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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Puritans were strong Calvinists, who believed in Calvin's doctrine of predestination; that is all people were born into a state of sin, but God had predestined certain individuals to be saved. One was made aware that he was a recipient of God's grace by divine revelation. A little known belief of the Puritans was "infant damnation;" that is if a child died in infancy and therefore still in original sin, the child was damned to hell. They believed that people were "called" to their work, and that the Anglican Church, as founded by Henry VIII was tainted with "popery," and needed to be purified, hence the name Puritan. The term was actually a pejorative one, they called themselves "the Godly." They were not drab and colorless as they are often portrayed; rather they did wear colorful clothes if they could afford them, enjoyed secular music in moderation, and frequently drank beer and other alcoholic beverages. Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather, once commented:

Drink is in and of itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness; but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the devil."

Those who became drunk habitually were made to wear a large "D" on their outer garments as a token of public rebuke.

They did not consider sex within marriage a sin; rather a woman had a duty to satisfy her husbands needs, and could be expelled from the church if she did not do so. Women and children were subject to the will of the husband/father as head of the household, in fact there was no prohibition against a man beating his wife so long as he used a stick no larger in circumference than his thumb; hence the "rule of thumb." Of course sex outside marriage was a sin, and considered adultery, for which one could be forced to wear the famous "scarlet letter."

The primary element of Puritan belief was modesty in all things except piety, toward which one should work diligently and zealously. The will of God was more important than the will of the people, therefore democracy was not a primary concern. Rev. John Cotton commented in a letter to Lord Seyle:

Democracy I do not conceive that ever God did ordain as a fit government either for church or commonwealth. If the people be governors, who shall be governed? As for monarchy, and aristocracy, they are both of them clearly approved, and directed in scripture, yet so as referred the sovereignty to himself, and setteth up Theocracy in both, as the best form of government in the commonwealth, as well as in the church.

The harsh belief in predestination caused many people to worry if they were members of the "elect," which when combined with long winter nights, led to a quarrelsome and irritable people who frequently resorted to lawsuits. New England became the most litigious area in the colonies.