The true revolutionist in America often has been the solid citizen with firm a conservative background, and surely Roger Williams, educated at Cambridge University, fell within that definition. Williams, a Puritan ordained minister in his mid-twenties, because of his concept of the religious tolerance and liberty in his sermons forced him to flee an England that stubbornly and sternly insisted upon conformity to the established church.
In 1631, Roger William's arrived in Salem with this same spirit of liberty and a passion for democracy, bolding speaking out against those in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that had conformed to the ways of the Old World. He criticized the Massachusetts Bay Company for not paying the Indians for their lands. He spoke out against the Puritan Church for demanding that everyone worship God in the same way, which was their way, the very reason the Puritans fled England. This led to Roger Williams' banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
What made Roger Williams the great revolutionary patriot of his day? It was his highly positive religious and intellectual individualism. In that age, religious conformity was the general rule. Williams was not willing to conform to the things that went against his core beliefs, such as the Puritans requiring men to be a member of the of church, and church and state being one, but rather pushed for the separation of church and state, giving the government of the day no authority over man's freedom to worship God in the way he chose. Williams even stopped trying to convert the Indians to his religion and rules of worship, believing that any man can worship in the way he chooses.
Williams criticized the Puritan church for trying to use the government to in force the Ten Commandments as a part of colony law. He also criticized the law, requiring men to attend church regularly and taking an oath of loyalty. Williams said plainly, Religion is none of the government's business.
Roger Williams believed and taught to his church congregation the ideals and practices of democracy. He believed that every man had certain rights by natural law; that government created by the people is always their servant, responsible to them, and can be changed whenever they wish.
This was strong doctrine for those days. Many men dare not be so bold. The founders and leaders of Massachusetts could not tolerate such a man, so they banished him from their colony.
The Massachusetts government was anything but democratic. Its leaders abhorred democracy; their system concentrated political power in the hands of a select, self-appointed few, and its will was imposed upon the people as authoritative, even absolute. The idea that the people could change the form of the government was to them unthinkably revolutionary.
In 1636, Williams made his way to Narragansett Bay and there, having bought the land from the Indians, he and his followers built the town of Providence, founding it on the principles for which he had fought, everyone having an equal voice in government and in religion. Every individual was free to worship in the way he thought best.
The town of Providence united with the towns of Warwick, Portsmouth, and Newport to form the colony of Rhode Island, where Williams' principles were written into the constitution of the colony. Thus Rhode Island, under the inspiration and guidance of Roger Williams, became the great pilot experiment in American democracy and religious toleration.