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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII THE SAYBROOK PLATFORM AND THE TOLERATION ACT

The Development Of Religious Liberty In Connecticut by M. Louise Greene, Ph. D.

CHAPTER VII THE SAYBROOK PLATFORM AND THE TOLERATION ACT

They keep the word of promise to our ear and break it to our hope. -- Macbeth, Act V, Sc. viii.

The Connecticut General Court incorporated in the act establishing the Saybrook Platform the proviso --

that nothing herein shall be intended or construed to hinder or prevent any Society or Church that is or shall he allowed by the laws of this government, who soberly differ or dissent from the United Churches hereby established from exercising worship and discipline in their own way, according to their conscience.

Here then was the measure of such religious toleration as could be expected. It appears a liberal measure. It was liberal in that day and generation, when men's minds were so firmly possessed by the belief that civil order was closely dependent upon religious uniformity. The exact purport of the proviso, however, can best be gauged by considering it in connection with a legislative act that immediately preceded it, and by studying the conditions which prompted or enforced this earlier legislation, known as the Toleration Act of 1708.[a]

As conditions were at its passage, the proviso applied only to certain Congregational churches that, preferring the polity of the Cambridge Platform, were determined to adhere to it. In earlier years, these churches, with their exacting test of regenerative experience, had constituted the majority. In later years, the Half-Way Covenant practice and Stoddardeanism had shifted the relative position of church parties. Now, the proviso represented that liberal-minded party within the church who would extend tolerance to the minority who still clung to the outgrown convictions and principles of an earlier age. This tolerance was extended from a two-fold motive: for the reason just assigned, and because the government hoped, by permitting a liberal interpretation of the Saybrook Articles, to win over these tolerated Congregational churches. It trusted that the anticipated benefits, proceeding from the new order of church government, would further convince them of the superior advantages derivable from the Presbyterian or more authoritative rendering of the Saybrook instrument, and that through such a policy, the ready acceptance of the Saybrook Platform by all the churches in the colony would be secured. Furthermore, it would not do for the colony to make an important law, following the great English precedent of 1689 which had granted toleration to dissenters, and then, within six months, frame a constitution for its Established Church, so rigid that no room could be found in the colony for any fundamental differences in faith or practice. Consequently, the proviso was made to include both tolerated Congregationalists and any dissenters who might in the future be permitted to organize their own churches, or, in the words of the Court, |any Society or Church that is or shall be allowed by the laws of this government.| Thus the proviso was practically forced into the October legislation of the General Court by the passing of the Toleration Act at its spring session, notwithstanding the fact that its inclusion was in accord with the sentiment of the liberal party.

Toleration Act and proviso notwithstanding, no rival church was desired at this time in Connecticut. No rival creed was recognized. True, there were a few handfuls of dissenters scattered through the colony, but Congregationalism, with a strong tincture of Presbyterianism, was almost the unanimous choice of the people. It was largely outside pressure that had forced the passage of the Toleration Act, even if it accounts for itself as a loyal following of the English precedent of 1689. Although it had always been understood that the colonies should make no laws repugnant to the organic or to the common law of England, Connecticut was determined to protect as much as possible her own approved church, to keep it free from the contamination not only of infidels and heretics, but also from Church-of-England dissenters and from all others. Accordingly she placed side by side upon her statute book a Toleration Act with a proviso in favor of her Established Church, and a Church platform with a proviso for |sober dissenters| therefrom.

The circumstances which led up to and enforced the passage of the Toleration Act were many and varied. The motives were complex. Considerations religious, political, social, and economic entered into the problem which met the Connecticut legislators when they found their colony falling into disfavor with the King. This problem, resolved into its simplest terms, consisted in securing continued exemption from external interference. If Connecticut could retain the King's approval, she could prevent the intrigues of her enemies at the English court and could control the situation in the colony, whatever its aspects, secular or religious. And with reference to the latter, she would still be able to exalt her Establishment and to keep dissenters, however they might increase in kinds or numbers, in a properly subordinated position.

In order to obtain a grasp of the situation within the colony at the time when its government concluded that the passing of the Toleration Act would be politic, it is necessary to examine the status of the dissenters there. Of these there were four classes, the Quakers or Society of Friends, the Episcopalians, the Baptists, and the Rogerines. Of these, the Quakers and the Episcopalians were the first to make the Connecticut government forcibly realize that, if she interfered with what they believed to be their rights, there would probably have to be a settlement with the home government. But as the efforts of these sects to interest the English government in their behalf run parallel with and mix themselves up with other complaints against Connecticut, it will make the history of the times clearer if the early story of the Baptists and Rogerines is first told.

