Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1269
John Winthrop 1588–1649
English-born political thinker, historian, and journal writer.
The first and most influential governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Winthrop is primarily remembered for his A Journal of the Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement of Massachusetts and the Other New-England Colonies, from the Year 1630 to 1644 ...
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- Critical Essays
John Winthrop 1588–1649
English-born political thinker, historian, and journal writer.
The first and most influential governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Winthrop is primarily remembered for his A Journal of the Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement of Massachusetts and the Other New-England Colonies, from the Year 1630 to 1644, in which he chronicled the daily life, tribulations, and important events in the colony. Along with his writings on theology, the Antinomian controversy, and treaties with Native Americans, Winthrop's Journal constitutes one of the seminal records of the everyday life of early settlers in America. Critics also consider Winthrop a primary architect of American Puritanism. In his sermon "A Modell of Christian Charitie," delivered on board the ship Arbella in 1630 while he was on his way to America, Winthrop introduced two concepts that proved extremely influential in shaping colonial thinking and policy: the "City on a Hill," or the idea that the righteousness and material success of the Puritan colony would serve as an example to others, and the concept of adivine covenant binding the community together through shared responsibility.
Winthrop was the son of the lord of the manor at Groton in Suffolk, England. He enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, when he was fourteen years old; while a student, he fell gravely ill and underwent a religious conversion, becoming identified with the Puritan group within the Church of England. Winthrop's essay entitled "Experiencia," written in 1607-13 and the only surviving record of this time of his life, deals with his religious experience and documents that he had made "a new Covenant with the Lorde." Winthrop soon left Trinity and in 1605 married Mary Forth. He studied law in London at the Inns of Court, and records identify him as a justice of the peace in Suffolk in 1617. Around this same period Winthrop assumed supervision of the manor from his father, and was also facing tragedy in his personal life: his wife had died in 1615, and Winthrop's second wife, Thomasine Clopton, died a year after they married, in 1617. Now married to his third wife, Margaret Tyndal, and finding it difficult to support his many children because
of a regional economic crisis, Winthrop received a government post as a common attorney in the Court of Wards and Liveries in London. It was also about this time that Winthrop officially joined the Puritans, a militant subgroup of the Church of England which was frequently in conflict with the high Anglicanism of King Charles I. Unwilling to continue to make the compromises needed to placate government and church authorities in England, some Puritans organized the New England Company in 1628, intending to relocate to America; they reorganized in 1629, became chartered as the Massachusetts Bay Company, and elected Winthrop governor. He served terms from 1629 to 1633, 1637 to 1640, 1642 to 1644, and from 1646 until his death in 1649. As governor, Winthrop was often summoned to mediate between warring parties, contend with conflicts relating to jurisdiction, settle conflicts with the Indians, and decide questions of economics. Along with other colonial leaders, Winthrop sought to apply Puritan philosophy to the practical affairs of the Bay Colony, advocating broad participation by members of the community, a mixture of democracy and aristocracy, the growth of churches, and experiments in wages and prices designed to keep citizens from preying upon each other. Anyone dissenting from their consensual orthodoxy was obliged to leave, for Winthrop and his magistrates were determined to shelter their model society from any civil or religious influence that might adversely affect it. Winthrop died in 1649, in the midst of his political career and still engaged in writing his journal.
Winthrop's first and, as many scholars have asserted, most significant legacy to New England was the sermon "A Modell of Christian Charitie," in which he explained to his fellow immigrants the magnitude of the task they were undertaking. They were chosen by God to perform a role and would be watched by all other people, Winthrop maintained; as in the biblical City upon a Hill, everyone would be interpreting their success or failure in America as a sign of God's pleasure or displeasure with them. By virtue of sailing to New England they had entered into a covenant with God involving each person in the community. If they adhered strictly to the divine will, they would be rewarded with prosperity, security, and success; and those evidences of God's favor would inspire England and other nations to emulate the New England way. If they settled for less than perfection in themselves and in those around them, they would suffer God's wrath. Like "A Modell of Christian Charitie," Winthrop's Journal was an effort to discern the divine pattern in the events of daily life in the colony and to justify the role New Englanders believed themselves called to play. Written as a diary and never revised, the Journal remained unpublished long after Winthrop's death, though colonial historians drew upon the work as a source of information. In 1790 Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut, copied the first two of the three Journal notebooks and submitted them to Noah Webster for printing. Critics agree that Winthrop's Journal provides the fullest eyewitness rendering of the first two decades of Massachusetts colonial history: Winthrop provides a rich record of events, explicates political and religious points of view held by the colonists, and presents anecdotes that illustrate the Puritans' notion of themselves as fulfilling a divine mission. He reported on all matters impersonally, usually only identifying himself as "the governour," and only occasionally stating his own opinions. Winthrop also wrote two other historical works, the only ones published during his lifetime. Antinomians and Familists condemned by the synod of elders in New-England: with the proceedings of the magistrates against them, and their apology for the same is a collection of materials related to the Anne Hutchinson controversy of the 1630s. Hutchinson and her followers dissented from the teachings of Puritan ministers who emphasized salvation through good works rather than through God's grace; following a trial in which Winthrop defended the right of the community to protect itself from dissenters, she was banished from the colony. Winthrop's A Declaration of Former Passages and Proceedings Betwixt the English and the Narrowgansets with Their Confederates, Wherein the Grounds of Justice of the Ensuing Warre are Opened and Cleared explores in pamphlet form the conflict between the colonists and the Rhode Island Indians and outlines Winthrop's fears concerning the future.
Winthrop was revered by his contemporaries and later New Englanders as an inspired spiritual leader and wise politician. Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New England (1702), extolled Winthrop's integrity and sa gacity, comparing him to the biblical Nehemiah. In the twentieth century, critics have explored various aspects of Winthrop's thought, for example his economic ideas, political philosophy (particularly his concept of the social covenant and the rights and responsibilities of individuals within it), and his complex role as both admirer and prosecutor in the trial of Anne Hutchinson. Some have criticized Winthrop as a narrow-minded and authoritarian leader who sought a homogenous society at the price of personal liberty. Winthrop's Journal continues to attract scholarly at tention, with commentators focusing on stylistic and structural elements, narrative tone and perspective, and the interplay between history and spiritual autobiography in the work. Lee Schweninger, summarizing Winthrop's overall contribution to American literature, has written, "He was able to preserve for future generations both the actual historical record of the building of Boston in New England and his vision of a city on a hill, not only as a model but as an emblem, a symbol of the potential of humanity."
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 117
Antinomians and Familists condemned by the synod of elders in New-England: with the proceedings of the magistrates against them, and their apology for the same (prose) 1644; also published as A Short Story of the rise, reign, and ruin of the Antinomians, Familist & libertines, 1644
A Declaration of Former Passages and Proceedings Betwixt the English and the Narrowgansets, with Their Confederates, Wherein the Grounds and Justice of the Ensuing Warre are Opened and Cleared (prose) 1645
A Journal of the Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement of Massachusetts and the Other New-England Colonies, from the Year 1630 to 1644 (journal) 1790; also published as The History of New England from 1630 to 1649, 1825-26, rev. ed. 1853
Winthrop Papers. 5 vols. (prose, journal, history, letters) 1929-47
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772
SOURCE: A sermon delivered in 1630, in Life and Letters of John Winthrop, Vol. II, second edition, by Robert C. Winthrop, Little, Brown, and Company, 1866, pp. 18-20.
[In the following excerpt from his famous sermon "A Modell of Christian Charity, " delivered on board the ship Arbella in 1630, Winthrop outlines the nature of the covenant forged between the colonists and God.]
Thus stands the case between God and us. We are entered into a Covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We have professed to enterprise these and those ends, upon these and those accounts. We have hereupon besought of Him favor and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath he ratified this Covenant and sealed our Commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it, but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us; be revenged of such a (sinful) people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a Covenant.
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other; make other's condition our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways. So that we shall see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when he shall make us a praise and a glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations, 'the Lord make it likely that of New England.' For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. Soe that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going.
I shall shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel (Deut. 30).
Beloved, there is now set before us life and good, Death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his Ordinance and his Laws, and the articles of our Covenant with him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship and serve other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it;
Therefore let us choose life that we, and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7495
SOURCE: "Nehemias Americanus: The Life of John Winthrop, Esq., Governour of the Massachuset Colony," in Magnolia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England, Vol. I, Silas Andrus and Son, 1855, pp. 118-31.
[Mather was a renowned American clergyman and scholar who was associated with the Salem witchcraft trials, but later repudiated them. His works include Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), Essays to Do Good (1710), and Ratio Disciplinae (1726). In the following excerpt from his best-known work, first published in 1702, Mather praises the wisdom, integrity, and sagacity Winthrop exhibited in his role as governor of "our American Jerusalem. "]
Let Greece boast of her patient Lycurgus, the lawgiver, by whom diligence, temperance, fortitude and wit were made the fashions of a therefore long-lasting and renowned commonwealth: let Rome tell of her devout Numa, the lawgiver, by whom the most famous commonwealth saw peace triumphing over extinguished war and cruel plunders; and murders giving place to the more mollifying exercises of his religion. Our New-England shall tell and boast of her Winthrop, a lawgiver as patient as Lycurgus, but not admitting any of his criminal disorders; as devout as Numa, but not liable to any of his heathenish madnesses; a governour in whom the excellencies of Christianity made a most improving addition unto the virtues, wherein even without those he would have made a parallel for the great men of Greece, or of Rome, which the pen of a Plutarch has eternized.
A stock of heroes by right should afford nothing but what is heroical; and nothing but an extream degeneracy would make any thing less to be expected from a stock of Winthrops. Mr. Adam Winthrop, the son of a worthy gentleman wearing the same name, was himself a worthy, a discreet, and a learned gentleman, particularly eminent for skill in the law, nor without remark for love to the gospel, under the reign of King Henry VIII., and brother to a memorable favourer of the reformed religion in the days of Queen Mary, into whose hands the famous martyr Philpot committed his papers, which afterwards made no inconsiderable part of our martyr-books. This Mr. Adam Winthrop had a son of the same name also, and of the same endowments and imployments with his father; and this third Adam Winthrop was the father of that renowned John Winthrop, who was the father of New-England, and the founder of a colony, which, upon many accounts, like him that founded it, may challenge the first place among the English glories of America. Our John Winthrop, thus born at the mansion-house of his ancestors, at Groton in Suffolk, on June 12, 1587, enjoyed afterwards an agreeable education. But though he would rather have devoted himself unto the study of Mr. John Calvin, than of Sir Edward Cook; nevertheless, the accomplishments of a lawyer were those wherewith Heaven made his chief opportunities to be serviceable.
Being made, at the unusually early age of eighteen, a justice of peace, his virtues began to fall under a more general observation; and he not only so bound himself to the behaviour of a Christian, as to become exemplary for a conformity to the laws of Christianity in his own conversation, but also discovered a more than ordinary measure of those qualities which adorn an officer of humane society. His justice was impartial, and used the ballance to weigh not the cash, but the case of those who were before him: prosopolatria [respect of persons] he reckoned as bad as idolatria: his wisdom did exquisitely temper things according to the art of governing, which is a business of more contrivance than the seven arts of the schools; oyer still went before terminer in all his administrations: his courage made him dare to do right, and fitted him to stand among the lions that have sometimes been the supporters of the throne: all which virtues he rendred the more illustrious, by emblazoning them with the constant liberality and hospitality of a gentleman. This made him the terror of the wicked, and the delight sober, the envy of the many, but the hope those who had any hopeful design in hand for the common good of the nation and the interests of religion.
Accordingly when the noble design of carrying a colony of chosen people into an American wilderness, was by some eminent persons undertaken, this eminent person was, by the consent of all, chosen for the Moses, who must be the leader of so great an undertaking: and indeed nothing but a Mosaic spirit could have carried him through the temptations, to which either his farewel to his own land, or his travel in a strange land, must needs expose a gentleman of his education. Wherefore having sold a fair estate of six or seven hundred a year, he transported himself with the effects of it into New-England in the year 1630, where he spent it upon the service of a famous plantation, founded and formed for the seat of the most reformed Christianity: and continued there, conflicting with temptations of all sorts, as many years as the nodes of the moon take to dispatch a revolution. Those persons were never concerned in a new plantation, who know not that the unavoidable difficulties of such a thing will call for all the prudence and patience of a mortal man to encounter therewithal; and they must be very insensible of the influence, which the just wrath of Heaven has permitted the devils to have upon this world, if they do not think that the difficulties of a new plantation, devoted unto the evangelical worship of our Lord Jesus Christ, must be yet more than ordinary. How prudently, how patiently, and with how much resignation to our Lord Jesus Christ, our brave Winthrop waded through these difficulties, let posterity consider with admiration. And know, that as the picture of this their governour was, after his death, hung up with honour in the state-house of his country, so the wisdom, courage, and holy zeal of his life, were an example well-worthy to be copied by all that shall succeed him in government.
Were he now to be considered only as a Christian, we might therein propose him as greatly imitable. He was a very religious man; and as he strictly kept his heart, so he kept his house, under the laws of piety; there he was every day constant in holy duties, both morning and evening, and on the Lord's days, and lectures; though he wrote not after the preacher, yet such was his attention, and such his retention in hearing, that he repeated unto his family the sermons which he had heard in the congregation. But it is chiefly as a governour that he is now to be considered. Being the governour over the considerablest part of New-England, he maintained the figure and honour of his place with the spirit of a true gentleman; but yet with such obliging condescention to the circumstances of the colony, that when a certain troublesome and malicious calumniator, well known in those times, printed his libellous nick-names upon the chief persons here, the worst nick-name he could find for the governour, was John Temper-well; and when the calumnies of that ill man caused the Arch-bishop to summon one Mr. Cleaves before the King, in hopes to get some accusation from him against the country, Mr. Cleaves gave such an account of the governour's laudable carriage in all respects, and the serious devotion wherewith prayers were both publickly and privately made for his Majesty, that the King expressed himself most highly pleased therewithal, only sorry that so worthy a person should be no better accommodated than with the hardships of America. He was, indeed, a governour, who had most exactly studied that book which, pretending to teach politicks, did only contain three leaves, and but one word in each of those leaves, which word was, MODERATION. Hence, though he were a zealous enemy to all vice, yet his practice was according to his judgment thus expressed: "In the infancy of plantations, justice should be administered with more lenity than in a settled state; because people are more apt then to transgress; partly out of ignorance of new laws and orders, partly out of oppression of business, and other straits. [LENTO GRADU] (by slow degrees) was the old rule; and if the strings of a new instrument be wound up unto their heighth, they will quickly crack." But when some leading and learned men took offence at his conduct in this matter, and upon a conference gave it in as their opinion, "That a stricter discipline was to be used in the beginning of a plantation, than after its being with more age established and confirmed," the governour being readier to see his own errors than other men's, professed his purpose to endeavour their satisfaction with less of lenity in his administrations. At that conference there were drawn up several other articles to be observed between the governour and the rest of the magistrates, which were of this import: "That the magistrates, as far as might be, should aforehand ripen their consultations, to produce that unanimity in their publick votes, which might make them liker to the voice of God; that if differences fell out among them in their publick meetings, they should speak only to the case, without any reflection, with all due modesty, and but by way of question; or desire the deferring of the cause to further time; and after sentence to imitate privately no dislike; that they should be more familiar, friendly and open unto each other, and more frequent in their visitations, and not any way expose each other's infirmities, but seek the honour of each other, and all the Court; that one magistrate shall not cross the proceedings of another, without first advising with him; and that they should in all their appearances abroad, be so circumstanced as to prevent all contempt of authority; and that they should support and strengthen all under officers. All of which articles were observed by no man more than by the governour himself.
