Puritanism, godliness, and political development in Boston & the general court (1630-1640).I. INTRODUCTION
Utilizing a case study method of analysis, this article examines the influence of the ideas, beliefs, and practices of the Puritans (1) in the General Court of Massachusetts Bay and in the town of Boston, in the decade 1630 to 1640, in an attempt to discern the extent to which such values and practices facilitated the development of an exceptional, that is, a democratic (2) and republican (3) political culture. (4)
The intent to study Puritanism (5) as a formative political influence reflects the conviction that, during the formulation of a new nation, there is incorporated into that nation's political culture, various systems of belief that can crystallize into a specific ideology and set of practices. In the founding of the American nation, it is possible that Puritanism was one of those formative ideologies that contributed to the shaping of distinctive political and ecclesiastical institutions.
Because Puritanism is believed by certain academics to have contributed to the character of US political institutions, some studies on colonial America have tended to focus on the homogeneity of that American society. (6) Thus, Alexis de Tocqueville could write that 'the whole destiny of America is contained in the first Puritan who landed on these shores,' because 'Puritanism was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine'. (7) He also noted that religious and political conflicts in England drove dissenters to America. It was from this 'Puritan movement' and the English 'middle-classes' from which most of the emigrants sprang, hence, 'the colony came more and more to present the novel phenomenon of a society homogeneous in all its parts'. (8)
John Jay had enunciated a similar sentiment two generations before Tocqueville's statement. In the Federalist Papers, Jay discussed the common heritage of American immigrants: 'Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united People--a People descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs'. (9)
More recently, Louis Hartz developed the controversial 'fragment theory'. He believed that the colonial beginnings of America shaped its political culture well into the twentieth century. To Hartz there was a dissenting, liberal fragment that migrated to America: this fragment 'detaches itself from the whole [...] and the part develops without inhibition'. (10) Detached, it became for the first time the 'master of a whole region'. (11) Thus, 'the fragmented British Puritan can make Calvin universal in New England, simply by virtue of his migration'. (12)
A variation of Hartz's fragment theory is Seymour Lipset's theory of formative events. To Lipset, 'Countries, like people, are not handed identities at birth' as Hartz's theory contended, 'but acquire them through the arduous process of 'growing up". (13) Lipset essentially argued that early events favored certain outcomes over others: 'historical events establish values and predispositions, and these in turn determine later events'. (14) That is, certain historical 'formative' events served to fix certain values in the public mind, largely by embodying these values in institutions and patterns of behavior that would endure.
Although it may be difficult to quantify the theses expounded above by Tocqueville, Jay, Hartz and Lipset, it must be noted that Massachusetts Bay was only a part of New England, and by extension, the New England way, was not necessarily the American way. (15) Thus, it becomes necessary to turn from the analyses of general characteristics of the influence of Puritanism on American political culture and to focus attention on temporal local records in an effort to discover more particularized information concerning the affect Puritanism had on its more immediate surroundings.
A study of political participation (16) in the General Court of Massachusetts Bay, as well as the concomitant practices on a local level, in the town of Boston, will, hopefully, determine the extent to which the Puritans were homogeneous in thought and practice in the decade 1630 to 1640. More importantly, with such a focused study, an examination of the degree to which the Puritans laid a democratic and republican foundation in designing their institutions, should be evident. Contrarily, divisions, factionalism, authoritarian, and anti-republican components within the Puritan community, as well as transplanted British beliefs and practices, should be revealed through a study on Puritan political practices in Massachusetts Bay.
Such a narrow focus should also help to combat outdated, but still popular, generalizations concerning the impact of Puritanism on American political culture. For example, in the nineteenth century, historians tended to adopt a filiopietistic approach towards the New England Puritans. Representative of this trend was John Gorham Palfrey who uncritically praised his Puritan 'ancestors' for their unique contribution towards the rise of American democracy. (17) Similarly, Herbert L. Osgood, writing in 1891 on the political theory of the Puritans, noted that both the church and the state were organized to maximize political participation, and that both institutions 'were pure democracies,' (18) largely in the lands of the people. (19)
In the early twentieth century arose the 'antifiliopietist' school that opposed the basic tenants of the Puritan democratic hypothesis. The best-known members of this school were Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and his brother Brooks. To the Adams', Puritan Massachusetts was a theocracy, whereby ministers and their churches tyrannically controlled the governing institutions. (20) Unlike Palfrey, the central theme of Massachusetts history was its gradual emancipation from the authority of the ministers and their officials.
The Adams' influence on subsequent historians, such as Vernon L. Parrington, writing in 1927, is evident. Parrington introduced the new dimension of social conflict. He saw in early Massachusetts history not only a struggle for freedom from the control of the theocracy, but also class conflict over civil and ecclesiastical power. (21) Like the Adams', Parrington believed Puritanism meant intolerance, repression, and authoritarianism, which was inspired by church officials and enforced by the magistrates. Thus, the rise of American democracy, far from being an outgrowth of Puritanism, was won by overcoming its effects.
Since the 1930s, scholars have raised new questions and suggested new approaches to Puritan history. The result has revealed the complexity and diversity of seventeenth century New England Puritanism, making the use of grandiose generalizations hazardous. Placing the two-camp, democratic or theocratic/oligarchic polemic to one side, some scholars have focused their attention less on the ideological components of Puritanism, and more on the development of its institutional forms.
A prominent figure in this group was George L. Haskins who showed the effects of non-Puritan English law and traditions in the shaping of the colony's governmental institutions. (22) Similarly, T. H. Breen argued that the local origins of the English colonists influenced their attitudes and institutional focus in colonial America. (23) According to these scholars, it was the Puritans' determination to maintain the local English church and the self-contained towns that largely determined the character Massachusetts' social and governmental institutions.
