The political opinions collected at GoLocalProv have always been a bit of a mystery to me. A lot of it doesn’t seem to reflect the city that I know, which is a pretty nice cosmopolitan city with a number of issues.
Don Roach, a Brown University grad, fine. Travis Rowley always seems to inhabit a different Rhode Island than the one the rest of us are living in (his version of this state makes me afraid for his blood pressure), but at least he’s here in Rhode Island. But this takes the cake for about the worst thing that I’ve seen published in GoLocalProv’s political opinions.
It’s a ridiculous screed about the supposed ruin of Rhode Island by the Democratic Party entitled “Roger Williams Would Be a Republican in RI”, written by a Californian. Totally “local” right? There’s even a point where he vaguely compares the Democrats to witches. He does know Roger Williams wasn’t dissenting from witches, right?
Roger Williams (and Anne Hutchinson) features for all of eleven sentences before the screed just repeats the same b.s. about Democrats; they’re corrupt, they’re destroying Rhode Island, etc., etc. My favorite line:
Instead of casting hexes on the unsuspecting citizens, the Democratic Party cult has cursed the minds and the hearts of the Rhode Island citizenry, convincing them that Republicans have no power, no solutions, and no ideas beyond running against the Democratic machine.
Anyhow, the account is factually wrong on at least a couple of points:
1. Rhode Island is the most impoverished state in the nation. No, it’s not. Mississippi continues to retain that honor, with other southern states. Most impoverished in New England; but that’s a bit like being a short giant. Short, for a giant, but still very much a giant. That we’re tied with Nevada for highest unemployment, however, that remains true. We also rank around 17th for highest average income as of 2011.
2. Anne Hutchinson was going to be executed for witchcraft. Anne Hutchinson was advocating doctrines heretical to the Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but witchcraft doesn’t seem to have been among her crimes. The major issue seems to have been her articulation of antinomianism, hence the name “Antinomian Controversy” for the events surround her trial and not “Hutchinson Witch Trial”. Since Anne Hutchinson was both imprisoned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and then found guilty in both civil and religious trials if the colony intended to execute her they had the perfect moment: when they sentenced her. Hutchinson was excommunicated and banished. Her supporters suffered similar fates.
They’d already written to Roger Williams, who advised them to purchase land from the Narragansett. That eventually became Portsmouth.
That gets me to the major point; that Roger Williams would have been a Republican today. The answer is: who knows? Roger Williams was a classic English dissenter; he ultimately died without belonging to a church, looking for one that matched the purity of his ideals. He was a man apart. If Roger Williams were alive today his first response would probably be “whoa! How are your houses lit without candles? How are they heated without fire? Why is Providence built entirely from stone?!” Things have changed, Roger. Our entire political system is different from Roger Williams’ day. Who’s to say where he would stand once he figured it out.
Unless you actually are practicing witchcraft, specifically necromancy, you can’t possibly know what a dead person would think of today. People exist in specific historical places and times. Certainly, you can utilize their ideas and words; everyone does. It’s why the New Deal’s patron saint was James Madison even though the post-Constitutional Convention Madison opposed large-scale governmental policies in his own day. It’s why the Tea Party uses Tom Paine even though Paine specifically advocates for things like social welfare (and in the 18th Century as well).
We politicize history because it’s convenient to cast ourselves in the legacy of great people. To place ourselves in a historical context and seek justification for it from history. But Roger Williams can’t legitimize the Republican Party in Rhode Islanders’ eyes, anymore than he can do that for the Democratic Party. If Roger Williams were here today, he would be Roger Williams; a complex dissenter who helped found our state and gave us a body of thought that continues to be debated today. The man didn’t even leave behind an authentic image of himself. If he doesn’t have a face, how could he possibly have an affiliation with a political party that arose over 150 years after his death?