished. He
demanded an appeal to the king; it was refused; and he was given fourteen
days to leave Massachusetts. So he went forth alone in the bitter winter
weather and journeyed to the Piscataqua,--yet "it was marvellous he got
thither at that time, when they expelled him, by reason of the deep snow
in which he might have perished." [Footnote: Wheelwright, Prince Soc. ed.
_Mercurius Americanus_, p. 24.] Nor was banishment by any means the
trivial penalty it has been described. On the contrary, it was a
punishment of the utmost rigor. The exiles were forced suddenly to dispose
of their property, which, in those times, was mostly in houses and land,
and go forth among the savages with helpless women and children. Such an
ordeal might well appall even a brave man; but Wheelwright was sacrificing
his intellectual life. He was leaving books, friends, and the mental
activity, which made the world to him, to settle in the forests among
backwoodsmen; and yet even in this desolate solitude the theocracy
continued to pursue him with persevering hate.
But there were others beside Wheelwright who had sinned, and some pretext
had to be devised by which to reach them. The names of most of his friends
were upon the petition that had been drawn up after his trial. It is true
it was a proceeding with which the existing legislature was not concerned,
since it had been presented to one of its predecessors; it is also true
that probably never, before or since, have men who have protested they
have not drawn the sword rashly, but have come as humble suppliants to
offer their cheeks to the smiters, been held to be public enemies. Such
scruples, however, never hampered the theocracy. Their justice was
trammelled neither by judges, by juries, nor by laws; the petition was
declared to be a seditious libel, and the petitioners were given their
choice of disavowing their act and making humble submission, or exile.
Aspinwall was at once disfranchised and banished. [Footnote: _Mass.
Rec._ i. 207.] Coddington, Coggeshall, and nine more were given leave
to depart within three months, or abide the action of the court; others
were disfranchised; and fifty-eight of the less prominent of the party
were disarmed in Boston alone. [Footnote: _Idem_, i. 223.]
Thus were the early liberals crushed in Massachusetts; the bold were
exiled, the timid were terrified; as a political organization they moved
no more till the theocracy was tottering to its fall; and for forty years
the power of the clergy was absolute in the land.
The fate of Anne Hutchinson makes a fit ending to this sad tale of
oppression and of wrong. In November, 1637, when her friends were crushed,
and the triumphant priests felt that their victim's doom was sure, she was
brought to trial before that ghastliest den of human iniquity, an
ecclesiastical criminal court. The ministers were her accusers, who came
burning with hate to testify to the words she had spoken to them at their
own request, in the belief that the confidence she reposed was to be held
sacred. She had no jury to whose manhood she could appeal, and John
Winthrop, to his lasting shame, was to prosecute her from the judgment
seat. She was soon to become a mother, and her health was feeble, but she
was made to stand till she was exhausted; and yet, abandoned and forlorn,
before those merciless judges, through two long, weary days of hunger and
of cold, the intrepid woman defended her cause with a skill and courage
which even now, after two hundred and fifty years, kindles the heart with
admiration. The case for the government was opened by John Winthrop, the
presiding justice, the attorney-general, the foreman of the jury, and the
chief magistrate of Massachusetts Bay. He upbraided the prisoner with her
many evil courses, with having spoken things prejudicial to the honor of
the ministers, with holding an assembly in her house, and with divulging
the opinions held by those who had been censured by that court; closing in
these words, which sound strangely in the mouth of a New England judge:--
* * * * *
We have thought good to send for you ... that if you be in an erroneous
way we may reduce you that so you may become a profitable member here
among us, otherwise if you be obstinate ... that then the court may take
such course that you may trouble us no further, therefore I would entreat
you ... whether you do not justify Mr. Wheelwright's sermon and the
_Mrs. H._ I am called here to answer before you, but I hear no things
laid to my charge.
_Gov._ I have told you some already, and more I can tell you.
_Mrs. H._ Name one, sir.
_Gov._ Have I not named some already?
_Mrs. H._ What have I said or done?...
_Gov._ You have joined with them in the faction.
_Mrs. H._ In what faction have I joined with them?
