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Ch. 3: The Spirit of the Puritans

Among the characteristic figures of this age, none shows stronger
lineaments than that of John Endicott. He was, at the time of his coming
to Massachusetts, not yet forty years of age; he remained there till his
death at six-and-seventy. He was repeatedly elected governor, and died in
the governor's chair. In 1645 he was made Major-general of the Colonial
troops; nine years before he had headed a campaign against the Pequot
Indians. His character illustrated the full measure of Puritan sternness;
he was an inflexible persecutor of the Quakers, and was instrumental in
causing four of them to be executed in Boston. In his career is found no
feeble passage; he was always Endicott. He was a man grown before he
attained, under the ministrations of Samuel Skelton of Cambridge, in
England, the religious awakening which placed him in the forefront of the
Puritan dissenters of his time; and it may be surmised that the force of
nature which gave him his self-command would, otherwise directed, have
opened still wider the gates of license and recklessness which marked the
conduct of many in that period. But, having taken his course, he
disciplined himself to the strictest observances, and required them of
others. He was a man of perfect moral and physical courage, austere and
choleric; yet there was in him a certain cheerfulness and kindliness, like
sunshine touching the ruggedness of a granite bowlder. An old portrait of
him presents a full and ruddy countenance, without a beard, and with large
eyes which gaze sternly out upon the beholder. When the Massachusetts
Company was formed, it contained many men of pith and mark, such as
Saltonstall, Bellingham, Eaton, and others; but, by common consent,
Endicott was chosen as the first governor of the new realm, and he sailed
for Boston harbor in June, 1628. He took with him his wife and children,
and a small following of fit companions, and landed in September.

Many tales are told of the doings of Endicott in Massachusetts. Like
those of all strong men, his deeds were often embellished with legendary
ornaments, but the exaggerations, if such there be, are colored by a true
conception of his character. At the time of his advent, there was at
Merrymount, or Mount Walloston, now within the boundaries of Quincy, near
Boston, a colony which was a survival of the one founded by Thomas Weston,
through the agency of Thomas Morton, an English lawyer, who was more than
once brought to book for unpuritanical conduct. Here was collected, in
1628, a number of waifs and strays, and other persons, not in sympathy
with the rigorous habits of the Puritans, whose proceedings were of a more
or less licentious and unbecoming quality, calculated to disturb the order
and propriety of the realm. Endicott, on being apprised of their behavior,
went thither with some armed men, and put a summary end to the colony;
Morton was sent back to England, and the "revelries" which he had
countenanced or promoted were seen no more in Massachusetts. The era for
gayeties had not yet come in the new world. Endicott would not be
satisfied with crushing out evil; he would also nip in the bud all such
lightsome and frivolous conduct as might lead those who indulged in it to
forget the dangers and difficulties attending the planting of the reformed
faith in the wilderness.

More impressive yet is the story of how he resented the project of Laud,
Archbishop of Canterbury, and the most zealous supporter of the follies
and iniquities of King Charles, to force the ritual of the orthodox church
upon the people of Massachusetts. When Endicott received from Governor
Winthrop the letter containing this news, whose purport, it carried out,
would undo all that the Puritans had most passionately labored to
establish; for which they had given up their homes and friends, and to the
safe-guarding of which they had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and
their sacred honor:--he was deeply stirred, and resolved that a public
demonstration should be made of the irrevocable opposition of the people
to the measure. He was at that time captain of the trained band of Salem,
which was used to meet for drill in the square of the little settlement.
It had for a long time disquieted Endicott and other Puritan leaders that
the banner of England, under which, as Englishmen, they must live and
fight, should bear upon it the sign of the red cross, which was the very
emblem of the popery which their souls abhorred. It had seemed to them
almost a sin to tolerate it; and yet it was treason to take any liberties
with the national ensign. But Endicott was now in a mood to encounter any
risk; since, if Laud's will were enforced, there would be little left in
New England worth fighting for.

Accordingly, on the next training day, when the able men of Salem were
drawn up in their breastplates and headpieces, with the Red-Cross flag
floating over them, and the rest of the townspeople, with here and there
an Indian among them, looking on: Endicott, in his armor, with his sword
upon his thigh, spoke in passionate terms to the assembly of the matter
which weighed upon his heart. And then, as a symbol of the Puritan
protest, and a pledge of his vital sincerity, he took the banner in his
hand, and, drawing his sword, cut the cross out of its folds. The
unparalleled audacity and rashness of this act, which might have brought
upon New England a revocation of her charter and destruction of the
liberties which already exceeded those vouchsafed to Englishmen at home,
alarmed Winthrop, and sent a thrill throughout the colony. But the deed
was too public to be disavowed, and Endicott and they must abide the
consequences. Information of the outrage was carried to Charles; but he
was fortunately too much preoccupied at the moment with the struggle for
his crown at home to be able to take proper action upon the slight put
upon his authority in Salem. No punishment was inflicted upon the bold
soldier, who thus anticipated by nearly a century and a half the step
finally taken by the patriots of 1776.

