The Development of Religious Liberty in Connecticut by M. Louise Greene, Ph. D.

Produced by Dave Maddock, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN CONNECTICUT BY M. LOUISE GREENE, PhD. PREFACE The following monograph is the outgrowth of three earlier and shorter essays. The first, “Church and State in Connecticut to 1818,” was presented to Yale University as a doctor’s thesis.
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Produced by Dave Maddock, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.





The following monograph is the outgrowth of three earlier and shorter essays. The first, “Church and State in Connecticut to 1818,” was presented to Yale University as a doctor’s thesis. The second, a briefer and more popularly written article, won the Straus prize offered in 1896 through Brown University by the Hon. Oscar S. Straus. The third, a paper containing additional matter, was so far approved by the American Historical Association as to receive honorable mention in the Justin Winsor prize competition of 1901.

With such encouragement, it seemed as if the history of the development of religious liberty in Connecticut might serve a larger purpose than that of satisfying personal interest alone. In Connecticut such development was not marked, as so often elsewhere, by wild disorder, outrageous oppression, tyranny of classes, civil war, or by any great retrograde movement. Connecticut was more modern in her progress towards such liberty, and her contribution to advancing civilization was a pattern of stability, of reasonableness in government, and of a slow broadening out of the conception of liberty, as she gradually softened down her restrictions upon religious and personal freedom.

And yet, Connecticut is recalled as a part of that New England where those not Congregationalists, the unorthodox or radical thinkers, found early and late an uncomfortable atmosphere and restricted liberties. By a study of her past, I have hoped to contribute to a fairer judgment of the men and measures of colonial times, and to a correct estimate of those essentials in religion and morals which endure from age to age, and which alone, it would seem, must constitute the basis of that “ultimate union of Christendom” toward which so many confidently look. The past should teach the present, and one generation, from dwelling upon the transient beliefs and opinions of a preceding, may better judge what are the non-essentials of its own.

Connecticut’s individual experiment in the union of Church and State is separable neither from the New England setting of her earliest days nor from the early years of that Congregationalism which the colony approved and established. Hence, the opening chapters of her story must treat of events both in old England and in New. And because religious liberty was finally won by a coalition of men like-minded in their attitude towards rights of conscience and in their desire for certain necessary changes and reforms in government, the final chapters must deal with social and political conditions more than with those purely religious. It may be pertinent to remark that the passing of a hundred years since the divorce of Church and State and the reforms of a century ago have brought to the commonwealth some of the same deplorable political conditions that the men of the past, the first Constitutional Reform Party, swept away by the peaceful revolution of 1818.

For encouragement, assistance, and suggestions, I am especially indebted to Professor George B. Adams and Professor Williston Walker of Yale University, to Professor Charles M. Andrews of Bryn Mawr, to Dr. William G. Andrews, rector of Christ Church, Guilford, Conn., and to Professor Lucy M. Salmon of Vassar College. Of numerous libraries, my largest debt is to that of Yale University.


NEW HAVEN, October 20, 1905.




Preparation of the English nation for the two earliest forms of Congregationalism, Brownism and Barrowism.–Rise of Separatism and Puritanism.–Non-conformists during Queen Mary’s reign.–Revival of the Reformation movement under Queen Elizabeth.–Development of Presbyterianism.–Three Cambridge men, Robert Browne, Henry Greenwood, and Henry Barrowe.–Brownism and Barrowism.–The Puritans under Elizabeth, her early tolerance and later change of policy.–Arrest of the Puritan movement by the clash between Episcopal and Presbyterian forms of polity and the pretensions of the latter.–James the First and his policy of conformity.–Exile of the Gainsborough and Scrooby Separatists.–Separatist writings.–General approachment of Puritans and Separatists in their ideas of church polity.–The Scrooby exiles in America.–Sympathy of the Separatists of Plymouth Colony with both the English Established Church and with English Puritans.


English Puritans decide to colonize in America.–Friendly relations between the settlements of Salem and Plymouth.–Salem decides upon the character of her church organization.–Arrival of Higginson and Skelton with recruits.–Formation of the Salem church and election of officers.–Governor Bradford and delegates from Plymouth present.–The beginning of Congregational polity among the Puritans and the break with English Episcopacy.–Formation and organization of the New England churches.


Church and State in the four New England colonies.–Early theological dissensions and disturbances.–Colonial legislation in behalf of religion.–Development of state authority at the cost of the independence of the church.–Desire of Massachusetts for a platform of church discipline.–Practical working of the theory of Church and State in Connecticut.


Necessity of a church platform to resist innovations, to answer English criticism, and to meet changing conditions of colonial life.–Summary of the Cambridge Platform.–Of the history of Congregationalism to the year 1648.–Attempt to discipline the Hartford, Conn., church according to the Platform.–Spread of its schism.–Petition to the Connecticut General Court for some method of relief.–The Ministerial Convention or “Synod” of 1657.–Its Half-Way Covenant.–Attitude of the Connecticut churches towards the measure.–Pitkin’s petition to the General Court of Connecticut for broader church privileges.–The Court’s favorable reply.–Renewed outbreak of schism in the Hartford and other churches.–Failure in the calling of a synod of New England churches.–The Connecticut Court establishes the Congregational Church.–Connecticut’s first toleration act.–Settlement of the Hartford dispute.–The new order and its important modifications of ecclesiastical polity.


Drift from religious to secular, and from intercolonial to individual interests.–Reforming Synod of 1680.–Religious life in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.–The “Proposals of 1705” in Massachusetts.–Introduction in Connecticut of the Saybrook System of Consociated Church government.


The Confession of Faith.–Heads of Agreement.–Fifteen Articles.–Attitude of the churches towards the Platform.–Formation of Consociations.–The “Proviso” in the act of establishment.–Neglect to read the proviso to the Norwich church.–Contention arising.–The Norwich church as an example of the difficulty of collecting church rates.


Toleration in the “Proviso” of the act establishing the Saybrook Platform.–Reasons for passing the Toleration Act of 1708.–Baptist dissenters.–Rogerine-Baptists, Rogerine-Quakers or Rogerines, and their persecution.–Attitude toward the Society of Friends or Quakers.–Toward the Church of England men or Episcopalians.–Political events parallel in time with the dissenters’ attempts to secure exemption from the support of the Connecticut Establishment.–General Ineffectiveness of the Toleration Act.


General dissatisfaction with the Toleration Act.–Episcopalians resent petty persecution.–Their desire for an American episcopate.–Conversion of Cutler, Rector of Yale College, and others.–Bishop Gibson’s correspondence with Governor Talcott. –Petition of the Fairfield churchmen.–Law of 1727 exempting Churchmen.–Persecution growing out of neglect to enforce the law.–Futile efforts of the Rogerines to obtain exemption.–Charges against the Colony of Connecticut.–The Winthrop case.–Quakers attempt to secure exemption from ecclesiastical rates.–Exemption granted to Quakers and Baptists.–Relative position of the dissenting and established churches in Connecticut.


Minor revivals in Connecticut before 1740.–Low tone of moral and religious life.–Jonathan Edwards’s sermons at Northampton.–Revival of religious interest and its spread among the people.–The Rev. George Whitefield.–The Great Awakening.–Its immediate results.


The Separatist churches.–Old Lights and New.–Opposition to the revival movement.–Severe colony laws of 1742-43–Illustrations of oppression of reformed churches, as the North Church of New Haven, the Separatist Church of Canterbury, and that of Enfield.–Persecution of individuals, as of Rev. Samuel Finlay, James Davenport, John Owen, and Benjamin Pomeroy.–Persecution of Moravian missionaries,–The colony law of 1746, “Concerning who shall vote in Society meeting.”–Change in public opinion.–Summary of the influence of the Great Awakening and of the great schism.


Revision of the laws of 1750.–Attitude of the colonial authorities toward Baptists and Separatists.–Influence on colonial legislation of the English Committee of Dissenters.–Formation of the Church of Yale College.–Separatist and Baptist writers in favor of toleration.–Frothingham’s “Articles of Faith and Practice.”–Solomon Paine’s “Letter.”–John Bolles’s “To Worship God in Spirit and in Truth.”–Israel Holly’s “A Word in Zion’s Behalf.”–Frothingham’s “Key to Unlock the Door.”–Joseph Brown’s “Letter to Infant Baptizers.”–The importance of the colonial newspaper.–Influence of English non-conformity upon the religious thought of New England.–The Edwardean School.–Hopkinsinianism and the New Divinity.–The clergy and the people.–Controversy over the renewed proposal for an American episcopate.–Movement for consolidation among all religious bodies.–Influences promoting nationalism and, indirectly, religious toleration.–Connecticut at the threshold of the Revolution.–Connecticut clergymen as advocates of civil liberty.–Greater toleration in religion granted by the laws of 1770.–Development of the idea of democracy in Church and State.–Exemption of Separatists by the revision of the laws in 1784.–Virtual abrogation of the Saybrook Platform.–Status of Dissenters.


Expansion of towns.–Revival of commerce and industries.–Schools and literature.–Newspapers.–Rise of the Anti-Federal party.–Baptist, Methodist, and Separatist dissatisfaction.–Growth of a broader conception of toleration within the Consociated churches.


Opposition to the Establishment from dissenters, Anti-Federalists, and the dissatisfied within the Federal ranks.–Certificate law of 1791 to allay dissatisfaction.–Its opposite effect.–A second Certificate law to replace the former.–Antagonism created by legislation in favor of Yale College.–Storm of protest against the Western Land bills of 1792-93.–Congregational missions in Western territory.–Baptist opposition to legislative measures.–The revised Western Land bill as a basis for Connecticut’s public school fund.–Result of the opposition roused by the Certificate laws and Western Land bills.


Government according to the charter of 1662.–Party tilt over town representation.–Anti-Federal grievances against the Council or Senate, the Judiciary, and other defective parts of the machinery of government.–Constitutional questions.–Rise of the Democratic-Republican party.–Influence of the French Revolution.–The Federal members of the Establishment or “Standing Order,” the champions of religious and political stability.–President Dwight, the leader of the Standing Order.–Leaders of the Democratic-Republicans.–Political campaigns of 1804-1806.–Sympathy for the defeated Republicans.–Politics at the close of the War of 1812.


Waning of the power of the Federal party in Connecticut.–Opposition to the Republican administration during the War of 1812.–Participation in the Hartford Convention.–Economic benefits of the war.–Attitude of the New England clergy toward the war.–The Toleration party of 1816.–Act for the Support of Literature and Religion.–Opposition.–Toleration and Reform Ticket of 1817.–New Certificate Law.–Constitution and Reform Ticket of 1818.–Its victory.–The Constitutional Convention.–New Constitution of 1818.–Separation of Church and State.






The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.–Psalm cxviii, 22.

The colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven were grounded in the system which became known as Congregational, and later as Congregationalism. At the outset they differed not at all in creed, and only in some respects in polity, from the great Puritan body in England, out of which they largely came.[a]

For more than forty years before their migration to New England there had been in old England two clearly developed forms of Congregationalism, Brownism and Barrowism. The term Congregationalism, with its allied forms Congregational and Congregationalist, would not then have been employed. They did not come into general use until the latter half of the seventeenth century, and were at first limited in usage to defining or referring to the modified church system of New England. The term “Independent” was preferred to designate the somewhat similar polity among the nonconformist churches in old England.[b] Brownism and Barrowism are both included in Dr. Dexter’s comprehensive definition of Congregationalism, using the term “to designate that system of thought, faith, and practice, which starting with the dictum that the conditions of church life are revealed in the Bible, and are thence to be evolved by reverent common-sense, assisted but never controlled by all other sources of knowledge; interprets that book as teaching the reality and independent competency of the local church, and the duty of fraternity and co-working between such churches; from these two truths symmetrically developing its entire system of principles, privileges, and obligations.” [1] The “independent competency of the local church” is directly opposed to any system of episcopal government within the church, and is diametrically opposed to any control by king, prince, or civil government. Yet this was one of the pivotal dogmas of Browne and of the later Separatists; this, a fundamental doctrine which Barrowe strove to incorporate into a new church system, but into one having sufficient control over its local units to make it acceptable to a people who were accustomed to the autonomy and stability of a church both episcopal and national in character.

In order to appreciate the changes in church polity and in the religious temper of the people for which Browne and Barrowe labored, one must survey the field in which they worked and note such preparation as it had received before their advent. It is to be recalled that Henry VIII substituted for submission to the Pope submission to himself as head of a church essentially Romish in ritual, teaching, and authority over his subjects. The religious reformation, as such, came later and by slow evolution through the gradual awakening of the moral and spiritual perceptions of the masses. It came very slowly notwithstanding the fact that the first definite and systematic opposition to the abuses and assumptions of the clergy had arisen long before Henry’s reign. As early as 1382, the itinerant preachers, sent out by Wyckliff, were complained of by the clergy and magistrates as teachers of insubordinate and dangerous doctrines. Thenceforward, outcroppings of dissatisfaction with the clergy appear from time to time both in English life and literature. This dissatisfaction was silenced by various acts of Parliament which were passed to enforce conformity and to punish heresy. Their character and intent were the same whether the head of the church wore the papal tiara or the English crown. Two hundred years after Wyckliff, in 1582, laws were still fulminated against “divers false and perverse people of certain new sects,” for Protestant England would support but one form of religion as the moral prop of the state. She regarded all innovations as questionable, or wholly evil, and their authors as dangerous men. Chief among the latter was Robert Browne. But before Browne’s advent and in the days of Henry the Eighth, there had been a large, respectable, and steadily increasing party whose desire was to remain within the English church, but to purify it from superstitious rites and practices, such as penances, pilgrimages, forced oblations, and votive offerings. They wished also to free the ritual from many customs inherited from the days of Rome’s supremacy. It was in this party that the leaven of Protestantism had been working. Luther and Henry, be it remembered, had died within a year of each other. Under the feeble rule of Edward the Sixth, the English reform movement gained rapidly, and, in 1550, upon the refusal of Bishop Hooper to be consecrated in the usual Romish vestments, it began to crystallize in two forms, Separatism and Puritanism.[c] In spite of much opposition, the teachings of Luther, Calvin, and other Continental reformers took root in England, and interested men of widely different classes. They stirred to new activity the scattered and persecuted groups, that, from time to time, had met in secret in London and elsewhere to read the Scriptures and to worship with their elected leaders in some simpler form of service than that prescribed by law. Under Mary’s persecution, these Separatists increased, and with other Protestants swelled the roll of martyrs. In her severity, the Queen also drove into exile many able and learned men, who sought shelter in Geneva, Zurich, Basle, and Frankfort, where they were hospitably entertained. Upon their return, there was a marked increase in the Calvinistic tone both of preaching and teaching in the English church and in the university lecture rooms, especially those of Cambridge. Among the most influential teachers was Thomas Cartwright,[d] in 1560-1562, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. While having no sympathy with the nonconformist or Separatist of his day, Cartwright accepted the polity and creed of Calvin in its severer form. He became junior-dean of St. John’s, major-fellow of Trinity, and a member of the governing-board. In 1565 he went to Ireland to escape the heated controversy of the period which centred in the “Vestiarian” movement. He was recalled in 1569 to his former professorship, and in September, 1571, was forced out of it because, when controversy changed from vestments to polity, he took extreme views of church discipline and repudiated episcopal government.[e] While Cartwright was very pronounced in his views, his desire at first was that the changes in church polity should be brought about by the united action of the Crown and Parliament. Such had been the method of introducing changes under the three sovereigns, Henry, Mary, and Elizabeth. With this brief summary of the reform movements among the masses and in the universities covering the years until Cartwright, through the influence of the ritualistic church party, was expelled from Cambridge, and Robert Browne, as a student there, came under the strong Puritan influence of the university, we pass to a consideration of Brownism.

Robert Browne was graduated from Cambridge in 1572, the year after Cartwright’s expulsion. The next three years he taught in London and “wholly bent himself to search and find out the matters of the church: as to how it was guided and ordered, and what abuses there were in the ecclesiastical government then used.” [2] When the plague broke out in London, Browne went to Cambridge. There, he refused to accept the bishop’s license to preach, though urged to do so, because he had come to consider it as contrary to the authority of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, he continued preaching until he was silenced by the prelate. Browne then went to Norwich, preaching there and at Bury St. Edmunds, both of which had been gathering-places for the Separatists. At Norwich, he organized a church. Writing of Browne’s labors there in 1580 and 1581, Dr. Dexter says: “Here, following the track which he had been long elaborating, he thoroughly discovered and restated the original Congregational way in all its simplicity and symmetry. And here, by his prompting and under his guidance, was formed the first church in modern days of which I have any knowledge, which was intelligently and one might say philosophically Congregational in its platform and processes; he becoming its pastor.” [3] Persecution followed Browne to Norwich, and in order to escape it he, in 1581, migrated with his church to Middelburg, in Zealand. There, for two years, he devoted himself to authorship, wherein he set forth his teachings. His books and pamphlets, which had been proscribed in England, were printed in Middelburg and secretly distributed by his friends and followers at home. But Browne’s temperament was not of the kind to hold and mould men together, while his doctrine of equality in church government was too strong food for people who, for generations, had been subservient to a system that demanded only their obedience. His church soon disintegrated. With but a remnant of his following, he returned in 1583 by way of Scotland into England, finding everywhere the strong hand of the government stretched out in persecution. Three years later, after having been imprisoned in noisome cells some thirty times within six years, utterly broken in health, if not weakened also in mind, and never feeling safe from arrest while in his own land, Browne finally sought pardon for his offensive teachings and, obtaining it, reentered the English communion. Though he was given a small parish, he was looked upon as a renegade, and died in poverty about 1631, at an extreme old age. He died while the Pilgrim Separatists were still a struggling colony at Plymouth, repudiating the name of Brownists; before the colonial churches had embodied in their system most of the fundamentals of his; and long before the value of his teachings as to democracy, whether in the church or by extension in the state, had dawned upon mankind.

The connecting link between Brownism and Barrowism, whose similarities and dissimilarities we shall consider together, or rather the connecting link between Robert Browne and Henry Barrowe, was another Cambridge student, John Greenwood. He was graduated in 1581, the year that Browne removed to Middelburg. Greenwood had become so enamored with Separatist doctrines, that within five years of his graduation he was deprived of his benefice, in 1586, and sent to prison. While there, he was visited by his friend, Henry Barrowe, a young London lawyer, who, through the chance words of a London preacher, had been converted from a wild, gay life to one devout and godly. During a visit to Greenwood, Barrowe was arrested and sent to Lambeth Palace for examination. Upon refusing to take the oath required by the bishop, Barrowe was remanded to prison to await further examination. Later, he damaged himself and his cause by an unnecessarily bitter denunciation of his enemies and by a too dogmatic assertion of his own principles. Accordingly, he was sent back to prison, where, together with Greenwood, he awaited trial until March, 1593. Then, upon the distorted testimony of their writings, both men were sentenced as seditious fellows, worthy of death. Though twice reprieved at the seemingly last hour, they were hanged together on April 6, 1593.

Both Greenwood and Barrowe frequently asserted that they never had anything to do with Browne. [4] Yet it is probable that it was Browne’s influence which turned Greenwood’s puritanical convictions to Separatist principles. Barrowe had been graduated from Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1569-70; Browne, from Corpus Christi in 1572. The two men, so different in character, probably did not meet in university days, and certainly not later in London, where one went to a life of pleasure and the other to teaching and to the study of the Scriptures. Greenwood, however, had entered Cambridge in 1577-78, and left it in 1581. Thus he was in college during the two years that Browne was preaching in and near Cambridge. It is safe to assume that the young scholar, soon to become a licensed preacher, and overflowing with the Puritan zeal of his college, might be drawn either through curiosity or admiration to hear the erratic and almost fanatic preacher. Later, when Browne’s writings were being secretly distributed in England, both Barrowe and Greenwood had come in contact with the London congregations to whom Browne had preached. The fact that many men in England were thinking along the same lines as the Separatists; that Browne had recanted just as Barrowe and Greenwood were thrust into prison; and that they both disapproved in some measure of Browne’s teachings, might account for a denial of discipleship. Browne’s influence might even have been unrecognized by the men themselves. Be that as it may, during their long imprisonment, both Barrowe and Greenwood, in their teachings, in their public conferences, and in their writings strove to outline a system of church government and discipline, which was very similar to and yet essentially different from Browne’s.

Thus it happened that in the last decade of the sixteenth century two forms of Congregationalism had developed, Brownism and Barrowism. Neither Browne nor Barrowe felt any need, as did their later followers, to demonstrate their doctrinal soundness, because in all matters of creed they “were in full doctrinal sympathy with the predominantly Calvinistic views of the English Established Church from which they had come out.”

“Browne, first of all English writers, set forth the Anabaptist doctrine that the civil ruler had no control over the spiritual affairs of the church and that State and Church were separate realms.” [5] In the beginning, Browne’s foremost wish was not to establish a new church system or polity, but to encourage the spiritual life of the believer. To this end he desired separation from the English church, which, like all other state churches, included all baptized persons, not excommunicate, whether faithful or not to their baptismal or confirmation vows to lead godly lives. [6] Moreover, as Browne did not believe that the magistrates should have power to coerce men’s consciences, teaching, as he did, that the mingling of church offices and civil offices was anti-Christian,[7] he was unwilling to wait for a reformation to be brought about by the changing laws of the state.[8] He further advocated such equality of power [9] among the members of the church that in its government a democracy resulted, and this theory, pushed to a logical conclusion, implied that a democratic form of civil government was also the best.[f] Browne roughly draughted a government for the church with pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and widows. He insisted, however, that these officers did not stand between Christ and the ordinary believer, “though they haue the grace and office of teaching and guiding…. Because eurie one of the church is made Kinge, and Priest and a Prophet, under Christ, to vpholde and further the kingdom of God.”

