A historian of New England could easily overstate the importance of the federal theorists in European affairs. They were a special and restricted group, with a theory too complex and recondite to be accepted even by all Puritans, and only in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where theologians and politicians were able to treat it as the theoretical foundation of the state as well as of salvation, did the theology succeed for a time in uniting a whole thought upon a single concept. The importance of the doctrine is thus immense for the intellectual history of America, but in Europe it remained merely one among several abortive attempts to harmonize the irreconcilable ideas which were abroad in the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, when considered as a phenomenon of the period, as a symptom rather than as a cause, it takes on the deepest significance for our study, and the very fact that at the beginning of the next century it proved inadequate to cope with the intellectual situation causes it the more pertinently to set forth the elements of that situation.
Through the maze of dialectic with which the covenant theologians rephrased conventional tenets runs one consistent purpose: they were endeavoring to mark off an area of human behavior from the general realm of nature, and within it to substitute for the rule of necessity a rule of freedom. They were striving to push as far into the background as possible the order of things that exists by inevitable equilibrium, that is fulfilled by unconscious and aimless motions, that is determined by inertia and inexorable law, and in its place to set up an order founded upon voluntary choice, upon the deliberate assumption of obligation, upon unconstrained pacts, upon the sovereign determinations of free wills. They were struggling to extricate man from the relentless primordial mechanism, from the chains of