Henry VIII. of England was born and died a Catholic; though of religion of any kind he never betrayed an inkling. His Act of Supremacy, in 1534, which set his will above that of the Pope of Rome, had no religious bearing, but merely indicated that he wanted to divorce one woman in order to marry another. Nevertheless it made it incumbent upon the Pope to excommunicate him, and thus placed him, and England as represented by him, in a quasi-dissenting attitude toward the orthodox faith. And coming as it did so soon after Luther's outbreak, it may have encouraged Englishmen to think on lines of liberal belief.
Passionate times followed in religious—or rather in theological—matters, all through the Sixteenth Century. The fulminations of Luther and the logic of Calvin set England to discussing and taking sides; and when Edward VI. came to the throne, he was himself a Protestant, or indeed a Puritan, and the stimulus of Puritanism in others. But the mass of the common people were still unmoved, because there was no means of getting at them, and they had no stomach for dialectics, if there had been. The new ideas would probably have made little headway had not Edward died and Mary the Catholic come red-hot with zeal into his place. She lost no time in catching and burning all dissenters, real or suspected; and as many of these were honest persons who lived among the people, and were known and approved by them, and as they uniformly endured their martyrdom with admirable fortitude and good-humor, falling asleep in the crackling flames like babes at the mother's breast, Puritanism received an advertisement such as nothing since Christianity had enjoyed before, and which all the unaided Luthers, Melanchthons and Calvins in the world could not have given it.
This lasted five years, after which Mary went to her reward, and Elizabeth came to her inheritance. She was no more of a religion-monger than her distinguished father had been; but she was, like him, jealous of her authority, and a martinet for order and obedience at all costs. A certain intellectual voluptuousness of nature and an artistic instinct inclined her to the splendid forms and ceremonies of the Catholic ritual; but she was too good a politician not to understand that a large part of her subjects were unalterably opposed to the papacy. After some consideration, therefore, she adopted the expedient of a compromise, the substance of which was that whatever was handsome and attractive in Catholicism was to be retained, and only those technical points dropped which made the Pope the despot of the Church. In ordinary times this would have answered very well; human nature likes to eat its cake and have it too; but this time was anything but ordinary. The reaction from old to new ways of thinking, and the unforgotten persecutions of Mary, had made men very fond of their opinions, and preternaturally unwilling to enter into bargains with their consciences. At the same time loyalty to the Crown was still a fetich in England, as indeed it always has been, except at and about the time when Oliver Cromwell and others cut off the head of the First Charles. Consequently when Elizabeth and Whitgift, her Archbishop of Canterbury, set about putting their house in order in earnest, they were met with a mixture of humble loyalty and immovable resistance which would have perplexed any potentates less single-minded. But Elizabeth and Whitgift were not of the sort that sets its hand to the plow and then turns back; they went earnestly on with their banishments and executions, paying particular attention to the Separatists, but keeping plenty in hand for the Puritans also.—The Separatists, it may be observed, were so called because their aim was to dispart themselves entirely from the orthodox communion; the Puritans were willing to remain in the fold, but had it in mind to purify it, by degrees, from the defilement which they held it to have contracted. The former would not in the least particular make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, or condone the sins of the Scarlet Woman, or of anybody else; they would not inhale foul air, with a view to sending it forth again disinfected by the fragrance of their own lungs. They took their stand unequivocally upon the plain letter of Scripture, and did away with all that leaned toward conciliating the lighter sentiments and emotions; they would have no genuflexions, no altars, no forms and ceremonies, no priestly vestments, no Apostolic Succession, no priests, no confessions, no intermediation of any kind between the individual and his Creator. The people themselves should make and unmake their own "ministers," and in all ways live as close to the bone as they could. The Puritans were not opposed to any of these beliefs; only they were not so set upon proclaiming and acting upon them in season and out of season; they contended that the idolatry of ritual, since it had been several centuries growing up, should be allowed an appreciable time to disappear. It will easily be understood that, at the bottom of these religious innovations and inflammations, was a simple movement toward greater human freedom in all directions, including the political. It mattered little to the zealots on either side whether or not the secret life of a man was morally correct; he must think in a certain prescribed way, on pain of being held damnable, and, if occasion served, of being sent to the other world before he had opportunity to further confirm his damnation. The dissenters, when they got in motion, were just as intolerant and bigoted as the conformists; and toward none was this intolerance more strongly manifested than toward such as were in the main, but not altogether, of their way of thinking. The Quakers and the Independents had almost as hard an experience in New England, at the hands of the Puritans, as the latter had endured from good Queen Bess and her henchmen a few years before. But really, religion, in the absolute sense, had very little to do with these movements and conflicts; the impulse was supposed to be religion because religion dwells in the most interior region of a man's soul. But the craving for freedom also proceeds from an interior place; and so does the lust for tyranny. Propinquity was mistaken for identity, and anything which was felt but could not be reasoned about assumed a religious aspect to the subject of it, and all the artillery of Heaven and Hell, and the vocabulary thereof, were pressed into service to champion it.
But New England had to be peopled, and this was the way to people it. The dissenters perceived that, though they might think as they pleased in England, they could not combine this privilege with keeping clear of the fagot or the gibbet; and though martyrdom is honorable, and perhaps gratifying to one's vanity, it can be overdone.
They came to the conclusion, accordingly, that practical common sense demanded their expatriation; and some of them humbly petitioned her Majesty to be allowed to take themselves off. The Queen did not show herself wholly agreeable to this project; womanlike, and queenlike, she wanted to convince them even more than to be rid of them; or if they must be got rid of, she preferred to dispose of them herself in the manner prescribed for stubborn heretics. But the lady was getting on in years, and was not so ardently loved as she had been; and her activity against the heretics could not keep pace with her animosity. She had succeeded in many things, and her reign was accounted glorious; but she had won no glory by the Puritans and Separatists, and her campaign against them had not succeeded. They were stronger than ever, and were to grow stronger yet. It was remembered, too, by her servants, that, when she was dead, some one might ascend the throne who was less averse to nonconformity than she had been; and then those who had persecuted might suffer persecution in their turn. So although the prayer of the would-be colonists was not granted, the severity against them was relaxed; and as Elizabeth's last breath rattled in her throat, the mourners had one ear cocked toward the window, to hear in what sort of a voice James was speaking.
Their fears had been groundless. The new king spoke Latin, and "peppered the Puritans soundly." The walls of Hampton Court resounded with his shrill determination to tolerate none of their nonsense; and he declared to the assembled prelates, who were dissolving in tears of joy, that bishops were the most trustworthy legs a monarch could walk on. The dissenters, who had hoped much, were disappointed in proportion; but they were hardened into an opposition sterner than they had ever felt before. They must help themselves, since no man would help them; and why not —since they had God on their side? They controlled the House of Commons, and made themselves felt there, till James declared that he preferred a hermitage to ruling such a pack of malcontents. The clergy renewed their persecutions; the government of England was a despotism of the strictest kind; and the fire which had been repressed in Puritan bosoms began to emit sullen sparks through their eyes and lips.
A group of them in the north of England established a church, and called upon all whom it might concern to shake off anti-Christian bondage. John Robinson and William Brewster gave it their support, and their meetings were made interesting by the spies of the government. Finally they were driven to attempt an escape to Holland; and, after one miscarriage, they succeeded in getting off from the coast of Lincolnshire in the spring of 1608, and were transported to Amsterdam. They could but tarry there; their only country now was Heaven; meanwhile they were wandering Pilgrims on the face of the earth, as their Lord had been before them. From Amsterdam they presently removed to Leyden, where they conducted themselves with such propriety as to win the encomiums of the natives. But their holy prosperity did not make them happy, or enable them to be on comfortable terms with the Dutch language; they could not get elbow-room, or feel that they were doing themselves justice; and as the rumors of a fertile wilderness overseas came to their ears, they began to contemplate the expediency of betaking themselves thither. It was now the year 1617; and negotiations were entered into with the London Company to proceed under their charter.
