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Roger Williams – The happy ship of Church-State separation

January 10, 2015

“There goes many a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship whose weal and woe is common, and is a true picture of a commonwealth, or a human combination, or society. It hath fallen out sometimes that both papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked in one ship, upon which supposal I affirm that all the liberty of conscience that ever I pleaded for turns upon these two things – that none of the papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks be forced to come to the ship’s prayers or worship, if they practice any. I further add that I never denied that, notwithstanding this liberty, the commander of the ship ought to command the ship’s course, yea and also command that justice, peace, and sobriety be kept and practiced, both among the seamen and all the passengers. If any of the seamen refuse to perform their services, or passengers to pay their freight; if any refuse to help, in person or purse, towards the common charges or defense; if any refuse to obey the common laws and orders of the ship concerning their common peace or preservation; if any shall mutiny and rise up against their commanders and officers; if any should preach or write that there ought to be no commanders or officers, because all are equal in Christ, therefore no masters nor officers, no lawyers nor orders, nor corrections nor punishments – I say I never denied but, in such cases, whatever is pretended, the commander or commanders may judge, resist, compel and punish such transgressors according to their deserts and merits.”

(from ‘To the Town of Providence,’ [1655] in The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Russell & Russell, vol. 6, pp. 278-279 [1963])

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