The Baptists early appeared in New England, but it was not until 1665 that Massachusetts permitted their organization into churches, and not until 1700, only eight years before the Saybrook Platform, that Cotton Mather wrote of them, |We are willing to acknowledge for our brethren as many of them as are willing to be acknowledged.| In her dislike of them, Massachusetts had the full sympathy of Connecticut. And it was with great dissatisfaction that the authorities of the latter colony saw these dissenters, early in the eighteenth century, crossing the Rhode Island boundary to settle within her territory. Accordingly, in 1704, the General Court of Connecticut refused them permission to incorporate in church estate. When in the following year, in spite of the legislature's refusal, they organized a church at Groton under Valentine Wightman,[b] the Assembly proceeded to inflict the full penalties of the law. While the Baptists had cheerfully paid all secular taxes, they had made themselves liable to fines and imprisonments by their refusal, on the ground of conscience, to pay the ecclesiastical ones, and, as they continued to refuse, fines and imprisonment and even flogging became their portion. Governor Saltonstall, mild in his personal attitude toward the three other groups of dissenters, thoroughly disapproved of the Baptists, seeming to fear their growing influence in New England and their increasing importance in the mother country. He believed in a policy of restriction and oppression toward the mere handful of them that had settled within his jurisdiction.

Apart from the main body of the Baptists, there were in Connecticut a number of Seventh-day Baptists and Rogerine Baptists or Rogerine Quakers. There were a very few of them, -- not more than a dozen in 1680.[c] Setting aside the earliest persecution of the Quakers, these Rogerines were the first dissenters to fall under the displeasure of the Connecticut authorities. They were the first to be systematically fined, whipped, and imprisoned for conducting themselves contrary to the laws for the support and honor of the Connecticut Establishment. For this reason, though they were weak in numbers and often an exasperating set of fanatics, they deserve a hearing. Their persecution began about 1677, while these people were chiefly resident in New London and the Seventh-day men were mostly members of the Rogers family. Later, the Rogerines spread to Norwich and Lebanon and their immediate vicinity.

This sect of Rogerines arose from the intercourse through trade of two brothers, John and James Rogers of New London, with the Sabbatarians or Seventh-day Baptists of Rhode Island. These brothers were baptized in 1674 and 1675, and their parents in the following year. All were received as members of the Seventh-day church at Newport. This did not trouble the Connecticut authorities, who appear not to have interfered with the converts until they committed a flagrant offense and put public dishonor upon the colony church; as in 1677, when elders of the Rhode Island church arrived in New London to baptize the wife of Joseph Rogers, another brother of the first two converts. The elders selected for their baptismal ceremony a quiet spot about two miles from the town. This did not suit John Rogers, who insisted that the town was the only proper place, and led the little procession into it. Mr. Hiscox, one of the elders, was seized while preaching and carried before the magistrates, but was soon released. Deprived of their leader, the Sabbatarians withdrew to another place, and John Rogers, arrogating to himself the office of elder, performed the baptismal service. From this time forth he began to draw disciples to himself. When he pushed his personal opinions too far, the Newport church attempted to discipline both him and his following, but, this attempt failing, the Rogerines became henceforth a distinct sect.

The Rogerines, though strictly orthodox in the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, were opposed by the Connecticut magistrates as teachers of doctrines tending to undermine religion, as a persistently rebellious sect, and as notorious breakers of the peace. In faith and practice, these Rogerines bore some resemblance to the Baptists and also to the Quakers. Hence, they were often called Rogerine-Baptists or Rogerine-Quakers. Like the earlier Baptists and the Quakers, they believed it wrong to take an oath. They differed from the Congregationalists chiefly in their form of administering baptism and the Lord's supper and in their opposition to any paid ministry. Rogers also claimed that there were certain tests of personal regeneration which the Congregationalists denied. John Bolles, one of the later leaders of the sect, declared the Congregational Sunday to be |a great Idol in this Country, and all the Religion built on the Holiness of the pretended Sabbath is Hypocrisy and further that it is contrary to Scripture, for Christians to exercise Authority over one another in matters of Religion.| Rogers, with less dignity and more pugnaciousness, called the authorities |the scarlet beast| and the Establishment a |harlot,| hurling scriptural texts with rankling, exasperating abusiveness in his determination to prove her customs evil and anti-Christian. Not content with such railing, the Rogerines determined to show no respect to their adversaries' opinions and worship. Thus, while maintaining that there should be no public worship, Rogers, after his separation from the Seventh-day Baptists, perversely chose Sunday as the day most convenient for the Rogerines to hold their meetings. They not only exhorted and testified in the streets, but forced their way into the churches, pestering the ministers to argue disputed points. They offended in another way, for, according to the colony law, they profaned the Sabbath by working, claiming that, as all days were holy, all were alike good for work. Fines and imprisonment began in 1677. They were continued in the hope, held by the authorities, that they could suppress the Rogerines by exactions which should melt away their estates. Sometimes these penalties were unjust, as when John Rogers could rightly claim that he was sentenced without benefit of jury, and, at another, that the authorities had seized his son's cattle to settle the father's fines. John Bolles pleaded against the injustice of forcing men |to pay Money for his (the minister's) preaching when they did not hear him and professed it was against their Consciences.| But such a plea was many, many years in advance of his time. The Rogerines, important, in their own estimate, as called of God, and angered by opposition, seized upon every scriptural passage that bade them exhort and testify, feeling it their duty to do so both in season and out. Had they been willing to give up this practice in public, they would probably have been left in comparative peace, for Governor Saltonstall wrote to Rogers offering him protection for his followers if they would consent to give up |testifying| and would hold their services quietly and privately. Rogers refused upon the ground that he had a right to use the colony churches for his preaching, since he and his people were obliged to contribute to their maintenance. This was logical, but not acceptable to the Connecticut magistrates, who continued to cool the enthusiasm of the Rogerines by occasional heavy penalties, and to look upon them as a set of fanatics, doomed to self-extinction.