But whilst he thus did, as our New-English Nehemiah, the part of a ruler in managing the public affairs of our American Jerusalem, when there were Tobijahs and Sanballats enough to vex him, and give him the experiment of Luther's observation, Omnis qui regit est tanquam signum, in quod omnia jacula, Satan et Mundus dirigunt [A man in authority is a target, at which Satan and the world launch all their darts.]; he made himself still an exacter parallel unto that governour of Israel, by doing the part of a neighbour among the distressed people of the new plantation. To teach them the frugality necessary for those times, he abridged himself of a thousand comfortable things, which he had allowed himself elsewhere: his habit was not that soft raiment, which would have been disagreeable to a wilderness; his table was not covered with the superfluities that would have invited unto sensualities: water was commonly his own drink, though he gave wine to others. But at the same time his liberality unto the needy was even beyond measure generous; and therein he was continually causing "the blessing of him that was ready to perish to come upon him, and the heart of the widow and the orphan to sing for joy:" but none more than those of deceased Ministers, whom he always treated with a very singular compassion; among the instances whereof we still enjoy with us the worthy and now aged son of that reverend Higginson, whose death left his family in a wide world soon after his arrival here, publickly acknowledging the charitable Winthrop for his foster-father. It was oftentimes no small trial unto his faith, to think how a table for the people should be furnished when they first came into the wilderness! and for very many of the people his own good works were needful, and accordingly employed for the answering of his faith. Indeed, for a while the governour was the Joseph, unto whom the whole body of the people repaired when their corn failed them; and he continued relieving of them with his open-handed bounties, as long as he had any stock to do it with; and a lively faith to see the return of the "bread after many days," and not starve in the days that were to pass till that return should be seen, carried him chearfully through those expences.
Once it was observable that, on February 5, 1630, when he was distributing the last handful of the meal in the barrel unto a poor man distressed by the "wolf at the door," at that instant they spied a ship arrived at the harbour's mouth, laden with provisions for them all. Yea, the governour sometimes made his own private purse to be the publick: not by sucking into it, but by squeezing out of it; for when the publick treasure had nothing in it, he did himself defray the charges of the publick. And having learned that lesson of our Lord, "that it is better to give than to receive," he did, at the general court, when he was a third time chosen governour, make a speech unto this purpose: "That he had received gratuities from divers towns, which he accepted with much comfort and content; and he had likewise received civilities from particular persons, which he could not refuse without incivility in himself: nevertheless, he took them with a trembling heart, in regard of God's word, and the conscience of his own infirmities; and therefore he desired them that they would not hereafter take it ill if he refused such presents for the time to come." 'Twas his custom also to send some of his family upon errands unto the houses of the poor, about their meal time, on purpose to spy whether they wanted; and if it were found that they wanted, he would make that the opportunity of sending supplies unto them. And there was one passage of his charity that was perhaps a little unusual: in an hard and long winter, when wood was very scarce at Boston, a man gave him a private information that a needy person in the neighbourhood stole wood sometimes from his pile; whereupon the governour in a seeming anger did reply, "Does he so? I'll take a course with him; go, call that man to me; I'll warrant you I'll cure him of stealing." When the man came, the governour considering that if he had stolen, it was more out of necessity than disposition, said unto him, "Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply your self at my wood-pile till this cold season be over." And he then merrily asked his friends, "Whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood?"
One would have imagined that so good a man could have had no enemies, if we had not had a daily and woful experience to convince us that goodness it self will make enemies…. The governour had by his unspotted integrity procured himself a great reputation among the people; and then the crime of popularity was laid unto his charge by such, who were willing to deliver him from the danger of having all men speak well of him. Yea, there were persons eminent both for figure and for number, unto whom it was almost essential to dislike every thing that came from him; and yet he always maintained an amicable correspondence with them; as believing that they acted according to their judgment and conscience, or that their eyes were held by some temptation in the worst of all their oppositions. Indeed, his right works were so many, that they exposed him unto the envy of his neighbours; and of such power was that envy, that sometimes he could not stand before it; but it was by not standing that he most effectually withstood it all. Great attempts were sometimes made among the freemen to get him left out from his place in the government upon little pretences, lest by the too frequent choice of one man, the government should cease to be by choice; and with a particular aim at him, sermons were preached at the anniversary Court of election, to disswade the freemen from chusing one man twice together. This was the reward of his extraordinary serviceableness! But when these attempts did succeed, as they sometimes did, his profound humility appeared in that equality of mind, wherewith he applied himself chearfully to serve the country in whatever station their votes had alloted for him. And one year when the votes came to be numbered, there were found six less for Mr. Winthrop than for another gentleman who then stood in competition: but several other persons regularly tendring their votes before the election was published, were, upon a very frivolous objection, refused by some of the magistrates that were afraid lest the election should at last fall upon Mr. Winthrop: which, though it was well perceived, yet such was the self-denial of this patriot, that he would not permit any notice to be taken of the injury. But these trials were nothing in comparison of those harsher and harder treats, which he sometimes had from the frowardness of not a few in the days of their paroxisms; and from the faction of some against him, not much unlike that of the Piazzi in Florence against the family of the Medices: all of which he at last conquered by conforming to the famous Judge's motto, Prudens qui Patiens [He is prudent who is patient.]. The oracles of God have said, "Envy is rottenness to the bones"; and Gulielmus Parisiensis applies it unto rulers, who are as it were the bones of the societies which they belong unto: "Envy," says he, "is often found among them, and it is rottenness unto them." Our Winthrop encountred this envy from others, but conquered it, by being free from it himself.
Were it not for the sake of introducing the exemplary skill of this wise man, at giving soft answers, one would not chuse to relate those instances of wrath which he had sometimes to encounter with; but he was for his gentleness, his forbearance, and longanimity, a pattern so worthy to be written after, that something must here be written of it. He seemed indeed never to speak any other language than that of Theodosius: "If any man speak evil of the governour, if it be through lightness, 'tis to be contemned; if it be through madness, 'tis to be pitied; if it be through injury, 'tis to be remitted." Behold, reader, the "meekness of wisdom" notably exemplified! There was a time when he received a very sharp letter from a gentleman who was a member of the Court, but he delivered back the letter unto the messengers that brought it, with such a Christian speech as this: "I am not willing to keep such a matter of provocation by me! Afterwards the same gentleman was compelled by the scarcity of provisions to send unto him that he would sell him some of his cattle; whereupon the governour prayed him to accept what he had sent for as a token of his good will; but the gentleman returned him this answer: "Sir, your overcoming of yourself hath overcome me:" and afterwards gave demonstration of it. The French have a saying, That Un honesté homme, est un homme mesle!—a good man is a mixt man; and there hardly ever was a more sensible mixture of those two things, resolution and condescention, than in this good man. There was a time when the court of election being, for fear of tumult, held at Cambridge, May 17, 1637, the sectarian part of the country, who had the year before gotten a governour more unto their mind, had a project now to have confounded the election, by demanding that the court would consider a petition then tendered before their proceeding thereunto. Mr. Winthrop saw that this was only a trick to throw all into confusion, by putting off the choice of the governour and assistents until the day should be over; and therefore he did, with a strenuous resolution, procure a disappointment unto that mischievous and ruinous contrivance. Nevertheless, Mr. Winthrop himself being by the voice of the freemen in this exigence chosen the governour, and all of the other party left out, that ill-affected party discovered the dirt and mire, which remained with them, after the storm was over; particularly the Serjeants, whose office twas to attend the governour, laid down their halberts; but such was the condescention of this governour, as to take no present notice of this anger and contempt, but only order some of his own servants to take the halberts; and when the country manifested their deep resentments of the affront thus offered him, he prayed them to overlook it. But it was not long before a compensation was made for these things by the doubled respects which were from all parts paid unto him. Again, there was a time when the suppression of an antinomian and familistical faction, which extreamly threatned the ruin of the country, was generally thought much owing unto this renowned man; and therefore when the friends of that faction could not wreak their displeasure on him with any politick vexations, they set themselves to do it by ecclesiastical ones. Accordingly when a sentence of banishment was passed on the ringleaders of those disturbances, who
—Maria et Terras, Cœlumque profundum,
Quippe ferant Rapidi, secum vertantque per Auras;
[Rack sea and land and sky with mingled wrath,
In the wild tumult of their stormy path.]
many at the church of Boston, who were then that way too much inclined, most earnestly solicited the elders of that church, whereof the governour was a member, to call him forth as an offender, for passing of that sentence. The elders were unwilling to do any such thing; but the governour understanding the ferment among the people took that occasion to make a speech in the congregation to this effect:
"BRETHREN: Understanding that some of you have desired that I should answer for an offence lately taken among you; had I been called upon so to do, I would, first, have advised with the ministers of the country, whether the church had power to call in question the civil court; and I would, secondly, have advised with the rest of the court, whether I might discover their counsels unto the church. But though I know that the reverend elders of this church, and some others, do very well apprehend that the church cannot enquire into the proceedings of the court; yet, for the satisfaction of the weaker, who do not apprehend it, I will declare my mind concerning it. If the church have any such power, they have it from the Lord Jesus Christ; but the Lord Jesus Christ hath disclaimed it, not only by practice, but also by precept, which we have in his gospel, Matt. xx. 25, 26. It is true, indeed, that magistrates, as they are church-members, are accountable unto the church for their failings; but that is when they are out of their calling. When Uzziah would go offer incense in the temple, the officers of the church called him to an account, and withstood him; but when Asa put the prophet in prison, the officers of the church did not call him to an account for that. If the magistrate shall in a private way wrong any man, the church may call him to an account for it; but if he be in pursuance of a course of justice, though the thing that he does be unjust, yet he is not accountable for it before the church. As for my self, I did nothing in the causes of any of the brethren but by the advice of the elders of the church. Moreover, in the oath which I have taken there is this clause: 'In all cases wherein you are to give your vote, you shall do as in your judgment and conscience you shall see to be just, and for the publick good.' And I am satisfied, it is most for the glory of God, and the publick good, that there has been such a sentence passed; yea, those brethren are so divided from the rest of the country in their opinions and practices, that it cannot stand with the publick peace for them to continue with us; Abraham saw that Hagar and Ishmael must be sent away."
By such a speech he marvellously convinced, satisfied and mollified the uneasie brethren of the church; Sic cunctus Pelagi cecidit Fragor—[To silence sunk the thunder of the wave]. And after a little patient waiting, the differences all so wore away, that the church, meerly as a token of respect unto the governour when he had newly met with some losses in his estate, sent him a present of several hundreds of pounds. Once more there was a time when some active spirits among the deputies of the colony, by their endeavours not only to make themselves a Court of Judicature, but also to take away the negative by which the magistrates might check their votes, had like by over-driving to have run the whole government into something too democratical. And if there were a town in Spain undermined by coneys, another town in Thrace destroyed by moles, a third in Greece ranversed by frogs, a fourth in Germany subverted by rats; I must on this occasion add, that there was a country in America like to be confounded by a swine. A certain stray sow being found, was claimed by two several persons with a claim so equally maintained on both sides, that after six or seven years' hunting the business from one court unto another, it was brought at last into the General Court, where the final determination was, "that it was impossible to proceed unto any judgment in the case." However, in the debate of this matter, the negative of the upper-house upon the lower in that Court was brought upon the stage; and agitated with so hot a zeal, that a little more, and all had been in the fire. In these agitations, the governour was informed that an offence had been taken by some eminent persons at certain passages in a discourse by him written thereabout; whereupon, with his usual condescendency, when he next came into the General Court, he made a speech of this import:
I understand that some have taken offence at something that I have lately written; which offence I desire to remove now, and begin this year in a reconciled state with you all. As for the matter of my writing, I had the concurrence of my brethren; it is a point of judgment which is not at my own disposing. I have examined it over and over again by such light as God has given me, from the rules of religion, reason and custom; and I see no cause to retract any thing of it: wherefore I must enjoy my liberty in that, as you do your selves. But for the manner, this, and all that was blame-worthy in it, was wholly my own; and whatsoever I might alledge for my own justification therein before men, I wave it, as now setting my self before another Judgment seat. However, what I wrote was upon great provocation, and to vindicate my self and others from great aspersion; yet that was no sufficient warrant for me to allow any distemper of spirit in my self; and I doubt I have been too prodigal of my brethren's reputation; I might have maintained my cause without casting any blemish upon others, when I made that my conclusion, 'And now let religion and sound reason give judgment in the case;' it looked as if I arrogated too much unto my self, and too little to others. And when I made that profession, 'That I would maintain what I wrote before all the world,' though such words might modestly be spoken, yet I perceive an unbeseeming pride of my own heart breathing in them. For these failings, I ask pardon of God and man.
Sic ait, et dicto citius Tumida Æquora placat,
Collectasque fugat Nubes, Solemque reducit.
[He speaks—but ere the word is said, Each mounting billow droops its head, And brightening clouds one moment stay To pioneer returning day.]
This acknowledging disposition in the governour made them all acknowledge, that he was truly "a man of an excellent spirit." In fine, the victories of an Alexander, an Hannibal, or a Cæsar over other men, were not so glorious as the victories of this great man over himself, which also at last proved victories over other men.
But the stormiest of all the trials that ever befel this gentleman, was in the year 1645, when he was, in title, no more than Deputy-governour of the colony. If the famous Cato were forty-four times called into judgment, but as often acquitted; let it not be wondred, and if our famous Winthrop were one time so. There hapning certain seditious and mutinous practices in the town of Hingham, the Deputy-governour, as legally as prudently, interposed his authority for the checking of them: whereupon there followed such an enchantment upon the minds of the deputies in the General Court, that upon a scandalous petition of the delinquents unto them, wherein a pretended invasion made upon the liberties of the people was complained of, the Deputy-governour was most irregularly called forth unto an ignominious hearing before them in a vast assembly; whereto with a sagacious humilitude he consented, although he shewed them how he might have refused it. The result of that hearing was, that notwithstanding the touchy jealousie of the people about their liberties lay at the bottom of all this prosecution, yet Mr. Winthrop was publickly acquitted, and the offenders were severally fined and censured. But Mr. Winthrop then resuming the place of Deputy-governour on the bench, saw cause to speak unto the root of the matter after this manner:
"I shall now speak any thing about the past proceedings of this Court, or the persons therein concerned. Only I bless God that I see an issue of this troublesome affair. I am well satisfied that I was publickly accused, and that I am now publickly acquitted. But though I am justified before men, yet it may be the Lord hath seen so much amiss in my administrations, as calls me to be humbled; and indeed for me to have been thus charged by men, is it self a matter of humiliation, whereof I desire to make a right use before the Lord. If Miriam's father spit in her face, she is to be ashamed. But give me leave, before you go, to say something that may rectifie the opinions of many people, from whence the distempers have risen that have lately prevailed upon the body of this people. The questions that have troubled the country have been about the authority of the magistracy, and the liberty of the people. It is you who have called us unto this office; but being thus called, we have our authority from God; it is the ordinance of God, and it hath the image of God stamped upon it; and the contempt of it has been vindicated by God with terrible examples of his vengeance. I entreat you to consider, that when you chuse magistrates, you take them from among your selves, 'men subject unto like passions with your selves.' If you see our infirmities, reflect on your own, and you will not be so severe censurers of ours. We count him a good servant who breaks not his covenant: the covenant between us and you, is the oath you have taken of us, which is to this purpose, 'that we shall govern you, and judge your causes, according to God's laws, and our own, according to our best skill.' As for our skill, you must run the hazard of it; and if there be an error, not in the will, but only in skill, it becomes you to bear it. Nor would I have you to mistake in the point of your own liberty. There is a liberty of corrupt nature, which is affected both by men and beasts, to do what they list; and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this liberty, Sumus Omnes Deteriores [we are all the worse for it]; 'tis the grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it. But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good; for this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives; and whatsoever crosses it is not authority, but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained in a way of subjection to authority; and the authority set over you will in all administrations for your good be quietly submitted unto, by all but such as have a disposition to shake off the yoke, and lose their true liberty, by their murmuring at the honour and power of authority.
The spell that was upon the eyes of the people being thus dissolved, their distorted and enraged notions of things all vanished; and the people would not afterwards entrust the helm of the weather-beaten bark in any other hands but Mr. Winthrop's until he died.
Indeed, such was the mixture of distant qualities in him, as to make a most admirable temper; and his having a certain greatness of soul, which rendered him grave, generous, courageous, resolved, well-applied, and every way a gentleman in his demeanour, did not hinder him from taking sometimes the old Roman's way to avoid confusions, namely, Cedendo [by yielding the point]; or from discouraging some things which are agreeable enough to most that wear the name of gentlemen. Hereof I will give no instances, but only oppose two passages of his life.
