Exoneration assembly church, state and the Illumi Naughties



desired exemption must have his name upon a list to be
presented annually to the assessor and signed by the minister
and three principal members of the Baptist congregation to
which the applicant belonged, with the accompanying cer-
tification that the applicant was recognized as a conscientious
and faithful Baptist Quakers were placed under the same
regulations. For thirteen years this law was in operation,
with manifold instances of distress resulting, particularly in
the case of Baptists. 1 Through difficulty in obtaining the
certificates, goods were seized, expensive and otherwise irri-
tating court trials were held, and not a few victims, either
because of poverty or on account of conscientious scruples,
found their way to prison. In some instances, despite the
tact that the certificates were duly obtained and presented,
they were waved aside and the payment of the tax required
or the process of distraint invoked.* It is little wonder that
the feeling in the minds and hearts of New England Bap-
tists that there was a spiirt of iniquity back of the oppres-
sive measures of the Standing Order, came to have all the
significance of a settled conviction.*

1 Backus, op. eit„ p. 141,


* Cf. Minutes of the Warren Association for 176a, quoted by Burrage,
History of the Baptists in New England, pp. 108 et stq. Cf. the fol-
lowing, taken from a statement and appeal to Baptists, in the Boston
Evening Post, Aug;, ao, 1770: “To die Baptists in the Province of
Massachusetts Bay, who are, or have been, oppressed in any way on a
religious account It would be needless to tell you that you have long
felt the effects of the laws by which the religion of the government
to which you live is established. Your purses have felt the burden of
ministerial rates; and when these would not satisfy your enemies, your
property hath been taken from you and sold for less than half its value.
. . . You will therefore readily hear and attend when you are desired
to collect your cases of suffering, and have them well attested ; such
is, the taxes you have paid to build meeting-houses, to settle ministers
and support them, with all the time, money and labor you have lost
in waiting on courts, feeing lawyers, etc.; and bring or send such


Further modifications in the exemption laws, made in
1770, were so slight, leaving as they did the certificate prin-
ciple practically untouched, 1 that Baptist opposition was
aroused even more deeply and the determination struck
deeper root to push the battle for religious freedom to a
decision. The times also were propitious. The near ap-
proach of the Revolutionary struggle focused attention upon
the subject of tyranny and caused acts of oppression,
whether civil or ecclesiastical in character, to stand out in a
new relief before the eye of the public. That dissenters
were quick to see the bearing of political events will appear
from the following pithy comments in the address which
the Committee of Grievances* drew up late in 1774 and
presented to the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts :

It seems that the two main rights which all America are con-
tending for at this time, are, — Not to be taxed where they are
not represented, and — To have their causes tried by unbiased
judges. And the Baptist churches in this province as heartily
unite with their countrymen in this cause, as any denomination
in the land ; and are as ready to exert all their abilities to defend
it. Yet only because they have thought it to be their duty to
claim an equal title to these rights with their neighbors, they
have repeatedly been accused of evil attempts against the gen-
eral welfare of the colony ; therefore, we have thought it ex-
pedient to lay a brief statement of the case before this as-
sembly. . . . Great complaints have been made about a tax

cases to the Baptist Association to be held at Bellingham; when meas-
ures will be resolutely adopted for obtaining redress from another
quarter than that to which repeated application hath been made unsuc-
cessfully. Nay, complaints, however just and grievous, hath been
treated with indifference, and scarcely, if at all credited”. (Quoted by
Backus, History of New England, vol. ii, p. 155.) https://archive.org/stream/newenglandandba01staugoog/newenglandandba01staugoog_djvu.txt


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