The Antinomians

We shift from gold-hungry Virginia to pious Puritan New England, exploring the role of religious conflict in early colonial life.

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True radicals who would actually live and let live have been in short supply since Bradford destroyed Morton’s maypole and the Puritan divines banished Anne Hutchinson.

The Trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), Transcript

Thomas Morton’s Observations of the Puritans

 

Anthony Comegna: Today is the 4th of July, 2017, Independence Day. We tend to remember today in relation to what we may call the Revolution from Above. We celebrate those great men who supposedly signed away their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors to the cause of self-government, republicanism, and democracy. The Revolution’s elite leadership shared a common interest in separating from Britain, but many of them did all they could to contain the Revolution [00:00:30] from Below, which always threatened to dissolve domestic hierarchies along with the empire. Above and Below temporarily joined forces to fight the transatlantic enemy, but all revolutionaries who acquire power become parts in the new establishment wheel. True radicals, who would actually live and let live, have been in short supply since Bradford destroyed Morton’s maypole and the Puritan divines banished Anne [00:01:00] Hutchinson.
This is Liberty Chronicles, a project of Libertarianism.org. I’m Anthony Comegna.
Today we will shift from the gold-hungry Virginia to pietous Puritan New England, exploring the role of religious conflict in early colonial life. 500 years ago this year, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. It’s safe to assume that he was unaware that his actions [00:01:30] would inaugurate almost a century and a half of bitter, bloody warfare between Europeans from Sweden all the way to Marymount. In country after country, Protestant churches sprouted popular followings, gained and lost political influence, and established themselves as forces within European life not likely to disappear. Over time, and at the cost of millions of lives and incalculable amounts of wealth, Europeans more or less learned to live with religious differences between [00:02:00] nations. But religion did remain important to the imperial images early nation-states sold to their people. The character and content of the Reformation changed from one country, region, or even town to the next.
In England, the movement began in earnest as the Tudor king Henry the VIII resolved to murder or divorce as many wives as it took to give him a male heir. The Pope persistently refused Henry’s request to annul his marriages, [00:02:30] and in response, Parliament passed as series of acts establishing the supremacy of the monarch over the new Church of England. Over the succeeding decades, there arose those stern and fervent believers who thought even the Church of England was still too Catholic. Puritans derided the Book of Common Prayer as a Catholic-style liturgy. They proposed that congregations of the faithful replace many functions of the clerical hierarchy. And what was more, they claimed that Anglicanism [00:03:00] was still basically prey to Catholic theology.
Puritans came in many shapes, but at base they all agreed theirs was a doctrine of salvation by faith alone. While Catholic teachings professed that individuals save themselves by choosing to do good works, especially the sacraments and rituals of the church, Protestants followed Augustine and Luther in claiming that faith alone fulfilled the covenant between God and mankind. Catholics [00:03:30] preached what was called a Covenant of Works, and the Puritans preached the Covenant of Grace. Puritans believed that God has already predestined that some are worthy of being saved, while others are irredeemable. Those elected to heaven could be recognized by their material success and their standing in polite, early-modern bourgeois society. Those priests elected to occupy God’s basket of deplorables could be spotted by their poverty, [00:04:00] their failures in business or public life, or their decadent and libertine lifestyles. This sort of Calvinism was illegal, so the conformers confined their activism within the official Anglican Church.
Separatists distinguished themselves from your run-of-the-mill Puritan by contending that the Church of England was beyond capacity to reform. It would be better to separate entirely. They had already tried living in Amsterdam, but Dutch [00:04:30] culture did not exactly agree with them. The Separatists moved to Leiden where they still faced English persecution. The congregation then decided to piggy-back on the Virginia Company of Plymouth’s expansive charter in the Americans to found a new settlement there. By 1620, the first Separatists departed Leiden for England, and England for America. Though they intended to settle along the Hudson River, the rocky northeastern coast and a swiftly approaching winter [00:05:00] forced a more northerly landing.
The Mayflower housed 102 passengers, including indentured servants, many of whom realized the Separatists did not possess legitimate authority to settle north of Cape Cod. Therefore, they believed the contract binding the ship’s population together was rendered null and void. The 41 Separatist men aboard quickly rallied themselves to prevent rebellion. They drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact. While [00:05:30] it is boasted to be a great achievement in self-government, it was, in fact, a hasty solution to the legitimacy problem rulers would periodically face in the New World. The settlers transplanted English town and congregationalist governance onto new English soils, whether the inhabitants wanted it or not. Plymouth Colony remained extremely small, not reaching the low thousands until the 1630’s.
Four days after King Charles dissolved [00:06:00] Parliament in 1629, a group of Puritans secured a royal charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company. Over the next decade, thousands of English Puritans migrated while corporation and colony fully merged. According to their charter, only stockholders were freemen eligible to vote. Because only 12 stockholders emigrated, however, and only the current freemen could choose new ones, colonial leadership remained under the exclusive rule of a few [00:06:30] individuals. As more settlers demanded freemen status, office holders centralized greater amounts of authority in their own hands. The oligarchy only allowed Puritans who publicly expressed their faith experiences to join the body of freemen. The governor, deputy governor, and council of assistants also refused to divulge the contents of their charter before the public and knowingly violated its terms to aggrandize power.
As more and more Puritans [00:07:00] entered the colony, more and more people questioned this authority. In 1634, a committee from eight towns forced officials to display the secret charter and its contents. They discovered that the legislative power was invested in the freemen and their general court, not the oligarchic council of assistants. All the taxes and regulations laid from the colony’s founding were illegitimate. That same year, the privy council and Archbishop William Laud moved [00:07:30] to revoke the charter. With this political and legal background, the continued influx of religious dissenters introduced an even deeper, and potentially revolutionary, conflict to the colony.
One after another, emigrants who reviled the divine’s tyranny fled the colony to found their own cities on the hill with their own ideal social orders. They believed that the only important part of life was the individual’s unassailable [00:08:00] faith connection with God. Salvation could only be achieved through faith, and the most radical of Puritans took this principal to the extreme limits, working a true revolution of social thought in the process. If only grace or faith mattered, then no actions in this world or this lifetime affected one’s entry into heaven or communion with God. If earthly works didn’t matter at all, earthly rules only distracted individuals [00:08:30] from forming their own purer relationships with God. Since only grace or faith mattered in this life, and only God’s rules need be followed, the radicals declared that they need not obey earthly governments or man-made moral codes. This religio-political philosophy is called Antinomianism, from the Greek words for against laws. It is best identified with Anne Hutchinson.
Anne and her husband [00:09:00] were well-to-do members of the English Puritan community and easily found themselves high positions among the Boston elite after emigrating in 1634. Inspired by the Reverend John Cotton’s sermons, Anne began hosting her mixed-sex Bible study sessions where she voiced an extreme version of the Covenant of Grace. Nothing worldly should be allowed to come between the faithful individual and God, including the colonial government. Anne suggested that many of the divines were, in [00:09:30] fact, not elect, and they were slaves to a false Covenant of Works. Hutchinson quickly gained dozens, then hundreds, of followers and admirers throughout the colony. With more and more Antinomians professing the illegitimacy of earthly laws, colonial military efforts against the Indians were threatened for lack of soldiers. If individuals refused compulsory service and obedience to the laws, the entire colonial project was under attack.
[00:10:00] The Massachusetts Bay General Court charged and tried Anne for sedition in violation of the Ten Commandments in November 1637. During the trial, Governor Winthrop questions Anne about her theology, her Bible study group, and whether she cared to defend herself. Winthrop’s self-assured sexism, his sense of religious superiority, and his position of power caused him to vastly underestimate Hutchinson’s intelligence and courage. [00:10:30] Anne defiantly refuses to acknowledge the court’s legitimacy, refuses to admit of any wrongdoing, and confirms to the court’s collective fact that they were beholden to Catholic doctrine.
Speaker 2: Trial transcript.
Mr. John Winthrop, Governor: Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the Commonwealth and the churches here. You are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions [00:11:00] that are the cause of this trouble, and to be nearly joined, not only in affinity and affection, with some of those the court had taken notice of and passed a censure upon, but you have spoken diverse things, as we have been informed, and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God, nor fitting for your sex. And notwithstanding that was cried down, you have continued the same. Therefore, we have thought [00:11:30] good to send for you to understand how things are, that if you be in an erroneous way, we may reduce you that so you may become a profitable member here among us. Otherwise, if you be obstinate in your course that then the court may take such course that you may trouble us no further. Therefore, I would entreat you to express whether you do assent and hold in practice to those opinions and factions that have been handled in court already. That is to say, whether you do not justify Mr. Wheelwright’s sermon and the petition.
[00:12:00] Mrs. Hutchinson: I am called her to answer before you, but I hear no things laid to my charge.
Governor: I have told you some already, and more I can tell you.
Mrs. H: Name one, sir.
Governor: Have I not named some already?
Mrs. H: What have I said or done?
Governor: Why, for your doings, this you did harbor and countenance [00:12:30] those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of.
Mrs. H: That’s a matter of conscience, sir.
Governor: Your conscience you must keep or it must be kept for you.
Mrs. H: What law have I broken?
Governor: Why, the Fifth Commandment.
Mrs. H: I deny that, for he, Mr. Wheelwright, sayeth in the Lord.
[00:13:00] Governor: You have joined with them in the faction.
Mrs. H: In what faction have I joined with them?
Governor: In presenting the petition.
Mrs. H: Suppose I had set my hand to the petition. What then?
Governor: You saw that case tried before.
Mrs. H: But I had not my hand to the petition.
Governor: You [00:13:30] have counseled them.
Mrs. H: Wherein?
Governor: Why, in entertaining them.
Mrs. H: What breach of law is that, sir?
Governor: Why, dishonoring the Commonwealth.
Mrs. H: But put the case, sir, that I do fear the Lord and my parents. May not I entertain them that fear the Lord, because my parents will not give me leave?
[00:14:00] Governor: If they be the fathers of the Commonwealth, and they of another religion, if you entertain them, then you dishonor your parents and are justly punishable.
Mrs. H: If I entertain them as they have dishonored their parents, I do?
Governor: No, but you, by countenancing them above others, put honor upon them.
Mrs. H: I may put honor upon them as the children of God, and as they [00:14:30] do honor the Lord.
Governor: We do not mean to discourse with those of your sex, but only this. You so adhere unto them and do endeavor to set forward this faction, and so you do dishonor us.
Mrs. H: I do acknowledge no such thing, neither do I think that I ever put any dishonor upon you.
Governor: why do you keep such a meeting at your house, as you do every week upon a set day?
Mrs. H: [00:15:00] It is lawful for me to do so, as it is all your practices. And can you find a warrant for yourself and condemn me for the same thing? The ground of my taking it up was, when I first came to this land, because I did not go to such meetings as those were, it was presently reported that I did not allow of such meetings, but held them unlawful. And therefore, in that regard, they said I was proud and did despise all ordinances. Upon that, a friend came unto me and told me of it, and I, to prevent such aspersions, [00:15:30] took it up. But it was in practice before I came. Therefore, I was not the first.
Governor: By what warrant do you continue such a course?
Mrs. H: I conceive there lies a clear rule in Titus that the elder women should instruct the younger, and then I must have a time wherein I must do it.
Governor: All this I grant you. I grant you a time for it. But what is this to the purpose that you, Mrs. Hutchinson, must [00:16:00] call a company together from their callings to come to be taught of you?
Mrs. H: If you look upon the rule in Titus, it is a rule to me. If you convince me that it is no rule, I shall yield.
Governor: You know that there is nor rule that crosses another, but this rule crosses that in the Corinthians. But you must take it in this sense, that elder women must instruct the younger about their business and to love their husbands, and not to make them to clash.
Mrs. [00:16:30] H: Do you think it not lawful for me to teach women? And why do you call me to teach the court?
