(Condensed from “Two Republics.”
THE early history of New England is the history of the Puritans, whose rise was on this wise: To escape the persecutions by Mary, in her attempt to restore Catholicism as the religion of England, many members of the Church of England fled to Germany. The worship of these while in exile was conducted by some with the rites of the Church of England as established under Edward VI, while others adopted the Swiss or Calvinistic form of worship. This caused a division, and much contention between them. “The chief scene of these disturbances was Frankfort.” Those who maintained the English form of worship were called Conformists, and those who advocated Calvinistic forms, were called Non-Conformists. The contentions finally grew so bitter that the Conformists drove the Non-Conformists out of the city.
At the accession of Elizabeth, November, 1558, the exiles returned to England carrying their differences with them. There the Non-Conformists acquired the nick-name of “Puritans.” They were not only not separate from the Church of England, but it was not the purpose of the Puritans to separate from either the church, or the government, of England. It was their set purpose to remain in, and a part of, both, to “reform” both, and create and establish instead a Puritan Church of England, and a Puritan government of England.
As Elizabeth saw that the Puritan party was rapidly growing, she thought to check it by enforcing uniformity according to the established usage. Elizabeth zealously supported, if not led, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his subjects, exerted all her power to crush the Puritans. And though the persecution was cruel, they bore it all with patience; first, because every effort that was made to crush them only multiplied their fame and influence a hundred-fold, and, second, because they lived in strong hope of better days, when James of Scotland should come to the throne.
James, though a Presbyterian, continued the war which Elizabeth had already waged against the Puritans and Congregationalists. They were so persecuted and abused by all classes, as well as by the officers of the law, that in 1608, they fled to Holland, stopping first at Amsterdam to Holland, stopping first at Amsterdam, and afterward going to Leyden in 1609. From there a company of these Pilgrims, sailed and landed at Plymouth, New England, in 1620.
The success of this venture suggested to the Puritans a new scheme. Was not here an opportunity to establish a complete and unabridged Puritan government? And was not the way fully opened, and the opportunity easy to be improved? Enough! They would do it. A company was formed, a grant of land was obtained, and John Endicott, with a company of sixty, was sent over in 1628. They joined a fishing settlement at the place afterward called Salem on Massachusetts Bay.
In 1629 a royal charter was obtained, creating “The Government and Colony of Massachusetts Bay in New England;” and four hundred and six people, led by Francis Higginson, were sent over, and Endicott became governor of the whole colony.
A Puritan or Calvinistic government was at once established and put into working order. A church was immediately organized according to the Congregational form, with Higginson and Samuel Skelton as the ministers. All, however, were not inclined to Puritanism. Two persons of the former company at Salem, John and Samuel Browne, took the lead in worshiping according to their own wish, conducting their service after the Episcopal order, using the book of common prayer. Their worship was forbidden. The Brownes replied, “You are Separatists, and you will shortly be Anabaptists.” The Puritans answered, “We separate, not from the Church of England, but from its corruptions. We came away from the common prayer and ceremonies, in our native land, where we suffered much for non-conformity; in this place of liberty we cannot, we will not, use them. Their imposition would be a sinful violation of the worship of God.” In return the Brownes were rebuked as Separatists; their defense was pronounced sedition; their worship was declared mutiny; and they were sent back to England as “factious and evil-conditioned men,” Endicott declaring that “New England was no place for such as they.”
Higginson died in the winter of 1629-30. In 1630 there came over another company led by John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley, who were the governor and deputy-governor to succeed Endicott. “Their embarkation in 1630 was the signal of a general movement on the part of the English Puritans. Before Christmas of that year seventeen ships had come to New England, bringing more than one thousand passengers.” Dudley’s views of toleration and liberty of conscience are expressed in the following lines, which he wrote:—
Let men of God in courts and churches watch
O’er such as do a toleration hatch,
Lest that ill egg bring forth a cockatrice
To poison all with heresy and vice.
And Winthrop’s estimate of the preachers is seen in his declaration that “I honored a faithful minister in my heart, and could have kissed his feet.” It was therefore not at all strange that under the government of Winthrop and Dudley in 1631, the following law should be enacted:—
To the end this body of the commons may be preserved of honest and good men, it is ordered and agreed that, for the time to come, no man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politic but such as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same.
“Thus the polity became a theocracy; God himself was to govern his people; and the ‘saints by calling,’ … were, by the fundamental law of the colony, constituted the oracle of the divine will…. Other States have confined political rights to the opulent, to free-holders, to the first-born; the Calvinists of Massachusetts, refusing any share of civil power to the clergy, established the reign of the visible church, a commonwealth of the chosen people in covenant with God.”
This was the Calvinistic system precisely. The preachers were not to hold office in itself, but they were to be the rulers of all who did. For, as no man could be a citizen unless he was a member of the church; and as none could become members of the churches or even “propounded to the congregation, except they be first allowed by the elders;” this was to make the preachers supreme. This is exactly the position they occupied. They were consulted in everything, and everything must be subject to their dictation.
How these Puritans, who had themselves fled from persecution in Europe, further used the power that they acquired in Massachusetts, will have to be told in subsequent numbers of THE SENTINEL.