The London Company were disposed to consider the proposition favorably, but the affair dragged, and when it was brought before the government it was quashed by Bacon, who opined that the coat of Christ must be seamless, and that even in a remote wilderness heretics must not be permitted to rend it. The Pilgrims might have replied that if a coat is already torn, it profits not to declare it whole; but they were not students of repartee, and merely relinquished efforts to secure support in that direction. They must go into exile without official sanction, that was all. The king's law enjoined, to be sure, that if any dissenters were discovered abroad they were straightway to be sent to England for discipline; but inasmuch as the threat of exile was, at the same time, held over the same dissenters at home, it would seem a saving of trouble all round to go abroad and trust to God. "If they mean to wrong us," they aptly remarked, "a royal seal, though it were as broad as the house floor, would not protect us." A suggestion that the Dutchmen fit them out for their voyage, and share their profits, fell through on the question of protection against other nations; and when they had prepared their minds to make the venture without any protection at all, it turned out that there was not capital enough in the community to pay for transport. Within three years, however, this difficulty was overcome, and in July of 1620 two ships were hired—the "Speedwell" and the "Mayflower"—and the progenitors of religious and civil liberty in America were ready to set forth.
There was not accommodation for them all on the two vessels, the one of sixty tons, the other of thrice as many; so a division was made, Robinson remaining in Leyden with one party, until means could be had to bring them over; and Brewster accompanying the emigrants, supported by John Carver and Miles Standish. Robinson, one of the finest and purest spirits of the time, died while waiting to join his friends; but most of the others were brought over in due season.
The hymns of praise and hope which were up-lifted on the shores of Delft Haven, in the hour of farewell between those who went and those who stayed, though the faith which inspired them was stanch, and the voices which chanted them musical and sweet, could not restrain the tears that flowed at the severing of ties which had been welded by exile, hardship, and persecution for conscience' sake; nor were the two "feasts" which comforted the bellies of the departing ones able to console their hearts. It is different with trips across the Atlantic nowadays: and different, likewise, are the motives which prompt them.
The "Speedwell" turned back at Plymouth, England, and the "Mayflower" went on alone, with her company of one hundred and two, including women, some of whom were soon to be mothers. The Atlantic, though a good friend of theirs, was rough and boisterous in its manners, and tossed them on their way rudely; in that little cabin harrowing discomfort must have been undergone, and Christian forbearance sorely tried. The pitching and tossing lasted more than two months, from the 6th of September till the 7th of December, when they sighted—not the Bay of New York, as they had intended, but the snow-covered sand mounds of Cape Cod. It was at best an inhospitable coast, and the time of their visit could not have been worse chosen.
But indeed they were to be tested to the utmost; their experiences during that winter would have discouraged oak and iron; but it had no such effect upon these English men and women of flesh and blood. The New England winter climate has its reputation still; but these people were not fit for the encounter. They had been living in the moist mildness of Holland for thirteen years, and for more than sixty days had been penned in that stifling "Mayflower" cabin, seasick, bruised and sleepless. It sleeted, snowed, rained and froze, and they could find no place to get ashore on; their pinnace got stove, and the icy waves wet them to the marrow. Standish and some others made explorations on land; but found nothing better than some baskets of maize and a number of Indian graves buried in the snow-drifts. At last they stumbled upon a little harbor, upon which abutted a hollow between low hills, with an icebound stream descending through it to the sea. They must make shift with that or perish. It was the 21st of December.
That date is inscribed on the front page of our history, and the Pilgrim Fathers and their wives and daughters are celebrated persons, though they were only a lot of English farmers in exile for heresy. But no dreams of renown visited them then; they had nothing to uphold them but their amazing faith. What that faith must have been their conduct demonstrates; but it is difficult to comprehend such a spirit; we remember all the persecutions, all the energy of new convictions, and still it seems miraculous. Liberty to think as they pleased, and to act upon their belief: that was all they had to fight with. It seems very thin armor, an ineffective sword: but what a victory they won!
Before they disembarked, a meeting was held in the cabin for the transaction of certain business. Since then, whenever a handful of Yankees have been gathered together, it has been their instinct to organize and pass resolutions. It is the instinct of order and self-government, the putting of each man in his proper place, and assigning to him his function. This meeting of the Pilgrims was the prototype, and the resolutions they passed constitute the model upon which our commonwealth is based. They promised one another, in the presence of God, equal laws and fidelity to the general good: the principles of a free democracy.
They disembarked on the flat bowlder known as Plymouth Rock and set to work to make their home. With the snow under their feet, the dark, naked woods hemming them in, and concealing they knew not what savage perils; with the bitter waves flinging frozen spray along the shore, and immitigable clouds lowering above them—memory may have drawn a picture of the quiet English vales in which they were born, or of the hazy Dutch levels, with the windmills swinging their arms slumberously above the still canals, and the clean streets and gabled facades of the prosperous Holland town which had sheltered and befriended them. They thought of faces they loved and would see no more, and of the secure and tranquil lives they might have led, but for that tooth of conscience at their hearts, which would give them peace only at the cost of almost all that humanity holds dear. Did any of them wish they had not come? did any doubt in his or her heart whether a cold abstraction was worth adopting in lieu of the great, warm, kindly world? Verily, not one!
They got to work at their home-making without delay; but all were ill, and many were dying. That winter they put up with much labor a few log huts; but their chief industry was the digging of clams and of graves. Half of their number were buried before the summer, and there was not food enough for the rest to eat. John Carver, who had been elected governor at landing, died in April, having already lost his son. But those who did survive their first year lived long; it is wonder that they ever died at all, who could survive such an experience.
Spring came, and with it a visitor. It was in March—not a salubrious month in New England; but the trees were beginning to pat out brown buds with green or red tips, and grass and shrubs were sprouting in sheltered places, though snow still lay in spots where sunshine could not fall. The trailing arbutus could be found here and there, with a perfume that all the cruelty of winter seemed to have made only more sweet. Birds were singing, too, and the settlers had listened to them with joy; they had gone near to forget that God had made birds. On some days, from the south, came the breathing of soft, fragrant airs; and there were breadths of blue in the sky that looked as if so fresh and tender a hue must have been just created.
The men, in thick jerkins, heavy boots, and sugarloaf hats, were busy about the clearing; some, like Miles Standish, wore a steel plate over their breasts, and kept their matchlocks within reach, for though a pestilence had exterminated the local Indians before they came, and, with the exception of one momentary skirmish, in which no harm was done, nothing had been seen or heard of the red men—still it was known that Indians existed, and it was taken for granted that they would be hostile. Meanwhile the women, in homespun frocks and jackets, with kerchiefs round their shoulders, and faces in which some trace of the English ruddiness had begun to return, sat spinning in the doorways of the huts, keeping an eye on the kettles of Indian meal. The morning sunlight fell upon a scene which, for the first time, seemed homelike: not like the lost homes in England, but a place people could live human lives in, and grow fond of. The hope of spring was with them.
All at once, down the forest glade, treading noiselessly on moccasined feet, came a tall, wild, unfamiliar figure, with feathers in his black hair, and black eyes gleaming above his high cheekbones. An Indian, at last! He had come so silently that he had emerged from the shadow of the forest and was almost amid them before he was seen. Some of the settlers, perhaps, felt a momentary tightening round the heart; for though we are always in the hollow of God's hand, there are times when we are surprised into forgetfulness of that security, and are concerned about carnal perils. Captain Standish, who had taken a flying shot at some of these heathen four or five months ago, caught up a loaded musket leaning against the corner of a hut, and stood on his guard, doubting that more of the savages were lurking behind the trees. He had even thus early in American history come to the view long afterward formulated in the epigram that the only good Indians are the dead ones.
But the keen, spare savage made no hostile demonstration; he paused before the captain, with the dignity of his race, and held out his empty hands. And then, to the vast astonishment of Standish and of the others who had gathered to his support, he opened his mouth and spoke English: "Welcome, Englishmen!" said he. They must have fancied, for an instant, that the Lord had wrought a special miracle for them, in bestowing upon this native of the primeval forest the gift of tongues.
There was, however, nothing miraculous about Samoset, who had picked up his linguistic accomplishment, such as it was, from a fellow savage who had been kidnapped and taken to England, whom he afterward introduced to the colony, where he made himself useful. Samoset's present business was as embassador from the great chief and sachem, Massasoit, lord of everything thereabout, who sent friendly greetings, and would be pleased to confer with the new comers, at their convenience, and arrange an alliance.
