Chapter

Roger Williams and the Puritan Background of the Establishment Clause

David Little

in No Establishment of Religion

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860371
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950164 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199860371.003.0004
Roger Williams and the Puritan Background of the Establishment Clause

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This chapter argues that the opposition to establishments of religion did not begin with eighteenth-century secularists or republicans, but with some seventeenth century Puritans, including most prominently Roger Williams. For Williams, “no establishment” was a necessary component of freedom of religion. Many of the constitutional ideas of seventeenth-century Puritans survived into eighteenth-century American constitutional thought, including Williams’ belief that the church of believers should be separate from the politics of the state. Williams’ teachings endured into the eighteenth century and led many to oppose ratification of the Constitution of 1787 unless a guarantee against an establishment would be added. James Madison, the principal proponent of the Establishment Clause, followed the concept launched by Williams and continued by his followers. Madison’s arguments in the Memorial and Remonstrance” against religious establishments borrowed from Williams’ beliefs.

Keywords: Roger Williams; Massachusetts; Rhode Island; Puritans; establishment of religion; Memorial and Remonstrance; James Madison

Chapter.  11860 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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