The attitude of the Connecticut authorities at this time toward the Quakers, or Society of Friends, was quite different from that assumed toward the Baptists and Rogerines. A retrospect of their history in the colony shows them to have been the earliest dissenters, and also the ones to whom concessions, though only temporary, were first made. Previous to the Restoration, the Quakers were the only dissenters with whom Connecticut had to deal. They appeared in Massachusetts in 1655, and in the following year New Haven colony found no laws could be too severe for the |cursed sect of the Quakers.| The General Court of Connecticut seconded the efforts of both New Haven and Massachusetts to exclude the obnoxious and determined sect, but it soon decided that its fears had been greatly exaggerated, and that mild laws and town legislation were sufficient. Accordingly, town officers were instructed to prevent Quakers settling in the colony, to forbid their books and writings, and to break up their meetings. It was forbidden, however, to lay upon them a fine of more than ten pounds or, under any circumstances, the death penalty.

While New Haven whipped, branded, and transported Quakers,[d] Connecticut mildly enforced her laws against them, and how mildly the following incidents will show. In 1658, John Rous and John Copeland, traveling preachers, reached Hartford. They were allowed to hold a discussion in the presence of the governor and magistrates upon |God is a Spirit.| At its close, they were courteously informed that the laws of the colony forbade their remaining in it, and were requested to continue without further delay their journey into Rhode Island. This request was heeded, but while on their way, to quote Rous, |The Lord gave us no small dominion.| It would seem as if the wise Quaker had taken the benefit of the law which forbade his remaining |more than fifteen days in a town,| and, also, of the friendly curiosity of the people along his route. Rous further testified in behalf of Connecticut that |Among all the colonies found we not like moderation as this; most of the magistrates being more noble than those of the others.| A short time after Rous's visit, two Quakers, who persisted in holding services, were arrested and banished.[e] Still later, two women who attempted to conduct services in Hartford met with similar treatment, of whom their historian records: |Except that some extra apparel which they took with them was sold by the jaoler to pay his fee, no act of persecution befell them at Hartford.| As late as 1676, when the Congregationalists and the constables of New London, with great violence, broke up a Friends' meeting, held by William Edmundson, he tells us that |the sober people were offended at them,| and that on the following Sunday, at |New Hartford| (Hartford), after the regular morning service, he was allowed to speak unhindered. The same afternoon, when he attempted to speak in another meeting-house, the officers, urged on by the minister, |haled me,| he writes, |out of the worship-house, and hurt my arm so that it bled.| When he asked them if they thought that was the right treatment of a man faint from fasting all day, they, with excuses for the conduct of the minister and the magistrates, hurried him to an inn. There the people were allowed to listen to his discourse, and, the next morning, he was bidden to go freely on his way.

Most of the Connecticut Quakers were in the border towns. Few, if any, organized societies were formed in Connecticut until about the time of the Revolution. Their scattered converts were ministered to by traveling preachers, and, where possible, members would cross the boundaries to attend the Quarterly or Monthly Meetings in neighboring Rhode Island, or possibly Massachusetts, or on Long Island. These dissenters had quickly perceived the strength of union, and as early as 1661 the Rhode Island Yearly Meeting had been established, with its system of subordinate Quarterly and Monthly Meetings. Soon after, Yearly Meetings at Philadelphia brought reports from the southern and middle colonies. Those at Flushing, Long Island, collected news of converts from New York as far east as the Connecticut River, while the Yearly Meeting at Newport, Rhode Island, heard from all members east of that river. The custom of exchanging yearly letters, giving the gist of these three annual meetings, was soon instituted. After the establishment of the London Yearly Meeting, the frequent exchange of letters with the colonial Quakers, begun in 1662, was reinforced by the exchange of English and American preachers. By similar means, the whole Society the world over was bound closely together. Their common interests were guarded, and every infraction of their liberties known. If in any of the colonies, as in Connecticut, they were oppressed for their refusal to pay ecclesiastical taxes and to bear arms, the facts were known in England. Secular taxes they cheerfully met, but others were against their conscience. They were excellent citizens, and they were everywhere friendly with the Indians. Because of this friendship, and because the Connecticut colony desired the good offices of the Rhode Island authorities during the dangerous King Philip's War, the General Court had decided to show favor to the few Quakers who were then within the colony. Accordingly, in 1675, a bill was passed temporarily releasing the Quakers from fines for absence from public worship, provided |that they did not gather into assemblies within the colony or make any disturbance.| How long this law was operative is uncertain, but probably until about 1702. It, is omitted in the revision of the laws of that year, and Gough, in his |History of the People called Quakers,| says that the persecuting spirit died away, but was renewed by Connecticut in 1702.[f] We know some of the causes that probably led to its revival, such as the extravagances of the Rogerines, the increase of the Baptists, and the general feeling that the Congregational churches were inherently weak among themselves before this threatening increase of external foes. Moreover, in this same year, there began a very definite propaganda in behalf of an American episcopate. The attempt to revive persecution against the Quakers was unfortunate. They believed in liberty of conscience as a natural, inalienable right, and its practical exercise they meant to have. Their leaders were constant in their loyal addresses and dignified petitions to the throne. The great English Toleration Act had befriended them, and the Act of 1693 had, by substituting affirmation for oath, allowed them to take full advantage of the toleration measure. Such religious liberty as they enjoyed in England, they meant to possess in England's colonies; and when Connecticut, in 1702, again put on the thumb-screws of persecution, these dissenters at once sent a protest across the seas. Their great leader, William Penn, was again in favor at court and with the Queen, who, in Privy Council, October 11, 1705, favorably heard their petition and promptly annulled the Connecticut law of 1657 against |Heretics, Infidels and Quakers,| declaring it void and repealed. |The repealing of this Act put a final period to the persecuting of Quakers in New England.| To be more exact, it put an end to persecution, but not to occasional fines or to legalized taxes which the Quakers still considered unjust. But as Connecticut had many serious problems on her hands at this time, she thought it prudent to follow the lead of the Crown, and repealed the law of 1657, in so far as it applied to the Quakers.

