Prior to the establishment of religious liberty in this country, Baptists were not the only people persecuted for their faith. Several Quakers were put to death in Massachusetts and the colonies of Plymouth and Connecticut also enacted severe laws against them. But other than what the Quakers accomplished in Pennsylvania, it was the Baptists who argued, fought, and died to make sure that liberty was a part of the fabric of this nation.
On July 8, 1663, through the efforts of John Clarke, King Charles II granted a charter to Rhode Island which stated “no person within the said colonye at any tyme hereafter shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted or called in question for any difference in opinions in matters of religion which doe not actually disturb the civil peace of our sayd colonye; but that… freely and full ye have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concernments.”
When further questions about liberty brought on the War of Independence, Rhode Island stood firm. On May 4, 1776, the general assembly voted to abrogate its allegiance to the king. On July 4, the colony’s two representatives signed the Declaration of Independence. Then on this day, July 16, 1776, the general assembly began discussing the ramifications of their decision and in what ways liberty should become a national principle.
Unlike nearly all the rest of the States, Rhode Island, first as a colony and then as one of the states within the Union, has pledged its support and its citizens’ lives for the sake of liberty.