NEARLY two hundred years have passed away since the subject of this article went to his rest. Yet during all this period, no biography of him has appeared. No one has attempted to gather the scattered material into a connected whole, although some of our best writers have declared that the task ought to be undertaken. During his life he was almost constantly in public service, and was distinguished for his wisdom in conducting the affairs of a young commonwealth, whose government he was largely influential in shaping. Aside, however, from his public labors, which demand a generous recognition from a grateful people, he possessed elements of character which give him a claim upon the consideration of succeeding generations. He was, Mr. Arnold says, in his history of Rhode Island, "one of the most eminent men of the seventeenth century." And Mr. Palfrey, in his history of New England, accords to him a commanding place among his contemporaries, affirming that "for many years before his death he had been the most important citizen of his colony."
Mr. Clarke was, moreover, one of the fathers of our Baptist Israel, maintaining our faith with singular consistency, and defending it
with rare ability, and with self-denying zeal and devotion. "It is mortifying," says a writer in the Christian Review, "that we have allowed men like Clarke and Callender, Backus and Manning, - each of them an honored and true-hearted advocate of the faith we profess, at a time when this faith was despised and derided over the greater part of New England, - to pass away so nearly from the memory of men." While the last two have since each found a biographer, the other worthies mentioned still await a similar service. Speaking of Mr. Clarke, Professor Gammell remarks that "his life ought long ago to have been written, and every lineament of his pure and spotless character . . . should have been held forth to the respect and admiration of those who enjoy the fruits of his labors."
It is only the briefest outline of this life that we can attempt. It is to be regretted that the materials for a full portraiture of his character are so meagre. Our sources of knowledge are principally the Rhode Island Colonial Records, which are quite full and well preserved; the few writings he himself has left to us; and the occasional allusions made to him by several of the early chroniclers and historians.
Of his early life we, can learn but little. He was born October 8th, 1609, and, tradition says, in Bedfordshire, England. Another tradition makes him a native of Suffolk.l That he possessed and improved most excellent advantages for acquiring a liberal culture his after life gives abundant proof. He became not only master of his native tongue, but learned in the ancient languages. He was "a scholar, bred probably at one of England's ancient universities," and felt the quickening influence of the intellectual activity of the age. His studies seem to have embraced a wide range, and to have included the principles of law, and the interpretation of the Scriptures in their originals. He also gave attention to medicine, which he afterwards practiced. To his early religious life we have scarcely a clue. But we know that he was a subject of regenerating grace before leaving the mother country, and doubtless emigrated for "conscience sake," that he might enjoy larger religious privileges. He may have been an accredited minister of the gospel, since the year after his arrival we read of his being engaged as a preacher. But whether he were a Baptist from the time of his conversion, or subsequently became one, we are left quite to conjecture. We know, however, of no record of any change of sentiments after his coming hither. A writer at the South, in a historical work entitled "Baptist Succession," informs us, without however giving the authority
l Backus's History, second edition, i, 348.
for his statement, that "he received his baptism in Elder Stillwell's church, in London."l
When twenty-eight years of age he, with his wife, sailed from his native land, arriving at Boston not far from September, 1637. Seeking here, like multitudes of earnest Christians during this period, a place where unmolested he might worship God, a bitter disappointment awaited him. He was at once reminded that for holding views not entertained by the authorities, he was an object of suspicion and alarm. Immediately on his arrival, the arms with which, like all the colonists, he had furnished himself as a neccessary precaution against danger, were taken from him by the magistrates.2 It was a time of intense excitement in the Massachusetts colony. The "Antinomian controversy" was then at its height, enlisting all the people, whether learned or ignorant, as earnest partizans either on the one side or the other. At first purely religious, it became afterward a political strife. The one side emphasized law, and the other grace; the one order, and the other liberty. Although the "Antinomian" party was at one time by far the most numerous in Boston, "recruiting its ranks from the most accomplished as well as the most liberal of her citizens," the "Legalist" finally triumphed, and conformity was required, on the part of all, to the practice and belief of the established church.
Differences of opinion, Mr. Clarke tells us, appeared as soon as he was ashore. He had anticipated these, and had also anticipated a toleration of them. He had expected to find freedom from pains and penalties on account of differences in religious belief. In this expectation he was disappointed, and hence resolved not to remain but to go into the wilderness. Others joined him in this resolution, and he led a movement for colonizing, "having," he says, "Long Island and Delaware Bay in our eye for the place of our residence." But as in the case of so many other pilgrims, the Lord ordered otherwise. While some of the party went by water, around the Cape, Mr. Clarke, with others, crossed overland, by way of Providence, where he was "courteously and lovingly received" by Roger Williams. This may have been the first, though it was by no means the last meeting of these two men, who were to become so illustrious in
l Rev. D. B. Bay, Lexington, Ky. In a private letter, Mr. Ray gives the "Trilemma" of Rev. J. R. Graves, a book the writer has not seen, as his authority for the statement in the text. The author of the "Baptist Succession" has collected a great mass of interesting and very valuable material, and has arranged it with considerable skill. But although the present article appears at one point to affirm his position, its writer has little sympathy with the purpose of his work, having no more faith in "Baptismal Succession" than in "Apostolical."