To return, however, to Endicott's arrival in Boston (as it was afterward
named, in honor of that Lincolnshire Boston from which many of the
emigrants came). There were already a few settlers there, who had come in
from various motives, and one or two of whom were inclined to assert
squatter sovereignty. The rights of the Indians were respected, in
accordance with the injunctions of the Company; and Sagamore John, who
asserted his rights as chief over the neck of land and the hilly
promontory of the present city, was so courteously entreated that he
permitted the erection of a house there, and the laying out of streets.
While these preparations were going forward, the bulk of the first
emigration, numbering two hundred persons, with servants, cattle, arms and
other provisions, entered the harbor. They had had a prosperous and pious
voyage, being much refreshed with religious services performed daily; and
it may be recorded as perhaps a unique fact in the annals of ocean
navigation that the ship captain and the sailors punctuated the setting of
the morning and noon watches with the singing of psalms and with prayer.
This sounds apocryphal; but it is stated in the narrative of "New
England's Plantation," written and circulated by Mr. Higginson soon after
their arrival; and it must be remembered that the ship carried a supply of
personages of the clerical profession out of proportion to the number of
the rest of the passengers. But palliate the marvel how we may, we cannot
help smiling at it, and at the same time regretting that the Puritans
themselves probably had no realization of the miracle which was
transacting under their noses. They doubtless regarded it as a matter of
course, instead of a thing to occur but once in a precession of the

And now, it might be supposed, began the building of the city: the
clearing of the forest, the chopping of wood, the sawing of beams, the
digging of foundations, the ringing of hammers, and the uprising on every
side of the dwellings of civilization. And certainly steps were taken to
provide the company with shelter from the present summer heats and from
the snows of winter to come; and they had brought with them artisans
skilled to do the necessary work. But though the Puritans never could be
called remiss in respect of making due provision for the necessities of
this life, yet all was done with a view to the conditions of the life to
come; and in the annals of the time we read more of the prayers and fasts,
the choosing of ministers, and the promotion and practice of godliness in
general, than we do of any temporal matters. Men there were, like
Endicott, who united the strictest religious zeal with all manner of
practical abilities; but there were many, too, who had been no more
accustomed to shift for themselves than were the gentlemen of Jamestown.
They differed from the latter, however, in an enlightened conception of
the work before them, in enthusiasm for the commonweal, and in
determination to familiarize themselves as soon as possible with the
requirements of their situation. The town did not come up in a night, like
the shanty cities of our western pioneers; nor did it contain gambling
houses and liquor saloons as its chief public buildings. These men were
building a social structure meant to last for all time, and houses in
which they hoped to pass the years of their natural lives; and they
proceeded with what we would now consider unwarrantable deliberation and
with none too much technical skill. They sought neither wealth nor the
luxuries it brings; but, rather, welcomed hardship, as apt to chasten the
spirit; and never felt themselves so thoroughly about their proper
business as when they were assembled in the foursquare little log hut
which they had consecrated as the house of God. Boston and Salem grew:
they were larger and more commodious at the end of the twelvemonth than
they had been at its beginning; but more cannot be said. Sickness,
misfortune, and scarcity handicapped the settlers; many died; the yield of
their crops was wholly inadequate to their needs; servants whose work was
indispensable could not be paid, and were set free to work for themselves,
and the outlook was in all respects gloomy. If the enterprise was to be
saved, the Lord must speedily send succor.

The Lord did not forget His people. A great relief was already preparing
for them, and the way of it was thus.--

The record of the former chartered companies had shown that conducting
the affairs of colonists on the other side of the ocean was attended with
serious difficulties on both parts. The colonists could not make their
needs known with precision enough, or in season, to have them adequately
met; and the governing company was unable to get a close knowledge of its
business, or to explain and enforce its requirements. Furthermore, there
was liable to be continual vexatious interference on the part of the king
and his officers, detrimental to the welfare of colonists and company

The men who constituted the Massachusetts Company were not concerned
respecting the pecuniary profits of the venture, inasmuch as they looked
only for the treasures which moth nor rust can corrupt; their "plantation"
was to the glory of God, not to the imbursement of man. Nor were they
anxious to impose their will upon the emigrants, or solicitous lest the
latter should act unseemly; for the men who were there were of the same
character and aim as those who were in England, and there could be no
differences between them beyond such as might legitimately arise as to the
most expedient way of reaching a given end. But the Company could easily
apprehend that the king and his ministers might meddle with their projects
and bring them to naught; and since those affairs, unlike mercantile ones,
were not of a nature to admit of compromise, they earnestly desired to
prevent this contingency.

Debating the matter among themselves, the leaders of the organization
conceived the idea of establishing the headquarters of the Company in the
midst of the emigrants in America: of becoming, in other words, emigrants
themselves, and working side by side with their brethren for the common
good. This plan offered manifest attractions; it would remove them from
unwelcome propinquity to the Court, would be of great assistance to the
work to do which the Company was formed, would give them the satisfaction
of feeling that they were giving their hands as well as their hearts to
the service of God, and, not least, would give notice to all the Puritans
in England, now a great and influential body, that America was the most
suitable ground for their earthly sojourning.

These considerations determined them; and it remained only to put the
plan into execution. Twelve men of wealth and education, eminent among
whom was John Winthrop, the future governor of the little commonwealth,
met and exchanged solemn vows that, if the transference could legally be
accomplished, they would personally voyage to New England and take up
their permanent residence there. The question was shortly after put to the
general vote, and unanimously agreed to; a commercial corporation (as
ostensibly the Company was) created itself the germ of an independent
commonwealth; and on October 20th John Winthrop was chosen governor for
the ensuing twelvemonth; money was subscribed to defray expenses; as
speedily as possible ships were chartered or purchased; the numbers of the
members of the Company were increased, and their resources augmented, by
the addition of many outside persons in harmony with the movement, and
willing to support it with their fortunes and themselves; and by the early
spring of 1630 a fleet of no less than seventeen ships, accommodating
nearly a thousand emigrants representing the very best blood and brain of
England, was ready to sail.

At the moment of departing, there was a quailing of the spirit on the
part of some of the emigrants; but Winthrop comforted them; he told them
that they must "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace"; that,
in the wilderness, they would see more of God than they could in England;
and that their plantation should be of such a quality as that the founders
of future plantations should pray that "The Lord make it likely that of
New England." These were good words. Nevertheless, there were not a few
seceders, and it was not till the year had advanced that the full number
of vessels found their way to the port of Boston. But eleven ships,
including the Arbella which bore Winthrop, sailed at once, with seven
hundred men and women, and every appliance that experience and forethought
could suggest for the convenience and furtherance of life in a new
country. Their going made a deep impression throughout England.

