© 2018 Christy K Robinson
September 2018, I published a new, contemporary biography (nonfiction) on the life and
legacy of Anne Marbury Hutchinson, 1591-1643. Its research, presentation, style, images, sources, and conclusions are unlike any other book written on Hutchinson.
The following article is part of
a chapter introducing Anne Hutchinson to readers in the 21st
of the interesting things about Anne is that she was a deeply spiritual woman
all her life. But her legacy is that of promoting and practicing separation of
church and state, and secular democracy, which was almost unheard of in the 17th
century and earlier.
Here is the chapter section that shows the differences in the two compacts (a
covenant) on which Rhode Island’s government began to form in 1638.
Anne Marbury Hutchinson: Founding mother of secular democracy
Massachusetts Bay Colony was not founded as a
democracy where the People govern themselves with elected representatives. Rev.
John Cotton wrote:
"Democracy, I do not conceive that ever God did
ordain as a fit government either for church or commonwealth. If the people be
governors, who shall be governed? As for monarchy, and aristocracy, they are
both of them clearly approved, and directed in scripture, yet so as referreth
the sovereign to himself, and setteth up Theocracy in both, as the best form of
government in the commonwealth, as well as in the church.
… Purity, preserved in the church, will preserve
well ordered liberty in the people, and both of them establish well-balanced
authority in the magistrates. God is the author of all these three and neither
is himself the God of confusion, nor are his ways of confusion, but of peace."
from The Correspondence of John Cotton.
Sargent Bush, Jr., editor. The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
|Portsmouth Compact, March 1638|
When the signers of the Wheelwright
Remonstrance were disfranchised and disarmed by the Winthrop government in
1637, they determined to form a new “plantation,” or settlement, outside the
Massachusetts charter boundaries. During Anne Hutchinson’s second trial, they
organized themselves, purchased land, and prepared to move their households. The
leading men signed the Portsmouth Compact, which appears to be written in
William Dyer’s hand. In March 1638, they pledged:
The 7th Day of the First Month, 1638 [7 March
We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly
in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as
He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus
Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most
absolute laws of His given in His Holy Word of truth, to be guided and judged
In the margin are noted three Bible texts, given
here for your convenience:
Exodus 24:3-4. Afterward
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the Laws: and
all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the things which the Lord
hath said, will we do. And Moses wrote all the
words of the Lord and rose up early, and set up an altar under the mountain,
and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel;
1 Chronicles 11:3. So
came all the Elders of Israel to the King to Hebron, and David made a covenant
with them in Hebron before the Lord. And they anointed David king over Israel,
according to the word of the Lord, by the hand of Samuel; and
2 Kings 11:17. And
Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord, and the King and the people, that
they should be the Lord’s people: likewise between the King and the people.
We don’t know who suggested or insisted upon
the scripture references, which have in common making a covenant with one
another before God to obey his word and laws. It may have been William
Coddington, who was a magistrate of the Bay Colony and one of the 1630 Winthrop
Fleet pioneers who dreamed of building the New Jerusalem that would hasten the
return of Jesus.
It appears that the new plantation would have that
familiar combination of church and state, and an adherence to the religious
laws and government model of the Old Testament.
After some disagreements about what Anne
Hutchinson called “the magistracy,” a group led by William Coddington moved ten
to 15 miles south on Aquidneck Island and founded Newport.
The settlement at Portsmouth, Rhode Island, incorporated
itself as a secular democracy in 1639, contrasted with the theocratic
governments of the other English colonies – and of England, their native land.
Portsmouth formed a new government, with William
Hutchinson elected their “judge,” like the Old Testament judges of Israel
before the monarchy of King Saul. Their new compact, signed by William and
thirty others, read:
April 30, 1639
We, whose names are under written do acknowledge
ourselves the legal subjects of his Majestie King Charles, and in his name do
hereby bind ourselves into a civil body politick, unto his laws according to
matters of justice.
The difference between the 1638 and 1639
agreements is stark. Religious language in the first, civil language in the
second. Then, in March 1641, the island’s general court resolved,
It is ordered and
unanimously agreed upon that the Government which this Bodie Politick doth
attend unto in this Island, and the Jurisdiction thereof, in favour of our
Prince is a Democracie, or popular
Government; that is to say, It is in the Power of the Body of Freemen
orderly assembled, or the major part of them, to make or constitute Just Laws,
by which they will be regulated, and to depute from among themselves such
Ministers [public servants] as shall see them faithfully executed between Man
Between man and man.
They weren’t cutting out the relationship between God and man, or their
devotion to serving God. But secular democracy for this group, who had fled
religious persecution in England only five to ten years before, and theocratic
oppression just one year before, was the very freedom they longed for and now
had in their grasp. They were the point of a movement. And the movement,
beginning with those conventicles in her parlor, was led by Anne Hutchinson.
Christy K Robinson is author of
these books (click the colored title):
And of these
Love (inspiration and service)
for Ancestors (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England
and New England)