Since religion played such an important part in the last lecture it is important to understand the religious origins of the country. The Puritans then would be in the words of Randolph Bourne, "the first immigrants" to arrive. This is the first class in which you were supposed to have read from the course packet. Although this week's readings are fairly short I have to admit the older style of writing can be difficult (that means somewhat boring) to read. This is true. But I want you to be aware of how different we are today and to notice differences in language, and since we think in language, differences in thought. This is important because for all the differences there is also a surprising amount of similarity in the way they think at least in principles of government. Certainly, people in the present at least claim to be following the principles set down in the beginning. So, by becoming aware of how different they thought and wrote back then you will become more aware of the differences and similarities between early American thinkers and more contemporary ones. Anyway, hopefully by putting the readings into context it will make them easier to understand as well.
The legacy of the Puritans is probably best well-known through the writings of early 20th century sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) who wrote the highly influential essay and later book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1905. In other words published during the height of the industrial age, Weber's objective was to unearth what made capitalist and industrial development take off in Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century. He wanted a way to explain this without resorting to the kind of racial superiority theories that were in vogue at this time.
Weber found in the Puritan lifestyle a perfect model of behavior necessary for the development of the capitalist "free market" system. Put simply, the moral restraints of Puritanism require a person to work hard, save their money, and live simple. As it turns out this kind of behavior was almost the perfect complement for the kind of behavior needed for the accumulation of capital. Weber termed this behavior "inner-worldly asceticism," meaning that it was a form of religious behavior oriented towards the world instead of behavior oriented towards the next world, what he termed, "other-worldly"–monks who live in a monastery would be an example of other-worldly ascetics. Asceticism, refers to conduct characterized by self-denial as opposed to "mysticism" which is geared towards changing consciousness or "hedonism" which is behavior oriented to pleasure.
Weber uses the famous American Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) as an example of this ethic at work, however Weber stresses that as time goes on, the religious foundation of this ethic declines as capitalism itself develops as a self-sustaining economic system. Weber's analysis is still influential for those who seek to understand the complex dynamics between culture and economics.
As we will see however, the earliest Puritan communities did have laws that regulated the distribution of wealth and provided for public services and social welfare. So literally in terms of culture, politics, and economics the fingerprints of the Puritans are everywhere in the American political system.
Besides the legacy of the Puritans for the development of capitalism, the other enduring legacy of the Puritans are the Salem Witch Trials from 1692-1693 and most memorably dramatized in The Crucible by Arthur Miller first performed in 1953 (a crucible is a container that can withstand high pressures). In Miller's writing, the witch trials become an allegory for the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, most infamously the House Un-American Committee and the McCarthy hearings, as well as the surveillance activities of FBI director J Edgar Hoover. "Puritanical" is now synonymous with being intolerant, repressive, rigid, formal, etc.
The influence of Puritan thought on late progressive thinking is also strong. The Puritans for all their faults were early leaders in the Abolition movement against slavery (as were other groups like the Quakers who were even more marginalized). It is not a coincidence that the state of Massachusetts is still considered to be a stronghold of progressive liberalism today (and makes it so much more ironic that a Catholic like John F. Kennedy would later represent New England liberals). To this day, the term "Boston Brahmins" is used as a sarcastic put-down of the "progressive ruling class" that dominates Massachusetts politics, the term Brahmin being a reference to the ancient Indian ruling class of priests.
In the context of this class, however we are more interested in the influence of the Puritans on the later development of the the political system, although as suggested their impact upon economic development and cultural mores cannot be underestimated, nor can those dimensions be separated from the development of the political system as well.
The Puritans are important to understand the American political system because they are the "genetic ancestor" of the current system. This can be understood two ways: the current system has "evolved" out of the Puritan system of self-government through history. In another sense, the "township" or "municipality" is like the "nucleus" or the "cell" out of which the larger "organism" (the political system) grows out of. In other words, it is at the local level in which most people feel directly the impact of political life, or as it is common to say "all politics is local," which may not always be true, but is always a popular saying. Tocqueville describes life in the New England township around 1830:
The existence of the townships of New England is, in general, a happy one. Their government is suited to their tastes, and chosen by themselves. In the midst of the profound peace and general comfort that reign in America, the commotions of municipal life are infrequent. The conduct of local business is easy. The political education of the people has long been complete; say rather that it was complete when the people first set foot upon the soil. In New England no tradition exists of a distinction of rank; no portion of the community is tempted to oppress the remainder; and the wrongs that may injure isolated individuals are forgotten in the general contentment that prevails. If the government has faults (and it would no doubt be easy to point out some), they do not attract notice, for the government really emanates from those it governs, and whether it acts ill or well, this fact casts the protecting spell of a parental pride over its demerits. Besides, they have nothing wherewith to compare it. England formerly governed the mass of the colonies; but the people was always sovereign in the township, where its rule is not only an ancient, but a primitive state (Tocqueville, Book 1 Ch. 5).