2 Massachusetts Colonial Records, i, 212.
advocating and defending the doctrine of freedom. It was no casual meeting. Clarke was acquainted with the circumstances connected with Williams's banishment two years before, and understood the principles involved in it. He may have sought this conference in order to compare their views; perhaps to receive himself more light; perhaps to conduct his friend still further in the truth (it was the next year that Williams was baptized); perhaps to speak to him words of consolation and cheer, in his hiding place in the wilderness, as well as to obtain information respecting the surrounding country.
Mr. Williams suggested, as a desirable place for the adventurers, either Lowams, now Barrington, or Aquidueck, now Rhode Island. After a journey to Plymouth, to learn whether these places were within her jurisdiction, Mr. Clarke selected the Island, inasmuch as it lay beyond the Plymouth claim; and he and his companions proposed to form an independent colony, with a government founded on liberty. A settlement, afterwards called Portsmouth, was first effected, at the north part of the Island; but the year following, in the beginning of 1639, a number of the people, including most of the prominent men, removed to the southwest, and began another settlement, to which they gave the name of Newport. The latter colony, "being the larger, seems to have taken with it and continued the Portsmouth records, which have been followed up to this time."l At both places, Mr. Clarke was commissioned to survey the land, and apportion it among the inhabitants. The next year, 1640, the two settlements were united, under one government.
From its inception, Mr. Clarke was a leading spirit in the new colony. His life is so interwoven with its history, that to have a correct knowledge of the one neccessitates a knowledge of the other. He was almost always employed for the public good. His disciplined mind brought constant and invaluable aid to the infant colony. To no one, perhaps, was the colony under greater obligations than to him. Yet so quietly and unobtrusively did he do his work that his great merits have not been duly appreciated. But the careful student of this early period discovers in him the colony's guiding genius. The better his history is known, the more commanding is the position assigned him.
We now enter upon an interesting passage of history. We are to follow Clarke and his associates, as they address themselves to the difficult task of framing a government. We make him prominent, because, as we shall see in the sequel, he was probably the author of the future government adopted, and of the code of laws by which it
l Rhode Island Colonial Records, i, 69.
was administered. In the discharge of this duty they were obliged to tread on new ground. They had no guides to follow, no models to imitate. The way was, as yet, unsurveyed; and no beacons had been set up, to give them direction. Although the principle of liberty had long been recognized, references being made to it in the early history of the church, earnest protests being uttered, from the time of Constantine onward against the union of church and state, against the assumed right of the civil power to interfere in religious matters, yet this principle had never been incorporated into any civil government. "I do not know," Callender remarks, that "there was ever before, since the world came into the church, such an instance as the settlement of this colony and Island." Liberty and law were to be united in wedlock, and the union declared in terms consistent with both. Laws were to be framed that should not destroy, but recognize and conserve individual freedom. This was their problem. They could imitate none of the governments of the old world; for they were all monarchies, more or less absolute. Nor could they follow the lead of the older New England colonies; for they were all, though not to the same degree, despotic and oppressive. Having escaped the ecclesiastical tyranny of England, the Puritans became themselves almost tyrants. In England, they had complained bitterly of governmental interferences with their religion; but, as they too sadly proved by their own government, on this side of the water, their trouble was not with the principle of interference, only with its application. Freedom of conscience, and independence of thought, were not protected by their legislation. The church was a ward of the state, as truly in New as in Old England. Nor could our settlers repair to Providence; for Providence had as yet scarcely a government. Roger Williams apprehended the principle of "soul liberty," with remarkable clearness. He boldly affirmed the inalienable right of every person to his opinions and beliefs. But the principle had not been embodied in laws. Roger Williams went into the wilderness, to find an asylum from oppression, not to found a state; while to establish an independent colony was the avowed intention of the islanders; "and the organization of a regular government was their initial step."l Carefully they felt their way along, toward the proper limits and prerogatives of civil government. Cautiously they laid the foundations of the new state. While adhering, in their proposed government, with tenacity to the element of liberty, they made equally emphatic the element of law.
The sundering of church from state was a bold step; but their
l Arnold, History of Rhode Island, i, 125.
principles demanded it, and they did not hesitate to take it. It was not enough, however, to declare them separate, and to remand both church and state each to its own separate province. They must go further, and determine what the state is, and what its sphere and authority.
