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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VIII THE FIRST VICTORY FOR DISSENT

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

CHAPTER VIII THE FIRST VICTORY FOR DISSENT

Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God; for I am the Lord your God. -- Leviticus, xxv, 17.

The dissenters found the terms of the Toleration Act too narrow; the conditions under which they could enjoy their own church life too onerous. Consequently, they almost immediately began to agitate for a larger measure of liberty, and persisted in their demands for almost twenty years before obtaining any decided success.

Foremost among the dissenters pressing for greater liberty, for exemption from taxes for the benefit of Congregational worship, and for the same privileges in the support of their own churches as the members of the Connecticut Establishment enjoyed, were the Episcopalians. The year following the passage of the Toleration Act witnessed the first persecution of these people beyond that of tongue and pen. Fines and imprisonments began in earnest and were continued, more or less frequently, for many years. Even as late as 1748, the Episcopalians of Reading were fined for reading the Prayer-book and for working on public fast-days. Still later, in 1762, there was occasional oppression, as in the case of the New Milford Episcopalians. They desired to build a church, but had to wait for the county court to approve the site chosen. The court was averse to the building of the church, and accordingly was a long time in complying with this technicality. Meanwhile, the Episcopalians could not build, neither would they attend Congregational worship, and the magistrates, refusing to recognize the services held in private houses, fined them for absence from public worship. This treatment was abandoned as soon as it became known that the rector had counseled his people to submit, as he intended to send a copy of the court's proceedings to England to be passed upon as to their legality. It was such petty, yet costly, persecution as this that became frequent after 1709, and from which the Episcopalians were determined to escape.

These Church-of-England men were increasing in numbers in the colony, and, at the passage of the Toleration Act, were quite hopeful that the Rev. John Talbot's mission to England to secure a bishop for America would prove successful. Although he was not successful in obtaining the episcopate, his mission received so much encouragement from those in high places that, upon Talbot's return, a home for the prospective bishop was purchased, in 1712, in Burlington, New Jersey. It was known that Queen Anne was much interested in the proposed bishopric, and letters were exchanged between the leaders of the movement in England and the prominent Independent clergymen in the colonies, in order to sound the state of public opinion. A bill for the American expansion of the Church of England, as a branch to be severed from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and to be planted in the colonies under a bishop with full ecclesiastical powers, was prepared and was ready for presentation in Parliament when the Queen's death, August 1, 1714, caused its withdrawal, and felled the hopes of Churchmen. George I had too many temporal affairs to occupy his mind to burden himself with the intricate rights, powers, and privileges of a new episcopate, sought by a few colonials scattered through the American wilderness; -- too many vexatious secular affairs in the colonies, and too heavy war-clouds darkening his European horizon. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in 1715, made one futile attempt to interest the king, and then gave up any hope of the immediate appointment of an American bishop.

In the Connecticut colony, the Episcopalians had so increased that, in 1718, there was in Stratford a church of one hundred baptized persons, thirty-six communicants, and a congregation that frequently numbered between two and three hundred people. They were ministered to by traveling missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. When these Stratford people appealed to the Society for a settled minister, they complained that |there is not any government in America but has our settled Church and minister, but this of Connecticut.| Still all the Society could then do was to send a missionary priest, and to keep alive in England, among the powerful Church party there, so keen an interest that it would seize upon the first opportunity to use its great influence and to compel the English government to force the Connecticut authorities to comply with the demands of the colonial Churchmen for the unrestricted enjoyment of their religion. Such an interest was kept up by the regular, full reports which the Society required of all its missionaries. And these reports, be it remembered, were expected to contain news of any kind, and of everything that happened in the colony of Connecticut, or elsewhere, that could possibly be turned to advantage in influencing the home authorities, in pushing the interests of the English Establishment in America, and in strengthening its membership there. Although, after the death of Queen Anne, the king's indifference checked the movement for the American episcopate, its friends did not abandon it, and a persistent effort for its success was soon begun. One of its prime movers was the Rev. George Pigott, missionary to Stratford, Connecticut, in 1722.

