• The Failure of Wage and Price Control in the Massachusetts Theocracy

    Email Print
    Share

     

     
     

    This article
    is excerpted from Conceived
    in Liberty
    (1975), chapter 22, “Suppressing Heresy: The
    Flight of Anne Hutchinson.” An MP3 audio file of this chapter,
    narrated by Floy Lilley, is available
    for download
    .

    Very shortly
    after the expulsion of Roger
    Williams
    , the Massachusetts Bay Colony was rent far more widely
    by another heresy with roots deep in the colony – the “antinomianism”
    of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson. A major reason for the crisis that Anne
    Hutchinson’s heresy posed for Massachusetts was that she occupied
    a high place in the colony’s oligarchy. Arriving in Massachusetts
    in 1634, she and her husband lived close to Governor Winthrop’s
    mansion in Boston and participated in Boston’s high society. A friend
    of the eminent Reverend John Cotton, she first confined her religious
    activities to expatiating on Cotton’s sermons. Soon, however, Mrs.
    Hutchinson developed a religious doctrine of her own, now known
    as antinomianism. She preached the necessity for an inner light
    to come to any individual chosen as one of God’s elect. Such talk
    marked her as far more of a religious individualist than the Massachusetts
    leaders. Salvation came only through a covenant of grace emerging
    from the inner light, and was not at all revealed in a covenant
    of works, the essence of which is good works on earth. This meant
    that the fanatically ascetic sanctification imposed by the Puritans
    was no evidence whatever that one was of the elect. Furthermore,
    Anne Hutchinson made it plain that she regarded many Puritan leaders
    as not of the elect. She also came to assert that she had
    received direct revelations from God.

    In contrast
    to Williams’ few Salem followers, Anne Hutchinson had rapid and
    sweeping success in converting her fellow citizens. John Cotton
    now became a follower of hers, as did young Sir Henry Vane, chosen
    governor by the General Court in 1636, and Anne’s brother-in-law,
    Rev. John Wheelwright. Indeed, John Winthrop (deputy governor in
    1636) wrote disgustedly that virtually the entire church at Boston
    had become her converts. As bitter enemies of Anne, there remained
    especially Winthrop and the senior minister of Boston, John Wilson.
    Mrs. Hutchinson failed in her attempt to oust Wilson from his post,
    but she did succeed in having him censured by his own congregation.

    The Hutchinsonian
    movement began, if inadvertently, to pose political problems for
    the oligarchy as well. The conscription of soldiers for a war against
    the Indians met resistance from Boston Hutchinsonians, on the ground
    that the military chaplain, Rev. John Wilson, was under a “covenant
    of works” rather than of grace.

    The anti-Hutchinson
    forces moved first against the fiery Reverend Mr. Wheelwright; the
    General Court narrowly convicted him of sedition and contempt in
    March 1637. But the sentencing of Wheelwright was postponed. The
    turning point of the Hutchinson affair came with the May election
    of 1637, which the Winthrop forces managed to win by shifting its
    site from pro-Hutchinson Boston to Newtown (now Cambridge). The
    election pitted Sir Henry Vane against former governor Winthrop
    and Thomas Dudley, running for his old post of deputy governor.
    With the election turning on the Hutchinson issue, Vane carried
    Boston but lost the other towns heavily. Winthrop, Dudley, and the
    majority of the magistrates, or assistants, were carried by the
    conservative, anti-Hutchinson faction – a not surprising victory
    when we consider that suffrage was restricted to the ranks of accepted
    church members.

    This overwhelming
    defeat spelled swift suppression for the antinomian heretics. Quickly
    the new General Court passed a law that penalized strangers and
    was directed against a group of Hutchinsonians known to be on their
    way from England. Disheartened, Sir Henry Vane gave up the struggle
    and returned to England. Seeing the way the wind was blowing, John
    Cotton promptly deserted his old disciple, abjectly recanted his
    “heresies,” and at a Newtown synod denounced 91 antinomian opinions
    as unwholesome or blasphemous. Vane was gone and Cotton an apostate,
    but there was still the Reverend Mr. Wheelwright. The already convicted
    Wheelwright was again hauled before the General Court and sentenced
    to banishment from the colony. Wheelwright walked through the snows
    to New Hampshire in the north, where he founded the settlement of
    Exeter. When by 1643 Massachusetts had appropriated the New Hampshire
    towns, Wheelwright fled to Maine. But by 1646 Wheelwright had recanted,
    bewailed his own “vehement and censorious spirit,” and was allowed
    back into Massachusetts.