_Gov._ In presenting the petition....
_Mrs. H._ But I had not my hand to the petition.
_Gov._ You have counselled them.
_Mrs. H._ Wherein?
_Gov._ Why, in entertaining them.
_Mrs. H._ What breach of law is that, sir?
_Gov._ Why, dishonoring of parents....
_Mrs. H._ I may put honor upon them as the children of God and as they do
honor the Lord.
_Gov._ We do not mean to discourse with those of your sex but only this;
you do adhere unto them, and do endeavor to set forward this faction, and
so you do dishonor us.
_Mrs. H._ I do acknowledge no such thing, neither do I think that I ever
put any dishonor upon you.
* * * * *
And, on the whole, the chief justice broke down so hopelessly in his
examination, that the deputy governor, or his senior associate upon the
bench, thought it necessary to interfere.
* * * * *
_Dep. Gov._ I would go a little higher with Mrs. Hutchinson. Now ... if
she in particular hath disparaged all our ministers in the land that they
have preached a covenant of works, and only Mr. Cotton a covenant of
grace, why this is not to be suffered...
_Mrs. H._ I pray, sir, prove it, that I said they preached nothing but a
covenant of works....
_Dep. Gov._ If they do not preach a covenant of grace, clearly, then, they
preach a covenant of works.
_Mrs. H._ No, sir, one may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than
another, so I said.
* * * * *
Dudley was faring worse than Winthrop, and the divines, who had been
bursting with impatience, could hold no longer. The Rev. Hugh Peters broke
in: "That which concerns us to speak unto, as yet we are sparing in,
unless the court command us to speak, then we shall answer to Mrs.
Hutchinson, notwithstanding our brethren are very unwilling to answer."
And without further urging, that meek servant of Christ went on to tell
how he and others had heard that the prisoner said they taught a covenant
of works, how they had sent for her, and though she was "very tender" at
first, yet upon being begged to speak plainly, she had explained that
there "was a broad difference between our Brother Mr. Cotton and
ourselves. I desired to know the difference. She answered 'that he
preaches the covenant of grace and you the covenant of works, and that you
are not able ministers of the New Testament, and know no more than the
apostles did before the resurrection.'"...
* * * * *
_Mrs. H._ If our pastor would show his writings you should see what I
said, and that many things are not so as is reported.
_Mr. Wilson._ Sister Hutchinson, for the writings you speak of I have them
* * * * *
Five more divines followed, who, though they were "loth to speak in that
assembly concerning that gentlewoman," yet to ease their consciences in
"the relation wherein" they stood "to the Commonwealth and... unto God,"
felt constrained to state that the prisoner had said they were not able
ministers of the New Testament, and that the whole of the evidence of Hugh
Peters was true, and in so doing they came to an issue of veracity with
An adjournment soon followed till next day, and the presiding justice
seems to have considered his case against his prisoner as closed.
In the morning Mrs. Hutchinson opened her defence by calling three
witnesses, Leverett, Coggeshall, and John Cotton.
* * * * *
_Gov._ Mr. Coggeshall was not present.
_Mr. C._ Yes, but I was, only I desired to be silent till I should be
_Gov._ Will you ... say that she did not say so?
_Mr. C._ Yes, I dare say that she did not say all that which they lay
_Mr. Peters._ How dare you look into the court to say such a word?
_Mr. C._ Mr. Peters takes upon him to forbid me. I shall be silent....
_Gov._ Well, Mr. Leverett, what were the words? I pray speak.
_Mr. L._ To my best remembrance ... Mr. Peters did with much vehemency and
entreaty urge her to tell what difference there was between Mr. Cotton and
them, and upon his urging of her she said: "The fear of man is a snare,
but they that trust upon the Lord shall be safe." And ... that they did
not preach a covenant of grace so clearly as Mr. Cotton did, and she gave
this reason of it, because that as the apostles were for a time without
the Spirit so until they had received the witness of the Spirit they could
not preach a covenant of grace so clearly.