The year that the Quakers scored this victory, the Episcopalians lodged with the home government a serious complaint of the intolerance that Connecticut showed towards members of the Church of England. They complained that --

they have made a law that no Christians who are not of their community, shall meet to worship God, or have a minister without lycence from their Assembly; which law even extends to the Church of England, as well as other professions tolerated in England.

This was not the first time that such a complaint had been carried to England. As early as 1665 [g] it had been made, within a year after Connecticut had satisfied the Commissioners of Charles II, sending them home convinced that the Church of England services would be allowed in the colony as soon as there were settlers who desired them.|[h] As there were no Episcopalians in the colony then, nor for nearly thirty years afterwards, and as Connecticut was in high favor with the Stuarts, little heed was paid to the complaint at the time, nor until long years afterwards, when it was coupled with graver offenses.

Back of the personal affront to the sovereign in the persecution or oppression of members of the Church of England, there were graver causes of offense such as the Crown regarded as mistakes, or even misdemeanors. For many years Connecticut had been virtually an independent and sovereign state within her own borders. Her charter was a most liberal one. She had sought approval for it from the sovereigns, William and Mary, and, while she had been unable to obtain for it the crown's expressed approval, she had secured from the best legal talent a judgment declaring it still valid. She continued to be practically exempt from external interference with her domestic policy for a number of years after the Revolution of 1688, yet from that time on there was always at the English court a party, at first largely influenced by Sir Edmund Andros and his following, who were either jealous of Connecticut's charter or envious of her prosperity. They were always scheming and ready to prejudice the king against his colony, or to antagonize the Board of Trade.

Within her own borders, Connecticut was peaceful, prosperous, and contented. For the most part, she was free from the harassing danger of Indian war. She readily contributed her share for the common defense of the colonies, and sent her loyal quotas to fight for England's territorial claims. For many years, Connecticut was shrewd enough to steer clear of the disastrous inflation of paper currency which overtook her sister colonies. Many strangers were attracted by her prosperity, so that, notwithstanding frequent emigrations of her people, she trebled her population about once in twenty years all through the first century of her existence.[i] With this increasing population came, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, members of the Church of England, who settled in Stratford and in the towns adjacent to New York.[j] They quickly found that their previous impressions were erroneous, and that Connecticut would not tolerate their religious services. Consequently, a report of the religious condition in Connecticut was made in England, in 1702, at about the time the Quakers complained of renewed persecution and at a time when the enemies of the colony were extremely active in charging her with misconduct.