In the year 1632, the governour, with his pastor, Mr. Wilson, and some other gentlemen, to settle a good understanding between the two colonies, travelled as far as Plymouth, more than forty miles, through an howling wilderness, no better accommodated in those early days than the princes that in Solomon's time saw "servants on horseback," or than genus and species in the old epigram, "going on foot." The difficulty of the walk, was abundantly compensated by the honourable, first reception, and then dismission, which they found from the rulers of Plymouth; and by the good correspondence thus established between the new colonies, who were like the floating bottels wearing this motto: Si Collidimur Frangimur, [If we come into collision, we break]. But there were at this time in Plymouth two ministers, leavened so far with the humours of the rigid separation, that they insisted vehemently upon the unlawfulness of calling any unregenerate man by the name of "good-man such an one," until by their indiscreet urging of this whimsey, the place began to be disquieted. The wiser people being troubled at these trifles, they took the opportunity of Governour Winthrop's being there, to have the thing publickly propounded in the congregation; who in answer thereunto, distinguished between a theological and a moral goodness; adding, that when Juries were first used in England, it was usual for the crier, after the names of persons fit for that service were called over, to bid them all, "Attend, good men and true;" whence it grew to be a civil custom in the English nation, for neighbours living by one another, to call one another "good man such an one;" and it was pity now to make a stir about a civil custom, so innocently introduced. And that speech of Mr. Winthrop's put a lasting stop to the little, idle, whimsical conceits, then beginning to grow obstreperous. Nevertheless, there was one civil custom used in (and in few but) the English nation, which this gentleman did endeavour to abolish in this country; and that was, the usage of drinking to one another. For although by drinking to one another, no more is meant than an act of courtesie, when one going to drink, does invite another to do so too, for the same ends with himself; nevertheless the governour (not altogether unlike to Cleomenes, of whom 'tis reported by Plutarch, … Nolenti poculum nunquam prœbuit,) [Never urged the reluctant to drink] considered the impertinency and insignificancy of this usage, as to any of those ends that are usually pretended for it; and that indeed it ordinarily served for no ends at all, but only to provoke persons unto unseasonable and perhaps unreasonable drinking, and at last produce that abominable health-drinking, which the fathers of old so severely rebuked in the Pagans, and which the Papists themselves do condemn, when their casuists pronounce it, Peccatum mortale, provocare ad Æquales Calices, et Nefas Respondere [It is a deadly sin to challenge another to a drinking match, and it is impious to accept such challenges]. Wherefore in his own most hospitable house he left it off; not out of any silly or stingy fancy, but meerly that by his example a greater temperance, with liberty of drinking, might be recommended, and sundry inconveniences in drinking avoided; and his example accordingly began to be much followed by the sober people in this country, as it now also begins among persons of the highest rank in the English nation it self; until an order of court came to be made against that ceremony in drinking, and then, the old wont violently returned, with a Nitimur in Vetitum [A bias towards the forbidden indulgence].
Many were the afflictions of this righteous man! He lost much of his estate in a ship, and in an house, quickly after his coming to New-England, besides the prodigious expence of it in the difficulties of his first coming hither. Afterwards his assiduous application unto the publick affairs, (wherein Ipse se non habuit, postquam Respublica eum Gubernatorem habere cœpit) [He no longer belonged to himself, after the Republic had once made him her Chief Magistrate] made him so much to neglect his own private interests, that an unjust steward ran him £2,500 in debt before he was aware; for the payment whereof he was forced, many years before his decease, to sell the most of what he had left unto him in the country. Albeit, by the observable blessings of God upon the posterity of this liberal man, his children all of them came to fair estates, and lived in good fashion and credit. Moreover, he successively buried three wives; the first of which was the daughter and heiress of Mr. Forth, of Much-Stambridge in Essex, by whom he had "wisdom with an inheritance;" and an excellent son. The second was the daughter of Mr. William Clopton, of London, who died with her child, within a very little while. The third was the daughter of the truly worshipful Sir John Tyndal, who made it her whole care to please, first God, and then her husband; and by whom he had four sons, which survived and honoured their father. And unto all these, the addition of the distempers, ever now and then raised in the country, procured unto him a very singular share of trouble; yea, so hard was the measure which he found even among pious men, in the temptations of a wilderness, that when the thunder and lightning had smitten a wind-mill whereof he was owner, some had such things in their heads as publickly to reproach this charitablest of men as if the voice of the Almighty had rebuked, I know not what oppression, which they judged him guilty of; which things I would not have mentioned, but that the instances may fortifie the expectations of my best readers for such afflictions.
He that had been for his attainments, as they said of the blessed Macarius … (an old man, while a young one,) and that had in his young days met with many of those ill days, whereof he could say, he had "little pleasure in them;" now found old age in its infirmities advancing earlier upon him, than it came upon his much longer-lived progenitors. While he was yet seven years off of that which we call "the grand climacterical," he felt the approaches of his dissolution; and finding he could say,
Non Habitus, non ipse Color, non Gressus Euntis,
Non Species Eadem, quœ fuit ante, manet;
[I am not what I was in form or face,
In healthful colour or in vigorous pace.]
He then wrote this account of himself: "Age now comes upon me, and infirmities therewithal, which makes me apprehend, that the time of my departure out of this world is not far off. However, our times are all in the Lord's hand, so as we need not trouble our thoughts how long or short they may be, but how we may be found faithful when we are called for." But at last when that year came, he took a cold which turned into a feaver, whereof he lay sick about a month, and in that sickness, as it hath been observed, that there was allowed unto the serpent the "bruising of the hell;" and accordingly at the heel or the close of our lives the old serpent will be nibbling more than ever in our lives before; and when the devil sees that we shall shortly be, "where the wicked cease from troubling," that wicked one will trouble us more than ever; so this eminent saint now underwent sharp conflicts with the tempter, whose wrath grew great, as the time to exert it grew short; and he was buffeted with the disconsolate thoughts of black and sore desertions, wherein he could use that sad representation of his own condition:
Nuper eram Judex; Jam Judicor; Ante Tribunal
Subsistens paveo; Judicor ipsc modo.
[I once judged others, but now trembling stand
Before a dread tribunal, to be judged.]
But it was not long before those clouds were dispelled, and he enjoyed in his holy soul the great consolations of God! While he thus lay ripening for heaven, he did out of obedience unto the ordinance of our Lord, send for the elders of the church to pray with him; yea, they and the whole church fasted as well as prayed for him; and in that fast the venerable Cotton preached on Psal.xxxy. 13, 14: "When they were sick, I humbled my self with fasting; I behaved my self as though he had been my friend or brother; I bowed down heavily, as one that mourned for his mother:" from whence I find him raising that observation, "The sickness of one that is to us as a friend, a brother, a mother, is a just occasion of deep humbling our souls with fasting and prayer;" and making this application:
Upon this occasion we are now to attend this duty for a governour, who has been to us as a friend in his counsel for all things, and help for our bodies by physick, for our estates by law, and of whom there was no fear of his becoming an enemy, like the friends of David: a governour who has been unto us as a brother; not usurping authority over the church; often speaking his advice, and often contradicted, even by young men, and some of low degree; yet not replying, but offering satisfaction also when any supposed offences have arisen; a governour who has been unto us as a mother, parent-like distributing his goods to brethren and neighbours at his first coming; and gently bearing our infirmities without taking notice of them.
Such a governour, after he had been more than ten several times by the people chosen their governour, was New-England now to lose; who having, like Jacob, first left his council and blessing with his children gathered about his bed-side; and, like David, "served his generation by the will of God," he "gave up the ghost," and fell asleep on March 26, 1649. Having, like the dying Emperour Valentinian, this above all his other victories for his triumphs, His overcoming of himself.
The words of Josephus about Nehemiah, the governour of Israel, we will now use upon this governour of New-England, as his
… vip fuit indole bonus, ac justus:
et popularium glorle amantissimus:
quibus eternum reliquit monumentum,
[He was by nature a man, at once benevolent and just: most zealous for the honour of his countrymen; and to them he left an imperishable monument—the walls of Jerusalem.]
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4193
SOURCE: "Economic Ideas of John Winthrop," in The New England Quarterly, Vol. III, April, 1930, pp. 235-50.
[In the following essay, Johnson provides a detailed examination of Winthrop's ideas regarding wealth. He notes that Winthrop's ideas, though not original, are significant because they accurately reflect Puritan ideology.]
How important a role a philosophy plays in men's actions and lives can actually never be determined. A philosophy is never a prime mover, but often an influence so omnipresent and persistent that it becomes worth while to investigate the thoughts as well as the deeds of great men. For this reason, it seems worth while to examine the economic thoughts of John Winthrop. He held definite views about wealth, production, value, communism, colonization, and kindred subjects. He was well equipped in theory before he set out on one of the greatest economic missions of modern times.
There is indeed little that is original in Winthrop's economic thought. But originality is a gift which the gods give reluctantly; and to be great is not necessarily to be original. Winthrop reflected the current beliefs of his age reasonably well. He was not a political economist, but a political and religious leader; and as such, we would not expect him to have more than a reasonable acquaintance with economic speculation. As a devout Christian, economics to him was concerned with what should exist, and with proper relations between citizens of a Christian commonwealth. This is as much as to say Winthrop's ideas were mediaeval, transmitted to him chiefly through English ecclesiastical sources.
Like his mediaeval predecessors, Winthrop accepted the idea of a blissful state of primitive communism which was presumed to have existed when men (in a state of innocency) had all in common. "The first right to the earth," wrote Winthrop, "was naturall when men held the earth in common every man soweing, and feeding where he pleased." But the fall of man brought an end to this ideal communism (the period analogous to the golden age of the ancient Greeks), and man in his corruption acquired an insatiable acquisitive propensity. "Adam in his first estate," said Winthrop, "was a perfect modell of mankinde," and love was the sole principle of human relations. "But Adam rente himselfe from his Creator" and, as a consequence, "rent all his posterity allsoe one from another." As a result of this moral degradation, "every man is borne with this principle in him to love and seeke himselfe onely, and thus a man continueth till Christ comes and takes possession of the soule and infuseth another principle, love to God and our brother."
Possessed with an economic motive, man seeks wealth. What should be the attitude of the Christian toward this search? That intemperance in the pursuit of riches injures public morals, was clear to Winthrop. It may have been more than a political consideration which led him to castigate Thomas Dudley for building an unnecessarily elaborate house for himself and thereby setting a bad example for the community. For the pursuit of wealth for ostentation's sake was not the mediaeval view which Winthrop had inherited. Wealth was conceived to be a manifestation of God's bounty and God's benevolence, entrusted to men who must husband it as stewards. The Gospel law, according to Winthrop, not only sanctions, but expects men to accumulate wealth. The reader must not be misled. The accumulation of wealth was not idealized as an end. It was lawful and necessary to lay up riches, but not indefinitely, or for their own sake. Nay, the Christian must "lay upp as Joseph did to have ready uppon such occasions, as the Lord, (whose stewards wee are of them) shall call for them from us." Wealth, then, was a gift from a benevolent God, the acquisition of which was necessary for the individual and for the state. The desire for wealth was the result of man's fall from grace and his relinquishment of primitive communism. But even corruptible men must be God's stewards and therefore husband wealth for the glory of God.
Although God's bounty was the first cause of wealth, it was not the sole cause. Man himself was not passive; wealth was the result of labor. This theory had found frequent expression in the mediaeval philosophy, and Winthrop tersely and accurately states the ecclesiastical theory when he says that "whatsoever wee stand in need of is treasured in the earth, by the Creator and is to be fetched thence by the sweat of our Browes." Labor, therefore, was a second, but an indispensable, factor of production made mandatory under the Gospel, and was equivalent to appropriation of a divine bounty. Idleness could not be countenanced in the Christian Commonwealth, because not only would it impair mankind morally, but arrest the very production of necessary wealth.
The product of labor, Winthrop understood, varied as between various countries, and was partly the result of the density of population. In England, for example, where the land "growes weary of her Inhabitants," Winthrop believed that the "labor and cost to recover or keep somtymes a Acre or two of land" would be as great as that which in America would "procure them many hundred as good or better." Moreover, differential returns would appear between different occupations within the same country, and as a historian Winthrop recorded that the profitableness of agriculture led to a scarcity of wage earners and an increase of those who chose to live "by planting and other employments of their own."
It is indeed America's good fortune that Winthrop forsook his philosophical writings and became an historian. But for those who are interested in Winthrop himself, it is most unfortunate, because as a writer of history he became primarily a chronicler. Thus his readers lose sight of the patient philosopher who sought the aid of theology and natural law as a guide to conduct. In consequence, one must infer much of what Winthrop thought about many economic problems. Take, for example, the theory of value. If Winthrop were thoroughly mediaeval he would have accepted the doctrine of just price. Whether he did or not, we do not know. He records facts in his history which prove the prevalence of the doctrine in Massachusetts Bay. But his conversion was too complete: the philosopher bows to the historian. Even so, we should be grateful, for it is Winthrop's history which gives us the charming account of John Cotton and of his whole-hearted acceptance of the mediaeval theory of just price.
Robert Keayne, a prominent merchant of Boston, was haled before the Great and General Court charged with notoriously oppressing the buyers of his merchandise. The House of Deputies found him guilty and set his fine at £200 (a huge sum for colonial days), but the magistrates were disposed to be more lenient. They urged that there was no law which limited profits; that it was common practice in other countries to buy cheap and sell dear; that Keayne was not the only offender; that the law of God provided for no punishment except double restitution; and, lastly, that perfectly equitable prices could not be determined. Encouraged by the doubt thrown upon the existence of a just price by these arguments educed in his behalf, Keayne sought to make excuses for his conduct when he was summoned before the church of Boston and the austere John Cotton. He argued that the cause of his oppressive trading was, first, ignorance of the true price of some wares; and, secondly, a reliance upon false principles of trade, such as, "if a man lost in one commoditie, he might help himself in the price of another."
There was no hesitation on Cotton's part in a situation which the Puritan law-giver could not disregard: oppression of the public by a merchant; doubts as to the existence of such a thing as just price; and, lastly, admission by the defendant and sinner that he had been misled by "false principle." Lest others should fall into similar iniquity, the learned Cotton set forth the ecclesiastical position concerning value and price "in his public exercise the next lecture day." Following the method of Thomas Aquinas, he first enumerated the reason which induced men to sell goods at oppressive prices. Then over against these false principles he set his art of economics, the rules for trading consistent with the Christian life.
Against the first false principle, "that a man might sell as dear as he can, and buy as cheap as he can," he set the Christian's first "rule for trading," in which the mediaeval theory of just price was epitomized. "A man may not sell above the current price, i.e., such a price as is usual in the time and place, and as another (who knows the worth of the commodity) would give for it, if he had occasion to use it; as that is called current money, which every man will take." Here is the familiar mediaeval doctrine that a just price is the amount which an intelligent, uncoerced buyer, thoroughly conversant with the value of a certain commodity, would give for it. The second false principle, "if a man lose by casualty of sea, etc. in some of his commodities, he may raise the price of the rest," Cotton found to be incompatible with Christian conduct and irreconcilable with the Christian idea of providence. "Where a man loseth by casualty of sea," declared Boston's great divine, "it is a loss cast upon himself by providence." Was it not plain that if a man could "ease himself of it by casting it upon another" he could thereby thwart God's intention and arrogantly "seem to provide against all providences?" Only in one case could prices be raised; only when there was a scarcity of the commodity in question, for then it was "the hand of God upon the commodity, and not the person." But might not one mildly ask just how to discover when the hand of God was raised against the person and when against the commodity? A shipwreck, for example, must evidently be the hand of God raised against a particular merchant and could not justify an increase in his retail mark-up for other goods. But a drought or a hail storm would presumably be the hand of God upon wheat or barley and justified an advance. How happy is he who knows the cause of things!
But what if the unwary merchant bought too dear? Could he not recoup from his customers? Cotton's answer was terse: "A man may not ask any more for his commodity than his selling price, as Ephron to Abraham, the land is worth thus much." Given the hand of God for or against a commodity, there is a price which is the just price. Yet surely the merchant ought to be allowed to take advantage of his skill or ability, for these are the talents which God gave him. The unbending Cotton would yield no quarter to this worldly argument. Commodities have a value which can be determined by the fiction of the intelligent, uncoerced buyer; and "when a man loseth in his commodity for want of skill, etc. he must look at it as his own fault or cross, and therefore must not lay it upon another."
