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[53] It was as a radical that he went back to the past, seeking to recover the original Congregational principle, which, since the conservative triumph in the Synod of 1637, had been greatly obscured. The theme of his two books is the same, a defence of the “venerable New-English constitution” ; but the significance of them in the history of democratic America lies in the fact that he followed “an unbeaten path,” justifying the principles of Congregationalism by analogy from civil polity. Seemingly alone amongst the New England clergy of his day he had grounded himself in political theory; and the doctrine upon which he erected his argument was the new conception of “natural rights,” derived from a study of Puffendorf's De Jure Naturae et Gentium, published in 1672. This was the first effective reply in America to the old theocratic sneer that if the democratic form of government were indeed divinely sanctioned, was it not strange that God had overlooked it in providing a system for his chosen people? But Wise had broken with the literal Hebraism of earlier times, and was willing to make use of a pagan philosophy, based upon an appeal to history, a method which baffled the followers of the old school. They found difficulty in replying to such argument:

That a democracy in church or state, is a very honourable and regular government according to the dictates of right reason, And, therefore. . . That these churches of New England, in their ancient constitution of church order, it being a democracy, are manifestly justified and defended by the law and light of nature.

With the advance of the democratic movement of modern times, the life and work of John Wise take on new interest. After a spirited contest lasting for three-quarters of a century, theocratic Puritanism merged in ecclesiastical democracy. For two generations it had remained doubtful which way the church would incline. Dominated by gentlemen, it was warped toward Presbyterianism; but interpreted by commoners, it leaned towards Congregationalism. The son of a plebeian, Wise came naturally into sympathy with the spirit of radical Separatism, bred of the democratic aspirations of the old Jacobean underlings; and this radical Separatism he found justified by the new philosophy, as well as by the facts of the

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