Browne and Barrowe both made the Bible their guide in all matters of church life. From its text they deduced the definition of a true church as, “A company of faithful people gathered by the Word unto Christ and submitting themselves in all things;” of a Christian, as one who had made a “willing covenant with God, and thereby did live a godly and Christian life.”[10] This covenanting together of Christians constituted a church. From their interpretation of the New Testament, Browne and Barrowe held that this covenanting included repentance for sin, a profession of faith, and a promise of obedience. Moreover, to their minds, primitive Christianity had insisted upon a public, personal narration of each covenanter’s regenerative experience. From sacred writ they derived their church organization also.[ll] Their pastors were for exhorting or “edifying by all comfortable words and promises in the Scriptures, to work in our hearts the estimate of our duties with love and zeal thereunto.” Their teachers were for teaching or “delivering the grounds of Religion and meaning of the Scriptures and confirming the same.” Both officers were to administer baptism and the Lord’s supper, or “the Seals of the Covenant.” The elders included both pastors and teachers and also “Ruling Elders,” all of whom were for “oversight, counsel, and redressing things amiss,” but the ruling elders were to give special attention to the public order and government of the church. According to both Browne and Barrowe, these officers were to be the mouthpiece of the church in the admission, censure, dismissal, or readmission of members. They were to prepare matters to be brought before the church for action. They were also to adjust matters, when possible, so as to avoid overburdening the church or its pastor and teacher with trivial business. In matters spiritual, they were to unite with the pastor and teacher in keeping watch over the lives of the people, that they be of good character and godly reputation.

Browne taught that the church had power which it shared with its officers as fellow-Christians, but which lifted it above them and their office. It lay with the church to elect them. It lay with the church to censure them. Barrowe also maintained that the church was “above its institutions, above its officers,” [12] and that every officer was responsible to the church and liable to its censure as well as indebted to it for his election and office. But he further maintained that the members of the church should render meek and submissive, faithful and loving obedience to their chosen elders. Barrowe thus taught that guidance in religious matters should be left in the hands of those to whom by election it had been delegated. The elders were to be men of discernment, able to judge “between cause and cause, plea and plea,” to redress evil, and to see that both the people and their officers[g] did their full duty in accordance with the laws of God and the ordinances of the church. Barrowe had seen the confusion and disintegration of Browne’s church, and he planned by thus introducing the Calvinistic theory of eldership to avoid the pitfalls into which the Brownists had plunged while practicing their new-found principle of religious equality. Barrowe hoped by his system to secure the independence of the local churches and also to avoid the repellent attitude of a nation that was as yet unprepared to welcome any trend towards democracy.[h] Having devised this system of compromise, Barrowe made a futile attempt to interest Cartwright, but the latter regarded the reformer as too heretical. Yet Cartwright himself, tired of waiting for the better day when his desired reforms should be brought about through the operation of Parliamentary laws, was attempting in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire to test his system of Presbyterianism.

To the list of church officers already enumerated, both reformers added deacons and widows. The deacons were to attend to the church finances and all temporal cares, and, in their visiting of the sick and afflicted, they were to be aided by the widows. The latter office, however, soon fell into disuse, for it was difficult to find women of satisfactory character, attainments, and physical ability, since, in order to avoid scandal or censoriousness, those filling the office had to be of advanced years.[i]

With respect to the relation of the churches among themselves, Browne and Barrowe each insisted upon the integral independence and self-governing powers of the local units. Both approved of the “sisterly advice” of neighboring churches in matters of mutual interest. Both held that in matters of great weight, synods, or councils of all the churches should be summoned; that the delegates to such bodies should advise and bring the wisdom of their united experience to questions affecting the welfare of all the churches, and also, when in consultation upon serious cases, that any one church should lay before them. Browne insisted that delegates to synods should be both ministerial and lay, while Barrowe leaned to the conviction that they should be chosen only from among the church officers. Both reformers limited the power of synods, maintaining that they should be consultative and advisory only. [13] Their decisions were not to be binding upon the churches as were those of the Presbyterian synods,[j] whose authority both reformers regarded as a violation of Gospel rule. The church system, outlined by these two men, became, in time, the organization of the churches of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven. The character of their polity fluctuated, as we shall see, leaning sometimes more to Barrowism and sometimes, or in some respects, emphasizing the greater democracy which Browne taught. In England, and because of the pressure of circumstances among English exiles and colonists, Barrowe’s teachings at first gained the stronger hold and kept it for many years. Moreover, as Barrowe’s almost immediate followers embraced them, there was no objection to the customary union of church and state. And furthermore, if only the state would uphold this peculiar polity, it might even insist upon the payment of contributions, which both Browne and Barrowe had distinctly stated were to be voluntary and were to be the only support of their churches. Though Barrowism was more welcomed, eventually–yet not until long after the colonial period–Brownism triumphed, and it predominates in the Congregationalism of to-day.

The immediate spread of Barrowism was due to the poor Separatists of London. Doubtless among them were many who in the preceding years had listened to Browne and had begun to look up to him as their Luther. While Barrowe and Greenwood were in prison, many of these Separatists had gone to hear them preach and had studied their writings. During the autumn of 1592, there had been some relaxation in the severity exercised toward the prisoners, and Greenwood was allowed occasionally to be out of jail under bail. He associated himself with these Separatists, who, according to Dr. Dexter, had organized a church about five years before, and who at once elected Greenwood to the office of teacher. Dr. John Brown, writing later than Dr. Dexter, claims this London church as the parent of English Congregationalism. To make good the claim, he traces the history of the church by means of references in Bradford’s History, Fox’s “Book of Martyrs,” and in recently discovered state papers to its existence as a Separate church under Elizabeth, when, as early as 1571, its pastor, Richard Fitz, had died in prison. Dr. Brown believes he can still farther trace its origin to Queen Mary’s reign, when a Mr. Rough, its pastor, suffered martyrdom, and one Cuthbert Sympson was deacon. [l4] After the death of Greenwood and Barrowe, this London congregation was sore pressed. Their pastor, Francis Johnson, having been thrown into prison, they began to make their way secretly to Amsterdam. There Johnson joined them in 1597, soon after his release. To this London-Amsterdam church were gathered Separatist exiles from all parts of England, for converts were increasing,[k] especially in the rural districts of the north, notwithstanding the fact that persecution followed hard upon conversion.

The policy of Elizabeth during the earlier years of her reign was one of forbearance towards inoffensive Catholics and of toleration towards all Protestants. Caring nothing for religion as such, her aim was to secure peace and to increase the stability of her realm. This she did by crushing malcontent Catholics, by balancing the factions of Protestantism, and by holding in check the extremists, whether High-Churchmen or the ultra-Puritan followers of Cartwright. She had forced on the contending factions a sort of armed truce and silenced the violent antagonism of pulpit against pulpit by licensing preachers. The Acts of Supremacy and of Uniformity placed all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as all legislative power, in the hands of the state. They outlined a system of church doctrine and discipline from which no variation was legally permitted. Notwithstanding the enforced outward conformity, the Bible was left open to the masses to study, and private discussion and polemic writing were unrestrained. The main principles of the Reformation were accepted, even while Elizabeth resisted the sweeping reforms which the strong Calvinistic faction of the Puritan party would have made in the ceremonial of the English church. This she did notwithstanding the fact that about the time Thomas Cartwright, through the influence of the ritualists under Whitgift, had been driven from Cambridge, Parliament had refused to bind the clergy to the Three Articles on Supremacy, on the form of Church government, and on the power of the Church to ordain rites and ceremonies. Parliament had even suggested a reform of the liturgy by omitting from it those ceremonies most obnoxious to the Puritan party.[l] That representative assembly had but reflected the desire of all moderate statesmen, as well as of the Puritans. But, in the twelve years between Cartwright’s dismissal from Cambridge and Browne’s preaching there without a license, a great change took place, altering the sentiment of the nation. All but extremists drew back when Cartwright pushed his Presbyterian notions to the point of asserting that the only power which the state rightfully held over religion was to see that the decrees of the churches were executed and their contemners punished, or when this reformer still further asserted that the power and authority of the church was derived from the Gospel and consequently was above Queen or Parliament. Cartwright claimed for his church an infallibility and control of its members far above the claims of Rome, and, tired of waiting for a purification of existing conditions by legislative acts, he had, as has been said, boldly organized, in accordance with his system, the clergy of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. The local churches were treated as self-governing units, but were controlled by a series of authoritative Classes and Synods. Having done this, Cartwright called for the establishment of Presbyterianism as the national church and for the vigorous suppression of Episcopacy, Separatism, and all variations from his standard. As he thus struck at the national church, at the Queen’s supremacy, and, seemingly to many Englishmen, at the very roots of civil government and security, there was a sudden halt in the reform movement. The impetus which would have probably brought about all the changes that the great body of Puritans desired was arrested. Richard Hooker’s “Ecclesiastical Polity” swept the ground from under Thomas Cartwright’s “Admonition to Parliament.” Hooker’s broad and philosophic reasoning showed that no one system of church-government was immutable; that all were temporary; and that not upon any man’s interpretation of Scripture, or upon that of any group of men alone, could the divine ordering of the world, of the church or of the state, be based. Such order depended upon moral relations, upon social and political institutions, and changed with times and nations.

The death of Mary Queen of Scots crushed the Catholic party, and the defeat of the Armada left Elizabeth free to turn her attention to the phases of the Protestant movement in her own realm. While Browne was preaching in Norwich, the Queen raised Whitgift to the See of Canterbury. He was the bitter opponent of all nonconformity, and immediately the persecution both of Separatists and of Puritans became severe. Elizabeth, sure at last of her throne and of her position as head of the Protestant cause in Europe, gave her minister a free hand. She demanded rigid conformity, but wisely forbore to revive many of the customs which the Puritans had succeeded in rendering obsolete. Notwithstanding such modifications, the English liturgy had been so slightly altered that, “Pius the Fifth did see so little variation in it from the Latin service that had been formerly used in that Kingdom that he would have ratified it by his authority, if the Queen would have so received it.”[m] Elizabeth now forbade all preaching, teaching, and catechising in private houses, and refused to recognize lay or Presbyterian ordination. Ministers who could no longer accept episcopal ordination, or subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles, or approve the Book of Common Prayer and conform to its liturgy were silenced and deprived of their salaries. In default of witnesses, charges against them were proved by their own testimony under oath, whereby they were made to incriminate themselves. The censorship of the press was made stringent, printing was restricted to London and to the two universities, and all printers had to be licensed. Furthermore, all publications, even pamphlets, had to receive the approval of the Primate or of the Bishop of London. In addition, the Queen established the Ecclesiastical Commission of forty-four members, which became a permanent court where all authority virtually centred in the hands of the archbishops. English law had not as yet defined the powers and limitations of the Protestant clergy. Consequently, this Commission assumed almost unlimited powers and cared little for its own precedents. Its very existence undid a large part of the work of the Reformation, and the successive Archbishops of Canterbury, Parker, Whitgift, Bancroft, Abbott, and Laud, claimed greater and more despotic authority than any papal primate since the days of Augustine. The Commission passed upon all opinions or acts which it held to be contrary to the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. It altered or amended the Statutes of Schools and Colleges; it claimed the right of deprivation of clergy and held them at its mercy; it passed from decisions upon heresy, schism, or nonconformity to judgment and sentence upon incest and similar crimes. It could fine and imprison at will, and employ any measures for securing information or calling witnesses. The result was that all nonconformists and all Puritans drew closer together under trial. Another result was that the Bible was studied more earnestly in private, and that there was a public eager to read the religious books and pamphlets published abroad and cautiously circulated in England. Though the Presbyterians were confined to the nonconformist clergy and to a comparatively small number among them, they were rising in importance, and were accorded sympathetic recognition as a section of the Puritan party. This party, as a whole, continued to increase its membership. The Separatists also increased, for, as of old, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.