Under Mr. Pigott, the Church of England in Connecticut made a most encouraging and important gain, when, in 1722, Timothy Cutler, Rector of Yale College, and six of his associates proclaimed their dissatisfaction with Congregationalism, or, as they termed it, |the Presbyterianism| of the Connecticut established church. They asserted that |some of us doubt the validity, and the rest are more fully persuaded of the invalidity of the Presbyterian ordination in opposition to the Episcopal.|

Three of these men remained in |doubt,| and continued within the Congregational church.[a] Four of them, Rector Timothy Cutler, Tutor Daniel Brown, Rev. James Wetmore of North Haven, and Rev. Samuel Johnson of West Haven, went to England to receive Episcopal ordination.[b] The story of their conversion is to Churchmen an illustration of the scriptural command, |Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return to you after many days.| The Connecticut authorities had chosen the Rev. Timothy Cutler because of his eloquence, and had sent him to Stratford to counteract the early successes of the Church-of-England missionary priests, who were at work among the people there. Later, in 1719, Cutler, because of his abilities, was chosen President, or Rector, of Yale, as, in the early days, the head of the college was called. The seeds of doubt had entered his mind during his Stratford pastorate. He and his associates found many books in the college library that, instead of lessening, increased their doubts. After presiding for three years over the greatest institution of learning in the colony, which had for its object the preparation of men for service in civil office and, even more in those days, for service in religion, Rector Cutler, together with his associates, announced their change of faith. The colony was taken by storm, and there spread throughout its length and breadth, and throughout New England also, a great fear that Episcopacy had made a coup d'etat and was shortly to become the established church of her colonies as well as of England herself. Naturally, among the colonial Churchmen, it excited the largest hope |of a glorious revolution among the ecclesiastics of the country, because the most distinguished gentlemen among them are resolutely bent to promote her (the Church's) welfare and embrace her baptism and discipline, and if the leaders fall in there is no doubt to be made of the people.|

These hopes were in a degree confirmed by the conversion of one or two more ministers, and by the Yale men that the classes of 1723, 1724, 1726, 1729, and 1733 gave to Episcopacy. By the impetus of these conversions, within a generation, |the Episcopal Church under a native born minister had penetrated every town, had effected lodgment in every Puritan stronghold, and had drawn into her membership large numbers of that sober-minded, self-contained, tenacious people who constitute the membership of New England to-day.| After the conversions of 1722, the movement for the apostolic episcopate in America became more determined, and never wholly ceased until the consecration of Samuel Seabury as bishop of Connecticut in 1784.

A decided change took place in Connecticut's policy upon the death of Governor Saltonstall in 1724, and under his successor in office, former Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Talcott. The new governor was a Hartford man, more liberal in his ecclesiastical opinions and opposed to severe measures against dissenters. Hardly had Governor Talcott taken office when Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London, wrote him, urging in behalf of the Episcopalians a remittance of ecclesiastical taxes. |If I ask anything,| wrote the Bishop, |inconsistent with the laws of the country, I beg pardon; but if not, I hope my request for favors for the Church of England will not appear unreasonable.| The Bishop accompanied his letter with a paper, a copy of a circular letter to the different colonial governors, in which, among other matters relating to his clergy, he professed his readiness to discipline them if necessary |in order to contribute to the peace and honor of the government.| This proposal was due, in part, to the scandalous reputation in New England which the southern settled clergy bore. Because of this reputation, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had from the first made a special point of the morals of their missionary priests. Indeed, these priests, themselves, had warned the Society that, if it expected any returns from its missions in New England, it would have to take great pains to send out a superior class of men. Governor Talcott replied to Bishop Gibson, under date of December 1, 1725,[c] |that there is but one Church of England minister in this colony, [d] and the church with him have the same protection as the rest of our Churches and are under no constraint to contribute to the support of any other minister.| After reflecting upon the number and character of the few persons in another town or two |who claim exemption from rates,| Governor Talcott quotes the colony law for the support of the ministry in every town, and adds that, upon the death of an incumbent, the townspeople |are quickly supplied by persons of our own communion, educated in our public schools of Learning; which through divine blessing afforded us, we have sufficiency of those who are both learned and exemplary in their lives.| This was a polite way of informing the bishop that Connecticut preferred to do without his missionaries. It was one thing for the tolerant governor to grant exemption from Congregational taxes in the case of an influential church like that of Stratford, and quite another to extend the same toleration to every scattered handful of people who might claim to be members of the Church of England, and who might welcome the coming of her missionary priests.

