The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

PREFACE FOR AMERICAN READERS

OLIVER CROMWELL is one of the most neglected figures in American history. Of course, that is an exaggeration. Unlike some of his friends and associates he never even visited America, although on at least two occasions he was on the point of emigrating. He was prevented by what we would regard as strange accidents but by what he would have described as "providences". His significance for American history is rather deeper -- more fundamental. It is to be sought in his Puritan faith, in the fact that within his career the Puritanism that brought the New England theocracy to birth reached its clearest and least ambiguous expression on the soil of Old England. The connection has received curiously little attention from the historians on either side of the Atlantic, for it is surely of some significance that, for a few years after 1650, Puritan rule of essentially the same calibre and temper prevailed not only in Massachusetts and Connecticut but over the four nations of the British Isles. This Puritan government was established and maintained by the swords of Cromwell's formidable "Ironsides".

Perhaps in Cromwell Puritanism spoke with a more pronounced English accent, although there have been historians of the American scene, such as the late Professor Perry Miller, who have held that Puritanism achieved its clearest and most authentic expression within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We may still argue about that. But the point we would make is that Cromwell's Protectorate and Winthrop's holy Commonwealth belong to the same movement in history, and that truly to understand the one, we had better pay more than a passing glance at the other.

-7A-

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