*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 7th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We have a real goocher for you today on the Almanac. Maybe, if you are an American the embers from your 4th of July bash are going out but perhaps I could get you roused by stating that the man we are remembering today is sometimes called “the father of American Democracy”.
That is important and will lead us to a brief consideration of the democratic elements of the earlier Puritans. But I am forever fascinated with figures who were born and died on the same date (obviously years apart).
And so today, we remember a fascinating character- an Englishman in Connecticut, the so-called Father of American Democracy: Thomas Hooker who was born on the 7th of July in 1586 and died on the 7th of July 1647. This puts him in a precarious situation in both England and in the English colonies in the New World.
Let’s break down what we know about him and why he is so important as to have monikers that, despite being exaggerations, point to his historical significance.
First- this is NOT Richard Hooker. They may have been obliquely related but these are TWO SEPARATE people. Richard was an Englishman about 30 years older than Thomas. Richard was a proponent of the Protestant settlement under Elizabeth but not a fan of the Puritans.
Thomas Hooker was a Puritan. Pretty much. Close enough. He had Puritan “sympathies? You get it, the historians like to quarrel over this one.
One historian has written of Thomas Hooker “The undisputed facts about his life are so few that many accounts of him seem like fairy tales”. What do we know of Thomas Hooker?
He was born (on this day) in 1586 in Leicestershire England to parents of little wealth. He attended school on scholarship and worked his way through Cambridge. He received his BA and MA in 1608 and 1611, respectively. He is known to have had a profound spiritual experience that led to him becoming a popular preacher. He was a preacher from 1620-1625 and then he took on work as a lecturer and preacher at Essex.
But this was the season of William Laud in the English church and by 1629 Hooker was called to come before the high court on account of his Puritan leanings. Hooker skipped town to Holland instead.
We know that John Winthrop in the Mass Bay Colony wanted Hooker to come, and eventually, he did in 1633. A travel companion of his was John Cotton (of Cotton family fame).
But the fiery Puritanism of Cotton and others lead Hooker to seek new opportunities for his Puritanism of a slightly different shade. He took the 100 families from his congregation in Massachusetts for a new home down the road in what is today Hartford Connecticut.
In 1639 he helped compose the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut and he also called for Universal suffrage irrespective of your church membership. The Fundamental Orders have been called the first written constitution in the New World. His call to suffrage seems radical- and it was! But how radical was Thomas Hooker?
Puritans (one might say “at their best”) exhibited a kind of democratic spirit in the age of Monarchies. Like other separatist groups, they saw little need for elaborate hierarchies and believed that Christ came mediated through scripture alone.
Many Puritans, once in the New World, became much more enamored with hierarchies and seats of authority now that they were in line for such authorities. Thomas Hooker seems to have been attempting to be more consistent in his dismissal of the new structures being put into place by the New England clergy. Richard Hooker was a man of his time, he would look remarkable retrograde to many today, but compared to the Massachusetts Puritans he looks remarkably ahead of his time.
Thomas Hooker’s legacy would be of a congregational church model and as “the Father of Connecticut”. “Father of Democracy” is nice, but not true.
But the rights of individuals seemed paramount to him based on his civil polity and theology. We remember Thomas Hooker on this, the day of his birth and death in 1568 and 1647 respectively.
The last word for today comes from Galatians 5. It is one verse, the first verse:
For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorites to hail from the Constitution State include Thomas Hooker, Cliff from Cheers, the Carpenters, and Michael Bolton. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who would implore all native Nutmeggers to get that weird C dropped in the middle of the state’s name. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.