A report of Connecticut's ecclesiastical constitution and of her oppression of dissenters was made to the Bishop of London by John Talbot, who, with George Keith, had traveled through Connecticut on his way from New York to Boston. These men were missionary priests of the Church of England. In New London, Governor Saltonstall, then the minister of that town, knowing that there were a few Church-of-England men in the place, had met the travelers, |civilly entertained them at his house,| and |invited them to preach in his church.| The Governor might not, the magistrates certainly did not, feel so kindly disposed toward Talbot a year or so later, when it was found that, upon his return to New York, he had written home to his superiors in England, earnestly advocating an American episcopate. True, he urged that the American bishop should have ecclesiastical powers only, and that those ecclesiastico-civil in character, such as the probating of wills, granting of marriage licenses, and the presentation of livings, should remain in the hands of the colonial governors. But the Connecticut authorities were not forgetful of Laud's purpose in 1638 to appoint a bishop over New England, and its frustration by the political unrest at home. They recalled that the revival of such a project had floated as a rumor about those royal commissioners of 1664 to whom they had given such satisfactory, if evasive, answers. Moreover, an Order in Council of 1685, of which there is external evidence, though the order itself is not recorded, had vested ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the colonies in the Bishop of London. Connecticut knew also that four years later, in 1689 (the year that Episcopacy erected King's Chapel, Boston, with its royal endowment of L100 per year), the first commissary had been dispatched to Virginia to superintend the churches there. The Crown, as yet, had deemed it unwise to thrust an episcopate upon its dissenting colonies, and, except for a short time before Queen Anne's death, it was to take no interest in the plans for the American episcopate until some forty years later, when the King thought to discern in it some political advantage. But early in 1700, when complaints were lodged against Connecticut, there was a strong party within the English Church itself who were most anxious to see the episcopal bond between the mother country and her colonies strengthened. For this purpose, they had sent to America, in 1695, the Reverend Thomas Bray to report upon the conditions and churchly sentiment within the colonies. His report was published under the title, |A Memorial representing the State of Religion in the Continent of North America.| It was an appeal for episcopal oversight, and resulted in the formation in England, in 1701, of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. To this organization belonged all the English bishops with all their influential following. The Society regularly maintained missionary churches and missionary priests throughout the colonies. Candidates for this priesthood were required to submit to a thorough examination as to their fitness. Before sailing, they were required to report to the Bishop of London as their Diocesan and to the Archbishop of Canterbury as their Metropolitan. They were required to send full semi-annual reports of their work and to include in them any other information that promised to be of interest or advantage to the Society. John Talbot and George Keith were two of these missionaries.

Talbot's appeal for the American episcopate was seconded in 1705 by fourteen clergymen from the middle colonies who convened at Burlington, N. J., to frame a petition to the English archbishop and bishops. In it they set forth the necessity in America of a bishop to ordain and to supply other ecclesiastical needs. The petitioners added that a bishop was also necessary to counteract |the inconveniences which the church labors under by the influence which seditious men's counsels have upon the public administration and the opposition which they make to the good inclinations of well-affected persons.| In this appeal for a bishop stress was laid upon the cost and dangers of a trip to England for ordination, and also to the frequent loss of converts from the independent ministry because of the lack of ordination privileges in America. These references, and also that to the |counsel of seditious men,| could not be agreeable to large numbers of dissenting colonists. They would not be viewed with favor in Connecticut, where, by 1705, Episcopalians had become so numerous that a wealthy New Yorker, Colonel Heathcote by name, and a man thoroughly acquainted with his New England neighbor, undertook to look after the Church-of-England men as unfortunate brethren of a common faith. He appealed to the English Society for the Propagating[k] of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to extend its missions into Connecticut. He asked that Rector Muirson be stationed at Rye, New York. Colonel Heathcote's idea was: --

to first plant the church securely in Westchester on the border of Connecticut; and secondly, from that point to act upon Connecticut, which was wholly Puritan and withal not a little bigoted and uncharitable.

Naturally, whatever of tolerance the Connecticut people might have shown two traveling preachers would turn to opposition when they saw the deliberate and well-organized attempt of this proselyting church, this old enemy of their forefathers, to invade their colony and undermine their own Establishment. Consequently, when, in company with Mr. Muirson, Colonel Heathcote began itinerating through southwestern Connecticut, ministers and magistrates frequently opposed and threatened them. The people occasionally welcomed them. They did not object to hear and to criticise the strangers, and were sometimes willing to have their good neighbors, if they chanced to be Church-of-England men, enjoy the ministrations of these passing visitors. In some places, however, the civil officers went so far as to go about among the people, even from house to house, to dissuade them from attending Mr. Muirson's services,[l] and, at Fairfield, the meeting-house was closed lest it should be |defiled by idolatrous worship and superstitious ceremonies.| The Episcopalians themselves later acknowledged that, until 1709, they suffered little persecution beyond |that of the tongue.| [m] When they were not permitted to organize churches, and were forced to pay taxes for the support of Congregationalism, they complained bitterly to their friends in England, and such oppression was listed among the many other misdemeanors, which, at this time, were cited against the former |dutiful colony of Connecticut.|

One of the schemes that Connecticut's enemies sought to carry out, both for their own advancement, and as a proposed punishment for an unruly colony, was a consolidation of the New England provinces under a royal governor. This consolidation was approached when Governor Fletcher of New York was appointed military chief of Connecticut. His attempt, in 1693, to enforce his military authority over Connecticut troops engaged in protecting the northern frontier, resulted in his failure, and in his angry report to the home authorities of Connecticut's insubordination and disloyalty. The colony at great expense sent Major Fitz-John Winthrop to England to answer these charges. He was successful in proving that Connecticut had not exceeded her charter rights in her determination to appoint her own military officers; that, in the wars, she had faithfully contributed her share to the common defense; and moreover, that it was essential that she should have the immediate control of her own troops to quell internal disorder, should it arise, or to repel the sudden approach of an enemy upon her exposed borders. Major Winthrop also succeeded in having the colony's military obligations defined as the furnishing to the common defense of a number of her militia, proportionate to her population and to be under their own officers, and in war time a further draft of a hundred and twenty men to be under the direct control of the governor of New York. Notwithstanding the splendid success of Winthrop's mission, this same charge of insubordination was repeated in a long and later list of grievances against the colony.

