Puritanism in America, 1620-1750

Puritanism in America, 1620-1750

Puritanism in America, 1620-1750

Puritanism in America, 1620-1750

Excerpt

Like it or not, Americans have a Puritan heritage, and to cope with it requires an understanding of it. The accident, if that is the word, behind this heritage, deserves attention, too. The events of man's history have been frequently shaped by accident. For a variety of reasons the seventeenth century was the time when what is now the eastern fringe of the United States was to be colonized, or, as Francis Jennings has persuasively put it, conquered; its original inhabitants overcome. It might have been the French or the Spanish who established the colonies that grew till they declared their independence a century and a half later. But it was Englishmen. In the colonies that grew most rapidly during the early years, the most powerful leaders were Puritans. Only briefly was there a time when English Puritans would want to migrate in numbers; only briefly was Puritanism a force powerful enough to attract leaders who would direct the difficult journey across the seas to an uncertain fate. The fact that New England was settled by these men and their followers has been largely responsible for the strange mixture of idealism and pragmatism that has been of such importance in the making of America. The outlook of the Puritans was particularly suited to the development of capitalism and democracy. When one has identified Puritanism with these terms--and there was much more to Puritanism--one has gone a long way towards describing the American character.

Paradoxically, the Puritan impulse bore two entirely different kinds of fruit. In England, the radical energies released by Puritanism eventually resulted in civil war, the overthrow of the royal government, and social disorder. In New England, these same energies were channeled into the creation of a commonwealth based on the conviction that discipline, law, and order were fundamental. A powerful unity, an organic relationship of state, church, and society, was created in New England. It flourished only briefly, but its effects were long felt.

In this study of American Puritanism--or, more accurately, of Puritanism in New England--I have attempted to trace the growth . . .

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