And well it might! For these people were not unknown and rude, like the
Plymouth Pilgrims; they were not fiercely intolerant fanatics, whose
sincerity might be respected, but whose company must be irksome to all
less extreme than themselves. They were of gentle blood and training;
persons whose acquaintance was a privilege; who added to the richness and
charm of social life. That people of this kind should remove themselves to
the wilderness meant much more, to the average mind, than that religious
outcasts like the Pilgrims should do so. For the latter, one place might
be as good as another; but that the others should give up their homes and
traditions for the hardships and isolation of such an existence seemed
incomprehensible; and when no other motive could be found than that which
they professed--"the honor of God"--grave thoughts could not but be
awakened. The sensation was somewhat the same as if, in our day, a hundred
thousand of the most favorably known and highly endowed persons in the
country were to remove to Chinese Tartary to escape from the corruption
and frivolity of business and social life, and to create an ideal
community in the desert. We could smile at such a hegira if Tom, Dick and
Harry were concerned in it; but if the men and women of light and leading
abandon us, the implied indictment is worth heeding.

The personal character and nature of Winthrop are well known, and may
serve as a type for the milder aspect of his companions. He was of a
gentle and conciliating temper, affectionate, and prizing the affection of
others. There was a certain sweetness about him, a tendency to mild
joyousness, a desire to harmonize all conflicts, a disposition to think
good, that good might come of it. He was indisposed to violence in opinion
as much as in act; he believed that love was the fulfilling of the law,
and would dissolve opposition to the law, if it were allowed time and
opportunity. His cultivated intellect recognized a certain inevitableness,
or preordained growth in mortal affairs, which made him sympathetic even
toward those who differed from him, for did they not use the best light
they had? He conformed to the English church, and yet he absented himself
from England, not being willing to condemn the orthodox ritual, yet
feeling that the Gospel in its purity could be more intimately enjoyed in
America. He was no believer in the theory of democratic equality; it
seemed to him contrary to natural order; there were degrees and gradations
in all things, men included; there were those fitted to govern, and those
fitted to serve; power should be in the hands of the few, but they should
be "the wisest of the best." He had no doubts as to the obligations of
loyalty to the King, and yet he gave up home and ease to live where the
King was a sentiment rather than a fact. But beneath all this engaging
softness there was strength in Winthrop; the fiber of him was fine, but it
was of resolute temper. Simple goodness is one of the mightiest of powers,
and he was good in all simplicity. He could help his servants in the
humblest household drudgery, and yet preserve the dignity befitting the
Governor of the people. He was not a man to be bullied or terrified, but
his wisdom and forbearance disarmed an enemy, and thus removed all need of
fighting him. He dominated those around him spontaneously and
involuntarily; they, as it were, insisted upon being led by him, and
commanded him to exact their obedience. His influence was purifying,
encouraging, uplifting, and upon the whole conservative; had he lived a
hundred years later, he would not have been found by the side of Adams,
Patrick Henry, and James Otis. Sympathy and courtesy made him seem
yielding; yet, like a tree that bends to the breeze, he still maintained
his place, and was less changeable than many whose stubbornness did not
prevent their drifting. His insight and intelligence may have enabled him
to foresee to what a goal the New England settlers were bound; but though
he would have sympathized with them, he would not have been swayed to join
them. As it was, he wrought only good to them, for they were in the
formative stage, when moderation helps instead of hindering. He mediated
between the state they were approaching, and that from which they came,
and he died before the need of alienating himself from them arrived. His
resoluteness was shown in his resistance to Anne Hutchinson and her
supporter, Sir Harry Vane, who professed the heresy that faith absolved
from obedience to the moral law; they were forced to quit the colony; and
so was Roger Williams, as lovely as and in some respects a loftier
character than Winthrop. In reviewing the career of this distinguished and
engaging man, we are surprised that he should have found it on his
conscience to leave England. Endicott was born to subdue the wilderness,
and so was many another of the Puritans; but it seems as if Winthrop might
have done and said in King Charles's palace all that he did and said in
Massachusetts, without offense. But it is probable that his moderation
appears greater in the primitive environment than it would have done in
the civilized one; and again, the impulse to restrain others from excess
may have made him incline more than he would otherwise have done toward
the other side.

But tradition has too much disposed us to think of the Puritans as of men
who had thrown aside all human tenderness and sympathy, and were sternly
and gloomily preoccupied with the darker features of religion exclusively.
Winthrop corrects this judgment; he was a Puritan, though he was sunny and
gentle; and there were many others who more or less resembled him. The
reason that the somber type is the better known is partly because of its
greater picturesqueness and singularity, and partly because the early life
of New England was on the whole militant and aggressive, and therefore
brought the rigid and positive qualities more prominently forward.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the piety of the dominating powers in
Massachusetts during the first years of the colony's existence. It was
almost a mysticism. That intimate and incommunicable experience which is
sometimes called "getting religion"--the Lord knocking at the door of the
heart and being admitted--was made the condition of admission to the
responsible offices of government. This was to make God the ruler, through
instruments chosen by Himself--theoretically a perfect arrangement, but in
practice open to the gravest perils. It not merely paved the way to
imposture, but invited it; and the most dangerous imposture is that which
imposes on the impostor himself. It created an oligarchy of the most
insidious and unassailable type: a communion of earthly "saints," who
might be, and occasionally were, satans at heart. It is essentially at
variance with democracy, which it regards as a surrender to the selfish
license of the lowest range of unregenerate human nature; and yet it is
incompatible with hereditary monarchy, because the latter is based on
uninspired or mechanical selection. The writings of Cotton Mather exhibit
the peculiarities and inconsistencies of Puritanism in the most favorable
and translucent light, for Mather was himself wedded to them, and of a
most inexhaustible fertility in their exposition.