The consolidation scheme was revived by the appointment of Governor Bellomont over New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and as military head of Rhode Island and Connecticut; but the governor never tried to enforce his authority in Connecticut. In 1701 and 1706, bills aiming at this proposed consolidation were introduced into Parliament. That of 1701 failed of consideration from |shortness of time and multiplicity of issues.| In 1704 an attempt was made to secure the appointment of a royal governor over Connecticut through an Order in Council, but that body preferred to leave the matter to Parliament, -- hence the bill of 1706 favoring consolidation which failed of passage in the Lords. It failed largely because of the energy and eloquence of Sir Henry Ashurst, the Connecticut agent.

Sir Henry also succeeded in getting a copy of the various charges against the colony, which were thought to justify annulling her charter, and in obtaining a grant of time to submit them to the Connecticut General Court for a reply. The colony found that it was charged with encouraging violations of the Navigation Laws; with holding in contempt the Courts of Admiralty; with failing to furnish troops and to place them under officers of the Crown; with executing capital punishment without any authority in her charter; with encouraging manufactures, contrary to the known wishes of the Crown; with irregular and unjust court proceedings; with treating contumaciously the royal commissioners sent to settle the Mohegan land controversy; with injustice to the Quakers; with forbidding services of the Church of England; and with disallowing appeals to England. These were the more important complaints. In behalf of the colony, Sir Henry appeared before the Privy Council, and in able argument showed that many of the charges were without foundation; that some of the colony's acts which were complained of as unlawful were well within her charter privileges; and that the decisions of her courts, far from being illegal, had, in nearly every case, when brought to the attention of the English government, been approved by it. Further than this, the Connecticut agent obtained a stay in the proceedings of the Mohegan case,[n] though it was soon reopened and seriously menaced the colony until the settlement in her favor in 1743. In the famous Liveen or Hallam case, Connecticut opposed an appeal to the Crown, because such an appeal would give the Privy Council the right to interpret the charter and pass upon the colony laws.[o] Though Sir Henry Ashurst had succeeded in having many of the charges dropped, the danger had been so great to the colony that he privately advised the government to conciliate the Crown by protesting its immediate readiness to fulfill all military obligations, and, as a further proof of loyalty, to repeal at once the old law of 1657 against heretics which Queen Anne had just annulled (October 11, 1705) at the request of the Quakers. The General Court, as we have seen, followed his advice, and repealed the law in so far as it concerned Quakers. But this was not enough to satisfy other dissenters in the colony. The Rev. John Talbot had arrived in England in 1706 to plead in person for an American bishop, and Colonel Heathcote in 1707 wrote with respect to the Episcopalians in Connecticut that it would be absolutely necessary to procure an order from the Queen freeing the Church of England people from the established rates, or they would always be so poor as to be dependent upon the Society for Propagating the Gospel. He further asked the repeal of the law whereby the Connecticut magistrates |refuse liberty of conscience to those of the established (English) church.| Colonel Heathcote adds that it would not be much more than had been granted to the Quakers, and that it |would be of the greatest service to the Church than can at first sight be imagined.|

So great was the importunity of the Connecticut Episcopalians, that, in 1708, Governor Saltonstall wrote to England to disarm their complaints against the colony. It looked as if religious discontent might become a dangerous thing. Royal disfavor certainly would be. It might be better to condone the lack of religious uniformity among a few scattered dissenters, differing among themselves, and to endure it, -- obnoxious as it was, -- than to suffer the loss of the Connecticut charter. Moreover, this tendency to the spread of nonconformity might be controlled by judicious legislation. Furthermore, it would be politic to have upon the colony lawbook some relief for dissenters from its Establishment similar to the English statutes relieving nonconformists there from adherence to the Church of England. Hence the Toleration Act, and, of necessity, the proviso in the act of the following session of the General Court whereby it approved the Saybrook Platform.

The Toleration Act was of no benefit to Rogerine or Quaker, who by their principles were forbidden to take the oath of allegiance that it demanded. It was of little practical advantage to Baptist or Episcopalian, but it was a move in the right direction. According to its terms, dissenters, before the county courts, could qualify for organization into distinct religious bodies by taking the oath of fidelity to the crown, by denying transubstantiation and by declaring their sober dissent from Congregationalism. They could have such liberty, provided that it in no way worked to the detriment of the church established in the colony, -- that is, the law did not exclude any dissenter |from paying any such (established) minister or town dues as are or shall hereafter be due from him.|