These were good words, and they must have taken a weight from every heart there; not only the dread of immediate attack, but the omnipresent and abiding anxiety that the time would come when they would have to fight for their lives, and defend the persecuted church of the Lord against foes who knew nothing of conformist or nonconformist, but who were as proficient as Queen Mary herself in the use of fire and torture. These misgivings might now be dismissed; if the ruler of so many tribes was willing to stand their friend, who should harm them? So they all gathered round Samoset on that sunny spring morning; the women observing curiously and in silence his strange aspect and gestures, and occasionally exchanging glances with one another at some turn of the talk; while the sturdy Miles, and Governor Carver, pale with illness which within a month reunited him with the son he had loved, and Elder Brewster, with his serious mien, and Bradford, who was to succeed Carver, with his strong, authoritative features and thoughtful forehead;—these and more than a score more of the brethren stood eying their visitor, questioning him earnestly and trying to make out his meaning from his imperfect English gruntings. And they spoke one to another of the action that should be taken on his message, or commented with pious exclamations on the mercy of the Lord in thus raising up for them protectors even in the wilderness. Meanwhile a chipmunk flitted along the bole of a fallen tree, a thrush chirped in the brake, a deer, passing airy-footed across an opening in the forest, looked an instant and then turned and plunged fleetly away amid the boughs, and a lean-bellied wolf, prospecting for himself and his friends, stuck his sinister snout through a clump of underbrush, and curled his lips above the long row of his white teeth in an ugly grin. This friendship boded no good to him.
The coming of Samoset was followed after a while by the introduction of Squanto, the worthy savage who had enjoyed the refining influences of distant England, whose services as interpreter were of much value in that juncture; and after a short time Massasoit himself accepted the settlers' invitation to become their guest during the making of the treaty. He was received with becoming honor; the diplomatists proceeded at once to business, and before twilight the state paper had been drawn up, signed and sealed. Its provisions ran that both parties were to abstain from harming each other, were to observe an offensive and defensive alliance, and to deliver up offenders. These terms were religiously kept for half a century; by which time the colonists were able to take care of themselves. Its good effects were illustrated in the case of the chief Canonicus, who was disposed to pick a quarrel with the Englishmen, and sent them, as a symbol of his attitude, a rattlesnake's skin wrapped round a sheaf of arrows. Bradford, to indicate that he also understood the language of emblems, sent the skin back stuffed with powder and bullets. Canonicus seems to have fancied that these substances were capable of destroying him spontaneously, and returned them with pacific assurances. Such weapons, combined with the alliance, were too much for him. Canonicus was chief of the Narragansetts; Massasoit, of the Wampanoags. In 1676 the son of Massasoit, for some fancied slight, made war upon the settlers, and the Narragansetts helped him; in this war, known as King Philip's, the settlers suffered severely, though they were victorious. But had it come during the early years of their sojourn, not one of them would have survived, and New England might never have become what she is now.
Meantime the Pilgrims, pilgrims no longer, settled down to make the wilderness blossom as the rose. At their first landing they had agreed, like the colonists of Virginia, to own their land and work it in common; but they were much quicker than the Jamestown folk to perceive the inexpediency of this plan, and reformed it by giving each man or family a private plot of ground. Agriculture then developed so rapidly that corn enough was raised to supply the Indians as well as the English; and the importation of neat cattle increased the home look as well as the prosperity of the farms. There was also a valuable trade in furs, which stimulated an abortive attempt at rivalry. None could compete with the Pilgrims on their own ground; for were they not growing up with the country, and the Lord—was He not with them? More troublesome than this effort of Weston was the obstruction of the Company in England, and its usurious practices; the colonists finally bought them out, and relied henceforth wholly on themselves, with the best results. As years went by their numbers increased, though but slowly. They did not invite the co-operation of persons not of their way of thinking, and the world was never over-supplied with Separatists. On the other hand, they were active and full of enterprise, and sent out branches in all directions, which shared the vitality of the parent stock. Every man of them was trained to self-government, and where he went order and equity accompanied him. A purer democracy could not be framed; for years the elections were made by the entire body of the assembled citizens; His Dread Majesty, King James, never sent them his royal Charter, but the charter provided by their own love of justice and solid good sense served them far better. Their governors were responsible directly to the people, and were further restrained by a council of seven members. This political basis is that upon which our present form of government rests; but it is strange to see what Daedalian complications, and wheels within wheels, we have contrived to work into the superstructure. A modern ward heeler in New York could have taken up the whole frame of government in Seventeenth Century New England by the butt end, and cracked it like a whip—provided of course the Pilgrim fathers had allowed him to attend the primaries.
But it is more probable that the ward heeler would have found himself promptly in the presence of one of those terrific magistrates whose grim decrees gave New England naughty children the nightmare a century after the stern-browed promulgators of them were dust. The early laws against crime in New England were severe, though death was seldom or never inflicted save for murder. But more irksome to one used to the lax habits of to-day would have been the punctilious rigidity with which they guarded the personal bearing, speech, and dress of the members of their community. Yet we may thank them for having done so; it was a wise precaution; they knew the frailties of the flesh, and how easily license takes an ell if an inch be given it. Nothing less iron than was their self-restraint could have provided material stanch enough to build up the framework of our nation. One might not have enjoyed living with them; but we may be heartily glad that they lived; and we should be the better off if more of their stamp were alive still.
But these iron people had their tender and sentimental side as well, and the self-command which they habitually exercised made the softening, when it came, the more beautiful. One of the love romances of this little colony has come down to us, and may be taken as the substantial truth; it has entered into our literature and poetry, and touches us more nearly even than the tale of Pocahontas. Its telling by our most popular poet has brought it to the knowledge of a greater circle of readers than it could otherwise have reached; but the elaboration of his treatment could add nothing to the human charm of it, or sharpen our conception of the leading characters in the drama. Miles Standish had been a soldier in the Netherlands before joining the Pilgrims, and to him they gave the military guardianship of the colony, with the title of captain. He was then about thirty-six years of age, a bluff, straightforward soldier, whom a life of hardship had made older than his years. He had known little of women's society, but during the long voyage he came to love Priscilla Mullens, and when the spring came to the survivors at Plymouth, he wished to marry her. But he would not trust, as Othello did, to the simple art of a soldier to woo her; and Priscilla was probably no Desdemona. But there was a youth among the colonists, just come of age, whom Standish had liked and befriended, and who, though a cooper and ship-carpenter by trade, was gifted with what seemed to Standish especial graces of person and speech. Alden had not been one of the original pilgrims; he had been hired to repair the "Mayflower" while she lay at Southampton, and decided to sail on her when she sailed; perhaps with the hope of making his fortune in the new world, perhaps because he wished to go where Priscilla went. She was a girl whom any man might rejoice to make his wife; vigorous and wholesome as well as comely, and endowed with a strong character, sweetened by a touch of humor. John had never spoken to her of his love, any more than Miles had; whether Priscilla's clear eyes had divined it, we know not; but it is likely that she saw through the cooper and the soldier both.
The honest soldier was a fool, and saw nothing but Priscilla, and felt nothing but his love for her. He took John Alden by the arm, and, leading him apart into the forest, proposed to him to go to young Mistress Mullens and ask her if she would become the wife of Captain Standish. Alden was honest, too; but he was dominated by his older friend, and lacked the courage to tell him that he had hoped for Priscilla for himself; he let the critical moment for this explanation pass, and then there was nothing for it but to accept the Captain's commission. We can imagine how this situation would be handled by the analytic novelists of our day; how they would spread Alden's heart and conscience out on paper, and dry them, and pick them to pieces. The young fellow certainly had a hard thing to do; he must tread down his own passion, and win the girl for his rival into the bargain. To her he went, and spoke. But the only way he could spur himself to eloquence was to imagine that he was Standish, and then woo her as he would have done had Standish been he.
Maidens of rounded nature, like Priscilla, pay less attention to what a man says than to the tones of his voice, the look in his eyes, and his unconscious movements. As Alden warmed to his work, she glanced at him occasionally, and not only wished that Heaven had made her such a man, but decided that it had. So, when the youth had finished off an ardent peroration, in which the Captain was made to appear in a guise of heroic gallantry that did not suit him in the least, but which was the best John could do for him: there was a pause, while the vicarious wooer wiped his brow, and felt very miserable, remembering that if she yielded, it would be to Miles and not to him. She divined what was in his mind, and sent him to Heaven with one of the womanliest and loveliest things that ever woman said to man: "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" she asked, gazing straight at him, with a quiver of her lips that was half humor and half the promise of tears.
John still had before him a bad quarter of an hour with the Captain; it was as hard to make him understand that he had not played the traitor to him as it had been to persuade Priscilla to do what she had not done; but the affair ended without a tragedy, which would have spoiled it. Captain Standish, when Priscilla married, went to live in Duxbury; and a year or two later worked off his spleen by slaying the Indian rascals who were plotting to murder the Weston settlers at Weymouth. He and his men did not wait for the savages to strike the first blow; they made no pretense of exhausting all the resources of diplomacy before proceeding to extremities. They walked up to the enemy, suddenly seized them by the throat, and drove the knives which the Indians themselves wore through their false hearts. There was no more trouble from Indians in that region for a long time; and Captain Standish's feelings were greatly relieved. As for John and Priscilla, they lived long and prospered, John attaining the age of eighty-seven, which indicates domestic felicity. They had issue, and their descendants live among us to this day in comfort and honor.