Feeling around for the proper basis of a strong and righteous government, they laid hold of two facts, which they assumed to be established: first, that God is the source of all authority in the state; and, secondly, that his revealed will, so far as it pertains to the conduct of man with man, should be its fundamental law. On these two facts they began to build, as appears from the first compact to which they appended their names. In the presence of Jehovah, they solemnly incorporated themselves into a body politic; and they agreed to submit their persons and estates unto the Lord Jesus Christ, "and to all those perfect and absolute laws of his, given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby."l The meaning which, they attached to this agreement is revealed in an order, made a few months subsequently, giving to the officers of government authority to punish "all breaches of the laws of God, THAT TEND TO CIVIL DISTURBANCE."2 That the government thus inaugurated was designed, as some have supposed, for the protection of Christians alone, cannot, we think, be shown. Clarke and his associates "did not confine their principles of toleration to men professing Christianity, but allowed room for those of every faith, Jew or Gentile, Christian or Pagan." At first a pure democracy, the laws emanating from the entire body of freemen assembled in town-meeting, the government was the second year vested in a representative body, which was, however, held rigidly responsible to its constituents. So jealous were the people lest delegated authority should work mischief, and gradually undermine their liberties, that they repeatedly, in their town meetings, declared the inviolability of the liberty of conscience, and that their government was a republic. Thus, in 1641, it was "ordered, and unanimously agreed upon, that the government which this body politic doth attend unto in this Island, and the jurisdiction thereof, in favor of our prince, is a DEMOCRACY,3 or popular government." At the same time, it was ordered "that none be accounted a delinquent for doctrine, provided it be not directly repugnant to the government or laws established," a provision necessary for those who, like the Mormons for example, outrage, in the name of conscience and religion, the very first principles of morality and decency. In
l Rhode Island Colonial Records, i, 52.
2 Ibid, i, 65.
3 This word is recorded in large capitals. Ibid, i, 112.
September of the same year they ordered "that the law of the last court, made concerning liberty of conscience in point of doctrine, is perpetuated."
In solving the difficult questions which arose in the prosecution of their novel undertaking, rapid progress was made. As early as 1641, they assumed the name of a state, and ordered a seal, having for its' device a sheaf of arrows bound up, and, on the leash, the beautiful, and, in the circumstances, very significant motto, "Amor vincet omnia." During the first year at Newport, Mr. Clarke was authorized to take steps toward procuring a charter. Three years later, he, with others, was again appointed to the task, "with full powers to act." Before they had proceeded far with their plans, Roger Williams, who had gone to England, returned with a very liberal charter, incorporating the four towns, Portsmouth and Newport, on the Island, and Providence and Warwick, on the mainland, under the name of "Providence Plantations, in Narraganset Bay, in New England." For some reason, there was very long delay in accepting it, the towns not incorporating under it until 1647. These four towns, originally independent colonies, were then confederated under one government. In this new order of things, Mr. Clarke was equally prominent and influential.
The laws adopted by the towns, as united under the charter, were taken substantially from the islanders. The form of government was patterned after the "model" which they had exhibited.l From them, Mr. Arnold says, "had emanated the code of laws, and to them it was entrusted to perfect the means of enforcing that code."2 And Mr. Clarke, to employ the language of another, "was that legislator who framed the code of laws for the government of the Island." "And," the same writer continues, "as these laws virtually constituted the basis of the laws of the colonies when united [the united towns], it is supposed that he, to a great extent, was the author of that system of government which was prepared in Newport by some one whose name is not announced, and which was adopted at the meeting at Portsmouth, May 19th, 1647."3 The want of space forbids even a partial analysis of this admirable code. The preamble declares the inviolability of the liberty of conscience, and that the government is "DEMOCRATICAL"; and the code concludes with these remarkable words: "And otherwise than thus what is herein forbidden, all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, every one in the name of his God. AND LET THE SAINTS OF THE MOST HIGH WALK
l Rhode Island Colonial Records, i, 43, 147.
2 History, i, 204.
3 Henry Jackson, D. D., "Chh. of Rhode Island," p. __ .
IN THIS COLONY WITHOUT MOLESTATION, IN THE NAME OF JEHOVAH, THEIR GOD, FOREVER AND EVER."l
At a later period, Mr. Clarke was twice appointed to codify the laws, once, in 1664, with Mr. Williams, and again, two years afterwards, with these ample powers, illustrating the confidence reposed in him: "It is ordered that Mr. John Clarke is deputed and authorized to compose all the laws of the colony into a good method and order, leaving out what may be superfluous, and adding what may appear unto him necessary, as well for the regulation of courts as otherwise," the result to be presented to the General Assembly for approval."2
While thus laboriously perfecting a government for Rhode Island, Mr. Clarke was compelled to exert his influence in defending her against the encroachments of her neighbors. They proposed to make a tripartite division of her territory: that the Narraganset country should be absorbed by Connecticut; that Massachusetts should appropriate Providence and Warwick; while to Plymouth should fall the island towns, - a device to wipe the struggling state from existence. This dismemberment seemed at one time imminent, for a party arose on the island, the most important part of the confederacy, that favored the design. But Clarke persistently and successfully opposed the movement, which aimed a death-blow, not only at the independent life of the Rhode Island colony, but also at the free principles which she represented. "Coddington was a royalist, and was attempting to withdraw the island from the other towns, and unite it to Plymouth, while Clarke and Easton were republicans, and leaders of the dominant party."3
In 1651, Mr. Clarke made his memorable visit to Lynn, summoned thither to administer spiritual comfort to a Christian brother. While there, he had an experience of the rigor of Massachusetts law. He was aware that the sanctity of conscience was not protected, and doubtless knew that a severe law had been enacted against the "Anabaptists." Yet he did not hesitate to obey what he regarded a call of duty. At the house of this friend and brother, he commented on Revelation iii. 10, and applied the teaching to themselves; the visit suggesting, as he says, the temptation that had fallen on the people of God, and the sweet promise made to those who keep the word of his patience. - While speaking in a very quiet way at this private house, he was summarily arrested and lodged in prison, where he remained about a fortnight, and was then fined twenty pounds, the fine being,
l Rhode Island Colonial Records, i, 190.