Tocqueville also speaks of the political education and traditions of equality. Culturally, besides the tradition of democratic self-government, the strong religious beliefs of the Puritans has imprinted itself upon American culture. Even today, most people tend to assume that local politics: the town, city, municipality, etc is the most natural or organic level of politics compared to national or international politics and Americans, public opinion polls show, tend to be more religious than European nations.
The first communities established by the Puritans were established by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1630. However they were not the original inhabitants in the so-called "New World." Besides the Native American civilizations like the Iroquois and the Powhatan who had already established large tribal nations other European colonies by the French had been established, but most importantly the Spanish who had dominated South and Central America since 1492 and who established the first "city" in the continental U.S., Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565. However sometime after 1588 after the first Spanish Armada was sent against England and failed, England ruled at the time by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) began to move past Spain as the dominant power in Europe.
Around the same time the Dutch are founding their own nation, in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium, the United Provinces in 1581. The English, who were mostly Protestant, would support the large Protestant and Calvinist-minority Dutch in their revolt against the Catholic Spanish who at the time controlled the region, this in turn was a motive for the Spanish to attack the English. So even in the 16th century, international politics were fairly complex and intricate. To complicate matters more, in the following century the English and the Dutch would both become economic trading powers and enter into competition with each other. This in turn led to several wars between the English and Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries–this is notable also in that competition over trade was considered the major catalyst for war.
The city of New York was originally, New Amsterdam, a Dutch trading outpost, founded in 1614 and the capital of New Netherland (Henry Hudson, working for the Dutch, sailed up what is now called the Hudson River in 1608). It was captured by the English in 1664 and renamed after the Duke of York, later James II. This in turn provoked the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) which the Dutch won and would continue to dominate world trade until the 18th century. Ironically, it was the placement of a Dutch king on the throne of England, William III, in 1689, known as the "Glorious Revolution" that led to Dutch merchants choosing to conduct business through London that led to British dominance over the Dutch in the following century.
This was the backdrop in which the earliest successful English settlements in North America were established first at Jamestown in Virginia (1607); then at Plymouth, Massachusetts by the Pilgrims (1620); followed by the Puritans who settled in what is now Boston (1630). Jamestown was originally founded as a commercial settlement intended to be a trading outpost. It struggled until about 1612 when it started producing tobacco one of the first "cash crops." Slavery was introduced in 1619.
In the North, the first settlements were established first by the Pilgrims who were "Separatists" meaning they were leaving the official Church of England (headed by the monarch) to found their own religion. The Puritans did not see themselves as separating from the church, they saw themselves as "Reformers" and thus saw themselves as trying to "purify" the corrupt aspects of English life, which they thought was pretty corrupt. Puritan was originally meant as an insulting term but as is sometimes the case they took this insulting term and changed the meaning into something positive.
|Early New England|
Obviously we cannot go too deeply into Puritan theology and what exactly it is that they believed that made their beliefs different from other religious groups. However, certain aspects of their theology is important to understand their later political beliefs which they used to organize their society. Chief among them, and I suppose common to all Christian denominations, is the belief in "The Fall," the inherent corruption and limitations of humanity as they are depicted in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, told in the Book of Genesis.
However, while the Puritans saw humankind as corrupt they saw this as a motive that brings people together. A perfect person could be totally self-sufficient, but anything short of that you are going to need other people. This is not to say that they were unaware of the desire to be free of other people and not be dependent, but they saw this as an expression of pride which they equated with "original sin" the fundamental imperfection and corruption of humanity. Original sin was also equated with our desire to control other people, and thus slavery was a part of humankind's fundamental flaw.
|"The Expulsion from Paradise," Charles Joseph Natoire, 1740, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York|
Aristotle had believed that humans were a "political animal" by nature, in other words that the natural behavior of humans is to create small political communities to cooperate in order to survive and thrive, or to rest peacefully (civis in Latin or in Greek κεῖμαι). This relates to what Tocqueville said about the township being not just ancient, but primitive. In this regard, Aristotle, who also founded zoology and almost all the other natural sciences probably saw humans as no different than animals who build nests or other habitats or animals that travel in flocks or herds. Just as they are following their natures it is human nature to form communities with each other. He also believed in teleology or the belief that everything has a telos or "final purpose." Virtue, is defined by how well an object achieves its purpose or potential. For humanity its telos was to develop itself to its highest level which could only be attained in a political community. Individuals who lived outside of the community or did not participate in the community were seen as "incomplete" or defective in someway.
