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uated by the vulgar ambition to lead and direct; she has ever been prompted by the purest patriotism and the highest public spirit.
The English colonists, both men and women, who first settled here, and from whom we are descended, were a remarkable body. To understand rightly their character, the work they were called to perform, the difficulties they were forced to encounter, and the opposition they were compelled to meet; to appreciate their courage, fortitude, energy, patience, perseverance, and indomitable will; to reach their motives and explain the reasons and causes of their ultimate success in establishing themselves on this continent, we must, to quote again the language of the Rev. Thomas Prince, " look back.” We must consider the political condition, and also the ecclesiastical condition, of the mother-country when the policy of colonizing America was first formed and the efforts for its accomplishment first made.
Upon the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne, in 1558, although Romanism was proscribed, and Protestantism established as the national religion, there was no such thing as religious liberty in England or in any other country. Such an idea had not then dawned upon the world. As has been well said, " It was scarcely an object of speculation in the abstract theories of philosophers, or dreamed of by men of ordinary minds.” The statutes passed in the reign of Henry VIII. declared him the absolute master over the consciences of the people, it being therein enacted that "whatever his majesty should enjoin in matters of religion should be obeyed by all his subjects;” and all authority touching the Church, which had been for ages before the Reformation exercised by the Pope, was transferred to the temporal monarch by the Act of Supremacy. He determined all causes
in the Church, and was alone authorized to make all laws, regulations, and ceremonies in respect to it, and none made, without his consent, were valid. All appeals which had formerly been made to Rome were henceforth to be made to the king's chancery. These acts had been repealed in the reign of Mary, but were restored by the new Act of Supremacy on the accession of Elizabeth, entitled "An Act for restoring to the Crown the ancient jurisdiction over the State, ecclesiastical and spiritual, and for abolishing foreign power.”
The love of authority, for which Elizabeth was noted, did not dispose her to relinquish the power thus vested in her, and she began her reign by a proclamation "forbidding all changes in religious forms until they should be determined by law.” The queen was a good friend to protestantism as opposed to popery, but the bitter opponent of all protestantism which did not square with her own and that of the State. As she was, by the Act of Supremacy, the head of the Church, and invested with the whole power of framing its policy, the Act of Uniformity was soon passed, compelling all her subjects to worship on the State pattern and in the parish churches," with no exceptional indulgence to tender consciences.
. In 1562 the Articles of Religion were adopted, and with these different enactments the Church of England became completely established by law.”
The Court of High Commission, created under the provisions of the Act of Supremacy, authorized the queen to appoint commissioners with full power to inquire into, reform, and punish all errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, contempts, offences, and enormities whatever." Nothing shows so strongly the ignorance of the age, in respect to the true nature of civil and ecclesiastical authority, and the just distinctions and limitations in respect thereto, and the utter negation of reason in the introduction of religious changes, as the grant of such vast and dangerous powers to the crown. As might be expected, those powers were terribly prostituted, and led to the most disgraceful and cruel persecutions of some of the most eminent and best subjects of the realm, for no other reason than differences of opinion touching religious matters, – opinions which related more to forms than doctrines.
By the Act of 23 Elizabeth, passed in 1582, it was made treason to worship except in accordance with the form prescribed by law. This form was that of the English Church. As the sovereign had full jurisdiction over the Church, with power to say what should or should not be believed in respect to religion by the subject, and as nonconformity with legal ecclesiastical forms was treason, and as the terrible Court of High Commission was organized with all its cruel machinery to discover and punish the recusant, it was apparent that a high-spirited race like the English would not tamely submit to such ecclesiastical tyranny. Very soon many persons appeared who claimed that there were errors in the Church which the Reformation had not eradicated, and which they could not conscientiously recognize; that, in fact, the Church was still corrupted with the remains of popery. These dissenters were termed Puritans, because they wanted a purer system of worship and discipline, and are known in history as " Early Puritans,” to distinguish them from those of the period of the Commonwealth.
These Puritans comprised two sects, one of which was termed Separatists, or Independents, afterwards Brownists, because Robert Brown was one of their prominent advocates. They maintained that the Church was a " spiritual association, and should consequently be separate from the world and its rulers, and be governed by the laws of Christ as given in the New Testament ;” hence their distinctive appellation of Separatists. They maintained, in fact, the separation of Church and State, and advocated free, as opposed to enforced, religion. They regarded Christ as the head of the Church, and not man, although that man might be a king ; and that to Christ only was due that religious obedience which was cłaimed by State churches. The Separatists soon began to form themselves into societies ; but, as their religious belief and worship were by law treason, they were forced to meet in secret and obscure places.
Persecution of these bold schismatics soon followed. AU the vast powers of the Court of High Commission were set in motion for their detection and punishment. Spies and informers watched them day and night. Large numbers were arrested and imprisoned, and many of them and their teachers and preachers executed.
As has been truly said, you can follow the history of the dissenting church " by the track of her blood.” It would thus seem that some of the subjects of Queen Elizabeth gained but little in the way of religious liberty by the exchange of Romanism for Protestantism.
Upon the accession of King James to the throne, on the death of Elizabeth, in 1603, it was thought that he would be more favorably disposed towards the Separatists than his predecessor, as he had been bred a Puritan, and they sought the royal permission to worship merely "privately," and not in “public places.” But the king refused and was inexorable. Shortly afterwards a proclamation was issued in which the dissenting ministers were admonished “to conform to the Church and obey the same, or else dispose of themselves and their families some other way, as being men unfit for their obstinacy and contempt to occupy such places.”
Many of the more determined Separatists fled to Holland, where freedom of worship was accorded to them ; but large numbers were captured in trying to get away, and were thrown into prison and otherwise punished. It is worthy of note that the first unsuccessful attempt to escape was made at Boston, in Lincolnshire, our namesake, which seems to have been one of the principal places whence these dissenters embarked. In 1608, the church which had been established at Scrooby, under William Brewster, emigrated from that port.
These refugees spent several years in Amsterdam and Leyden, in the enjoyment of that peaceful exercise of their religion which was denied them in the land of their fathers. Finding, however, that they were subjected to many inconveniences, impediments, and obstacles, they formed the resolution to emigrate to America, where their posterity could preserve their nationality, and where they could gather around them those who spoke the English language, had the same religious habits of life, and maintained the observance of the Sabbath more in consonance with biblical direction than the Dutch.
It is rather an amusing fact, in view of subsequent events, that when the Pilgrim Fathers solicited from King James permission to worship God as they saw fit, this royal bigot, in refusing the application, graciously intimated that if they would carry themselves "peacefully, and made no disturbance by their fanatical practices,” he would not molest them, " as they were too insignificant to be looked after.” Too insignificant to be looked after! What would have been the emotions of King James if he could have then caught a glimpse of the future; if he could have anticipated this day ; if he could have seen what his successor on the British throne now sees, — this handful of persecuted exiles, " too