2 Ibid, ii, 184.
3 Arnold, i, 222.
without his knowledge, subsequently paid by friends. His companions, one of whom was Obadiah Holmes, were also imprisoned and fined. Mr. Palfrey imputes a political motive to this visit of Clarke. He affirms that in his opinion, Mr. Clarke wished to secure an exhibition of Massachusetts intolerance of dissentients, in order to prejudice his own colony against her. If Clarke had a motive of this kind, it must be confessed that the Massachusetts authorities did not frustrate his plans. He says, "without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God or man, we were sentenced." Neither the end sought nor the method employed to attain it admits of justification. To the governor, who had upbraided him with the name of Anabaptist, he replied: "I disown the name; I am neither an Anabaptist, nor a Pedobaptist, nor a Catabaptist." In the course of his defence, he desired to know by what law of God he had been condemned. The governor informed him that for denying the validity of infant baptism he deserved even the penalty of death; that he "would not have such trash brought into their jurisdiction; and furthermore, that his position could not be maintained before their ministers."
In face of such a charge, Mr. Clarke could not do otherwise than ask for a public disputation, conscious of having the truth and of his ability to defend it. He therefore proposed that the points of doctrine wherein they differed, agreeably to the challenge, be publicly discussed; and offered to defend his faith against any minister whom the court might select, provided he could be assured of the protection of the court, - an important provision at the time. He was given at first to understand that his request would be acceded to, and the learned Mr. Cotton be chosen to meet him. But after many delays, and several letters had passed. between the parties, his proposition was declined, in a paper written by Mr. Cotton, and signed by the governor, deputy governor, and others. Lest his enemies should take advantage of the failure, and the truth, he says, be hindered, he offered to leave his distant home for a discussion, at any time the court might direct, and would guarantee that he should suffer in it no "molestation or interruption." By such a conference, he hoped that the cause of truth would be promoted, and good be done. He desired that his opponents might be reclaimed from their errors; be persuaded to adopt a more enlightened form of civil government, and drop all human additions from their church system; or else, that he might have his own eyes opened to the follies into which he had been led. "If the faith and order which I profess," he says, "do stand by the word of God, then the faith and order which you
profess, must needs fall to the ground; and if the way you walk in remain, then the way I walk in must vanish away. They cannot both stand together."l A sentiment that might well be pondered by those who have swung from the position of the old Puritans into the opposite extreme, who are inclined to ignore the eternal distinctions between truth and error, and to inaugurate a union of Christians on a basis of compromise.
The assumption of Mr. Palfrey that this visit was made for the sake of political capital, is entirely gratuitous. For fourteen years there had been no occasion for Mr. Clarke to go into Massachusetts, but now there was a call. And, in the spirit of Paul on his way to Jerusalem, where bonds and imprisonment awaited him, he ventured thither, notwithstanding the severe laws in force against persons of his faith.
But other tasks were before him. Unbeknown to the people, a leading citizen of the colony had obtained a commission from England, which made him virtually sovereign of the island, separating it from the towns on the main land, and, in, effect, annulling the charter. There was no time to be lost. Portsmouth and Newport united in urging Mr. Clarke to embark forthwith for England, to get the commission revoked; while Providence and Warwick despatched Eoger Williams to look after their interests. Uniting in an address to the Council of State, the two envoys were eminently successful; the commission was revoked, and the charter confirmed.
When this work was done, Williams returned to Rhode Island, but Clarke was induced to remain and represent the colony at the English court. And for twelve years he was her minister, conducting her affairs with marked skill and fidelity. In the month of May, 1652,2 his "Ill News from New England" was published in London. It contains an account of his treatment by the civil authorities, on his visit to Lynn, together with a statement of his religious belief on points then especially agitating the public mind, and which he defends by elaborate arguments. This work, which has become very scarce, was reprinted in 1854, by the Massachusetts Historical Society. The times were troublous in England. The nation had not recovered from the shock it received at the execution of Charles the First. But it was shortly after Clarke's arrival in the country that the battle of Worcester was fought, which made Oliver Cromwell master of England. In the midst of the stirring events which ushered in the commonwealth, Clarke was not idle.
l Ill News, 4 Massachusetts Historical Collections, ii, 27-35.
