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It is noticeable that at this time, with all their determination to enjoy freedom of conscience, not a person in the church or congregation but seems to have regarded it as a gift in the power of King James. Accordingly to him they looked for it, but God would not let the Pilgrim church, in its refuge under Christ's care in the New World, undergo the indignity of being tolerated by any earthly monarch or power. God was going to put an end to toleration in religion by this enterprise, and therefore in his providence he went further in this thing for the Pilgrims than they had yet learned to go for themselves. After much anxious and prayerful consideration, they determined to settle in the New World under the Virginia Company, “and by their friends to sue to his Majesty that he would be pleased to grant them free liberty and freedom of religion.” And some great friends of good work and quality undertook to be their patrons in this suit. To such shifts has our religious conscience been driven in this world, and to such height was the Papacy in essence still rising in England ; so they sued for confirmation of liberty in religion under the king's broad seal, laboring both with the king and the Archbishop; but all would not do. The king under seal would neither allow nor tolerate. God would have nothing in the charter of New England liberty, which should intimate that the keeping of the conscience was in the hands of King James of England, or that he had any authority to tolerate. God would throw the Pilgrims for their toleration only upon Christ. They at length got a patent from the Virginia Company, though not without great difficulty, but the disgrace of James's seal of toleration was never attached to it, nor, if it had been, could it have served their turn, “ although they had had a seal as broad as the house floor ;" it would have been as easily called back or reversed as given.
“ It is a capital error,” said John Cartwright in his Letters on American Independence, addressed in 1774 to the House of Commons, speaking of the rights of man, “It is a capital error in the reasonings of most writers on this subject, that they consider the liberty of mankind in the same light as an estate or chattel, and go about to prove or disprove the right of it by grants, usages, or municipal statutes. It is not among mouldy parchments that we are to look for it; it is the immediate gift of God; it is not derived from any one ; but it is original in every one.”
This was the error even of our Pilgrim Fathers themselves in regard to religious liberty, which, with all their advancement, they still looked upon as a gift in possession of the king, until God, by his providence and word, taught them better. Highly as they prized their religious liberty, so that they were willing to suffer and die for it, they did not yet view it as solely the gift of God by charter to his people through Christ; as a possession, a right, in regard to which the pretended power of toleration, in any earthly king or state, is a blasphemous usurpation of God's attributes. So in this case God was better for them than they were for themselves, and planted them in the wilderness with more unrestricted liberty and superiority to earthly toleration than they had asked from others. King James should have nothing to do with tolerating them. So, whatever patents might be issued, of usurpation under the form of grants, after they had got footing in the New World, their first settlement as a church and civil state should not even have the king's name connected with it. They were under God only, and his charter for them was the Bible.
Even the patent which they did get was never used by them, nor was it ever taken out in any of their names, nor did it ever prove, that we know, of the least concernment or importance in any of their affairs, but only as God made use of it, by reason of the delays, difficulties, and distractions involved in the gaining of it, to sift out still more of the chaff from among the seed-corn he was preparing. The discouragements in this matter of the patent “shook off many of their pretended friends, and in that service was much better for them than the King's great seal.
In the very part of England out of which the Pilgrims first fled to Holland, King James was now playing the persecutor, requiring the Bishop of Lancashire to present all the Puritans and Precisians within the
either constraining them to conform or leave the country; ordering that those who would attend church on Sundays should not be disturbed or discouraged from dancing, archery, leaping, vaulting, having May-games, Whitsun-ales, Morrice dances, setting up May-poles, and other sports there with used, or any other such harmless recreations, on Sundays after divine service ; all which and much more for the jaildelivery of Beelzebub all ministers were compelled to read in their churches, such food being prepared by the drunken monarch in his book of sports, for the souls of his people. If any refused to read, they were summoned into the High Commission Court, and imprisoned and suspended. The next year the same saintly monarch published his meditations on the Lord's Prayer !*
The failure of the Pilgrims in getting the King's patent, together with that other providence of God in their being compelled to come to anchor in Cape Cod Harbor, a place with which the Virginia Company had nothing to do, and where, of course, no patent from them could bestow any rights, was the cause of that solemn compact in the May Flower, by which they took the business of patent, government, and all civil and religious rights into their own hands, and became in reality an independent republic. There was already in growth the germ of the future republic, all its forms being folded up in the colony now planted, although as yet the form of a kingly crown rose above it. It was the God of providence and grace working as the God of nature works, by gradual onward progress from living principles, which in the fulness of time were to throw
* Prince, 56.
off the old form-covering entirely, and to stand revealed, in a transfiguration or creation of their own, suited to them. Even so in nature the old leaves, as Mr. Coleridge, in one of his beautifully suggestive illustrations, has remarked, are thrown off only by the propulsion of new buds. The old form might endeavor to hold its place, and play the despot for a while, but before the power of a new growth it must fall.
We say that that failure was the cause ; for although the Pilgrims intimate in their Journal that the occasion of entering into that compact was the manifestation of some disobedient unruly humors in some of the little company, yet if they had been in possession of a regular charter from the King, covering their incorporation as a colony where they landed, it is not probable that they would have felt the need of any other morally coercive compact than the terms of that. God's providence is to be marked in leading them to that, as well as to their religious covenant; the one sealing them, by the spirit of God, as a free Church, the other, as a free voluntary civil and political community.
Mr. Baylies refers the symptoms of insubordination solely to the servants that had been shipped in England, and were not members of the Pilgrim Church. “Their servants," he says,*
* “ who had not been members of the Leyden congregation, but who for the most part had been gathered up in England, seemed to anticipate a perfect freedom from the restraints both of law and government.” They had probably been made to believe this; and the company, being really under no present authority whatever, and having no charter, had reason to apprehend the greatest difficulty from any spirit of insubordination that might break out, and so were driven to the choice of a Governor, and to an agreement of self-government and obedience among themselves. “Some of the inferior class among them had muttered,” says Hutchinson, “that, when they should get ashore, one man would be as good as another, and they would do what seemed good in their own eyes."* It is very likely these mutinous dispositions were set at work and inflamed by Billington, the first offender in the colony, and afterwards a murderer. There were also two vulgar imitators of high life in England among the servants, who, as we shall see, played the part of the first duellists in New England, and were punished for it.
* Baylies' Memoir of the Colony. of New Plymouth, vol. i., p. 27.
If these insubordinate servants were the means of inducing that compact on board the May Flower, it was not in vain, nor for evil, that they were shipped from England with the little company from Leyden. Whether its authors and signers foresaw and thoroughly understood, or much less intended, the full extent of what they were doing, is of little importance. Indeed it was not possible that they could even dream what an empire of perfect liberty and self-government they were founding : to what principles they were giving embodiment to future generations, principles.that, more than two hundred years after they were all laid in their graves, should shake all Europe, nay the whole world, to its centre. Principles they were, that under a religious guidance made their own chosen wilderness like the garden of the Lord; but principles that, without such guidance or preparation, break out as sudden, overwhelming, devastating volcanoes, after which there
whole ages perhaps, before a new verdure can rise upon the mouldering lava. It is by celestial observations alone, said Mr. Coleridge, that terrestrial charts can be constructed; and how perfectly true is this remark as to the governments and liberties of modern Europe. Religion must lay the foundation of freedom, or there will be none.
• What comes from heaven to heaven by nature clings, And if dissevered thence, its life is short."
* Hutchinson, Hist. Mass., vol. ii., p. 407.