Roger Williams--Impact on American Society

Roger Williams died in 1683, leaving behind an established colony that was guided by principles, which would have a tremendous impact on American society even today. His impact can be seen in many areas. First, although, he did not stay a member of the church for very long, he did establish the first Baptist church in North America. As he began this first church he also began and introduced adult baptism--waiting to baptize an individual until he/she can make that decision for him/herself--to this country. There are many Baptist churches in this country today, as well as many other churches that engage in the practice of adult baptism.

While this contribution certainly impacted American society, the two guiding principles of the colony have been Roger Williams' greatest impact on American society. Roger Williams' Rhode Island serves as a model of religious toleration and separation of church and state. These two principles are now present and enforced throughout all of America.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison give Roger Williams the credit of being the "original thought influencer on the first amendment" (Shaw). This amendment which states "Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ." deals with both freedom of religion and separation of church and state. It restricts Congress/government from making any law concerning religion. It also implies people can freely worship in the religion of their choosing. It is because of this amendment that the people of the church and not the government run our churches and that the government, not the churches, run the government. Williams believed the government could not enforce the duty to God (Winslow 117). It must be kept separate.

It was also because of the first amendment that the people of America are free to worship in any church/religion of their choosing or not to worship at all. Williams believed in religious toleration. He said forced worship is dangerous. It "'stinks in God's nostrils' and is 'the greatest occasion of Civill Warre, revishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of hypocrisy and destruction on million of souls'" (Burchard). We in this country today, however, do not have to worry about being banished or persecuted because of our religious beliefs.

Roger Williams was an important, controversial, influential man of his time. He made known his opinions and stood up for his beliefs. Impacting both his colony and American society he introduced to Rhode Island principles, which still help to guide our country today.

Life in England

Massachusetts Bay Colony

Providence, Rhode Island


Roger Williams--His Impact on American Society