Politics, virtue, and development were all interconnected with each other in a way that is not normally stressed in modern politics. Politics itself was seen as an "art," its purpose was to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of human development.
Knowledge of the art of politics was referred to as praxis and was different from other forms of knowledge in that it was not strictly technical or academic knowledge but practical knowledge aimed towards a specific goal in this case knowledge of what is good for people combined with knowledge of how to get things done (a rare combination).
Praxis itself was a form of phronesis which again was practical knowledge as distinct from techne or technical knowledge. "Reason" or the ability to use logic or form coherent arguments was an essential part of this process. In sharp contrast to contemporary "Christian" movements in the U.S. that are "anti-intellectual," the original Puritan settlers believed that acquiring knowledge was a fundamental requirement of a good Christian and in a sense pays homage to God's creation. Reason itself is a tool and a gift from God which allows to humanity to strive towards goodness.
Puritans then sought to bring together their version of Calvinist theology with classical political philosophy in an environment that was largely but not completely unsettled but where they were free of the interference of other European powers. However the lack of settlement forced the Puritans to have to settle the land and make it livable. The combination of these intellectual forces and the natural environment they were in became the matrix for the Puritan township which as I already said is the basis from which the American political system is built from. The Puritan township is distinct for the high level of participation by the members of the community. However, they still had leaders and in the first reading we have a speech by the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop (1587-1649).
Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do [men] light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (italics added).
This idea of glorifying God through work expresses perfectly the idea of what Weber calls "inner-worldly asceticism." So from the very beginning they saw themselves as a model for the world which as I already said fits in with their project of trying to purify the corrupt practices of England (who they always considered themselves loyal subjects of). But they did intend on taking their theology stressing human limitation and uncertainty and classical political philosophy and using it to guide the political affairs of their community.
Some of their distinctive beliefs were:
1) Although stressing the limits of humanity, Puritans argued there are different levels of corruption and perfection not absolutes. The goal of the political community was simple: to "minimize the effects of sin in the population."
2) The "covenant" was the basis of all social relationships. Covenant implies a mutually binding obligation people enter into with each other and with God. It is different from a contract in that it stresses the ethical obligations people owe to another whereas a contract is just an agreement made on the basis of self-interest. Puritans defined different kinds of covenant relationships: the covenant of the Elect (those who are saved); the natural covenant based on the people in your environment; the civic and church covenants to respect the laws of the state and the church.
3) Economic legislation was passed that regulated commerce and trade, created public works projects that benefitted the community, provided for unemployment, injuries, and assistance for the poor.
4) Church and state were not seen as separate but instead were meant to complement each other, the state "punishes vice" the church "rewards virtue." However both in reality must overlap to some extent and the church must also punish and the state must reward. This also meant that formal limits to the power of the political leaders must be removed which is what Winthrop in the speech we are going over today, "The Little Speech."
The reasons why the magistrate must be free to act, he says, is because of the need to preserve civil liberty which he distinguishes between natural liberty. Natural liberty we can say is the kind of liberty people have in the pre-political state of nature when they are isolated and alone. He has only negative things to say about this kind of liberty. Civil liberty refers to the liberty one gets from being part of the community which as I already said is the only way to "minimize sin" and achieve the "telos" for which humanity is intended or in other words to develop its highest potential.
Winthrop also argues that the citizens must be tolerant to the leaders, and not criticize them as much when they make mistakes. This might sound strange to hear a politician say this today, although many of them still do. The reason for it goes back to the earlier passage from Tocqueville: since the government is not separate from the people, the people have to take their share in the responsibility when things do not turn out as well. The leaders are not semi-divine beings set to rule over them, but chosen from the people themselves and subject to the same flaws and weaknesses of all the people.
In other words, in a democracy you have to put up with a government that makes mistakes but the mistakes are tolerable because people feel as if they participate in the community to some extent. One of the main aspects of fascism in the 20th century was its supposed efficiency. A common statement made about Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Italy (1922-1943) was that "he made the trains run on time."In other words do you want everything to run smoothly but have no freedom, or do you want freedom but have to deal with more mistakes and more flaws? This is usually posed as the essential question to choose between fascism and democracy. However many would argue that popular government has always been the most efficient form of government.
