Page images
PDF
EPUB

It was

morally certain, that no such act ever received the sanction of the Legislature of Rhode-Island.

That entire liberty was professed and maintained, from the commencement of the colony, is certain. one of the fundamental regulations in the respective towns, and when they were united, under the first charter, it was expressly enacted, that, while the civil laws should be obeyed, "all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, every one in the name of his God."*

The second charter declared, that “no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be anywise molested, punished or disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion, in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony."

It is utterly incredible, that the Assembly, while they were passing votes of thanks to the King for the charter, would enact a law in violation of his positive declaration in the instrument itself, and at variance with their previous policy and with all their institutions. An exclusion of Catholics, moreover, would not only have violated the charter, and thus offended the King, but the legislators of Rhode Island had sufficient knowledge of Charles, to be aware, that nothing would be less acceptable to him than a law against the Catholics, for whom he endeavored to obtain toleration in England. It

may be added, that there were no Catholics in RhodeIsland, so late as 1695, according to Cotton Mather.t Mr. Eddy well remarks: “Why a law should be made to exclude from the privileges of freemen, those who were not inhabitants, by those who believed all to be equally entitled to their religious opinions, is difficult to conceive."

At the next session, in May, 1664, the Assembly enacted, that, “ at present this General Assembly judgeth it their duty to signify his Majesty's gracious pleasure vouchsafed in these words to us, verbatim, (viz.)”—quoting the declaration from the charter which is cited above.

occurs.

* This was the Rhode Island doctrine and practice from the beginning. It was deeply rooted in all hearts. Among the deputies to the General Assembly, in 1675, the name,

66 Toleration Harris," † He says, in this year, that Rhode Island colony " has been a colluvies of Antinomians, Familists, Anabaptists, Antisabbatarians, Arminians, Socinians, Quakers, Ranters, every thing in the world but Roman Catholics and true Christians—though of the latter, 1 hope, there have been more than of the former among them."-Mag. nalia, b. vii. c. iii. s. 12.

At the session in May, 1665, in answer to certain propositions of the King's Commissioners, in which the King requires, that all the citizens shall enjoy equal civil and religious rights, without regard to their opinions, the Assembly say: “ This Assembly do, with all gladness of heart, and humbleness of mind, acknowledge the great goodness of God and favor of his Majesty in that respect, declaring, that as it hath been a principle set forth and maintained in this colony, from the very beginning thereof, so it is much on their hearts to preserve the same liberty to all persons within this colony forever, as to the worship of God therein, taking care for the preservation of the civil government, to the doing of justice and preserving each other's privileges from wrong and violence to others.”

Mr. Eddy accounts for the existence of the spurious words in the copy of the laws from which Mr. Chalmers quoted, by supposing, that they were inserted, without authority, at some period subsequent to 1719, by a revising committee, who might be desirous to please the government in England. Mr. Eddy says, in conclusion: “ Thus you have positive and indubitable evidence, that the law excluding Roman Catholics from the privileges of freemen was not passed in 1663–4, but that they were by law, at this time, and long after, entitled to all the privileges of other citizens; and satisfactory evidence that these privileges were continued by law until 1719, when, or in one of the subsequent revisions, the words professing Christianity, and Roman Catholics only excepted, were inserted by the revising committee.”

If, however, such an act had been passed, it would not necessarily impeach the character of Mr. Williams. He was an Assistant, only, in the Legislature of 1663–4, and could not be responsible for its acts. His own principles are on record.

He contended for liberty of conscience to all men without any restriction. In his “Hireling Ministry none of Christ's,” printed in 1652—only eleven years before-he says:

“ All these consciences, (yea, the very conscience of Papists, Jews, &c. as I have proved at large in my answer to Mr. Cotton's washings) ought freely and impartially to be permitted their sereral respective worships, their ministers of worships, and what way of maintaining them they please."

We proceed, now, to the other charge. It is contained in an article, in 1 His. Col. v. pp. 216-220, signed Francis Brinley, whose statement is repeated in Holmes' American Annals, vol. i. p. 341. Mr. Brinley says: “ 1665. The government and council of Rhode Island, &c. passed an order for outlawing the people called Quakers, because they would not bear arms, and to seize their estates; but the people in general rose up against these severe orders, and would not suffer it."

We are again indebted to Mr. Eddy for the means of correcting a mistake. He says (2 His. Col. vii. p. 97,) that the account of Mr. Brinley “is incorrect and partial.” There was a difficulty, in which the Quakers, it seems, felt themselves aggrieved, but it was not the result of any acts aimed directly at them. The origin of it, as Mr. Eddy thinks, was this: The commissioners of the King required, in his name," that all householders, inhabiting this colony, take the oath of allegiance.” The Assembly, in reply, stated, that it had been the uniform practice of the colony, in pursuance of their great principles of religious liberty, to allow those who objected to take an oath, to make an engagement, under the penalty for false swearing. An engagement was accordingly drawn up, in which the individual promised to bear true allegiance to the King and his successors, and to yield “due obedience unto the laws established from time to time.” The Quakers, it appears, objected to this part of the engagement, because it bound them to pay obedience to the militia laws. The Assembly had enacted, that those who did not take the engagement, should not be permitted to “ vote for public officers or deputies, or enjoy any privilege of freemen.” Those persons, consequently, who refused to take the engagement, were disfranchised; and to this effect, Mr. Brinley probably alludes, when he says that the Quakers were outlawed. If so, his statement is very loose and injurious, for it implies, that the act was expressly directed against them, But there was no design, apparently, on the part of the Assembly to affect them. The King commanded the General Assembly to require an oath of allegiance. They dis

pensed with the oath, but required an engagement, promising, in general terms, obedience to the laws. It would seem, that all the citizens might have safely taken the engagement, reserving their opposition to particular laws, to which they might be conscientiously opposed. An engagement to obey the laws would, of course, mean such laws only as were consistent with the laws of God and with the rights of conscience. The Assembly cannot, at any rate, be justly charged with an assault on the Quakers. The engagement was mitigated, the very next year, to suit their views, and every disposition was manifested to consult their feelings and respect their rights. One of their number was, the next year, elected Deputy Governor,

28*

CHAPTER XXIV.

Mr. Williams' public services—religious habits-efforts as a minis

ter—Indians-private affairs-letter to John Whipple.

We are now approaching the close of Mr. Williams' life. Years were increasing upon him, and abating the vigor of his body and the ardor of his mind. Yet we find his name in the records both of the town and colony, so frequently, as to prove, that he retained his zeal for the public welfare, and that he enjoyed, to the end of his life, a large measure of public confidence. In the town meetings, he was often appointed moderator. He was appointed as a member of numerous committees, and was usually selected, when a skilful pen was needed for the public service.

After serving the colony for two years, as President, and repeatedly as Assistant, or Commissioner, under the first charter, he occupied a seat in the General Assembly, under the new charter, as an Assistant, in the years 1664, 1670, and 1671. He was chosen, in 1677, but he refused to serve,

on account, probably, of his age. He was a Deputy from Providence, in May, 1667.

Of his religious habits we have little knowledge. We have satisfactory reasons, however, for believing, that he preserved the character of an upright Christian. His books and letters are distinguished by the language of piety, and his general conduct exhibited its influence. Even Cotton Mather confesses, that “ in many things he acquitted himself so laudably, that many judicious persons judged him to have had the root of the matter in him, during the long winter of this retirement.""* He had, it is true, no connection with any church; a circumstance, which we must regret, because it injured his reputation and his usefulness, while it diminished his personal enjoyment and spiritual growth. But we know that his reason for this course was, an erroneous idea, that the true church was, for

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »