Dr McIlvenna's note:
Ref. 14. Throughout this volume, I refer to this person as Shaftesbury, although he was known as Anthony Ashley Cooper until 1661, when he became Lord Ashley. In 1672, he acquired the title of Earl of Shaftesbury."
"Olivers days come again." So an Anglican missionary disparagingly described society in North Carolina in 1711, comparing his surroundings to England during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, when monarchy, aristocracy, and the established church had been pushed from power and the removal of censorship allowed radical ideas to circulate. The missionary disdained such freedoms, preferring "order" as he saw it—rule by "natural leaders such as the gentry and the church. Instead he found himself governed by Quakers, representatives freely elected by the people and firmly devoted to the maintenance of an egalitarian community.
The Carolinas are known as Restoration colonies, founded as a result of Charles II's return to England in 1660. Charles bestowed the Carolinas on the men who orchestrated his accession to the throne. But although born of the Restoration, the colonies were really shaped by the previous twenty years, a period of civil war and revolution during which Charles's father had been executed and censorship had been ended and during which the British people witnessed the birth of radical ideas about power and politics and about who exactly constituted "the people."
An understanding of the English Revolution is crucial to understanding the formative years of the North Carolina colony, for the politics of the people from top to bottom had been formed in the crucible of "Oliver's Days." The mixture of politics, religion, economics, and military experience suffused the thinking of all who had come of age in the twenty years prior to 1660. The future colonists of North Carolina had been exposed to all these ideas.
The second Stuart king, Charles I, succeeded to the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1625. By 1640, his political and religious policies had alienated many of the gentry. Charles's appointee as archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, pursued Arminian reforms, restoring altars, stained glass windows, ornate vestments, and rituals to the Church of England. While some horrified Puritans fled to Massachusetts in response, most remained in England, their resentments building year by year.
Exacerbating these religious grievances, the king's collection of taxes—called ship money—coupled with his monopolies on soap and salt to provoke bitterness. Designed to keep Charles independent of Parliament, these fiscal policies worked through the 1630s. Tight censorship prevented public and sometimes even private airings of opposition.
In 1637, the introduction of a new Arminian prayer book into the liturgy roused a strong resistance movement in Scotland, leading to mass signing of a national covenant. The covenant constituted both a religious and a nationalist statement, proclaiming that all signees committed themselves to Presbyterianism and to the independence of the Scottish Parliament. Charles wanted to crush this rebellion against his authority and called up a new Parliament in London that he hoped would supply the funds to raise an army against Scotland.
Instead of voting money for the king, the 1640 Parliament, seething with long-standing grievances, imprisoned the king’s ministers and bishops and then turned to constitutional matters. Parliament declared that it could not be dissolved except by its own consent, a major limitation of royal power.
Pushing the king and the House of Commons even further apart was the news of the 1641 Irish Rebellion, a serious uprising interpreted in England and Scotland as one part of an international papist plot, with Archbishop Laud as a leading conspirator. Charles reacted by charging leading Parliamentarians with treason. They escaped, but many people at all levels of English society believed that the king had set his mind on absolutism. Charles left London for safety and to organize his Cavalier army. The Parliamentarians, or Roundheads, raised their own. Hostilities began in the fall of 1642.
Early battles went the way of the royalists, so the Parliamentarians reorganized their army in 1644. This New Model Army would take shape under the principle of a "career open to the talents": the most able soldiers would be promoted to the officer corps. Under the command of Oliver Cromwell, the new army turned the tide of the war the following year and crushed the royalists' military force.
The idea that promotion depended on merit rather than class rank was a revolutionary doctrine in a nation of monarchy and aristocracy, and although Cromwell had never meant the concept to go beyond the army and his immediate military needs, the spread of ideas could not be controlled. The revolutionary premise gained momentum from simultaneous religious and political developments. Censorship ended in 1641, and pamphleteering erupted on an astonishing scale. Radical ideas about a wide distribution of power and the franchise and about religious toleration circulated at unprecedented levels.
An array of religious sects sprang to life, zealously challenging clerical control of faith and practice, the imposition of tithes for a state church, and the elaborate system of patronage that allowed the ruling class to select the clergy. Cromwell’s support of freedom of conscience, although it did not extend to Catholicism, furthered the proliferation of religious dissent and the questioning of all types of authority. As the leading historian of the period writes, "The deference and decencies of all social order seemed to be crumbling."