That Cotton accepted the mediaeval doctrine of just price is indisputable, for not only did he make this unmistakable pronouncement in the case of the unhappy Mr. Keayne but he also incorporated the doctrine in his proposed Mosaic code of laws for Massachusetts Bay. But what of Winthrop? What theory of value did he accept? Unfortunately we do not know. He took pains to record carefully the details of Keayne's trial and humiliation; but unfortunately, his historical method is too perfect. Sometimes one wishes the impartial observer would lapse occasionally into partiality. It is only on the subject of wages and of interest that Winthrop is explicit. Like the mediaeval writers and the English mercantilists, he complains about the rise of wages, the consequence of which, he explained, was that all who had goods to sell raised their prices. But one can not be certain whether he meant that the rise of wages led to a rise in prices because of increased cost of production, or whether it was the increased amount of purchasing power in the hands of the wage earners, which made it possible for sellers to obtain higher prices. The General Court sought to deal with the difficulty by regulating wages. This was in 1633. Winthrop does not comment on the wisdom of this policy, but ten years later he frankly admitted the futility of attempting to stop a rise in wages when a country provided abundant opportunity for wage earners to become planters. He nevertheless believed, as did the mercantilists, that high wages tend to demoralize laborers. The consequences of high remuneration, said he, were two-fold: "1. Many spent much time idly etc. because they could get as much in four days as would keep them a week. 2. They spent much in tobacco and strong waters etc. which was a greate waste to the commonwealth." But may it not be just the reverse, as Adam Smith cogently said: the "excessive application during four days of the week" is the "real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of?
The justification of taking interest on loans, or "usury," was so generally accepted in Europe by Winthrop's time that one can readily understand why his views would differ from those of mediaeval writers. Yet Winthrop saw the question primarily as a moral one, and in his mind, the taker of interest must exercise careful judgment lest he offend the divine law. He admitted the necessity and the justice of interest, provided there be no oppression of the poor and necessitous. "What rule must wee observe in lending?" asks an imaginary questioner of Winthrop. That depends, he answers, upon whether the borrower "hath present or probable or possible means of repayeing thee." If he has neither, the Christian should not lend at all. He should give! On the other hand, if the borrower has the ability to repay, then the Christian may "looke at him not as an Act of mercy, but by way of Commerce." Lending, in brief, was to be confined to those who were able and competent to repay. It involved a legitimate interest charge, and should be governed by the rules of justice. But lending was to be carefully distinguished from giving or forgiving. The poor should be objects of mercy and no interest ought to be taken from those who were deserving of charity. "If any of thy brethern be poore," wrote Winthrop, quoting Deuteronomy XV, 7, "thou shalt lend him sufficient." Indeed this is not lending, but giving, and the Christian must give to the poor man "according to his necessity." Or, if a loan has already been made, "whether thou didst lend by way of Commerce or in mercy, if he hath noething to pay," the Christian must forgive the debt. The only exception which Winthrop would allow was that of a pledge given for a loan. But even here, the law of love should modify the contract where the borrower was necessitous.
So much has been written about Puritan individualism that it may seem unnecessary to touch upon this issue; nevertheless, let us make inquiry to see what Winthrop's views actually were. Was he a defender of individualism, or was there some place for communism in his economic philosophy? It has already been shown that he accepted the time-honored theory of a state of primitive communism and of its termination when mankind degenerated from that degree of ethical perfection which could have made earthly communism possible. For with man's fall from grace, came self-love. Till man is raised from his fallen estate, he argued, pure communism, originally intended by the Creator, is impossible; and in its place God has sanctioned another plan of social organization, a system of private property—and inequality.
As the "Modell of Christian Charity" begins, "God Almightie in his most holy and wise providence, hath soe disposed of the condition of mankinde, as in all times some must be rich, some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subjection." To him, as to his mediaeval predecessors, inequality of wealth was no chance phenomenon: it was a trust relationship with the author of all riches. The divine scheme, moreover, was not mere favoritism but a purposeful partition. It revealed the glory of God's wisdom "in the variety and difference of the creatures"; it served also the function of "moderating and restraining" the avaricious natures of men, "soe that the riche and mighty should not eate upp the poore, nor the poore and dispised rise upp against their superiours and shake off theire yoake." Inequality, in brief, should teach mercy and justice to the favored; resignation to the poor. But Aristotle had set forth as a principle that where only two classes exist in society, the state can never have tranquillity, since one class can not obey and can only rule despotically, while the other can not rule and must be ruled like slaves. Winthrop, on the contrary, believed that the very existence of inequality would lead to the moral improvement of society by a distribution of duties. For each must realize that he has "need of other, and from hence they might be all knitt more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection." For it must be remembered that "noe man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy etc. out of any perticuler and singuler respect to himselfe, but for the glory of his Creator and the common good of the Creature, Man."
Winthrop not only believed that property was theologically justified, but also he believed that property was sanctioned by natural law. "God hath given to the sonnes of men a double right to the earth," he wrote in his "Conclusions," "a natural right and a civil right." The first right to land was a natural right, the right of all men to use the fruits of the earth. But to this was added a civil right, whereby rights to particular parcels of property arose from the performance of certain arts of improvement. This part of Winthrop's philosophy was what we designate today as the "labor theory of property." Hugo Grotius had earlier set forth the same doctrine, and upon this theory Winthrop justified the taking up of land in America by the Massachusetts Bay Company. The natural right to the earth existed when men held all land in common. But men improved land "by enclosing and peculiar manurance and this in time gave them a Civill right." To encroach upon land so improved would be theft, but to take up land still held under the natural right was compatible with Christian conduct. And since the American Indians "inclose noe land neither have any setled habitation nor any tame cattle to improve their land by," Winthrop could find no reason why the Massachusetts Bay Company could not lawfully plant in New England.
But in spite of Winthrop's profound respect for property, and in spite of his acceptance of the mediaeval notion of economic classes, he found room in his philosophy for some exceptions. These exceptions proceeded from the Christian doctrines of charity. Pure communism, he believed, could obtain only in a society of ideal men. But a circumstantial communism might become necessary, and to a discussion of this, Winthrop turns in his "Modell." First, he sets forth a theory of social relations. Originally man's relations with his fellow-man were determined by the law of nature. This required that every man should help his fellow-man "in every want or distresse," and "that hee performe this out of the same affection which makes him carefull of his owne goods." The law of nature could have application only in "the estate of innocency." When that blissful period had ended, the law of nature was supplanted by "the lawe of the Gospell" whose obligations upon men are not constant and immutable but vary between "seasons and occasions." Indeed, there are times, said Winthrop, "when a Christian must sell all and give to the poore, as they did in the Apostles times." There are other times when Christians "must give beyond their ability, as they of Macedonia," and "likewise community of perills" calls for extraordinary liberality. The sharing of goods under the "Gospell law" was a requirement of God, although the extent of this enforced communism was dependent upon circumstances. For example, all sharing of goods, Winthrop carefully pointed out, must be subsequent to the provision for one's own family of the "probable meanes of comfortable subsistence." In short, "the Gospel law" requires always circumstantial communism, while a "community of perill" might require almost complete sharing of goods. But what constituted a "community of perill"? Winthrop cites the case of the Primitive Church as an illustration when the early Christians "sold all, had all in Common, neither did any man say that which he possessed was his owne." In like fashion, the return from captivity, with the danger of enemies common to all, demanded a greater sharing of goods than ordinarily was necessary. We see, therefore, that Winthrop's theory of communism converges with his theory of the origin of wealth. The duties of lending, giving, forgiving, and sharing were the consequences of the divine distribution of private property. "The care of the publique must oversway all private respects," wrote Winthrop, and "particular Estates cannott subsist in the ruine of the publique." Private property must be limited by enforced circumstantial communism on occasions of danger; and by public interest, love, and Christian charity at all times. And this is exactly what mediaeval scholars had written.
Finally, there remains to be seen what Winthrop thought about colonization; for his philosophy is of importance only because he attempted to apply it as the leader of a great colonial movement. Colonization to him should be a means to "improve our lives to doe more service to the Lord." There had been "great and fundamental errors" committed in previous projects of colonization, but the most important error was that "their maine end was carnall and not Religious." With true optimism Winthrop prophesied in 1629 that the economic, political, and religious problems of England would profoundly affect the type of prospective colonists. The "ill condition of the tymes," he wrote, are "likely to furnish those plantations with better members then usually have undertaken that worke in former tymes." Colonization to Winthrop was an honorable work and a Christian duty. For God had commanded the sons of Adam to multiply and replenish the earth. Indeed it was only on this condition that the earth had been given to men. Unused land, or land held by natural law, was lawfully seizable. For as long as any vacant land exists, God's commandment to subdue the earth is yet unfulfilled. Colonization was therefore a duty to God. But in addition, colonization was also a duty to one's fellowman. For why should men in crowded countries make life difficult for their fellows while they "suffer a whole Continent as fruitful and convenient for the use of man to lie in waste"? Self-interest, coupled with a feeling of charity, should impel colonization.
Finally, colonization would provide a means whereby men of certain convictions could regulate economic matters in accordance with the moral law. In England, "all arts and trades are carried on in that deceiptful and unrighteous course, as it is almost impossible for a good and upright man to maintaine his charge and live comfortable in them." Winthrop believed that social reconstruction was necessary, and was possible only in a colony. To achieve this goal, however, the colony must be recruited selectively. No men inimical to these ideals should be included. But those who would labor and fear God, those who would subscribe to a philosophy of wealth essentially like that which has just been described; these were acceptable material. Artisans, rather than gentlemen, should therefore be the raw material of colonies, free men in minds and bodies! As Francis Bacon in the essay "Of Plantations," so Winthrop insisted that a successful colony could not be formed from criminals. He purposed to learn from the mistakes of previous American plantations, one of which he conceived to be the use of "unfitt instruments—a multitude of rude and misgoverned persons, the very scumme of the people."
Such was the economic philosophy of Winthrop. It is a fair example of the economic ideas of the American Puritans. Wealth and wealth-getting were not despised. The Puritan was not truly ascetic. Nor did he idealize wealth-getting as it is the fashion to believe to-day. He attempted to impose the social philosophy of the mediaeval schoolmen on a pioneer community where the temptation to a life of material acquisition was limited only by the opportunity. Herein is another evidence of the immense gulf that separates the Puritan ideals of 1630 from the current social philosophy of New England (and America) in 1930.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6525
SOURCE: "The Political Thought of John Winthrop," in The New England Quarterly, Vol. III, October, 1930, pp. 681-705.
[Below, Gray presents an overview of Winthrop's political philosophy, stressing his reliance on the idea of the social convenant.]
God Almightie in his most holy and wise providence hath soe disposed of the Condicion of mankinde, as in all times some must be rich some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subieccion.
In this opening sentence of "A Modell of Christian Charity" John Winthrop reveals the bases of his political thought. The over-ruling sovereignty of God, the natural character of the inequality of men, and, most important, the benevolent implications which he drew from that inequality, are here set forth as the background of the ideas we are to examine. God has ordered "all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole"; to "manifest the work of his Spirit" in restraining the wicked, and in "exercising his graces"—"mercy, gentleness, temperance" in the "greate ones"—"faithe, patience, obedience" in the "poore and inferior sorte." We shall not understand Winthrop and his political thought unless we remember always that much of what seems arbitrary and ungentle in this man was conditioned in his mind by a never-failing sense of the Christian duty of the "greate ones"; a duty enforced by an awful sanction.
John Winthrop was born into the English squirearchy. From the time of his majority he was accustomed to magisterial authority, and the damp of a lingering feudalism yet permeated the custom of the manor of Groton. He emigrated before democratic ideas had impinged on the aristocratic tradition, while the cloud of civil war and the gruesome scene at Whitehall were unseen, unthinkable. That excessive paternalism which has ever ruled the English countryside was strong in his nature. He had been a model of "mercy, gentleness, temperance" to his own tenants, and had firmly insisted on their "patience, obedience, etc." in return. He could imagine no other order sanctioned by the word of God.
The compact theory, with its roots in the Middle Ages, refurbished in time of need by the politico-religious minorities of the sixteenth century, was a familiar concept by the opening of the great century of English colonization. We need not wait for the word-battle preceding the Revolution to find American writers talking in terms of the social contract. The Revolutionary thinkers were merely drawing through Locke upon the thought of a much earlier time. Hence it is not surprising to find Winthrop asserting that
it is clearly agreed, by all, that the care of safety and welfare was the original cause or occasion of commonweales and of many familyes subjecting themselves to rulers and laws; for no man hath lawfull power over another, but by birth or consent.
Young Henry Vane dissented, on this occasion. Such a definition, he said, might do for commonweales in general; but Massachusetts was a Christian commonwealth, her government resting on a patent from the King. To which Winthrop answered:
When I describe a commonwealth in general, … the churches or Christians which are in it, fall not into consideration … for it may be a true body politicke, though there be neither church nor Christian in it. The like may be sayd for the forme of government, whether it be by patent or otherwise yet it is a government…. My intent was to prove the proprietye and priviledges of a common weale which may also belong to such government among Turkes and Pagans….
Note the secular character of this conception of the state. No medieval thinker from Augustine on would have agreed to this rejection of Christianity as an indispensable basis of the commonwealth.
Winthrop, then, like the political thinkers of eighteenth-century America, based his state upon contract. Unlike them, he drew no democratic corollaries from this basis. We have already seen the aristocratic tinge in his thought. It crops up again and again in his writings. There has remained to us the draft of a proposed bill to remedy "Common Grevances," which Winthrop and his friends drew up evidently to present to Parliament in 1624. Only a part of the paper is in Winthrop's hand, but we may reasonably take the whole document as an expression of the opinions of Winthrop himself. The section just before his pen took up the work proposes stringent laws to limit hawking privileges, and on this ground:
The difference betweene principalitie and popularie that alwaies have byn such, that from the lawe of nature order and antiquitie, a perpetuall precedencie and dominacion hath been in the one, and an invyolable lawe of conformitie and submission hath byn in thother.
In 1634 Boston elected seven men to divide the remaining lands of the town. Some prominent men were passed over, and Winthrop was barely elected; "the rest," he tells us, were "of an inferior sort." The Governor refused to serve with colleagues, and a new election was held. This time the people remembered their bounden duty to their leaders. And later, when the New England colonies confederated, the province of Sir Ferdinando Gorges was not invited to join. A village there lately "had made a taylor their mayor."
This disparity between the ranks of men is not to be regretted as a flaw in unperfected society, thinks Winthrop. It is a result of Divine beneficence. "Heerin would the Lord our God have his excellent wisdome and power appeare, that he makes (not the disparitye onely but) even the contrarietye of parts, in many bodyes, to be the meanes of the upholding and usefullnesse thereof." One is reminded of Aristotle's criticism of the unity of Plato's Republic. Winthrop owned, and presented to Harvard, the Works of Jacques Le Fevre, who wrote a paraphrase of the Politics of Aristotle. But we do not know that Winthrop ever read Le Fevre's paraphrase, and his opinion in this case is obviously founded on Christian theology.
Was this inequality of men, this disparity between the ranks of society, to remain a social fact only, or should it be translated into political terms? What class should govern, and what form should the government take?
There is no evidence that Winthrop ever questioned monarchy as a valid form of government. He left England ten years before republicanism came into existence. Deputy-Governor Dudley once refused to sign a petition of Massachusetts to the King, on the ground, said Winthrop, "that we gave the king the title of sacred majesty, which is the most proper title of princes, being the Lord's anointed…." Charles Stuart lost some of his "anointed" character for the colonists as the Civil War progressed, but we must not assume that this altered Winthrop's opinion as to monarchy in general. He died shortly after the King was executed, and we have no means of knowing what his opinion of that event was, or might have been.
Winthrop condemned democracy in strong terms. The Reformation, for him, implied neither religious toleration nor political democracy. An oft-quoted passage shows not only his repugnance to democracy, but his preference for a "mixt Aristocratie":
Now if we should change from a mixt Aristocratie to a meere Democratie: first we should have no warrant in scripture for it…. A Democratie is, among most Civill nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all formes of Government … and Historyes doe recorde, that it hath been allwayes of least continuance and fullest of troubles.
Yet if Massachusetts was a mixed aristocracy, it was a broad one. Actual power came from the freemen, and no important official had legal authority except by virtue of election by them. Even though the number of freemen may have been only one in four or five of the adult males by 1670, as Palfrey computes, this was large enough to exclude the colony from the category of aristocracy. If we except the standing council, which existed but three years, there was no formally aristocratic element in the government. Winthrop apparently thought that the extensive power of the magistrates, and the fact that the best men were chosen, provided the element of aristocracy, which was diluted or "mixt" by the limited powers of the deputies. But this was to confuse powers with the source of those powers. The mistake does not, however, invalidate the conclusion that Winthrop himself preferred aristocracy.
In the few months before October, 1630, a few men ruled the colony with no check whatever. Even by 1634 there had been grudgingly admitted into the franchise not more than two hundred freemen. Winthrop's desire to keep the governing class as small as possible is shown by his answer to the freemen who demanded their full rights under the charter. The freemen are too numerous to make or execute laws; they may appoint a committee to revise the laws if summoned by the governor, and to consent to taxation. Winthrop's wish was disregarded, and the freemen came into their full rights shortly after this incident; but we have seen enough to realize that the good governor himself would have been heartily glad to keep government always in the hands of a few trusted men. Between 1636 and 1639 there existed in the colony a standing council, elected for life: Winthrop, Dudley, and Endecott. When it was abolished upon the deputies' protest, the order of repeal was drawn up so that no condemnation of the institution was implied. The whole tone of Winthop's narrative proves that he held the standing council to be a useful and permissible organ, and that he resented the demand for its abrogation.
The evolution of a trading corporation into a commonwealth forced the Massachusetts leaders to allow a considerable number of the people more power than their judgment or desire dictated. They made the best of the situation by binding the people to as narrow limits as they could. Although the colony enjoyed representative government, many of the rights which we should consider essential to liberty were absent. Free speech was denied in principle as well as in fact. "It is licentiousnesse, and not liberty, when a man may speake what he list," wrote Winthrop. When we learn that the statement refers to the case of a man who was punished for censuring the General Court while a member thereof, and during the regular session, we wonder what real value debates in that body could have had. Winthrop castigated Coddington and others who signed a petition in favor of the unfortunate John Wheelwright. The petition seems mild enough now, but all the disclaimers of presumption and disrespect could not save the signers from Winthrop's reproof that—
you invite the body of the people to join with you in your seditious attempt against the Court … against the rule of the Apostle, who requires every soul to be subject to the higher powers, and every Christian man to study to be quiet, and to meddle with his own business.
Furthermore, Winthrop abhorred what we regard as the very essence of a system based on an elected legislature.
Sedition doth properly signifie a going aside to make a party, and is rightly described by the Poet … In magno populo cum sœpe coorta est seditio sœvitque animis, etc…. Tully saith, Seditionem, esse dissensionem omnium inter se, cum eunt alii in aliud, when the people dissent in opinion and go several wayes. Isidore saith, Seditiosus est, qui dissentionem animorum facit et discordias gignit.
Such a definition of sedition rules out any organized political opposition—a thing unknown anywhere, to be sure, in 1637. Further, it makes impossible any concerted effort to unseat those in power. The voter could vote as he pleased, but he must do it respectfully, he must not publicly persuade others to vote as he voted, and he must not criticize those in office.
It is well to remember that free speech, the right of petition, and the right of organized opposition were the fruits, not the precursors of the seventeenth century; and we must not blame Winthrop because he was not in advance of current thought. Nevertheless it must be said that by denying these rights to the people, and by maintaining a close alliance with the ministry, the leaders of Massachusetts Bay were able to set up an aristocracy in fact. These leaders were not unscrupulous men avid of power, but sincere zealots of aristocratic birth and training who honestly believed that it was for the good of the people to keep power in the hands of those best fitted to exercise it.
Winthrop's theory of the proper relation of leaders to people is brought out admirably in his famous definition of liberty.
There is a twofold liberty, natural … and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures…. This is that great enemy of truth and peace … which all the ordinances of God are bent against…. [Civil liberty] is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest…. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority.
This definition has been widely praised. Lately Mr. Edwin D. Mead has said of it: "If there were anywhere in the English world in the 1630's a nobler definition of liberty true and false than that in Winthrop's 'Little Speech' I do not know where to find it." This is indeed a conception of liberty perfectly familiar to "the English world in the 1630's"; but it is nothing more. Without the aura of Winthrop it would be distasteful to most modern readers. Whether we like the definition or not, it is good to know what precisely we are praising or blaming. For, since the day when Winthrop soothed the ruffled deputies with the charm of his rich Biblical prose, the expansive thought of the eighteenth century has changed many of the world's ideas, and none more than that of liberty. Just what "liberty" does mean in the twentieth century, it would be rash to say. Many would agree with Soame Jenyns, a placeman of 1765, that liberty "is a phrase of so various a signification, having within these few years been used as a synonymous term for blasphemy, bawdy, treason, libels, strong beer, and cyder, that I shall not presume to define its meaning." Broadly speaking, most of us start by thinking of liberty as an uncontrolled right to do anything, and then pare it down to suit the exigencies of society, as we conceive them. When we are through, however, we have a great deal left; and so enduring has been the idea of inalienable natural rights that oldfashioned people are rash enough to believe that we have more left than we have given up. "Liberty" needs no document to justify itself; "authority" (at least in theory) must substantiate every claim to infringe it.
A study of Winthrop's ideas indicates at once the opposite character of his conception. The man in society does not start with rights. He subjects himself to the government of others when he enters the compact, and "liberties" which he possesses thereafter are the result of grant from those in authority. The large, indefinite "right" in the body politic is "authority." There is, properly speaking, no "liberty"; there are only "liberties"—definite privileges, usually enrolled in an imposing document and provable in court. This use of the word "liberty" occurs often in Winthrop's works. It would be strange if we should find any other use of it, for then indeed would Winthrop have been ahead of his times. One might be given the "freedom" of a town, a town might possess the "liberty" of holding a market on Wednesdays, but few, besides some despised sectaries, gave any broader meaning to these terms in the early seventeenth century. In Massachusetts Bay the "liberty" of the freeman was restricted to the election of officers and a share in making laws. The definition of what was "good, just, and honest" was the province of the magistrates, and in some cases of the General Court, to determine. When they rejected free speech, the right of petition, and the right to oppose the government, they were neither ahead of nor behind the English political thought of their era.
Whence came this "authority" which bulked so large in Winthrop's political theory? "It is yourselves," he tells the freemen in his speech, "who have called us to this office, and being called by you, we have our authority from God, in way of an ordinance, such as hath the image of God eminently stamped upon it, the contempt and violation whereof hath been vindicated with examples of divine vengeance." Note this conception of the divine origin of magistracy—of the sacrosanct character of the magistrate. "Iudges are Gods upon earthe," says Winthrop. "Whatsoever sentence the magistrate gives, according to these limittations, [internal only] the judgment is the Lords." Magistrates are the fathers of the commonwealth. To disobey them is to incur not merely the opprobrium of breaking a civil law, but to be guilty of defying the Fifth Commandment.
Does God bestow authority directly, or does he express his will through the voters? The evidence is fragmentary, but Winthrop probably meant that authority comes directly from God, and that the people merely choose the particular person to take office, without by their election conferring a divine right to rule. In the first place, he limits the sacrosanct character of the "powers that be" to the magistrates. If the people voting are the mouthpiece of God, every officer they elect should be considered as deriving his power from God, irrespective of his character or talents. Winthrop does not expressly deny that the deputies do so derive their power, but he comes very near such a denial in several places. He resents the fact that the deputies have been too often sitting as a court of justice; this is a function "to which they have no ordinary callinge … for our Saviour teaches us, that everye man that shall exercise power of Judgment over others, must be able to prove his callinge thereto." Again, "We should incurre Scandall, by undervaluing the gifts of God, and the Ordinance of magistracye, if the Judgment and Authoritye of any one of the Common ranke of the people, should beare equall weight, with that of the wisest and chiefest magistrate…." The context makes it certain that the author included the deputies in the "Common ranke of the people."
The "gifts of God," the ability to prove a "callinge"—these are what give the magistrate his divine authority. Election without those gifts and that calling may give a certain circumscribed power to the deputies. It does not make the judgment of the deputy the judgment of God. This explains Winthrop's willingness to expand the powers of the magistrates by inferences often having no relation to the actual constitution of the colony. It explains his insistence that the powers of all others than the magistrates should be limited as far as possible. It is consistent with his repeated antithesis between "authority" and "liberty"—an antithesis that would have been patently absurd if he had believed that all authority came from the people.
If Winthrop held an exalted theory of the power of the magistrate, he held a no less lofty conception of the magistrate's duty. The magistrates must "square all their proceedings by the rule of Gods word, for the advancement of the gospell and the weale publick"; "In their Administrations, they are to holde forthe the wisdome and mercye of God, as well as his Iustice." "They are to be accountable to him for their miscarriages in the waye and order of this kingdome." If we can not prove that Winthrop read the following passage in the Institutes of Calvin, we can at least say that it is mirrored in many a sentence in his writings:
For what an ardent pursuit of integrity, prudence, clemency, moderation, and innocence ought they to prescribe to themselves, who are conscious of having been constituted ministers of the Divine justice.
The magistrate, then, must answer to God. Must he answer to anyone else? What checks Winthrop was forced to accept from the royal charter and from circumstances, he accepted. The real bounds to the magistrate's power he thought should be self-imposed. He preached the doctrine of non-resistance repeatedly. "It was Luthers Counsell to the Anabaptists … that thoughe their magistrates did oppresse and iniure them, yet they should pray for them, and commend them, and seeke to winne them by gentlenesse." But the magistrate has no arbitrary power. He is limited by certain checks.
The magistrates are members of the churches here, and, by that covenant, are regulated to direct all their wayes by the rule of the gospel, and if they faile in anythinge, they are subject to the churches correction. 2dly. As they are freemen, they are regulated by oath, to direct their aymes to the wellfare of this civill body. 3dly. As they are magistrates, they are sworne to doe right to all, and regulated by their relation to the people, to seeke theire wellfare in all things.
The responsibility to the church amounted to little, as will appear when we come to Winthrop's ideas on church and state. The same assertion is true for the freeman's and the magistrate's oaths. Winthrop is careful to say nothing of what the people may do if these covenants are violated. Where officers are practising that soul-searching induced by Calvinism, constitutional checks conceivably would not have the force of the internal checks favored by Winthrop. We may wish that he had seen that such a system, like monarchy, relies too much on personal character. But he answers us neatly.
What if the magistrates should growe corrupt etc? this is no more to be feared than of the deputies, and if of both, then of all the rest of the people, and if so, then it is past remedye.
To deny absolutely the truth of this reply we should have to forget much of what has happened since Winthrop lived.
One large power which Winthrop gave to the magistrate we have yet to discuss—that of fixing the penalty after conviction of a malefactor. This part of his theory is bound up with his views on the nature of law in general.
If we look for a developed body of thought concerning the fundamental bases of law in Winthrop's works, we shall be disappointed. He is even more scanty here than elsewhere. Busy leaders in a frontier community rarely compose treatises on the most abstruse of all political subjects. The law of nature, or the moral law—"created with and in man"—with God as its author, Winthrop, of course, recognized. Nor are we surprised to find him talking of the law of the Gospel, given to man in a state of regeneracy. But his treatment of these fundamental laws is brief and confused. In addition, Winthrop shared the view common to the Puritans in general, that "Moses his judicials" were valid law in modern societies. He was broader than some of his contemporaries, however, in allowing selection to be made from, and additions to, the Mosaic Code. Although God is the only lawgiver, "he hathe given power and giftes to men to interprett his Laws," Winthrop also had a strong sense of the legal force of custom. He opposed a definite written code for the colony because "such laws would be fittest for us, which should arise pro re nata upon occasions, etc., and so the laws of England and other states grew." It is pleasant to feel this cool breath of rationalism sweeping away momentarily the murk of Biblical citation, but we must not take it too literally. Other passages show that what Winthrop wished was a system of law based on the Mosaic Code, expanded by interpretation. The English common law had a rather different genesis! The fact is, the English lawyer and the devout Puritan clashed in Winthrop's nature, and he alternately speaks the language of each.
Winthrop recognized the validity of positive law, but insisted that it must conform to the law of God.
We have no laws diametrically opposite to those of England, for then they must be contrary to the law of God and of right reason, which the learned in those laws have anciently and still do hold forth as the fundamental basis of their laws, and that if anything hath been otherwise established, it was an errour, and not a law.
We may compare this point of view with that of the "judicious" Hooker, but Winthrop may well have got these ideas from some other source, since they had been frequently expressed during and since medieval times.
The most important of the Governor's ideas on law was concerned with the advisability of fixed penalties. Should the penalty be determined in advance by law, or by the magistrate after conviction. He concludes that except in a few cases, penalties should not be prescribed. To have a fixed penalty is to sentence the offender before trial; to remove all need of wisdom in the judge, and to value the judgment of the magistrate less than that of ordinary jurymen, who are allowed to fix damages in civil cases. It is unjust to punish every man alike for the same offense. Even in England penalties are not fixed except for petty crimes. Most important, God has set few penalties, and we should follow his example.
Some of these reasons we should to-day regard as trivial, some fallacious. But the most significant fact about Winthrop's view is that he and his supporters were decidedly heterodox in their own generation. He was in error in saying that the laws of England had few fixed penalties. The belief that we are laying ourselves open to injustice if we do not have a known atonement for every crime has persisted, through Beccaria and Bentham, right down to our own day. Only in recent years has a school of penology appeared which favors the fitting of the punishment to the individual criminal. We are tempted to see Winthrop thinking in ultramodern fashion on this question, but the analogy should not be pushed too far. His thought was Biblical, rather than rationalistic, idealistic rather than pragmatic, and he was thinking of punishment more than of reformation.
The penalty for crime should rarely be fixed, yet the judgment is not therefore arbitrary. The magistrate acts upon a rule, "which Rule is the Worde of God, and such conclusions and deductions, as are, or shalbe, regularly drawne from thence." So we come again to the one effective check which Winthrop puts upon the magistrate:—his duty, as a Christian called to office by divine authority, to be guided by the divine law. Who shall interpret that law? Is the magistrate subject to the control of those best fitted to expound it—to the control of the elders or the church?
As a matter of fact, the magistrates of Massachusetts Bay were subject to the control of both church and elders. In a society where every act is regarded as a moral debit or credit, every act becomes invested with religious meaning. Winthrop often called upon the church elders for advice upon matters not connected with religion. Charles Bourgeaud stated a more than approximate truth when he said that—
By law the civil government was distinct from the ecclesiastical, but in fact it was strictly subordinate to it. Owing to their moral influence, the pastors and elders formed a sort of Council of Ephors; no important decision was arrived at without their consent.
But it was a settled belief of the Puritans that no elder could hold civil office. When the Boston church asked the churches of Salem and Plymouth their opinion on the question, both answered that no elder could at the same time be a magistrate. Winthrop, in a letter to Thomas Hooker in 1638, reproved the Connecticut people for having allowed the "managing of state business" to fall "upon some one or other of their ministers." Massachusetts, then, was not, in theory, a theocracy.
In practice, however, the advice of the elders was almost always followed. Probably the most extreme view of their power was stated by John Cotton. Winthrop narrates in his Journal that
Mr Cotton preached … he laid down the nature or strength … of the magistracy, ministry, and people, viz.,—the strength of the magistracy to be their authority, of the people, their liberty; and of the ministry, their purity; and showed how all of these had a negative voice, etc.
This pronouncement, we are told, "gave great satisfaction to the company," but we ought not be sure that Winthrop shared in that satisfaction. We find him saying, at one time, that "the cause being of a civil nature, it belonged to the court, and not to the elders, to judge of the merit thereof." On the other hand, he often called upon the elders for their opinion in cases of a purely civil nature, and he was not ashamed to admit that "the ministers have great power with the people, whereby through the good correspondency between the magistrates and them, they are the more easyly governed."
Winthrop and the Massachusetts leaders seem to have made this distinction: the elders could hold no civil office, but as men gifted in the lore which was the great guide of life, they should be consulted upon all important questions. There was nothing new about this theory; it was held by almost all Puritans, both Disciplinarians and Separatists. On the question of the power of the church as a body over the magistrates, however, Winthrop differed from the belief of the earlier English Puritans.
The Puritans of the sixteenth century all agreed that even the highest magistrates were subject to church censure. Both Presbyterians and Separatists took this position. Robert Browne wrote, "who knoweth not, that though magistrates are to keep their civil power above all persons, yet they come under the censures of the Church if they be Christians." Barrow thought that the church "ought to have judgment ready against every transgression, without respect of persons." Thomas Cartwright had said that "civil magistrates must govern … according to the rules of God prescribed in his word, and that as they are nurses, so they be Servants unto the Church."
Winthrop dissented vigorously from these views.
Magistrates as they are church members are accountable to the church for their failings, but that is when they are out of their calling; … If a magistrate shall, in a private way, take away a man's goods or his servants, etc., the church may call him to account for it; but if he doth this in pursuing a course of justice (though the thing be unjust) yet he is not accountable, etc. [The church has other weapons] wisdome, pietye, and meeknesse [to bind rulers] therefore no need to binde them by churche censures.