King James, like other spiteful and weak men, had a long memory, and amid the many things that engaged his attention he did not forget the colonists of Plymouth, who had exiled themselves without a charter from him. In the same year which witnessed their disembarkation at Plymouth Rock, he incorporated a company consisting of friends of his own, and gave them a tract of country between the fortieth and the forty-eighth parallels of north latitude, which of course included the Plymouth colony. In addition to all other possible rights and privileges, it had the monopoly of the fisheries of the coast, and it was from this that revenue was most certainly expected, since it was proposed to lay a tax on all tonnage engaged in it. All the new company had to do was to grant charters to all who might apply, and reap the profits. But the scheme was fated to miscarry, because the pretense of colonization behind it was impotent, and the true object in view was the old one of getting everything that could be secured out of the country, and putting nothing into it. The fisheries monopoly was powerfully opposed in Parliament and finally defeated; small sporadic settlements, with no sound principle or purpose within them, appeared and disappeared along the coast from Massachusetts to the northern borders of Maine. One grant conflicted with another, titles were in dispute, and lawsuits were rife. The king sanctioned whatever injustice or restriction his company proposed, but his decrees, many of them illegal, were ineffective, and produced only confusion. Agriculture was hardly attempted in any of the little settlements authorized by the company, and the only trade pursued was in furs and fishes. The rights of the Indians were wholly disregarded, and the domain of the French at the north was infringed upon. All this while the Pilgrims continued their industries and maintained their democracy, undisturbed by the feeble machinations of the king; and in 1625 the death of the latter temporarily cleared the air. Charles affixed his seal to the famous Massachusetts Charter four years later; and though Gorges and some others continued to harass New England for some time longer, the plan of colonizing by fisheries was hopelessly discredited, and the development of civil and religious liberties among the serious colonists was assured.
The experiments thus far made in dealing with the new country had had a significant result. The Plymouth colony, going out with neither charter nor patronage, and with the purpose not of finding gold or making fortunes, but of establishing a home wherein to dwell in perpetuity—which was handicapped by the abject poverty of its members, and by the severities of a climate till then unknown—this enterprise was found to hold the elements of success from the start, and it steadily increased in power and influence. It suffered from time to time from the tyranny of royal governors and the ignorance or malice of absentee statesmanship; but nothing could extinguish or corrupt it; on the contrary, it went "slowly broadening down, from precedent to precedent," until, when the moment of supreme trial came to the Thirteen Colonies, the descendants of the Pilgrims and the Puritans, and the men who had absorbed their ideas, put New England in the van of patriotism and progress. It is a noble record, and a pregnant example to all friends of freedom.
In suggestive contrast with this was the Jamestown enterprise. As we have seen, this colony was saved from almost immediate extinction solely by the genius and energy of one man, whom his fellow members had at first tried to exclude altogether from their councils and companionship. Belonging to a class socially higher and presumably more intelligent than the Pilgrims, and continually furnished with supplies from the Company in England, they were unable during twelve years to make any independent stand against disaster. In a climate which was as salubrious as that of New England was rigorous, and with a soil as fertile as any in the world, they dwindled and starved, and their dearest wish was to return to England. They were saved at last (as we shall presently see) by two things; first, by the discovery of the value of tobacco as an export, and of its usefulness as a currency for the internal trade of the country; and secondly, and much more, by the Charter of 1618, which gave the people the privilege of helping to make their own laws. That year marked the beginning of civil liberty in America; but what it had taken the Jamestown colonists twelve weary and disastrous years to attain, was claimed by the pious farmers of Plymouth before ever they set foot on Forefather's Rock. Willingness to labor, zeal for the common welfare, indifference to wealth, independence, moral and religious integrity and fervor—these were some of the traits and virtues whose cultivation made the Pilgrims prosperous, and the neglect or lack of which discomfited the Virginia settlers. The latter, man for man, were by nature as capable as the former of profiting by right conditions and training; and as soon as they obtained them they showed favorable results. But in the meantime the lesson was driven home that a virgin country cannot be subdued and rendered productive by selfish and unjust procedure: a homely and hackneyed lesson, but one which can never be too often quoted, since each fresh generation must buy its own experience, and it often happens that a situation essentially old assumes a novel aspect, owing to external modifications of time and place.
The Plymouth Colony, after remaining long separate and self-supporting, consented to a union with the larger and richer settlements of Massachusetts. The charter secured by the latter, and the manner in which it was administered, were alike remarkable. The granting of it was facilitated by the threatened encroachments of other than Englishmen upon the New England domain; it was represented to Charles that it was necessary to be beforehand with these gentry, if they were to be restrained. Charles was on the verge of that rupture with law and order in his own realm which culminated in his dismissal of Parliament, and for ten years attempting the task of governing England without it. He approved the charter without adequately realizing the full breadth and pregnancy of its provisions, which, in effect, secured civil and ecclesiastical emancipation to the settlers under it. But what was quite as important was the consideration that it went into effect at a time incomparably favorable to its success. The Plymouth colony had proved that a godly and self-denying community could flourish in the wilderness, in the enjoyment of spiritual blessings unattainable at home. The power of English prelacy did not extend beyond the borders of England: idolatrous ceremonies could be eschewed in Massachusetts without fear of persecution. Thousands of Puritans were prepared to give up their homes for the sake of liberty, and only waited assurance that it could be obtained. The condition of society and education in England was vicious and corrupt; and though it might become brave and true men to suffer persecution in witness of their faith, yet there was danger that their children might be induced to fall away from the truth, after they were gone. Martyrdom was well, but it must not be allowed to such an extreme as to extirpate the proclaimers of the truth. Many of those who were prepared to take advantage of the charter were of the best stock in England, men of brains and substance as well as piety; graduates of the Universities, country gentlemen, men of the world and of affairs. A colony made of such elements would be a new thing in the earth; it would comprise all that was strong and wise in human society, and would exclude every germ of weakness and frailty. The sealing of the charter was like the touching of the electric button which, in our day, sets in motion for the first time a vast mechanical system, or fires a simultaneous salute of guns in a hundred cities. King Charles I., who was to lose his anointed head on the block because he tried to crush popular liberty in England, was the immediate human instrument of giving the purest form of such liberty to English exiles beyond the sea.
The charter constituted an organization called the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England. The governor, annually elected by the members, was assisted by a deputy and assistants, and was to call a business meeting monthly or oftener, and in addition was to preside four times a year at an assembly of the whole body of the freemen, to make laws and determine appointments. Freedom of Puritan worship was assured, in part explicitly, in part tacitly. The king had no direct relation with their proceedings, beyond the general and vague claims of royal prerogative; and it was an open question whether Parliament had the power to override the authority of the patentees.
It will be seen that this charter was in no respect inharmonious with the system of self-government which had grown up among the Plymouth colonists; it was a more complete and definite formulation of principles which must ever be supported by men who wish so to live as to obtain the highest social and religious welfare. It was the stately flowering of a seed already obscurely planted, and though it was to be now and again checked in its development, would finally bear the fruit of the Tree of Life.
THE SPIRIT OF THE PURITANS
Among the characteristic figures of this age, none shows stronger lineaments than that of John Endicott. He was, at the time of his coming to Massachusetts, not yet forty years of age; he remained there till his death at six-and-seventy. He was repeatedly elected governor, and died in the governor's chair. In 1645 he was made Major-general of the Colonial troops; nine years before he had headed a campaign against the Pequot Indians. His character illustrated the full measure of Puritan sternness; he was an inflexible persecutor of the Quakers, and was instrumental in causing four of them to be executed in Boston. In his career is found no feeble passage; he was always Endicott. He was a man grown before he attained, under the ministrations of Samuel Skelton of Cambridge, in England, the religious awakening which placed him in the forefront of the Puritan dissenters of his time; and it may be surmised that the force of nature which gave him his self-command would, otherwise directed, have opened still wider the gates of license and recklessness which marked the conduct of many in that period. But, having taken his course, he disciplined himself to the strictest observances, and required them of others. He was a man of perfect moral and physical courage, austere and choleric; yet there was in him a certain cheerfulness and kindliness, like sunshine touching the ruggedness of a granite bowlder. An old portrait of him presents a full and ruddy countenance, without a beard, and with large eyes which gaze sternly out upon the beholder. When the Massachusetts Company was formed, it contained many men of pith and mark, such as Saltonstall, Bellingham, Eaton, and others; but, by common consent, Endicott was chosen as the first governor of the new realm, and he sailed for Boston harbor in June, 1628. He took with him his wife and children, and a small following of fit companions, and landed in September.