The readings by Roger Williams (1603-1683) undermine the basis of the Puritan community even though we now recognize Williams' contribution to the argument for the "separation of church and state" today. Williams was censored by the Puritans and eventually forced to leave the colony where he founded the colony of Rhode Island. Unlike Winthrop and Calvin who stressed the activist spirit of Christian theology, Williams tended to emphasize the idea of purity and corruption so strictly that everything secular including politics seemed hopelessly corrupt and beyond saving.
|Les Grandes Miséres de la guerre, (The Great Miseries of War), Jacques Callot, 1632|
In 1644 Williams writes:
So that magistrates, as magistrates, have no power of setting up the form of church government, electing church officers, punishing with church censures, but to see that the church does her duty therein. And on the other side, the church as churches, have no power (though as members of a commonweal they may have power) of erecting or altering forms of civil government, electing of civil officers, inflicting civil punishments (no not on persons excommunicate) as by deposing civil magistrates from their civil authority, or withdrawing the hearts of the people against them, to their laws, no more than to discharge wives, or children, or servants, from due obedience to their husbands, parents, or masters (p. 21).
Although Thomas Jefferson is usually given credit for the principle of the separation of church and state, or as he called it "a wall of separation," you can see that Williams writing more than a century before is clearly talking about the same concept.
The English Parliament really under the control of Cromwell then ruled England until the "Restoration" when Charles II took power and was placed on the throne in 1660. During Cromwell's reign besides fighting against Catholics and Anglicans in England, Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 and his army massacred many Irish Catholics, also causing famine and plague, thus setting into motion the centuries old conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. The first Anglo-Dutch War is also fought between 1652-1654.
In 1652 Williams writes, referring to the tenet or belief in persecution for "cause of conscience" or religious belief:
A tenet that fights against the common principles of all civility, and the very civil being and combinations of men in nations, cities, etc., by comixing (explicitly or implicitly) a spiritual and civil state together, and so confounding and overthrowing the purity and strength of both...(p. 22).
It is important to keep in mind that the English Civil War happened after the colonies had been established in the "New World." Initially, the civil war cut off the flow of immigration and led to an economic depression in the 1640s and 50s.
The state of Virginia's nickname for example is "The Old Dominion." This is because during the civil war the colony was strongly loyal to the king and recognized Charles II before he officially became king. After becoming King of England the then Colony of Virginia was nicknamed the old dominion because the king ruled there first before he ruled all of England.
In the folklore and mythology of the South of which Virginia was the largest state, this is important to explain some of the aristocratic tendencies of the Southern plantation class who believed themselves, not without reason, to have strong lineages to the English royalty and to the highest levels of the English nobility who went into exile. Randolph Bourne attributed the predominance of Anglo-Saxons in the South with the region's overall backwardness and underdevelopment. According to Forbes magazine the three richest counties in the U.S. are in Virginia: Loudoun, Falls Church (technically an "independent city" not a county), and Fairfax, all in Northern Virginia.
In the Puritan colonies in the North, this led to stricter controls being placed on the colonies who were virtually independent before this. The king even appointed a royal governor to oversee the colonies and would only be answerable to him. The economic depression of the 1640s had created gaps between rich and poor for the first time in the community. By this time, most of the original generation of the Puritans who had made the journey over and who had to build the community almost from scratch had either died or were elderly.
The younger generations were able to benefit from the work of the parents and grandparents but did not have to work as hard for them. People did not need to stick together as much anymore and gradually the covenant ties binding the community began to weaken.
Shipping and trade had grown considerably and Boston had become one of the most active ports in the New World which helped sustain industries like lumber, fishing and fur trading. Industries like hunting for whales to make lantern oil (the inspiration for the later novel Moby Dick) was also a vital industry. Rum manufacturing was also another major industry but one that what was connected directly to the Atlantic slave trade.
As private fortunes grew little by little the economic legislation was overturned. The emphasis on limitations and humility began to change as people tried to devise means to determining who was saved and who was not. Wealth began to be seen as a symbol of God's favor and gradually those who were saved came to be seen as those who were wealthy and vice versa. Religion came to be seen as a private matter not a public concern. The relationship to God was through the individual not the community. The Puritans tried to pass on their culture which was quickly dying and established colleges like Harvard (1636) originally to train new ministers, but even if they could pass on their theoretical knowledge they could not pass on their practical knowledge.
