Religious Freedom in America September 11, 2009 1:59 PM
The Flushing Remonstrance was a 1657 petition to Director-General of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, in which several citizens requested an exemption to his ban on Quaker worship. It is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.
Flushing, now in Queens, New York, was then part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Stuyvesant had formally banned the practice of all religions outside of the Dutch Reformed Church, the established church of the Netherlands, in the colony. In 1656 William Wickenden, a Baptist minister from Rhode Island, was arrested by Dutch colonial authorities, jailed, fined, and exiled for baptizing Christians in Flushing. Many other similar incidents took place prior to the Remonstrance.
The Flushing Remonstrace was signed on December 27, 1657 by a group of English citizens who were affronted by persecution of Quakers and the religious policies of Stuyvesant. None of them were Quakers themselves.
Four who signed were arrested by order of Stuyvesant. Two immediately recanted, but the writer of the remonstrance, Edward Hart, and sheriff of Flushing Tobias Feake remained firm in their convictions. Both men were remanded to prison where they survived in isolation on rations of bread and water for over a month. After friends and family petitioned Stuyvesant on behalf of the elderly Hart, the clerk was released on penalty of banishment. Feake held out for a few more weeks, but eventually recanted and was pardoned after being fined and banned from holding public office. The town government of Flushing was removed and Dutch replacements were appointed by Stuyvesant.
Subsequently, John Bowne of the colony allowed Quakers to meet in his house. He was arrested in 1662 and brought before Stuyvesant. Unrepentant, Bowne was sentenced to banishment to Holland, though he was of English descent and spoke no Dutch. After several months in the foreign land, Bowne petitioned the directors of the Dutch West India Company. After a month of deliberation, the WIC agreed to support Bowne, and advised Stuyvesant by a letter (1663) that he was to end religious persecution in the colony. One year later, in 1664, the colony fell to British control.
Of the Inhabitants of the Town of Flushing
To Governor Stuyvesant
December 27, 1657
You have been pleased to send up unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of those people called Quakers because they are supposed to be by some, seducers of the people. For our part we cannot condemn them in this case, neither can we stretch out our hands against them, to punish, banish or persucute them, for out of Christ god is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand and fall to his own Master. Wee are bounde by the Law to doe good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith. And though for the present we seem to be unsensible of the law and the Law giver, yet when death and the Law assault us, if wee have our advocate to seeke, who shall plead for us in this case of conscience betwixt god and our own souls; the power of this world can neither attack us, neither excuse us, for if God justifye who can condemn and if God condemn there is none can justifye.
And for those jealousies and suspicions which some have of them, that they are destructive unto Magistracy and Ministerye, that can not bee, for the magistarte hath the sword in his hand and the minister hath the sword in his hand, as witnesse those two great examples which all magistrates and ministers are to follow, Moses and Christ, whom god raised up maintained and defended against all the enemies both of flesh and spirit; and therefore that which is of God will stand, and that which is of man will come to nothing. And as the Lord hath taught Moses or the civil power to give an outward liberty in the state by the law written in his heart designed for the good of all, and can truly judge who is good, who is civil, who is true and who is false, and can pass definitive sentence of life or death against that man which rises up against the fundamental law of the States General; soe he hath made his ministers a savor of life unto life, and a savor of death unto death.
The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks, and Egyptians, as they are considered the sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour saith it is impossible but that offenses will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as wee desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour saith this is the law and the prophets.
Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences. And in this we are true subjects both of Church and State, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble servants, the inhabitants of Vlishing.
Written this 27th day of December, in the year 1657, by mee
EDWARD HART, Clericus
The Mark of William Noble
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William Thorne, seignor
The Mark of William Thorne, junior
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Robert Field, junior
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