Many tales are told of the doings of Endicott in Massachusetts. Like those of all strong men, his deeds were often embellished with legendary ornaments, but the exaggerations, if such there be, are colored by a true conception of his character. At the time of his advent, there was at Merrymount, or Mount Walloston, now within the boundaries of Quincy, near Boston, a colony which was a survival of the one founded by Thomas Weston, through the agency of Thomas Morton, an English lawyer, who was more than once brought to book for unpuritanical conduct. Here was collected, in 1628, a number of waifs and strays, and other persons, not in sympathy with the rigorous habits of the Puritans, whose proceedings were of a more or less licentious and unbecoming quality, calculated to disturb the order and propriety of the realm. Endicott, on being apprised of their behavior, went thither with some armed men, and put a summary end to the colony; Morton was sent back to England, and the "revelries" which he had countenanced or promoted were seen no more in Massachusetts. The era for gayeties had not yet come in the new world. Endicott would not be satisfied with crushing out evil; he would also nip in the bud all such lightsome and frivolous conduct as might lead those who indulged in it to forget the dangers and difficulties attending the planting of the reformed faith in the wilderness.
More impressive yet is the story of how he resented the project of Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the most zealous supporter of the follies and iniquities of King Charles, to force the ritual of the orthodox church upon the people of Massachusetts. When Endicott received from Governor Winthrop the letter containing this news, whose purport, it carried out, would undo all that the Puritans had most passionately labored to establish; for which they had given up their homes and friends, and to the safe-guarding of which they had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor:—he was deeply stirred, and resolved that a public demonstration should be made of the irrevocable opposition of the people to the measure. He was at that time captain of the trained band of Salem, which was used to meet for drill in the square of the little settlement. It had for a long time disquieted Endicott and other Puritan leaders that the banner of England, under which, as Englishmen, they must live and fight, should bear upon it the sign of the red cross, which was the very emblem of the popery which their souls abhorred. It had seemed to them almost a sin to tolerate it; and yet it was treason to take any liberties with the national ensign. But Endicott was now in a mood to encounter any risk; since, if Laud's will were enforced, there would be little left in New England worth fighting for.
Accordingly, on the next training day, when the able men of Salem were drawn up in their breastplates and headpieces, with the Red-Cross flag floating over them, and the rest of the townspeople, with here and there an Indian among them, looking on: Endicott, in his armor, with his sword upon his thigh, spoke in passionate terms to the assembly of the matter which weighed upon his heart. And then, as a symbol of the Puritan protest, and a pledge of his vital sincerity, he took the banner in his hand, and, drawing his sword, cut the cross out of its folds. The unparalleled audacity and rashness of this act, which might have brought upon New England a revocation of her charter and destruction of the liberties which already exceeded those vouchsafed to Englishmen at home, alarmed Winthrop, and sent a thrill throughout the colony. But the deed was too public to be disavowed, and Endicott and they must abide the consequences. Information of the outrage was carried to Charles; but he was fortunately too much preoccupied at the moment with the struggle for his crown at home to be able to take proper action upon the slight put upon his authority in Salem. No punishment was inflicted upon the bold soldier, who thus anticipated by nearly a century and a half the step finally taken by the patriots of 1776.
To return, however, to Endicott's arrival in Boston (as it was afterward named, in honor of that Lincolnshire Boston from which many of the emigrants came). There were already a few settlers there, who had come in from various motives, and one or two of whom were inclined to assert squatter sovereignty. The rights of the Indians were respected, in accordance with the injunctions of the Company; and Sagamore John, who asserted his rights as chief over the neck of land and the hilly promontory of the present city, was so courteously entreated that he permitted the erection of a house there, and the laying out of streets. While these preparations were going forward, the bulk of the first emigration, numbering two hundred persons, with servants, cattle, arms and other provisions, entered the harbor. They had had a prosperous and pious voyage, being much refreshed with religious services performed daily; and it may be recorded as perhaps a unique fact in the annals of ocean navigation that the ship captain and the sailors punctuated the setting of the morning and noon watches with the singing of psalms and with prayer. This sounds apocryphal; but it is stated in the narrative of "New England's Plantation," written and circulated by Mr. Higginson soon after their arrival; and it must be remembered that the ship carried a supply of personages of the clerical profession out of proportion to the number of the rest of the passengers. But palliate the marvel how we may, we cannot help smiling at it, and at the same time regretting that the Puritans themselves probably had no realization of the miracle which was transacting under their noses. They doubtless regarded it as a matter of course, instead of a thing to occur but once in a precession of the equinoxes.
And now, it might be supposed, began the building of the city: the clearing of the forest, the chopping of wood, the sawing of beams, the digging of foundations, the ringing of hammers, and the uprising on every side of the dwellings of civilization. And certainly steps were taken to provide the company with shelter from the present summer heats and from the snows of winter to come; and they had brought with them artisans skilled to do the necessary work. But though the Puritans never could be called remiss in respect of making due provision for the necessities of this life, yet all was done with a view to the conditions of the life to come; and in the annals of the time we read more of the prayers and fasts, the choosing of ministers, and the promotion and practice of godliness in general, than we do of any temporal matters. Men there were, like Endicott, who united the strictest religious zeal with all manner of practical abilities; but there were many, too, who had been no more accustomed to shift for themselves than were the gentlemen of Jamestown. They differed from the latter, however, in an enlightened conception of the work before them, in enthusiasm for the commonweal, and in determination to familiarize themselves as soon as possible with the requirements of their situation. The town did not come up in a night, like the shanty cities of our western pioneers; nor did it contain gambling houses and liquor saloons as its chief public buildings. These men were building a social structure meant to last for all time, and houses in which they hoped to pass the years of their natural lives; and they proceeded with what we would now consider unwarrantable deliberation and with none too much technical skill. They sought neither wealth nor the luxuries it brings; but, rather, welcomed hardship, as apt to chasten the spirit; and never felt themselves so thoroughly about their proper business as when they were assembled in the foursquare little log hut which they had consecrated as the house of God. Boston and Salem grew: they were larger and more commodious at the end of the twelvemonth than they had been at its beginning; but more cannot be said. Sickness, misfortune, and scarcity handicapped the settlers; many died; the yield of their crops was wholly inadequate to their needs; servants whose work was indispensable could not be paid, and were set free to work for themselves, and the outlook was in all respects gloomy. If the enterprise was to be saved, the Lord must speedily send succor.
The Lord did not forget His people. A great relief was already preparing for them, and the way of it was thus.—
The record of the former chartered companies had shown that conducting the affairs of colonists on the other side of the ocean was attended with serious difficulties on both parts. The colonists could not make their needs known with precision enough, or in season, to have them adequately met; and the governing company was unable to get a close knowledge of its business, or to explain and enforce its requirements. Furthermore, there was liable to be continual vexatious interference on the part of the king and his officers, detrimental to the welfare of colonists and company alike.
The men who constituted the Massachusetts Company were not concerned respecting the pecuniary profits of the venture, inasmuch as they looked only for the treasures which moth nor rust can corrupt; their "plantation" was to the glory of God, not to the imbursement of man. Nor were they anxious to impose their will upon the emigrants, or solicitous lest the latter should act unseemly; for the men who were there were of the same character and aim as those who were in England, and there could be no differences between them beyond such as might legitimately arise as to the most expedient way of reaching a given end. But the Company could easily apprehend that the king and his ministers might meddle with their projects and bring them to naught; and since those affairs, unlike mercantile ones, were not of a nature to admit of compromise, they earnestly desired to prevent this contingency.
Debating the matter among themselves, the leaders of the organization conceived the idea of establishing the headquarters of the Company in the midst of the emigrants in America: of becoming, in other words, emigrants themselves, and working side by side with their brethren for the common good. This plan offered manifest attractions; it would remove them from unwelcome propinquity to the Court, would be of great assistance to the work to do which the Company was formed, would give them the satisfaction of feeling that they were giving their hands as well as their hearts to the service of God, and, not least, would give notice to all the Puritans in England, now a great and influential body, that America was the most suitable ground for their earthly sojourning.