At best, such toleration would provide a rigorous test of a dissenter's sincerity. He would have nothing of worldly advantage to gain and much to lose as a |come-outer| from the Establishment. Social prestige would remain almost entirely within the state church. It would be to a man's pecuniary advantage to stay within its fold. Without it, he would be doubly taxed; by the State for the support of Congregationalism, by his conscience to maintain the church it approved. If he lapsed in duty toward his own, he would easily become a marked man among his few co-religionists. If he failed to attend regularly the church of his choice, the ancient law of the colony would hale him before the judge for neglect of public worship, and fine him for the benefit of a form of religion which he viewed with aversion as unscriptural, if not also anti-Christian. In a new and thinly settled country where life was hard and money scarce, this double taxation was of itself almost prohibitive of dissent. And yet this Toleration Act, notwithstanding its meagre terms, and which, considered in the light of the twentieth century, implies one of the worst forms of tyranny, was a measure of undreamed-of and dangerous liberality if looked at from the point of view of the sixteenth century, or even from that of many princes of the eighteenth. The very summer following the passage of this act saw London crowded with refugees from the religious tyranny of the Palatinate, whose Elector was determined to force the people, after over a hundred and thirty years of Protestantism, back to Rome because he was himself a Romanist, and IMPERII RELIGIO RELIGIO POPULI. The Connecticut law-makers had a good deal of faith in this same principle, though they never had resorted, and did not wish to do so, to extreme penalties to secure religious uniformity. The solidarity of the people and the geographical position of the colony had contributed largely to a uniform church life. Far from the usual ports of entry, the early dissenters had for the most part passed her by. But at the beginning of the eighteenth century, watching the signs of the times elsewhere, and aware of the cosmopolitan element creeping into her population, the Connecticut authorities were ready to admit that soon it might be necessary to modify somewhat the old dictum that the religion of the government must be the religion of all its people. England had seen fit to make such modification, and her test of roughly twenty years had shown conclusively that religious toleration and civil disorders were not synonymous, as had formerly been believed. The Connecticut colony had no particular desire to follow in England's steps. If it had, after-history would have associated it in men's minds less with the Puritanical narrowness of New England and more with such tolerance as was shown in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island. Tolerance, Connecticut thought, might work well under a government like that of England, but her leaders were not convinced that it would be altogether wise for their own land. They, therefore, had preferred to postpone as long as they could the possible evil day. Now that toleration could no longer be delayed, they had admitted it most guardedly, and at once had proceeded to strengthen their own church foundations by the establishment of the Saybrook system of ecclesiastical government.

FOOTNOTES:

[a] |For the ease of such as soberly dissent from the way of worship and ministrie established by the ancient laws of this government, and still continuing, that if any such persons shall at the countie court of the countie they belong to, qualifie themselves according to an act made in the first year of the late King William and Queen Mary, granting libertie of worshipping God in a way separate from that which is by law established, they shall enjoy the same libertie and privilege in any place in this colonie without let, or hindrance or molestation whatsoever. Provided always that nothing herein shall be construed to the prejudice of the rights and privileges of the churches as by law established or to the excluding any person from paying any such minister or town dues as are or shall hereafter be due from him.| (The italics are mine. M. L. G.)
Conn. Col. Rec. v, 50.

Failure to comply with the law was punished by a heavy fine, and in default thereof, by heavy bail or by imprisonment until the time for trial.

[b] Later in 1707, Mr. Wightman and Mr. John Bulkley, Congregationalist minister of Colchester, by permission of the authorities, who were troubled by the rumor that the Baptists and Seventh-day Baptists were about to begin proselytizing in earnest in Connecticut, entered into a public debate as to the merits of their respective religious beliefs. Not much came of it to the Congregationalists, who had expected to see Mr. Wightman's arguments annihilated, while the Baptists had a fine opportunity to publish broadcast their views. Such a discussion was steadily forbidden Browne and Barrowe in 1590. A century had developed sufficient toleration to make interesting, as well as permissible, a public discussion of divergent beliefs.

[c] The report to the Commission of Trade and Foreign Plantations made in 1680 gave:

|26 Answ. Our people in this colony are some strict Congregational men, others more large Congregational men, and some moderate Presbyterians, and take the Congregational men of both sorts, they are the greatest part of the people in the colony.

|There are 4 or 5 Seven-day men, in our Colony, and about so many Quakers.

|17 Answ. (1) Great care is taken for the instruction of ye people in ye X'tian religion, by ministers catechising of them and preaching to them twice every Sabbath daye and sometimes on lecture dayes; and so by masters of famalayes instructing and catechising the children and servants being so required by law. In our corporation there are twenty-six towns and twenty-one churches. There is in every town in the colony a settled minister except in two towns newly begun.| -- This was equivalent to one minister to 460 persons, or to about 90 families. -- Conn. Col. Rec. iii, 300. Trumbull's Hist. of Conn. i, 397.

[d] Humphrey Norton in the New Haven colony was whipped severely, burnt in the hand with the letter |H| for heretic, and banished for being a Quaker. The next year, for testifying against the treatment of Norton, William Bond, Mary Dyer, and Mary Whetherstead were apprehended by the same authorities, and forcibly carried back to Rhode Island. -- H. Rogers, Mary Dyer, p.36. For the Quaker Laws of both colonies see Note 69.

[e] The notorious William Ledra of later Massachusetts fame was one of these.

[f] This year a law was passed requiring every person to carefully apply himself on the Lord's day to the duties of religion. See New Haven Hist. Soc. Papers, ii, 399.

