Opinions of Anne Hutchinson have, shall we say, covered the waterfront.
In his masterful tome, Conceived in Liberty, 20th-century economist and libertarian historian Murray Rothbard cast her as a staunch individualist and the greatest threat to the “despotic Puritanical theocracy of Massachusetts Bay.”
John Winthrop, the 2nd, 6th, 9th, and 12th governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, thought she was a “hell-spawned agent of destructive anarchy” and “a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, a nimble wit and active spirit, a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man.”
The state of Massachusetts apparently agrees with Rothbard. A monument in the State House in Boston today calls her a “courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.” She was, in fact, the preeminent female crusader for a free society in 18th-century New England, for which she paid first with banishment and ultimately with her life.
The story is bound intimately to the “antinomian” or “free grace” controversy involving both religion and gender. It raged in Massachusetts for the better part of two years, from 1636 to 1638. Hutchinson was an unconventional, charismatic woman who dared to challenge church doctrine as well as the role of women in even discussing such things in a male-dominated society. In Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, historian Emery Battis wrote,
Gifted with a magnetism which is imparted to few, she had, until the hour of her fall, warm adherents far outnumbering her enemies, and it was only by dint of skillful maneuvering that the authorities were able to loosen her hold on the community.
Antinomianism literally means “against the law” and was a term of derision applied against Hutchinson and her “free grace” followers. While the Puritan establishment in Massachusetts argued, as good “Reformers” of the day did, that Christian understanding derived from scripture alone (“Sola Scriptura”), the antinomians placed additional emphasis on an “inner light” by which the Holy Spirit imparted wisdom and guidance to believing individuals, one at a time.
“As I do understand it,” Hutchinson herself explained, “laws, commands, rules and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway. He who has God’s grace in his heart cannot go astray.”