These considerations determined them; and it remained only to put the plan into execution. Twelve men of wealth and education, eminent among whom was John Winthrop, the future governor of the little commonwealth, met and exchanged solemn vows that, if the transference could legally be accomplished, they would personally voyage to New England and take up their permanent residence there. The question was shortly after put to the general vote, and unanimously agreed to; a commercial corporation (as ostensibly the Company was) created itself the germ of an independent commonwealth; and on October 20th John Winthrop was chosen governor for the ensuing twelvemonth; money was subscribed to defray expenses; as speedily as possible ships were chartered or purchased; the numbers of the members of the Company were increased, and their resources augmented, by the addition of many outside persons in harmony with the movement, and willing to support it with their fortunes and themselves; and by the early spring of 1630 a fleet of no less than seventeen ships, accommodating nearly a thousand emigrants representing the very best blood and brain of England, was ready to sail.
At the moment of departing, there was a quailing of the spirit on the part of some of the emigrants; but Winthrop comforted them; he told them that they must "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace"; that, in the wilderness, they would see more of God than they could in England; and that their plantation should be of such a quality as that the founders of future plantations should pray that "The Lord make it likely that of New England." These were good words. Nevertheless, there were not a few seceders, and it was not till the year had advanced that the full number of vessels found their way to the port of Boston. But eleven ships, including the Arbella which bore Winthrop, sailed at once, with seven hundred men and women, and every appliance that experience and forethought could suggest for the convenience and furtherance of life in a new country. Their going made a deep impression throughout England.
And well it might! For these people were not unknown and rude, like the Plymouth Pilgrims; they were not fiercely intolerant fanatics, whose sincerity might be respected, but whose company must be irksome to all less extreme than themselves. They were of gentle blood and training; persons whose acquaintance was a privilege; who added to the richness and charm of social life. That people of this kind should remove themselves to the wilderness meant much more, to the average mind, than that religious outcasts like the Pilgrims should do so. For the latter, one place might be as good as another; but that the others should give up their homes and traditions for the hardships and isolation of such an existence seemed incomprehensible; and when no other motive could be found than that which they professed—"the honor of God"—grave thoughts could not but be awakened. The sensation was somewhat the same as if, in our day, a hundred thousand of the most favorably known and highly endowed persons in the country were to remove to Chinese Tartary to escape from the corruption and frivolity of business and social life, and to create an ideal community in the desert. We could smile at such a hegira if Tom, Dick and Harry were concerned in it; but if the men and women of light and leading abandon us, the implied indictment is worth heeding.
The personal character and nature of Winthrop are well known, and may serve as a type for the milder aspect of his companions. He was of a gentle and conciliating temper, affectionate, and prizing the affection of others. There was a certain sweetness about him, a tendency to mild joyousness, a desire to harmonize all conflicts, a disposition to think good, that good might come of it. He was indisposed to violence in opinion as much as in act; he believed that love was the fulfilling of the law, and would dissolve opposition to the law, if it were allowed time and opportunity. His cultivated intellect recognized a certain inevitableness, or preordained growth in mortal affairs, which made him sympathetic even toward those who differed from him, for did they not use the best light they had? He conformed to the English church, and yet he absented himself from England, not being willing to condemn the orthodox ritual, yet feeling that the Gospel in its purity could be more intimately enjoyed in America. He was no believer in the theory of democratic equality; it seemed to him contrary to natural order; there were degrees and gradations in all things, men included; there were those fitted to govern, and those fitted to serve; power should be in the hands of the few, but they should be "the wisest of the best." He had no doubts as to the obligations of loyalty to the King, and yet he gave up home and ease to live where the King was a sentiment rather than a fact. But beneath all this engaging softness there was strength in Winthrop; the fiber of him was fine, but it was of resolute temper. Simple goodness is one of the mightiest of powers, and he was good in all simplicity. He could help his servants in the humblest household drudgery, and yet preserve the dignity befitting the Governor of the people. He was not a man to be bullied or terrified, but his wisdom and forbearance disarmed an enemy, and thus removed all need of fighting him. He dominated those around him spontaneously and involuntarily; they, as it were, insisted upon being led by him, and commanded him to exact their obedience. His influence was purifying, encouraging, uplifting, and upon the whole conservative; had he lived a hundred years later, he would not have been found by the side of Adams, Patrick Henry, and James Otis. Sympathy and courtesy made him seem yielding; yet, like a tree that bends to the breeze, he still maintained his place, and was less changeable than many whose stubbornness did not prevent their drifting. His insight and intelligence may have enabled him to foresee to what a goal the New England settlers were bound; but though he would have sympathized with them, he would not have been swayed to join them. As it was, he wrought only good to them, for they were in the formative stage, when moderation helps instead of hindering. He mediated between the state they were approaching, and that from which they came, and he died before the need of alienating himself from them arrived. His resoluteness was shown in his resistance to Anne Hutchinson and her supporter, Sir Harry Vane, who professed the heresy that faith absolved from obedience to the moral law; they were forced to quit the colony; and so was Roger Williams, as lovely as and in some respects a loftier character than Winthrop. In reviewing the career of this distinguished and engaging man, we are surprised that he should have found it on his conscience to leave England. Endicott was born to subdue the wilderness, and so was many another of the Puritans; but it seems as if Winthrop might have done and said in King Charles's palace all that he did and said in Massachusetts, without offense. But it is probable that his moderation appears greater in the primitive environment than it would have done in the civilized one; and again, the impulse to restrain others from excess may have made him incline more than he would otherwise have done toward the other side.
But tradition has too much disposed us to think of the Puritans as of men who had thrown aside all human tenderness and sympathy, and were sternly and gloomily preoccupied with the darker features of religion exclusively. Winthrop corrects this judgment; he was a Puritan, though he was sunny and gentle; and there were many others who more or less resembled him. The reason that the somber type is the better known is partly because of its greater picturesqueness and singularity, and partly because the early life of New England was on the whole militant and aggressive, and therefore brought the rigid and positive qualities more prominently forward.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the piety of the dominating powers in Massachusetts during the first years of the colony's existence. It was almost a mysticism. That intimate and incommunicable experience which is sometimes called "getting religion"—the Lord knocking at the door of the heart and being admitted—was made the condition of admission to the responsible offices of government. This was to make God the ruler, through instruments chosen by Himself—theoretically a perfect arrangement, but in practice open to the gravest perils. It not merely paved the way to imposture, but invited it; and the most dangerous imposture is that which imposes on the impostor himself. It created an oligarchy of the most insidious and unassailable type: a communion of earthly "saints," who might be, and occasionally were, satans at heart. It is essentially at variance with democracy, which it regards as a surrender to the selfish license of the lowest range of unregenerate human nature; and yet it is incompatible with hereditary monarchy, because the latter is based on uninspired or mechanical selection. The writings of Cotton Mather exhibit the peculiarities and inconsistencies of Puritanism in the most favorable and translucent light, for Mather was himself wedded to them, and of a most inexhaustible fertility in their exposition.
Winthrop was responsible for the "Oath of Fidelity," which required its taker to suffer no attempt to change or alter the government contrary to its laws; and for the law excluding from the freedom of the body politic all who were not members of its church communion. The people, however, stipulated that the elections should be annual, and each town chose two representatives to attend the court of assistants. But having thus asserted their privileges, they forbore to interfere with the judgment of their leaders, and maintained them in office. The possible hostility of England, the strangeness and dangers of their surroundings in America, and the appalling prevalence of disease and mortality among them, possibly drove them to a more than normal fervor of piety. Since God was so manifestly their only sword and shield, and was reputed to be so terrible and implacable in His resentments, it behooved them to omit no means of conciliating His favor.
Winthrop found anything but a land flowing with milk and honey, when he arrived at Salem, where the ships first touched. As when, twenty years before, Delaware came to Jamestown, the people were on the verge of starvation, and it was necessary to send a vessel back to England for supplies. There were acute suffering and scarcity all along the New England coast, and though the spirit of resignation was there, it seemed likely that there would be soon little flesh left through which to manifest it. The physical conditions were intolerable. The hovels in which the people were living were wretched structures of rough logs, roofed with straw, with wooden chimneys and narrow and darksome interiors. They were patched with bark and rags; many were glad to lodge themselves in tents devised of fragments of drapery hung on a framework of boughs. The settlement was in that transition state between crude wilderness and pioneer town, when the appearance is most repulsive and disheartening. There is no order, uniformity, or intelligent procedure. There is a clump of trees of the primeval forest here, the stumps and litter of a half-made clearing there, yonder a patch of soil newly and clumsily planted; wigwams and huts alternate with one another; men are digging, hewing, running to head back straying cattle, toiling in with fragments of game on their shoulders; yonder a grave is being dug in the root-encumbered ground, and hard by a knot of mourners are preparing the corpse for interment. There is no rest or comfort anywhere for eye or heart. The only approximately decent dwelling in Salem at this time was that of John Endicott. Higginson was dying of a fever. Lady Arbella, who had accompanied her husband, Isaac Johnson, had been ailing on the voyage, and lingered here but a little while before finding a grave. In a few months two hundred persons perished. It was no place for weaklings—or for evil-doers either; among the earliest of the established institutions were the stocks and the whipping-post, and they were not allowed to stand idle.