2 3 Massachusetts Historical Collections, viii, 289.
"He was an intimate associate of many of the eminent men of the time." He was brought into close contact with the leading spirits of the period, and especially with the distinguished Latin Secretary of the Protector, whose vigorous and eloquent pen wrought so effectually for freedom. John Clarke was in the fullest sympathy with every movement made toward enlarged personal liberty. But he was disappointed in regard to one of his most cherished hopes. He failed to witness a complete divorcement of church from state. Comparatively few, even of the most advanced thinkers, were prepared for a step so bold. To his varied labors he makes allusions in his letter a home. The town of Warwick, in a communication to the governor and Council of the colony, pleading, on the ground of their poverty and of his having other means of support, to be released from their proportion of the tax levied in behalf of Mr. Clarke, makes use of the following language:We know that Mr. Clarke did publicly exercise his ministry in the word of God, in London, as his. letters have made report, as that being a chief place for his profit and preferment, which, we doubt not, brought him in good means for his maintainance; as also, he was much about modelizing of matters concerning the affairs of England, as his letters have declared, in which, no doubt, he was encouraged by men of no small estates, who, in all likelihood, did communicate liberally for such of his labors and studies.lBut whatever other duties engaged his attention, he did not forget or neglect the infant colony at home. To appreciate his labors as agent, we must know the obstacles he had to overcome, in the prosecution of his mission. His post was one of exceeding difficulty. He represented a state anomalous in the history of the world. Her principles were deemed subversive of order and good government, and destructive to religion. Her democracy was offensive to the colonies about her. Hence their efforts to annoy her, to foment dissensions within her territory, to annihilate the little state, whose principles they could not understand. Massachusetts assumed jurisdiction over some of her inhabitants, and Connecticut made claims upon her western borders. Both of these colonies were ably represented at the English court, the latter at one time by the younger Winthrop. The principles of Rhode Island were not only caricatured by enemies, but often ignorantly defended by friends. The very freedom permitted in the colony brought to it many restless spirits who could live peaceably nowhere else, and jealousy for their
l Rhode Island Colonial Records, ii, 79.
liberties not infrequently led to troubles. These dissensions, sometimes indeed exceedingly bitter, tended to bring into disrepute the government which Mr. Clarke was expected to vindicate before its enemies. It is not strange that in the circumstances there should have been divisions, but they made the task of the agent extremely arduous. Yet through all these difficulties he steered his way with a steady hand. He preserved his colony from loss, enlarged her boundaries, and secured for her a more stable government, while resorting to no dishonorable methods, but maintaining his integrity. He possessed the respect and esteem of the agents of rival colonies. And through all his ministry, he enjoyed in a wonderful degree, in the midst of their troubles and mutual jealousies, the confidence of his constituents, as the numerous letters of public thanks he received abundantly prove.
Thus did he ably represent in England this unique state. But his labors abroad were to be crowned with a yet more brilliant success. He was to obtain for his colony a charter, conferring unprecedented powers and privileges, and guaranteeing to her a republican form of government, and to all her citizens liberty of conscience. It was at an auspicious moment, when Charles the Second had just ascended the throne, that Mr. Clarke besought this favor. He drew up and presented two addresses to his Majesty, in one of which he declares respecting his colony that:They have it much on their hearts, if they may be permitted, to hold forth a lively experiment that a flourishing civil state may stand, yea, and best be maintained, and that among English spirits, with a full liberty in religious concernments; and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to true sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty.lThe petitions were favorably received, a charter was granted, and immediately forwarded to Ehode Island, and the name of the colony became "Rhode Island and Providence plantations." A prominent reason for seeking this new charter, was the colony's need of a stronger government than the first would permit. That "was more a patent for the towns than for the people, legalizing, in effect, so many independent corporations, rather than constituting one sovereign will. It formed a confederacy, and not a union."2
In connection with this business, Mr. Clarke has suffered a grievous
l Ibid, i, 490.
2 Arnold, i, 285.
wrong. His great success has been ascribed to the use of dishonorable means. He has been accused of "underhand dealing," and "baseness." And a cloud, which his friends could not penetrate, did seem to envelope this transaction. But so exalted was his character, and such his uniform bearing, as to preclude the idea that he could descend to meanness, even to secure the noblest results. After two centuries, a letter is brought to light, which effectually dissipates all the clouds, leaving his character pure and spotless, but fastening infamy on one Scott, acting, at the time the charter was obtained, in the interest of private parties. This interesting passage of history, so long involved in obscurity, is fully exhibited in Mr. Arnold's very able history of Rhode Island.
