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America's First Experiment In Toleration

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John Hartsock details the rise and fall of noble tolerance of religious freedom in 17th-century Maryland.

Like the sudden thunderstorms that can roll swiftly up the Chesapeake Bay in summer, turning the normally tranquil waterway into a storm-tossed sea, an equally intolerant and dark spirit had descended on the hardscrabble tobacco plantations dotting the lush shoreline of that tidewater region some 300 years ago, in what was Lord Baltimore's former palatinate of Maryland.

In 1692, three years after a Protestant revolution had ousted a Catholic government in Maryland, the arrival of a royal governor appointed by William III confirmed its results and effectively spelled the end of the first experiment in England's Thirteen Colonies of the practice of religious toleration as a fundamental principle of civil governance. Three centuries later we can only marvel that the experiment lasted as long as it did.


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