The Episcopalians, however, were not content to rest their privileges upon their numerical power in each little town, or upon the personal favor of the magistrates. They therefore continued their agitation for exemption from support of Congregationalism and from fines for neglecting its public worship. Under the lead of the wardens and vestry of Fairfield, they obtained favor with the General Court in 1727,[e] when an act was passed, |providing how taxes levied upon members of the Church of England for the support of the Gospel should be disposed of,| and exempting said members from paying any taxes |for the building of meeting houses for the present established Churches of this government.| The law further declared that if within the parish bounds --

there be a Society of y'e Church of England, where there is a person in orders, according to y'e Canons of y'e Church of England, settled and abiding among them and performing divine service so near to any person that hath declared himself of y'e Church of England, that he can conveniently and doth attend y'e public worship there, then the collectors, having first indifferently levied y'e tax, as aforesaid, shall deliver y'e taxes collected of such persons declaring themselves, and attending as aforesaid, unto y'e minister of y'e Church of England, living near unto such persons; which minister shall have power to receive and recover y'e same, in order to his support in y'e place assigned to him.

But if such proportion of any taxes be not sufficient in any Society of y'e Church of England to support y'e incumbent there, then such Society may levy and collect of them who profess and attend as aforesaid, greater taxes, at their own discretion, to y'e support of their ministers.

And the parishoners of y'e Church of England, attending as aforesaid, are hereby excused from paying any taxes for y'e building meeting houses for y'e present Established Churches of this government.

After the passing of this law, the magistrates contented themselves with occasional unfair treatment of the weaker churches. They sometimes haggled over the interpretation of the terms |near| and |conveniently| as found in the law. They objected to the appointment of one missionary to several stations or towns. They also did not always enforce upon the Presbyterian collectors strict accuracy in making out their lists, and when the Episcopalians sought redress for unreturned taxes or unjust fines, they found their lawsuits blocked in the courts. The magistrates, also, showed almost exclusive preference for Congregationalists as bondsmen for strangers settling in the towns, while the courts continued to frequently refuse or to delay the approval of sites chosen for the erection of Episcopal churches.

Finally, there was a certain amount of political and social ostracism directed against Churchmen. A notable attempt to defraud the Episcopalians of a due share of the school money, derived from the sale of public lands and from the emission of public bills, was defeated in 1738 by a spirited protest, setting forth the illegality of the proceeding, the probable indignation of the King at such treatment of his good subjects and brethren in the faith, and by pointing to the fact, as recently shown by a test case in Massachusetts, that the Connecticut Establishment itself could not exist without the special consent of the King. The petition was signed by six hundred and thirty-six male inhabitants of the colony. They asserted in their protest that they had a share in equity derived from the charter; that they bore their share of the expenses of the government; and that the teaching of the Church of England made just as good citizens as did that of the Presbyterian Church. The public lands, from the sale of which the school money was derived, were those along the Housatonic river. The money was appropriated according to a law enacted in 1732 which distributed it among the older towns as a reward for good schools. But, in 1738, the legislature passed a bill by which a majority vote of the town or parish could divert the money to the support of |the gospel ministry as by law in the colony established.| Naturally this new law operated against all dissenters, who, equally anxious with the Congregationalists to have good schools, were an ignored minority whenever the latter chose to vote the money to the support of their church. As a result of this spirited protest of the Episcopalians, the enactment of 1738 was repealed two years later |because of misunderstanding.| Notwithstanding such hardships as the Episcopalians suffered in Connecticut, their own writers declare that, at this period of colonial history, the Churchmen in Connecticut had less to complain of than their co-religionists in New York and in the southern colonies.

