The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, 1644
The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, 1644

The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace is a 1644 book about government force written by Roger Williams, the founder of Providence Plantations in New England and the co-founder of the First Baptist Church in America. Tenent is an obsolete spelling of tenet, and the book argues for a "wall of separation" between church and state and for state toleration of various Christian denominations, including Catholicism, and also "paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worships."[1] The book takes the form of a dialogue between Truth and Peace and is a response to correspondence by Boston minister John Cotton regarding Cotton's support for state enforcement of religious uniformity in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams argues that Christianity requires the existence of a separate civil authority which may not generally infringe upon liberty of conscience, which Williams interpreted to be a God-given right.[2]


The 1644 text is considered one of Williams' best-developed arguments, even though it was written under presumably rushed conditions and is stylistically difficult. Many of the original copies of The Bloudy Tenent were burned by order of a Parliamentary faction offended by his view of government. John Cotton responded to the book by defending his positions in The Bloudy Tenent, Washed, and Made White in the Bloud of the Lamb. Upon his return to London in 1652, Williams published a defense of his positions and responded to Cotton in The Bloudy Tenent Yet More Bloudy by Mr. Cotton's Endeavour to Wash it White in the Blood of the Lamb; of Whose Precious Blood, Spilt in the Bloud of his Servants; and of the Blood of Millions Spilt in Former and Later Wars for Conscience Sake, That Most Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, upon, a Second Tryal Is Found More Apparently and More Notoriously Guilty, etc. (London, 1652). The Bloudy Tenent has been cited as a philosophical source for John Locke, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and several writings of Thomas Jefferson regarding religious freedom.[3][4]

Biblical support for preventing governmental interference in religious matters

In the Bloudy Tenent and other writings, Williams interpreted many passages in the Old and New Testaments as limiting governmental interference in any religious matters, and therefore opposing the traditional Puritan exegesis which supported using state force in some religious matters:[2]

See also


  1. ^ Roger Williams, Richard Groves, The bloudy tenent of persecution for cause of conscience (Mercer University Press, 2001), pg. 3 [1] (accessible on Google Books, July 28, 2009)0865547661, 9780865547667
  2. ^ a b c d e f James P. Byrd, The challenges of Roger Williams: religious liberty, violent persecution, and the Bible (Mercer University Press, 2002)[2] (accessed on Google Book on July 20, 2009)
  3. ^ Roger Williams, James Calvin Davis (editor), On religious liberty: selections from the works of Roger Williams, (Harvard University Press, 2008), ISBN 0-674-02685-3, ISBN 978-0-674-02685-8 [3](accessed July 11, 2009 on Google Books)
  4. ^ James Emanuel Ernst, Roger Williams, New England Firebrand (Macmillan Co., Rhode Island, 1932), pg. 246 [4]