[g] |Articles of Misdemeanor vs. Connecticut, July, 1665. |They deny to the inhabitants the exercise of the religion of the church of England; arbitrarily fining those who refuse to come to their congregational assemblies.|

Law Book of Conn, printed 1670. |It is ordered that when the ministry of the word is established according to the Gospel, throughout this Colony, every person shall duly resort and attend thereunto respectively upon the Lord's day, upon public fast days and days of thanksgiving as are generally kept by appointment of authority; and any person ... without necessary cause, withdrawing himself from the public ministry of the word, he shall forfeit for his absence from every such meeting five shillings.| -- Conn. Col. Rec. iii, 294.

[h] They reported that the colony would |not hinder any from enjoying the sacraments and using the common prayer book, provided that they hinder not the maintenance of the public minister.| -- Hutchinson, Hist, of Mass., p.412.

Dr. Beardsley suggests that influential citizens may have assured them that the laws would be modified to accommodate
Episcopalians. -- E. E. Beardsley, Hist. of the Episcopal Church, i, p.116.

[i] Population in 1656, 800; 1665, 9000; 1670-80, 10,000-14,000; 1689, 17,000-20,000; 1730, approximately, 50,000; 1756, 130,000; 1761, 145,000; 1776, 200,000; 1780, 237,946 -- F. B. Dexter, Estimates of the Population of the American Colonies, in American Antiquarian Society Proceedings, 2d series, vol.5.

[j] Up to 1680, there was only one Episcopal clergyman in New England, Father Jordan, of Portsmouth, N. H. There was an Episcopal clergyman at the fort in New York, and outside of Virginia and Maryland only two others in North America. There were a few Episcopal families in Stratford in 1690.

[k] Or |Propagation,| -- as it is most frequently called.

[l] Mr. Muirson's report after his first visit to Stratford was that he had had |a very numerous congregation both forenoon and afternoon.| He continues, |I baptized about twenty-four persons the same day.... |The Independents threatened me and all who were instrumental in bringing me thither, with prison and hard usage. They are very much incensed to see the Church (Rome's sister, as they ignorantly call her) is likely to gain ground among 'em, and use all stratagem they can invent to defeat my enterprise,| -- Church Doc. Conn., i, p.17.

Colonel Heathcote wrote, |The Ministers are very uneasy at our coming amongst them, and abundance of pains were taken to persuade and terrify the people from hearing Mr. Muirson, but it availed nothing;| -- not even the threat to jail the rector for holding services contrary to the colony law which the magistrates had read to him at his lodgings. -- Church Doc. Conn., i, p.20.

[m] |We received no persecution than that of the tongue until December, 1709.| -- Ibid., i, p.42.

[n] The Mohegan Indians had sold certain lands to the colony in 1659, Major John Mason acting as agent. These lands had been conveyed to English proprietors. John Mason, the major's grandson, representing his own and other interests, pretended that both his grandfather and the Indians had been overreached and wronged by the colony in the transaction; that the colony had taken more land than agreed upon from the Indians, and had also seized some that belonged by private purchase to the Mason heirs. For the sake of peace and the credit of magnanimity, the government offered to the chief, Owaneco, who represented the Indians, to pay them again for the land, but Mason and his party resolved to prevent such a settlement. One of them went to England with a false report of extortion practiced upon the savages, and a commission was sent out to investigate. Connecticut was willing to answer the commissioners if they sought facts for a report, but when they assumed the right to decide the question judicially, the colony could only protest against their pretensions. The commissioners adjudged the land in dispute to the Indians and the Mason party, and charged the colony nearly L600 and costs. The colony appealed to the Crown and won the case in 1743; but it was again appealed by Mason, and in this fashion dragged along until after the Revolution, when the Indians were content to accept the reservation allotted by the State to them. -- C. W. Bowen, Boundary Disputes, pp.25-27.

[o] John Liveen of New London in 1689 left property to the |ministry of the town.| Major Fitz-John Winthrop and his brother-in-law Edward Palmes were executors. Major Winthrop was absent with the army on the northern frontier, but made no objection to the probating of the will at a special court in New London in 1689. This probating Major Palmes, a former friend of Andros, declared void, since Andros had ruled that all wills should be probated at Boston. Upon special application of Mrs. Liveen, in 1690, the county court probated a copy of the will, since Palmes held the original. To this probating the latter also objected on the ground that, though the court had been again legalized, the |ministry| referred to must be that recognized by the English law and not the Congregational ministry of the town, -- the only one then existing. The colonial courts decided against him, and John and Nicholas Hallam, the widow's sons by a former marriage, virtually accepted the terms of the will and the court's decision by being parties to the sale of a portion of the Liveen estate, the ship |Liveen.| The estate could not be wholly settled; so the town continued to receive a regular dividend until after the widow's death in 1698. Then the sons attempted to contest the will. The Court of Assistants confirmed the proceedings of the lower courts. Not satisfied with this decision, Nicholas Hallam went to England in 1700-1702, and was allowed to plead his case before the Privy Council. Sir Henry Ashurst held that the charter gave the right of final decision, but the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations thought otherwise, and it looked as if Hallam was to win his case, when he was ordered to return to America and, because of technicalities, to retake all the testimony. In 1704, because of his acknowledged signature in the sale of the |Liveen,| the suit was decided in favor of the colony. -- F. M. Caulkins, Hist. of New London, pp.222-228.

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