While the Episcopalians were agitating for a larger liberty than that granted by the Toleration Act, the other dissenters, Rogerines, Quakers, and Baptists, were not idle.

The efforts of the Rogerines were marked more by violence than by success. They had become less fanatic, and persecution had died away during the first ten years following the passage of the Toleration Act. All might have gone smoothly had they not suddenly stirred Governor Saltonstall to renewed dislike, the magistrates to fresh alarm, and the people to great contempt and indignation. This they accomplished by a sort of mortuary tribute to their leader, John Rogers, who died in 1721. This tribute took the form of renewed zeal, and was marked by a revival of some of their most obnoxious practices. The Rogerines determined to break up the observance of the Puritan Sabbath. Immediately, an |Act for the Better Detecting and more effectual Punishment of Prophaneness and Immorality| was passed. It was especially directed against the Rogerines. Its most striking characteristic was that it changed the policy of the government from the time-honored Anglo-Saxon theory that every man is innocent until proved guilty, to the doctrine that a man, accused, must be guilty until proved innocent. In so oft-recurring a charge as that of being absent from public worship, it became lawful to exact fines unless the accused could prove before a magistrate that he had been present. But this first act did not dampen sufficiently the renewed zeal of the Rogerines, and for two years there was a continuance of sharp legislation to reduce their disorderliness. They were fined five shillings for leaving their houses on Sunday unless to attend the orthodox worship, and twenty shillings for gathering in meeting-houses without the consent of the ministers. They were given a month, or less, in the house of correction, and at their own expense for board, for each offense of unruly or noisy behavior on Sunday near any meeting-house; for unlawful travel or behavior on that day; and for refusal to pay fines assessed for breaking any of the colony's ecclesiastical laws. These laws were enforced one Sunday in 1725 against a company of Rogerines who were going quietly on their way through Norwich to attend services in Lebanon. The outburst of religious fervor spent itself in two or three years. Governor Talcott did not believe in strong repressive measures, and it was soon conceded that the ignoring of their eccentricities, if kept within reasonable bounds, was the most efficient way to discourage the Rogerines. Summarizing the influence of this sect, we find that they contributed nothing definite to the slow development of religious toleration in Connecticut. If anything, their fanaticism hindered its growth, and they gained little for themselves and nothing for the cause. As the years went on and their little sect were permitted to indulge their peculiar notions, and the props of the State were not weakened nor the purity of religion vitally assailed, the Rogerines contributed their mite towards convincing mankind, and the Connecticut people in particular, that brethren of different creeds and religious practices might live together in security and harmony without danger to the civil peace.

During the seventeen years that Governor Talcott held office, 1724-41, the life of the colony was marked by its notable expansion through the settlement of new towns, [f] and by the dexterity with which its foreign affairs -- its relations to England and its boundary disputes with its neighbors -- were conducted. The last dragged on for years, calling for several expensive commissions and causing much confusion. The Massachusetts line was determined in 1713; that of Rhode Island in 1728; and that of New York in 1735. Connecticut, in all these cases, had to be wary lest the attempts to settle these disputed claims should weary, antagonize, or anger the King. Many of the old charges were renewed, and Connecticut was no longer regarded as a |dutiful| colony, but rather as one altogether too independent, from whom it might be wise to wrest her charter, subjecting her to a royal governor. As early as 1715, her colonial agent had been advised to procure a peaceable surrender of the charter. To this proposal, Governor Saltonstall had returned a courteous and dignified refusal. But the danger was always cropping up. Governor Talcott's English official correspondence is full of details concerning Connecticut's increasing anxiety concerning the attitude and the decisions of the home government; over the dangers consequent to her institutions or to her charter. It was repeatedly suggested that that charter should be surrendered, modified in favor of the King's supervision, or annulled. In the Governor's letters, one follows the intricacies of the boundary disputes, of the complicated Mohegan case, and sounds the dangers to the colony from the disposition and decisions of the Crown.