Radical thought found its epicenter in the New Model Army. The soldiers had witnessed the success of a meritocracy, proving that intelligence and competence were not the exclusive possessions of the landed gentry. In April 1647, as a reaction to arrears in pay, the rank and file chose representatives, called agitators, from each regiment and formed the General Council. Their demands went far beyond military grievances. They wanted what they felt they had fought for.
The most radical among them, known as the Levellers, developed a program demanding that the franchise be extended, that parliamentary seats be more equitably distributed, and that "all titles, by Prerogative, Priviledge, Pattent, Succession, Peerage, Birth or otherwise to sit and act in the Assembly of Parliament, contrary to, and without the free choice and Election of the People, be utterly abrogated, nuld and made voide."4 They rejected an established church and its attendant tithes.
They argued against the enclosures of the common lands of each town, asking that those lands be "laid open again to the free and common use and benefit of the poore."
They wanted legal reforms, too—laws written in English and freedom from imprisonment for debt. Their opponents claimed, "They have cast all the mysteries and secrets of government . . . before the vulgar. . . . They have made the people thereby so curious and so arrogant that they will never find humility enough to submit to a civil rule." A special meeting of the General Council was held in Putney in November 1647, where famous debates took place that constituted an important moment in the history of democratic theory.
In late 1648, the army moved against Parliament, believed to be too conciliatory toward the king. The members of Parliament allowed to remain voted to try Charles on charges of treason. He was executed in January 1649, and the monarchy and House of Lords were abolished, creating a republic.
The Levellers, although not unhappy with the new commonwealth, resented the means (military force and an unrepresentative Parliament) by which it had been achieved and published pamphlets stating their argument. Cromwell saw that they now threatened his power and moved against them. The Leveller leadership, civilian and military, was arrested. When some regiments mutinied, Cromwell ordered their suppression. He and his major generals seized control of the commonwealth and ruled England through the 1650s. The Leveller movement suffered defeat, but its ideas did not.
With the army and the political structure firmly under his control, Cromwell maintained a policy of toleration toward many religious sects in which radicalism found a new home. Ranters believed that Christ lived in every man, and some carried that idea further to claim they were therefore incapable of sin. Ranters tended to be fond of carousing, but one prominent Ranter, Abiezer Coppe, calling God "that mighty Leveller,’’ argued that the greatest sins lay in ‘‘not letting the oppressed go free, the not healing every yoke and the not dealing of bread to the hungry." Another, Lawrence Clarkson, held forth against the state clergy and their tithes: "It is more commendable to take a purse by the highway than compel any of the parish to maintain such that seek their ruin, whose doctrine is poisonable to their consciences."
A new group that emerged in the early 1650s, the Society of Friends, commonly referred to as the Quakers, attracted many Ranters. Headed by James Nayler, who had served in a radical regiment, this church's theology recognized little authority and no centralized control of religious practice. Their early devotees interrupted Episcopal services, and Nayler was brought before Parliament on charges of blasphemy. John Lilburne, a principal leader of the Levellers, converted to Quakerism in 1656. Quakers would play a leading political role in early North Carolina; their belief system reveals much about that community’s ideals.
That the House of Commons accorded so much of its time to hear Nayler’s case indicates how badly the Quakers frightened the powerful. Just a few years later, Quakers also faced prosecution in Virginia and Massachusetts. What danger did these people pose to English society and to England’s American colonies? A contemporary politician labeled Quakers "all Levellers, against magistracy and property." Their speech and dress constituted an affront to secular authority and perhaps even sedition. Quakers understood that language was imbued with layers of meaning that custom had somewhat disguised. The use of the personal pronouns "thee" and "thou" signaled a refusal to recognize class rankings. They would not refer to themselves as "humble servants" or accord anyone else titles of superiority such as "your excellency." They refused to dress to reflect their wealth or lack thereof. Likewise, they refused to participate in social manners of deference, such as tipping one's hat to one's social or economic betters, that only reaffirmed inequality.
