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FREEDOM TO WORSHIP GOD
CRITICS of the Puritans, taking their text from Mrs. Heman's poem, are disposed to judge harshly, on the ground of inconsistency, that band of earnest Christians, who, coming here because they had been persecuted in England persecuted in their turn those who ventured upon a spiritual angle in any degree different from their own.
Such critics are, however, confusing the ideals cherished by our forefathers with their own ideals for them. They never claimed that their object in coming here was to secure for all men the boon of freedom in religion. On the contrary, they said quite plainly that the object of their emigration was to escape oppression for themselves. Upon that they laid the emphasis; and with that they stopped.
Far from being inconsistent they adhered through fire and water to their own self-defensive principle. All their legislation, all the arrangements of their society were framed to secure this object. It was in accordance with this that they reserved to themselves the right of admitting only whom they pleased as freemen of the colony; and it was to this end that, a little more than a year after their arrival, they “ ordered and agreed that, for time to come, no man should be admitted to the freedom of the body politic, but such as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same." To them such an ordinance seemed the one and only way of forming the Christian republic towards which their hearts yearned, a community in which the laws of Moses should constitute the rules of civil life and in which the godly clergy should be the interpreters of those rules.
Of course, the weakness of the system lay in the fact that the clergy were only men. And being men, of like passions with ourselves, they grew, by the very deference they fed upon, into creatures insatiate for power. But pitifully narrow though they were, revoltingly cruel though they soon came to be, it should nevertheless be borne in mind that they were, in almost every case, sincere. They believed that they were conserving the great good of Christian amity in persecuting relentlessly all
who differed from them, — and so, girding up their loins, they gave still another turn to the screw!
And now, having said in their defence all, as I honestly believe, there is to be said, I can with a clear conscience, record their persecutions and paint as darkly as I must the horrors of that terrible era. To understand it all we must bear in mind the fact that, not only was the number of clergy among the emigrants to Boston and vicinity large, but being men of unusual gifts, that they of necessity exercised an enormous influence in this “ Christian republic.” Moreover, the magistrates themselves were, in a large number of cases men imbued with what we may call the ecclesiastical feeling. When Governor Dudley, for instance, came to die, there were found in his pocket these lines which showed his own cast of mind to have been fiercely bigoted:
« Let men of God in Courts and Churches watch
The " cockatrice" which most powerfully agitated Boston was Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, delicately characterized by the Reverend Thomas Welde as “the American Jezebel.” To students of history calmly examining today the testimony on both sides, Mrs. Hutchinson stands out however as a gentlewoman of spotless life, kind heart, brilliant mind and superb courage. That she had a good deal of that intellectual vanity possessed by most clever women is also plain. And she had besides - and it was this which more than anything else occasioned her banishment - a tongue which could and did lash furiously those whom she disliked. Comparing with her own clergyman the Reverend John Cotton - the host of other clergy then in the Massachusetts colony, she found between them a great gulf fixed; and she said this quite distinctly to the groups of people who used to come to her house opposite the place where the Old South Church now stands, to hear her discuss Mr. Cotton's sermons.
Mrs. Hutchinson came to the colony (in the autumn of 1634) primed for religious discussion. Her father had been Francis Marbury, a minister, first in Lincolnshire and afterwards in London, and in the scholarly and theological atmosphere of his house she had, for years, been accepted as the intellectual equal of his ministerial friends. Theology, indeed, was as the breath of life to her and she hinted in no uncertain way to some Puritan ministers who were on the vessel during her journey to New England that they might expect to hear more from her in the new world. For she regarded herself as one with a mission.
William Hutchinson, the husband of this lady, was the type of man who is always married by strong-minded magnetic women. Winthrop has nothing but words of contempt for him, but there is little doubt that a sincere attachment existed between the married pair and that Hutchinson possessed sterling character and solid worth as well as a comfortable estate. In their Lincolnshire home the two had been parishioners of the Reverend John Cotton and regular attendants at St. Botolph's Church. When Cotton fled to escape the tyranny of the bishops, the Hutchinsons decided to follow, and when the Reverend John Wheelwright, who had married Mrs. Hutchinson's daughter, began to be persecuted in his turn their departure was naturally hastened.
Promptly upon their arrival in Boston both Hutchinsons made their application to be received as members of the church. This step was indispensable to admit the pair into Christian fellowship and to allow Mr. Hutchinson