The granting of this charter by the king was a signal triumph for the agent, and an occasion of profound joy to the people. It was received by them with every demonstration of delight. The Colonial Eecords give a graphic account of its reception. At a large meeting of the freemen of the colony, legally called, Nov. 24th, 1663, for the solemn reception of his Majesty's most gracious letters patent, to them sent; it was voted to open the box containing the king's letters, "and that the letters with the broad seal thereto affixed, be taken forth and read by Captain George Baxter, in the audience and full view of all the people; which was accordingly done, and the said letter with his majesty's royal stamp, and the broad seal, with much becoming gravity held up on high, and presented to the perfect view of all the people," and was then returned to the box and locked up for safe keeping. Public thanks were returned to the " triumvirate of benefactors," to "our gracious sovereign lord, King Charles the Second," to "the honorable Earl of Clarendon, lord high chancellor of England," and to "Mr. John Clarke ... for his great pains, labor and travail, with much faithfulness exercised for above twelve' years in behalf of this colony." It was also voted that "he be saved harmless in his estate," and have, in addition, a gratuity of a hundred pounds.
For one hundred and eighty years this charter formed the basis of government in Rhode Island, first as a colony, and afterwards as a state. It was not superseded until 1843. But the principles it embodied still live, not only in the constitution and laws of Rhode Island, but in the government of every state of the Union; and they are making their way into other and distant countries.
Returning home, in 1664, Mr. Clarke resumed his place in the public councils. Great joy was manifested on the occasion. The universal gladness was expressed in the General Assembly in these
words, embodied in a preamble to the first law passed: "This present assembly (now, by God's gracious providence, enjoying the helpful presence of our much honored and beloved Mr. John Clarke) doth declare," etc. Besides serving almost constantly in the assembly, he performed other most important public labors. He was a chief commissioner in adjusting the boundaries of the state, both on the east and on the west. Thus he continued in labors abundant until within a brief period of his death.
But cares of state, numerous and engrossing as they were, did not consume all his time or exhaust all his energies. During these years of public service he was active as a Christian. "All the concern of the state," Mr. Backus observes, "did not prevail with him, as it has done with many, to neglect the affairs of religion." From the first settlement of the island he exercised the functions of a preacher. Winthrop, in 1638, mentions him in his journal "as a physician and preacher to those of the island." The earliest settlers were religious people; were, indeed, "Puritans of the highest form." One of their first acts was "to build a meeting house." A church was gathered, which in Mr. Winthrop's opinion, was in "a very disorderly way, for they took some excommunicated persons and others who were members of the church of Boston, and not dismissed." Winthrop's editor, Mr. Savage, well remarks, that if they gathered a church at all, they must do it in a disorderly way, for they might well apprehend that an application for dismission would be rejected. Messengers, in 1639-40, came from the church in Boston, to look after some of their members, who had taken up their abode in Newport. On their arrival they found that these members had joined themselves to a church newly constituted there, and that they utterly refused to see the messengers or to receive their letter, denying the authority of the Boston church over them. The following year, Winthrop mentions the presence of "professed Anabaptists" on the island, and the appearance among the people of differences of opinion, which resulted in the formation of two opposing parties. "On the one side were Easton, Coddington, Coggeshall, and others; while on the .other side was their minister, Mr. Clarke, and with him were Lenthall, Harding, and others, who dissented and publicly opposed, whereby it grew to such a heat of contention that it made schism among them." While Coddington and Easton became Quakers, Clarke and his friends remained Baptists. This Mr. Lenthall had, as early as 1638, at Weymouth, embraced Baptist views, holding that "only baptism was the door of entrance into the visible church."l
l Massachusetts Historical Collections, v, 275.
And that "the common sort of people did eagerly embrace his opinions," is the reluctant confession of Hubbard, who accuses Lenthall of laboring hard with others "to get such a church on foot as all baptized ones might communicate in, without any further trial of them." Shortly afterward, Lenthall removed to Ehode Island, and in 1640 was admitted a freeman at Newport.
In both colonies, Plymouth and Massachusetts, Baptist principles were at work. Hubbard and others witnessed, with anxiety and alarm, their rapid spread. And to prevent the further growth of this dreaded heresy, a stringent law was, in 1644, enacted in Massachusetts, against the Anabaptists, banishing from the colony all who openly condemned or opposed the baptizing of infants, or went about secretly to seduce others from their approbation or use thereof, or should purposely depart the congregation at the ministration of the ordinance; or should deny the right of the magistracy to punish the outward breaches of the first table. But the spirit of inquiry which was abroad this severe law could not restrain. The influences from Rhode Island were stimulating. A novel experiment was there being tried. Although the Baptist interest at Weymouth was smothered'by the civil authorities, another appeared elsewhere. In 1649, several persons in Seekonk (Rehoboth), among them Obadiah Holmes, became Baptists, and were immersed by Mr. Clarke. In a letter to Gov. Winthrop, dated December 10, 1649, Roger Williams writes: "At Seekonk a great many have lately concurred with Mr. John Clarke, and our Providence men, about the point of a new baptism, and the manner by dipping; and Mr. John Clarke hath been there lately (and Mr. Lucar) and hath dipped them."l Some of these subsequently united with the church in Newport. Mr. Clarke's influence as a Baptist was felt not only in Weymouth and Hehoboth and Lynn, but in Boston itself, within the very shadow of Mr. Cotton's church. When Thomas Gould and the noble band of Baptists who, in 1665, constituted the first baptized church in Boston, were in straits, being summoned before the magistrates' to answer lor their faith, without delay Mr. Clarke's church despatched three of their number to that city to render their persecuted brethren any assistance in their power. For a long period these churches maintained a very close and intimate relationship, A correspondence was kept up between them, in which they stimulated each other to love and good works.
