When a renovated England, secure in freedom and pure in religion, would rise in North America.
Continuing The Great Puritan Migration to New England,
our selection from History of New England by John G. Palfrey published in 1890. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Great Puritan Migration to New England.
In an important sense the associates of the Massachusetts Company were builders of the British, as well as of the New England, commonwealth. Some ten or twelve of them, including Cradock, the Governor, served in the Long Parliament. Of the four commoners of that Parliament distinguished by Lord Clarendon as first in influence, Vane had been governor of the company, and Hampden, Pym, and Fiennes — all patentees of Connecticut — if not members, were constantly consulted upon its affairs. The latter statement is also true of the Earl of Warwick, the Parliament’s admiral, and of those excellent persons, Lord Say and Sele and Lord Brooke, both of whom at one time proposed to emigrate. The company’s meetings placed Winthrop and his colleagues in relations with numerous persons destined to act busy parts in the stirring times that were approaching — with Brereton and Hewson, afterward two of the Parliamentary major-generals; with Philip Nye, who helped Sir Henry Vane to “cozen” the Scottish Presbyterian Commissioners in the phraseology of the Solemn League and Covenant; with Samuel Vassall, whose name shares with those of Hampden and Lord Say and Sele the renown of the refusal to pay ship-money, and of courting the suit which might ruin them or emancipate England; with John Venn, who, at the head of six thousand citizens, beset the House of Lords during the trial of Lord Strafford, and whom, with three other Londoners, King Charles, after the battle of Edgehill, excluded from his offer of pardon; with Owen Rowe, the “firebrand of the city”; with Thomas Andrews, the lord mayor, who proclaimed the abolition of royalty.
Sir John Young, named second in the original grant from the Council for New England, as well as in the charter from King Charles, sat in Cromwell’s second and third Parliaments. Others of the company, as Vane and Adams, incurred the Protector’s displeasure by too uncomplying principles. Six or seven were members of the high court of justice for the King’s trial, on which occasion they gave a divided vote. Four were members of the committee of religion, the most important committee of Parliament; and one, the counsellor, John White, was its chairman.
A question had been raised, whether the company had a right, and was legally competent, to convey the charter across the ocean, and execute on a foreign soil the powers conferred by it. Certain it is that no such proceeding is forbidden by the letter of the instrument; and a not disingenuous casuistry might inquire, If the business of the company may be lawfully transacted in a western harbor of Great Britain, why not under the King’s flag in a ship at sea or on the opposite shore? It cannot be maintained that such a disposition of a colonial charter would be contrary to the permanent policy of England; for other colonial charters, earlier and later, were granted — Sir William Alexander’s, William Penn’s, Lord Baltimore’s, and those of Rhode Island and Connecticut — to be kept and executed without the realm.
As to the purpose of the grantor, those were not times for such men as the Massachusetts patentees to ask what the King wished or expected, but rather how much of freedom could be maintained against him by the letter of the law or by other righteous means; and no principle of jurisprudence is better settled than that a grant is to be interpreted favorably to the grantees, inasmuch as the grantor, being able to protect himself, is to be presumed to have done so to the extent of his purpose. The eminent Puritan counsellor, John White, the legal adviser of the company in all stages of this important proceeding, instructed them that they could legally use the charter in this manner. Very probably it had been drawn by his own hand, in the form in which it passed the seals, with a care to have it free from any phraseology which might interfere with this disposition of it. Certainly Winthrop and his coadjutors may be pardoned for believing that it was legally subject to the use to which they put it, since such was the opinion of the crown lawyers themselves, when, in the second following generation, the question became important. In the very heat of the persecution which at length broke down the charter, the Chief Justices, Rainsford and North, spoke of it as “making the adventurers a corporation upon the place,” and Sawyer, attorney-general in the next reign, expressed the same opinion — “The patent having created the grantees and their assigns a body corporate, they might transfer their charter and act in New England.”
He who well weighs the facts which have been presented in connection with the principal emigration to Massachusetts, and other related facts which will offer themselves to notice as we proceed, may find himself conducted to the conclusion that when Winthrop and his associates prepared to convey across the water a charter from the King which, they hoped, would in their beginnings afford them some protection both from himself and through him from the powers of Continental Europe, they had conceived a project no less important than that of laying, on this side of the Atlantic, the foundations of a nation of Puritan Englishmen, foundations to be built upon as future circumstances should decide or allow. It would not perhaps be pressing the point too far to say that in view of the thick clouds that were gathering over their home, they contemplated the possibility that the time was near at hand when all that was best of what they left behind would follow them to these shores; when a renovated England, secure in freedom and pure in religion, would rise in North America; when a transatlantic English empire would fulfil, in its beneficent order, the dreams of English patriots and sages of earlier times.
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