Elisha Williams, the Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants
Called Unto Liberty, Elisha Williams
: 1744, Founding Era Sermons
As the son of Reverend William Williams (1665-1741), a great-grandson of John Cotton and of Governor Simon Bradstreet, and the younger brother of William Williams, Jr., Elisha Williams was a member of an outstanding and devout New England family.
There Williams remained only four years before becoming Yale University rector, a position he held until 1739.
departure from Yale
was attributed to poor health, but Williams
, who had also been in the Connecticut General Assembly, served there again from 1740 to 1749.
Politically ambitious, he was thought to be interested in becoming governor of Connecticut.
also served as a judge on the Connecticut
Supreme Court, was a chaplain during the 1745 expedition that captured Louisbourg, was appointed colonel and commander-in-chief of forces organized to invade Canada (a plan that was abandoned), and was a delegate to the Albany Congress
in 1754, which devised the first American plan of union under Benjamin Franklin's leadership.
Signed "Philalethes," The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants (1744) is Williams's
most famous work.
It was occasioned by a 1742 Connecticut
statute prompted by Standing Order clergymen's resentment of Great Awakening revivalists.
It prohibited ministers from preaching outside their own parishes, unless expressly invited to do so by resident ministers.
Punishment for violating this law was deprivation of support and authorization to preach, a prohibition and punishment that Williams
argued violated scripture, natural rights, the social contract, and the Toleration Act of 1688.
These views had so antagonized people as to prevent his
reelection to the Supreme Court in the previous year, and he
was abused by both Old Lights and New Lights.
Tags:Elisha Williams, history, Judeo-Christian Foundations of American Law