Front Page Titles (by Subject) Religion, Regicide, and Resistance - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Religion, Regicide, and Resistance - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Religion, Regicide, and Resistance
“In Defense of Regicide: John Cotton on the Execution of Charles I. “The William and Mary Quarterly 37(January 1980):103–124.
King Charles I was executed on January 30, 1649. Months later New Englanders learned that the regicide had been sanctioned by an English Parliament purged of over one hundred members by the troops of Colonel Thomas Pride (Pride’s Purge), and that a republic or Commonwealth had replaced the monarchy. We can discern how these English events were interpreted by some in New England through a newly edited sermon of John Cotton (1584–1652). A radical Puritan from England, Cotton became an American Congregationalist preacher of the First Church of Boston. The occasion of his 1651 sermon was to give thanksgiving for Oliver Cromwell’s victory over Charles II and his Scottish supporters in 1650.
In the sermon, “Cotton strove to allay any doubts his listeners might have still entertained about the purge of parliament, the execution of the king, and the continuing progress of the English Revolution.” His case rested on biblical exegesis and on theories of resistance to tyrants that had entered English Protestant dissent a hundred years earlier. Cotton sought to support his English coreligionists in bringing about the apocalyptic millennium. His sermon also clarifies Cotton’s political views and those of early New England eschatology.
During the English Reformation such dissenters as John Knox had justified resistance to magistrates by choosing divine authority over Mary Tudor’s Catholicism. These theories of resistance and regicide were revived during the Puritan Revolution. Thus in The Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven (1644), Cotton had endorsed the right of revolution against unjust and godless magistrates.
In his 1651 sermon, Cotton justified Pride’s Purge by identifying the army as the people’s legitimate guardian to preserve England from the anti-Christ and the papacy. He extended the right of resistance to New Englanders in Massachusetts who might purge the General Court should it ever accept an English governor-general. He also approved of a “lawful and loyal conspiracy” to preserve English liberties and religious truth.
In the crisis times of the struggles between the Stuart monarchs and their non-conformist subjects, New Englanders expected the near approach of the millennium. These expectations give Cotton’s sermon an hysterical eschatological confidence. Cotton’s sermon also tried to patch up differences between English Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Besides the many biblical proofs of the right of regicide, Cotton also adapts a passage from the Roman History of Dio Cassius: “It is a wise speech of Trajan when he committed the sword to any; Use it for me, saith he, while I rule according to law and justice, but against me when otherwise.”