Flushing Remonstrance: 350th Anniversary
Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands , was most certainly not an exponent of religious freedom. In 1654, for example, he attempted to prevent Jews from settling in what was then New Amsterdam. Similar intolerance was shown by Stuyvesant for Lutherans and Catholics.
In 1657, Stuyvesant issued a ban on Quakers. On 27 December 1657, some Englishmen who resided in the Village of Flushing ("Vlishing" in Dutch), responded to Stuyvesant's prohibition with a letter, in which they informed Stuyvesant that people of all religious persuasions would be welcomed in Flushing. That letter became known as the Flushing Remonstrance.
The signers paid dearly for their audacity, but the people of Flushing continued to harbor Quakers.
Less than seven years later, it was Stuyvesant and his fellow adherents of the Dutch Reformed Church doctrine whose free exercise of religion was threatened when the British seized control of New Amsterdam. The 1664 Articles of Capitulation, negotiated by the Dutch with the grudging acquiescence of Stuyvesant, specifically provided that the "Dutch here shall enjoy the liberty of their consciences in Divine Worship and church discipline." The Flushing Remonstrance surely was recalled in the minds, if not on the tongues, of the Dutchmen who negotiated the surrender of their colony to the British.
In 1673, when the Dutch regained the colony from the British (who had named it New York), the Dutch reciprocally imposed the same surrender terms upon the British, including the religious liberty rights for Englishmen. In 1674, the Treaty of Westminster settled the disputes between the British and the Dutch, and in doing so returned New York to British control. Freedom of religion was once again guaranteed.
The spirit of the Flushing Remonstrance went major league when the American colonies broke free of England and drew up the United States Constitution. The New York delegation found nothing in the document to ensure the various personal liberties, including freedom of worship, which they had enjoyed for more than a century under colonial rule. The 10 Amendments constituting the Bill of Rights were New York's inducement to subscribe to the Constitution, and indeed, the very first provision of the very first Amendment continues to this day to guarantee Americans free exercise of their religious inclinations.
The signing and dispatch of the Flushing Remonstrance, then, was a key root of American religious freedom and other freedoms as well. The freedom environment so provided attracted (and continues to attract) people from diverse cultures, who, collectively, have made America the political and economic world power it is today.
And today, the neighborhoods of Flushing, New York are home to the most culturally diverse population in America, if not the world. Every day, thousands of individuals, representing diverse religious faiths, pass within a few yards of where the Flushing Remonstrance was written, all free to worship according to their persuasions.
As for the original Flushing Remonstrance document, it now is the property of the State of New York. From 5 December 2007 through 7 January 2008, the Remonstrance is on loan to the Flushing Library for public display, after which it is to be returned to the New York State Archives in Albany.
Many people in Flushing are now trying to arrange a permanent loan of the Remonstrance to the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows, so that the document can come home to where it belongs. I support that effort. [Disclosure: Though I do not reside in Queens County, I often work there.] For one thing, there are those who would take away our freedom of worship and impose their own religious regimens upon us. A strong tradition of religious liberty among the populace goes a long way towards preserving our freedom. It is vital that the public have a tangible and recognizable symbol of religious freedom ensconced in a place of honor. What better tangible artifact of religious freedom can there be than the original Flushing Remonstrance? Placing the Remonstrance document in the Museum will underscore the importance of the free exercise of our faiths, and further reinforce the tradition of religious liberty.
And, on a practical note, the folks at the New York State Archives have not been particularly good stewards of the document, what with the 1911 fire in Albany which scorched the Flushing Remonstrance. The museum curators in Flushing know how to exhibit things to the public, and can give the document a more dignified venue than the obscure and not-so-fireproof vault in Albany.
And so, on this 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, I join the diverse chorus of voices to demand the return of the Remonstrance to Queens. Let the document serve as a symbol of freedom, an artifact of public reverence, and a light unto the nations of the world!
THE FLUSHING REMONSTRANCE BELONGS IN FLUSHING!!!
BRING IT HOME TO WHERE IT BELONGS!!!