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the men who founded this Republic, and was enunciated by those choicest minds and spirits of the seventeenth century.
It was not a mere intellectual conception; it was a spiritual experience, involving the conscience, and having practical relations with life, liberty, property, and reputation. For these very reasons it led the Pilgrims and the Puritans across the sea.
When man has tasted the sweets of liberty, persecution augments, but it cannot destroy, its growth. Wyclif caught the idea one hundred and forty years before Luther, and taught that the New Testament is a sufficient guide in church government. The growth of that idea and its final permanency in men's minds, before the assent of king and priest, cost many lives and untold suffering. Henry VIII., Edward VI., Bloody Mary, and Queen Elizabeth found people who, with Peter, said, It is right to obey God rather than men. That class sought to purify the church,-its clergy, its membership, its forms of worship, and its ordinances. They were known as Puritans. It was a common thing for them to resist unto the death any attempt of human authority to take the place of Christ over the conscience.
While democratic and social equality were terms that in 1631 had no meaning, for no one could have a voice in town affairs unless he had been elected a freeman by the Court, and, after May 31, 1631, unless he was a church member, yet Robert Browne, the founder of the first Congregational church in Norwich, England, in 1580, "clearly stated and defended the theory that every man had a right to choose and practice such religion as his conscience approved; and that the king, hierarchy or magistrate had no right to meddle in any way with his liberty of conscience. ... This defense of absolute toleration by Browne is a whole generation before the writers whom the Baptist historians claim to be the originators and two generations before Roger Williams."1 No student of history in the historical development of modern free thought can ignore the origin, growth, and development of Congregationalism.
1 William Frederick Poole, in Dial, August, 1880.
"New England was settled under this polity, and its influence was dominant for two centuries in moulding New England institutions."1
As the individual was the unit of power in church and state, it was essential that all the citizens should be educated; hence colleges and free schools were established at the outset.
"This zeal for education prompted the people of Massachusetts to found a college before they were yet free from the perils of starvation, and to establish a complete system of free schools before the first generation born in their new home had passed the age of childhood," 1
Thus the Pilgrims of 1620 from Holland and the Puritans from England (of whom some 22,000 came over between 1630 and 1640) laid those solid foundation-stones -religion, morality, knowledge—which have ever been the basis of our institutions. It was a most felicitous and providential union, that the Pilgrim a Separatist and the Puritan an Independent; for it combined the intense religious zeal and other-worldliness of the one, tuned to so high a pitch, with the healthy regard for this world and the practical affairs of life so characteristic of the other. The Pilgrim was earnest to secure a mansion in the skies; while the Puritan, none the less zealous for that heavenly home, kept his economic eye on a corner lot on earth. The Massachusetts Colony soon learned to know cod no less than religion; and they mixed in delightful proportions a zeal for fishery and whaling with that for religious discussions and protracted meetings; they compounded in an ingenious manner a love for New England rum with a clear conscience toward God; “pine-tree shillings and piety”; a love for heaven and a perfect willingness to remain on earth.
But the Puritans, under Governor Winthrop, were moulded in their religious and intellectual life by the Pilgrims. The Puritans had attempted in England to purify and reform the church through the State; but when on American soil they soon saw that the
1 William Frederick Poole, in Dial, 1880.
“best service the State can render to religion is to leave it free to live and act according to its own nature, in obedience to its own laws, prompted by its own impulses, guided by its own spirit and judgment." I
The Cambridge Platform of 1648 has been the authoritative manual of the church for two centuries, and a comparison of it with the Declaration of the National Council of 1871 will reveal how clearly and uniformly Congregationalism has moved along a definite line of thought in its polity.
