Essay: Roger Williams Was a Puritan

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[. . .] Persecution and warfare had inly caused the deaths "of so many hundred thousands of his poor servants by the civil powers of the world, pretending to suppress blasphemies, heresies, idolatries, superstition, etc." (Williams 1652). In reality, at least twenty million had died in the recent religious wars in Europe although at the time no one knew the exact numbers, only that the death and destruction had been truly massive. This was more the spirit of the Devil than Jesus, who advocated love, peace and humility rather than rage and fanaticism. Persecution also forced people all over the world to live in fear and hypocrisy, professing religious ideas in which they did not believe because of fear of punishment or desire to win favors from the authorities. It also made the believers in false ideas more hardened and determined to hold to their views no matter what violence they suffered. In many countries, Christians were not even allowed to read the Bible at all but could only listen to the interpretations of the clergy and bishops. They did not allow the people to find the message of salvation since it was a threat to their own power, and this resulted in weakening both the church and the state by "so confounding and overthrowing the purity and strength of both" (Williams 1652).

Persecution had caused thousands of the best people to flee from England to Holland and New England, which damaged the economy and growth of the country. It was destroying all principles of justice and humanity, and insuring that only the persecutors were secure. Williams argued that state-supported religion was also a Machiavellian policy used to benefit those in power by controlling the people, and this "corrupts and spoils the very civil honesty and natural conscience of a nation" (Williams 1652). This had been true since the beginning of recorded history, so much so that Williams was amazed that it had continued so long. The evils resulting from it were so great that they threatened to "to blow up all religion, all civility, all humanity, yea, the very being of the world, and the nations thereof at once" (Williams 1652). Even the most wicked and corrupt persecutors could put on a show of fairness and righteousness by pretending to be protecting the true religion, but no worse doctrine has ever existed in the history of the world than persecution on the grounds of conscience.

Because of the influence of Roger Williams, Rhode Island was the first society in the modern, Western world that had freedom of conscience and religious toleration, which did yet exist in England, Scotland or any of the American colonies. It became an early haven for religious dissenters of all kinds, as well as Quakers, Jews and agnostics, who were unwelcome in the Puritan or Anglican colonies. In colonial North America, only the Quakers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey followed similar policies of religious freedom, which gradually became the norm in the new United States as all state-supported churches were disestablished after the Revolution. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison gave Williams credit for inspiring their own concepts of toleration and religious freedom, which recognized that the U.S. was already a fairly diverse and pluralistic society in the 18th Century and was likely to become more so in the future. Rhode Island continued to have one of the most democratic constitutions during the colonial period, including the right to elect its own governor rather than having one appointed by Britain. Williams Puritan Commonwealth ideas were similar to those of John Locke and even Thomas Hobbes in that he placed all the powers of civil government in the hands of the people rather than the monarch, including the right to alter or overthrow it. In many ways, he represented the most radical side of the Puritan Revolution of the 17th Century, not only separating the reformed and Calvinist churches from the Church of England, but also from the state completely, and the logical conclusion of this would be the abolition of kings, bishops and aristocrats. This was indeed attempted in England under Oliver Cromwell, but it failed there with the Restoration after 1660. In North America, however, the most radical and even revolutionary Puritan ideas remained a major influence and would appear again in 1776.


Williams, Roger. "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution," 1644. The Reformed Reader.

Williams, Roger. "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution, Made Yet More Bloody," 1652. The Classical Liberal. [END OF PREVIEW]

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Roger Williams Was a Puritan.  (2012, March 19).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from

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"Roger Williams Was a Puritan."  19 March 2012.  Web.  26 June 2019. <>.

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"Roger Williams Was a Puritan."  March 19, 2012.  Accessed June 26, 2019.