Celebration and Exhibition of Flushing Remonstrance Set for November

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Remonstrance IIAt a moment when the separation of church and state in the U.S. seems under perpetual assault (if you’re a skeptic on this, click the link to read about President Obama’s ill-advised nominee for Secretary of the Army)…

At a moment when the freedom of religion enshrined in the Bill of Rights seems so frail, so vulnerable to political fungibility…

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Let’s talk about — and celebrate — the Flushing Remonstrance.

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It is a document written in 1657 in which citizens of the Dutch colony of New Netherland requested — demanded — that an exemption to Director-General Peter Stuyvesant’s ban on Quaker worship. It’s signers were not Quakers.

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The history of the document, and its import with regard to critical questions of the American existence, is key to any understanding of the Bill of Rights. Clyde Fitch Report friend and supporter Susan Kathryn Hefti — a descendant of one of the document’s signers — is therefore proud to announce a new exhibit, The Flushing Remonstrance: Who Shall Plead for Us?, at the Flushing Library, starting Nov. 10. Here’s the 411:

The Flushing Remonstrance: Who Shall Plead for Us?
An exhibit presented by the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives and Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall

Run Nov. 10 through Dec. 31, 2009 at the Flushing Library, 41-17 Main St. After the exhibit the document will travel around the country to various museums, schools and libraries.

Written and curated by Susan Kathryn Hefti, Who Shall Plead For Us? explores events and conflicts leading up to the 1657 writing of the extraordinary historic document known as the Flushing Remonstrance, a bluntly worded letter of protest demanding religious freedom in the nascent Dutch Colony of New Netherland.

As the English settlers who signed the Remonstrance, knowingly risking life, liberty and property, to protest New Amsterdam Director-General Petrus Stuyvesant’s harsh treatment of the newly arrived Quakers, were not themselves Quakers, the exhibit attempts to answer the question of what might have motivated these comfortable settlers to risk it all for a small group of newcomers espousing a brand new faith?

The question at the heart of this exhibit resonates throughout American history and perhaps throughout the ongoing dialogue about what it truly means to be American: Like the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a document written more than 100 years after the Flushing Remonstrance, these brave men suffered dearly for standing on their principles of freedom. What might have inspired these English settlers to take such a bold risk? What had they witnessed in the Dutch colony that might have led them to so dramatically draw their own line in the sand?

Here’s something fascinating by the way — a bit of background on the document:

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The “Flushing Remonstrance” was a petition of inhabitants of Flushing, Long Island, to Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of New Netherland, dated December 27, 1657. The remonstrance objected to Stuyvesant’s order barring Quakers from the town, and asserted that the order was contrary to “liberty of conscience” under the customs of Holland and the Dutch patent or charter to the town of Flushing [1645].

The text and signatures on the original document were evidently copied and incorporated into the minutes of the Council and were maintained in the secretary’s office. What happened to the original petition is unknown, but it may have been returned to the individual who presented it to Stuyvesant. The signatures on the copy of the remonstrance in the minutes appear to be in the same handwriting, a clear indication that the document is a contemporary copy, not the original.

The Dutch colonial council minutes and other records of the government of New Netherland were transferred to the new British government in 1664. The records were maintained by the secretary of the province of New York until 1783, when they were transferred to the custody of the Secretary of State of New York. The Secretary of State transferred the Dutch records, including the copy of the Flushing Remonstrance, to the New York State Library in 1881. The Dutch records were transferred from the Library to the newly-established New York State Archives in 1978. Thus the Dutch records have been in the continuous custody of the government of New York since 1664.

The Flushing Remonstrance is an iconic record of early Dutch colonial government that proclaimed the necessity of religious freedom of conscience and toleration. In Biblical language, the document cited divine authority as superseding human authority. The recorded copy of the Flushing Remonstrance has long been recognized as the earliest political assertion of freedom of conscience and religion in New York.

The document has been exhibited publicly twelve times since 1945 (six times since 1986). Locations of exhibits have included Manhattan, Flushing, and Albany. The document was also part of the New York Freedom Train exhibit of historic documents, which toured the state in 1949-50.

And this is the text of what it says:

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Right Honorable

You have been pleased to send unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of those people called Quakers because they are supposed to be, by some, seducers of the people. For our part we cannot condemn them in this case, neither can we stretch out our hands against them, for out of Christ God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Wee desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master. Wee are bounde by the law to do good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith. And though for the present we seem to be unsensible for the law and the Law giver, yet when death and the Law assault us, if wee have our advocate to seeke, who shall plead for us in this case of conscience betwixt God and our own souls; the powers of this world can neither attach us, neither excuse us, for if God justifye who can condemn and if God condemn there is none can justifye.

And for those jealousies and suspicions which some have of them, that they are destructive unto Magistracy and Ministerye, that cannot bee, for the Magistrate hath his sword in his hand and the Minister hath the sword in his hand, as witnesse those two great examples, which all Magistrates and Ministers are to follow, Moses and Christ, whom God raised up maintained and defended against all enemies both of flesh and spirit; and therefore that of God will stand, and that which is of man will come to nothing. And as the Lord hath taught Moses or the civil power to give an outward liberty in the state, by the law written in his heart designed for the good of all, and can truly judge who is good, who is evil, who is true and who is false, and can pass definitive sentence of life or death against that man which arises up against the fundamental law of the States General; soe he hath made his ministers a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death.

The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons 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.

For more information, visit www.flushingremonstrance.info.

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