The hope that times would mend when James ascended the throne was soon abandoned. As he had been trained in Scotch Presbyterianism, the Presbyterians believed that he would grant them some favor, while the Puritans looked for some conciliatory measures. Eight hundred Puritan ministers, a tenth of all the clergy, signed the “Millenary Petition,” asking that the practices which they most abhorred, such as the sign of the cross in baptism, the use of the surplice, the giving of the ring at marriage, and the kneeling during the communion service, should be done away with. The petition was not Presbyterian, but was strictly Puritan in tone. It asked for no change in the government or organization of the church. It did ask for a reform in the ecclesiastical courts, and it demanded provision for the training of godly ministers. James replied to the petition by promising a conference of prelates and of Puritan ministers to consider their demands; but at the conference it was found that he had summpned it only to air the theological knowledge upon which he so greatly prided himself. His answer to the petition was that he would have “one doctrine, one religion, in substance and in ceremony,” and of the remonstrants he added, “I will make them conform or I will harry them out of the land.” The harrying began. The recently organized Separatist church at Gainsborough-on-Trent endured persecution for four years, and then emigrated with its pastor, John Smyth, M.A., of Christ’s College, Cambridge. It found refuge in Amsterdam by the side of the London-Amsterdam church and its pastor, Francis Johnson, who had been Smyth’s tutor in college days. The next year, after more of the King’s harrying, the future colonists of Plymouth, the Separatist Church of Scrooby, an offshoot of the Gainsborough church, attempted to flee over seas to Holland. The magistrates would not give them leave to go, and to emigrate without permission had been counted a crime since the reign of Richard II. Their first attempt to leave the country was defeated and their leaders imprisoned. During their second attempt, after a large number of their men had reached the ship with many of their household goods, and while their wives and children were waiting to embark, those on the beach were surprised and arrested, and their goods confiscated. Public opinion forbade sending helpless women and children to prison for no other offense than agreeing with and wishing to join their husbands and fathers. Consequently the magistrates let their prisoners go, but made no provision for them. Helpless and destitute, they were taken in and cared for by the people of the countryside, and sheltered until their men returned. The latter had suffered shipwreck, because the Dutch captain had attempted to sail away when he saw the approach of the English officers. When the church had once more raised sufficient funds for the emigration, the magistrates gave them a contemptuous permission to depart, “glad to be rid of them at any price.” So, in 1608, they also joined the English exiles in Amsterdam. The rank injustice and cruelty of their treatment, together with their patience and forbearance under their sufferings, drew people’s attention to the character and worth of the pious “pilgrims” and Separatists whom James was constantly driving forth from England.

Meanwhile, both in England and on the continent, the Separatists held fast to the principles of their leaders, of which the cardinal ones were a church wherein membership was not by birthright, but by “conversion;” over which magistrates or government should have no control; in which each congregation constituted an independent unit, coequal with all others; and with which the state should have nothing more to do than to see that members respected the decrees of the church and were obedient to its discipline.

On the continent, the Separatists elaborated these fundamentals and developed detailed and systematic expression of them. Such were the “True Description out of the Word of God of the Visible Church” of the London-Amsterdam church, put forth in 1589, and in which Barrowe himself outlined his system; the “True Confession,” issued by the same church about ten years later; “The Points of Difference,” some fourteen in number, in which the London-Amsterdam church set forth wherein it differed from the English church; and the “Seven Articles,” signed by John Robinson and William Brewster. This last document the exiled Scrooby church sent from Leyden to the English Council of State in 1617, with the hope of convincing King James that if allowed to go to America under the Virginia patent, and to worship there in their own fashion, they would be desirable colonists and law-abiding subjects. The “True Confession”[n] sets forth the nature, powers, order, and officers of the church. It limits the sacraments to the members, and baptism to their children. It insists upon the wisdom of churches seeking advice from one another, and of their use of certificates of membership so as to guard against the admission of strangers coming from other churches, and possibly of unworthy character. In the definition of eldership, the “True Confession” passes out of the haze in which Barrowe’s “True Description” left the conflicting powers of the eldership, and of the church. It plainly asserts that the elders have the power of guidance and also of control, should members attempt to censure them or to interfere in matters beyond their knowledge. This platform also insists that magistrates should uphold the church which it defines, because it is the one true church, and that they should oppose all others as anti-Christian. [15] In the “Points of Difference,” stress is again laid upon the covenant-nature of the church, upon its voluntary support, upon the right of election of officers, and upon the abolishment of “Popish Canons, Courts, Classes, Customs or any human inventions,” including the Popish liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, and “all Monuments of Idolatry in garments or in other things, and all Temples, Chapels, etc.” Many of the Puritans desired these same changes. Many favored a polity giving the local churches some degree of choice in the election of their officers. If the “Points of Difference” aimed to lay bare the errors of Episcopacy and of Presbyterianism as well as to demonstrate the superior merits of the new aspirant for the status of a national church, the “Seven Articles” [16] aimed to minimize differences in church usage by omitting mention of them when possible and by emphasizing agreement. The evident advance along the line of a more authoritative eldership had developed out of the experience of the first two English churches in Amsterdam. John Robinson and his followers had held more closely to Robert Browne’s standard of Congregationalism, for Robinson maintained that the government of the church should be vested in its membership rather than in its eldership alone. In order to maintain this principle in greater purity, Robinson withdrew his fold from their first resting-place in Amsterdam to Leyden. Richard Clyfton, who had been pastor of the church in Scrooby, remained in Amsterdam, partly because he felt too old to migrate again, and partly because he leaned to Francis Johnson’s more aristocratic theories of church government. These divergent views caused trouble in the Amsterdam churches, and Robinson wished to be far enough away to be out of the vortex of doctrinal eddies. For eleven years his people lived a peaceful and exemplary church life in Leyden, and it was chiefly their longing to rear their children in an English home and under English influences that made them anxious to emigrate to America. As the years passed, Robinson sympathized more with the Barrowistic standards of other churches and came also to regard more leniently the English Established Church as one having true religion under corrupt forms and ceremonies, and accordingly one with which he could hold a limited fellowship. This was a step in the approachment of Separatist and Puritan, and Robinson was a most influential writer. Of necessity, his work was largely controversial, but he wrote from the standpoint of defense, and rarely departed from a broad and kindly spirit. In the “Seven Articles” Robinson admits the royal supremacy in so far as to countenance a passive obedience. His teaching had the greatest influence in shaping the religious life of the first and second generation of New Englanders.

The Separatists who remained in England devoted themselves to the discussion of particular topics rather than to platforms of faith and discipline. Many of the writers were men who, like the pastors of two of the exiled churches, were at first ministers in good standing in the English church; but, later, had allowed their Puritan tendencies to outrun the bounds of that party and to become convictions that the Bible commanded their separation from the Establishment as witnesses to the corruptions it countenanced. Poring over the Bible story, they had become enamored with the simplicity of the Gospel age.

From the days of Elizabeth, the English nation became more and more a people of one book, and that book the Bible. As, deeply dyed with Calvinism, they read over and over its sacred pages, they became a serious, sombre, purposeful–and almost fanatic people. The faults and extravagances of the Puritan party and of the later Commonwealth do not at this time concern us. It is with their purposefulness, their determination to make the church a home of vigorous and visible righteousness, and to preserve their ecclesiastical and civil liberties from the encroachment of Stuart pretensions, that we have to do. More and more, as has been said, the Puritan was coming to the conviction that the best way to reform the church would be to substitute some restrictive policy for her all-embracing membership, or, at least, to supplement it by such measures of local church discipline as should practically exclude the unregenerate and the immoral. Again, the Church of England could be arraigned as a politico-ecclesiastical institution, and in the pages of the Bible, King James’s theory of the divine right of kings and bishops found no support. It was obnoxious alike to Separatist and Puritan, and James’s Puritan subjects had the sympathy of more than three fourths of the squires and burgesses in the king’s first Parliament of 1604, while the Separatists counted some twenty thousand converts in his realm. The Puritan opposition was a formidable one to provoke. Yet “the wisest fool in Christendom” jeered at its clergy and scolded its representatives in Parliament for daring to warn him, in their reply to his boasted divine right of kings, that

Your majesty would be misinformed if any man should deliver that the Kings of England have any absolute power in themselves either to alter religion, or to make any laws concerning the same, otherwise than as in temporal causes, by consent of Parliament.

It was the extravagant claims for himself and his bishops, coupled with his lawless overriding of justice and his profligate use of the national wealth, that undermined the king’s throne and prepared the downfall of the House of Stuart. Notwithstanding the remonstrance of Parliament, James’s insistence upon his divine right, by very force of reiteration, whether his own or that of the clergy who favored royalty, won a growing recognition from a conservative people. For his king as the political head of the nation, the Puritan had all the Englishman’s half-idolatrous reverence, until James’s own acts outraged justice and substituted contempt.

The self-restraint for which every Separatist, every Puritan, strove, was characteristic of the great reform party. They asked only for ecclesiastical betterment, for the reform of the ecclesiastical courts, for provision for a godly ministry, and for the suppression of “Popish usages.” These requests of the “Millenary Petition” were, after the Guy Fawkes plot, urged with all the intensity of a people who, as they looked abroad upon the feeble and warring Protestantism of Europe, and at home upon the attempt to revive Romanism, believed themselves the sole hope and savior of the Protestant cause. Persecution had created a small measure of tolerance throughout all nonconformist bodies. Fear of the revival of Catholicism, the renewed attempt to enforce the Three Articles, the dismissal from their parishes of three hundred Puritan ministers, and the hand and glove policy of the king and his bishops, welded together the variants in the Puritan party. The desire for personal righteousness, for morality in church and state, which had seized upon the masses in the nation, stood aghast at the profligacy of the king and his courtiers. Reason seemed to cry aloud for reform, preferably for a reform that should be free from every trace of the old hypocrisies, but which should be strong within the old episcopal system which had endured for centuries and which still kept its hold upon the vast majority of the people. And to this idea of reform the great Puritan party clung, until the exactions of the Stuarts, their suppression of both religious and civil rights, forced upon it a civil war and the formation of the Commonwealth. As a preliminary training of the men of the Puritan armies and of the Commonwealth, and for their great contest, all the years of Bible study, of controversial writing, of individual suffering, were needed. These brought forth the necessary moral earnestness, the mental acumen, the enduring strength. These qualities, though most noticeable in the leaders, were well-nigh universal traits. Every common soldier felt himself the equal of his officer as a soldier of God, a defender of the faith, and a necessary builder of Christ’s new kingdom upon earth. To this growing sense of democracy, to this sense of personal responsibility and self-sacrifice, the teaching, the writings, and the sufferings of the oppressed Separatists, as well as those of the persecuted Puritans, had contributed.

When, in 1620, James I permitted the Pilgrims of Leyden to emigrate, they planted in Plymouth of New England the first American Congregational church and erected there the first American commonwealth. The influence of this Separatist church upon New England religious life belongs to another chapter. Here it is only necessary to repeat that its members differed not at all in creed, only in polity, from the English established church out of which they had originally come. With the English Puritan they were one in faith, while they differed little from him in theories of church government, though much in practice. In America, the Plymouth colonists at once set up the same church polity as in Leyden, one from which, as has been shown, many of the English Puritans would have borrowed the features of a converted or covenant membership and of local self-government, or at least some measure of it. Eight years were to elapse before the great Puritan exodus began. In those eight years both parties, through the discipline of time, were to be brought still nearer to a common standard of church life. When the vanguard of the Puritans reached the Massachusetts shore, the Plymouth church stood ready to extend the right hand of fellowship. How it did so, and how it impressed itself upon the church life in the three colonies of Massachusetts, New Haven, and Connecticut, is a part of the story of the earliest period of colonial Congregationalism.