    Having vented
    their fury on the major followers and isolated the leader, the Puritan
    oligarchs proceeded to the culminating point of the drama: the trial
    and persecution of Anne Hutchinson herself. There was no independent
    judiciary in the colonies; the supreme judicial arm in Massachusetts
    was the legislative body, the General Court, at this time a unicameral
    legislature presided over by the governor. Anne Hutchinson was hauled
    up for “trial,” or rather public examination, before the General
    Court in November 1637. Anne’s enemies on the General Court duly
    “tried” her, convicted her of sedition and contempt, and banished
    her from the colony. Governor Winthrop summarized the proceedings
    thus: “The Court hath already declared themselves concerning …
    the troublesomeness of her spirit, and the dangers of her course
    amongst us, which is not to be suffered.”

    Winthrop then
    called for a vote that Mrs. Hutchinson “is unfit for our society
    – and … that she shall be banished out of our liberties and
    imprisoned till she be sent away….” Only two members voted
    against her banishment.

    When
    Winthrop pronounced the sentence of banishment Anne Hutchinson courageously
    asked: “I desire to know wherefore I am banished.”

    Winthrop refused
    to answer: “Say no more. The court knows wherefore, and is satisfied.”
    It was apparently enough for the court to be satisfied; no justification
    before the bar of reason, natural justice, or the public was deemed
    necessary.

    The General
    Court now proceeded against all the leading Hutchinsonians, concentrating
    on 60 Bostonians who had previously signed a moderate petition denying
    that Reverend Wheelwright had stirred up sedition among them. Two
    members of the General Court, both of whom had spoken up for Mrs.
    Hutchinson at the trial, were expelled from the court and banished
    from the colony. Many people were disfranchised, and 75 citizens
    were disarmed, on the pretext that the Hutchinsonians were plotting
    to follow the path of the German Anabaptists of old and rise up
    in armed revolt. The “reasoning” as expounded by Dudley at the Hutchinson
    trial was that the German Anabaptists had also claimed to
    enjoy private revelations. Hutchinsonian military officers were
    forced to recant, but the determined Captain John Underhill refused
    to do so and was duly banished.

    Anne Hutchinson’s
    ordeal was still not ended. Spared banishment during the rugged
    winter, she was imprisoned at the home of one of her major enemies,
    and the elders attempted, throughout the winter, to argue her out
    of her convictions. Finally, they subjected her to an ecclesiastical
    trial the following March. Tormented, ill, and exhausted, Mrs. Hutchinson
    momentarily recanted, but as she continued to be denounced, her
    spirits returned and she put forth her views again.

    To save himself
    from the fate meted out to the other Hutchinsonians, John Cotton
    now apparently felt that his personal recantation was not enough,
    so he joined the pack rending Mrs. Hutchinson at the ecclesiastical
    trial. This man, whom Anne Hutchinson had revered and followed to
    the New World, now turned on her savagely, wailing that he had been
    duped, denouncing her as a liar and for conduct tending eventually
    to infidelity.

    The Boston
    ecclesiastical court then pronounced excommunication upon Anne,
    and it was the peculiar satisfaction of the Reverend John Wilson,
    her most bitter enemy, to deliver the sentence:

    I do cast
    you out and in the name of Christ, I do deliver you up to Satan,
    that you may learn no more to blaspheme, to seduce and to lie,
    and I do account you from this time forth to be a heathen and
    a Publican … therefore I command you in the name of Christ Jesus
    and of His Church as a Leper to withdraw yourself out of the Congregation.

    The undaunted
    Anne Hutchinson had the last word: “Better to be cast out of the
    Church than to deny Christ.”

    While Anne
    was undergoing imprisonment and subsequent excommunication, the
    leaders of the Hutchinsonian movement gathered together to flee
    the colony, and to prepare a home for themselves and Anne away from
    the developing reign of terror in Massachusetts. On March 7, 1638,
    19 men, including Anne’s husband, William Hutchinson, gathered at
    the home of the eminent Boston merchant William Coddington, one
    of the wealthiest men in the colony and its former treasurer. In
    a solemn compact, the 19 formed themselves into a “Bodie Politick,”
    choosing Coddington as their judge.

    The Hutchinsonians
    first intended to go to Long Island or Jersey to make their home,
    but they were persuaded by Roger Williams to settle in the Rhode
    Island area. On Williams’ friendly advice, Coddington purchased
    the island of Aquidneck from the Indians, and founded on the island
    the settlement of Pocasset (now Portsmouth). Anne, ill and exhausted,
    joined her husband at Aquidneck in April as soon as her trial was
    over.