A. The Godliness Hypothesis
To Perry Miller, 'about ninety percent of the intellectual life, scientific knowledge, morality, manners and customs, notions and prejudices' of the New England Puritans, were held in common with all Englishmen. (24) To him, therefore, the hypothesis of the transplantation of British traditions to New England was superfluous. In order to discover the essence of Puritanism it becomes necessary to analyze the other 'ten percent' that made the difference between the New England Puritans and their British brethren. Also paramount among those who have sought to understand the essence of Puritanism was Samuel Eliot Morison. (25) Together, Miller and Morison attempted to rebut those scholars who had found the Puritans repressive, anti-intellectual, and altogether an adverse influence on later America.
What Miller and Morison shared in common with all Puritan historians was the belief that the colonists' religious ideas played a leading role in shaping the political development of Massachusetts. But whether the Puritans were narrow-minded theocrats and oligarchs, Renaissance humanists, or British traditionalists, is a question that again leads directly to the central enigma concerning the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. Were the seeds of democracy evident in the governing institutions, or was it an authoritarian society run by elite theocrats? If it was neither completely democratic nor authoritarian, what was the relationship between the people and their government?
What Miller and Morison discovered was that the Puritans' character, ethics, and dedication to their ideals dominated early Massachusetts. (26) With the support of the populace, the Puritans shaped their institutions according to their religious principles. While Morison and Miller were vague or elusive in defining the Puritans' specific guiding principle, this article will hypothesize that the erection of a truly godly community by a participant religious--that is, a congregational-sect was the Puritans' primary guiding ethic, and it unintentionally facilitated the development of a participant or democratic political culture, and reinforced republican ideals. Thus, a participatory democracy became the logical outgrowth of the Puritan attempt to create a community of 'visible saints'. (27)
If the Puritan attempt to create, as John Winthrop stated, 'a city upon a hill' (28) fostered democratic and participatory values, the study of church and state institutions and practices will reveal that the creation or maintenance of a godly community led to an understanding of political participation that transcended class lines, and admitted the common people into the structure of government. For the Puritan community in relying upon the criterion of individual godliness--i.e., covenantal church members--in determining the extent of political participation in governmental affairs, seemed to aim to ensure that the majority of political and religious decisions were acceptable to those most affected by them. This article anticipates, therefore, that in designing the institutions in a new society, the Puritans shaped a system that satisfied their own desire to control the colony for godly purposes, as well as meet the wishes of colonists in their desire to participate in governmental affairs.
More specifically, in attempting to gauge the extent to which the Puritan ideal of godliness helped (or hindered) the development of democracy and republicanism in Massachusetts Bay, motives for the Puritan migration from England will be surveyed. Economic considerations for the migration should be secondary to the primary Puritan motive of emigrating in order to attempt to erect a model godly community.
If the Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay largely for religious reasons, the Puritan religious creed will then be examined in an effort to extract a residual political theory. The Puritan creed should be in either direct or indirect harmony with democratic and republican ideals, and a review of political participation in the General Court should document the utilization of such political ideals. Similarly, the Puritan experience with godliness in the town of Boston also anticipates the fostering of political participation in the democratic direction.
The creation and maintenance of a godly community, however, is to be distinguished from a theocracy. The term theocracy denotes government by ministers or government in which the priestly class controls and imposes its values on the subordinate governing institutions. In a godly community, the ministers do not necessarily control the government, although they may have significant influence in political affairs. Instead, the godly community is organic in the sense that there is a unity of purpose among the majority of members in the community. In the case of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans, their aim was to create a political society in which both the electors and the elected were in covenant with God. Thus, while the ministers and governmental rulers occupied a particular status, their society was not so much an aggregation of individuals as it was a holistic organism, functioning for a definite religious purpose, attempting to unite men's spiritual lives with their communal lives.
Consider that in England, the energy released by the Puritan movement led to a civil war, the overthrow of the royal government, and social disorder. In Massachusetts Bay, this same energy was channeled into the creation of a model community, where there was to be a powerful unity between the state, church, and the individual community members.
If there were differences among these individuals, this was to be for the glory of God and for the common good. An organic community with societal ranks led logically to the requirement that the community remain orderly. It was in part the disorder of early seventeenth century English society that prompted so many Puritans to emigrate elsewhere. Thus, not only were individuals to maintain strict control over their lives, but the entire community of 'saints' was to remain orderly in an attempt to achieve their godly ideals. Because weak individuals exposed the entire community either to incursions of the Devil or the angry chastisements of God, how individuals behaved became the concern of the entire community.
Thus, the godly community hypothesis is not to suggest that the creation of such a godly community be equated with the erection of governing institutions based on strictly theocratic principles, or imply that the people and leaders of Massachusetts Bay were thoroughly democratic. Furthermore, in many of its essential features, political practices in Boston and the General Court should not simply imitate British practices.
The godly community hypothesis, however, has the potential to incorporate and synthesize elements of democracy, theocracy, and authoritarianism. Its democratic component can stem from the latent individualistic Puritan conviction that all men are ultimately responsible for their own behavior. Even the most rigidly orthodox Puritans betrayed egalitarian suspicions that salvation was open to all men without reference to political, economic, or social standing. By stressing the competence of the individual, therefore, the Puritans inadvertently dismantled barriers to religious, and subsequently, political equality. The belief in the competence of the congregation most likely helped to democratize political participation.
Any movement towards individualism and democracy, however, was not only unintentional, but also limited, being subordinate to communal values. According to God's will, men were to live in a social environment. In a world of sinful men seeking salvation, a compact society had the advantage of quick discipline by those in authority. It was the duty of these men in political power, being limited agents of God, to goad the individual conscience and insist on communal responsibility before individual freedom, hierarchy before democracy, and order before liberty. Thus, leaders, once selected by the community, were to scourge the morally indolent, for their own good, for the welfare of the community, and for the glory of God.
However, the authority exercised by Puritan leaders depended entirely upon the consent of the inhabitants. Here lay the latent democratic component within Puritan communities. Discipline was the responsibility of the elders of the community, and not the minister. But all leaders were held accountable to those they led.