[a] “Our pious Ancestors transported themselves with regard unto Church Order and Discipline, not with respect to the Fundamentals in Doctrine.”–Richard Mather, _Attestation to the Ratio Disciplina_, p. 10.

“The issue on which the Pilgrims and Puritans alike left sweet fields and comfortable homes and settled ways of the land of their birth for this raw wilderness, was primarily an issue of politics rather than of the substance of religious life.”–G. L. Walker, _Some Aspects of Religious Life in New England_, p. 19.

[b] “After the 17th century ‘Independent’ was chiefly used in England, while ‘Congregational’ was decidedly preferred in New England, where the ‘consociation’ of the churches formed a more important feature of the system.” “Congregational” first appeared in manuscript in 1639, in print in 1642. “Congregationalist” appeared in 1692, and “Congregationalism,” not until 1716.–J. Murray, _A New English Dict. on Hist. Principles._

[c] Separatism is commonly said to date from the year 1554. About 1564, the other branch of the reform party was nicknamed “Puritan.”–G. L. Walker, _History of the First Church in Hartford_, p. 6.

[d] Another noted preacher who left an indelible impression upon several early New England ministers was William Perkins, who was in discourse “strenuous, searching, and ultra-Calvinistic.” He was a Cambridge man, filling the positions of Professor of Divinity, Master of Trinity, and Chancellor of the University.–G. L. Walker, _Some Aspects of the Religious Life in New England_, p. 14.

[e] Cartwright in 1574, the year of its publication, translated Travers’s _Ecclesiasticae Disciplinae et Anglicanae Ecclesiae ab illa Aberrationis, plena e verbo Dei & dilucida Explicatio_, and made it the basis of a practical attempt to introduce the Presbyterian system into England. More than five hundred of the clergy seconded his attempt, subscribing to the principles that (1) there can be only one right form of church government, but one church order and one form of church, namely, that described in the Scriptures; (2) that every local church should have a presbytery of elders to direct its affairs; and (3) that every church should obey the combined opinion of all the churches in fellowship with it. In this declaration lay a blow at the Queen’s supremacy.–H. M. Dexter, _Congregationalism as seen in Lit_. p. 55.

[f] “Browne’s polity was essentially, though unintentionally, democratic, and that gives it a closer resemblance in some features to the purely democratic Congregationalism of the present century, than to the more aristocratic, one might almost say semi-Presbyterianized, Congregationalism of Barrowe and the founders of New England. His picture of the covenant relation of men in the church, under the immediate sovereignty of God, he extended to the state; and it led him as directly, and probably as unintentionally, to democracy in the one field as in the other. His theory implied that all governors should rule by the will of the governed, and made the basis of the state on its human side essentially a compact.”–W. Walker, _Creeds and Platforms_, pp. 15, 16. See also H. M. Dexter, _Congregationalism as seen in Lit_., pp. 96-107; 235-39; 351; R. Browne, _Book which Sheweth, Def_., 51.

[g] Barrowe wrote, “Though there be communion in the Church, yet is there no equality.” This is in strong contrast to Browne’s, “Every one of the church is made King and Priest and Prophet under Christ to uphold and further the kingdom of God.” Barrowe continues, “The Church of Christ is to obey and submit unto her leaders…. The Church knoweth how to give reverence unto her leaders.” In his _True Description_ there is a hazy attempt to define how far the membership of the church may judge its elders. This authority of the elders was defined more clearly and elaborated by Barrowe’s followers in their _True Confession_, published in Amsterdam in 1596-98.–H. Barrowe, _A True Description; Discovery of False Churches_, p. 188; _A Plain Refutation of Mr. Gifford_, p. 129 (ed. of 1605).

[h] “Traces of this (Barrowe’s) innovation on apostolic Congregationalism have been aptly characterized as a Presbyterian heart within a Congregational body, and are seen long after the denomination grew to be a power in New England.”–A. E. Dunning, _Congregationalists in America_, p. 61.

[i] Barrowe says, “over sixty.”

[j] The first English Presbytery was organized in 1572. Among its organizers, there was the seeming determination to treat the Episcopal system as a mere legal appendage.–F. J. Powicke, _Henry Barrowe_, p. 139.

[k] At the height of its prosperity this church contained about three hundred communicants, with representatives from twenty-nine English counties. Among them was one John Bolton, who had been a member of Mr. Fitz’s church in 1571. At the beginning of James the First’s reign, 1603, Separatist converts numbered 20,000 souls in England.

[l] “The wish for a reform in the Liturgy, the dislike of superstitious usages, of the use of the surplice, the sign of the cross in baptism, the gift of the ring in marriage, the posture of kneeling at the Lord’s Supper, was shared by a large number of the clergy and laity alike. At the opening of Elizabeth’s reign almost all the higher churchmen but Parker were opposed to them, and a motion for their abolition in Convocation was lost but by a single vote.”–J. R. Green, _Short History of the English People_, p. 459.

[m] John Davenport, in his _Answer to the Letter of Many Ministers in Old England_, p. 3.

[n] Its full title is “A True Confession of the Faith and Humble Acknowledgement of the Allegeance which wee his Majestes Subjects falsely called Brownists, doo hould towards God and yeild his Majestie and all others that are over us in the Lord.”



Those who cross the sea change not their affection but their skies.–Horace.

The rule of absolutism forced the transplanting of a democratic church. The arrogance of the House of Stuart compelled English Puritans to seek refuge in America. The exercise of the divine right of kings and of the divine power of bishops provoked the commonwealths of New England and the development there of the Congregational church, as later it brought the Commonwealth of Cromwell, with its tolerance of Independent and Presbyterian.

When the Pilgrims left England, the Puritans had entered upon their long contest with James over their ecclesiastical and also their constitutional rights. At his accession, the king had seemed inclined to tolerate the Catholics. Yet only a short time elapsed before many Romanists were found upon the proscribed lists. The Guy Fawkes plot followed. Its scope, its narrow margin of failure, coupled with the king’s previous leniency towards Catholics and his bitter persecution of nonconformists, created a frenzy of fear among Protestants. Immediately the Puritans saw in every objectionable ceremonial of the English church some hidden purpose, some Jesuitical contrivance for overthrowing Protestantism. And as the ritualistic clergy made their pulpits resound with the doctrines of the divine right of kings, the divine right of bishops, and of passive obedience, and as they thundered at the preachers who opposed or denied these principles, the high-church party came to be associated more and more with the unconstitutional policy of the king. And this was so, notwithstanding the praiseworthy efforts of Archbishop Abbott to modify the practical working of these royal notions. This archbishop of Canterbury was a man of great learning and of gentle spirit. His name stands second among the translators of King James’s version, while as head of the Ecclesiastical Commission his power was great, his influence far reaching. So earnestly did he strive to moderate the king’s severity toward nonconformists, to bring about a compromise between the two great church parties, and so simple was the ritual in his palace at Lambeth, that many people believed the kindly prelate was more than half a Puritan at heart. He even refused to license the publication of a sermon that most unduly exalted the king’s prerogative, and he forbade the reading of James’s proclamation permitting games and sports on Sunday. This proclamation was the famous “Book of Sports,” and many Puritan clergymen paid dearly for refusing to read it to their congregations. Its issue exasperated and discouraged the reform party, and, from this time, the Puritans began to lose hope that any moral or religious betterment would be permitted among the people.

In the constitutional imbroglio, James resented the attempt of Parliament to curb his extravagance by its method of granting him money on condition that he would make ecclesiastical reforms and grant the redress of other grievances. When the king grew angry and attempted to rule without a Parliament, the Puritan party broadened its purpose and became the champion also of civil liberty. Among his offenses, James refused to restore to their pulpits three hundred Puritan ministers whom, in 1605, he silenced for not accepting the Three Articles, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament itself had refused to make them binding upon the clergy. The king also refused to define the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, and to respect the limitation of the powers of the High Court of Commission when they were determined by the judges. And further, James positively refused to admit that with Parliament alone rested the power to levy imposts and duties. After wrangling with his first Parliament for seven years over these and similar questions, the king ruled for the next three without that representative body. Finding it necessary, in 1614, to convene his lords, squires, and burgesses, the king was disappointed to find that the new Parliament was no more pliable to his will than its predecessor had been, and he shortly dissolved it. The great leaders of the opposition, such as Coke, Eliot, Pym, Selden and Hampden, were not all Puritans, but these men, and others of their kind, joined with the reform party in demanding that the rights of the people should be respected and the evils of government redressed. James’s whole reign was marked by quarrels with a stubborn Parliament and by periods of absolute rule that were characterized by forced loans and other unlawful extortions.

Upon the death of James, in 1625, the nation turned hopefully to the young prince, who thus far had pleased them in many ways. In contrast to the ungainly, rickety, garrulous James, Charles was kingly in appearance, bearing, and demeanor. He was reserved in speech and manner. So far, the stubbornness which he had inherited from his father was mistaken for a strong will, and his attitude towards Spain, after the failure of the Catholic marriage which had been arranged for him, was regarded as indicating his strong Protestantism. It took but a short time, however, to reveal his stubbornness, his vanity, pique, extravagance, and insincerity. Within four years, he had dissolved Parliament three times, had sent Sir John Eliot to the Tower for boldly defending the rights of the people, had dismissed the Chief Justice from office for refusing to recognize as legal taxes laid without consent of Parliament, had thrown John Hampden into prison for refusing to pay a forced loan, and, finally, had signed the “Petition of Rights” [17] in 1628, only to violate it almost as soon as the contemporary bill for subsidies had been passed. Charles, finding he could not coerce Parliament, dissolved it, and entered upon his twelve years of absolute rule, marked by imprisonments, by arbitrary fines, forced loans, sales of monopolies, and illegal taxes, which raised the annual revenue from L500,000 to L800,000. [18]

It was during the first years of Charles’s misrule–to be specific, in 1627–that “some friends being together in Lincolnshire fell into discourse about New England and the planting of the Gospel there.” Among them were, probably, Thomas Dudley (who mentions the discussion in a letter to the Countess of Lincoln), Atherton Hough, Thomas Leverett, and possibly also John Cotton and Roger Williams, for all these men were wont to assemble at Tattersall Castle, the family seat of Lord Lincoln. The latter was, in religious matters, a staunch Puritan, and in political, a fearless opponent of forced loans and illegal measures. Thomas Dudley was his steward and confidential adviser, and the others were his personal friends and, in politics, his loyal followers. These men, afterwards prominent in New England, had watched with interest the fortunes of the Plymouth Colony, and now concluded that since England lay helpless in the grasp of Charles the time had come to prepare somewhere in the American wilderness a refuge and home for oppressed Englishmen and persecuted Puritans. This little group of men began at once to correspond with others in London and also in the west of England who were like-minded with themselves. Men of the west, in and about Dorchester, had for some four years or more been interested in the New England fisheries between the Kennebec and Cape Ann. On that promontory they had landed some fourteen men, hoping to start a permanent settlement. The plan had failed, the partnership had been dissolved, and a few of the settlers had removed to Salem, Massachusetts. The Rev. John White, the Puritan rector of Salem, England, saw a great opportunity. He at once interested some wealthy merchants to make Salem, in Massachusetts, the first post in a colonization scheme of great magnitude, and as leader of an advance party they secured John Endicott. From the council for New England the company secured a patent on March 19, 1628, for the lands between the Merrimac and the Charles rivers. On June 20, 1628, thirteen days after Charles had signed the “Petition of Rights” that he was so soon to violate, the advance guard of the colonists set sail for Salem, in the New World, arriving there early in the following September.