One case in particular demands a passing consideration because of its far-reaching effects, and because it paralleled in time the legislation in the colony which broadened the Toleration Act. This was the famous case of John Winthrop against his brother-in-law, Thomas Lechmere, to recover real estate left by the elder Winthrop to his son and daughter. The suit brought up the whole question of land entail in Connecticut, and, with it, the possibility of an economic and social revolution in the colony which would have been the death-blow to its prosperity. Winthrop, by appealing the case to England, brought Connecticut into still greater disfavor, and risked the loss of the charter, together with many special privileges in religion and politics which the colony enjoyed through a liberal interpretation of that instrument. In the course of the suit, the constitutional relations of Crown and colony had to be threshed out.

John Winthrop's father died in 1717, when, according to Connecticut, but not English, law of primogeniture, Winthrop received as eldest son a double portion of his father's real estate, and his sister, Thomas Lechmere's wife, the rest. Winthrop's brother-in-law was not a man wholly to be trusted to deal justly with his wife's property; but this, in itself, was a very small factor in the suit. Winthrop was at variance with the Connecticut authorities, and was dissatisfied with his share both of his father's property and of his uncle's, whose heir he was. No matter how much his own personal interests might endanger the colony, Winthrop resolved to have all the property due him as eldest son and heir under English law. He appealed his case to England, taking it directly from the local probate court, and ignoring the Court of Assistants, where he might have obtained some redress. Moreover, to influence the decision in his favor he included in his list of grievances many of the old offenses charged against Connecticut. He did this, even while acknowledging that the colonial Intestate Act, framed in 1699, was but the embodiment of custom that had existed from the beginning of the colony. While this case dragged on, it was again intimated to Connecticut that the surrender of her charter, or at least the substitution of an explanatory charter, might be an acceptable price for the royal confirmation of her Intestate Law. Finally, Winthrop went to England, and was given a private hearing, at which no representative of the colony was present. As a result of this hearing, an order in Council was issued February 15, 1728, annulling the Connecticut Intestate Act as contrary to the laws of England and as exceeding charter rights. Moreover, the colonial authorities were ordered to measure off the lands, claimed by Winthrop, and to restore them to him.

Of course, it would take some time to obey the order. Meanwhile, if this restitution were made, if the decision were submitted to, it would invalidate so many land titles as to threaten the very existence of Connecticut's economic structure. The colony sought the best legal talent obtainable. For seventeen years Connecticut continued this expensive lawsuit, urging always her willingness to comply in the case of Winthrop, if only the decision be made a special one and not a precedent, -- if only an order in Council, or an act of Parliament, would reinstate the Connecticut Intestate Law. Her agents in England were instructed to demonstrate how well the colonial division of property had worked, and that under the English division, where all real estate went to the eldest son, if it were practiced in a new and heavily wooded country, whose chief wealth was agriculture, the rental of lands would yield income barely sufficient to pay taxes and repair fences, and there could be no dowry for the daughters. A still further result would be, that the younger sons would be driven into manufacturing or forced to emigrate. In each case the Crown would suffer, either by the loss of a colonial market for its manufactured products, or by an impoverished colony, incapable of making satisfactory returns to the royal treasury. Moreover, in the case of emigration, when Connecticut, lacking men to plow her fields, could no longer produce the foodstuffs the surplus of which she sold to the |trading parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island| to supply the fisheries, the Crown would feel still another baneful effect from its attempt to enforce the English law of entail. Again, there was another aspect from which to view the annulment of the Connecticut Intestate Law. Its annulment would render worthless many past and present land-titles. Creditors who had accepted land for debt would suffer. Titles to lands, held by towns, as well as individuals, would become subject to litigation; the whole colony would be plunged into lawsuits, and its economic framework would be rent in pieces. The Intestate Law was in accordance with custom throughout New England. When in 1737 a similar statute in Massachusetts was sustained by the King in Council in the appeal of Phillips vs. Savage, Connecticut, notwithstanding the renewed and repeated suggestions to give up her charter, took courage to continue the contest.