* * * * *
The Rev. John Cotton was then called. He was much embarrassed in giving
his evidence, but, if he is to be believed, his brethren, in their anxiety
to make out a case, had colored material facts. He closed his account of
the interview in these words: "I must say that I did not find her saying
they were under a covenant of works, nor that she said they did preach a
covenant of works."
* * * * *
_Gov._ You say you do not remember, but can you say she did not speak so?
_Mr. C._ I do remember that she looked at them as the apostles before the
_Dep. Gov._ They affirm that Mrs. Hutchinson did say they were not able
ministers of the New Testament.
_Mr. C._ I do not remember it.
* * * * *
Mrs. Hutchinson had shattered the case of the government in a style worthy
of a leader of the bar, but she now ventured on a step for which she has
been generally condemned. She herself approached the subject of her
revelations. To criticise the introduction of evidence is always simpler
than to conduct a cause, but an analysis of her position tends to show not
only that her course was the result of mature reflection, but that her
judgment was in this instance correct. She probably assumed that when the
more easily proved charges had broken down she would be attacked here; and
in this assumption she was undoubtedly right. The alternative presented to
her, therefore, was to go on herself, or wait for Winthrop to move. If she
waited she knew she should give the government the advantage of choosing
the ground, and she would thus be subjected to the danger of having fatal
charges proved against her by hearsay or distorted evidence. If she took
the bolder course, she could explain her revelations as monitions coming
to her through texts in Scripture, and here she was certain of Cotton's
support. Before that tribunal she could hardly have hoped for an
acquittal; but if anything could have saved her it would have been the
sanction given to her doctrines by the approval of John Cotton. At all
events, she saw the danger, for she closed her little speech in these
touching words: "Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my
conscience I know to be truth, I must commit myself unto the Lord."
_Mr. Nowell._ How do you know that that was the Spirit?
_Mrs. H._ How did Abraham know that it was God?...
_Dep. Gov._ By an immediate voice.
_Mrs. H._ So to me by an immediate revelation.
* * * * *
Then she proceeded to state how, through various texts which she cited,
the Lord showed her what He would do; and she particularly dwelt on one
from Daniel. So far all was well; she had planted herself on ground upon
which orthodox opinion was at least divided; but she now committed the one
grave error of her long and able defence. As she went on her excitement
gained upon her, and she ended by something like a defiance and
denunciation: "You have power over my body, but the Lord Jesus hath power
over my body and soul; and assure yourselves thus much, you do as much as
in you lies to put the Lord Jesus Christ from you, and if you go on in
this course you begin, you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity,
and the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
* * * * *
_Gov._ Daniel was delivered by miracle. Do you think to be delivered so
_Mrs. H._ I do here speak it before the court. I look that the Lord should
deliver me by his providence....
_Dep. Gov._ I desire Mr. Cotton to tell us whether you do approve of Mrs.
Hutchinson's revelations as she hath laid them down.
_Mr. C._ I know not whether I do understand her, but this I say, if she
doth expect a deliverance in a way of providence, then I cannot deny it.
_Gov._ ... I see a marvellous providence of God to bring things to this
pass.... God by a providence hath answered our desires, and made her to
lay open herself and the ground of all these disturbances to be by
revelations. . . .
_Court._ We all consent with you.
_Gov._ Ey, it is the most desperate enthusiasm in the world....
_Mr. Endicott._ I speak in reference to Mr. Cotton.... Whether do you
witness for her or against her.
_Mr. C._ This is that I said, sir, and my answer is plain, that if she
doth look for deliverance from the hand of God by his providence, and the
revelation be ... according to a word [of Scripture] that I cannot deny.
_Mr. Endicott._ You give me satisfaction.
_Dep. Gov._ No, no, he gives me none at all....
_Mr. C._ I pray, sir, give me leave to express myself. In that sense that
she speaks I dare not bear witness against it.
_Mr. Nowell._ I think it is a devilish delusion.
_Gov._ Of all the revelations that ever I read of I never read the like
ground laid as is for this. The enthusiasts and Anabaptists had never the
_Mr. Peters._ I can say the same ... and I think that is very disputable
which our brother Cotton hath spoken....
_Gov._ I am persuaded that the revelation she brings forth is delusion.