In America, friendly relations were soon established between the settlers of Salem and Plymouth. On the voyage over, sickness, due to the unwholesome salt in which some of their provisions had been packed, broke out among the Salem colonists, and continuing in the settlement, forced Endicott to send to Plymouth for Dr. Samuel Fuller, deacon in the church there. He was skilled both in medicine and in church-lore, for he had also been one of the two deacons in the church during its Leyden days. He worked among the disabled at Salem, and, later, among the sick colonists at Boston, paving the way for a better understanding and closer friendship with the Plymouth settlers. There had been a tendency to look upon these earlier colonists as extremists. Their enemies in derision called them “Brownists.” They did in truth cling most firmly to Browne’s doctrine that the civil magistrate had no control over the church of Christ. In their opinion, the function of the civil power in any union of church and state was limited to upholding the spiritual power by approving the church’s discipline, since that had for its object the moral welfare of the people. As Endicott and Fuller talked together of all that in their hearts they both desired for the church of the future, they realized that they agreed on many points. The Plymouth church had been virtually under the sole rule of its elder, William Brewster, during the greater part of its life in America, for its aged pastor had died before he could rejoin his flock. Such government had tended to modify the early insistence upon the principle that the power of the church was “above that of its officers.” This doctrine was associated in men’s minds more with Robert Browne, who had originated it, than with Henry Barrowe, who had modified it, and it was towards Barrowism that the larger body of Puritans were drawn.

The Salem people, in their isolation three thousand miles from the home-land, felt the necessity of some form of church organization. As they had fled from the offensive ceremonial of the English Church, they determined to be free from cross and prayer-book, and from anything suggestive of offense. In the great matter of membership and constitution, their new church was to be brought still nearer to the requirements and simplicity of Gospel standards. More and more Puritans were coming to prefer the church of “covenant membership” to the birthright membership of the English Establishment. Many were urging a limited independence in the organization, management, and discipline of members of local churches. Some among the Puritans had adopted the Presbyterian polity, while many preferred that form of ordination. Such ordination had been accepted as valid for English clergymen during the earlier part of Elizabeth’s reign. It was still so recognized by all the English clergy for the ministers of the Reformed churches on the Continent, and with such, English clergymen of all opinions still continued to hold very friendly intercourse. It was not until Laud’s ascendency that claims for the divine right of Episcopacy, to the exclusion of other branches of the Christian faith, were strenuously urged. Thus it happened that after many conferences, Endicott could write to Governor Bradford in May of 1629, that:–

I acknowledge myself much bound to you for your kind love and care in sending Mr. Samuel Fuller among us, and rejoice much that I am by him satisfied touching your judgment of the outward form of God’s worship. It is, as far as I can gather, no other than is warranted by the evidence of truth, and the same which I have ever professed and maintained ever since the Lord in mercy revealed Himself unto me: being far from the common report that hath been spread of you touching that particular.

Endicott further expresses the wish that they may all “as Christian brethren be united by a heavenly and unfeigned love;” that as servants of one Master and of one household they should not be strangers, but be “marked with one and the same mark, and sealed with one and the same seal, and have, for the main, one and the same heart guided by one and the same Spirit of truth,” and that they should bend their hearts and forces to the furthering of the work for which they had come into the wilderness. Thus, Salem had decided upon the type of church her people wanted, while she still waited for the ministers who were coming with the larger number of her colonists, and whom she believed competent to guide her religious life.

Only a few weeks after the sending of Endicott’s letter to Governor Bradford, five vessels arrived, bringing several hundred well-equipped colonists. They had been sent out by the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay. This corporation had bought out the Salem Company, and was backed by the most influential Puritans of wealth and social prominence, by men who had lost all hope of either religious or civil freedom when Laud had been raised to the bishopric of London and when Charles persisted in his despotic government. By the elevation of Laud to the bishopric of London, Charles offended the most puritanically inclined diocese in England, and the whole Puritan party. In his new office, Laud quickly succeeded in severing communication between the Reformed churches on the Continent and those in England. He strictly prohibited the common people from using the annotated pocket-Bibles sent out by the Genevan press. He forbade the entrance into office of nonconformists as lecturers or chaplains. He put an end to feofments, so that puritanically inclined men of wealth could no longer control the livings. He excluded suspended ministers from teaching, and also from the practice of medicine, and even forbade their entering business life. He required absolute conformity to his own high-church standards. He insisted upon doing away with all Calvinistic innovations tending to simplicity of ritual, and upon reviving many ecclesiastical ceremonies which had fallen into disuse. Hence, English Puritans saw in America the only hope of the future, and began that exodus which, during the next ten years, or more, annually sent two thousand emigrants to the Massachusetts shore to find homes throughout New England. Of these, the Salem colonists were the first large body of Puritans to emigrate. Among them were three ministers, Endicott’s former pastor Samuel Skelton, Francis Higginson, and Francis Bright.

When Higginson and Skelton learned of the friendship with Plymouth, and that Endicott had adopted the system of church organization established in the older settlement, they accepted it as being in accord with the principles of the Reformed churches on the Continent, whose pattern they had themselves resolved to follow in organizing the church at Salem. Not so Francis Bright. He could not agree with the others, and so withdrew to Charlestown in order not to embarrass the young church. Higginson and Skelton were each, in turn questioned as to their conception of a minister’s calling. Replying that it was twofold: a call from within to a conviction that a man was chosen of God to be His minister, and thereby endowed with proper gifts, and a call from without by the free choice of a “covenanted church” to be its pastor, they were accepted as satisfactory candidates for the two highest offices in the Salem church. Later, upon an appointed day of prayer and fasting, July 20, 1629, the people by written ballot chose Francis Skelton to be their pastor and Thomas Higginson their teacher. When they had accepted their election, “first Mr. Higginson, with three or four of the gravest members of the church, laid their hands upon Mr. Skelton, using prayer therewith. This being done, there was imposition of hands upon Mr. Higginson also.” Upon a still later day of prayer and humiliation, August 6, elders and deacons were chosen and ordained. Upon this day, the two ministers and many among the people gave their assent to the Confession and Covenant which the pastor and teacher had revised. At the second of these two important meetings, Governor Bradford and delegates from the Plymouth church were present. “Coming by sea they were hindered by cross-winds that they could not be there at the beginning of the day; but they came into the assembly afterward, and gave them the right hand of fellowship, wishing all prosperity and all blessedness to such good beginnings.” [19] The Salem covenant in its original form was a single sentence: “We covenant with the Lord and with one another; and doe bynd ourselves in the presence of God to walk together in all his wayes, according as he is pleased to reveale him’ self unto us in his Blessed word of truth.” [20]

The formation of the church of Salem by covenant practice[a] marked the beginning of the Congregational polity among the Puritan body; their local ordination of their minister, the break with English Episcopacy, though, for a considerable while longer, the colonists still spoke of themselves as members of the Church of England, for both the colonial and the home authorities were equally anxious to avoid the stigma of Separatism.

The next large body of colonists to leave England was Governor Winthrop’s company, and, upon their arrival, the Boston church quickly followed the example of Salem. Next, the Dorchester church, afterwards the church of Windsor, Connecticut, emigrated as a body from Plymouth, England, where, before embarking, its members seem to have taken some form of membership pledge,–an unusual proceeding, but operating to put this church in line with those already organized in Plymouth and Massachusetts. The Watertown church, whence emigrants were to settle Wethersfield, Connecticut, also organized with a covenant similar to that of Salem and Boston. These four oldest congregations set the type for the thirty-five New England churches that were founded previous to 1640, as well as for the later ones that followed the standard thus early set up by Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. There was some variation in the form of covenant,[b] and to it a brief confession of faith, or creed, was early added. There was some variation also in the interpretation of the laying on of hands in ordination as to whether it was to be considered, in cases where the candidate had previously been ordained in England, as ordination or as confirmation of that previously received.[c] In regard to officers, the churches at first provided themselves with pastor, ruling elders (one or two, but generally only one), and deacons. There were exceptions among them, as at Plymouth, where there was no pastor for ten years, and in which there had never been a teacher, for John Robinson had filled both offices. As the first generation of colonists passed away, partly because of lack of fit candidates, partly because of the kinship of the two offices of pastor and teacher, and partly because of the heavy expense in supporting both, the office of teacher was dropped. The ruling eldership also was gradually discontinued; but at first the churches generally had, with the exception of widows, the full complement of officers as appointed by Browne and Barrowe. The usual order of worship was (1) Prayer. (2) Psalm. (3) Scripture reading, followed by the pastor’s preaching to explain and apply it. (4) Prophesying or exhortation, the elders calling for speakers, whether members or guests from other churches. (5) Questions from old or young, women excepted. (6) Occasional administration of the Lord’s Supper or of Baptism, rites known as the administration of “the Seals of the Covenant.” (7) Psalm. (8) Collection. (9) Dismissal with blessing. Such were the New England churches, the churches of a transplanted creed and race. They were Calvinistic in dogma, democratic in organization, and of extreme simplicity in their order of worship.


[a] This fundamental principle of Congregationalism belonged to the Separatists and was one of their distinctive tenets. It was never adopted by the English Puritans as a body, nor was ordination by a local church. The Dorchester church had some form of pledge at the time of its organization. So also, possibly, because influenced by Dutch example, did Rev. Hugh Peter’s church in Rotterdam. But these were exceptions.–W. Walker, _Hist, of Cong._, p. 192.

[b] The evolution of the Salem covenant and creed is given in detail in W. Walker’s _Creeds and Platforms_, pp. 99-122.

The Windsor Creed of 1647, though not covering the range of Christian doctrine, contained in simple phrase the essentials of Gospel redemption from sin through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ and a life of love toward God and our neighbor, through the strength which comes from him.–W. Walker, _Creeds and Platforms_, p. 154.

[c] The evolution of the Salem covenant and creed is given in detail in W. Walker’s _Creeds and Platforms_, pp. 99-122.

The Windsor Creed of 1647, though not covering the range of Christian doctrine, contained in simple phrase the essentials of Gospel redemption from sin through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ and a life of love toward God and our neighbor, through the strength which comes from him.–W. Walker, _Creeds and Platforms_, p. 154.



For God and the Church!

With the great Puritan body in England, and with the great mass of the English nation, whatever their religious opinions, the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven held in common one foremost theory of civil government. Pausing for a brief consideration of this fundamental and far-reaching theory, which created so many difficulties in the infant commonwealths, and which confronts us again and again as we follow their later history, we find that the Pilgrim Separatist of Plymouth, the strict Puritan of Massachusetts, the voter in the theocratic commonwealth of New Haven, and the holder of the liberal franchise in Connecticut, all clung to the proposition that the State’s first duty was the maintenance and support of religion. Thereby they meant enforced taxation for the support of its predominant type, conformity to its mode of worship, and in the last analysis supervision or control of the Church by the State or by the General Court of each colony. As a corollary to this proposition, the duty of the churches was to define the creed, to set forth the church polity, and to determine the bounds of morality within the state. Two of the colonies held the corollary to be so important that it almost changed places with the proposition when Massachusetts and New Haven became rigid theocracies.[a]

With respect to taxation in the four colonies the statement should be modified, inasmuch as the support of religion was at first voluntary in all four: in Plymouth until 1657, in Massachusetts from 1630 to 1638, in Connecticut before 1640; yet both New Haven and Connecticut accepted the suggestion made by the Commissioners of the United Colonies on September 5, 1644, “that each man should be required to set down what he would voluntarily give for the support of the gospel, and that any man who refused should be rated according to his possessions and compelled to pay” the sum so levied. Since in religious affairs strict conformity was required by the three Puritan colonies, and since the liberty accorded to the few early dissenters in Plymouth was not such as to modify her prevailing polity or worship, these first few years of voluntary assessment do not nullify the dominant truth of the preceding statement.

In the intimate relation of Church and State, the people of these four New England colonies regarded the magistrates as “Nursing Fathers” of the Church, [2l] who were to take “special note and care of every Church and provide and assign allotments of land for the maintenance of each of them.” [22] The State, accepting the same view of caretaker, carried its supervision still farther and devised a system for the maintenance of the ministry in accordance with sundry laws made to insure the people’s support, respect, and obedience. The churches reciprocated. First of all, they provided their members with the approved and accepted essentials of religious life, and they further exercised a rigorous supervision over the moral welfare of the whole community. Secondly, they aided the State through the influence of their ministers, who, on all important occasions, were expected to meet with the magistrates to consult and advise upon affairs whether spiritual or temporal. But the framers of governments were not satisfied with these measures that aimed to present a strongly established church, capable of extending a fine moral, ethical, and religious influence over the colonists, and also to enforce upon the wayward, the careless, or the indifferent among them its support and their obedience. If these measures provided for the ordinary welfare of the community and for the usual relations b between the ministers and their people, there were still possibilities of factional strife to guard against, and such warfare in that age might or might not confine itself within the limits of theological controversy or within the lines of church organization. Consequently, the better to preserve the churches from schism or corrupting innovations and the commonwealth from discord, the supreme control of the churches was lodged in the General Court of each colony. It could, whenever necessary to secure harmony, whether ecclesiastical or civil, legislate with reference to all or any of the churches within its jurisdiction. Examples of such legislation occur frequently in the religious history of the colonies, especially of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Such interdependence of the spiritual and temporal power practically amounted to a union of Church and State. Indeed, in Massachusetts and New Haven, to be a voter, a man must first be a member of a church of approved standing.[b] In more liberal Plymouth and Connecticut, the franchise, at first, was made to depend only upon conduct, though it was early found necessary to add a property qualification in order to cut off undesirable voters.[23] In the Connecticut colony, it was expressly enacted that church censure should not debar from civil privilege. When advocating this amount of separation between church and civil power, Thomas Hooker was not moved by any such religious principle as influenced the Separatists of Plymouth. On the contrary, it was his political foresight which made him urge upon the colonists a more representative government[c] than would be obtainable from a franchise based upon church-membership where, as in the colonial churches, admission to such membership was conditioned upon exacting tests. The great Connecticut leader was far in advance of the statesmen of his time, for they held that the religion of a prince or government must be the religion of the people; that every subject must be by birthright a member of the national church, to leave which was both heretical and disloyal and should be punished by political and civil disabilities. This union of Church and State was the theory of the age,–a principle of statecraft throughout all of Europe as well as in England. Naturally it emigrated to New England to be a foundation of civil government and a fortress for that type of nonconformity which the colonists chose to transplant and make predominant. The type, as we have seen, was Congregationalism, and the Congregational church became the established church in each of the four colonies.

This theory of Church and State was the cause at bottom of all the early theological dissensions which disturbed the peace and threatened the colony of Massachusetts. Moreover, their settlement offers the most striking contrast between the fundamental theory of Congregationalism and the theory of a union between Church and State. With the power of supervision over the Church lodged in the General Court, whatever the theory of Congregationalism as to the independence of the individual churches, in practice the civil authority disciplined them and their members, and early invaded ecclesiastical territory. In Salem, Endicott took it upon himself to expel Ralph Smith for holding extreme Separatist principles, and shipped the Browns back to England for persisting in the use of the Book of Common Prayer. He considered both parties equally dangerous to the welfare of the community, because, according to the new standard of church-life, both were censurable. Endicott held that to tolerate any measure of diversity in religious practices was to cultivate the ferment of civil disorder. Considering the bitterness, narrowness, intensity, and also the irritating conviction that every one else was heretical and anti-Christian, with which men of that age clung to their religious differences, Endicott had some reason for holding this opinion. The Boston authorities believed in no less drastic measures to maintain the civil peace and consequent good name of the colony. John Davenport of New Haven voiced the Massachusetts sentiment as well as his own in: “Civil government is for the common welfare of all, as well in the Church as without; which will then be most certainly effected, when Public Trust and Power of these matters is committed to such men as are most approved according to God; and these are Church-members.”[24] Consequently, the Massachusetts law of 1631 [25] forbade any but church members to become freemen of the colony, and to these only was intrusted any share in its government. A similar law was later formulated for the New Haven colony. John Cotton echoed the further sentiment of a New England community when, writing of the relations between the churches and the magistrates, he defined the church as “subject to the Magistrate in the matters concerning the civil peace, of which there are four sorts:” (1) with reference to men’s goods, lives, liberty, and lands; (2) with establishment of religion in doctrine, worship, and government according to the Word of God, as also the reformation of corruption in any of these; (3) with certain public spiritual administrations which may help forward the public good, as fasts and synods; (4) and finally the church must be subject to the magistrates in patient suffering of unjust persecution, since for her to take up the sword in her own defense would only increase the disturbance of the public peace. [26] As a result of such public sentiment, churches were not to be organized without the approval of the magistrates, nor were any “persons being members of any church … gathered without the approbation of the magistrates and the greater part of said churches” (churches of the colony) to be admitted to the freedom of the commonwealth. [27] This law, or its equivalent, with reference to church organization was found upon the statute books of all four colonies.

In a pioneer community and a primitive commonwealth, developing slowly in accord with the new democratic principles underlying both its church and secular life, the “maintenance of the peace and welfare of the churches,”[28] which was intrusted to the care of the General Court, was frequently equivalent to maintaining the civil peace and prosperity of the colony. Endicott’s deportation of the Browns and the report of the exclusiveness and exacting tests of membership in the colonial churches had early led the members of the Massachusetts Bay Company, resident in England, to fear that the emigrants had departed from their original intent and purpose. And the colonists began to feel that they were in danger of falling under the displeasure of their king and of their Puritan friends at home. Consequently, there entered into the settling of all later religious differences in the colony the determination to avoid appeals to the home country, and also to avoid any report of disturbance or dissatisfaction that might be prejudicial to her independence, general policy, or commercial prosperity. The recognition of such danger made many persons satisfied to submit to government by an exclusive class, comprising in Massachusetts one tenth of the people and in the New Haven colony one ninth. These alone had any voice in making the laws. In submitting to their dictation, the large majority of the people had to submit to a “government that left no incident, circumstance, or experience of the life of an individual, personal, domestic, social, or civil, still less anything that concerned religion, free from the direct or indirect interposition of public authority.” [29] Such inquisitorial supervision was due to the close alliance of Church and State within the narrow limits of a theocracy. In more liberal Plymouth and Connecticut, the “watch and ward” over one’s fellows, which the early colonial church insisted upon, was extended only over church members, and even over them was less rigorous, less intrusive. Something of the development of the great authority of the State over the churches and of its attitude and theirs towards synods may be gleaned from the earliest pages of Massachusetts ecclesiastical history. The starting-point of precedent for the elders of the church to be regarded as advisors only and the General Court as authoritative seems to have been in a matter of taxation, when, in February, 1632, the General Court assessed the church in Watertown. The elders advised resistance; the Court compelled payment. In the following July, the Boston church inquired of the churches of Plymouth, Salem, Dorchester, and Watertown, whether a ruling elder could at the same time hold office as a civil magistrate. A correspondence ensued and the answer returned was that he could not. Thereupon, Mr. Nowell resigned his eldership in the Boston church. [30] Winthrop mentions eight[d] important occasions between 1632 and 1635 when the elders, which term included pastors, teachers, and ruling elders, were summoned by the General Court of Massachusetts to give advice upon temporal affairs. In March of 1635-36 the Court “entreated them (the elders) together with the brethren of every church within the jurisdiction, to consult and advise of one uniforme order of discipline in the churches agreable to Scriptures, and then to consider how far the magistrates are bound to interpose for the preservation of that uniformity and peace of the churches.” [31] The desire of the Court grew in part out of the influx of new colonists, who did not like the strict church discipline, and in part out of the tangle of Church and State during the Roger Williams controversy. The Court had disciplined Williams as one, who, having no rights in the corporation, had no ground for complaint at the hostile reception of his teachings. These the authorities regarded as harmful to their government and dangerous to religion. His too warm adherents in the Salem church were, however, rightful members of the community, and they had been punished for upholding one whom the General Court, advised by the elders of the churches, had seen fit to censure. Punished thus, ostensibly, for contempt of the magistrates by the refusal to them of the land they claimed as theirs on Marblehead Neck, and feeling that the independence of their church life and their rightful choice in the selection of their pastor had really been infringed, the Salem church sent letters to the elders of all the other churches of the Bay, asking that the magistrates and deputies be admonished for their decision as a “heinous sin.” The Court came out victorious, by refusing at its next general session to seat the Salem deputies “until they should give satisfaction by letter” for holding dangerous opinions and for writing “letters of defamation,” and by proceeding to banish Roger Williams. Before the session of the Court, the elders of the Massachusetts churches, jointly and individually, labored with the Salem people and brought the majority to a conviction of their error in supporting Roger Williams. [e]

The platform of church discipline which the Court advised in 1635-36 was not forthcoming, and the matter was allowed to rest.[f] In 1637, with the consent of the General Court, a synod of elders and lay delegates from all the New England churches was called to harmonize the discordant factions created by the heated Antinomian controversy. During the synod, the magistrates were present all the time as hearers, and even as speakers, but not as members. The dangerous schism was ended more by the Court’s banishment of Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson, together with their more prominent followers, than by the work of the synod. However, Governor Winthrop was so delighted with the conferences of the synod that, in his enthusiasm, he suggested that it would be fit “to have the like meeting once a year, or at least the next year, to settle what yet remained to be agreed, or if but to nourish love.”[32] But his suggestion was voted down, for the Synod of 1637 was considered by some to be “a perilous deflection from the theory of Congregationalism.”[33] Even the fortnightly meeting of ministers who resided near each other, and which it had become a custom to call for friendly conference, was looked at askance by those[g] who feared in it the germ of some authoritative body that should come to exercise control over the individual churches. When this custom was endorsed and permitted in the “Body of Liberties,” in 1641, the assurance that these meetings “were only by way of Brotherly conference and consultation” was felt to be necessary to appease the opposition. When, two and four years later, Anabaptist converts and a flood of Presbyterian literature called for measures of repression, and the Court summoned councils to consult upon a course of action, it was most careful in each case to reassert the doctrine of the complete independence of the individual church. Synods, from the purely Congregational standpoint, were to be called only upon the initiative of the churches, and were authoritative bodies, composed of both ministerial and lay delegates from such churches, and their duty was to confer and advise upon matters of general interest or upon special problems. In cases where their decisions were unheeded, they could enforce their displeasure at the contumacious church only by cutting it off from fellowship. Consequently, though there was some opposition to the Court’s calling of synods and a resultant general restlessness, there was none when the Court confined its supervision and commands to individually schismatic churches or to unruly members. The time had not yet come for the recognition of what this double system of church government–government by its members, supervision by the Court –foreboded. The colonists did not see that within it was the embryo of an authoritative body exercising some of the powers of the Presbyterian General Assembly. The supervising body might be composed of laymen acting in their capacity as members of the General Court, but the powers they exercised were none the less akin to the very ones that Congregationalism had declared to be heretical and anti-Christian. Moreover, the tendency was toward an increase of this authoritative power every time it was exercised and each time that the colonists submitted to its dictation.

