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What We Covered
Happy Independence Day! Join us on a special episode as we delve into the incredible legacy of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, and his pivotal role in shaping America’s liberty & independence. Find the parallels between his pursuit of freedom and the modern-day quest for independence in homesteading–breaking free from ‘the system’ to secure essential needs like water, food, heat, and power.
Special thanks to Roger Williams historians John McNiff and Stan Lemons for previously sharing their remarkable knowledge and making this episode come alive!
In this episode:
- Why Independence Day is so important to us as homesteaders
- The Founders demanded that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution to spell out the “basic necessities” that we the people need for freedom
- In modern times, there are “basic necessities” that we have given away and need to reclaim–like an independent source of water, food, heat, and other critical resources like power.
- Roger Williams – the little-known founder who was first to implement true freedom in America
- What Roger stood for and how we still haven’t caught up to his ideals
00:00 – Intro
06:37 – The pilgrims: repeating the same mistakes they fled from
11:14 – Roger’s principles of freedom, even for those he disagreed with
18:09 – The 2 tables of the law, and proper jurisdiction for each
22:33 – Roger’s legacy – a lively experiment
25:54 – Closing thoughts and patriotic salute
- Sustainable Preparedness – details on how to make your homestead systems (water, power, heat, etc) more independent
NICK & LISA:
Howdy, and welcome to the Ready Life podcast. I’m Nick Meisner. And I’m Lisa, his wife. It’s the 4th of July. It’s Independence Day. And independence is something that is extra special to us. It doesn’t mean that you’re isolated or separate from everyone else. It means that you have the freedom to chart your own course and to make your own decisions, not be at the mercy of some foreign king like our forefathers were, or, in the case of us, at the mercy of the power company, big agribusiness, the oil cartel, or our very own government.
We have gradually allowed ourselves to become completely dependent on the system for our most basic necessities like water, heat, and food. You know, for many years, it’s been our mission to wake folks up to the reality of how dependent we really are for our basic necessities and to show them practical actions for how to break these shackles of bondage and become as independent as possible.
But as important as physical independence is, there is a more foundational form of independence. The freedom to think for oneself, to choose what you will or will not believe, to choose who you will worship or not worship as the case may be, and to speak freely of such things. It’s a place deep in your soul where only God has a right. Hmm, so true.
We talk about basic necessities of life like water and heat and food, but there are also basic human rights that were given by God. Our country’s Declaration of Independence refers to these as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And when our founders were framing the Constitution, George Mason, who was a delegate from Virginia, vowed that he would not sign that unless there was a Bill of Rights attached to it that would specifically call out the rights of the people. He viewed these rights as the basic necessities that absolutely must be secured, much like we’re advocating for everyone to secure their basic necessities like water, heat, and food.
And when drafting the Bill of Rights, there was one thing that was so foundational to everything else. that Madison placed it as the very first item. Amendment 1 said, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Thank you, Madison.
You know the right to be free from the government sticking its nose into your religion and to freely exercise what you believe and to speak freely about it? This truly is the first of all of our freedoms. And it was put there for a reason. Our Founding Fathers had many firsthand examples of what it looks like when the government is controlled by the church or when the church is controlled or restricted by the government. Many, if not most, of the 13 colonies had a history of having a state church, and very many religious minorities were relentlessly persecuted. So you see, unfortunately, America hasn’t always been free. From the time when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, there was a religious oppression and persecution.
But not long after the first settlements had started, a ship called Lion landed with a man named Roger Williams. And with him came the glimmers of a brand new day. Roger Williams. That’s a name that’s not terribly well known these days. If you’ve heard of him, it’s likely the piano player Roger Williams. Or perhaps if you’re into history, you may recall him as the founder of Rhode Island. But he was so much more than this. Roger was the father of soul liberty, as he called it, or freedom of conscience, in America. He wasn’t the first one to come up with these ideas, but he was the first in modern times to actually put them into practice. And in many ways, even to this day, we still haven’t caught up with the principles that Roger was advocating.
So on this Independence Day, we’re going to do something a bit different. And we’re going to hear from a couple of Roger Williams historians that we interviewed some time ago. One is a park ranger at Roger Williams National Memorial in Rhode Island, and the other is a professor of history at Rhode Island College, and he’s also the church historian for the First Baptist Church in America, which is located in Providence, Rhode Island. And we learned so much from them, and we wanted to share it with you.
