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Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 5, 2012
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*Starred Review* Barry traces American separation of church and state back to earliest colonial days, when John Winthrop (1588–1649), first governor of Massachusetts Bay, and Roger Williams (1603–83), founder of Rhode Island, argued over whether government should enforce religious conformity, a dispute that eventuated in—besides such more immediately consequential things as banishment (and worse) for dissenters from colonial theocracies—Williams’ written formulation of the concept Jefferson boiled down to “wall of separation between church and state.” Barry likes to get to the roots of his subjects, so he delves farther back about Williams, in particular, to the inspiration he took from his patron Edward Coke, England’s greatest jurist, and Coke’s bitter rival in government, Sir Francis Bacon. From Coke, Williams garnered faith in the law and due process as well as, through Coke’s battles with James I and Charles I, the importance of maintaining the rights of Englishmen (Coke’s concept) against divine-right regimes, whether under king or, as in Massachusetts Bay, council. From Bacon, Williams imbibed a penchant for real-world (scientific) testing of beliefs (hypotheses) that led him to launch Rhode Island. Winthrop and Williams were on cordial terms almost to the former’s death, which is just one fascinating strand in the swath of history Barry brings to urgent life with the same focused intelligence that distinguished his The Great Influenza (2004). --Ray Olson
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I ordered Barry's book immediately after reading the review by Chaplin a month ago (Jan 1). I read it to remind me of my past and to refresh my knowledge of Williams. I too graduated from Brown a few years before Barry and enjoyed my study with Hedges, McLaughlin and Bridenbaugh. I spent a considerable time reviewing the early social and economic history of seventeenth century Rhode Island. My personal family history includes the fact my ancestor left the Bay colony for Providence in 1637, owned the adjoining land to Williams then, and Mrs Scott was influential in convincing Williams of the need for adult or believers baptism.
I found Barry's discussion of Chaplin's review a bit contentious. That Barry discusses at length the qualities of Williams which are essential in how his ideas were used in the ensuing centuries, the book is more about how he developed these ideas. Barry has worked diligently to see how the ideas matured over time through a careful and chronological review of the maturing ideas. It would take a host of intellectual and religious historians to review how Williams ideas were pulled from his tracts and letters and used over the last two centuries. We all read history from our own point of view. So, in reading this the obvious parallels between theocracies, oligarchies, and ethnic killings are clear. Would it not be good were all people to attempt to follow soul liberty.
The early history of Williams relations with Coke and Bacon, his presence as a youth in the Star Chamber and his closeness with those puritans who would later oust him from Massachusetts is essential to understand his later course. The book covers the middle years of Williams thoroughly. This required great effort. Reading the Winthrop papers and the Williams letters and tracts is difficult. Even those included here are hard to read. It would have been easier had he followed Perry Miller in his biography of Williams of 1953 in which the texts were translated into more readable English for those of us today. I did purchase the "Key into the Language of America" in its facsimile edition and remember again now how hard it is to read. Perry Miller has always been a major source in understanding the puritan Calvinist tradition as the theology developed.
Barry recognizes the debt to Edmund Morgan who is one of the more important historians of the period. His book, "Roger Williams the Church and the State" from 1967 and reprinted in 2006 covers most of the concepts in detail. The difference is its size: only 142 pages versus 395 and more importantly organization. Barry works diligently to help see subtle changes in thought through time and approaches the biography in a chronological order.
The last period of Williams life is more briefly reviewed than the early . Perhaps details of the meetings movements and life in the period when he returned alone to work with Cromwell and Milton is not discoverable. Nor is it clear to me why Charles II supported Williams, given his treatment of Vane. By the time of his return to Providence, the land was in use for farming, as Bridenbaugh wrote "Fat Mutton" and times were changed socially. The long legacy of Williams was the preservation of soul liberty certainly here, but it would appear also in England.
I heartily recommend this to all.
(Warning: One tires of reading letters and books as written before there was discipline/conformity in spelling. And, man, there were a lot of people being drawn and quartered in Merrye Olde England.)
This book tells why virtually all the new colonists rejected the English Church that evolved from the TUDORS, and how the British King James and his descendants wanted to be sacred beings, immune to public opinion and centuries of English Common Law. You discover why the Puritans were ...well ... Puritans, and why the Pilgrims were a different people.
However, the desire to establish "Jerusalem on the Hill" in America led to frightening consequences that today are way too 'un American" for our modern thinking and counter to the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, to be written a hundred years later. A better system of the Early American Democratic Republic evolved in rebellion to the early attempt at theocracy that ALMOST won.
And as an aside you have the thinking leading up to the Salem Witch Trial Era (which is later than the time frame of the book) much better explained. America had a rougher start than we have been taught
But allow a solid 20 to 40 hours to get through it.