There is no doubt that Winthrop was here giving voice to the predominant sentiment of the leaders, elders as well as laymen. In 1636 a group of the ministers affirmed as their opinion "that no member of the court ought to be publicly questioned by a church for any speech in the court, without the license of the court."
What power ought the state to have over the church? The early Separatists regarded the two organizations as independent, denied to the civil power the right to establish the church by law or force, but nevertheless held that false and idolatrous forms of worship must be put down by the state. Winthrop and his associates seem to have kept close to this position. Defending the action of the Court in the Wheel-wright case, Winthrop said: As for such as have taken offence, that the cause was not first referred to the Church, we desire them to consider these reasons. 1. This case was not matter of conscience, but of a civill nature, and therefore most proper for this Court to take cognizance of…. 2. In some cases of religious nature, as manifest heresie, notorious blasphemy, etc. the Civill power may proceed, Ecclesia inconculta, and that by the judgment of all the Ministers.
And then he makes the matter yet clearer:
It is objected, that the Magistrates may not appoint a messenger of God, what hee should teach: admit so much, yet hee may limit him what hee may not teach, if hee forbid him to teach heresy or sedition, etc. hee incurres as well a contempt in teaching that which hee was forbidden, as sins in teaching that which is evill.
In theory, at least, this is all consistent with the ideas of Browne and the early Separatists. The civil power may not establish a church, or force any one to join it, but manifest heresy must be rooted out. But the fact departed from the theory. Any variation, however slight, from accepted doctrine was likely to be proved "manifest heresie" by the unfortunate practice of the Puritans in not resting content with what the suspected heretic had expressly said. At least one student, after reading the accounts of the years 1636-1638, has concluded that one who announced even mild dissent from established doctrine was almost certain to be proved a menace to the peace of the colony and a flagrant heretic simply by that dogged questioning and deduction of which the Puritans were so fond.
With one exception, Winthrop held no unusual ideas on the subject of the relation of church to state. Even in his declaration of magisterial immunity from church censure he was backed by the ministers. His theory embraced the idea of close coöperation between church and state, denying formal political power to the church and elders, giving large powers to the state over the church. It was the lingering voice of the doctrine which had remained uncontested before 1550, resisting the rising stream of thought which in the Old World, and lately in the New, had enunciated the theory of toleration and absolute separation of the two powers. It was a voice doomed to be smothered by the fact of religious diversity in the colonies, and the example of the mother nation. But dare we deny that it had great value in fostering a much-needed social unity?
We have now and then mentioned in passing a few sources of Winthrop's political theory. His position in the English social scale, his legal training, his tenure of office in Massachusetts Bay—these are the imponderables behind his thought, impossible to evaluate. The magazine from which he drew his ideas was almost filled by the Bible and Calvinism. These he tapped constantly. They form a root of his theory bulking so large that it might be thought futile to search for further sources.
We have seen Winthrop express a theory of law which may have come from Richard Hooker, and we have noted quotations from two classical authors, Cicero and Virgil. These are among the dozen (or fewer) citations to profane writers in all Winthrop's works. The excerpt from Isidore of Seville may well have been taken at second hand from some other writer; the Etymologies were very popular all through the Middle Ages. A very few of the two-score volumes which Winthrop presented to Harvard College might have furnished arguments or ideas on political questions. Besides the Bible and Calvin's Institutes, the Decrees of the Council of Worms and Gregory's Decretals were on the list. John Davenant's Determinationes Questionum Quarundam Theologicarum is an anti-papal work by a moderate Calvinist divine forced to conformity by Laud. The book listed as "Whittakeri praelectiones disputationes" was doubtless either that author's Disputatio de Sacra Scriptura; Contra Huius Temporis Papistas, Inprimis, Robertum Bellarminum (Canterbury, 1588), or his Prœlectiones in Controversiam de Romano Pontifice (1608); both titles indicate the character of the works. The item listed as "Jacobi Fabrii Opera" probably contained a paraphrase of Aristotle's Politics. To his "Arbitrary Government Described" Winthrop appended a long quotation from Thomas Aquinas, which his editor, Mr. R. C. Winthrop, unfortunately did not see fit to print. The manuscript has only recently been found.
Of the innumerable pamphlets printed in England in the 1640's, Winthrop mentions only William Prynne's Treachery and Disloyalty of Papists, and An Answer to Dr. Ferne asserting that Parliament could after the superstructive, not the fundamental laws of England.
This list includes almost every book of a political nature which Winthrop cited or is known to have possessed. But with a few exceptions he does not cite these books. His political theory is Biblical and Calvinistic, in so far as it is drawn from literary sources.
The divine origin of the authority of the magistrate; the ability and character required to prove his calling to office; the divine law by which he must square all his acts; the necessity of obeying him unquestioningly; these are the threads that run all through the political theory that we have examined. They form a pattern now bright, now dull, but always appearing either as motif or background in Winthrop's discussion of every phase of political action. These theories were not new. But in Winthrop's lack of novelty lies his importance. During his life, and for many years after, the aristocratic tradition of which he was the most luminous exponent in America dominated the life of Massachusetts. Until the old school was gone, the ultimate democratic effects of the Reformation and the American frontier had to bide their time.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11547
SOURCE: "Seventeenth-Century Nihilism" and "The New England Way," in The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, edited by Oscar Handlin, Little, Brown and Company, 1958, pp, 134-54, 155-73.
[A respected American historian, Morgan is the author of such studies as The Puritan Family (1944), Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (1956), and Roger Williams: The Church and State (1967). In the following excerpt, from his monograph on Winthrop, Morgan gives an account of Winthrop's role in the trial of Anne Hutchinson and in the writing of the Body of Liberties document.]
On September 18, 1634, two hundred passengers disembarked at Boston's bustling, cluttered landing place and picked their way through the dirty streets. The squalor of the place was enough to make them quail, but they reminded themselves that it was holy ground, where they might worship God without bishops or kings or Romanizing ritual. Among the arrivals who strengthened their resolution with this thought were William Hutchinson and his wife Anne.
Winthrop described Hutchinson as "a man of a very mild temper and weak parts, and wholly guided by his wife." But a man with a wife like Anne Hutchinson could scarcely not have been guided by her. All we know about Anne Hutchinson was written by other hands than hers, for the most part by writers whose main purpose was to discredit her. Yet the force of her intelligence and character penetrate the libels and leave us angry with the writers and not with their intended victim.
Winthrop, who was one of the libelers, tells us at the outset that she was "a woman of a ready wit and bold spirit." This was an absurd understatement. Though Winthrop, in common with his century, believed that women's minds could not stand the strain of profound theological speculation, Anne Hutchinson excelled him not only in nimbleness of wit but in the ability to extend a theological proposition into all its ramifications. And like so many of the men and women of this time—like Roger Williams, for example—she was ready to trust her mind and to follow in whatever path it might lead her. In 1634 the path had led to Boston.
She was not, by intention at least, a separatist; she had once been tempted in that direction but did not succumb. She had nevertheless determined that she must not attend a church where the minister failed to teach the doctrines of divine grace in their undiluted purity. Until 1633 she had listened to the sermons of the Reverend John Cotton at Boston in Lincolnshire and had known them for true preaching. She had also admired her brother-in-law, the Reverend John Wheelwright. But when Cotton and Wheelwright were silenced by the bishops, "there was none in England," she said, "that I durst heare." After Cotton departed for New England, she persuaded her husband to follow him.
In singling out John Cotton as her spiritual leader, Mrs. Hutchinson showed, by Puritan standards, excellent taste. Cotton had already won a reputation in England before he left, and the Boston church chose him as teacher shortly after his arrival in New England in September, 1633. Here his fame rose steadily. Indeed, his wisdom was so revered that Hugh Peter, who was later to be honored as Cromwell's chaplain, urged that Cotton be commissioned to "go through the Bible, and raise marginal notes upon all the knotty places of the scriptures." Nathaniel Ward, the testy pastor of Ipswich, held himself unworthy to wipe John Cotton's slippers. And Roger Williams observed that many people in Massachusetts "could hardly believe that God would suffer Mr. Cotton to err."
Winthrop himself was one of Cotton's admirers and frequently took occasion to record the minister's opinions with approval. He valued most in Cotton what Mrs. Hutchinson did—the man's evanglical preaching of God's free grace. All New England Puritans believed in this doctrine, which they usually described in terms of a covenant between God and man whereby God drew the soul to salvation. Strictly speaking, there was nothing a man could do to lay hold of this "covenant of grace." If God predestined him to salvation, God would endow him with faith and fulfill the covenant. But the doctrine could be applied in a variety of ways, and the New England ministers had been suggesting the need to "prepare" oneself so as to facilitate the operation of God's saving grace when and if it should come.
Under the spell of this suggestion it was easy to develop notions of the kind that good Puritans always denounced as "Arminian"—whenever they could recognize them. Though preachers always took care to state that human efforts counted for nothing in the scale of eternity, it was easy to draw the opposite (Arminian) conclusion from their insistence on "preparation," easy to slip into Arminian ways of thinking without realizing it. The history of New England theology for a century and a half after the founding is the history of this steady tendency toward Arminianism, punctuated by periodic reassertions of the Calvinist dogma of divine omnipotence and human helplessness.
John Cotton was the first of a long line of preachers—among whom the most eminent was Jonathan Edwards—to make this reassertion. He did not make it in the unequivocal terms that Edwards did, and perhaps for that reason he did not end as Edwards did by being expelled from his church. Instead he pulled his congregation back from their Arminian wanderings and won their gratitude. Winthrop counted himself as one of those whom Cotton had rescued. He noted in January, 1637, that "the Doctrine of free justification lately taught here took me in as drowsy a condition, as I had been in (to my remembrance) these twenty yeares, and brought mee as low (in my owne apprehension) as if the whole work had been to begin anew. But when the voice of peace came I knew it to bee the same that I had been acquainted with before …" Probably most members of the Boston church reacted to Cotton's preaching as Winthrop did. It woke them from their Arminian napping and sharpened their sense of God's free grace, but it did not make them feel in the end that their previous religious experiences had been false.
But the evangelical preaching of divine omnipotence and human helplessness has always produced extravagant results, for these doctrines may too easily be translated into a denial of any connection whatever between this world and the next. Puritanism allowed only a tenuous connection at best; it allowed a man to look at his life here as evidence of his prospects in eternity, but it gave him no opportunity to affect his eternal condition. When John Cotton warned his listeners away from the specious comfort of preparation and re-emphasized the covenant of grace as something in which God acted alone and unassisted, a bold mind might believe that life in this world offered no evidence at all of eternal prospects. And Mrs. Hutchinson was nothing if not bold.
After her arrival in Boston her admission to the church was delayed for a time because one of her fellow passengers had been disturbed by some unorthodox opinions she had expressed on shipboard. But John Cotton evidently recognized her theological talents and her zeal, and within two years she was admitted and won the admiration of a large part of the congregation. It was not uncommon at this time for small groups to hold weekly meetings for religious discussions, in which the sermon of the previous Sunday furnished the starting point. Mrs. Hutchinson, who had gained a wide acquaintance in Boston by serving as a midwife, soon found herself the center of one of these meetings, held in her home. She would explain, to the best of her ability, what her beloved Mr. Cotton had said on Sunday and would then go on to expand some of his doctrines.
In these weekly meetings she carried the principles of divine omnipotence and human helplessness in a dangerous direction, toward the heresy known to theologians as Antinomianism. Since man was utterly helpless, she reasoned, when God acted to save him He placed the Holy Ghost directly within him, so that the man's life was thereafter directed by the Holy Ghost, and the man himself, in a sense, ceased to be. At the same time she concluded that human actions were no clue to the question of whether or not this transformation had taken place. The fact that a man behaved in a "sanctified" manner, breaking none of the laws of God, was no evidence that he was saved. In Puritan terminology this meant that "sanctification" was no evidence of "justification," that men's lives in this world offered no evidence of their prospects in the next. The orthodox Puritans never claimed that the correspondence was perfect: hypocrisy together with the thousand imperfections of human vision could deceive the most skillful examiner. But it was usually possible to recognize sanctification, and that sanctification resulted from justification was not to be doubted at all. Mrs. Hutchinson doubted and denied it. She was, it seemed, an Antinomian.
Winthrop first became alarmed by her teachings in October, 1636, a few months after the departure of Roger Williams. He noted her errors and began a list of the awful conclusions that must ensue from them, but stopped and left a large blank in his journal, over-come perhaps by the train of horrors he saw before him. Before they were through with Mrs. Hutchinson the guardians of New England orthodoxy enumerated nearly a hundred dangerous propositions that could be deduced from her views. It is not possible to tell which propositions she actually endorsed and which were simply attributed to her, but the list is a formidable one, and strikes at the heart of the Puritan experiment.
Mrs. Hutchinson's first principle, "that the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in a justified person," was dangerously close to a belief in immediate personal revelation. It threatened the fundamental conviction on which the Puritans built their state, their churches, and their daily lives, namely that God's will could be discovered only through the Bible. In combination with the belief that sanctification offered no evidence of justification, it undermined the whole basis for moral endeavor which Puritan theologians had constructed since the time of Calvin. What reason for a man to exert himself for the right if he may "stand still and waite for Christ to doe all for him"? What reason for a church of saints, if "no Minister can teach one that is anoynted by the Spirit of Christ, more than hee knowes already unlesse it be in some circumstances"? What reason for a state ruled by the laws of God, if "the Will of God in the Word, or directions thereof, are not the rule whereunto Christians are bound to conforme themselves"?
These views were not necessarily separatist. Rather they were a seventeenth-century version of nihilism. But to make matters worse, Mrs. Hutchinson and her friends developed a new and especially invidious form of separatism, too. Though she denied that sanctification could be evidence of justification, she did maintain that any justified person could discern, presumably at the direction of the Holy Ghost within him, whether or not another person was justified. On the basis of this almighty insight Mrs. Hutchinson and her followers confidently pronounced any person they encountered as "under a covenant of grace" (really saved) or "under a covenant of works" (delluded and damned because relying on good works instead of divine grace), so that "it began to be as common here," Winthrop says, "to distinguish between men, by being under a covenant of grace or a covenant of works, as in other countries between Protestants and Papists." The wholesale destructiveness that might result from Mrs. Hutchinson's self-assurance became apparent when she hinted to her admirers that all the ministers in Massachusetts, with the exception of her two old favorites, John Cotton and John Wheelwright, were under a covenant of works and therefore unfit to preach the gospel.
Winthrop saw trouble ahead when he first took notice of Anne Hutchinson's views in October, 1636. The weekly meetings at her house were steadily swelling, and the people who attended them walked the streets of Boston wearing the expression of devotees. Those rapt faces, Winthrop knew, carried a threat to the colony's commission. But there was no law against religious gatherings, and Mrs. Hutchinson was careful to state her heresies in equivocal language. It would be difficult to prove anything against her.
By the end of October, 1636, her followers felt strong enough to seek an official spokesman for their doctrines in the Boston church. Because Mrs. Hutchinson was a woman, no one would think of proposing her for a church office, but her brother-in-law would do as well. John Wheelwright had arrived in June, with a reputation as an able preacher and with the additional recommendation of having been silenced by the bishops in England. Mrs. Hutchinson, of course, endorsed him, and he endorsed her. At a church meeting on October 30 it was moved that he be made a teacher, though the congregation possessed two other ministers—John Cotton as teacher and John Wilson as pastor. Winthrop grasped the chance to act and immediately opposed the election of a third minister, particularly one "whose spirit they knew not, and one who seemed to dissent in judgment."
As a member of the church, Winthrop had the right to a voice in its affairs, but no more than any other member, and he was up against a growing majority of the Boston church, which included the largest single concentration of freemen in the colony. He was also up against the popular young governor, Henry Vane, who was on his feet at once to say that Wheelwright's doctrines were no different from those of Cotton. Cotton himself neither admitted nor denied the similarity, but obviously was in sympathy with the majority.
More was at stake here than the welfare of the Boston church, and Winthrop, calling on his own reserve of popularity, was able to persuade the meeting not to elect Wheelwright. But the victory cost him many friends, even though he protested that he meant no personal slight to Wheelwright, and "did love that brother's person, and did honor the gifts and graces of God in him." In the weeks that followed, Wheelwright took himself off to the scattered settlement at Mount Wollaston, leaving behind a congregation that grew ever more resentful of Winthrop and his ally, the pastor John Wilson. Wilson, as pastor, had played second fiddle ever since John Cotton had arrived, but Mrs. Hutchinson's infectious contempt reduced his influence in the congregation to the vanishing point. He and Winthrop were left almost alone to console each other.