If the godly community hypothesis is correct, therefore, an analysis of political participation in the General Court and in the town of Boston will reveal practices which were governed neither exclusively by democratic ideals nor by oligarchic, theocratic or authoritarian principles, but by a set of guidelines which attempted to foster or preserve godliness within the community. These included acts, laws, and statements whose objective was to promote moral behavior, and ultimately, salvation. Hierarchy would not be negated, but the pattern of subordination would most likely be based not on wealth or class, but on church membership, it being the primary criterion for salvation. Church membership, in turn, should help in the evolution of a political order that became centered around democratic precepts, albeit a largely unintentional development.
The anticipated results also include the probability that the unregenerate, that is, the unenlightened community members, remained outside the parameters of formal political power. The exclusion of any group from the political process may appear to be an anti-democratic tendency. However, individual godliness as a franchise requirement can be considered democratic--especially by seventeenth century English standards--to the extent that it helped to assimilate the bulk of the lower social ranks into the community by giving them the prerequisite for full political rights. Thus, the franchise should include the poor, if they met the religious requirement, as well as exclude unregenerate men of wealth. And narrow as it may have been in Massachusetts Bay it should cut through the populace vertically, and not horizontally as in England. In this way, the Puritans were to become familiar with the practice of including all types of men in political affairs. But before actual political practices are analyzed, the primary motive and guiding principle that lead to the Puritan migration to Massachusetts Bay requires further examination.
II. MOTIVES FOR THE MIGRATION
The first step in answering the question concerning how Puritanism influenced the political development of Massachusetts Bay is to examine the motives that prompted the Puritans to migrate from England and settle in the new world. With this evaluation of motives and the corresponding ideas pertaining to the type of society the Massachusetts Bay Puritans wished to construct, an initial determination of the godliness hypothesis described in the previous section can be made. In addition, a familiarity with the events surrounding the migration and the nature of the emigrants in the 1630s is necessary for an understanding of New England Puritanism. However, before motives for the migration are examined, it would be useful to characterize the type of people most likely to settle in Massachusetts Bay in the first decade.
It has been estimated that between 1630 and 1642, some fifteen to twenty thousand people moved to New England. (29) In the first year of the wave, 1630, nearly 1,000 men, women, and children followed John Winthrop to Massachusetts Bay. (30) Initially, the movement was strongly East Anglian in character. Part of the strength of Winthrop and his circle was their skill as recruiting agents, arising from their intimate contacts among the Puritan gentry and clergy of the region. Certainly, contemporaries were well aware that the middle-class in the coastal areas of East Anglia made good Puritans, and that middle-class Puritans were especially likely to become New England colonists. (31)
In general, the New England settlers were staid and orderly, some migrating in groups from the same parish or community, and included a high proportion of the clergy. (32) Not surprisingly, the emigrants were also grouped into relatively small nuclear families, occasionally accompanied by servants and grandparents or inlaws. (33) The heads of these families were aged, typically in their thirties or forties and were mainly craftsmen or farmers; few really poor people left for New England. (34) The absence of large numbers of single unattached males in early New England probably contributed to social stability and helped Massachusetts Bay to avoid the type of recurring internal conflict that plagued colonies like Virginia.
Although full documentation is lacking, evidence that does exist suggests that the majority of settlers in Massachusetts Bay to 1642 were Puritans. After 1642, the political climate in England was more favorable to the Puritans and their emigration diminished substantially. Such homogeneity in migration patterns helps to account for the firm structure of government and society that was so quick to emerge. And though it may be difficult to prove that all of the emigrants to Massachusetts Bay were inclined to congregationalism before their departure, it is clear they found the congregational way appealing once they arrived.
Despite admission procedures that had grown increasingly more restrictive since 1630, about half, and possibly more of the adult males in the migration became church members in Massachusetts Bay, usually within a few years of their arrival. (35) In one study of a group of 1637 migrants, thirty-eight of eighty-one adult males joined a church. (36) Of the remaining forty-three, twenty persons were so obscure that nothing was known of them, several died soon after their arrival, and several more moved to towns like Ipswich, where the early church records have been lost. (37) Another study of Roxbury adult males for the period 1638 to 1640 showed that fifty-eight out of sixty-nine men were church members. (38) To understand why migrants decided to exchange their settled English vocations for life in a pioneer community of uncertain prospects, the circumstances surrounding the migration needs further elaboration.
A. The English Background
The New England Puritans were part of a group that had its origins in sixteenth century England during the reign of Elizabeth I. This group was a reform movement within English Protestantism that sought to purify the Church of England and invigorate the daily practice of religion. As put forward by the Puritan leader Thomas Cartwright in the 1570s, reformation was to include the abolition of bishops, stricter enforcement of church discipline, elimination of most ceremonies and rituals, and higher standards for the clergy. (39)
At this time, it was not their intention to establish their own church. The reform was to be conducted within the Church of England. But with Elizabeth preventing reform, some Puritans chose a more radical alternative. Claiming that their salvation was threatened because the Church of England was not a true church, they established their own purified congregations. While these Separatists, who established the Plymouth colony in 1620, had little impact on the Church of England, it revealed that the Puritans generally suffered from frustration at being unable to practice their religious beliefs in their own country.
