Anniversary Post: Massachusetts Bans Quakers

Salem Witch TrialOn this day in 1656, Massachusetts enacts the first punitive law against the Quakers. The colony was set up in 1620, so that’s 36 years without systematizing their religious intolerance. Of course, that gives entirely the wrong idea, because the Quakers didn’t come until later. The only reason I find this interesting is because — like most Americans — from a young age, I had this idea crammed down my throat that the Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom.

That wasn’t true, of course. The truth was that the Pilgrims did suffer oppression in England. So they moved to Holland. And there they found freedom of religion. But they found it economically difficult. The young people were wandering off to find jobs. Many of the older Pilgrims moved back to England. When things like this happen, you would think people would wonder if God really did have their backs.

Anyway, so they made it to America where they found it necessary to enact laws to stop other religions, because like most religious people, they don’t actually think that God has their backs. It’s all about power. And the best way to protect your particular form of religion is by not letting anyone compare it to any other form of religion.

It’s interesting that Philadelphia became the biggest and most prosperous city in America by the start of the Revolutionary War. Why? Because the Quakers settled it and governed it liberally. Meanwhile, Massachusetts became something of a backwater. By 1692, it was charming all the colonies with its Salem witch trials, where 20 people were executed.

Ain’t freedom of religion grand!

27 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Massachusetts Bans Quakers

  1. Huh, maybe it is different now but when I was going through school the discussion of the Puritans changed over time from “they had a thanksgiving dinner with the Indians. Goody on them” to the much more complex reflection of the reality of what happened. We had to read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and it is pretty clear that book is not about acceptance and tolerance by the Puritans.

    I do remember one teacher pointing out that the reason the Puritans came to the US was due to their kids losing their Englishness in Holland.

    I wonder if they would approve of the way that the Christian Right is trying to get rid of mentions of Islam in schools. Wait, what I am thinking? Of course they would!

    • Well, you are a lot younger than I am! But as we see, there are a huge number of conservatives who want to go backwards on this stuff. I’m sure you saw the recent dust-up about regarding slaves discussed in textbooks as guest workers.

      • I heard about it but never got around to reading what the problems were exactly. It is going to keep happening though since Texas has such a drag on the textbook market. One good thing I suppose of the fact that poor schools cannot afford to buy new textbooks every year is that while some things are laughably out of date, at least the historical data is not as whitewashed.

          • Thank you for that link. My best friend went to a ritzy high school. Besides a hatred of the nickname of Sexual Chocolate (why a Jewish white boy would get that nickname at an even whiter Catholic all boys’ school is a mystery to me), he received an excellent education on everything you would want someone to get an education on except sex but then, he never was going to get that one right.

            But that was 17 years ago, who knows what nightmarish things they are teaching the Future Leaders of Tomorrow (TM).

                    • That’s sad. I will not use this as an opportunity to rant about school funding.

                    • Is it largely paid by local property taxes as it is here in California?

                    • Most of it is paid through property taxes although we also have periodic direct democracy ballot propositions (with funding sources!) that the state legislature then totally ignores. Outside of making those of us in the legal community laugh (then sign) at the rulings, there is not much we can do about the fact the state legislature refuses to properly fund education.

                      Despite Prop. 13’s damage to California, they do a slightly better job.

                    • I think California, and Jerry Brown specifically, has done a great job within the context of Prop 13. But Prop 13 is a major problem. But the thing is that I have little doubt if Prop 13 came up for a vote, it would still lose. Californians may claim they care about good schools, but that’s just theoretical. All else being equal, they are for good schools. But if it is a choice, the schools lose.

                    • You can tell people don’t care about good schools in who they vote into office. The ones who say “vote for me, I will make sure your kids get a good school to go to” lose almost always to the “vote for me, I hate illegals/Muslims/Whoever and I favor the most extreme position I can get away with!”

                      I exaggerate some but not that much. And yes, we had Prop 13 here recently and it passed with huge margins. Along with the requirement all tax increases require 2/3rds majority back in the early 1990s.

                    • I think there is a psychological aspect to this: people are more adverse to loss than excited about gain. So “Mexicans are taking your jobs” is far more appealing than “Let’s make the world a better place” or even “Let’s make your life better.”

                    • Pretty much. The pundits demand that we be all light and fluffy (as do the Democratic voters) but what gets results is negative campaigning. Heck back in 2006 the media was demanding that the DNC have a new Contract With America instead of basically saying to the American people “hey, first chance to stick it to Bush!” So Dean and his group dutifully created Six for 06. Now the only people who know about it are Howard Dean, the person stuck writing it up and me even though four of the six points were passed into law within the four years of it it being created.

                      The only campaign I can remember being all uplifting was Obama’s and he got to be that way because his predecessor was just so terrible. There was no way any Republican was going to win in 2008 so he had the fun of being all inspirational (I never saw it personally.)

                    • It annoys me that when the political science fundamentals are completely in their favor, the Republicans nominate Reagan. When they are in our favor, we nominate blue dogs like Obama and Clinton. But I think Obama’s rhetoric was inspiring. I didn’t believe it, because I’m old and cynical. And although his presidency hasn’t lived up to the rhetoric, he’s been remarkably competent, which is not usually what you get from someone with great rhetoric. Overall, I’d have to give his presidency a B+. The Republicans I would give trials for treason.

                    • Obama has improved over time-giving up on trying to work with a bunch of reactionary racists seems to have worked wonders. And over all, as Truman said, the only job that trains you to be president is the presidency.

                      I have read about why the Republicans chose Reagan instead of someone like Bush I and it seems to boil down to “he told them they had the right to be angry about the poor and black getting something they weren’t.” It wasn’t true but Reagan perfected the ability to lie and get away with it.

                    • Oh yes. Reagan would never have been elected if it weren’t that we are a deeply racist country.

        • Does it really make sense that Texas and not New York and/or California has such an impact on textbooks? I wonder who owns those publishing companies.

  2. The religious right has a problem, and the are well aware of it. They have a terrible product that no one will buy unless they are forced to. We are a mortal threat to them just by existing.

    • I get this feeling from a lot of religious people. It’s especially true of the literalists. They seem terrified to think for themselves, so whatever is in The Book is literally The Truth™ — no thinking necessary. In one way, I have no problem with that. Laziness is right we all have — and one I take generous advantage of. But in another, it shows a real fear that they are all wrong. Humanism is a much more compelling philosophy, but a harder one. Interestingly, I don’t think humanism is necessarily incompatible with Christianity. But one has to be philosophically agile.

  3. Some evangelicals used to remember a little bit of their actual history, but they now seem to have forgotten all about religious persecution in the early colonies (I’m looking at you, Southern Baptists). Hint: it wasn’t a bunch of atheists doing the persecuting.

    The Quakers (Society of Friends), along with the Amish and Mennonites, are among the very few Christian sects I actually feel some respect for.

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