declared himself ‘ready to be bound and banished and
even to die in New England
,’ rather than renounce the opinions which had dawned upon his mind in the clearness of light.
At a time when Germany
was the battle-field for all Europe
in the implacable wars of religion; when even Holland
was bleeding with the anger of vengeful factions; when France
was still to go through the fearful struggle with bigotry; when England
was gasping under the despotism of intolerance almost half a century before William Penn
became an American proprietary; and two years before Descartes
founded modern philosophy on the method of free reflection,—Roger Williams
asserted the great doctrine of intellectual liberty.
It became his glory to found a state upon that principle, and to stamp himself upon its rising institutions, in characters so deep that the impress has remained to the present day, and, can never be erased without the total destruction of the work.
The principles which he first sustained amidst the bickerings of a colonial parish, next asserted in the general court of Massachusetts
, and then introduced into the wilds on Narragansett Bay
, he soon found occasion to publish to the world, and to defend as the
basis of the religious freedom of mankind; so that, borrowing the rhetoric employed by his antagonist in derision, we may compare him to the lark, the pleasant bird of the peaceful summer, that, ‘affecting to soar aloft, springs upward from the ground, takes his rise from pale to tree,’ and at last, surmounting the highest hills, utters his clear carols through the skies of morning1
He was the first person in modern Christendom to assert in its plenitude the doctrine of the liberty of