In 1603, Elizabeth I was succeeded by James I, whose son, Charles I, became King in 1625. The Stuart kings disliked Puritanism as intensely as had Elizabeth, and refused to satisfy Puritan requests for reform. The Independents or Congregationalists, who comprised the nonconforming clergy and laity, hoped that reform would come from within the Church of England. Leaving England for Massachusetts Bay at a time when Charles I and his Archbishop seemed in control, the Puritans believed that the only remedy lay in the establishment of a model or godly community. By setting an example for the unification of spiritual and communal lives in the new world, they would 'raise a bulwark against the kingdom of Antichrist' in the old world. (40) As Edward Johnson, who emigrated to Boston in 1630 also noted, '[w]hen England began to decline in religion' and the 'multitude of irreligious lascivious and popish affected persons spread the whole land like grasshoppers [...] Christ created a New England to muster up the first of his forces'. (41) The 'oppressed, imprisoned and scurrilously derided' of England, Johnson continued, were to be gathered together and 'shipped for his service, in the Western World, and more especially for the planting' of the colonies of New England. (42)
Edward Johnson and his migrating brethren were mainly of East Anglian origin and formed a close body of relatives and friends. (43) They were convinced that great calamities were about to fall upon England and sought to avoid this irreligious chaos by leaving their native country and erecting a truly godly community. Writing in England in 1629, John Winthrop noted how in his mother country '[t]his land grows weary of her inhabitants' and 'the Lord begins already to frown upon us, to threaten us fearfully'. (44) The new world is be 'a refuge for many whom he means to save out of the general calamity' for 'the church hath no place left to fly into but the wilderness'. (45) Winthrop then appealed to other countrymen 'who are known to be godly' to forsake the corruptions so evident in England and 'join themselves to this church' which would be 'an example of great use both for removing the scandal of worldly and sinister respects which is cast upon the adventurers [.] and to encourage other[s] to join the more willing in it'. (46) Similarly, writing to his wife 1629, Winthrop echoed these same sentiments. He stated: 'I am very persuaded God will bring some heavy affliction upon this land,' but in the new world, God 'will provide a shelter and a hiding place for us and others [...] he will not forsake us'. (47)
As these passages suggest, in the new world the Puritans felt they could carry out what they conceived to be God's will, as discerned from a study of the Bible as well as from the convictions of their own inner consciousness. With men so closely knit in their ideas and purposes, it seemed possible for the Puritans to implement a program for the erection of a model godly community in the new world.
B. Non-Religious Motives
However, secular-minded historians, in particular, Vernon Farrington, are wont to argue that Puritanism had little to do with the beginnings of New England. Just as there were non-religious reasons for being a Puritan, there were non-religious reasons for leaving England. Of key importance in this argument is the notion of economic crisis and political conflict.
Consider that at the beginning of the seventeenth century in England, the old agrarian society began the transformation to an industrial society that initially suffered from severe dislocations. For example, the primary industry in the strongly Puritan areas of East Anglia and Kent was badly hit by the disruption of continental markets and poor government policy, resulting in economic depressions for the years 1619-1624, 1629-1631, and 1637-1640. (48) In addition, there were also years of plague and bad harvests in East Anglia, where economic conditions reached a crisis level in 1629. (49) Possibly associated with such conditions were millenarian expectations. The economic blight led many English Puritans to believe that human history had now entered a final phase, and that great and portentous events connected with the second coming of Christ were underway. Thus, thousands of Englishmen left the mother country and sailed to the scattered English colonies in search of salvation.
Associated with this crisis was the political situation in England in the 1620s and 1630s, and this provides another reason that may have prompted the English migration. Just after being crowned, Charles I issued, in 1626, a decree to religious and secular leaders 'to require and collect a loan for the King's use from Persons able to lend'. (50) Issued for what Charles called reasons of state, this act infringed upon the prerogatives of Parliament, and many men refused to furnish the money demanded. Among those who resisted the so-called benevolence, and were consequently imprisoned, were the Earl of Lincoln, a key figure in the creation of the Massachusetts Bay Company; Samuel Vassal and William Spurstow, who were original members of the Company, and William Coddington, who came to Massachusetts in 1630. (51) This incident was only one of many which persuaded Englishmen, especially those sympathetic to Parliament and the Puritans, that the King was exceeding the proper limits of royal power and was precipitating a political crisis.
C. Religious Motives
Non-religious and religious reasons for the migration were not mutually exclusive, and many of the settlers probably had mixed motives for emigrating to the new world. But for most, the religious consideration was not incidental. There is no doubt that these conditions helped in the creation of the Massachusetts Bay Company. The leaders, John Winthrop, Thomas Dudley, Isaac Johnson, Sir Richard Saltonstall and Enunanuel Dewing, ardent Puritans all, as well as others, believed that a model church and community, in which both polity and worship would be determined in the Puritan fashion, would be an example to their brethren and the mother church as to how the proper religious community ought to live. (52) Specifically, a Puritan church and state within which God's will would be made effective, would furnish an opportunity to apply Puritan ideas as to how life was to be lived, worship conducted, government administered, God venerated, and His law obeyed. (53) Such a community was to have only one supreme ruler, God. 'Power of civil rule, by men orderly chosen, is God's ordinance,' stated John Davenport, even if 'it is from the light and law of nature' because 'the law of nature is God's law'. (54)
For this reason, those who wrote back to England from Massachusetts Bay argued that the primary reason for migrating to New England was religion, and the establishment of Puritan churches was emphasized as a major motivating factor. (55) Religious circumstances, as opposed to economic and political contentions, had provided the New England Puritans with what their ministers later called 'an open door of liberty' to establish their own religious community. (56) The Puritan ministers in England urged their congregations to migrate to a place where they could practice their religion in a pure church. (57)
One typical migrant was Michael Metcalfe. Unlike most of his fellow settlers, Metcalfe left a detailed account of his reasons for leaving England. A master weaver from the East Anglian town of Norwich, Metcalfe was a parishioner of the suspended Thomas Allen and found himself in trouble with the ecclesiastical courts in 1633, and again in 1636, for failing to bow at the name of Jesus. (58) Metcalfe defended himself with such asperity that a church official threatened him: 'Blockhead, old heretic, the Devil made you, I will send you to the Devil'. (59) Following this exchange, Metcalfe prudently departed England, after which he listed his reasons, all religious, in a pamphlet addressed 'to all the true professors of Christ's gospel within the city of Norwich'. (60) 'Therefore, seeing what the Lord hath done unto thee' he stated, 'Norwich: prepare to meet thy God'. (61)
Religious refugees like Metcalfe suggested to T.H. Breen that the Puritans departed England because the King and his Archbishop sought to interfere with the church and religious practices within the local communities. (62) The Puritans, therefore, erected in New England the form of church polity that had been denied in the mother country. In other words, the Puritans, in reacting to the religious oppression in England, created a new form of religious worship, the congregational way. Therefore, they could not have, as Breen suggests, transplanted the threatened English institutions onto American soil. Instead, they responded to Stuart centralism by creating in their new environment the type of institutions that would restore the Protestant faith and preserve true religion from worldly corruptions.
Anticipating the formation of the congregational way, John Winthrop noted, '[w]hat can be a better work and more honorable and worthy a Christian than to help raise and support a particular church while it is in its infancy and to join our forces with such a company of faithful People? (63) Thus, the New England venture offered the possibility for like-minded Puritans to establish, not transplant, institutions beyond the corruptions that were so threatening to Winthrop and others in England.
Indeed, the congregational system was virtually unknown to the Puritans of England. The first appearance of congregationalism came in 1580 when Robert Browne formed a Separatist congregation in Norwich. (64) This group was then persecuted and exulted, yet their ideas anticipated those found later within the Puritan communities of New England. The Puritans were not as concerned with the congregational aspects of their religion prior to the exodus to America. (65) In New England, the congregational system was not fully established until 1640, and it is most likely that it did not exist in 1629. (66) However, virtually all Puritans agreed on certain principles of church organization and on the basic nature of church doctrine. They most likely would have accepted the theoretical expression of the true church as first stated by John Field in 1572. Perhaps the foremost early Puritan leader, Field defined a church as,
[A] company or congregation of the faithful called and gathered out of the world by the preaching of the Gospel, who following and embracing true religion, do in one unite of Spirit strengthen and comfort one another, daily growing and increasing in true faith, framing their lives, government, orders and ceremonies according to the word of God. (67)
Having been denied the establishment of this type of church, community, and concomitant governmental structure, the settlers sought to create in New England these institutions. They had chafed under Episcopal and royal control and had been coerced into working within the parish system, with its mix of the elect and the profane. In reaction, the Puritans carried to Massachusetts Bay, not their traditional institutional forms, but a vision of a reformed church placed within the realm of a godly community. But before examining the actual political practices within their newly-founded godly community, it would be useful to gain some familiarity with the Puritan thought embodied in these formative institutions of Massachusetts Bay.
III. THE POLITICAL THOUGHT OF THE PURITANS
Winthrop's A Model of Christian Charity, delivered aboard the Arbella, the flagship of the 1630 migration, just prior to its landfall in Massachusetts Bay, is perhaps, the most eloquent exposition of the motives and ideals of the Puritans of New England. (68) As for Winthrop, so important a figure was he in the migration that the 'Chief undertakers' of the new settlement would not depart without him, as 'the welfare of the plantation' depended 'upon his going'. (69)
Anticipating the thoughts of Winthrop, John Cotton, who was to migrate to Boston in 1633, preached to the departing party in 1630 on a text from II Samuel 7:10: 'Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them anymore, as beforetime'. (70) To Cotton, it was clear that a special providence was guiding the migrants to create a new community. Later, Thomas Shepard, another clerical leader in the commonwealth, saw their efforts in the perspective of world history, and believed the founders had realized their dream. To Shepard, the plantation in the new world was the new Israel that enjoyed '[t]he help of all the former ages and other nations as well as our own, godly and learned divines in them, to take pattern and example from, in the laying of our first foundation both of religion and righteousness doctrine and discipline, church and commonwealth'. (71)
The organic society envisioned by Winthrop and the early migrants to Massachusetts Bay indicated a desire to recapture a traditional way of life. Most likely, however, the Puritans were interested in leaving behind the interfering Stuart officials and troublesome Anglican bishops. Winthrop listed some causes of his own dissatisfaction: 'the daily increase of the multitudes of papists,' 'scandalous and dumb ministers,' and 'suspension and silencing of many painful learned ministers for not conform[ing] in some points of ceremonies'. (72)
In New England, each group of immigrants would have the opportunity to create an independent community, a village or town in which local institutions would be safe from outside interference. Elections, for example, would be open to men who would have normally been excluded from the vote in almost every English borough and town. The settlers also realized that within an organic community, broad participation in civil and ecclesiastical affairs would help secure local independence from central authority.
This reactionary origin of the Puritan community was to provide each group with a sense of local identity, a rationale for excluding outsiders, and a means for achieving continuity between generations. But more importantly, by promoting internal harmony and preserving homogeneity, the strong sense of community would help to ward off the kind of external interference that had caused so much trouble in England. Screening potential inhabitants would help many towns avoid the types of problems that conflicting backgrounds and traditions might have bred. And some towns were to go so far as to accept only those people who had emigrated from a particular English district. (73)
A. The Nature of the Godly Community
In delivering his lay sermon to his fellow passengers aboard the Arbella, Winthrop, in a single phrase, summarized his thoughts concerning the type of community he, as a Puritan, wished to establish: 'we shall be as a city upon a hill'. (74) The Puritan community was to be much more than that depicted in the Gospel of Matthew, from which the phrase was borrowed. In Matthew 5:14 the regenerate 'are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid'. But to Winthrop, the phrase in his peroration reflected the core of his thinking concerning the type of society that he and his fellow passengers sought to establish. It would be a city in the literal sense, for the leaders of the Winthrop fleet--eleven ships carrying about seven hundred passengers--planned to settle in one, centralized community. (76) The community itself would be an urban center, the place of church and government.