Winthrop was responsible for the "Oath of Fidelity," which required its
taker to suffer no attempt to change or alter the government contrary to
its laws; and for the law excluding from the freedom of the body politic
all who were not members of its church communion. The people, however,
stipulated that the elections should be annual, and each town chose two
representatives to attend the court of assistants. But having thus
asserted their privileges, they forbore to interfere with the judgment of
their leaders, and maintained them in office. The possible hostility of
England, the strangeness and dangers of their surroundings in America, and
the appalling prevalence of disease and mortality among them, possibly
drove them to a more than normal fervor of piety. Since God was so
manifestly their only sword and shield, and was reputed to be so terrible
and implacable in His resentments, it behooved them to omit no means of
conciliating His favor.

Winthrop found anything but a land flowing with milk and honey, when he
arrived at Salem, where the ships first touched. As when, twenty years
before, Delaware came to Jamestown, the people were on the verge of
starvation, and it was necessary to send a vessel back to England for
supplies. There were acute suffering and scarcity all along the New
England coast, and though the spirit of resignation was there, it seemed
likely that there would be soon little flesh left through which to
manifest it. The physical conditions were intolerable. The hovels in which
the people were living were wretched structures of rough logs, roofed with
straw, with wooden chimneys and narrow and darksome interiors. They were
patched with bark and rags; many were glad to lodge themselves in tents
devised of fragments of drapery hung on a framework of boughs. The
settlement was in that transition state between crude wilderness and
pioneer town, when the appearance is most repulsive and disheartening.
There is no order, uniformity, or intelligent procedure. There is a clump
of trees of the primeval forest here, the stumps and litter of a half-made
clearing there, yonder a patch of soil newly and clumsily planted; wigwams
and huts alternate with one another; men are digging, hewing, running to
head back straying cattle, toiling in with fragments of game on their
shoulders; yonder a grave is being dug in the root-encumbered ground, and
hard by a knot of mourners are preparing the corpse for interment. There
is no rest or comfort anywhere for eye or heart. The only approximately
decent dwelling in Salem at this time was that of John Endicott. Higginson
was dying of a fever. Lady Arbella, who had accompanied her husband, Isaac
Johnson, had been ailing on the voyage, and lingered here but a little
while before finding a grave. In a few months two hundred persons
perished. It was no place for weaklings--or for evil-doers either; among
the earliest of the established institutions were the stocks and the
whipping-post, and they were not allowed to stand idle.

Winthrop and most of the others soon moved on down the coast toward
Boston. It had been the original intention to keep the emigrants in one
body, but that was found impracticable; they were forced to divide up into
small parties, who settled where they best could, over an area of fifty or
a hundred miles. Nantasket, Watertown, Charlestown, Saugus, Lynn, Maiden,
Roxbury, all had their handfuls of inhabitants. It was exile within exile;
for miles meant something in these times. More than a hundred of the
emigrants, cowed by the prospect, deserted the cause and returned to
England. Yet Winthrop and the other leaders did not lose heart, and their
courage and tranquillity strengthened the others. It is evidence of the
indomitable spirit of these people that one of their first acts was to
observe a day of fasting and prayer; a few days later the members of the
congregation met and chose their pastor, John Wilson, and organized the
first Church of Boston. They did not wait to build the house of God, but
met beneath the trees, or gathered round a rock which might serve the
preacher as a pulpit. There was simplicity enough to satisfy the most
conscientious. "We here enjoy God and Jesus Christ," wrote Winthrop: "I do
not repent my coming: I never had more content of mind."

After a year there were but a thousand settlers in Massachusetts. Among
them was Roger Williams, a man so pure and true as of himself to hallow
the colony; but it is illustrative of the intolerance which was from the
first inseparable from Puritanism, that he was driven away because he held
conscience to be the only infallible guide. We cannot blame the Puritans;
they had paid a high price for their faith, and they could not but guard
it jealously. Their greatest peril seemed to them to be dissension or
disagreements on points of belief; except they held together, their whole
cause was lost. Williams was no less an exile for conscience' sake than
they; but as he persisted in having a conscience strictly his own, instead
of pooling it with that of the church, they were constrained to let him
go. They did not perceive, then or afterward, that such action argued
feeble faith. They could not, after all, quite trust God to take care of
His own; they dared not believe that He could reveal Himself to others as
well as to them; they feared to admit that they could have less than the
whole truth in their keeping. So they banished, whipped, pilloried, and
finally even hanged dissenters from their dissent. We, whose religious
tolerance is perhaps as excessive as theirs was deficient, are slow to
excuse them for this; but they believed they were fighting for much more
than their lives; and as for faith in God, it is surely no worse to fall
into error regarding it than to dismiss it altogether.

In a community where the integrity of the church was the main subject of
concern, it could not be long before religious conservatism would be
reflected in the political field. Representative government was conceded
in theory; but in practice, Winthrop and others thought that it would be
better ignored; the people could not easily meet for deliberations, and
how could their affairs be in better hands than those of the saints, who
already had charge of them? But the people declined to surrender their
liberties; there should be rotation in office; voting should be by ballot
instead of show of hands. Taxation was restricted; and in 1635 there was
agitation for a written constitution; and the relative authority of the
deputies and the assistants was in debate. Our national predisposition to
"talk politics" had already been born.