Winthrop and most of the others soon moved on down the coast toward Boston. It had been the original intention to keep the emigrants in one body, but that was found impracticable; they were forced to divide up into small parties, who settled where they best could, over an area of fifty or a hundred miles. Nantasket, Watertown, Charlestown, Saugus, Lynn, Maiden, Roxbury, all had their handfuls of inhabitants. It was exile within exile; for miles meant something in these times. More than a hundred of the emigrants, cowed by the prospect, deserted the cause and returned to England. Yet Winthrop and the other leaders did not lose heart, and their courage and tranquillity strengthened the others. It is evidence of the indomitable spirit of these people that one of their first acts was to observe a day of fasting and prayer; a few days later the members of the congregation met and chose their pastor, John Wilson, and organized the first Church of Boston. They did not wait to build the house of God, but met beneath the trees, or gathered round a rock which might serve the preacher as a pulpit. There was simplicity enough to satisfy the most conscientious. "We here enjoy God and Jesus Christ," wrote Winthrop: "I do not repent my coming: I never had more content of mind."
After a year there were but a thousand settlers in Massachusetts. Among them was Roger Williams, a man so pure and true as of himself to hallow the colony; but it is illustrative of the intolerance which was from the first inseparable from Puritanism, that he was driven away because he held conscience to be the only infallible guide. We cannot blame the Puritans; they had paid a high price for their faith, and they could not but guard it jealously. Their greatest peril seemed to them to be dissension or disagreements on points of belief; except they held together, their whole cause was lost. Williams was no less an exile for conscience' sake than they; but as he persisted in having a conscience strictly his own, instead of pooling it with that of the church, they were constrained to let him go. They did not perceive, then or afterward, that such action argued feeble faith. They could not, after all, quite trust God to take care of His own; they dared not believe that He could reveal Himself to others as well as to them; they feared to admit that they could have less than the whole truth in their keeping. So they banished, whipped, pilloried, and finally even hanged dissenters from their dissent. We, whose religious tolerance is perhaps as excessive as theirs was deficient, are slow to excuse them for this; but they believed they were fighting for much more than their lives; and as for faith in God, it is surely no worse to fall into error regarding it than to dismiss it altogether.
In a community where the integrity of the church was the main subject of concern, it could not be long before religious conservatism would be reflected in the political field. Representative government was conceded in theory; but in practice, Winthrop and others thought that it would be better ignored; the people could not easily meet for deliberations, and how could their affairs be in better hands than those of the saints, who already had charge of them? But the people declined to surrender their liberties; there should be rotation in office; voting should be by ballot instead of show of hands. Taxation was restricted; and in 1635 there was agitation for a written constitution; and the relative authority of the deputies and the assistants was in debate. Our national predisposition to "talk politics" had already been born.
Among these early inconsistencies and disagreements Roger Williams stood out as the sole fearless and logical figure. Consistency and bravery were far from being his only good qualities; in drawing his portrait, the difficulty is to find shadows with which to set off the lights of his character. The Puritans feared the world, and even their own constancy; Williams feared nothing; but he would reverence and obey his conscience as the voice of God in his breast, before which all other voices must be hushed. He was not only in advance of his time: he was abreast of any times; nothing has ever been added to or detracted from his argument. When John Adams wrote to his son, John Quincy Adams, "Your conscience is the Minister Plenipotentiary of God Almighty placed in your breast: see to it that this minister never negotiates in vain," he did but attire in the diplomatic phraseology which came naturally to him the thought which Williams had avouched and lived more than a century before. Though absolutely radical, Williams was never an extremist; he simply went to the fountain-head of reason and truth, and let the living waters flow whither they might. The toleration which he demanded he always gave; of those who had most evilly entreated him he said, "I did ever from my soul honor and love them, even when their judgment led them to afflict me." His long life was one of the most unalloyed triumphs of unaided truth and charity that our history records; and the State which he founded presented, during his lifetime, the nearest approach to the true Utopia which has thus far been produced.
Roger Williams was a Welshman, born in 1600, and dying, in the community which he had created, eighty-five years later. His school was the famous Charterhouse; his University, Cambridge; and he took orders in the Church of England. But the protests of the Puritans came to his ears before he was well installed; and he examined and meditated upon them with all the quiet power of his serene and penetrating mind. It was not long before he saw that truth lay with the dissenting party; and, like Emerson long afterward, he at once left the communion in which he had thought to spend his life. He came to Massachusetts in 1631, and, as we have seen, was not long in discovering that he was more Puritan than the Puritans. When differences arose, he departed to the Plymouth Colony, and there abode for several useful years.
But though the men of Boston and Salem feared him, they loved him and recognized his ability; indeed, they never could rid themselves of an uneasy sense that in all their quarrels it was he who had the best of the argument; they were often reduced to pleading necessity or expediency, when he replied with plain truth. He responded to an invitation to return to Salem, in 1633, by a willing acceptance; but no sooner had he arrived than a discussion began which continued until he was for the second and final time banished in 1636. The main bone of contention was the right of the church to interfere in state matters. He opposed theocracy as profaning the holy peace of the temple with the warring of civil parties. The Massachusetts magistrates were all church members, which Williams declared to be as unreasonable as to make the selection of a pilot or a physician depend upon his proficiency in theology. He would not admit the warrant of magistrates to compel attendance at public worship; it was a violation of natural right, and an incitement to hypocrisy. "But the ship must have a pilot," objected the magistrates, "And he holds her to her course without bringing his crew to prayer in irons," was Williams's rejoinder. "We must protect our people from corruption and punish heresy," said they. "Conscience in the individual can never become public property; and you, as public trustees, can own no spiritual powers," answered he. "May we not restrain the church from apostasy?" they asked. He replied, "No: the common peace and liberty depend upon the removal of the yoke of soul-oppression."
The magistrates were perplexed, and doubtful what to do. Laud in England was menacing them with episcopacy, and they, as a preparation for resistance, decreed that all freemen must take an oath of allegiance to Massachusetts instead of to the King. Williams, of course, abhorred episcopacy as much as they did; but he would not concede the right to impose a compulsory oath. A deputation of ministers was sent to Salem to argue with him: he responded by counseling them to admonish the magistrates of their injustice. He was cited to appear before the state representatives to recant; he appeared, but only to affirm that he was ready to accept banishment or death sooner than be false to his convictions. Sentence of banishment was thereupon passed against him, but he was allowed till the ensuing spring to depart; meanwhile, however, the infection of his opinions spreading in Salem, a warrant was sent to summon him to embark for England; but he, anticipating this step, was already on his way through the winter woods southward.
The pure wine of his doctrine was too potent for the iron-headed Puritans. But it was their fears rather than their hearts that dismissed him; those who best knew him praised him most unreservedly; and even Cotton Mather admitted that he seemed "to have the root of the matter in him."
Williams's journey through the pathless snows and frosts of an exceptionally severe winter is one of the picturesque and impressive episodes of the times. During more than three months he pursued his lonely and perilous way; hollow trees were a welcome shelter; he lacked fire, food and guides. But he had always pleaded in behalf of the Indians; he had on one occasion denied the validity of a royal grant unless it were countersigned by native proprietors; and during his residence in Plymouth he had learned the Indian language. All this now stood him in good stead. The man who was outcast from the society of his white brethren, because his soul was purer and stronger than theirs, was received and ministered unto by the savages; he knew their ways, was familiar in their wigwams, championed their rights, wrestled lovingly with their errors, mediated in their quarrels, and was idolized by them as was no other of his race. Pokanoket, Massasoit and Canonicus were his hosts and guardians during the winter and spring; and in summer he descended the river in a birch-bark canoe to the site of the present city of Providence, so named by him in recognition of the Divine mercies; and there he pitched his tent beside the spring, hoping to make the place "a shelter for persons distressed for conscience."