It would also be a city in the biblical sense, as God's city. Like Saint Augustine's medieval notion of the organic town, as depicted in his The City of God, Winthrop's image of the city was highly metaphorical, the term denoting more a community of saints than a physical city. The basis of the city was moral values or metaphysical ideas. While the foundation of a physical city was selfishness, the city Winthrop envisioned was based on the love of God. Here men would save God in the ways that He demanded. In the church, men would worship God and His word in its purest form, which would be heard by all. But most importantly, men would fit into a society in such a way that would contribute to the glory of God and His son, Jesus Christ. Thus, using spiritual bodily imagery to represent the societal body, Winthrop stated:
Christ and His church make one body. The several parts of this body, considered apart before they were united, were as disproportionate and as much disordering as so many contrary qualities or elements. But when Christ comes and by his spirit and love knits all these parts to himself and each other, it is become the most perfect and best proportioned body in the world. (77)
This notion of a godly society dominated Winthrop's thoughts to such an extent that in his discourse it received the greatest attention. The new Puritan community was to be so godly that God would 'delight to dwell among us as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness, and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with'. (78) With such an omnipotent force residing in this community, 'ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies'. In this tract, Winthrop also envisioned a social order in New England in which there would be a well-defined place for all, with clearly understood and easily fulfilled obligations within the social hierarchy. While his societal conception was clearly one of a godly, organic community, Winthrop was cognizant of the God-ordained nature of social stratification: 'God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection'. (80) This God had done in order to make his glory manifest in the creation of variety. But there was a political utility to such an arrangement: 'first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them, so that the rich and mightily should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against their superiors'. (81) These godly gifts, given for God's purposes, were also a means for social order within the Christian community, allowing for the enhancement of individual mutual dependence. But Winthrop also believed that natural disparities should not be allowed to advance untempered. Authority was not the right of the powerful; it was a godly duty to deal with subordinates in 'love, mercy, gentleness, temperance'. (82)
The idea of laissez-faire would have, therefore, struck Winthrop and his fellow Puritans with horror. This Puritan attitude was most likely medieval in origin, its fullest expression given by St. Augustine. In viewing the worldly community as a consequence of the fall, it was government as a counsel of desperation.
The Puritans also viewed their state as an incarnation of their collective will. Government was not necessarily a natural social virtue, but was a necessity created to curb men's depravity. Without Government 'there would be no living together for Mankind, but Human Societie must disband; Murder, Adulteries, Rapine, and all manner of Oppressions would rage; and there would be less of Order in the Habitable World, then in Hell it self'. (83)
The other intellectual heritage so clearly evident in Winthrop's speech is the one which regarded the community as an organism. In this case, man was a natural political animal and government was perceived not only as an indispensable and perpetual necessity, but also as part of the law of nature. This view most likely emerged in Puritan thought less because they had studied it in Aristotle's Politics, than because they were just emerging from feudalism and were still possessed by a deep, ingrained sense of community. (84) However, there is little doubt that the godly quest to and in New England helped to accentuate this tribal proclivity, and buttressed the analogy with the people of Israel, encouraging each member to think of the whole community, rather than of its individual parts.
The Puritan organic community also led each member to believe that in this body 'each parte soe contiguous to [the] other[s] as thereby they do mutually participate with eache other, both in strengthe and infirmity[,] in pleasure and in paine'. (85) Arising out of this organicism was contractual theory. Contractualism would eventually develop towards liberalism and individualism, permitting differences in power and wealth to different abilities and opportunities, with little regard to the welfare of the whole community.
This contribution to liberalism was inadvertent. English Puritans first turned to the theory of contract to protect their rights against royal absolutism. It was later used by the New England Puritans to justify their actions in subordinating individuals to the community once the ideals of the community had been rightly conceived, and power placed in approved hands.
Thus, it was neither an authoritarian nor ardent theocratic propensity that inspired Winthrop and other Puritans. Nor was his conception of the godly community centered upon democratic precepts. Rather, Winthrop envisioned an organic community where a godly growth in grace might be possible amid worldly corruptions, and if a spiritual success, their community would be emulated by 'succeeding plantations'. (86) In order for godly grace to flourish among the settlers, however, Winthrop realized the necessity for social unity and stability. This ideal could be realized, Winthrop believed, because the settlers were infused with the Christian regenerating principle. 'We are a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ,' and having embarked on this voyage 'we ought to account ourselves knit together by this bond of love, and live in the exercise of it'. (87)
Without Christian love, the godly community would never be perfect. In its absence, selfish individualism would replace the communal spirit. Such an individualistic community would be no more than an aggregation of independent objects as disproportionate and as much disordering as so many contrary qualities or elements. (88) Contrarily, Christian love in a godly community would serve as 'a bond or ligament,' binding the individual members into a single body. (89) Individualism would be preserved, but 'all of the parts of this body being thus united are made so contiguous in a special relation as they must needs partake of each other's strength and infirmity; joy and sorrow, weal and woe'. (90)
But, the anti-individualistic component within Puritanism would never surrender completely to the belief that certain men deserve to be more honorable or wealthy than others 'out of any particular and singular respect to himself but for the glory of his Creator and the Common good of the Creature, Man'. (91) One consequence of this ideal within an organic community was that the Puritans could advance ideas of contractual limitation and the protection of individual rights, but would never phrase these rights so loosely as to lose sight of God's glory and the common good of the community.
Clearly, the Puritan creed was aware of individual differences, and certainly, salvation was each man's own responsibility. However, the anti-individualistic nature of the godly community usually demanded that the regenerate act and be treated alike. The lone, heroic frontiersman was not a figure of Puritan communities. 'Society in all sort of human affaires is better than Solitariness'. (92) Instead, the nature of the community required it to move and settle in groups and towns, and there was to be maintained a firm government over all its units. The Puritan community, therefore, was corporate in the sense that it was autonomous, having control over its members and often acting on their behalf.