During these years the question of the constitutional relation of colony and Crown was frequently raised, and Connecticut was called upon to show that her laws were not contrary to the laws of England. She had to prove that they were not contrary to the common law of England; nor to the statute law, existing at the founding of the colony; nor to those acts of Parliament that had been expressly extended to the colony. This was the most commonly held of the three interpretations of |not contrary to the laws of England.| The most restricted interpretation was that all colonial laws higher than by-laws, and |which even within that term touched upon matters already provided for by English common or statute law, were illegal| or |contrary.| Under this interpretation, |the colonies were as towns upon the royal demesne.| Connecticut herself held to a third construction, maintaining that, as her own charter nowhere stipulated that her administration should accord with the civil, common, or statute law of England, she, at least, among the colonies was free to frame her own laws according to her own needs and desires. Holding to this opinion, which had never been corrected by the Crown, Connecticut maintained that |contrary to the laws of England| was limited in its intent to contrary to those laws expressly designed by Parliament to extend to the plantations. Moreover, Connecticut insisted that the colonies were not to be compared to English towns, because, unlike the towns, they had no representation in Parliament. The Connecticut Intestate Act was opposed to the English law according to the first two interpretations, but not according to the third. Further, the Connecticut authorities felt that if the conditions which had given rise to the law were fully realized in England, the apparent insubordination of the colony would disappear in the light of the real equity of the colonial statute. In Governor Talcott's letter, dated November 3, 1729, under |The Case of Connecticut Stated,| there is a summary of the reasons why the colony hesitated to appeal directly to Parliament for a confirmation of the Intestate Act. She was afraid of exciting still greater disfavor by seeming to ask privileges in addition to those already conferred upon her in her very liberal charter. She was afraid of courting inquiry in regard to her ecclesiastical laws, her laws relating to the collegiate school, and also sundry civil laws. The colony feared that the result of such an investigation would be that she would thereafter be rated, not as a government or province, but as a corporation with a charter permitting only the enactment of by-laws. Moreover, she dreaded to be ranked with |rebellious Massachusetts,| and thus further expose herself to a probable loss of her charter.

After contesting the decision against her for many years, at last in 1746 she virtually won her case through a decision given in England in the suit of Clarke vs. Tousey, -- a suit which had been appealed from the colony, and which presented much the same claim as Winthrop's. The decision in favor of Clarke was equivalent to a recognition of Connecticut's Intestacy Law. It has been pointed out that, important as the Winthrop controversy was from the economic standpoint, it was equally important as fore-shadowing the legislation of the English government some thirty years later, and as defining the relation of colony and Crown. Moreover, in 1765, as in 1730, |economic causes and conditions,| writes Professor Andrews in his discussion of the Connecticut Intestacy Law, |drove the colonists into opposition to England quite as much as did theories of political independence, or of so-called self-evident rights of man.|

It was during the continuance of this troublesome Winthrop suit, while boundary lines were still unsettled, while as yet the Mohegan titles remained in dispute, while the most grievous charge of encouraging home manufactures, and many other complaints were brought against Connecticut, -- it was in the midst of her perplexities and conflicting interests that the dissenters within her borders sought greater religious liberty. They sought it, not only through their own local efforts, but through the strength of their friends in England, who brought all their influence to bear upon the home government. With such help Episcopalians had won exemption in 1727, and within two years Quakers and Baptists were accorded similar freedom.

