Monday, November 16, 2009

Some ancient history

Americans like to think they are pretty savvy about United States history, and I'm among them. But most of that history starts with George Washington and the Declaration of Independence - not the couple of centuries of history before the founding of the country which also took place on what came to be American soil.

Today I learned - for the first time! - about John Wise (1652-1725), a New England minister who grew up as the son of an impoverished former indentured servant. Wise, together perhaps with the better known Roger Williams of Rhode Island fame, basically helped set the stage for the Revolutionary War that came so many decades later.

Wise didn't buy the John Winthrop-Increase and Cotton Mather line about how the government's main purpose is to have elite churchmen keep people, reeking with original sin, on the straight and narrow. Instead, Wise - a feisty guy who was jailed in 1687 for resisting what he thought were arbitrary taxes - insisted that the Bible itself demanded democracy - the natural state of man in which people gathered together, hashed things out, and through majority rule arrived at a covenant.

Wise was by instinct a Puritanistic fellow, with views based on Calvinistic thought, although of the more Congregationalist kind, but somehow his ideas followed the path of John Locke who so influenced the Founding Fathers. Guys like him not only did in the Puritans, who never again dominated (if always influenced) American political thought, but set our country on it's path toward revolution, freedom, and Fox News.

(Has there ever been a blessing that is unmixed?)

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