GLEN COVE, NY — The triumph of the Puritans described
in Part I did not last. In 1660, the English overthrew the Puritan
dictatorship and put Charles II on the throne. Although he was a deathbed
convert to Catholicism, his conversion process had been going on for
In 1663, Charles II established a colony of his supporters in Carolina
that later became North and South Carolina. The following year, he
conquered the Dutch colonies, adding what is today New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and Delaware to the English North American presence.
This geographic expansion affected the demographic composition of the
colonies as well, adding members of the Dutch Reformed Church, Quakers,
and a few Catholics to the Anglicans, Scots Presbyterians, and Puritans.
The result was a community of multiple religions living in relative
harmony in the central colonies. In 1683, Charles II appointed a Catholic
as royal governor of New York and New Jersey, and a Catholic church
was built in New York City. He soon abolished the New Haven colony,
which harbored three of the murderers of his father as well as many
of their accessories. The New England colonies were intolerant of Catholics,
Quakers, Anglicans, and “Arminians” (a form of Protestantism
that denied Calvinist predestination.)
Charles II established Pennsylvania in 1681 as a Quaker colony in
part of the former Dutch colonies. The Quakers were tolerant of all
religions. From Maryland in the South to New York in the North, English
America became an example of religious coexistence rare in its age.
The differences between the New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies
When Charles II died in 1685, his brother James II assumed the throne.
James II, the last Catholic king of England, was a dedicated champion
of religious liberty. To address the problems posed by the remaining
five New England colonies — hotbeds of Puritan intolerance — he combined
these four colonies with New York and New Jersey. The result was to
effectively repeal the anti-Catholic, anti-Quaker, and other religiously
intolerant laws of New England. For the moment, priests would not be
hanged and Quakers would not have their ears cut off.
The Puritans overthrew the Catholic king in 1688 and passed a law requiring
the king of England to be a Protestant. They established a legal persecution
of Catholics (most severe from 1688 to 1696, but lasting in part long
after that) and they re-established four of the New England colonies
as intolerant Puritan colonies. Although the roots of religious liberty
were too deep in America for the persecution to be completely effective,
it did close almost all Catholic churches and keep Catholics almost
entirely out of politics.
The government of Pennsylvania refused to enforce anti-Catholic laws,
and the Catholic church in Philadelphia was never closed. In Maryland,
anti-Catholic laws were officially enforced until Independence, but
some western parts of the colony frequently ignored them. In the rest
of the Middle Atlantic states, Catholics survived by keeping a very
low profile and celebrating Mass and educating their children in the
faith in private. Anti-Catholic laws were not always enforced west
of the Allegheny Mountains in places like the Virginia territory of
Colonial New England never embraced religious liberty. In 1692, some
of the most distinguished lawyers and clergymen of Massachusetts caused
19 alleged witches to be hanged. Massachusetts law required the hanging
of Catholic priests and cutting the ears of Quakers. When Great Britain
stopped persecuting Catholics in Canada and the area that is now Ohio,
Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan in 1774, the Massachusetts Puritans
and their allies (with no sense of irony) denounced this small act
of toleration as “intolerable.” The established Puritan
Church in Massachusetts lasted until the 1830s, when it split into
two factions, one Unitarian and one Christian.
When the Connecticut legislature discovered that Episcopalians were
teaching at Yale in 1722, it promptly fired four professors and forced
the rector to resign. It also passed a law that lasted until 1823 requiring
all college faculty members in the colony (and after Independence the
state) to swear to the Saybrook Confession, which denied that bishops
could ordain ministers or that man could cooperate in his own salvation.
It also defined the Pope as the Whore of Babylon. The
New Haven Register criticized the building of a Catholic church in New Haven in 1832,
but by that time official persecution of Catholics, Episcopalians,
and Quakers had largely died out in most of New England.
New Hampshire was the exception. Its law prohibited Catholics from
holding public office until the 1840s. Georgia, which was not founded
until 1732, was established as a colony for Protestants and Jews only.
By 1830, however, Catholics had become a permanent force in the state’s
When our Constitution was written, some states had complete religious
freedom and others gave equal rights to all or many Christian churches.
Only New England retained the Puritan intolerance.
Fortunately, the Framers of our Constitution embraced the tolerance
of most of the states, rather than the intolerance of New England.
They prohibited any religious test for federal office and any Congressional
act concerning a religious establishment or limiting or abolishing
the free exercise of religion. This happy result would not have been
possible if Catholics, Quakers, and Protestants had not learned to
live together -- thanks in large part to the Stuart kings.
New Englanders wrote many of our schools’ history books, in
which they depicted the Stuart kings as tyrants. The truth is that,
especially in religious matters, Parliament was narrow minded, tyrannical,
and power hungry. The Stuart kings worked to foster religious liberty,
especially in their American colonies.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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