New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty

New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 376
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    New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty
    Book Description:

    The settlers of New Netherland were obligated to uphold religious toleration as a legal right by the Dutch Republic's founding document, the 1579 Union of Utrecht, which stated that "everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion." For early American historians this statement, unique in the world at its time, lies at the root of American pluralism.

    New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Libertyoffers a new reading of the way tolerance operated in colonial America. Using sources in several languages and looking at laws and ideas as well as their enforcement and resistance, Evan Haefeli shows that, although tolerance as a general principle was respected in the colony, there was a pronounced struggle against it in practice. Crucial to the fate of New Netherland were the changing religious and political dynamics within the English empire. In the end, Haefeli argues, the most crucial factor in laying the groundwork for religious tolerance in colonial America was less what the Dutch did than their loss of the region to the English at a moment when the English were unusually open to religious tolerance. This legacy, often overlooked, turns out to be critical to the history of American religious diversity.

    By setting Dutch America within its broader imperial context,New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Libertyoffers a comprehensive and nuanced history of a conflict integral to the histories of the Dutch republic, early America, and religious tolerance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0895-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-19)

    What is religious tolerance and how does it happen? For Americans these are more challenging questions than one might think. From the beginning of its existence, the United States of America has done without a national religious establishment of the sort that was long a trademark of European history. Consequently, Americans have been able to take tolerance for granted in a way Europeans (and others) have not, for religious liberty was assimilated into America’s national experience from the beginning. As a result, scholars of the American past are more preoccupied with the question of when, where, or with whom tolerance...

    (pp. 20-53)

    With the words, “each individual enjoys freedom of religion,” the Union of Utrecht inscribed tolerance into the heart of the Dutch Republic.¹ Individual freedom of religion was soon qualified as liberty of conscience, and liberty of conscience became the fundamental law of the land in all the Dutch provinces and colonies. The cornerstone of Dutch tolerance, it evolved along with the Dutch state and empire from the signing of the Union of Utrecht in 1579 until the fall of the republic in 1795. Exactly what it meant varied over time and from place to place. The union was a political...

    (pp. 54-81)

    Dutch tolerance grew out of two seemingly contradictory facts. First was the persistent desire to bring as many people as possible into the Reformed Church. Second was the recognition that many inhabitants of the Dutch world were not and would not be members of the public church. As the Lutherans and English in Holland and America learned, connivance sometimes helped bridge the gap between aspiration and accomplishment. Connivance is a word with decidedly negative connotations in English, one that suggests abetting a crime or indecency. In Dutch the connotation is not quite so negative, partly because the concept is usually...

    (pp. 82-107)

    The Dutch reputation for trade and pragmatic compromise has obscured the extent to which the religious system of public church and liberty of conscience enabled them to avoid granting formal recognitions of toleration to other groups. The Lutheran petition campaign of 1653 had provoked a successful counter-campaign by the Dutch Reformed to ensure that the authorities in Amsterdam would grant no such formal recognition in New Netherland. The Lutheran campaign had confirmed the tenor of religious policy toward diversity in New Netherland was affirmed. As elsewhere in the Dutch world, religious diversity within the population was not prohibited. Neither Lutherans...

    (pp. 108-134)

    The conjuncture of the Dutch nation, Dutch tolerance, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Dutch state, and the Dutch colonies emerging onto the historical stage virtually simultaneously created such a powerful impression that people ever since have had difficulty separating them out, particularly the connection between Dutch enterprises and tolerance. The Dutch built colonies and communities in situations of unprecedented religious and ethnic diversity from Asia to the Americas. Dutch tolerance, originally developed for a world full of non-Reformed Christians, proved remarkably adept at fitting itself to the new realities of a world full of non-Christians. In neither case did it...

    (pp. 135-155)

    In a May 1656 letter to New Netherland’s dominies, the classis of Amsterdam expressed its fears about religious diversity in the colony. The quashing of the Lutheran effort to form a congregation was “an affair of great consequence.” Had the Lutherans succeeded, “the Mennonists and English Independents, of whom there is said to be not a few there, might have been led to undertake the same thing in their turn, and would probably have attempted to introduce public gatherings. In fact we are informed that even the Jews have made request of the Hon. Governor, and have also attempted in...

    (pp. 156-185)

    By the 1650s, the Dutch arrangements that had seemed so progressive to English radicals fifty years earlier looked conservative compared to what was then available in the English world. Liberty of conscience, a conservative buttress of the Dutch public church, had become a force for revolutionary change in the hands of radical English Protestants. The sudden arrival of Quakers in August 1657 provoked the only open debate over the nature of Dutch tolerance in New Netherland history. For the first time, a new and positive vision of tolerance was proposed in a document that has gone down in history as...

    (pp. 186-210)

    After the hullaballoo over Lutheran conventicling and Quaker proselytizing, the directors of the West India Company shifted their policy for managing religious diversity in New Netherland. Their encouragement of an Amsterdam-style connivance of a Lutheran conventicle having failed, they turned to a capacious vision of the colonial public church that diluted its Calvinist character enough to reduce the provocations driving Lutherans into a separate congregation. Over the next two years (1658–1660), the struggle for connivance turned on a crucial function of the public church: baptism. The directors took a remarkably determined stance on a seemingly trivial issue. At their...

    (pp. 211-232)

    The greatest challenge to the Calvinist hegemony in New Netherland came not from the Lutherans or Mennonites within the colony, nor from the directors in Amsterdam. Rather, it crossed the borders. Like much of the Dutch world, New Netherland was surrounded by neighbors of different religions. Jesuits entered from the north, via New France, and helped sustain the faith of the handful of Catholics in the colony. Quakers crossed in from the east, from Rhode Island, and made many converts among the English on Long Island. On the southwestern border, there had been the Swedish Lutheran colony of New Sweden...

    (pp. 233-252)

    New Netherland was not the only Dutch society in North America. For almost a decade (1657–1664), the city of Amsterdam had a colony of its own on the South River. Technically a patroonship, a sort of fiefdom under the overall authority of the WIC, New Amstel inaugurated the most radical religious and social experiment the republic’s colonies ever saw. While New Netherland clung to the legacy of the 1620s, New Amstel brought in the influences of the 1660s. The mix of radical religion, politics, and philosophy then available in the Dutch world could be called the Age of Spinoza,...

    (pp. 253-278)

    The most decisive factor in bringing a change to tolerance in America was military conquest. Conquest changed the terms of engagement and gave groups new forms of negotiating power. Without it, the radical possibilities of New Amstel would not have happened, nor would the one Lutheran minister be tolerated on the South River, both legacies of the conquest of New Sweden. In New Netherland, the struggles on the ground and in the halls of power back in Holland had simply nudged matters back and forth within a rather narrow framework. Quakers were converting ever more colonists along New Netherland’s eastern...

    (pp. 279-288)

    What, then, is New Netherland’s role in the story of American religious liberty? The 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s arrival in what became New York prompted a new wave of reflections on the Dutch colony’s contribution to American history. Joyce Goodfriend, a leading American historian of Dutch America, claims, “New Netherland was the site of America’s first experiment in diversity.” Notwithstanding its “shortcomings,” the colony’s history “offers the most candid version of American beginnings, one that highlights the pluralism and materialistic striving at the heart of the American experience.” The colony’s “version of pluralism, in which various groups of Europeans...

  17. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 289-290)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 291-312)
    (pp. 313-342)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 343-350)
    (pp. 351-355)