Among these early inconsistencies and disagreements Roger Williams stood
out as the sole fearless and logical figure. Consistency and bravery were
far from being his only good qualities; in drawing his portrait, the
difficulty is to find shadows with which to set off the lights of his
character. The Puritans feared the world, and even their own constancy;
Williams feared nothing; but he would reverence and obey his conscience as
the voice of God in his breast, before which all other voices must be
hushed. He was not only in advance of his time: he was abreast of any
times; nothing has ever been added to or detracted from his argument. When
John Adams wrote to his son, John Quincy Adams, "Your conscience is the
Minister Plenipotentiary of God Almighty placed in your breast: see to it
that this minister never negotiates in vain," he did but attire in the
diplomatic phraseology which came naturally to him the thought which
Williams had avouched and lived more than a century before. Though
absolutely radical, Williams was never an extremist; he simply went to the
fountain-head of reason and truth, and let the living waters flow whither
they might. The toleration which he demanded he always gave; of those who
had most evilly entreated him he said, "I did ever from my soul honor and
love them, even when their judgment led them to afflict me." His long life
was one of the most unalloyed triumphs of unaided truth and charity that
our history records; and the State which he founded presented, during his
lifetime, the nearest approach to the true Utopia which has thus far been

Roger Williams was a Welshman, born in 1600, and dying, in the community
which he had created, eighty-five years later. His school was the famous
Charterhouse; his University, Cambridge; and he took orders in the Church
of England. But the protests of the Puritans came to his ears before he
was well installed; and he examined and meditated upon them with all the
quiet power of his serene and penetrating mind. It was not long before he
saw that truth lay with the dissenting party; and, like Emerson long
afterward, he at once left the communion in which he had thought to spend
his life. He came to Massachusetts in 1631, and, as we have seen, was not
long in discovering that he was more Puritan than the Puritans. When
differences arose, he departed to the Plymouth Colony, and there abode for
several useful years.

But though the men of Boston and Salem feared him, they loved him and
recognized his ability; indeed, they never could rid themselves of an
uneasy sense that in all their quarrels it was he who had the best of the
argument; they were often reduced to pleading necessity or expediency,
when he replied with plain truth. He responded to an invitation to return
to Salem, in 1633, by a willing acceptance; but no sooner had he arrived
than a discussion began which continued until he was for the second and
final time banished in 1636. The main bone of contention was the right of
the church to interfere in state matters. He opposed theocracy as
profaning the holy peace of the temple with the warring of civil parties.
The Massachusetts magistrates were all church members, which Williams
declared to be as unreasonable as to make the selection of a pilot or a
physician depend upon his proficiency in theology. He would not admit the
warrant of magistrates to compel attendance at public worship; it was a
violation of natural right, and an incitement to hypocrisy. "But the ship
must have a pilot," objected the magistrates, "And he holds her to her
course without bringing his crew to prayer in irons," was Williams's
rejoinder. "We must protect our people from corruption and punish heresy,"
said they. "Conscience in the individual can never become public property;
and you, as public trustees, can own no spiritual powers," answered he.
"May we not restrain the church from apostasy?" they asked. He replied,
"No: the common peace and liberty depend upon the removal of the yoke of

The magistrates were perplexed, and doubtful what to do. Laud in England
was menacing them with episcopacy, and they, as a preparation for
resistance, decreed that all freemen must take an oath of allegiance to
Massachusetts instead of to the King. Williams, of course, abhorred
episcopacy as much as they did; but he would not concede the right to
impose a compulsory oath. A deputation of ministers was sent to Salem to
argue with him: he responded by counseling them to admonish the
magistrates of their injustice. He was cited to appear before the state
representatives to recant; he appeared, but only to affirm that he was
ready to accept banishment or death sooner than be false to his
convictions. Sentence of banishment was thereupon passed against him, but
he was allowed till the ensuing spring to depart; meanwhile, however, the
infection of his opinions spreading in Salem, a warrant was sent to summon
him to embark for England; but he, anticipating this step, was already on
his way through the winter woods southward.

The pure wine of his doctrine was too potent for the iron-headed
Puritans. But it was their fears rather than their hearts that dismissed
him; those who best knew him praised him most unreservedly; and even
Cotton Mather admitted that he seemed "to have the root of the matter in

Williams's journey through the pathless snows and frosts of an
exceptionally severe winter is one of the picturesque and impressive
episodes of the times. During more than three months he pursued his lonely
and perilous way; hollow trees were a welcome shelter; he lacked fire,
food and guides. But he had always pleaded in behalf of the Indians; he
had on one occasion denied the validity of a royal grant unless it were
countersigned by native proprietors; and during his residence in Plymouth
he had learned the Indian language. All this now stood him in good stead.
The man who was outcast from the society of his white brethren, because
his soul was purer and stronger than theirs, was received and ministered
unto by the savages; he knew their ways, was familiar in their wigwams,
championed their rights, wrestled lovingly with their errors, mediated in
their quarrels, and was idolized by them as was no other of his race.
Pokanoket, Massasoit and Canonicus were his hosts and guardians during the
winter and spring; and in summer he descended the river in a birch-bark
canoe to the site of the present city of Providence, so named by him in
recognition of the Divine mercies; and there he pitched his tent beside
the spring, hoping to make the place "a shelter for persons distressed for

His desire was amply fulfilled. The chiefs of the Narragansetts deeded
him a large tract of land; oppressed persons locked to him for comfort and
succor, and never in vain; a republic grew up based on liberty of
conscience, and the civil rule of the majority: the first in the world.
Orthodoxy and heresy were on the same footing before him; he trusted truth
to conquer error without aid of force. Though he ultimately withdrew from
all churches, he founded the first Baptist church in the new world; he
twice visited England, and obtained a charter for his colony in 1644.
Williams from first to last sat on the Opposition Bench of life; and we
say of him that he was hardly used by those who should most have honored
him. Yet it is probable that he would have found less opportunity to do
good at either an earlier or a later time. Critics so keen and unrelenting
as he never find favor with the ruling powers; he would have been at least
as "impossible" in the Nineteenth Century as he was in the Seventeenth;
and we would have had no Rhode Island to give him. We can derive more
benefit from his arraignment of society two hundred and fifty years ago
than we should were he to call us to account to-day, because no resentment
mingles with our intellectual appreciation: our withers seem to be
unwrung. The crucifixions of a former age are always denounced by those
who, if the martyr fell into their hands, would be the first to nail him
to the cross.

