Page images
PDF
EPUB

perceive how they express themselves; as also we have herewith sent our present answer unto them, to give you what light we may in the matter. There is one clause in the letter, which plainly implies a threat, though courtly expressed, as their manner is; which we gather to be this, that themselves (as we construe it) have been much awed in point of subjection to the state of England, lest in case they should decline, England might prohibit all trade with them, both in point of exportation and importation of any commodities, which were a host sufficiently prevalent to subdue New England, not being able to subsist :--even so they seem to threaten us, by cutting us off from all commerce and trade with them, and thereby to disable us from any comfortable subsistence, being that the concourse of shipping, and all other sorts of commodities, are universally conversant among themselves; as also knowing that ourselves are not in a capacity to send out shipping of ourselves, which in great measure is occasioned by their oppressing us, as yourself well knows :- --as in many other respects, so in this for one, that we cannot have any thing from them, for the supply of our necessities, but in effect they make the price, both of their commodities and our own. Also, because we have no English coin, but only that which passeth among these barbarians, and such commodities as are raised by the labor of our hands, as corn, cattle, tobacco, &c. to make payment in, which they will have at their own rates, or else not deal with us; whereby though they gain extraordinarily by us, yet, for the safeguard of their religion, they may seem to neglect themselves in that respect; for what will not men do for their God? Sir, this is our earnest and pressing request unto you in this matter, that as you may perceive by our answer unto the united colonies, we fly as our refuge in all civil respects to his Highness and honorable Council, as not being subject to any other in matters of our civil state, so may it please you to have an eye and ear open, in case our adversaries should speak, to undermine us in our privileges granted unto us, and plead our cause in such sort, as that we may not be compelled to exercise any civil power over men's consciences, so long as human orders in point of civility are not corrupted and violated, which our neighbors about us do frequently practise, whereof many of us have absolute experience, and judge it to be no less than a point of ABSOLUTE CRUELTY.

“ JOHN SANFORD,

Clerk of Assembly."

The concluding sentences of this letter are worthy of special note, as showing, that the rulers of Rhode Island carefully distinguished between the rights of conscience and the duty of obedience to the laws which guard the civil peace. They permitted no disorderly license, and if any persons had been guilty, in Rhode Island, of the acts which some individuals, calling themselves Quakers, practised in Massachusetts, they would have been punished. Mr. Williams, in his subsequent controversy with George Fox, expressed his approbation of the punishment of certain females in Massachusetts, for their shameless conduct, affirming it to be a perversion of terms to call the punishment of such actions, persecution.

We must now return to Mr. Williams. He held the office of President two years.

On the 1st of February, 1657-8, he issued a warrant against Mr. William Harris, for the alleged crime of opposing the Protector's government. The warrant ordered his arrest and imprisonment, for the purpose of sending him to England, in accordance, probably, with the act of June, 1655. How far this strong measure was deserved by the conduct of Mr. Harris, we cannot now determine.* It has been inferred that it was not sustained by public opinion, because, at the next election, Mr. Williams was superseded, as President, by Mr. Benedict Arnold. It is not improbable, that he was urged too far, by zeal to uphold the charter and the Protector's authority, and perhaps by personal hostility towards Mr. Harris, between whom and himself there was, for

many

* In his “ George Fox digged out of his Burrowes,” (p. 20,) Mr. Williams

says of Mr. Harris, his “ facts and courses others (of no small authority and prudence among us, with whom I advised) saw to be desperate high treason against the laws of our mother England, and of the colony also.” He then inquires, “ was it my fury (as you call it) or was it not honesty and duty to God and the colony, and the higher powers then in England, to act faithfully and impartially in the place wherein I then stood sentinel?”

years, a very acrimonious feud.* There is, however, no very conclusive evidence, that Mr. Williams' conduct, in this case, was generally disapproved. He occupied a seat in the General Assembly, at intervals, for several years, both as an assistant, and as a representative from Providence. He was often chosen on important committees, and he continued, till his death, to serve the public, in various ways, with ability and patriotic zeal.

