On 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!