Governor: We do not call you to teach the court, but to lay open yourself.
They continue to argue over what rules she had broken.
Governor: Your course is not to be suffered for. Besides, that we find such a course as this to be greatly prejudicial to the state. Besides the occasion that it is to seduce many honest persons that [00:17:00] are called to those meetings, and your opinions, and your opinions being known to be different from the Word of God, may seduce many simple souls that resort unto you. Besides that, the occasion which hath come of late hath come from none but such as have frequented your meetings, so that now they are flown off from magistrates into ministers, and since they have come to you. And besides that, it will not well stand with the Commonwealth that families should be neglected, for so many neighbors and dames, and so much time spent, we see no rule of God for this. [00:17:30] We see not that any should have authority to set up any other exercises besides what authority hath already set up. And so what hurt comes of this, you will be guilty of, and we, for suffering you.
Mrs. H: Sir, I do not believe that to be so.
Governor: Well, we see how it is. We must, therefore, put it away from you or restrain you from maintaining this course.
Mrs. H: If you have a rule for it [00:18:00] from God’s Word, you may.
Governor: We are your judges and not you ours, and we must compel you to it.
Governor: Let us state the case, and then we may know what to do. That which is laid to Mrs. Hutchinson charge is that, that she hath traduced the magistrates and the ministers of this jurisdiction, that she hath said the ministers preached a Covenant of Works and Mr. Cotton a Covenant of Grace, and that they were not able ministers of the Gospel, [00:18:30] and she excuses it, that she made it a private conference and with a promise of secrecy, et cetera.
Now, this is charged upon her, and they therefore sent for her, seeing she made it her table talk, and then she said the fear of man was a snare, and therefore she would not be afeard of them.
Mrs. H: But now, having seen him, which is invisible, I fear not what man can do unto me.
Governor: Daniel was delivered by miracle. Do you [00:19:00] think to be delivered so, too?
Mrs. H: I do here speak it before the court. I look that the Lord should deliver me by His providence, because God had said to her, “Though I should meet with affliction, yet I am the same God that delivered Daniel out of the lion’s den. I will also deliver thee.”
Mr. Harlock Hendon, assistant to the court: I may read scripture, and the most glorious hypocrite may read them, and yet go down to hell.
[00:19:30] Mrs. H: It may be so.
Governor: I am persuaded that the revelation she brings forth is delusion.
Governor: Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.
Mrs. H: I desire to know wherefore I am banished.
[00:20:00] Governor: Say no more. The court knows wherefore and is satisfied.
Anthony Comegna: Anne and her followers formed their own small body politic in one member’s home on March 7, 1638. From Boston, they proceeded to Aquidneck, Rhode Island, which they purchased from natives. In Massachusetts, a reign of terror commenced, featuring the execution of Antinomian [00:20:30] Mary Dyer and the regime’s thorough entrenchment. Aquidneck encountered its own problems, but after a series of hyper-localized power struggles, religious liberty became the fundamental founding principle of Rhode Island. After her husband’s death in 1642, Anne moved once again, this time to Long Island. During a bout of warfare between natives and Dutch forces in New Netherland, an Indian war party killed Anne and her family. [00:21:00] The news came as a delight to the Puritans, who reveled in her death.
We have to break way from the standard narrative in which the Puritans escaped persecution, established toleration, and lead cleanly to the American Revolution. The view from below reveals so much more. The battles inaugurated between early colonial rulers and their subjects expanded into a generational cycle of state terror and popular resistance [00:21:30] culminating in the revolutionary modern era. While the Puritans hunted witches and exterminated Indians, the Antinomians inspired far more of modern liberalism than we are accustomed to thinking. The Antinomian idea, and its radical implications, proliferated around the Atlantic world over the next century and a half, carried forth by waves of persecuted religious minorities. What began as a religious view quickly developed into a multiplicity [00:22:00] of social and political philosophies.
Liberty Chronicles is a project of Libertarianism.org. It is produced by Tess Terrible. To learn more about Liberty Chronicles, visit Libertarianism.org.