By implication, each member of the body would have a specific function within the total structure; but each individual would contribute in his own way for the benefit of all. As John Cotton exhorted to the settlers in his farewell sermon, 'go forth every man that goeth, with a public spirit, looking not on your own things only, but also on the things of others'. (93) Winthrop, describing the individuals' duty in the model godly community, echoed Cotton: 'the care of the public must oversway all private respects'. (94) Private good is to give way to the general welfare because this is the imperative of the thriving spiritual community. Men return God's favour by committing themselves to the best interests of the community. This is not only God's will, but is also a matter of practical necessity. In journeying to a strange, foreign land, dangers and difficulties will constantly beset the settlers. Winthrop therefore stated:
For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others' condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. (95)
The setters were not to be coerced into labouring for communal ends, with the authority of the magistrate or minister threatening the individual to act. Instead, individuals were to be motivated by the virtue of the godly nature of the community they wished to create and which had joined them together in this united purpose. The will to act, therefore, was a gift from God. As one minister, Peter Bulkeley, was to later phrase it:
Where the Lord sets himselfe over a people, he frames them unto a willing and voluntary subjection unto him, that they desire nothing more then to be under his government ... When the Lord is in Covenant with a people, they follow him not forcedly, but as farre as they are sanctified by grace, they submit willingly to his regiment. (96)
B. The Covenant
One of the unique features of New England Puritanism was its highly developed notion of the covenant, a cornerstone of the model community. This Puritan concept, which was to eventually swell into the popular idea of the social contract in the eighteenth century, was an obsession with the Puritans. They found the covenant throughout the Old Testament. Abraham had entered into a covenant with God in order to be the 'father of many nations'. (97) In turn, Abraham's family had entered into a 'church estate' by a covenant with Abraham; and Moses led a 'church in the wilderness' which was founded by a covenant. (98)
With these biblical precedents in mind, Winthrop was to later write, '[i]t is of the nature and essence of every society to be knit together by some covenant, either expressed or implied'. (99) Similarly, Cotton stated, '[i]t is evident by the light of nature that all civil relations are founded in covenant'. (100) Apparently, the Puritans of New England read their bibles in light of man's covenant with God and derived therefrom a pervasive political philosophy:
When Jehovah made a covenant between the King and the people, that covenant was but a branch of the Lord's covenant with them all, both King and people: for the King promised but to rule the people righteously, according to the will of God: and the people to be subject to the King so ruling. Now these duties of the King to them, and of them to the King, were such as God required in his covenant, both of him and them. (101)
This unification of theology and political theory also had its origins in England when the Puritans were becoming more deeply entangled in the constitutional struggle with the King. This belief in a higher law, which could be appealed to against the arbitrariness of rulers, led irresistibly, into a developing political creed. With increasing earnestness, the Puritans advanced the thesis that government originated in a compact of the People and was to be limited by the terms of the agreement. As Cotton noted: 'Look what a King requires of his people, or the people of a king, the very same doth God require of his people, and the People of God [...] this is, a governor, a provider for, and a protector of his people'. (102) To Cotton and other Puritans, limiting the rulers' power by a higher law was a divine ordinance to restrain the innate sinfulness of man. However, it also served a second function: it was a device to avoid oppression and despotism.
On their way to the new world, Winthrop could thus preach to the settlers that they were obliged to act in godly ways because they had established a covenant with God. Having accepted the obligation to live in a Christian way, their new community was to be relatively free from the corruptions of the world. Winthrop thus spoke of the settlers as having 'entered into a covenant with Him for this work'. (103) By virtue of their having committed themselves to God's protection on the voyage and in the new world, He had 'ratified this covenant and sealed our commission [and] will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it'. (104)
Having agreed to be God's people and to live in a godly fashion, Winthrop said little about government, except that providence had provided them with an opportunity 'to seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical'. (105) Although Winthrop did not define these terms, their meaning was already implicit. In the godly city, the natural leaders were to rule in the best interests of the community, seeking 'their welfare in all things'. (106) In turn, the people were to accept the government because of their God-ordained duty to 'faith, patience, obedience'. (107)
It was not until 1637 that Winthrop elaborated on the political aspects of the covenantal relationship between the rulers and the ruled. (108) Before the General Court, Winthrop set forth the unified theory of the Puritan community. As Winthrop explained it, the political theory, upon which the community was based, was part of Puritan theological doctrine, and the binding idea was the notion of the covenant: 'The essential form of the commonweal[th] or body politic such as this is [...] I take to be this--the consent of a certain company of people to cohabit together under one government for their mutual safety and welfare'. (109) The Puritan belief that the covenant was the central instrument that allowed men to live together harmoniously, even though the relationship occasionally caused problems, led Winthrop to reach the following conclusions:
1. No commonweal[th] can be founded but by free consent.
2. The persons so incorporating have a public and relative interest each in other, and in the place of their cohabitation and goods and laws, etc., and in all means of their welfare so as none can claim privilege with them but by free consent.
3. The nature of such an incorporation ties every member thereof to seek out and entertain all means that may conduce to the welfare of the body and to keep off whatsoever doth appear to tend to their damage.
4. The welfare of the whole is not to be put to hazard for the advantage of any particular members. (110)
To Winthrop, individuals, in a natural, graceless state, were at liberty to do as they please. However, when these same individuals became infused with the godly spirit, they were then at liberty to do only what God commanded. The regenerate, therefore, came together and formed churches and a state upon explicit agreements, in which they all promised to live with one another according to the laws and for the purposes of God. The government was created by an act of the people.