You know, I remember the first time I heard about the story of Roger Williams. I mean, I’m sure I probably heard about Roger, read about him in my history books in school, but I will never forget the day when I was sitting in your living room, and you were sharing the story of Roger Williams, and we watched some of these clips then. And I just remember how it revolutionized the way that I think about religious freedom and freedom in general. It changed the whole way that I view the world around me and how I view our government and our country. So this really was very helpful to understand. So as we celebrate the anniversary of America’s independence, let’s remember where some of these principles were first implemented in our country and celebrate the heroes who sacrificed so much to pass the torch of independence and freedom to each one of us.
Roger Williams isn’t prominent in American history because he doesn’t fit into the mythology. He’s the founder of Rhode Island if you dig into the history books. And that’s most about what you’ll read about it.
But the general mythology of the United States is the Pilgrims came over here for religious freedom, they had a Thanksgiving, and then there was a revolution. Okay, if you take that the English came to America for religious freedom, whether they came to Plymouth or to Boston and set up the city on the hill, It doesn’t make any sense that this guy, Roger Williams, gets kicked out of Boston or the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he wanted religious freedom.
Isn’t that why they came over here? It just doesn’t make any sense. And unless you want to get into the subtleties of really what happened, that they didn’t come over for religious freedom, they came over to escape religious persecution, it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a subtle difference.
They came over for religious freedom? No, they came over for their religious freedom to escape religious persecution back in England. And then when they got here, they knew they were right. So anybody that disagreed with them was gonna be punished.
And Roger Williams looked around and said, you guys have the perfect opportunity here to do everything right. And you’re starting off by recreating the mistakes that were made in England. Here, let everybody follow their own heart. Let them have that personal relationship with God.
Because if you don’t, you’re just creating another generation of hypocrites. That’s what Roger Williams is. He established a place with real religious freedom. where the government couldn’t tell anybody when, where, how to go to church, where people were allowed to come in and follow their own hearts.
Quakers, Baptists, Jews, Native Americans, they could follow whatever religion they wanted. It wasn’t just a Christian state or a Christian colony. It was religiously free.
He is a founding figure in American history because he’s the first person to clearly articulate the principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state that ended up in the United States Constitution.
NICK & LISA:
I think it’s really helpful too to realize the difference between religious freedom and religious persecution because, you know, you think about all of those Puritans and all of those people who came over here to America to start this new world.
And they were fleeing from persecution because they believed differently than the Church of England. And so you would think, “Oh, well, they came for religious freedom.” Well, yes and no. They wanted the freedom to set up a church with their beliefs and what they believed and then forced everyone to live up to their theological standards.
And if you didn’t live up to those standards, you were thrown out of the colony, just like Roger Williams was. And this is not to put them down, the Pilgrims, they were a product of the times. Exactly, yes. They were doing what you did, the concept that a church could be independent and that it could be independent of the state and that each person could choose to do exactly what they wanted with their own religious views was unheard of, that people couldn’t even imagine it.
Roger Williams was like this light shining in the middle of darkness, regarding that concept, at least. And he was also a minister. And he actually established a church in Providence, Rhode Island. He was a devout Christian. Yes, he was. And these principles of religious freedom were actually based on the government of God, right? but he implemented them from a civil viewpoint.
And we each have the freedom to disagree and still live peaceably together. Right. And in our next clip, John McNiff is going to talk about something that I thought was just so profound about what did Roger do when he was faced with people in his colony that he vehemently disagreed with on matters of religion and things like this. How did he handle that?
And John Clark. worked with Charles II to create the document that is called the Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. signed in 1663. And it states at the beginning that this is going to be, this colony is going to be an experiment, a lively experiment, to see if you can have a good government separate from religion.
This is really neat because 1663, it’s the beginning of the scientific age when experiments were the new way to gain knowledge. And it says later in that charter that in this colony, no person can be punished for what they believe. That’s magnificent. No person can be punished. Men, women, children. Winthrop up in Boston saying, that means that all of these men, women, children, slaves, Indians are all going to want their own religion.
That’s exactly the point, to follow each individual conscience. This isn’t a matter of toleration. Toleration means I know I’m right and we’re going to tolerate all these differences until something goes wrong. This is a matter of freedom, or as Roger said, liberty of conscience. It’s not my business what you think, what you believe. That’s for you and in between you and your creator.
This allowed for people to not believe in anything. This allowed for the Native Americans to believe what they believed. This allowed for Roger’s next door neighbor. Way back when they had first settled in Providence, this concept of real religious freedom, this liberty of conscience. Two years after Providence had been settled in 1638, Roger’s next door neighbor, Joshua Verin, is brought up on charges for beating his wife because she wanted to go to religious services at Roger Williams’ house right next door.