But the Puritanism of Williams, and that of those who banished him, were
as two branches proceeding from a single stem; their differences, which
were the type of those that created two parties in the community, were the
inevitable result of the opposition between the practical and the
theoretic temperaments. This opposition is organic; it is irreconcilable,
but nevertheless wholesome; both sides possess versions of the same truth,
and the perfect state arises from the contribution made by both to the
common good--not from their amalgamation, or from a compromise between
them, Williams's community was successful, but it was successful, on the
lines he laid down, only during its minority; as its population increased,
civil order was assured by a tacit abatement of the right of individual
independence, and by the insensible subordination of particular to general
interests. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, which from the first
inclined to the practical view--which recognized the dangers surrounding
an organization weak in physical resources, but strong in spiritual
conviction, and which, by reason of the radical nature of those
convictions, was specially liable to interference from the settled power
of orthodoxy:--in Massachusetts there was a diplomatic tendency in the
work of building up the commonwealth. The integrity of Williams's logic
was conceded, but to follow it out to its legitimate conclusions was
deemed inconsistent with the welfare and continuance of the popular
institutions. The condemnation of dissenters from dissent sounded unjust;
but it was the alternative to the more far-reaching injustice of suffering
the structure which had been erected with such pains and sacrifice to fall
to pieces just when it was attaining form and character. The time for
universal toleration might come later, when the vigor and solidity of the
nucleus could no longer be vitiated by fanciful and transient vagaries.
The right of private judgment carried no guarantee comparable with that
which attached to the sober and tested convictions of the harmonious body
of responsible citizens.

When, therefore, the young Henry Vane, coming to Boston with the prestige
of aristocratic birth and the reputation of liberal opinions, was elected
Governor in 1635, and presently laid down the principle that "Ishmael
shall dwell in the presence of his brethren," he at once met with
opposition; and he and Anne Hutchinson, and other visionaries and
enthusiasts, were made to feel that Boston was no place for them. Yet at
the same time there was a conflict between the body of the freemen and the
magistrates as to the limits and embodiments of the governing power; the
magistrates contended that there were manifest practical advantages in
life appointments to office, and in the undisturbed domination of men of
approved good life and intellectual ability; the people replied that all
that might be true, but they would still insist upon electing and
dismissing whom they pleased. Thus was inadvertently demonstrated the
invincible security of democratic principles; the masses are always
willing to agree that the best shall rule, but insist that they, the
multitude, and not any Star Chamber, no matter how impeccable, shall
decide who the best are. Herein alone is safety. The masses, of course,
are not actuated by motives higher than those of the select few; but their
impartiality cannot but be greater, because, assuming that each voter has
in view his personal welfare, their ballots must insure the welfare of the
majority. And if the welfare of the majority be God's will, then the truth
of the old Latin maxim, Vox Populi vox Dei, is vindicated without any
recourse to mysticism. The only genuine Aristocracy, or Rule of the Best,
must in other words be the creation not of their own will and judgment,
but of those of the subjects of their administration.

The political experiments and vicissitudes of these early times are of
vastly greater historical importance than are such external episodes, as,
for example, the Pequot war in 1637. A whole tribe was exterminated, and
thereby, and still more by the heroic action of Williams in preventing, by
his personal intercession, an alliance between the Pequots and the
Narragansetts, the white colonies were preserved. But beyond this, the
affair has no bearing upon the development of the American idea. During
these first decades, the most profound questions of national statesmanship
were discussed in the assemblies of the Massachusetts Puritans, with an
acumen and wisdom which have never been surpassed. The equity and solidity
of most of their conclusions are extraordinary; the intellectual ability
of the councilors being purged and exalted by their ardent religious
faith. The "Body of Liberties," written out in 1641 by Nathaniel Ward,
handles the entire subject of popular government in a masterly manner. It
was a Counsel of Perfection molded, by understanding of the prevailing
conditions, into practical form. The basis of its provisions was the
primitive one which is traced back to the time when the Anglo-Saxon tribes
met to choose their chiefs or to decide on war or other matters of general
concern. It was the basis suggested by nature; for, as the chief historian
of these times has remarked, freedom is spontaneous, but the artificial
distinctions of rank are the growth of centuries. Lands, according to this
instrument, were free and alienable; the freemen of a corporation held
them, but claimed no right of distribution. There should be no monopolies:
no wife-beating: no slavery "Except voluntary": ministers as well as
magistrates should be chosen by popular vote. Authority was given to
approved customs; the various towns or settlements constituting the
commonwealth were each a living political organism. No combination of
churches should control any one church:--such were some of the provisions.
The colonies were availing themselves of the unique opportunity afforded
by their emancipation, in the wilderness, from the tyranny and obstruction
of old-world traditions and licensed abuses.

By the increasing body of their brethren in England, meanwhile, New
England was looked upon as a sort of New Jerusalem, and letters from the
leaders were passed from hand to hand like messages from saints. Up to the
time when Charles and Laud were checked by Parliament, the tide of
emigration set so strongly toward the American shores that measures were
taken by the King to arrest it; by 1638, there were in New England more
than twenty-one thousand colonists. The rise of the power of Parliament
stopped the influx; but the succeeding twenty years of peace gave the
much-needed chance for quiet and well-considered growth and development.
The singular prudence and foresight of Winthrop and others in authority,
during this interregnum, was showed by their declining to accept certain
apparent advantages proffered them in love and good faith by their English
friends. A new patent was offered them in place of their royal charter;
but the colonists perceived that the reign of Parliament was destined to
be temporary, and wisely refused. Other suggestions, likely to lead to
future entanglements, were rejected; among them, a proposition from
Cromwell that they should all come over and occupy Ireland. This is as
curious as that other alleged incident of Cromwell and Hampden having been
stopped by Laud when they had embarked for New England, and being forced
to remain in the country which soon after owed to them its freedom from
kingly and episcopal tyranny.

