September 21, 2022

America's First Rebel: Roger Williams and the Birth of Liberty



Roger Williams (c.21 December 1603—between 27 January and 15 March 1683) was an English-born American Puritan minister, theologian, and author who founded Providence Plantations, which became the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and later the U.S. State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, now the State of Rhode Island. He was a staunch advocate for religious freedom, separation of church and state, and fair dealings with Native Americans.


The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace is a 1644 book about government force written by Roger Williams, the founder of Providence Plantations in New England and the co-founder of the First Baptist Church in America. Tenent is an obsolete spelling of tenet, and the book argues for a "wall of separation" between church and state and for state toleration of various Christian denominations, including Catholicism, and also "paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worships." The book takes the form of a dialogue between Truth and Peace and is a response to correspondence by Boston minister John Cotton regarding Cotton's support for state enforcement of religious uniformity in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams argues that Christianity requires the existence of a separate civil authority which may not generally infringe upon liberty of conscience, which Williams interpreted to be a God-given right.

Three Hundred years, previous to the coming of the Pilgrim Fathers, to America; the papal church, held a "Reign of Terror" over the nominal Christian World. Kings submitted their necks to the foot of the Pope; and the Waldenses were scattered as "partridges on the mountains," obliged to "hide themselves in the dens and caves of the earth," or fall a prey to those, who "went about, seeking whom they might devour."

But scattered here and there, was a Prince; whom God raised up, moved with compassion, for the oppressed Waldenses; who extended the arm of civil protection over a few men of learning, and piety, through whose labors the "day-star of freedom" from popish tyranny arose, and the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, again dawned upon the world.

Such was the important service rendered by the Duke of Lancaster, England, who protected John Wickliffe in making the First Translation of the Bible into English, in 1380; which gave irrepressible impulse to the Reformation. Wickliffe was Born 1344; Died 1384. His followers were called Lollards, so nearly did his sentiments correspond to those of Walter Lollard; an eminent Waldensian "bard," who formerly visited England, and won many converts. Wickliffe's Doctrines, of the Sufficiency of the Bible, as a rule of Faith and Practice; and the Separation, and Independence of churches of Christ, from all hierarchical domination; continued to leaven the intelligence, and consciences of the nation, until the rise of the Pilgrims.
Video Title: America's First Rebel: Roger Williams and the Birth of Liberty. Source: ReasonTV. Date Published: July 16, 2012. Description:
"Williams was really America's first individualist, the first contradictor of authority, the first rebel," explains John M. Barry, author of Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty. While best known as the founder of Rhode Island and for being a leading proponent of a "wall of separation" between church and state, Barry argues that Williams' imprint on America is deeper than most recognize. "When I started writing the book I quickly realized that I was not simply writing about the emergence of the idea of religious liberty, but liberty itself." 

Barry sat down with ReasonTV's Nick Gillespie to discuss the book, the enduring lessons of Roger Williams' life, and why he is not yet a household name.