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The Flushing Remonstrance was a 1657 petition to Director-General of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, in which some thirty residents of the small settlement at Vlishing requested an exemption to his ban on Quaker worship. It is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.
According to Kenneth T. Jackson, the Flushing Remonstrance was remarkable for four reasons: it articulated a fundamental right that is as basic to American freedom as any other, the authors backed up their words with actions by sending it to an official not known for tolerance, they stood up for others and were articulating a principle that was of little discernible benefit to themselves, and the language of the remonstrance is as beautiful as the sentiments they express.
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Flushing, now in Queens, New York, was then part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Stuyvesant had formally banned the practice of all religions outside of the Dutch Reformed Church, the established church of the Netherlands, in the colony. In 1656 William Wickenden, a Baptist minister from Rhode Island, was arrested by Dutch colonial authorities, jailed, fined, and exiled for baptizing Christians in Flushing. Many other similar incidents took place prior to the Remonstrance.
The Flushing Remonstrance was signed on December 27, 1657, by a group of English citizens who were affronted by persecution of Quakers and the religious policies of Stuyvesant. None of them were Quakers themselves. The Remonstrance ends with:
- The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.
- Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing.
Four who signed were arrested by order of Stuyvesant. Two immediately recanted, but the writer of the remonstrance, Edward Hart, and sheriff of Flushing Tobias Feake remained firm in their convictions. Both men were remanded to prison where they survived in isolation on rations of bread and water for over a month. After friends and family petitioned Stuyvesant on behalf of the elderly Hart, the clerk was released on penalty of banishment. Feake held out for a few more weeks, but eventually recanted and was pardoned after being fined and banned from holding public office. The town government of Flushing was removed and Dutch replacements were appointed by Stuyvesant.
Subsequently, John Bowne of the colony allowed Quakers to meet in his house. He was arrested in 1662 and brought before Stuyvesant. Unrepentant, Bowne was sentenced to banishment to Holland, though he was of English descent and spoke no Dutch. After several months in the foreign land, Bowne petitioned the directors of the Dutch West India Company. After a month of deliberation, the Dutch West India Company agreed to support Bowne, and advised Stuyvesant by a letter (1663) that he was to end religious persecution in the colony. One year later, in 1664, the colony fell to British control. The Bowne house, built before 1662, still stands in historic preservation. The Quaker meetinghouse in Flushing, built 1694, is now the oldest house of worship in continuous use in New York State.
The 30 signers were:
Hart signed first as clerk of the group; each of several other signers wrote an X that is labeled as their mark.
The earliest copy of the document dates also from 1657 as an official copy of the original, but the original has been lost. This early copy is in longhand, on moderately severely damaged and degraded paper, yet essentially complete. It has seldom been in public anywhere.
The Queens Borough President's Office held a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Remonstrance in 2007. Descendants of the signers, Bowne, Stuyvesant, and the arresting officer were invited and in attendance, and the original copy of the Remonstrance was brought down from the State Archives in Albany for several weeks' public display.
- Jackson, Kenneth T. (December 27, 2007). "A Colony With a Conscience". The New York Times.
- Michael Peabody (November–December 2005). "The Flushing Remonstrance". Liberty Magazine. Archived from the original on December 4, 2007.
- A History of the Baptists by Thomas Armitage
- Glenn Collins (December 5, 2007). "Precursor of the Constitution Goes on Display in Queens". The New York Times.