Material prosperity began to show itself in the new country, now that the
first metaphysical problems were in the way of settlement. In Salem they
were building ships, cotton was manufactured in Boston; the export trade
in furs and other commodities was brisk and profitable. The English
Parliament passed a law exempting them from taxes. After so much
adversity, fortune was sending them a gleam of sunshine, and they were
making their hay. But something of the arrogance of prosperity must also
be accredited to them; the Puritans were never more bigoted and intolerant
than now. The persecution of the Quakers is a blot on their fame, only
surpassed by the witchcraft cruelties of the concluding years of the
century. Mary Dyar, and the men Robinson, Stephenson and Leddra were
executed for no greater crime than obtruding their unwelcome opinions, and
outraging the propriety of the community. The fate of Christison hung for
a while in the balance; he was not less guilty than the others, and he
defied his judges; he told them that where they murdered one, ten others
would arise in his place; the same words that had been heard many a time
in England, when the Puritans themselves were on their trial. Nevertheless
the judges passed the sentence of death; but the people were disturbed by
such bloody proceedings, and Christison was finally set free. It must not
be forgotten that the Quakers of this period were very different from
those who afterward populated the City of Brotherly Love under Penn. They
were fanatics of the most extravagant and incorrigible sort; loud-mouthed,
frantic and disorderly; and instead of observing modesty in their garb,
their women not seldom ran naked through the streets of horrified Boston,
in broad daylight. They thirsted for persecution as ordinary persons do
for wealth or fame, and would not be satisfied till they had provoked
punishment. The granite wall of Puritanism seemed to exist especially for
them to dash themselves against it. Such persons can hardly be deemed
sane; and it is of not the slightest importance what particular creed they
profess. They are opposed to authority and order because they are
authority and order; in our day, we group such folk under the name,
Anarchists; but, instead of hanging them as the Puritans did, we let them
froth and threaten, according to the policy of Roger Williams, until the
lack of echoes leads them to hold their peace.

Although slavery, or perpetual servitude, was forbidden by the statute,
there were many slaves in New England, Indians and whites as well as
negroes. The first importation of the latter was in 1619, by the Dutch, it
is said. No slave could be kept in bondage more than ten years; it was
stipulated that they were to be brought from Africa, or elsewhere, only
with their own consent; and when, in 1638, it appeared that a cargo of
them had been forcibly introduced, they were sent back to Africa.
Prisoners of war were condemned to servitude; and, altogether, the feeling
on the subject of human bondage appears to have been both less and more
fastidious than it afterward became. There was no such indifference as was
shown in the Southern slave trade two centuries later, nor was there any
of the humanitarian fanaticism exhibited by the extreme Abolitionists of
the years before the Civil War. It may turn out that the attitude of the
Puritans had more common-sense in it than had either of the others.

The great event of 1643 was the natural outcome of the growth and
expansion of the previous time. It was the federation of the four colonies
of Massachusetts, Plymouth, New Haven, and Connecticut. Connecticut had
been settled in 1680, but it was not till six years afterward that a party
headed by the renowned Thomas Hooker, the "Son of Thunder," and one of the
most judicious men of that age, journeyed from Boston with the deliberate
purpose of creating another commonwealth in the desert. Connecticut did
not offer assurances of a peaceful settlement; the Indians were numerous
there, and not well-disposed; and in the south, the Dutch of New Amsterdam
were complaining of an infringement of boundaries. These ominous
conditions came to a head in the Pequot war; after which peace reigned for
many years. A constitution of the most liberal kind was created by the
settlers, some of the articles of which led to a correspondence between
Hooker and Winthrop as to the comparative merits of magisterial and
popular governments. Unlearned men, however religious, if elected to
office, must needs call in the assistance of the learned ministers, who,
thus burdened with matters not rightly within their function, might err in
counseling thereon. Of the people, the best part was always the least, and
of that best, the wiser is the lesser.--This was Winthrop's position.
Hooker replied that to allow discretion to the judge was the way to
tyranny. Seek the law at its mouth; it is free from passion, and should
rule the rulers themselves; let the judge do according to the sentence of
the law. In high matters, business should be done by a general council,
chosen by all, as was the practice of the Jewish and other well-ordered
states.--This is an example of the political discussions of that day in
New England; both parties to it concerned solely to come at the truth, and
free from any selfish aim or pride. The soundness of Hooker's view may be
deduced from the fact that the constitution of Connecticut (which differed
in no essential respect from those of the other colonies) has survived
almost unchanged to the present day. Statesmanship, during two and a half
centuries, has multiplied details and improved the nicety of adjustments;
but it has not discerned any principles which had not been seen with
perfect distinctness by the clear and venerable eyes of the Puritan

