How did the Salem Witch Trials affect the community of Salem? Government and authority? The church? Individuals?
The Salem Witch Trials generated mass hysteria among the community. It got to the point where ordinarily rational, sensible people started believing that there were witches round every corner. A previously close, tight-knit community turned into a collection of frightened, deeply suspicious individuals no longer able to trust one other. The witch trials corrupted people, separating them from their true selves. Individuals were destroyed, their reputations ruined, and their families forever besmirched by the taint of witchcraft.
The undermining of the community in turn undermined the authority of the government. The government was ostensibly committed to pursuing justice in the witch trials. Yet the whole mechanism of justice was almost completely wrecked by the bare-faced lies and unsubstantiated gossip of a handful of devious individuals, most notably Abigail Williams. The Salem Witch Trials seriously damaged the credibility of the legal and governmental authorities and the people's confidence in their ability to deliver justice under the law.
The same applies to the Church, as this was effectively the government at the time. Salem was very much a Puritan theocracy in which the Church executed the functions of a modern-day secular state. That model of government was called into serious question by the witch trials, and led many to believe that the way forward was to separate church and state.
The Salem witch trials confirmed the division that existed within the community by exposing the hatred and selfish interest harbored between some of the different members. For instance, Mrs. Putnam was clearly jealous of Rebecca Nurse’s family. Mr. Putnam exposed his selfish interests by trying to appropriate land belonging to Giles through the trials. Due to these issues, the different factions of the community harbored hostilities against each other long after the trials were over.
The government acknowledged its failure in the handling of the situation that led to innocent deaths by paying compensation to the remaining victims. The government also sought the reversal of the excommunications. The jury apologized to those who suffered from the unfair legal process. The Salem witch trials forced the government to look into strategies and reforms to ensure that such a situation did not occur again in future.
The church was forced to re-evaluate its role in the trials and the death of innocent people. The idea of theocracy was also admonished and destroyed. This helped in restricting the power and influence of the priests and other religious leaders.
The individuals suffered from psychological and emotional trauma. This was the case for most of those who witnessed the senseless murder of their loved ones based on falsehoods.
The Salem Witch Trials were a perfect spiral of fear. That is to say, each accusation forced individuals to accuse others in order to save themselves, which led to more accusations and so on. The effect of this on a community as small as Salem in 1692 would be devastating. Consider how suspicious people would become of even lifelong friends and neighbors. It divided the people of Salem against each other in ways not easily repaired.
Government authority and the Church were one and the same in Massachusetts, and their credibility suffered greatly once it became apparent that many if not all of the executed were in fact innocent. While not the only reason for the social decline of the Puritan Church, many consider this event the beginning of the end.
In his deposition, Giles claimed that Putnam was killing his neighbors for their land. Putnam was the only individual wealthy enough to purchase the forfeited land after the owners were condemned to death.