Connecticut Quakers, though few in numbers, were very determined to have their rights. From 1706, the Newport Yearly Meeting had encouraged the collecting and recording of all cases of |sufferance.| In 1714, at the close of Queen Anne's War (1702-13), the Newport Yearly Meeting reported to that of London that |there is much suffering on account of the Indians at the Eastward, yet not one (of ours) had fallen during the last year, Travelling preachers having frequently visited those parts without the least harm.... Friends in several places have suffered deeply on account of not paying presbyterian priests, and for the Refusing to bear Armes, an Account of which we Doe herewith Send.| In 1715, the English law had granted them the perpetual privilege of substituting affirmation for oath. The Quakers were determined to have the same freedom in the colonies as in England. Accordingly, they watched with interest the test case between the Quaker constables of Duxbury and Tiverton, -- both, then, under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, -- and the authorities of that colony. Fines and persecutions were so much alike in Connecticut and Massachusetts that a dissenter's victory in one colony would go far towards obtaining exemption in the other. The Quaker constables had refused to collect the church rate, and for this refusal were thrown into prison. Thereupon a petition, with many citations from the colony law books, was sent to England, begging that the prisoners be released and excused from their fines, and that such unjust laws be annulled. The Privy Council ordered the prisoners released and their fine remitted. This decision was rendered in 1724, and, with the success of the Episcopalians three years later, still further encouraged both Quakers and Baptists to seek relief from ecclesiastical taxes and fines. Two years later, in May, 1729, the Quakers appealed to the Connecticut Court for such exemption, and were released from contributing to the support of the established ministry and from paying any tax levied for building its meeting-houses, provided they could show a certificate from some society of their own (either within the colony or without it, if so near its borders that they could regularly attend its services) vouching for their support of its worship and their presence at its regular meetings.

Turning to the Baptists, the oppressive measures employed to make them violate their conscience ceased on the inauguration of Governor Talcott in 1724. Thereafter, those among them who conformed to the requirements of the Toleration Act received some measure of freedom. To the neighborly interest of the Association of Baptist Churches of North Kingston, Rhode Island, and to the influence of leading Baptists in that colony, including among them its governor (who subjoined a personal note to the Association's appeal to the Connecticut General Court), was due the favor of the Court extended in October, 1729, to the Baptists, whereby they were granted exemption upon the same terms as those offered the Quakers.

Thus in barely twenty years from the passage of the Toleration Act, Episcopalian, Quaker, and Baptist had driven the thin edge of a destroying wedge into the foundations of the Connecticut Establishment. Each dissenting body was pitifully small in absolute strength, and they had no inclination toward united action. Quakers and Baptists were required to show certificates, a requirement soon to be considered in itself humiliating. The new laws were negative, in that they empowered the assessor to omit to tax those entitled to exemption, but they provided no penalty to be enforced against assessors who failed to make such omission. Indeed, in individual cases, the laws might seem to be scarcely more than an admission of the right to exemption. However, it was an admission that a century's progress had brought the knowledge that brethren of different religious opinions could dwell together in peace. It was an exemption by which the government admitted, as well as claimed, the right of choice in religious worship. It was a far cry to the acknowledgment that a man was free to think his own thoughts and follow his own convictions, provided they did not interfere with the rights of other men. The new laws were a concession by a strongly intrenched church to the natural rights of weaker ones, whose title to permanency it greatly doubted. They were a concession by a government whose best members felt it to be the State's moral and religious obligation to support one form of religion and to protect it at the cost, if necessary, of all other forms, -- a concession, by such a government, to a very small minority of its subjects, holding the same appreciation of their religious duty as that which had nerved the founders of the colony. It was a concession by the community to a very few among their number, who were divergent in church polity and practice, but who were united in a Protestant creed and in the conviction, held then by every respectable citizen, that every man should be made to attend and support some accepted and organized form of Christian worship.

FOOTNOTES:

[a] The Rev. John Hart of East Guilford, Samuel Whittlesey of Wallingford, and Jared Ellis of Killingworth. These men were always friendly to the Churchmen.

[b] The Rev. Daniel Brown died in England. In the next forty years, one tenth of those who crossed the sea for ordination perished from dangers incident to the trip.

[c] This year the home influence of the Church of England had been brought to bear with sufficient pressure to forbid the calling of a general synod of the New England churches which had been desired, and towards which Massachusetts had taken the initial step. See A. L. Cross, Anglican Episcopate, pp.67-70.

[d] Stratford.

[e] This same year, George I granted to Bishop Gibson a patent confirming the jurisdiction which, as Bishop of London, he claimed over the Church of England in the colonies. George II renewed the patent in 1728-29.

[f] Between 1700 and 1741 more than thirty new towns were organized, making twice as many as in 1700.

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