Quaker theology went beyond anything previously seen since the breakdown of censorship, for they even posited a leveling of the patriarchal order. The English Revolution had offered women a window of opportunity for involvement in the political sphere.
The social upheaval of the war, coupled with the questioning of all authority that accompanied the overthrow of monarchy, led women into the streets, where they organized, petitioned, and even preached. The more radical the group, the more likely women were to play a public role. One historian who examines the experiences of women in England through the seventeenth century notes that "women were particularly visible within the popular movement which might have established a wider political democracy, among those people 'commonly though unjustly styled Levellers.'" While the Interregnum saw an outpouring of prophesy, pamphleteering, and preaching by women attached or aligned with many different sects, the Quakers were "the most receptive to the spiritual authority of women." The most thorough and recent study of the early Quakers claims that "there was complete equality as regards the ministry at least in theory, between men and women, and there are no early records of men being preferred to women."
Oliver Cromwell died in 1658; his son, Richard, took over as head of the commonwealth but could not command the loyalties of his father. The power vacuum led to a reawakening of the sects. Their search for freedom from authority stretched far beyond what the Puritans had setout to do to the monarchy. One historian calls 1659 the summer of the "'Quaker terror.' . . . The saints of the 1640s had been overtaken on the road to the new Jerusalem by the Quakers."
From 1653 on, England’s upper ranks gradually reunified, as those Roundheads and Cavaliers who had assumed opposing sides during the Civil War on religious grounds now realized that their commonalities in terms of property ownership outweighed their differences. The concept of liberty, of a free Parliament, had sprung far out of their control and, as Lawrence Stone tells us, now constituted "too dangerous a spirit to be allowed abroad. The problem was how to use it in order to transfer control from the King and his personal advisors to men of property, without also sharing this liberty with the middling sort of people." George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, and Anthony Ashley Cooper (later known briefly as Lord Ashley and then as the Earl of Shaftesbury) conspired with their old Cavalier enemies, such as Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, to bring back the monarchy and the House of Lords. Even the Anglican Church would be reestablished as a safeguard against the spread of meritocracy and the danger that such ideas posed to their property.Charles I had explained, "People are governed by the pulpit more than the sword in time of peace." These men were to be rewarded for their efforts with more property than they could measure.
Monck, at the head of an army he had purged of both royalists and "fanatics," partnered with Shaftesbury and switched sides. In negotiations with the dead king’s son, Charles, exiled with his close adviser, Hyde, at Breda in Holland, Shaftesbury and Monck asked Charles to sign an agreement protecting land settlements of the commonwealth and guaranteeing some measure of religious toleration. Both Monck and Shaftesbury were pragmatists. No great friends of the Anglican Church, they sought order rather than conformity. Charles signed the deal in April 1660, and he returned to England and the throne a few weeks later. The restored state infrastructure suppressed the radical ideas of the revolution during the 1660s.
America apparently also belonged to the English throne to dispose of as the monarch wished. In 1663, three years after the Restoration, Charles II carved up his portion of the globe to thank his faithful supporters. He issued a charter for the area from the coast of the Carolinas to the Pacific Ocean to eight well-connected "lords proprietor"’: Hyde; Monck; Shaftesbury; William Lord Craven; John Lord Berkeley; his brother, Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia; Sir George Carteret; and Sir John Colleton. Occupied with political events and their estates in England, among these proprietors only William Berkeley had any plans for spending time anywhere near his new endowment, and he imagined that he could control it safely from Jamestown.
The plan was that the immense acreage would serve as a lucrative and potentially perpetual source of income for the lords of colonization. Quitrents from settlers, profit from commodities such as tobacco, and of course gains from the sale of humans and their labor would flow home to the coffers in London. Four of the proprietors belonged to the Royal Adventurers to Africa, and two others already owned or had investments in Caribbean plantations.
John Locke, Shaftesbury’s close associate and his coauthor of the feudal Fundamental Constitutions, which would be the proprietors' blueprint for governing the new colony, also had investments in the slave trade.
The lords proprietors laid their plans for Carolina from afar. Ironically, the Crown’s favorites, rewarded for restoring order to the realm, would establish a colony filled with people inspired by the Quakers and Levellers the ruling elite had suppressed.