The United Colonies of New England, 1643-90

By Harry M. Ward | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Determining Influences

The Puritan founders of the first intercolonial league in America draw upon their common heritage--in thought and in practical experience. They profited from the lessons of history. The leaders in the Puritan migration were highly articulate: as exponents of a Bible Commonwealth they were well educated for the task ahead of them; and many, as members of the gentry or the rising merchant class, could have well worn the robes of religious and political authority had they not been denied them by arbitrary policies at home.

The Now England settlers transplanted local political institutions known to them in the mother country. But, in casting about for an inspiration of a "confederater union of autonomous states, they were most impressed by the Dutch "United Provinces." Many of the leaders of the emigration to New England had lived under this league during the peak of its offectiveness. Englishmen also were familiar with the Dutch league through trade or through communities in England that had undergone a high influx of Dutch refugees the preceding generation. The inspiration which the Dutch Union afforded the early colonists of New England, when added to the firm planting of English local institutions, gave rise to the dichotomy of state and national powers later characteristic of American federalism. But behind the desire of the New England Puritans to establish a confederation of the colonies are various factors that shaped their political thinking.

Calvinism provided the basis for many of the Puritan notions of church and state. Those fit to govern were to come from the "elect". For salvation man cooperates with God. In some respects the church government in Calvinism was democratic. There was less distinction between clergy and laymen than among the Lutherans or Roman Catholics; elders could preach or administer the sacraments. Ministers were chosen by local congregations. Elders and deacons were elected by the congregation as

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