He thought she was spending too much time at those religious services. Joshua Varon, for those two years, he was one of the first settlers there in that Providence town, for the first two years, refused to go to any religious services. And so when his wife started to spend too much time with Roger Williams at his house, at his religious services, he beat her to prevent her from going. Now, the charges he was brought up on were not for beating his wife, which he could have, as Roger says, he endangered her life with these beatings.
He was brought up on interfering with his wife’s liberty of conscience. This is in 1638, that a woman’s right to religious freedom is being defended in court. A woman’s right separate from her husband to have her own beliefs as an individual soul. This tore the settlement in Providence in half. Some of the people in Providence saying that just by bringing Joshua Verin up on charges, they were interfering with his liberty of conscience because the Bible says that the wife must be subject to her husband’s will.
The other half of the settlement saying that this is an individual soul with as much right to have its own conscience as any other soul tore the settlement in half. Eventually Joshua Verin was disenfranchised. He couldn’t vote on anything, which is stripping them of the one say in government that they had there in Providence. And he leaves and he drags his wife with him back up to Salem, where Joshua Verin becomes the church warden in Salem. The one that enforces the fact that people have to go to church.
His wife Jane and Joshua’s brother Philip were both arrested for refusing to go to church services up in Salem. It’s ironic. They’re on just the opposite sides of the coin up there. The whole point here is that in Rhode Island, each person was allowed full liberty of conscience. You have the First Baptist Church. You have one of the oldest Jewish congregations. You have one of the oldest Quaker congregations.
Everybody was allowed to follow their own conscience. It’s not because Roger agreed with everybody. When Roger was 70 years old, he got into a canoe in Providence and rode all the way down to Newport to have a three-day long debate with the group down there called the Quakers. After three days of debate, he gets back into the canoe, rows back up to Providence, starts writing an essay that becomes a book that’s a point-by-point argument about why the Quakers are wrong.
It’s a book that’s called George Fox, Digged Out of His Burrows. But the Quakers are allowed to stay there. That’s the whole thing. You can disagree, you can argue, you can struggle about religion, but you can’t hurt anybody because of what they believe. And that’s the beauty of that original charter. It gave a level of freedom unknown anywhere else.
NICK & LISA:
Wow, that was loaded. For sure, for sure. So much going on there. I know one thought that hit me was that people think that if you are respecting others’ rights, that means in order to respect their rights as individuals or whatever, that you have to agree with them and support them. And it’s not just enough to be okay with them and say, okay, you do your thing and I’ll do mine. It’s that you have to actually be supporting them and agreeing with them or else you are being bigoted or discriminating or something like that.
And this is something that I think Roger really demonstrated well. I mean, and he got in a dugout canoe and… paddled at 70 years old, paddled down to go argue with the Quakers, write a book against them, while at the same time fighting for their freedom to believe what they believed in the state or the colony of Rhode Island. And so that’s just such a beautiful principle that we should probably remember more. That it’s a good thing to agree to disagree. Right, that’s right.
So in our next clip, we’ve got actually a couple of clips here about a very interesting concept. Where did Roger Williams get this principle of the church and the government not being allowed to control each other? You know, the church being protected from the state and the state being protected from being manipulated by the church, these two things.
Where did this come from? Very interesting, take a look at this.
Now, what Williams had done, not only did he say you’re an unseparated church, he also said to them, the magistrates have no right to enforce the religious aspects of the Ten Commandments, what’s called the first table. The ones that talk about not taking the Lord’s name in vain, of observing the Sabbath, of having no other gods, no engraving. graven images. He regarded these as the obligations that people had to God, that the state had no role to play in these. And of course, the Puritan state believed that they had every right to enforce those.
And how do you have good order if you can’t make people go to church and to not swear or whatever there might be, or whatever it might be? But William said, this is only between you and God. The rest of the Ten Commandments, which have to do with human relations, people to people, about lying and murdering and cheating and stealing and so forth, these, he said, are principles that every government, Christian or otherwise, has to observe. These moral principles are the basis for any good civil state. And he said, the government certainly, the magistrates can enforce these. but not the ones that have to do with the obligations of a person to God. That’s between God and the person. And if they get it wrong, God will sort that out with them, but it’s not for the state to do it.
Wow, they thought that was really a terrible idea. And so he said that everyone should have a right to their own conscience in these matters.