The compact in the Mayflower was a covenant binding the Pilgrims to all due submission and obedience unto such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and officers from time to time as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the community; and they clearly stated that they combined into a civil body-politic for their better ordering and preservation. And the motive asserted was the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith. As De Tocqueville well says,
“A democracy more perfect than any which antiquity had dreamed of started in full size and panoply from the midst of an ancient feudal so
The divine and natural order for the development of society are all on the Mayflower in the germ. Religion seeking divine assistance, and wisdom, with good-will toward one another, which is its natural fruitage; or, in other words, morality; and evincing itself in the loftiest notions of liberty and equality. This is the true historical and scientific development; for, as De Tocqueville says,
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith," 8 As has been said: “Here was the spirit of religion and
1 Encyclopædia Britannica, "Independent." ? Democracy in America, p. 35.
8 Ibid., p. II.
the spirit of liberty, which so often were in open conflict,” happily combined and united to accomplish a result. And what was that result? Congregationalism in religious affairs and democracy in civil affairs, for democracy implies equality, -one being the same as another in law.
As to the notions of liberty which prevailed among the Puritans who came over with Governor Winthrop in June, 1630, hear what he says:
"Nor would I have you to mistake in the point of your own liberty. There is a liberty of corrupt nature which is affected both by men and beasts to do what they list; and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this liberty, ‘sumus omnes deteriores': 'tis the grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it. But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good: for this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives, and whatsoever crosses it, is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained in a way of subjection to authority; and the authority set over you will, in all administrations for your good, be quietly submitted unto by all but such as have a disposition to shake off the yoke and lose their true liberty, by their murmuring at the honour and power of authority."1
This whole conception of liberty is biblical, and founded on Christ's definition, that only truth (or law) can set free. This idea of liberty became the sentiment of New England; and Governor John Treadwell, of Connecticut, wrote a letter to Rev. Nathaniel Emmons, July 11, 1800, in which he says:
“Liberty I love; but it is that liberty which results from the most perfect subjugation of every soul to the empire of law, and not that which is sought by illuminers and atheists.” 2
“ In 1641 these legislators whether in their political or ecclesiastical capacity never conceived any polity which should grant freedom of action in the modern sense. They did not believe such a society to be possible and they would not have considered it desirable. Freedom and liberty meant the working out of a life soberly restrained according to the will of the majority. This major will was directed divinely through the medium
1 De Tocqueville, Democracy, p. 42.
of the Bible interpreted by pastors and elders. This was the mind of Massachusetts and Connecticut."1
Josiah Quincy said, that liberty of conscience would have produced anarchy in the seventeenth century. This conception of liberty and equality is the gift of Congregationalism to the Republic, and its fruitage is seen in Mr. Lincoln's high thought of obedience to law:
"Let reverence for law be breathed by every mother to the lisping babe that prattles in her lap; let it be taught in the schools, seminaries and colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling-books and almanacs; let it be preached from pulpits and proclaimed in legislative halls and enforced in courts of justice; in short let it become the political religion of the nation.”
The late Dr. William Frederick Poole wrote as follows:
“The rise and growth of Congregationalism make an important chapter in the historical development of modern free thought. It is in religion what democracy is in the conduct of civil affairs. It inculcates the duty and right of each individual to interpret the Scriptures for himself and vests all ecclesiastical power in the brotherhood of each local church as an independent body. Every other human authority in spiritual affairs, whether it be council, hierarchy or synod, it rejects together with all antiquated symbols, rites, functionaries and other machinery which come between the individual soul and its Maker. It is the exaltation of the individual, and the dethronement of all outside spiritual dictation. . . . It was the polity under which New England was settled, and there it was the dominant influence for two centuries in moulding its institutions. It is not strange that a system so unlike that of England and the other nations of Europe should have wrought out an independent and peculiar people. As the individual was the unit of power in Church and State, it was essential that all the citizens should be educated; and hence colleges and free schools were established at the outset. Such a development of individ. ualism was necessarily the occasion of many internal controversies and disputes; but both State and Church withstood the strain, grew strong under it, and enjoyed a material and social prosperity such as fell to the lot of none of the other early American colonies." 2
On September 4, 1633, there arrived in Boston a man of heroic faith and scholarly attainments,—the Rev. Thomas Hooker. His coming was destined to have far-reaching re
1 Economic and Social History of New England, Vol. i. p. 179. 2 Poole's review of Dexter's Congregationalism, in the Dial, 1880.