Such, in outline, were some of the labors of this worthy man as statesman and divine. Thus were his years occupied. His life was
l 4 Massachusetts Historical Collections, vi, 274.
a perpetual sacrifice. While his influence was most potently felt in Rhode Island, it was not confined to her borders. Strongly he impressed himself upon the men and institutions of his time. Perhaps no man in New England was at that time more influential than he in giving currency in liberal sentiments, and spreading them abroad through the colonies. Yet in the midst of these multiplied public labors he found time and relish for study. Though his circumstances were not favorable to its most successful prosecution, he seems to have made very considerable progress. The following clause in his will may, as Mr. Backus remarks, "give some idea of his learning": "Unto my loving friend Richard Bailey, I give and bequeath my Concordance and Lexicon to it belonging, written by myself, being the fruit of several years study; my Hebrew Bibles, Buxtorff's and Passor's Lexicon, Cotton's Concordance, and all the rest of my books." Among his books was one by Roger Williams, "The bloody Tenet yet more Bloody," presented to him by the author, and which is now in the library of Brown University. A fly-leaf bears the following inscription in Williams's handwriting: "For his honored and beloved Mr. John Clarke, an eminent witness of Christ Jesus, against the bloody doctrine of persecution," etc.l Thus, in studies which would fit him the better for duties of life, did Mr. Clarke employ his leisure moments.All his study bentHis toils ceased only with his death, which occurred April 20th, 1676. We know but little of his domestic life. He was three times married. Once before leaving England for the first time to Elizabeth Hargea, a lady of Bedfordshire; in 1671, to Mrs. Jane Fletcher, who died the following year. His third wife, Mrs. Sarah Davis, survived him. He left no children. Mr. Arnold gives this just estimate of his life and services.
To worship God aright, and know his works
Not hid, nor those things last which might preserve
Freedom and peace to men.He was a ripe scholar, learned in the practice of two professions, besides having had large experience in diplomatic and political life. He was always in public life under the old patent, as a commissioner and as general treasurer, from the first election of commissioners held under it until sent to England. On his return, he served as a deputy in the assembly from the first election under the charter till he was made deputy governor, to which position he was three times elected, and served twice, closing his public life with that office, five years before his-----------------------------------
l Narraganset Club Publications, iv, 9.
death. He was a patriot, a scholar, and a Christian. The purity of his character was conspicuous in many trying scenes, and his blameless, self-sacrificing life disarmed detraction, and left him without an enemy.lOf the personal appearance of a man to whom the country is so much indebted, and who wrought so industriously and effectually for the truth, it would be interesting to have some knowledge. Looking into a volume of collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, it seemed that we were to be gratified in this particular. For in the Society's list of old portraits there is one picture described as that of Dr. John Clarke, of Khode Island. But on examination we found that some one had made a mistake, and that the painting in question was of another Dr. Clarke, an eminent physician of Newbury.
But though we have no outline of his form and features, we have many unmistakable lines which reveal to us the strength and robustness of his mind, and the exceeding grace and loveliness of his moral character. He possessed a mind clear and comprehensive, enriched by culture and learning. Strong was his grasp upon principles, and unfalteringly he followed them to their logical consequences. Sincerity was a prominent mental characteristic; truth was the object he aimed at, not triumph. He was cautious in reaching his conclusions, but tenacious of them when reached. His positions were carefully taken and vigorously defended. Decided in his convictions, he was strong as a leader. To a mind richly endowed, he united a heart of rare kindliness. Yet Mr. Palfrey, while acknowledging his great abilities, represents him as acting from dishonorable motives, as "nursing a deep-seated grudge," as "vindictive," in his championship of Rhode Island. Never were terms so misapplied. It is painful to notice, in a work so able and interesting as Mr. Palfrey's history of New England, such evident traces of a partizan spirit. In his eager attempt to vindicate the aims and purposes of the Puritans, the historian has failed to do justice to others whose career fell under his review. He always seems to refer to that part of his narrative touching Rhode Island in the spirit of Nathaniel when he asked Philip, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" He is especially unjust toward Mr. Clarke, aspersing his motives when no other attack can be made. It is true that Mr. Clarke opposed the narrowness of Puritan legislation, and diligently sought the dissemination of liberal ideas, but always in a gentlemanly way and with a Christian spirit. Language which Mr. Palfrey has used in a different connection may appropriately be applied to John Clarke and his compeers. They proved themselves heroes "who breast the tid- th hearts of
l History, i. 412.
controversy, sustained by consciousness of power in themselves, and by a supreme confidence that, against whatever strength of opposition, truth and right will prove their sufficient allies."