His desire was amply fulfilled. The chiefs of the Narragansetts deeded him a large tract of land; oppressed persons locked to him for comfort and succor, and never in vain; a republic grew up based on liberty of conscience, and the civil rule of the majority: the first in the world. Orthodoxy and heresy were on the same footing before him; he trusted truth to conquer error without aid of force. Though he ultimately withdrew from all churches, he founded the first Baptist church in the new world; he twice visited England, and obtained a charter for his colony in 1644. Williams from first to last sat on the Opposition Bench of life; and we say of him that he was hardly used by those who should most have honored him. Yet it is probable that he would have found less opportunity to do good at either an earlier or a later time. Critics so keen and unrelenting as he never find favor with the ruling powers; he would have been at least as "impossible" in the Nineteenth Century as he was in the Seventeenth; and we would have had no Rhode Island to give him. We can derive more benefit from his arraignment of society two hundred and fifty years ago than we should were he to call us to account to-day, because no resentment mingles with our intellectual appreciation: our withers seem to be unwrung. The crucifixions of a former age are always denounced by those who, if the martyr fell into their hands, would be the first to nail him to the cross.
But the Puritanism of Williams, and that of those who banished him, were as two branches proceeding from a single stem; their differences, which were the type of those that created two parties in the community, were the inevitable result of the opposition between the practical and the theoretic temperaments. This opposition is organic; it is irreconcilable, but nevertheless wholesome; both sides possess versions of the same truth, and the perfect state arises from the contribution made by both to the common good—not from their amalgamation, or from a compromise between them, Williams's community was successful, but it was successful, on the lines he laid down, only during its minority; as its population increased, civil order was assured by a tacit abatement of the right of individual independence, and by the insensible subordination of particular to general interests. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, which from the first inclined to the practical view—which recognized the dangers surrounding an organization weak in physical resources, but strong in spiritual conviction, and which, by reason of the radical nature of those convictions, was specially liable to interference from the settled power of orthodoxy:—in Massachusetts there was a diplomatic tendency in the work of building up the commonwealth. The integrity of Williams's logic was conceded, but to follow it out to its legitimate conclusions was deemed inconsistent with the welfare and continuance of the popular institutions. The condemnation of dissenters from dissent sounded unjust; but it was the alternative to the more far-reaching injustice of suffering the structure which had been erected with such pains and sacrifice to fall to pieces just when it was attaining form and character. The time for universal toleration might come later, when the vigor and solidity of the nucleus could no longer be vitiated by fanciful and transient vagaries. The right of private judgment carried no guarantee comparable with that which attached to the sober and tested convictions of the harmonious body of responsible citizens.
When, therefore, the young Henry Vane, coming to Boston with the prestige of aristocratic birth and the reputation of liberal opinions, was elected Governor in 1635, and presently laid down the principle that "Ishmael shall dwell in the presence of his brethren," he at once met with opposition; and he and Anne Hutchinson, and other visionaries and enthusiasts, were made to feel that Boston was no place for them. Yet at the same time there was a conflict between the body of the freemen and the magistrates as to the limits and embodiments of the governing power; the magistrates contended that there were manifest practical advantages in life appointments to office, and in the undisturbed domination of men of approved good life and intellectual ability; the people replied that all that might be true, but they would still insist upon electing and dismissing whom they pleased. Thus was inadvertently demonstrated the invincible security of democratic principles; the masses are always willing to agree that the best shall rule, but insist that they, the multitude, and not any Star Chamber, no matter how impeccable, shall decide who the best are. Herein alone is safety. The masses, of course, are not actuated by motives higher than those of the select few; but their impartiality cannot but be greater, because, assuming that each voter has in view his personal welfare, their ballots must insure the welfare of the majority. And if the welfare of the majority be God's will, then the truth of the old Latin maxim, Vox Populi vox Dei, is vindicated without any recourse to mysticism. The only genuine Aristocracy, or Rule of the Best, must in other words be the creation not of their own will and judgment, but of those of the subjects of their administration.
The political experiments and vicissitudes of these early times are of vastly greater historical importance than are such external episodes, as, for example, the Pequot war in 1637. A whole tribe was exterminated, and thereby, and still more by the heroic action of Williams in preventing, by his personal intercession, an alliance between the Pequots and the Narragansetts, the white colonies were preserved. But beyond this, the affair has no bearing upon the development of the American idea. During these first decades, the most profound questions of national statesmanship were discussed in the assemblies of the Massachusetts Puritans, with an acumen and wisdom which have never been surpassed. The equity and solidity of most of their conclusions are extraordinary; the intellectual ability of the councilors being purged and exalted by their ardent religious faith. The "Body of Liberties," written out in 1641 by Nathaniel Ward, handles the entire subject of popular government in a masterly manner. It was a Counsel of Perfection molded, by understanding of the prevailing conditions, into practical form. The basis of its provisions was the primitive one which is traced back to the time when the Anglo-Saxon tribes met to choose their chiefs or to decide on war or other matters of general concern. It was the basis suggested by nature; for, as the chief historian of these times has remarked, freedom is spontaneous, but the artificial distinctions of rank are the growth of centuries. Lands, according to this instrument, were free and alienable; the freemen of a corporation held them, but claimed no right of distribution. There should be no monopolies: no wife-beating: no slavery "Except voluntary": ministers as well as magistrates should be chosen by popular vote. Authority was given to approved customs; the various towns or settlements constituting the commonwealth were each a living political organism. No combination of churches should control any one church:—such were some of the provisions. The colonies were availing themselves of the unique opportunity afforded by their emancipation, in the wilderness, from the tyranny and obstruction of old-world traditions and licensed abuses.
By the increasing body of their brethren in England, meanwhile, New England was looked upon as a sort of New Jerusalem, and letters from the leaders were passed from hand to hand like messages from saints. Up to the time when Charles and Laud were checked by Parliament, the tide of emigration set so strongly toward the American shores that measures were taken by the King to arrest it; by 1638, there were in New England more than twenty-one thousand colonists. The rise of the power of Parliament stopped the influx; but the succeeding twenty years of peace gave the much-needed chance for quiet and well-considered growth and development. The singular prudence and foresight of Winthrop and others in authority, during this interregnum, was showed by their declining to accept certain apparent advantages proffered them in love and good faith by their English friends. A new patent was offered them in place of their royal charter; but the colonists perceived that the reign of Parliament was destined to be temporary, and wisely refused. Other suggestions, likely to lead to future entanglements, were rejected; among them, a proposition from Cromwell that they should all come over and occupy Ireland. This is as curious as that other alleged incident of Cromwell and Hampden having been stopped by Laud when they had embarked for New England, and being forced to remain in the country which soon after owed to them its freedom from kingly and episcopal tyranny.
Material prosperity began to show itself in the new country, now that the first metaphysical problems were in the way of settlement. In Salem they were building ships, cotton was manufactured in Boston; the export trade in furs and other commodities was brisk and profitable. The English Parliament passed a law exempting them from taxes. After so much adversity, fortune was sending them a gleam of sunshine, and they were making their hay. But something of the arrogance of prosperity must also be accredited to them; the Puritans were never more bigoted and intolerant than now. The persecution of the Quakers is a blot on their fame, only surpassed by the witchcraft cruelties of the concluding years of the century. Mary Dyar, and the men Robinson, Stephenson and Leddra were executed for no greater crime than obtruding their unwelcome opinions, and outraging the propriety of the community. The fate of Christison hung for a while in the balance; he was not less guilty than the others, and he defied his judges; he told them that where they murdered one, ten others would arise in his place; the same words that had been heard many a time in England, when the Puritans themselves were on their trial. Nevertheless the judges passed the sentence of death; but the people were disturbed by such bloody proceedings, and Christison was finally set free. It must not be forgotten that the Quakers of this period were very different from those who afterward populated the City of Brotherly Love under Penn. They were fanatics of the most extravagant and incorrigible sort; loud-mouthed, frantic and disorderly; and instead of observing modesty in their garb, their women not seldom ran naked through the streets of horrified Boston, in broad daylight. They thirsted for persecution as ordinary persons do for wealth or fame, and would not be satisfied till they had provoked punishment. The granite wall of Puritanism seemed to exist especially for them to dash themselves against it. Such persons can hardly be deemed sane; and it is of not the slightest importance what particular creed they profess. They are opposed to authority and order because they are authority and order; in our day, we group such folk under the name, Anarchists; but, instead of hanging them as the Puritans did, we let them froth and threaten, according to the policy of Roger Williams, until the lack of echoes leads them to hold their peace.