But this was not any type of government; it was to be a government that God had circumscribed, as discerned from the Bible. The rulers were not self-appointed, therefore, but were God-appointed through the people and elected to an office that had been established by God. As Winthrop stated: 'It is yourselves who have called us to this office, and being called by you, we have our authority from God, in a way of ordinance'. (111) Other Puritans also echoed such beliefs. John Cotton stated to Roger Williams that no magistrate had power over the bodies or property of the people, except by their free consent. (112) However, because regenerate men were only 'stewards' of their bodies and property, in order to improve them for God's glory, 'they may not give their free consents to any Magistrate to dispose of their bodies, goods, lands, liberties at large as themselves please, but as God (the soveraigne Lord of all) alone [pleases]'. (113)
Similarly, John Eliot noted that in both church and state, the godly willingly submitted to His regiment. The regenerate were eager to 'enter into covenant with the Lord to become His people, even in their Civil Society, as well as their Church Society'. (114)
In the godly Puritan community, therefore, men thrice committed themselves to the rule of law and the control of authority: first with God, then with each other in the church, and again in the state. With such regulated relationships, Winthrop could insist that though the government of Massachusetts Bay was bound by law and received its authority through God and the people's elected officials, the people were nevertheless at 'liberty to that only which is good, just and honest'. (115) By entering into a covenant with God, and then with each other, the citizens were to renounce their natural lusts, and retain only the freedom that 'is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority'. (116)
Thus far, it is evident from this analysis of the theoretical basis of the Puritan state that the notion of the covenant was one outcome of the Puritan attempt to create a godly community. In Puritan thought, this state was an authoritarian theocracy only insofar as God was the absolute sovereign, whereby His fiats were law, and the magistrates and ministers were His officials, but were chosen by the people. Although both church and state were conceived to have derived their authority from God, and both sought to do God's will, their functions were separated. However, this division was not always absolute. The functions of church and state differed and their powers were distinct, but both were a part of an organic community whose goal was to serve God. The state's primary concern was to be the rule of law; men's souls were the responsibility of the church. While church and state were committed to the welfare of the entire community, the church was to guide it in the way of God's truth; the state, in turn, was to preserve order in the community. The 'ultimate and supreme' goal of both was that 'the common Good of the Society, State or Kingdom' be preserved and 'God in all things [...] glorified'. (117)
As described by the Puritan theorists, the state was not a theocracy or even an oligarchy, as officials were ultimately responsible to the people and were compelled to rule in the best interests of the community. John Cotton, for example, who displayed certain aristocratic proclivities, could still proclaim that the people 'in whom fundamentally all power lyes' should only give as much power to their officials as God allowed, and the magistrates 'should desire to know the utmost bounds of their own power'. (118)
Indeed, by the terms of the covenant, there was to be a limitation on the power of all officials, as based on the rule of law. As Cotton stated, neither magistrates nor ministers should 'affect more liberty and authority then will do them good, and the people good,' so it became necessary 'that all power that is on earth be limited'. (119) Although the people were not to rebel at every minor injustice, when they discovered that their rulers 'have broken the fundamental Articles of thier Covenant,' they were released from their oaths of obedience. (120) Anticipating Locke and the ideas that were to become so popular in the eighteenth century, one Puritan leader went so far as to assert the then novel and revolutionary idea that when rulers violate 'the way of justice and happinesse, which they are sworn to maintain [...] it is lawful to take up armes of defence'. (121)
When the Massachusetts Bay Puritans planned to create their state, the influence of their English experience came to the fore. In reaction to this experience, they developed a number of novel and innovative institutional features. The new state was English, but only in a negative respect: it was created in order to limit the King's prerogative by migrating beyond his reach and by establishing covenantal rights as a protection against absolutism and arbitrariness. On a more local level, the congregational format of church polity in New England was based somewhat on the English model of the Parish. Indeed, many of thee first settlers were drawn from country villages and had participated in local government by serving on the vestries which controlled parish activity. (122) However, the numbers of those participating had been extremely limited as local government in England had been relatively oligarchic. (123)
In contrast to English traditions, the Puritan state was constructed upon a foundation of reason and democratic godliness in which men came together to form churches and a state with an explicit agreement. Together they promised to live with one another according to the laws and for the purposes of God. Thus, the government of the godly community was democratic in that it was brought into being by an act of the people. In turn, God guided the society by acting through the people. The collective will of the godly, bound together by the covenant, projected and continued the will of God into the state. As John Davenport expressed it: 'In regular actings of the creature, God is the first Agent; there are not two several and distinct actings, one of God, another of the People: but in one and the same action, God, by the People suffrages, makes such an one Governour, or Magistrate, and not another'. (124)
As Davenport suggested, actions were not disjointed in a godly community. All outcomes were part of a coherent divine plan. This resulted from the terms of the agreement between the people and God, where they had compacted to form a godly state in which His ordinances were to be practiced.
Thus, in Puritan thought, the holy society to be erected was extremely voluntaristic and here lay the potential for fostering democratic and republican values. The godly community was to be created by men through their own free choice. Church and state institutions were to be made up of 'visible saints,' drawn from all ranks of society who migrated because of a desire to participate in the creation and direction of a godly community, and not because they were of noble birth or were forced to participate in community affairs. The leaders, therefore, were not to be of a specific economic class, but were drawn from the holy and regenerate, which, in theory, transcended class lines. One example, noted by Winthrop, revealed that a black servant woman was admitted to the Dorchester church because of her 'sound knowledge and true godliness'. (125)
Though every resident in the community was obliged to attend and pay taxes for the support of the church, no one became a member unless she or he signified this strong desire. The visible saints were expected to act positively because they had in them a spirit of God that made them capable of every exertion. When persecuted in one state, for example, they imitated the apostle and fled, not to escape government, but to establish a better government. They maintained, however, that any government into which men did not voluntarily enter was not worthy of the name.
Paradoxically, in a world with limits on social action, Puritan theory relied heavily upon voluntarism. This was possible because when a man received the spirit of God, he availed himself of his liberty to enter a compact with God, promising to abide by His laws. In return, God guaranteed redemption. A regenerate man was thus committed to God's cause not only in his personal life, but also in church and community affairs. In other words, when a man became regenerate, he was to volunteer his liberty, and do only what God commanded. And God commanded certain acts from the entire community of saints as well as from each individual saint.
Consequently, voluntarism within the social theory of Puritanism was based upon the law of God and it required the willing submission of citizens. As men exist in nature, stated Thomas Hooker, no one person had any power over another: 'there must of necessity be a mutuall ingagement, each of the other, by their free consent, before by any rule of God they have any right or power, or can exercise either, each towards the other'. (126) He continued: 'All relations which are neither naturall nor violent, but voluntary, are by virtue of some covenant'. (127) But the fact that social relations originated with 'free' consent did not compromise the order God had ordained; it indicated only that this order was not to be one of caste.
However, as already noted, the quest for a godly community did not translate into a theocratic polity for the towns of Massachusetts Bay. There was to be a division of labour between magistrates and ministers, so Massachusetts was not a theocracy in the sense of rule by the clergy. Yet, in the organic Puritan community, both church and state believed in their duties to govern for godly ends. It now remains to be seen to what extent these Puritan ideals were realized by the earliest settlers in the institutions and practices of colony and town.