* The origin of this unhappy quarrel is unknown. There were, probably, faults on both sides. They both used very angry and unjustifiable language towards each other. It appears that Mr. Williams so disliked Mr. Harris, that he would not write his name at length, but abbreviated it thus, “ W. Har :" This mode of writing it is seen in the fac simile prefixed to this volume. It seems evident, that Mr. Harris had, for some cause, a remarkable aptitude to get into difficulties. A letter of the town of Providence, to the “ Honored Governor and Council at Newport on Rhode-Island,” dated August 31, 1668, and signed “ Shadrach Manton, town clerk,” accuses him of turbulent conduct. In 1667, there was a great disturbance at Providence, excited, as it appears, by him. Two town meetings were held, and two sets of deputies chosen to the General Assembly, among whom was Mr. Harris. He was, however, expelled from the General Assembly, and fined fifty pounds, which fine was remitted the next year.–Backus, vol. i. p. 457. We may hope, that Mr. Harris, though he doubtless had faults, was less culpable, than his contemporaries thought him. It was an unquiet time, and few public men escaped censure.

| In the records of the town of Providence, is the following act: “ June 2, 1657. Ordered, that Mr. Roger Williams be accommodated with two acres and a half of land amongst the rest of the neighbors, at the further Bailey's Cove, he laying down land equivalent to it, in the judgment of the town deputies,

CHAPTER XXII.

Death of Cromwell-his character-Richard Cromwell succeeds—

Restoration of Charles II.--Act of Uniformity, and ejection of the Non-conformists-Affairs in Rhode Island—Indian deed-letters to Mr. Winthrop.

The Protector Cromwell died in September, 1658. This wonderful man raised himself, from a private station, to the supreme power, and fulfilled his high functions with an ability and energy, which few occupants of a throne have ever displayed. He has shared the usual fate of those men, whose conduct and principles have placed them apart from the mass of mankind. No other man was ever in a position, which exposed him to the hatred and misrepresentation of so many parties. The royalists heaped on him unmeasured obloquy as a usurper. The High Church party denounced him as a foe to the hierarchy. The Presbyterians disliked and opposed him, as a friend of toleration. The ultra-republicans reproached him for his ambition, because le did not tha's England, in her existing condition, to be capable of a free republican government, and therefore retained in his hands the power which he believed to be indispensable to the peace of the state. The irreligious, of all parties, scoffed at him as a hypocrite and a fanatic, though the charge is somewhat inconsistent with itself.*

That Cromwell had faults, may be freely acknowledged,

*

Pope (Essay on Man, Ep. iv. I. 284,) has aided in confirming the prejudice against Cromwell, by his famous line :

“ See Cromwell damned to everlasting fame." Pope sometimes sacrificed truth to a brilliant couplet. The two lines which immediately precede the one just quoted are a specimen :

“If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shined,

“ The wisest, brightest, ineanest of mankind.” Public opinion now does not sustain the poet, in stigmatizing the great Bacon as the “ meanest of mankind,” but views him as more sinned against than sinning. We may learn from these examples, how great is the responsibleness of popular authors. By a single line they may perpetuate calumny. They may poison the wells of knowledge.

censures.

by his warmest friends. That his course was always wise and justifiable, cannot be maintained; but it may

be doubted, whether, if the circumstances of that stormy and critical period in which he lived were fairly weighed, and his character and conduct were sifted, with a candid spirit, it would not be found, that Cromwell deserves more of the applause of the friends of liberty and religion, than of their

It is certain, that his accusers yield to him the praise of qualities, which it is difficult to reconcile with the crimes that they impute to him.

It is surprising to hear from American writers, reproaches against Cromwell as a usurper.' This language is not strange from the lips of a royalist, or a High Church partisan, in England; but from an American, it is inconsistent, and unworthy of his position as a citizen of a great and free country, where public opinion ought to be decisively and steadily in favor of republican principles, and ought thus to form an august tribunal, whose verdict should be felt and respected throughout the earth.

An American, surely, can feel no respect for hereditary titles. In his view, Cromwell would have had a clear right to the throne, if the people had chosen to give him the crown; and there is quite as much evidence, that the great body of the people of England were satisfied with the government of Cromwell, as that they were content with that of Charles II. If by usurpation is meant a violation of the Constitution, it may be replied, that the Constitution was already broken. The King had trampled on it, and the Long Parliament had governed the kingdom for years with an entire disregard of the Constitution. The country was in a state of anarchy, and it was a blessing to England that Cromwell seized the reins, and controlled the fierce parties who convulsed the nation. Napoleon, though his subsequent course was unjustifiable, did a good service to France, when he overthrew the detestable

* Examples might be cited, of language like this, in American authors. They show the effect of a discreditable deference to foreign writers. But all American authors are not disposed to echo the in. fidel and tory opinions of England. Dr. Stiles, in his History of the Judges, defended Cromwell; and a writer in the Christian Spectator, for September, 1829, has vindicated the character of the Protector, with ability and eloquence.

« PreviousContinue »