Winthrop as usual was sure that people would see things his way if they would only listen to reason, and as usual he set down in black and white the reason he hoped they would listen to. Fortunately, before presenting this document to his opponents he sent a copy to his friend Thomas Shepard, the pastor at Cambridge, who saw at once that Winthrop was no theologian. Though Winthrop knew better than his opponents the necessity of living in this world, he was no match for them in speculating about the next. His arguments, if one may judge from Shepard's criticisms (Winthrop's text is lost), were studded with expressions that smacked of Arminianism; "and so," Shepard warned him, "while you are about to convince them of errours, they will proclayme your selfe to hold foorth worse." Winthrop, who was no Arminian, probably destroyed his composition, and Boston remained deluded and defiant.
Though Winthrop could make no headway within his church, the rest of the colony was beginning to take alarm. The members of the Boston faction, like most religious fanatics, were not content to march quietly along their short cut to Heaven. They hoped to entice the rest of the colony along it and thought the best way was to visit other congregations and heckle the ministers. This method did not prove as effective as Mrs. Hutchinson's winning words. The General Court began to take notice of the problem, and Governor Henry Vane found his popularity ebbing outside Boston as rapidly as Winthrop's had inside. In a petulant fit of tears Vane offered to resign, and the General Court obligingly agreed to let him. This so alarmed his Boston adherents, who enjoyed having a champion in the governor's chair, that they coaxed him hard to stay, and he finally allowed himself to be persuaded.
By the beginning of 1637 the colony was divided into two hostile camps, the one centering in Boston, the other spread out around it, each constantly sniping at the other. In January the General Court ordered a fast, so that the people might mourn their dissensions. But empty bellies seldom beget brotherly love, and when John Wheelwright showed up at the afternoon lecture by Cotton, he rose up at its conclusion to launch a momentous sermon of his own against those enemies of the Lord who thought that sanctification was an evidence of justification. These holy-seeming men, he said, must be put aside. They were under a covenant of works, and "the more holy they are, the greater enemies they are to Christ." True believers must hew them down: "we must lay loade upon them, we must kille them with the worde of the Lorde."
Wheelwright was speaking figuratively and not actually proposing a blood bath, but he made it plain that he thought most of the existing ministers and probably most of the magistrates, too, could be dispensed with. Someone took down his words, and at the next meeting of the General Court, in spite of the protests of Vane and a few others, he was convicted of sedition. The sentence was deferred till the following session, which the court appointed to be in Cambridge, away from the immediate source of trouble.
This meeting, held the following May, was the regular time for election of officers. When it assembled, a petition from Boston was presented against the conviction of Wheelwright. Governor Vane wanted to deal with the petition before proceeding to election, but Winthrop and the other magistrates insisted on having the election first. When the votes were cast, it was found that Vane had not only failed of re-election but had been left out of the government altogether. The freemen had finally decided to recall the man who was best qualified to restore the peace. Winthrop was back in the governor's chair with Dudley once again as deputy governor. "There was great danger of a tumult that day," Winthrop noted, "and some laid hands on others," but seeing themselves outnumbered, the Bostonians finally decided that this was not the time to hew down the unholy holy and departed for home.
Winthrop now had the authority to crush the opposition, and it was certainly his inclination to bring the whole unhappy business to as speedy an end as possible. But to suppress or banish so large a segment of the population would be to effect the very separation he wished to avoid. His principal weapon must still be persuasion. Instead of dealing with Wheelwright at once, he again deferred sentence and arranged for a general day of humiliation and for a synod of ministers to be held in the late summer to discuss the points at issue and provide the court with a well-defined statement by which to judge the current heresies. Wheelwright was told that the court was still convinced of his guilt, "but if, upon the conference among the churches, the Lord should discover any further light to them than as yet they had seen, they should gladly embrace it." Nor did Winthrop deal with the opposition for their riotous behavior and insolent speeches on election day. Though there had been ample provocation for an indictment, the court hoped that by refraining from this and by deferring Wheelwright's sentence, "their moderation and desire of reconciliation might appear to all."
The ministers from the beginning had tried to win Cotton away from his heretical admirers, but he held firmly to the top of the fence. He did not endorse Mrs. Hutchinson's consignment of the other ministers to perdition, but he refused to believe that she and Wheelwright held the heresies imputed to them. At the same time he himself disapproved the current doctrine of preparation and maintained that more rigorous views had helped to effectuate a marked awakening of the spirit in Boston.
During the summer months Winthrop's dignity and patience were repeatedly taxed by the sulking saints of that town. Until shamed into it, Boston made no move to provide him with the sergeant halberdiers who customarily accompanied the governor to the first day of General Court and to Sunday meeting. Rather than press the point, he used his own servants and politely declined when at last the town left-handedly offered men but not sergeants. His comings and goings from Boston were also pointedly ignored, in marked contrast to the honor accorded him by other towns, which sent a guard to escort him into and out of their territory. And Henry Vane, until his departure for England on August 3, conducted himself with unabashed schoolboy discourtesy, refusing the invitation to sit in the magistrates' seats at the Boston church, though he had sat there ever since his arrival in the colony, refusing to attend a dinner party at Winthrop's home and instead carrying off the intended guest of honor, a visiting English nobleman, to dine on Noddle's Island with Samuel Maverick.
Although Winthrop set much store by his official dignity, he did not allow himself to be goaded into further recriminations. Once more he put his pen to work, and this time Thomas Shepard found little to criticize beyond the fact that he was too charitable to his opponents. But the charity was calculated. If he could not win over the leaders of the opposition, he might at least draw away their less extravagant followers.
At the same time he did not propose to allow them to increase their numbers by bringing over like-minded friends from England, where the Reverend Roger Brierly of Grindleton Chapel had recently been achieving notoriety by preaching doctrines similar to those of Mrs. Hutchinson. Winthrop feared that the Grindletonians, as Brierly's followers were called, would shortly be gravitating to Massachusetts, and he accordingly sponsored an order of court forbidding anyone to entertain strangers for more than three weeks without permission of the magistrates. This arbitrary restriction of immigration was denounced by Henry Vane as unchristian. Winthrop defended it but enforced it with his usual flexibility by granting the immigrant friends and relatives of Mrs. Hutchinson and Wheelwright four months in which to decide upon a location for settlement outside the colony.
On August 30 the ministers convened in a synod—all those of Massachusetts, including Wheelwright and Cotton, together with a delegation from Connecticut. For twenty-four days they defined to each other the dreadful doctrines that were polluting the air above Boston, and reached a remarkable unanimity. Even John Cotton, faced with a solid phalanx of his colleagues, squeezed his views into line. Wheelwright alone remained aloof. Close to a hundred heretical propositions were meticulously described and condemned, though the synod tactfully declined to attribute them to specific persons. The unanimous opinion of this body of experts must have given pause to many who had flirted with the new ideas, but a hard core of devotees in Boston continued a noisy defiance.
Winthrop could see no further avenue of persuasion and in November decided that it was time for action. Wheelwright was summoned again before the General Court and upon his refusal to give up teaching his heresies was banished. But Winthrop knew that Wheelwright was not the main source of the trouble. When the court had finished with him, they sent for his sister-in-law.
What followed was the least attractive episode in Winthrop's career. Anne Hutchinson was his intellectual superior in everything except political judgment, in everything except the sense of what was possible in this world. In nearly every exchange of words she defeated him, and the other members of the General Court with him. The record of her trial, if it is proper to dignify the procedure with that name, is one of the few documents in which her words have been recorded, and it reveals a proud, brilliant woman put down by men who had judged her in advance. The purpose of the trial was doubtless to make her conviction seem to follow due process of law, but it might have been better for the reputation of her judges if they had simply banished her unheard.
Mrs. Hutchinson confronted them at Cambridge, where magistrates and deputies crowded into the narrow benches of the meetinghouse, the only building of suitable size in the town. The ministers too were on hand, but only as witnesses, for this was a civil court, in which they had no authority. There was no jury, and no apparent procedure. The magistrates (and even some of the deputies) flung questions at the defendant, and exploded in blustering anger when the answers did not suit them. Even Winthrop was unable to maintain his usual poise in the face of Mrs. Hutchinson's clever answers to his loaded questions.
The court was somewhat handicapped, because Mrs. Hutchinson throughout the preceding months had played her hand so cleverly that only minor charges could be framed against her. The court was preparing to deal with all Wheelwright's supporters who had signed the petition in his favor. They would be disfranchised, disarmed, and in some cases banished. But Mrs. Hutchinson had signed nothing and so could be charged only with "countenancing and encouraging" those who did. To this was added the even weaker charge that she held in her home meetings of men and women which were not tolerable or comely in the sight of God or fitting for her sex. Following these was a last and more serious indictment, that she had traduced the faithful ministers of the colony.
The ground of the first charge was that in entertaining seditious persons she broke the Fifth Commandment: she dishonored the governors, who were the fathers of the commonwealth. This was not really a far-fetched interpretation, for the Puritans always justified subordination and subjection to the state on the basis of the Fifth Commandment. But Mrs. Hutchinson's "entertainment" of seditious persons could be considered seditious only by the most tenuous reasoning, and her nimble wit quickly devised a dilemma for the court. "Put the case, Sir," she said to Winthrop, "that I do fear the Lord and my parents, may not I entertain them that fear the Lord because my parents will not give me leave?"
Winthrop was unable to find his way around this logical impasse and took refuge in blind dogmatism: "We do not mean to discourse with those of your sex but only this; you do adhere unto them and do endeavor to set forward this faction and so you do dishonour us."
The court next called upon her to justify the weekly meetings at her house. In answer she quoted two passages of Scripture: Titus II, 3-5, which indicated that the elder women should instruct the younger, and Acts XVIII, 26, wherein Aquila and Priscilla "tooke upon them to instruct Apollo, more perfectly, yet he was a man of good parts, but they being better instructed might teach him."
There followed this interchange:
Court: See how your argument stands, Priscilla with her husband, tooke Apollo home to instruct him privately, therefore Mistris Hutchinson without her husband may teach sixty or eighty.
Hutch: I call them not, but if they come to me, I may instruct them.
Court: Yet you shew us not a rule.
Hutch: I have given you two places of Scripture.
Court: But neither of them will sute your practise.
To this assertion Mrs. Hutchinson returned her most withering sarcasm: "Must I shew my name written therein?"
Mrs. Hutchinson was having the best of the argument, but the members of the court were only antagonized by her wit. As they saw it, she was usurping the position of a minister without the authority that a minister possessed from his election by a congregation. Her meetings were a fountain of dissension and separatism for which the community was liable to punishment by the Lord. On this note the court closed the argument: "We see no rule of God for this, we see not that any should have authority to set up any other exercises besides what authority hath already set up and so what hurt comes of this you will be guilty of and we for suffering you."
The greater part of the audience doubtless breathed a silent "Amen," and the trial moved forward to the final accusation, that she had insulted the ministers. The basis of this charge was a conference held the preceding December between the ministers and Mrs. Hutchinson. In spite of the fact that the conference had been private, and they had encouraged her to speak freely, they did not hesitate now to testify that she had designated them all, with the exception of Cotton and Wheelwright, as laboring under a covenant of works. One minister after another was called forward, and when the court adjourned for the day, the evidence against her on this charge looked overwhelming.
That night she went over some notes taken at the December conference by her most determined opponent, John Wilson. Finding some discrepancy between his notes and the testimony offered in court, she demanded the next morning that the ministers be required to give their evidence under oath. This created a considerable stir, because if the ministers swore to their testimony and it was proved to be wrong, they would be guilty not merely of perjury but of blasphemy, of taking the name of the Lord in vain. After much hemming and hawing by the other ministers John Cotton was called upon for the first time to give his version of the conference. With the tact which had enabled him to retain the favor of both sides he soothed the injured pride of his fellow ministers and then brought his speech to a dramatic close by declaring, "I must say that I did not find her saying they were under a covenant of works, nor that she said they did preach a covenant of works." And though pressed by the other ministers, he stood his ground.
With this testimony the case against Mrs. Hutchinson was about to collapse. The first two specifications against her had been too weakly sustained to warrant more than a serious admonition, and now the revered Mr. Cotton had knocked out the props from under the only remaining charge. The triumph was too much. Hitherto Mrs. Hutchinson had been on guard and had dexterously parried every thrust against her. Had she been content to hold her tongue at this point, her judges might have felt obliged to dismiss her with a censure. But instead she now proceeded to justify herself by a torrent of divine revelations.
Winthrop tried to stop her, but the floodgates were opened—perhaps by hysteria. Suddenly he must have seen where this outpouring might lead and was silent. The minutes raced by as she described how one thing after another had been revealed to her through scriptural passages thrust into her mind by God. To the Puritans this was an acceptable form of revelation. But then, still to the accompaniment of Biblical citations, she came to the revelation that she would come into New England and there be persecuted, but need fear no more than Daniel in the lions' den. "And see!" she cried, "this scripture fulfilled this day in mine eyes, therefore take heed what yee goe about to doe unto me … for I know that for this you goe about to do to me, God will ruine you and your posterity, and this whole State."
Here was the naked challenge. Winthrop and his colleagues believed that the Lord would punish Massachusetts if they did not punish Mrs. Hutchinson. Obviously either she or they were deluded, and they asked her "How shee did know that it was God that did reveale these things to her, and not Satan." With a final scriptural flourish to justify what she was about to do and with confidence in the Lord's deliverance, Mrs. Hutchinson at last threw off the confining authority of the Bible and swept arrogantly on.
Mrs. H: How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?
Court: By an immediate voice.
Mrs. H: So to me by an immediate revelation.
Court: How! an immediate revelation?
Mrs. H: By the voice of his own spirit to my soul.
Here it was at last, an acknowledgment of the heresy so long suspected. The Lord had indeed disclosed who was deluded, but He had left it to the court to strike her down! Winthrop recorded that "the Court and all the rest of the Assembly (except those of her owne party) did observe a speciall providence of God, that … her owne mouth should deliver her into the power of the Court, as guilty of that which all suspected her for, but were not furnished with proofe sufficient to proceed against her…." It required only the briefest deliberation for the court to agree that Mrs. Hutchinson's words were sufficient cause for banishment, and when she said, "I desire to know wherefore I am banished," Winthrop gave the shabby final word: "Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied."
The sentencing of Anne Hutchinson was followed by the disfranchising and disarming of her closest adherents, who might at any moment receive an immediate revelation directing them to kill her judges. Religious enthusiasm was known to produce such results. Fortunately, the number of unwavering Hutchinson disciples was small. Her heretical declaration at the trial had driven off many in disillusionment. Though badly shaken, the Boston church for a time kept dogged faith that the declaration had been the result of unfair pressure and chicanery by the court. But when they sought to satisfy their doubts at a church meeting, Mrs. Hutchinson offered some testimony so obviously contrary to her own previous statements that they could only reluctantly conclude to abandon her. In March, 1637, they voted to excommunicate her, and at the end of the month, her banishment having been deferred four months because of the winter and her pregnancy, she departed for Rhode Island, followed by the few faithful.
Winthrop's victory at the trial had been an unsavory triumph of arbitrary power, but happily it represented more than the mere crushing of a helpless woman. When she left, Massachusetts lost a brilliant mind, but God's commission was secured. Even the Boston church recovered from the troubles and was restored to unity. Only a little over a year later Winthrop looked back and congratulated himself on not having withdrawn from the church when every hand was turned against him. "By this time," he writes, "there appeared a great change in the church of Boston; for whereas, the year before, they were all (save five or six) so affected to Mr. Wheelright and Mrs. Hutchinson, and those new opinions, as they slighted the present governour and the pastor, looking at them as men under a covenant of works, and as their greatest enemies; but they bearing all patiently, and not withdrawing themselves, (as they were strongly solicited to have done,) but carrying themselves lovingly and helpfully upon all occasions, the Lord brought about the hearts of all the people to love and esteem them more than ever before, and all breaches were made up, and the church was saved from ruin beyond all expectation; which could hardly have been, (in human reason,) if those two had not been guided by the Lord to that moderation."
Thus the final lesson of the Hutchinson affair was the same lesson that Winthrop had been learning all his life, the importance of not separating.
