Chronicles of America 

The Act of Toleration 1649

In 1647 Leonard Calvert died. Until the Proprietary's will should be known, Thomas Greene acted as Governor. Over in England, Lord Baltimore stood at the parting of the ways. The King's cause had a hopeless look. Roundhead and Parliament were making way in a mighty tide. Baltimore was marked for a royalist and a Catholic. If the tide rose farther, he might lose Maryland. A sagacious mind, he proceeded to do all that he could, short of denying his every belief, to placate his enemies. He appointed as Governor of Maryland William Stone, a Puritan, and into the Council, numbering five members, he put three Puritans. On the other hand the interests of his Maryland Catholics must not be endangered. He required of the new Governor not to molest any person "professing to believe in Jesus Christ, and in particular any Roman Catholic." In this way he thought that, right and left, he might provide against persecution.

Under these complex influences the Maryland Assembly passed in 1649 an Act concerning Religion. It reveals, upon the one hand, Christendom's mercilessness toward the freethinker -- in which mercilessness, whether through conviction or policy, Baltimore acquiesced -- and, on the other hand, that aspiration toward friendship within the Christian fold which is even yet hardly more than a pious wish, and which in the seventeenth century could have been felt by very few. To Baltimore and the Assembly of Maryland belongs, not the glory of inaugurating an era of wide toleration for men and women of all beliefs or disbeliefs, whether Christian or not, but the real though lesser glory of establishing entire toleration among the divisions within the Christian circle itself. According to the Act:

Whatsoever person or persons within this Province and the Islands thereunto belonging, shall from henceforth blaspheme God, that is curse him, or deny our Saviour Jesus Christ to bee the sonne of God, or shall deny the holy Trinity, . . . or the Godhead of any of the said three persons of the Trinity, or the unity of the Godhead, or shall use or utter any reproachful speeches, words or language concerning the said Holy Trinity, or any of the said three persons thereof, shall be punished with death and confiscation or forfeiture of all his or her lands and goods to the Lord Proprietary and his heires . . . . Whatsoever person or persons shall from henceforth use or utter any reproachfull words, or speeches, concerning the blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Saviour, or the holy Apostles or Evangelists, or any of them, shall in such case for the first offence forfeit to the said Lord Proprietary and his heires the sum of five pound sterling . . . . Whatsoever person shall henceforth upon any occasion. . . declare, call, or denominate any person or persons whatsoever inhabiting, residing, traffiqueing, trading or comerceing within this Province, or within any of the Ports, Harbors, Creeks or Havens to the same belonging, an heritick, Scismatick, Idolator, puritan, Independant, Presbiterian, popish priest, Jesuite, Jesuited papist, Lutheran, Calvenist, Anabaptist, Brownist, Antinomian, Barrowist, Roundhead, Sepatist, or any other name or term in a reproachful manner relating to matter of Religion, shall for every such Offence forfeit . . . the sum of tenne shillings sterling . . . .

Whereas the inforceing of the conscience in matters of Religion hath frequently fallen out to be of dangerous Consequence in those commonwealths where it hath been practised, . . . be it therefore also by the Lord Proprietary with the advice and consent of this Assembly, ordeyned and enacted . . . that no person or persons whatsoever within this Province . ..professing to beleive in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth bee any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof . . . nor anyway compelled to the beleif or exercise of any other Religion against his or her consent, soe as they be not unfaithfull to the Lord Proprietary or molest or conspire against the civill Government . . .

Archives of Maryland, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly
vol. I, pp. 244-247

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