The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
STATE AND SOCIETY

1. JOHN WINTHROP, 1588-1649

[On the deck of the flagship Arbella, in the middle of the Atlantic, during, as the manuscript describes it, "his passage (with the great company of religious people, of which Christian tribes he was the brave leader and famous governor) from the island of Great Britain to New England in the North America," Governor Winthrop delivered this lay sermon. While for the heart of Puritan piety we must go to Bradford Of Plymouth Plantation, we find the essence of the Puritan social ideal in Winthrop's exposition. Along with Bradford's narrative, it is the fundamental document for comprehending the Puritan mind.

To the Congregational segment of the Puritan party, the basic idea was the covenant. This was primarily a grandiose theological conception (see pp. 143-44), but as a consequence of the Puritan alliance with Parliament against King James and King Charles, it became also a theory of society. In the Puritan formulation, it held that a body politic could be constituted only out of the consent of the governed, yet also out of an agreement not to terms of the people's own divising but only to the pre-stated terms of God's eternal law of justice and subordination. In order to expound to the immigrants (some of whom may already have begun to dream dreams of economic prosperity and social advancement in the New World) just how they had committed themselves--out of their free and sanctified will --to the rule of social righteousness, Winthrop framed this masterful discourse.

-78-

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The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contents iii
  • Title Page v
  • Foreword ix
  • Chapter One - History 1
  • Chapter Two - State and Society 78
  • Chapter Three - This World and the Next 143
  • Chapter Four - Personal Narrative 225
  • Chapter Five - Poetry 265
  • Chapter Six - Literary and Educational Ideals 320
  • A Brief Bibliography 336
  • Index 341
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