In 1691 Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay are unified in one colony, the Province of Massachusetts. The infamous Salem Witch Trials occurred in the 1690s which probably expressed to what level social relations between people had declined even with increasing material prosperity.
This was the backdrop in which John Wise (1652-1725) is writing in the early 1700s. In other words, Wise unlike Winthrop and Williams is writing after the peak of the Puritan settlement in America, when it was in decline. Wise unlike the other two immigrants was born in the New World. Wise then sees himself as trying to revive the older teachings of the Puritans. He is similar to Winthrop in his emphasis on the "political nature" of humanity taken from Aristotle who also created the schema of: monarchy, aristocracy, democracy that Wise uses. Where he differs from the more authoritarian Winthrop is his emphasis on the direct democracy of the people:
This form of government, appears in the greatest part of the world to have been the most ancient. For that reason seems to show it to be most probable, that when men (being originally in a condition of natural freedom and equality) had thoughts of joining in a civil body, would without question be inclined to administer their common affairs, by their common judgement, and so much necessarily, to gratify that inclination, establish a democracy; neither can it be rationally imagined that fathers of families being yet free and independent should in a moment or little time take off their long delight in governing their own affairs and devolve all upon some single sovereign Commander, for that it seems to have been thought more equitable that what belonged to all should be managed by all when all had entered by compact into one community (p.23).
By the time Wise is writing, the size of the community had grown large enough to produce a separation between leaders and followers that did not exist in Winthrop's time. As such he is concerned with the idea of equality in a democracy, just as when actual inequalities are increasing dramatically:
Also the natural equality of men among men must be duly favored, in that government was never established by God or Nature to give one man a prerogative to insult over another; therefore in a civil, as well in a natural, state of being, a just equality is to be indulged so far as every man is bound to honor every man, which is agreeable both with Nature and Religion (p. 27).
Wise argues that democratic government is clearly implied by Jesus' teaching and is the most natural and the most beneficial form of government. However, even if democracy and Christian values can co-exist, Wise's own suggestions that democracy is the most ancient form of government suggests a different origin. Besides, the cultural and historical lineage of Greek city-states and the early Roman republic, the pre-Christian Germanic tribal customs of the Anglo-Saxons allowed for the election of kings by the freemen of the clan or tribe. This practice continued for awhile even after the conversion to Christianity in what is known as the "Witanagemont" an assembly of the ruling class to advise the king and was permitted to select the king from the leading members of the ruling family, and considered to be a precursor to the British Parliament.
Winthrop, Williams, and Wise had many things in common. They both combined political and spiritual authority in one person even Williams who despite his beliefs was in fact a political leader of his followers. American politics has been heavily impacted by the original Puritan settlers both in its emphasis on democratic self-government and Christian values which are both highly interconnected if not in fact identical which at least seems to be what John Wise is arguing.
Next class we will explore the contributions of the European Enlightenment on American thought leading up to the American revolution. Remember it is the Declaration of Independence that Chesterton sees what he calls the "creed of America" and is even more important from the perspective of understanding the American political system as a civil religion.
Assignment (Due 1/7): Choose a passage from one of the readings. Write out the passage. Under that interpret the passage of what the author is saying, and why they are saying it. Explain why you chose this passage and what it means to you.
Also, go to the link that says "Puritans" and read the summary on the Puritans. Summarize on your blogs either "The New England Way," "The Half-Way Covenant," or "The Plain Style," and how this relates to what we have learned about the Puritans.
There is also a list of books written about the Puritans. Select one of those books and look up reviews of the books either on Google, JSTOR, or Academic Search and summarize the book. You do not have to read the book itself but if you read a few book reviews you will gain a good understanding of what the book is about. It will also give you an idea how to write a review of the book you are looking at. Please remember to include the author and title of the book.
- Perry Miller's "The Marrow of Puritan Divinity" in Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1956): 48-98.
- Emory Elliott, Power and the Pulpit in Puritan New England
- Charles Lloyd Cohen, "Covenant Psychology" in God's Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1986)
- John von Rohr, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1986)
- Darrett Rutman, American Puritanism
- David Hall, The Faithful Shepherd
- David Hall, The Antinomian Controversy
- Sargent Bush, The Writings of Thomas Hooker
- Michael McGiffert, "Grace and Works: The Rise and Division of Covenant Divinity in Elizabethan Puritanism," Harvard Theological Review 75.4 (1982): 463-502.
- Amy Schrager Lang, Prophetic Woman
Janice Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts