The Decline Of Puritanism
…Reasons For Essay, Research Paper
A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things. 1 Facing religious persecution in England, the Puritans fled Europe. They constructed an intolerant government because to Puritans Toleration meant permitting error. 2 Puritanism ultimately led to its own decline in New England because it refused to accept rival religious groups, critics and merchants. The Great Awakening, although welcomed at first, ultimately badly damaged what remained of the fabric of Puritanism. 3
Escaping persecution in England, the Puritans found themselves persecuting others in New England. One group which Puritan ministers, such as John Cotton, Increase Mather, and Cotton Mather, tried to banish from New England was the Quakers. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the General Court passed laws that would fine one hundred pounds to any shipmaster who brought a Quaker into the colony. Any colonist found having a Quaker book would be fined five pounds. If a Quaker was found in Massachusetts, he would be arrested, whipped and then exiled. Puritan leaders made it difficult for a Quaker, or even a Puritan who was tolerant of Quakers, to live in peace. A non-Puritan resident of New England was made to feel like a Puritan resident of Britain. However, Puritan persecution was not limited to only one group of people. Their persecution was directed towards the Quakers, but Puritans as well.4
Two Puritans who experienced the harshness of the Puritanical government of New England were Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. Anne Hutchinson challenged Puritan orthodoxy. She believed that leading a holy life was not a sure sign that one would be salvaged and that those who were predestined need not follow the laws of man or God. Hutchinson believed that piety had grown chill in the hearts of the ministry, and thereby in the people. 5 The Puritan magistrates banished her from the Massachusetts Bay Colony fearing that she would cause unrest, and poison the minds of other members of the congregation. Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts as well. He vehemently rejected the idea that Puritans had a special, divinely ordained responsibility from God. He felt that it was impossible for any community as a whole to be covenanted with God.6 Williams chastised the government and clergy of New England. He eventually founded the colony of Rhode Island and established Providence as its capital; A fitting name for a city that tolerated Jews, Quakers, Puritans and others.7 The presence of a tolerating colony close to theirs made Massachusetts and Connecticut Puritans uncomfortable. 8 Puritan Ministers realized that their influence in colonial New England was decreasing. Religious critics and dissenters were not the only people who caused their decrease in influence; the ascending merchant class contributed as well.
Although the Puritan commonwealth began as a self-sufficient one, merchants eventually created a system of trade involving England and the Caribbean, otherwise known as the Triangle Trade. This brought wealth to some New Englanders, but it also brought all into contact with the outside world. Many merchants eventually had the power to dictate the prices of items and terms of credit. They expanded their influence by purchasing large parcels of land. They realized that intolerance was bad for their business image; they sought to eliminate the laws that prevented those who opposed Puritanism from settling in Massachusetts.9 Some Puritans, such as Max Weber, R.H. Tawney and David Little, believed that the Puritan emphasis on intelligence and vocation contributed to the growth of the materialistic society that was developing in the colonies.10
The Great Awakening, a religious revival throughout the colonies, restored prosperity to the Puritan tradition temporarily. Puritanism decayed because it lost its status as the unique religious force in much of New England. Revivalists of Christianity, not just Puritanism, but Methodism, Calvinism and Unitarianism, began to build schools in New England. Secularism and religious liberalism were both gaining followers while Puritanism was losing supporters. Although Puritanism experienced a revival, it was short-lived.
Puritanism in New England led to its own demise due to its refusal to accept rival religious groups, critics and merchants. The Great Awakening also contributed to the decline in that it promoted other religions, drawing Puritans away from their austere way of life. The Quakers, Anne Hutchinson, and Roger Williams were all banished from New England. Merchants were able to gain a stronghold in the economy of Puritanical New England, giving them a substantial amount of power. Although Puritanism is not as influential as it once was in one s life, The end of the influence of Puritanism has not yet been reached. 11