    The enormous
    significance of Roger Williams’ successful flight and settlement
    of Providence two years before was now becoming evident. For Williams’
    example held out a beacon light of liberty to all the free spirits
    caught in the vast prison house that was Massachusetts Bay. By the
    happy accident of the demise of the Council for New England, the
    land south of Massachusetts Bay and west of Plymouth was free land,
    free of proprietary and effective royal government alike. It was
    a haven for religious liberty and for diverse sects and groupings,
    and for an extension of the logic of liberty as well; for once liberty
    is pursued and experienced, it is difficult to hobble its uttermost
    expansion.

    When the ill
    Anne Hutchinson arrived at her haven in Aquidneck, the many months
    of persecution had left their mark and she suffered a miscarriage,
    as did her beautiful young follower Mary Dyer, who had stood up
    to walk out of the Boston church with the excommunicated Anne. The
    Puritan leaders of Massachusetts Bay, preoccupied for years afterward
    with the Hutchinsonian menace, characteristically gloated in righteous
    satisfaction at the misfortunes of Anne and Mary. The theocrats
    were jubilant and the Reverend John Cotton, Governor Winthrop and
    the Reverend Thomas Weld all hailed Anne’s and Mary’s sufferings
    as the evident judgment of God. It was typical of the Puritans to
    hail the misfortunes of their enemies as God’s judgment, and to
    dismiss any kindness shown them by others as simply God’s will and
    therefore requiring no gratitude to those showing it.

    Massachusetts
    Bay continued, indeed, in a state of hysteria over the Hutchinsonian
    heresy for a number of years. Anne’s followers and sympathizers
    were fined, whipped, and banished, and five years later Robert Potter
    was executed for being a Hutchinsonian. It was also typical that,
    with Anne outside their jurisdiction, the Boston church leaders
    should send a committee to Aquidneck to try to persuade her of the
    error of her ways. If they could no longer inflict violence upon
    Anne, they could at least badger and harass her. It is not surprising
    that the beleaguered Anne gave the committee short shrift, kicked
    it out of her home, and denounced the Boston church as a “whore
    and a strumpet.”

    In Pocasset,
    Anne was spiritual leader of the flock and Coddington temporal leader.
    The Pocasset government was chosen by the assembled freeholders,
    and, like Providence, the government had to consent to the arrival
    of any newcomers to the colony. But Anne Hutchinson was becoming
    more and more concerned for the principle of freedom of conscience
    rather than for propagating her own religious views. She began to
    see that Coddington and his associates were launching a new theocracy
    of their own in the infant colony. For Coddington was “judge” of
    the settlement, basing his decrees and decisions on the “word of
    God,” as interpreted by himself. And Anne began to chafe at the
    state control that Coddington was increasingly imposing.

    Coddington
    based his seizure of power on the flimsy legalism of his being the
    sole name on the deed of purchase of Aquidneck from the Indians.
    Therefore, he claimed for himself all the rights of a feudal lord
    owning the whole island, owning and renting out the lots of all
    the settlers, and asserting authority over all land grants.

    At the beginning
    of 1639, Anne Hutchinson led a movement that successfully modified
    the Pocasset constitution; the change gave the body of freemen a
    veto over the actions of the governor, and the right to elect three
    “elders” to share the governor’s powers. Thus, the increasingly
    dictatorial rule of Coddington was checked.

    Coddington
    reacted most ungraciously to this limitation on his power, and he
    appointed a constable to keep watch on any “manifest breaches of
    the law of God that tend to civil disturbance.” Had Anne Hutchinson
    fled the theocracy of Massachusetts only to see a miniature raise
    its head in her new home?

    Finally, in
    April, the Hutchinson forces insisted, at the Pocasset town meeting,
    on a new election for governor – a demand that startled Coddington,
    who expected to remain in office indefinitely and without the fuss
    and bother of elections. Vigorous pressure by the freemen on Coddington
    finally won the demand for elections, and William Hutchinson was
    elected by a large majority. Coddington and his followers, including
    Nicholas Easton, John Coggeshall, William Dyer, and John Clarke,
    abandoned Pocasset and founded the new settlement of Newport, at
    the southern end of Aquidneck Island.

    The victorious
    Hutchinsonians adopted a new compact of government and changed the
    name of the town to Portsmouth. Oligarchical distinctions were eliminated,
    and all the male inhabitants signed the new compact. Provision was
    made for jury trial, and church and state were at last separated.
    There was no provision, for example, in the new civil compact about
    the “word of God,” the only rule by which Coddington had made his
    decisions. Anne Hutchinson had been rapidly learning firsthand about
    state persecution, and freedom of religion for all Christians was
    now guaranteed. William Hutchinson was chosen new chief judge of
    the colony.

    The power-hungry
    Coddington now mounted an armed attempt to rule over Portsmouth,
    but was forcibly ejected by the Hutchinsonians. Soon, however, Coddington
    was able to arrest William Hutchinson and order his disfranchisement.
    Anne and her husband were again victims of harassment and persecution.

    A year later,
    on March 12, 1640, the two groups came to an agreement and the settlements
    of Portsmouth and Newport (the latter by now being the larger of
    the two) united, primarily on the libertarian principles of Portsmouth.
    Coddington was chosen governor, however, and William Hutchinson
    one of his assistants. The separate towns were allowed to retain
    their autonomy, and the laws were to be made by the citizens rather
    than by an oligarchy. And a year later, in May 1641, the Aquidneck
    government declared, “It is ordered that none shall be accounted
    as delinquent for doctrine.”

    Religious liberty
    had been officially decreed in Aquidneck. The settlements of Providence
    and Aquidneck had raised the banner of freedom for all religious
    creeds. In this free air, diversity of religion came to proliferate
    in the colony.

    Soon, however,
    Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, ruminating in the free air of Rhode Island
    on the meaning of her experience, came to an astounding and startling
    conclusion – and one that pushed the logic of Roger Williams’
    libertarianism far beyond the master. For, as Williams reported
    in bewilderment, Anne now persuaded her husband to give up his leading
    post as assistant in the Aquidneck government, “because of the opinion,
    which she had newly taken up, of the unlawfulness of magistry.”

    In short, the
    logic of liberty and a deeper meditation on scripture had both led
    Anne to the ultimate bounds of libertarian thought: to individualist
    anarchism. No magistracy whatever was lawful. As Anne’s biographer
    Winifred Rugg put it,

    She was supremely
    convinced that the Christian held within his own breast the assurance
    of salvation…. For such persons magistrates were obviously
    superfluous. As for the other, they were to be converted, not
    coerced.[1]

    To the Puritans
    of Massachusetts, Aquidneck was an abominable “Isle of Errours”
    and the Rhode Island settlements were “Rogue’s Land.” Massachusetts
    began to plot to assert its jurisdiction over these pestiferous
    settlements and to crush the havens of liberty. Indians were egged
    on to raid the Providence and Aquidneck territories. Massachusetts
    then shut off all trade with the Rhode Islanders, who were thus
    forced to turn to the neighboring Dutch settlements of New Netherland
    for supplies. A son and son-in-law of Anne’s, visiting Boston, were
    seized and very heavily fined by the authorities, and then banished
    from Massachusetts on pain of death.

    In 1642, soon
    after his resignation from public office, William Hutchinson died.
    Deprived of her husband and mainstay, disgusted with all government,
    and deeply worried about Massachusetts’s threatened encroachments
    on Rhode Island (and knowing also that the Bay Colony was now regarding
    her as a witch and therefore deserving of death), Anne decided to
    leave once more. Taking a few members of her family and a few dozen
    disciples, Anne Hutchinson left Rhode Island to go to Long Island,
    in New Netherland, and finally to settle in the wilderness of Pelham
    Bay. There, in late summer of 1643, Anne and her family were murdered
    by a band of Indians, engaged in armed struggle with the Dutch.
    William’s and Anne’s deaths were hailed and gloated over by the
    Puritan oligarchy of Massachusetts Bay. To the unconcealed delight
    of the divines of Massachusetts, Anne Hutchinson had, finally, been
    physically destroyed; but the spirit of liberty that she embodied
    and kindled was to outlast the despotic theocracy of Massachusetts
    Bay. Perhaps, in the light of history, the victory in the unequal
    contest was Anne Hutchinson’s.

    Even in the
    short run, Massachusetts Bay was soon to meet again the spirit of
    Anne Hutchinson – the emphasis on the inner light, on individual
    conscience, on liberty – in the new sect of Quakers, a sect
    joined by many Hutchinsonians, including William Coddington and
    Mary Dyer, and in the Baptists, headed by Anne Hutchinson’s sister,
    Catherine Scott, and by the Hutchinsonian Dr. John Clarke.

    Notes

    [1]
    Winifred K. Rugg, Unafraid,
    A life of Anne Hutchinson
    (Boston, 1930).

    Murray
    N. Rothbard
    (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
    founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer of
    the Mises Institute. He was
    also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
    Rothbard-Rockwell Report
    , and appointed Lew as his literary
    executor. See
    his books.

    The
    Best of Murray Rothbard

    Email Print
    Share