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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

1 - John Cotton and Roger Williams

Summary

John Cotton and Roger Williams were Puritan ministers in colonial New England. Cotton authored Abstract of the Laws of New England (1641), an early example of American constitutionalism drawing from both scripture and English law. Cotton’s Abstract was adopted by the New Haven colony and influential in the legal systems of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut. Cotton also became a prominent spokesman for the laws of Massachusetts Bay, and also advocated a particular style of Congregationalism significant for development of American political and legal thought. Roger Williams, once an apprentice and recording secretary for the eminent English jurist Sir Edward Coke, served briefly as a minister in Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies. Exiled for his criticism of the colonial charters and the Puritan partnership of church and state, Williams eventually founded the colony of Rhode Island and served as its president. Williams argued eloquently for religious liberty, provoking Cotton to engage him in a now-famous “Bloudy Tenant” debate published in London and read on both sides of the British Atlantic. Both Cotton and Williams were articulate representatives for opposing sides of a legal question contested as much in colonial America as today, the question of church–state relations and religious liberty.