By Sam Roberts
If you think the Flushing Remonstrance is a homeowner’s complaint to a plumber, think again. The frayed petition from 1657 is one of the foundational documents of American freedom — and for the first time in three decades it is on display in Manhattan, through Monday at Federal Hall on Wall Street.
The Dutch were known for tolerance — or indifference — to most immigrants to New Amsterdam who didn’t jeopardize the Dutch West India Company’s commercial agenda. Still, the Dutch Reformed Church remained paramount, and Peter Stuyvesant, the Calvinist director-general of the colony, was committed to enforcing its supremacy.
His order penalizing anyone who harbored Quakers provoked 31 residents of Flushing on Long Island — none of them Quakers themselves — to sign a remonstrance, a collective appeal to redress their grievance.
While it wasn’t successful at first, a further appeal directly to the company’s directors in Amsterdam upheld the Dutch principle of “liberty of conscience, not just for Christians, but for everyone.” The legacy of the remonstrance reinforced the right to petition the government, established the rule of law and provided the foundation for freedom of worship, which the Founders enshrined in the Bill of Rights at Federal Hall more than a century later.
The Remonstrance is displayed there in an anteroom off the rotunda, which is dominated by a timely and towering backdrop that evokes its provenance: a 40-foot-high facade of a 17th-century gabled Dutch canal house. The one-ton hand-painted sculpture is by Brian Tolle, who designed the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City and other works. It will be on display through Sept. 8.
Mr. Tolle named the facade “Eureka” for the exclamation of discovery often attributed to Archimedes. The exhibition is a collaboration of the New York State Archives, the Archives Partnership Trust, the National Park Service and the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy.
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