Independents (a Protestant sect which arose in England in the 16th century. The Puritan element, which began to appear within the Anglican church so early as the reign of Henry VIII. and of Edward VI., gave rise in Mary's reign to secret dissenting congregations, essentially independent in church organization and government. Although in one or two instances there are earlier traces of separate congregations, the first open movement toward local churches distinct from the established church was under the leadership of Robert Brown, about 1586. At first they were called Brown-ists; but their discipline having been modified by John Robinson and Henry Jacob, who had been connected with him, they took the name of Independents, and rapidly spread over England. From Holland a body of them carried their tenets to America in 1620. They flourished in England during the commonwealth, Cromwell himself being in their communion; but on the restoration the act of uniformity, passed in 1662, excluded 1,900 of their ministers from office.
The act of toleration, 1689, freed dissenters from the pains and penalties imposed on the exercise of their worship, and in 1691 a temporary union was effected between the English Presbyterians and Independents. ' It was not, however, till the repeal of the test and corporation acts in 1828 that the English Independents, with other dissenters, were freed from all civil disabilities. Robinson, under whom they were called Independents, is generally esteemed the father of modern Congregationalism. In their subsequent history the Independents in England and the Congregation-alists in America have held practically the same ecclesiastical views. Thus the Independent churches of England formed a Congregational union in 1831, and an article of their constitution formally recognizes the fellowship of the churches. Less use of councils is made, however, than by the Congregationalists in America. The name Independent is sometimes used in ecclesiastical discussion to designate those Congregationalists who incline toward the principles of independency. - In Scotland there is a body called New Independents. It originated in a separation from the church of Scotland about the end of the last century, under the lead of Robert and James Haldane, from whom its members were called Haldanites. Large places of public worship were erected at Robert Haldane's expense in several towns, and academies for the education of preachers were established in Edinburgh, Dundee, and Glasgow. The New Independents increased rapidly, and in the beginning of the present century had 86 churches; they have at present about 120. They utterly reject any connection of church and state, and make little distinction between the laity and clergy, considering it not irregular that a layman, in the absence of a clergyman, should administer the Lord's supper, which they celebrate weekly.
In other respects they differ little in doctrine or worship from other Independents. (See Congregationalism.)