New England - The Colonial Settlement
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One might have suspected that the stern and forbidding coast of New England, storm-tossed, plagued with harsh winters and a stony soil, would have dissuaded the settlers. Only a stern breed of man would have ignored the obvious disadvantages and staked a claim upon these shores. Indeed, it was a harassed and dedicated people who chose to make New England their new home. Settlement of this region was a direct consequence of the bitter and growing controversy between monarch and Parliament which centered on religion, but involved as well the larger question of whether king or Parliament would possess supreme power.
Puritans and Pilgrims. The fusion of church and state in England, symbolized by Henry VIII's assumption of supreme power in the Anglican Church, made it certain that any subsequent effort to extend Protestantism would be viewed by the king as a challenge to his authority. The demands of radical Protestants for the abolition of bishops and the establishment of control by presbyters, congregations, or synods, provoked James I into the utterance: "No Bishop, No King." James saw that if the authority of the church were made subject to the governance of its members, then the same control could be extended in time to the authority of the state. In spite of severe laws passed to dissuade them from challenging Anglican practice, the dissenters insisted that their intention was to "purify" the church, not to destroy it. Indeed, the critical point is precisely that the Puritans were not struggling for toleration; they were struggling for control both of the Anglican Church and of a king who was suspected of desiring to increase his political power.
The Pilgrims were even more radical. These dissenters risked their very lives, when they insisted on total separation of church and state. As separatists they were committed to the destruction of the Church of England as it was then organized. Such a commitment challenged the religious authority of the monarch, for the separatists believed in the creation of independent congregations, each autonomous and self-governing. James I viewed these dissenters with outraged indignation, and he ordered rigid enforcement of the Act of 1593 which made separatist meetings illegal and punishable by prison terms.
Plymouth. In 1608, the Scrooby congregation under the leadership of William Brewster fled to Holland. Though accorded toleration there, the Pilgrims grew discontented in their Dutch environment, isolated as they were from their traditional way of life, and especially fearful that their children would lose their English identity. The intensity of their sense of national identity culminated in their decision in 1617 to try to find a way to establish a community under English auspices in distant America.
Through Brewster's personal friendship with Edwin Sandys, one of the sponsors of the London Company, the Pilgrims were able to obtain a patent to migrate to Virginia. On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower, a 180-ton vessel, sailed from Plymouth, England, with 101 passengers aboard, only thirty-five of whom were from the Dutch community. As George Williston noted, less than half of the passengers were "saints"; the remainder, including Miles Standish, were "strangers." After a gruelling trip, the Pilgrims cast anchor on November 21, 1620, off the tip of Cape Cod, far from their Virginia destination, and safe from any interventions in the religious experiments they were to make.
On the day they made landfall the Pilgrims, led by William Bradford, joined with responsible "strangers" to compose the Mayflower Compact, through which they hoped to establish a stable government. Inasmuch as many of their passengers were unreliable men who did not regard themselves as bound by the patent granted to the Pilgrims, Bradford felt it was imperative to attempt to establish some sort of government even before the band of travelers reached shore. After moving across the bay to Plymouth Harbor the Pilgrims disembarked, and on December 25, 1620 (a day the Pilgrims treated as ordinary, since the celebration of Christmas was regarded by them as a pagan festival), they set to work establishing the community of Plymouth.
Barely fifty people survived that first winter, and these were threatened with Indian war in the spring of 1621. Only the aggressive response of Governor Bradford deterred the Narragansett Indians. A brief experiment with communal use of the land was abandoned after a near-famine in 1623, and each family was granted an acre of land on which to grow grain. By 1627 the Pilgrims felt economically strong enough to buy out the merchant adventurers who had financed their original migration; moreover, they had made friends among the Indians - notably Samoset, Squanto, and Massasoit - who taught them many things that helped in their fight for survival. The Pilgrims had demonstrated that it was possible to survive and flourish in inhospitable New England. The experiment was an evident success.
In 1630 the Pilgrim settlement of New England, originally unauthorized, obtained a patent from the Council of New England defining its territories; but the patent never received royal sanction. For its government a General Court with legislative powers was set up, consisting of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. The governor and his seven councilors were chosen annually by vote of the freemen, and newcomers were quickly accorded freeman status. The Fundamentals of Plymouth, adopted in 1637, provided a regular code of law, which, among other things, confirmed the General Court as a legislative assembly. (This was made necessary by the expansion of the colony.) All law required the approval of the General Court. A rude democracy existed; but ironically, as the colony grew older its treatment of suffrage rights grew more conservative. In 1660, a property qualification was required; in 1668, membership in the Pilgrim Church was made mandatory for voters.
The expansion of the Plymouth Colony brought rapid growth of local representative government. Town meetings flourished, enabling voters to follow local problems at close hand and to participate actively in their solution. Though soon overshadowed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, its larger neighbor to the north, Plymouth remained independent until 1691, when it was united with Massachusetts. Perhaps the explanation for Plymouth's survival is that in spite of the vastly larger number of Puritans, both Puritan and Pilgrim followed the congregationalist principle - the principle which stated that ultimate authority within the church was vested in the congregation itself, a condition which was believed to have existed in the original church of Christ - in the management of their respective churches. As one Pilgrim divine explained it, "the Primitive Churches [those practicing the congregationalist idea] were and are their [Puritan] and our [Pilgrim] mutuall patterns and examples." Because of this basic similarity of religious opinion, Pilgrim and Puritan were complements rather than rivals.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans of England, as stated earlier, were not separatists. They meant to purify the Church of England. They especially emphasized the proposition that God had defined the essence of the church's constitution and that every man, even one of royal blood, was bound by God's law. Ecclesiastical authority depended, therefore, "not uppon the authority of Princes, but uppon the ordinaunce of God." Of the many ordinances of God, two were of crucial import in the understanding of Puritanism. The first was the Covenant whereby God made His will comprehensible to man; the second was the decree of God whereby all mankind was irrevocably divided between the damned on the one hand and the saved (or "elect") on the other. The distinguishing characteristics of the elect were that they alone possessed faith, and that they alone could administer God's visible world in an orderly manner. Though God alone knew His chosen children, the Puritan conceded that if the church rigorously examined its candidates and painstakingly supervised its membership, it could be reasonably certain that its members constituted the visible elect. In theory each congregation was self-governing since the proved elect would manifest God's will in their decisions. From the Bible came the pattern God had decreed for His true believers. "Unto all the power, learning, deceit, rage, of the False Church," the Puritan declared, "we oppose that little Book of God's Word, which . . . as a heavy millstone shall press her and all her children . . . down to hell." One need hardly point out that such doctrine was dangerous to the established church, to royal authority, and to any religious sect that dissented from Puritan practice. For at the heart of Puritanism was the harsh intolerance generated by the Puritans' conviction that they - and they alone - constituted a divine elite.
Under the Stuarts the Puritans were soon deeply embroiled with their royal masters over the scope of royal authority in religious matters. By the 1620s numerous Puritans actively considered emigration. In 1628, the Council for New England issued a patent to the newly formed New England Company. In the same year John Endecott and sixty other men set out to establish a trading post in northern New England. At Endecott's behest a new charter, issued in March 1629, organized the Massachusetts Bay Company. The charter provided members of the company with the rank of freeman, and guaranteed them the right to participate in government. Executive administration was provided by a governor, deputy-governor, and eighteen assistants. The members of the executive branch, together with the freemen of the company, constituted a General Court. As crucial to the future development of the colony as the inclusion in the charter of these provisions was the omission of two items: the charter failed to specify that either the charter or the company was to remain in London.
A second group of two hundred settlers came to the Massachusetts Bay colony in May 1629, with Puritan merchants as their leaders. This migration occurred shortly after Charles I decided to curb the Puritans in politics and religion. The conjunction of economic depression in the woolen industry, in which many Puritans were employed, and the revocation by the king of many patronage posts held by the Puritans, made their economic plight desperate. "All other Churches of Europe are brought to desolation," John Winthrop mourned, "and our sins for which the Lord begins already to frown upon us and to cut us short, do threaten evil time to be coming upon us." From this despair came the decision to launch a great migration that would carry the Puritans into the wilderness to found a land where God's word would rule. The New World was to become the haven and the abode of God's chosen.
Unlike the poverty-stricken enterprise of the Pilgrims, this mission attracted the attention of a number of wealthy Puritans. John Winthrop proved to be the chief agitator for the project. He was joined by John Cotton, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Thomas Dudley, a member of the landed gentry. Soon, twelve prominent Puritans pledged to move themselves and their families to New England on March 1, 1630, if they were able to take with them a charter authorizing a colony in the New World. The Puritans shrewdly took advantage of the fact that the charter for Massachusetts Bay contained no provision requiring the charter document itself to be kept in England, nor requiring that the chartering company maintain its headquarters there. In August 1629, after secret negotiations, the Massachusetts Bay Company was sold to a group of Puritan stockholders. The subsequent election of Winthrop as governor and Dudley as deputy-governor placed the company under the jurisdiction of the men pledged to migrate.
Early in March 1630, Winthrop led the first contingent to the New World. With him he carried the charter that provided the legal basis for the extensive settlement which followed. By the year's end, seventeen vessels had carried some two thousand migrants to the new colony. Although a severe winter caused heavy mortality and some slowing of migration, the inflow of settlers swelled to a flood from 1633 onward. By 1643 some 20,000 people had made the long journey at a total cost of £200,000. No more than a quarter of these were Puritans; but political power was concentrated in the hands of that quarter. The king tried vigorously to assert his authority over the New Englanders; but the undisputable legality of their actions frustrated his efforts at dominance. When civil war erupted between king and Parliament, the Puritans were fortuitously provided with a respite from the king's antagonism, and during the twenty years of conflict in England which followed (164060), the colony at Massachusetts Bay pursued a lively independence.
Under pressure from the colonists, Winthrop and his fellows permitted the development of a qualified representative government. In May 1631, the General Court at Boston opened the franchise to church members, thereby restricting political power to Puritans. These voters were permitted to choose, for lifetime terms, assistants, in whom the executive powers were invested, thereby explicitly contradicting the original charter's requirement for annual elections. The assistants were drawn from the General Court and the governor, in turn, was drawn from and elected by the assistants. The critical power to make and enforce laws was vested in the governor and this group.
The creation of agricultural villages strengthened oligarchical control. In such communities the local minister supervised the inhabitants - and their town meetings. Although care was taken to grant each new settlement considerable autonomy, migrations into the interior were strictly supervised. Moreover, since only the freemen were given the power to vote, Puritanism was able to dominate both church and state during the seventeenth century. But though the Puritan oligarchy was able to protect itself well from serious infringements upon its power by those within the colony, it was to prove less successful in forestalling indefinitely the intervention and interference of the Crown.