Eaton, another man of similar caliber, was the leading spirit in the New
Haven settlement, assisted by the Reverend Mr. Davenport; many of the
colonists were Second-Adventists, and they called the Bible their
Statute-Book. The date of their establishment was 1638. The incoherent
population of Rhode Island caused it to be excluded from the federation;
but Williams, journeying to London, obtained a patent from the exiled but
now powerful Vane, and took as the motto of his government, "Amor Vincet
Omnia." New Hampshire, which had been united to Massachusetts in 1641,
could have no separate part in the new arrangement; and Maine, an
indeterminate region, sparsely inhabited by people who had come to seek
not God, but fish in the western world, was not considered. The articles
of federation of the four Calvinist colonies aimed to provide mutual
protection against the Indians, against possible encroachment from
England, against Dutch and French colonists: they declared a league not
only for defense and offense, but for the promotion of spiritual truth and
liberty. Nothing was altered in the constitutions of any of the
contracting parties; and an equitable system of apportioning expenses was
devised. Each partner sent two delegates to the common council; all
affairs proper to the federation were determined by a three-fourths vote;
a law for the delivery of fugitive slaves was agreed to; and the
commissioners of the other jurisdictions were empowered to coerce any
member of the federation which should break this contract. The title of
The United Colonies of New England was bestowed upon the alliance. The
articles were the work of a committee of the leading men in the country,
such as Winthrop, Winslow, Haynes and Eaton; and the confederacy lasted
forty years, being dissolved in 1684.

It was a great result from an experiment begun only about a dozen years
before. It was greater even, than its outward seeming, for it contained
within itself the forces which should control the future. This country is
made up of many elements, and has been molded to no small extent by
circumstances hardly to be foreseen; but it seems incontestable that it
would never have endured, and continued to be the goal of all pilgrims who
wish to escape from a restricted to a freer life, had not its corner-stone
been laid, and its outline fixed, by these first colonists of New England.
It has been calculated that in two hundred years the physical increase of
each Puritan family was one thousand persons, dispersed over the territory
of the United States; and the moral influence which this posterity exerted
on the various communities in which they fixed their abode is beyond
computation. But had the Puritan fathers been as ordinary men: had they
come hither for ends of gain and aggrandizement: had they not been united
by the most inviolable ties that can bind men--community in religious
faith, brotherhood in persecution for conscience' sake, and an intense,
inflexible enthusiasm for liberty--their descendants would have had no
spiritual inheritance to disseminate. Many superficial changes have come
upon our society; there is an absence of a fixed national type; there are
many thousands of illiterate persons among us, and of those who are still
ignorant of the true nature of democratic institutions; all the tongues of
Europe and of other parts of the world may be heard within our boundaries;
there are great bodies of our citizens who selfishly pursue ends of
private enrichment and power, indifferent to the patent fact that
multitudes of their fellows are thereby obstructed in the effort to earn a
livelihood in this most productive country in the world; there are many
who have prostituted the name of statesmanship to the gratification of
petty and transient ambitions: and many more who, relieved by the thrift
of their ancestors from the necessity to win their bread, have renounced
all concern in the welfare of the state, and live trivial and empty lives:
all this, and more, may be conceded. But such evil humors, be it repeated,
are superficial, attesting the vigor, rather than the decay, of the
central vitality. America still stands for an idea; there is in it an
immortal soul. It was by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay that this soul
was implanted; to inspire it was their work. They experienced the
realities, they touched the core of things, us few men have ever done; for
they were born in an age when the world was awakening from the spiritual
slumber of more than fifteen hundred years, and upon its bewildered eyes
was breaking the splendor of a great new light. The Puritans were the
immediate heirs of the Reformation (so called; it might more truly have
been named the New Incarnation, since the outward modifications of visible
form were but the symptoms of a freshly-communicated informing
intelligence). It transfigured them; from men sunk in the gross and
sensual thoughts and aims of an irreligious and priest-ridden age--an age
which ate and drank and slept and fought, and kissed the feet of popes,
and maundered of the divine right of kings--from this sluggish degradation
it roused and transfigured the Englishmen who came to be known as
Puritans. It was a transfiguration, though its subjects were the uncouth,
almost grotesque figures which chronicle and tradition have made familiar
to us. For a people who were what the Puritans were before Puritanism,
cannot be changed by the Holy Ghost into angels of light; their stubborn
carnality will not evaporate like a mist; it clings to them, and being now
so discordant with the impulse within, an awkwardness and uncouthness
result, which suggest some strange hybrid: to the eye and ear, they are
unlovelier and harsher than they were before their illumination; but
Providence regards not looks; it knew what it was about when it chose
these men of bone and sinew to carry out its purposes. Once enlisted, they
never could be quelled, or seduced, or deceived, or wearied; they were in
fatal earnest, and faithful unto death, for they believed that God was
their Captain. They had got a soul; they put it into their work, and it is
in that work even to this day.

It does not manifestly appear to our contemporary vision; it is
overloaded with the rubbish of things, as a Greek statue is covered with
the careless debris of ages; but, as the art of the sculptor is vindicated
when the debris has been removed, so will the fair proportions of the
State conceived by the Puritans, and nourished and defended by their sons,
declare themselves when in the maturity of our growth we have assimilated
what is good in our accretions, and disencumbered ourselves of what is
vain. It is the American principle, and it will not down; it is a solvent
of all foreign substances; in its own way and time it dissipates all
things that are not harmonious with itself. No lesser or feebler principle
would have survived the tests to which this has been subjected; but this
is indestructible; even we could not destroy it if we would, for it is no
inalienable possession of our own, but a gift from on High to the whole of
mankind. But let us piously and proudly remember that it was through the
Puritans that the gift was made. Other nations than the English have
contributed to our substance and prosperity, and have yielded their best
blood to flow in our veins. They are dear to us as ourselves, as how
should they not be, since what, other than ourselves, are they? None the
less is it true that what was worthiest and most unselfish in the impulse
that drove them hither was a reflection of the same impulse that actuated
the Puritans when America was not the most powerful of republics, but a
wilderness. None of us all can escape from their greatness--from the debt
we owe them: not because they were Englishmen, not because they made New
England; but because they were men, inspired of God to make the earth free
that was in bondage.

Julian Hawthorne