In studying his character one cannot fail to be impressed with his extreme modesty. He never obtruded himself upon public notice. Mr. Palfrey finds that "he did not seem to care for office." He was prominent because circumstances compelled it. He stepped forward because the public good demanded that he should. Through all his life he evinced singular disinterestedness. He had no private interests to advance for which public service was simply a cover and a pretext. The public weal was promoted to the detriment rather of his private affairs. From his own slender resources he made advances to relieve the colony. While in England he mortgaged his estate in Newport to defray the expenses attending the procuring of the royal charter. On account of an impoverished public treasury, this mortgage was not removed until after his death. The strictest integrity marked his life. Every trust reposed in him was fulfilled with religious conscientiousness. He enjoyed, perhaps beyond any of his associates, the confidence of the people. Over all his other virtues was thrown the charm of unaffected piety. From a private letter, written while he was in England, in 1652, we obtain this interesting view of his inner life:There can be nothing in the present evil world, so far as I am acquainted with my own heart as it stands to Godward, that is more pleasing and delightful to it, than the manifestation of the enlargement of the kingdom of his clear Son, and that many obedient servants are added to the Lord whom God the Father has resolved to exalt above every name that is named, not only in this present world, but in that which is to come; and that they who are so added, being living members of that body which by a spirit of life is joined unto that living Lord who is Head over all, may increase with all the increase of God, is the earnest desire and prayer of my soul.lIn belief he was a Baptist; was one from conviction, and as such was firm and decided. The positions taken by him are those held by the Baptist denomination of this country at the present time. He maintained them with consistency until his death. The Baptist conception of the church he found to be not only scriptural, but essential to the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom on earth. A church is successful in missionary labor just in proportion as it approximates this conception. He held to the doctrines of grace; to a converted church membership; that baptism is the immersion of a believer in
l Backus's History, second edition, ii, 497.
water into the name of the Trinity; that it precedes church membership, and church membership the privileges of the Lord's Supper; that every disciple is to be active for the Master in word and deed; and that no servant of Jesus can force upon others the faith and order of the gospel, - that persecution cannot be employed to advance the cause of Christ.
As a theologian Mr. Clarke was strongly Calvinistic. This appears from a written statement of his doctrinal views, a part of which is recorded in the books of his church. He delighted to exalt the sovereignty of Jehovah in the salvation of men. The doctrine of election was evidently sweet to him. He found the ground of the saints' election not in themselves; but, as Hodge defines the Calvinistic view, "in the eternal, sovereign, and infinitely wise, righteous and loving will of God." Predestination Mr. Clarke defines to be "the wise, free, just, eternal, and unchangeable sentence or decree of God, determining to create and govern man for his special glory, viz., the praise of his glorious mercy and justice." Election he defines as " the decree of God, of his free love, grace and mercy, choosing some men to faith, holiness, and eternal life, for the praise of his glorious mercy." He declares that "the cause which moved the Lord to elect them who are chosen, was none other but his mere good will and pleasure." "The end is the manifestation of the riches of his grace and mercy." "The sending of Christ, faith, holiness, and eternal life, are the effects of his love." On the other hand, "sin is the effect of man's free will, and condemnation is an effect of justice inflicted on man for sin and disobedience." l
His character was marred by no eccentricities, no odd conceits, but was symmetrical in all its parts. He had no grave defects to set over against exalted virtues. It would be interesting to compare him with his illustrious contemporary and fellow-laborer, Roger Williams. Any attempt so to write history as to ignore either of these men is a perversion of history. Any attempt to represent them as inimical to each other, or even as rivals, is dishonoring to both. They were both noble men,-and both wrought nobly and well for their generation and for future ages. They were friends and allies, not rivals, although very unlike in many particulars. Williams was perhaps the more speculative, Clarke was the more practical; Williams was the more impulsive, Clarke the more calm and judicious; Williams was the more voluminous writer, Clarke the more skillful statesman and diplomatist. Both were zealous champions of "soul liberty;" both earnestly toiled for the realization of a great principle, both wrought
l Ibid, i, 206.
persistently and successfully for the enfranchisement of mind, both deserve to be enrolled among the benefactors of the world.
We rejoice in the efforts made to do honor to the memory of the founder of Providence. But to commemorate the services of his "loving friend," there is no fitting monument, no shaft of marble, no statue of bronze, no memoir of his life and labors, no worthy biography even. And yet he was second, probably, to none of his contemporaries, in moral worth, in intellectual power, and in the fruitfulness of his labors. The results of his labors it is impossible to estimate. These constitute his memorial. They are blessing the world to-day. The great principle with which his life was identified, for which he toiled and suffered, has not been killed, or banished from the earth, but has triumphed in the neighboring colonies, compelling them one after another to give it an asylum, until it is welcomed and honored in every state of the Union. And now liberty of conscience is declared to be a principle of international law.
C. E. Barrows. Newport, Rhode Island. =================
[From The Baptist Quarterly, VI, 1872, pp. 483-502. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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