Well, I mean, Roger’s whole argument about the Ten Commandments. The first table is in between the individual and your creator. If you mess that up, you’re the one that has to suffer. The last six, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t take your neighbor’s things. That’s what a civil government is for, to keep social order. But the first four commandments are in between you and your creator. And that’s echoed in Thomas Jefferson’s thing. “It does me no harm whether you have one God or 10,000 gods. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” It’s the same sentiment. You’re the only one that has to answer to God with the first four commandments. But the last six are about social order. And if you take a look at places like the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, on the pediment, at the top of the pediment, you have Moses standing there with the 10 commandments in his hand. If you take a look at the two tablets, the first one is blank. The only one with any writing on it is the last six. That’s what civil government is for.
NICK & LISA:
Wow, isn’t that fascinating? That’s incredible. The Ten Commandments. Who knew? Yeah, and so he didn’t arrive at this conclusion of his because he was trying to get away from religion. He arrived at it because that’s what he learned from the Bible, was that these were separate and distinct entities. I think of the verse where Jesus said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, creating this distinction that there’s different roles here, that the civil government has one role, the church has another role.
And very, very interesting to keep these things in perspective and to understand that distinction like Roger did. It’s really important. Yeah, it’s beautiful to see that, that we have we have an obligation to God, and that stands just between you and God, and that’s it. And then we have an obligation to each other, which is the last six in the 10 Commandments. And no government has any business or any right to enforce anything that relates to your relationship with God, those first four commandments. That’s right. He was a man ahead of his time. He really was.
So just some closing thoughts from our historians on Roger Williams.
Religious freedom is something that people constantly in this country argue about. And I think if Roger Williams has a legacy for this country, it’s the fact that we can argue about it. Do we always live up to it? No. We’re human beings. We all have failings. And there’s no one time in American history where everything works right.
The United States of America is one of those countries that it’s the sum total of what we do, not any individual slot in time that tells the story. And there are times when we do things right. There are times when we do things better than anybody else in the world. And there are times when we really mess up. But the thing is, we keep going. We get up at the end of the day and we get ready for the next day. And we start all over again.
One of the beautiful things that we have in this country is 10 amendments to the original Constitution, spelling out the rights of the people, the rights of the citizens of the United States of America. The very first one, that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
That is a legacy that Roger Williams would be really proud of because that says it all. Government doesn’t make laws about religion, about establishing a religion, and it doesn’t stop people from following their own conscience. Do we always live up to that? No. But the beauty is that this country can still talk about it without having to worry about being arrested or being shot at because of what you believe, which is a real threat in other places of the world, in places, in countries that we call our friends, it’s still a real threat just for what you believe.
And if that’s a legacy, I think that’s something that Roger would be really proud of, the fact that we still debate it because it means it is a lively experiment.
I’ve studied Roger Williams for a long time. I’ve read his books. I’ve read his opponent’s books. I’ve dug in the ground where he lived. I’ve been around as an archaeologist in this area for 10 years. I know a lot of the stuff. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff from the time period.
And for all the great things that Roger Williams did, he’s still a human being, like any of us. And if there’s one lesson out of all of it, it’s that any of us can also stand up and be counted the way Roger Williams was. He’s not a bronze statue. He’s not a marble statue. He’s not some impossible creature from the past. He’s a human being like any one of us, who believed in and stood up for his principles, no matter what the cost. If there’s one lesson about Roger Williams, more important than any of the others, that’s it.
NICK & LISA:
He believed in and stood up for his principles, no matter the cost. I love that. Yeah. What a man. So on this Independence Day, let’s remember the heroes that have handed us this legacy that we have here. And let’s implement the principles that they fought so hard for and sacrificed for in our lives today. And let’s practice these principles of independence and of freedom, in the case of Roger Williams, freedom of conscience, soul liberty, being willing to die for someone’s right to differ with you. You know? This is what it’s about.
Yeah. That’s so beautiful. Let’s not take that for granted. Yes. So, as we’re watching the fireworks… And, you know, thinking of the blessings that we have in this country, let’s do what we can to stand for these things that have made us great and perpetuate this. And, yeah, let’s try and implement the things that Roger and so many others handed down to us. Yes. And happy Independence Day.
Yes. Thanks for listening to this episode. And if you enjoy the podcast, feel free to leave a comment, like, subscribe, tell your friends about it. All that sort of thing helps to get the word out. And we’ll be back next week with our regular fare. Bye now.