All the court but some two or three ministers cry out, We all believe it,
we all believe it....
* * * * *
And then Coddington stood up before that angry meeting like the brave man
he was, and said, "I beseech you do not speak so to force things along,
for I do not for my own part see any equity in the court in all your
proceedings. Here is no law of God that she hath broken, nor any law of
the country that she hath broke, and therefore deserves no censure; and if
she say that the elders preach as the apostles did, why they preached a
covenant of grace and what wrong is that to them, ... therefore I pray
consider, what you do, for here is no law of God or man broken."
* * * * *
_Mr. Peters._ I profess I thought Mr. Cotton would never have took her
_Gov._ The court hath already declared themselves satisfied ... concerning
the troublesomeness of her spirit and the danger of her course amongst us
which is not to be suffered. Therefore if it be the mind of the court that
Mrs. Hutchinson ... shall be banished out of our liberties and imprisoned
till she be sent away let them hold up their hands.
All but three consented.
Those contrary minded hold up yours. Mr. Coddington and Colburn only.
_Gov._ Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are
banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our
society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.
_Mrs. H._ I desire to know wherefore I am banished.
_Gov._ Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied.
[Footnote: Hutch. _Hist._ vol. ii. App. 2.]
* * * * *
With refined malice she was committed to the custody of Joseph Welde of
Roxbury, the brother of the Rev. Thomas Welde who thought her a Jezebel.
Here "divers of the elders resorted to her," and under this daily torment
rapid progress was made. Probably during that terrible interval her reason
was tottering, for her talk came to resemble ravings. [Footnote: _Brief
Apologie_, p. 59.] When this point was reached the divines saw their
object attained, and that "with sad hearts" they could give her up to
Satan. [Footnote: _Brief Apologie_, p. 59.] Accordingly they "wrote to the
church at Boston, offering to make proof of the same," whereupon she was
summoned and the lecture appointed to begin at ten o'clock. [Footnote:
Winthrop, i. 254.]
"When she was come one of the ruling elders called her forth before the
assembly," and read to her the twenty-nine errors of which she was
accused, all of which she admitted she had maintained. "Then she asked by
what rule such an elder would come to her pretending to desire light and
indeede to entrappe her." He answered that he came not to "entrap her but
in compassion to her soule...."
"Then presently she grew into passion ... professing withall that she held
none of these things ... before her imprisonment." [Footnote: _Brief
Apol._ pp. 59-61.]
The court sat till eight at night, when "Mr. Cotton pronounced the
sentence of admonition ... with much zeal and detestation of her errors
and pride of spirit." [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 256.] An adjournment was
then agreed on for a week and she was ordered to return to Roxbury; but
this was more than she could bear, and her distress was such that the
congregation seem to have felt some touch of compassion, for she was
committed to the charge of Cotton till the next lecture day, when the
trial was to be resumed. [Footnote: _Brief Apol._ p. 62.] At his house
her mind recovered its tone and when she again appeared she not only
retracted the wild opinions she had broached while at Joseph Welde's, but
admitted "that what she had spoken against the magistrates at the court
(by way of revelation) was rash and ungrounded." [Footnote: Winthrop, i.
But nothing could avail her. She was in the hands of men determined to
make her expiation of her crimes a by-word of terror; her fate was sealed.
The doctrines she now professed were less objectionable, so she was
examined as to former errors, among others "that she had denied inherent
righteousness;" she "affirmed that it was never her judgment; and though
it was proved by many testimonies ... yet she impudently persisted in her
affirmation to the astonishment of all the assembly. So that ... the
church with one consent cast her out.... After she was excommunicated her
spirit, which seemed before to be somewhat dejected, revived again and she
gloried in her sufferings." [Footnote: Winthrop, i. 258.] And all this
time she had been alone; her friends were far away.
That no circumstances of horror might be lost, she and one of her most
devoted followers, Mary Dyer, were nearing their confinements during this
time of misery. Both cases ended in misfortunes over whose sickening
details Thomas Welde and his reverend brethren gloated with a savage joy,
declaring that "God himselfe was pleased to step in with his casting vote