When North America was first settled by the English race the blessings of religious freedom had not yet fully dawned upon mankind. For a century the Christian world had struggled with the intolerant spirit of the Middle Ages. Much, indeed, had been accomplished, but the evolution was slow, and another century must elapse before one could stand in the broad daylight of religious liberty.
No people were more enlightened during this period than the English, yet England furnishes a striking example of religious persecution. The English Reformation is commonly dated from Henry VIII, but that monarch did little more than transfer to himself the power before wielded by the Pope. The seeds for such a revolt had been sown long before by John Wyclif. It was the leaven of Lollardism that brought about in the English heart the conditions which now made the work of Henry vastly easier than it otherwise could have been. After the death of Henry the religious mind of England swayed to and fro for a hundred years and more with the caprice of the sovereign and the ever changing condition of politics. At length, however, the country settled down to the maintenance by law of an Established Church; but there were many whose consciences could not be bound. There were many who attempted to purify the Church of England and were called Puritans, while still others separated from it and were called Separatists.
These Dissenters, or Nonconformists, as they were often called, were very numerous during the reign of James I. James was a narrow-minded pedant, and probably without any very deep religious convictions. Bred in the Presbyterian faith, he despised Presbyterianism because incompatible with his ideas of monarchy. Of the Puritans he said, "I will make them conform, or I will harry them out of the land." They refused to conform, and the cruel monarch did the latter--he harried them out of the land.
History of the United States of America, by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV, page 98
Transcribed by Kathy Leigh
Created September 15, 2000
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