Of the two colonies founded after Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Haven, the latter preserved the complete independence of her original church until the admission of the shore towns[h] to her jurisdiction, when she instituted that friendly oversight of the churches which had begun to prevail elsewhere. Thereafter her General Court kept a rigorous oversight over the purity of her churches and the conduct of their members. The General Court of Connecticut early compelled a recognition of its authority[i] over the religious life of the people and its right of special legislation.[j] For example, in 1643, the Court demanded of the Wethersfield church a list of the grievances which disturbed it. In the next year, when Matthew Allyn petitioned for an order to the Hartford church, commanding the reconsideration of its sentence of excommunication against him, the Court “adjudged his plea an accusation upon the church” which he was bound to prove. These incidents from early colonial history in some measure illustrate the practical working of the theory of Church and State. The conviction that the State should support one form of religion, and only one, was ever present to the colonial mind. If confirmation of its worth were needed, one had only to glance at the turmoil of the Rhode Island colony experimenting with religious liberty and a complete separation of Church and State. Like all pioneers and reformers, she had gathered elements hard to control, and would-be citizens neither peaceable nor reasonable in their interpretation of the new range of freedom. Watching Rhode Island, the Congregational men of New England hugged more tightly the conviction that their method was best, and that any variation from it would work havoc. It was this theory and this conviction, ever present in their minds, that underlay all ecclesiastical laws, all special legislation with reference to churches, to their members, or to public fasts and thanksgivings. This deep-rooted conviction created hatred toward and fear of all schismatical doctrines, enmity toward all dissenting sects, and opposition to any tolerance of them.


[a] “The one prime, all essential, and sufficient qualiiy of a theocracy … adopted as the form of an earthly government, was that the civil power should be guided in its exercise by religion and religious ordinances.”–G. E. Ellis, _Puritan Age in Massachusetts,_ p. 188.

[b] “Noe man shal be admitted to the freedome of this body politicke, but such as are members of some of the churches within the lymitts of the same.”–Mass. Col. Rec. i, 87, under date of May 28, 1631.

“Church members onely shall be free burgesses and they onely shall chuse magistrates and officers among themselves to haue the power of transacting in all publique and ciuill affayres of this plantatio.”–New Haven Col. Rec. i, 15; also ii, 115, 116.

The governments of Massachusetts and New Haven “never absolutely merged church and state.” The franchise depended on church-membership, but the voter, exercising his right in directing the affairs of the colony, was speaking, “not as the church but as the civil Court of Legislation and adjudication.”–W. Walker, _History of the Congregational Churches_, p. 123.

Yet it was due to this merging and this dependence that on October 25, 1639, there were only sixteen free burgesses or voters out of one hundred and forty-four planters in the New Haven Colony.–See N. H. Col. Rec. i, 20.

“Theoretically Church and State (in Connecticut) were separated: practically they were so interwoven that separation would have meant the severance of soul and body.”–C. M. Andrews, _Three River Towns of Conn_. p. 22.

[c] To John Cotton’s “democracy, I do not conceive that ever God did ordain, as a fit government for church or commonwealth,” and to Gov. Winthrop’s objections to committing matters to the judgment of the body of the people because “safety lies in the councils of the best part which is always the least, and of the best part, the wiser is always the lesser,” Hooker replied that “in all matters which concern the common good, a general council, chosen by all, to transact the business which concerns all, I conceive under favor, most suitable to rule and most safe for the relief of the whole.”–Hutchinson, _Hist. of Mass._ i, App. iii.

[d] (1) To adjust a difference between Governor Winthrop and Deputy Dudley in 1632; (2) about building a fort at Nantasket, February, 1632; (3) in regard to the settlement of the Rev. John Cotton, September, 1633; (4) in consultation concerning Roger Williams’s denial of the patent, January, 1634; (5) concerning rights of trade at Kennebec, July, 1634; (6) in regard to the fort on Castle Island, August, 1634; (7) concerning the rumor in 1635 of the coming of a Governor-General; and (8) in the case of Mr. Nowell.–_Winthrop_, i, pp. 89, 99, 112, 122, 136-137, 159-181.

[e] Roger Williams was the real author of the letters which the Salem church was required to disclaim.

[f] Upon a further suggestion from the General Court, John Cotton prepared a catechism entitled, _Milk for Babes_.

[g] Governor Winthrop replied to Dr. Skelton’s objections that “no church or person could have authority over another church.”–See H. M. Dexter, _Ecclesiastical Councils of New England_, p. 31; _Winthrop_, i. p. 139.

[h] Guilford, Branford, Milford, Stamford, on the mainland, and Southold, on Long Island.

[i] The General Court was head of the churches. “It was more than Pope, or Pope and College of Cardinals, for it exercised all authority, civil and ecclesiastical. In matters of discipline, faith, and practice there was no appeal from its decisions. Except the right to be protected in their orthodoxy the churches had no privileges which the Court did not confer, or could not take away.”–Bronson’s _Early Gov’t. in Conn._ p. 347, in
_N. H. Hist. Soc. Papers_, vol. iii.

[j] On August 18, 1658, the court refused, upon complaint of the Wethersfield church, to remove Mr. Russell. In March, 1661, after duly considering the matter, the court allowed Mr. Stow to sever his connection with the church of Middletown. It concerned itself with the strife in the Windsor church over an assistant pastor from 1667 to 1680. It allowed the settlement of Woodbury in 1672 because of dissatisfaction with the Stratford church. It permitted Stratford to divide in 1669. These are but a few instances both of the authority of the General Court over individual churches and of that discord which, finding its strongest expression in the troubles of the Hartford church, not only rent the churches of Connecticut from 1650 to 1670, but “insinuated itself into all the affairs of the society, towns, and the whole community.” Another illustration of the court’s oversight of the purity of religion was its investigation in 1670 into the “soundness of the minister at Rye.” For these and hosts of similar examples see index _Conn. Col. Rec._ vols. i, ii, iii, and iv.



It is always right that a man should be able to render a reason for the faith that is within him.–Sydney Smith.

In each of the New England colonies under consideration, the settlers organized their church system and established its relation to the State, expecting that the strong arm of the temporal power would insure stability and harmony in both religious and civil life. As we know, they were speedily doomed to disappointment. As we have seen, they failed to estimate the influences of the new land, where freedom from the restraint of an older civilization bred new ideas and estimates of the liberty that should be accorded men. Within the first decade Massachusetts had great difficulty in impressing religious uniformity upon her rapidly increasing and heterogeneous population. She found coercion difficult, costly, dangerous to her peace, and to her reputation when the oppressed found favorable ears in England to listen to their woes. Ecclesiastical differences of less magnitude, contemporary in time and foreshadowing discontent and opposition to the established order of Church and State, were settled in more quiet ways. John Davenport, after witnessing the Antinomian controversy, declined the pressing hospitality of Massachusetts, and led his New Haven company far enough afield to avoid theological entanglements or disputed points of church polity. Unimpeded, they would make their intended experiment in statecraft and build their strictly scriptural republic. Still earlier Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and John Warham led the Connecticut colonists into the wilderness because they foresaw contention, strife, and evil days before them if they were to be forced to conform to the strict policy of Massachusetts.[a] They preferred, unhindered, to plant and water the young vine of a more democratic commonwealth. And even as Massachusetts met with large troubles of her own, so smaller ones beset these other colonies in their endeavor to preserve uniformity of religious faith and practice. Until 1656, outside of Massachusetts, sectarianism barely lifted its head. Religious contumacy was due to varying opinions as to what should be the rule of the churches and the privileges of their members. As the churches held theoretically that each was a complete, independent, and self-governing unit, their practice and teaching concerning their powers and duties began to show considerable variation. Such variation was unsatisfactory, and so decidedly so that the leaders of opinion in the four colonies early began to feel the need of some common platform, some authoritative standard of church government, such as was agreed upon later in the Cambridge Platform of 1648 and in the Half-Way Covenant, a still later exposition or modification of certain points in the Platform.

The need for the Platform arose, also, from two other causes: one purely colonial, and the other Anglo-colonial. The first was, since everybody had to attend public worship, the presence in the congregations of outsiders as distinct from church members. These outsiders demanded broader terms of admission to holy privileges and comforts. The second cause, Anglo-colonial in nature, arose from the inter-communion of colonial and English Puritan churches and from the strength of the politico-ecclesiastical parties in England. Whatever the outcome there, the consequences to colonial life of the rapidly approaching climax in England, when, as we now know, King was to give way to Commonwealth and Presbyterianism find itself subordinate to Independency, would be tremendous.

In the first twenty years of colonial life, great changes had come over New England. Many men of honest and Christian character–“sober persons who professed themselves desirous of renewing their baptismal covenant, and submit unto church discipline, but who were unable to come up to that experimental account of their own regeneration which would sufficiently embolden their access to the other sacrament” (communion) [34]–felt that the early church regulations, possible only in small communities where each man knew his fellow, had been outgrown, and that their retention favored the growth of hypocrisy. The exacting oversight of the churches in their “watch and ward” over their members was unwelcome, and would not be submitted to by many strangers who were flocking into the colonies. The “experimental account” of religion demanded, as of old, a public declaration or confession of the manner in which conviction of sinfulness had come to each one; of the desire to put evil aside and to live in accordance with God’s commands as expressed in Scripture and through the church to which the repentant one promised obedience. This public confession was a fundamental of Congregationalism. Other religious bodies have copied it; but at the birth of Congregationalism, and for centuries afterwards, the bulk of European churches, like the Protestant Episcopal Church to-day, regarded “Christian piety more as a habit of life, formed under the training of childhood, and less as a marked spiritual change in experience.” [35]

It followed that while many of the newcomers in the colonies were indifferent to religion, by far the larger number were not, and thought that, as they had been members of the English Established Church, they ought to be admitted into full membership in the churches of England’s colonies. They felt, moreover, that the religious training of their children was being neglected because the New England churches ignored the child whose parents would not, or could not, submit to their terms of membership. Still more strongly did these people feel neglected and dissatisfied when, as the years went by, more and more of them were emigrants who had been acceptable members