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The Ideal Puritan Society

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Puritans thought of themselves as members of the Church of England. Disgusted with the tainted modern religious practices, puritans tried to change that institution. They soon became frustrated with the lack of successful reform as English kings James I and Charles I persecuted them. The Puritans migrated to the New World to create a nation according to their own beliefs. The Puritan Society was a very restrictive and socially constrictive one. Massachusetts Bay Colony was organized in 1628 by Puritans and in 1629, five ships carried the first Puritan settlers to their first settlement, Salem, (Bremer, 34). Most of the Puritans settled in the New England area as they immigrated and formed individual colonies, their numbers rose from 17,800 in 1640 to 106,000 in 1700 (Bremer 45).

The Puritan Society was benchmarked by many different factors. Every member of the society had a strict role to fill. Any one who fell outside of their appropriate role in society was insulted, or even tortured to death. Gender, class, and race all contributed to a person’s social position. Puritans strict literary interpretation of the bible and firm belief in predestination helped lay a foundation for the ideal “City on a hill” as explained by John Winthrop, a puritan thinker and Massachusetts Bay Colony governor.

Men were supposed to be dominant over women. They also thought that women were not to be able to survive without a man. Puritans believed that females could not be truly touched by God; therefore, men were the only ones able to own land or become congregational leaders in the church. Moreover, Puritans assumed that any female who dared to speak the word of God must truly be a utensil of the devil. White Puritan Protestants were inherently superior to any other religion or race.

These holy rich men, free of original sin, were the only ones allowed to commune with God. Any one who preached a religion different from the Puritan holy man was also thought to be a servant of the devil. The Puritan ruling class of holy white males lashed out at those who threatened them. They persecuted any women who held land, any who preached religion, or who subscribed to a different religion, (Bremer 154). In the eyes of the Puritan, God specifically made individuals of other white ethnic backgrounds less holy.

The holy Puritan men lashed out many persecutions. “Puritan children were taught from an early age that mankind was divided naturally by race, each race having certain physical and mental characteristics which had remained fundamentally unchanged throughout history,” (Olmstead 245). A child influenced by this ongoing discrimination would not expect the black race to take an equal place in American civilization. To Puritans, all of the geographic features divided mankind into a racial hierarchy with the white race at the top and the black at the bottom. The superiority of the white race was taken for granted. “A well established law of nature…causes an inferior race to yield to a superior when it comes in contact with the other,” (Olmstead 259). The Puritan white man thought to have been assigned the task of civilizing and enlightening the world. Southerners justified slavery on the basis that black men was incapable of improvement, all the while denying them access to any type of education. Many of the strong theologies puritans adhered to stemmed from their literal interpretation of the bible.

For the Puritans, the Bible was the only divinely inspired word of God. The Scriptures were the standard doctrine and the true way of praise specified by God. They were the source of standards for behavior, belief, and worship. The Puritans believed that man must follow the Bible exactly and try to communicate directly with God. In order to communicate with God there had to be no distractions from their religion. In order to achieve this, the Puritans held relatively dull lives. They immersed themselves in their work and avoided art, sculpture, poetry, drama or anything else that might be seen as a distraction, (Olmstead 322). Even home furnishings were simply made of wood. The result of this lifestyle of hard work was a community that was wealthy and industrious. Since God was an all knowing and powerful force, the puritans saw their wealth as a gift from God, and a sign that they were correct. Likewise, they also justified any misfortunate situation as an act of punishment by God or inclination from the devil.

According to Puritans, God determined how many people to save before anything existed; therefore, salvation was predestined. This concept of predestination offers evidence of God’s love. Men were fundamentally depraved and deserving of damnation. Puritans thought that God went beyond the boundaries of strict justice to elect some people to be saved. This theory became the basis of thanks and was a source of hope for the puritan community. The common unity among the people strengthened the community. In a foreign land surrounded with the hardships of pioneer life, their spiritual bond made them sympathetic to each other’s needs. “Their overall survival techniques permeated the colonies and on the whole made them more successful in several areas beyond that of the colonies established to their south,”(Bremer 167).

Governor John Winthrop’s depicted a model Christian society as a “City on a Hill.” This notion was taken from Matthew 5:14, (Bremer 187). In “A Model of Christian Charity,” a sermon Winthrop preached during the voyage to America, the Massachusetts governor emphasized that the purpose of their going to America was to increase the body of Christ and to preserve themselves and their children from the corruption of this evil world (Bremer 198). The colonists had made a covenant together to obey the commandments of God in their enterprise, and the Lord would surely bless them in their new land if they continued to obey him. The Puritans’ City was not intended to be a source of the new nation, but rather a new community focused on reform. Puritans wanted their own model society that revolved around the tradition of old England and the doctrine of their Puritan faith. For Winthrop and the Puritans, America inherited the idea that this land would to be an example of an ideal Christian society that can exist in harmony as a perfect model of society to the world.

The long-term result of Puritanism is their lingering idealism that has been infused into our modern society. This is because they were amongst our first settlers to spread their ideas and values throughout the land. Even though the puritan society was not rich in art or drama, many of their doctrines reside in democratic principles. The Puritan work ethic and community cohesion has also become a trademark of American idealism. Similarly, this nation remains a Protestant country with a legacy of conservatism, (Olmstead 345). The Puritans may have lasted only a little over a century but their ideals firmly remain.

Work Cited


Bremer, F.J., The Puritan Experiment Copyright, 1981 Columbia publishing Co. “John Winthrop’s City on a Hill, 1630,” September 1, 2000 Vincent Ferraro {Online}


Olmstead, C. E. History of Religion in the United States Copyright 1965 Englewood

Prentice-Hall, 1960

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