The Foundations of American Nationality

By Evarts Boutell Greene | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE PURITAN COMMONWEALTHS, 1635 TO 1676

THE religious controversies which embittered the early history of Massachusetts have perhaps had more attention than they deserve. Most of the issues then debated have lost interest except for specialists, and few of the men who fought over them can claim any conspicuous place in history. One notable exception to this statement is Roger Williams, who illustrates admirably the spirit of thoroughgoing individualism in early American life. Though on the whole kindly and generous, he was not easy to get on with. He had not been long in Massachusetts before he began to promulgate certain ideas which disturbed the colonial authorities. Some of these views were of a kind to make trouble for the colony with the English government, as, for instance, when he denied the right of the King to give legal titles to Indian lands; or when, taking the extreme Separatist position, he insisted that the Church of England was so corrupt that every good Christian ought to repent of ever having been a member of it. When the Boston church refused to accept this latter theory Williams refused to associate himself with it. The Puritans generally disliked the use of the cross as a religious symbol; but when one of their leaders, apparently under Williams's influence, cut this emblem out of the royal ensign they felt that this was going too far. There were plenty of enemies in England who would be only too glad to make capital out of such occurrences.

Roger Williams.

From a modern standpoint, Williams was putting too much

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