Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty
John M. Barry
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A revelatory look at how Roger Williams shaped the nature of religion, political power, and individual rights in America.
For four hundred years, Americans have wrestled with and fought over two concepts that define the nature of the nation: the proper relation between church and state and between a free individual and the state. These debates began with the extraordinary thought and struggles of Roger Williams, who had an unparalleled understanding of the conflict between a government that justified itself by "reason of state"-i.e. national security-and its perceived "will of God" and the "ancient rights and liberties" of individuals.
This is a story of power, set against Puritan America and the English Civil War. Williams's interactions with King James, Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, and his mentor Edward Coke set his course, but his fundamental ideas came to fruition in America, as Williams, though a Puritan, collided with John Winthrop's vision of his "City upon a Hill."
Acclaimed historian John M. Barry explores the development of these fundamental ideas through the story of the man who was the first to link religious freedom to individual liberty, and who created in America the first government and society on earth informed by those beliefs. The story is essential to the continuing debate over how we define the role of religion and political power in modern American life.
oath,” and it sent more unease rippling through an increasingly distrustful country. In London, the king’s moves sparked riots. Charles, with Laud beside him, had a long history of not heeding warnings. This would be the last one. Unable to raise enough money from Catholics, after exploring every other possible means to avoid calling another Parliament, he finally did what he had to do. For the second time in a year, he summoned a new Parliament and prepared to endure it. He would not endure
their possessions; London knew too of Gorton’s trial, his close escape from the death sentence, and the refusal of Massachusetts to allow him an appeal to England. Williams attempted to lead readers to the inevitable conclusion that, rather than allowing Rhode Island to be absorbed by Massachusetts, the behavior of Massachusetts in matters of both church and state not only justified but required sanctioning Rhode Island’s existence as an independent colony. Thus he spoke of his astonishment and
Commons embraced the idea. The king had been willing to endure this Parliament in order to gain a subsidy for an army, to be used not—he and Buckingham assured Gondomar—against any Catholic forces, but against Protestant Holland. The subsidy had not yet passed, but James’s willingness to endure a Parliament had. As soon as he heard what Commons was about, without any further effort to get his money, James dissolved Parliament, saying he would not call another in his lifetime. But Commons,
corrupted, and utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil examples and licentious government of these seminaries.” And it warned anew that Protestantism was under such assault that it was both a Christian responsibility to support emigration and a possible means to save oneself. “All other Churches of Europe being brought to desolation,” it stated, “and our sins for which the Lord already begins to frown upon us and to cut us short, do threaten evil times to be coming down upon us, and who
not retreat from such a pledge. Two days later the company’s General Court formally voted “by the erection of hands” to confirm the earlier recommendation “that the government and patent should be settled in New England.” The significance of this transfer of authority was lost on no one. Next came the selection of a governor; ever since the fiasco with the Brownes, the company had lacked confidence in Endicott. The position interested Winthrop, Sir Richard Saltonstall, Isaac Johnson—likely the