Roger Williams and American Morals

The ability of leaders to break the trend, and question long-held beliefs, shaped this country into being what it is today. A true leader is someone willing to, in the face of failure and defeat, struggle on and stick to moral convictions. In the Massachusetts bay colony, Roger Williams questioned commonly held religious and political beliefs, and changed the American political landscape.

Roger Williams, arriving in the Americas in 1631, was a firm separatist. He believed that humans could not properly implement the law of god, and that the government had no role in regulating religious activity. Immediately upon his arrival, as a scholarly minister, he received a job offer from the Boston Church. However, staying true to his convictions, he shocked the Church by declining their offer, claiming it was not committed to proper worship of God. This had repercussions, and it caused mistrust between him and colonial leaders, even as he moved to the Bay Colony.

Authorities’ patience grew thin, and when word of a plot to throw him in a jail cell in England reached him through a friend, he fled, leaving his wife and child in Salem until he was safe. Roger Williams befriended Indians, and it was through them he was able to survive. His survival was dependent on Roger Williams’ biggest strength – his sense of community. He longed for fellowship and community, no matter the circumstances, whether in Salem with his fellow colonists, or with Indians that he had just met.

In Providence Williams eventually founded a Baptist church with total religious liberty. He did not require a tax-supported church, and did not demand attendance at worship. His firm belief in religious freedom, and his understanding, leadership, and charisma enabled him to found Rhode Island, and ultimately shape the moral landscape of an entire country. He and other dissenters built a strong, progressive community that became a model for individualism.

Information Sources –

American Pageant Chapter 3

Roger Williams and the Creation of American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John Barry –

Image – From the Granger Collection, NYC


5 thoughts on “Roger Williams and American Morals

  1. There are so few people in the world who are willing to defy traditional beliefs for their own beliefs like Roger Williams. All the people who criticized him didn’t seem to stop him either (wish I could do that). Also, since he had good relations with the Native Americans, I wonder if he kept those good relations later on. So many people tried to and failed after all. Also also, is there something about “Rogue’s” Island that made Rhode Island the smallest state today?

  2. I don’t think that we should consider Williams a founding father. He established Rhode Island, but even though his ideological contributions were rather influential, he did little to actually found the United States directly. I do, however, think he was a hero for the idea of freedom of religion. In most cases in this time period, when England wants to throw you in jail for betraying their ideals, you know you’re doing something right.

  3. I agree that Roger Williams was someone who really stuck with his gut feeling and did the things that he believed to be right. I think that after time, this kind of attitude tends to stick with the colonists, as well as the trait of questioning things. I think that Williams would probably be quite shocked to see what his colony is like today, and what sort of impact he placed.

  4. I agree that if it weren’t for people like Roger Williams, who had enough belief in themselves and their decisions to defy their leaders, this country, or any country as a matter of fact, wouldn’t have changed as much as it did. Everything would have been, simply put, old-fashioned.

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