Massachusetts, then, was not going to crumble into a hundred holy little bands, all looking for perfection in this world and finding it in their own exclusive sanctimoniousness. With the successive expulsions of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, the freemen who had rebuked Winthrop in 1634 demonstrated that their mission in the wilderness was the same as his: to found a society where the perfection of God would find proper recognition among imperfect men. Those who looked for a private heaven on earth might now look in Rhode Island—and much joy to them. Those who cared not for heaven or hell could await damnation in the Old World. Massachusetts, saved from the zealots, would go about the business to which Winthrop had committed it. Here between the Merrimack and the Charles would be a new Israel, where men might worship as God commanded and only as He commanded, where they might obey His laws in peace and be punished when they disobeyed, where they could live in the world as God required but not lose sight of the eternity that lay beyond it.
The freemen had shown their dedication to the goal Winthrop set them, but they still had their own ideas about how to reach it. Though they called for his assistance against Anne Hutchinson, they had no intention of relinquishing the share of power they had won in 1634. There would be four meetings of the General Court every year, making laws to limit the discretion of the magistrates, and the freemen would be represented by their elected deputies. A benevolent despotism, they were convinced, was not the way to carry out God's commission.
Winthrop disagreed, and so did a number of his fellow magistrates. They could not escape the changes made in 1634, but the settlement of that year had left a great many details of the government untouched, and they hoped that in settling those details they might still retain the kind of paternalistic state in which they believed. Even while they fought for the life of their experiment against Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, Winthrop and the freemen wrestled with each other over this problem. It was, of course, the old struggle for power that goes on inside every society, but in Massachusetts the stakes were high. If the people of this colony were to lead the world in establishing the kind of community God demanded, then they could not afford to err. The role of the deputies, of the clergy, of the magistrates, and of the people must be as God would have it; the laws must be His laws; the government must be His government.
The most difficult problem, in Winthrop's view, was that of the deputies. Winthrop had enough political sense to know that they were there to stay, but he could not bring himself to look on them as genuine officers of government. They were, rather, the representatives of the people, and their only role was to keep the government in touch with public opinion. The magistrates, on the other hand, though elected by the same voters, represented not the people but God. Their authority came from Him and not from the men who put them in office.
Winthrop did not want a government entirely free from popular control. In 1630 he had voluntarily abandoned the oligarchy which the charter made possible, and in 1631 he had persuaded the other magistrates to allow popular election of the governor and deputy governor as well as assistants. In 1634 he had been willing to give the people a voice in matters of taxation and land distribution and in the revision of laws they felt unsatisfactory. But he wanted no blurring of the distinction between rulers and ruled. To confound the two would be to make mockery of the authority God gave to rulers. As John Cotton put it, "if the people be governors, who shall be governed?" Moreover, if the purpose of government was to curb human depravity, then it must be set apart from the people and enabled to act upon them with all the majesty of divine sanction. This could never be if the government were run by the people or their deputies, and subject to their every corrupt whim.
The deputies understandably took a higher view of their role and of their competence to fill it than did Winthrop. While he tried to reduce their part in the new government, they did their best to enlarge it. Winthrop began the dispute shortly after his ouster from the governor's chair by claiming for the magistrates (the governor, deputy governor, and assistants) a "negative voice" on all legislation. The freemen wanted laws. Very well, but no law, he said, could be made without the consent of a majority of the magistrates, through all the freemen or their deputies should be for it. The deputies outnumbered the magistrates in the General Court and if allowed to carry measures by a simple majority, they might frustrate the work of the government, that is, of the magistrates, who were the authorized vicegerents of God.
Winthrop assumed that the line between governors and governed ran between the magistrates and the deputies. But he did not rest his case simply on this assumption. The freemen had claimed the charter as the basis of government. To the charter he went, therefore, and came up with the provision that the authority of the General Court was to be exercised by the majority of the members present, "whereof the Governor or Deputie Governor and six of the Assistants, at the least [are] to be seven." This passage, according to Winthrop, was not merely a definition of the quorum necessary to transact business. Rather it was a requirement that every measure have the approval of the governor or deputy governor and six assistants. It meant, in effect, that no law could be valid unless it was accepted by a majority of the magistrates as well as by a majority of the freemen or their deputies.
Since the General Court was the supreme court as well as the supreme legislature of Massachusetts, the negative voice also meant that no final judicial decision could be rendered against the will of the magistrates. That the magistrates should exercise such control seemed desirable to Winthrop for several reasons, foremost of which was that they were admittedly elected as the best qualified men in the colony for wisdom, judgment, ability, and knowledge. It was to the interest of every freeman to choose well, for the magistrates' duties included sitting as judges in the local county courts and in the monthly Court of Assistants where appeals were heard.
The freemen recognized the scarcity of qualified men; they re-elected many of the same magistrates again and again. This lack of men with the education, legal training, and experience necessary to fit them to make judicial decisions—or legislative ones—was a constant concern to Winthrop. In 1634 he had tried to bar the freemen from power in the General Court for just this reason. "For the present," he had told them, "they were not furnished with a sufficient number of men for such a business." They had taken their powers anyhow and transferred them to deputies. But the deputies, as a group, were no better qualified than the freemen. These pious but unlearned men were called upon to act as a supreme judiciary without even taking an oath to judge according to the laws of God and of the land (because they were not regular judges). Through the place they occupied in the General Court they enjoyed a power in judicial matters equal to that of the wisest and most learned magistrates in the land. Only by the negative voice could the magistrates prevent them from committing the grossest errors.
Winthrop was not able to get the negative voice accepted without opposition, even though it would guarantee an equal power of veto to the deputies. But the matter was so important to him that he supported it with a vehemence he seldom displayed. When Israel Stoughton, a substantial and straightforward freeman from Dorchester, drew up a list of arguments against it, Winthrop rode him down as "a troubler of Israel" and demanded that the General Court burn his arguments and disbar him from office for three years. Winthrop still had enough prestige to carry this point, but in his vindictiveness against Stoughton he overreached himself. Stoughton, who was an honest and able man, admitted privately that Winthrop was "a man of men," but added wisely, "He is but a man: and some say they have idolized him, and do now confesse their error."
This was in 1635, when the election again left Winthrop out of the governorship. But the troubles with Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were now approaching, and many freemen were ready to give the magistrates a stronger hand to deal with separatism. In 1636, after Williams had departed, the General Court confirmed the negative voice by a statute declaring "that noe lawe, order, or sentence shall passe as an act of the Court, without the consent of the greater parte of the magistrates on the one parte, and the greater number of the deputyes on the other parte."
This was not the end of the question. Whenever the magistrates exercised their veto, there was apt to be argument about it, but they clung to their position and in 1644 secured it by a formal division of the General Court into two houses.
Meanwhile Winthrop and those who agreed with him on the desirability of a strong magistracy took advantage of the uproar caused by the Williams episode to inaugurate another device for stabilizing their authority. The meeting of the General Court in March, 1636, made provision for the election, as occasion might demand, of "a certaine number of magistrates for the tearme of their lyves, as a standing counsaile, not to be removed but upon due conviction of crime, insufficiency, or for some other waightie cause; the Governor for the tyme being to be always president of this counsaile." It was intended that the council should be drawn principally from ex-governors, and accordingly Winthrop and Dudley were selected as the first members. The following month they were empowered to run the colony in the intervals between meetings of the General Court. This they proceeded to do with a very free hand, for the definition of the council's powers had been left comfortably vague and ambiguous.
Thus the government of Massachusetts still had some of the character Winthrop desired for it when he took office again as governor in 1637. After he succeeded in driving Anne Hutchinson and her followers to Rhode Island, a grateful country was content for some time to let him manage affairs in his own way, and the General Court rewarded his services with generous grants of land in the new plantation then beginning at Concord. Friends wrote from England, too, congratulating him on his great success in vanquishing the dangerous opinions which had troubled the colony, and Englishmen demonstrated their confidence by coming over in such numbers as had never been seen before, three thousand in the summer of 1638 alone. God manifested His approval in other ways, too. In the spring of 1637, while Winthrop was in the process of subduing Mrs. Hutchinson, the colony became involved in war with the Pequot Indians. Through the timely warnings of Roger Williams, who was corresponding regularly with Winthrop, and with the assistance of the settlers in Connecticut, who bore the brunt of the fighting, the Pequots were destroyed, virtually the whole tribe killed or captured.
The abundant evidence of divine favor served to confirm Winthrop in his commitment to a government with wide discretionary powers, dedicated to the enforcement of the laws of God, but not accountable to anyone but God. Whenever his actions as governor were questioned, he would carefully explain why he had done what he did, and might even modify his decisions to meet criticisms, but he never failed to rebuke the questioners. The freemen were for the moment so pleased with his combination of firmness and flexibility that in 1638 and again in 1639 they re-elected him in spite of an intention expressed in 1635 to have the office rotate.
But the forces which produced the revolution of 1634 were not extinct. Thomas Dudley still insisted on rigor; and among the freemen new leaders were arising to challenge Winthrop's paternalism. Israel Stoughton, as soon as his three-year disqualification expired, was elected an assistant. With him stood Richard Bellingham, one of the original members of the Bay Company, and Richard Saltonstall, the son of an original member.
Bellingham had been a lawyer in England and a member of Charles I's Parliament of 1628. After his arrival in Massachusetts in 1634 he served for a year in the General Court as deputy for Boston and then was made an assistant and treasurer of the colony. He was a mercurial individual, melancholic and impetuous, not Winthrop's idea of a proper magistrate at all. Bellingham had equal misgivings about Winthrop's high notions of governmental authority and, perhaps from his experience in Parliament, had gained high notions of his own about the authority of the people. He and Saltonstall, who was elevated to the magistracy in 1637, generally deserted their colleagues for the side of the deputies whenever there was a dispute.
In spite of these defections, Winthrop might have been able to continue the high-toned government he thought best if he had not met with opposition from another quarter—the clergy. Although no clergyman ever held civil office in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, clerical influence was conspicuous on more than one occasion in reducing the authority of the magistrates and magnifying the liberties of the freemen.
The relationship between church and state was one of the things that the Puritans knew they must get right. They were certain that God had prescribed the terms of it, and they had thought much about it before leaving England, where church and state were confounded at every level from parish to Crown. In Massachusetts the Puritans drew a firmer dividing line between the two than existed anywhere in Europe. The state was still responsible for supporting and protecting the church: as guardian of the divine commission the state must punish heresy like any other sin. And it did so, inflicting loss of civil and political rights as well as other penalties. But in prosecuting heresy it did not operate as the agent of the churches. It formed its own judgments with the aid of a jury or in the General Court, where the respresentatives of the people sat in judgment with the magistrates. The church had no authority in the government and the government was particularly careful not to allow the actions of any church to affect civil and political rights. In England excommunication carried heavy civil disabilities, in Massachusetts none. The right to vote and hold office was not revoked by loss of church membership.
Though the clergy had no political authority of any kind, they did enjoy a very powerful indirect influence. They were highly respected by their congregations, and when unpopular measures had to be adopted, the magistrates counted on their assistance in reconciling people to the necessity of obedience. When a difficult decision had to be made, the magistrates frequently consulted the ministers, who were learned men and wise in the laws of God. In this way, though they were barred from the exercise of authority, a back door was left open through which they could influence state policy.
Normally the magistrates accepted the advice of the clergy, but the magistrates were big enough men in their own right to maintain their independence—as long as the government remained entirely in their hands. The admission of the deputies to the government magnified clerical influence. Thereafter, whenever the deputies and the magistrates were at odds on any question, both sides were tempted to seek the support of the ministers, whose influence on their congregations might swing the balance of power. Had they been ambitious for temporal authority and had their beliefs not forbidden it, the clergy might have won a regular position in the government. They did not attempt to do so; but when they were consulted in disputes between deputies and magistrates, they did not hesitate to throw their weight on one side or the other.
Although for the most part they supported the magistrates, they agreed with the deputies on the need for specific legislation to reduce discretionary authority. Even John Cotton, one of the most consistent supporters of stability in government, one of the most outspoken enemies of "mere democracy," argued that the prerogatives of authority must be clearly limited. "They will be like a Tempest," he said, "if they be not limited: a Prince himselfe cannot tell where hee will confine himselfe, nor can the people tell: But if he have liberty to speak great things, then he will make and unmake, say and unsay, and undertake such things as are neither for his owne honour, nor for the safety of the State. It is therefore fit for every man to be studious of the bounds which the Lord hath set."
With the ministers preaching the limitation of authority and Winthrop insisting on the opposite, the freemen began once more to grow concerned. Everyone admitted that Winthrop was a great man and an excellent governor, but his pre-eminence made his views seem the more dangerous. Every year brought more Englishmen to Massachusetts, men who had suffered from the discretion of an absolute ruler. In spite of Winthrop's benevolence and wisdom, they felt uneasy for the future.
The ministers continued to worry the subject, and before the election of 1639, some of them tried to persuade the freemen that it was dangerous to keep on reelecting Winthrop to the governorship. Their arguments proceeded, Winthrop wrote, "not out of any dislike of him, (for they all loved and esteemed him,) but out of their fear lest it might make way for having a governour for life, which some had propounded as most agreeable to God's institution and the practice of all well ordered states." Those ministers most sensitive to the dangers of unlimited authority evidently detected that Winthrop himself would not have been averse to a life term. Such was his popularity that they could not prevent his re-election, but they argued the matter so heatedly that many freemen received the impression there was a plot afoot to install a governor for life. As a result, the deputies at the next meeting of the General Court took steps to clip the wings of the Council for Life, established three years before. In their capacity as councilmen Winthrop and his colleagues had been exercising powers that (according to the deputies) they were entitled to exercise only when they sat as magistrates in the General or Assistants Court. Though the General Court did not abolish the council, they did confine its jurisdiction to a few specifically stated functions: military affairs, the Indian trade, and the customs service.
Winthrop accepted this decision with obvious reluctance, thereby perhaps confirming the fears of the deputies and the clergy that he wanted too much power. Before the next election the ministers busied themselves again to effect his ouster, "fearing lest the long continuance of one man in the place should bring it to be for life, and, in time, hereditary." It took some doing to persuade the people to elect anyone else. "Many of the elders," Winthrop noted, "labored much in it," though without any hard feeling toward him. Meeting in Boston in order to concert their efforts, "they sent some of their company to acquaint the old governour with their desire, and the reasons moving them, clearing themselves of all dislike of his government, and seriously professing their sincere affections and respect toward him." He thanked them, assured them that he understood their motives, and expressed "his unfeigned desire of more freedom that he might a little intend his private occasions"; but he doubtless made plain that he would not refuse if the people chose to call him once again—God intended men to use the talents He gave them.
The man whom the elders had selected as the most likely candidate to beat Winthrop was his old friend and antagonist, Thomas Dudley. By a narrow margin Dudley was elected, and in the following year, 1641, through equally strenuous efforts, Richard Bellingham was chosen by a majority of six votes over Winthrop.
With Winthrop out of the way for two years, the deputies were able to press forward with the project which they had pursued ever since their admission to the government. At their first meeting in the General Court in 1634 they had secured the passage of one or two general laws; and at ensuing sessions they kept adding more. They wanted as soon as possible a full and explicit body of legislation to restrain the magistrates and to guarantee civil rights and liberties, but they recognized that laws must be carefully drawn, especially in Massachusetts, where every clause must conform to the word of God. As early as 1635 they saw that their own piecemeal efforts would never provide them with an adequate code, and appointed a committee to frame a complete body of laws "in resemblance to a Magna Charta."
The committee, consisting of John Haynes, Richard Bellingham, Thomas Dudley, and Winthrop, never brought in a report. Winthrop was against the whole idea and quarreled with the other members over the question of leniency. The next year the deputies tried again with a mixed committee of magistrates and ministers. This one did produce a code, the work of John Cotton, but the details of it were not altogether pleasing to the deputies. Though Cotton believed in explicit legislation to limit authority, he had as high notions as Winthrop about keeping government stable. He had argued in 1634 for the reelection of Winthrop, and he went a step further in his code by providing that all assistants be elected for life terms. Though the deputies had agreed to establish the Council for Life, this wholesale creation of life tenures was too much for them. Cotton's code was "taken into further consideration" and quietly put on the shelf.
In 1638, after Winthrop had been back as governor for a year, the deputies resumed their efforts. Gradually things began to move, but as slowly as Winthrop could make them, and when Dudley took over again in 1640, no code had been established. Winthrop explained candidly in his journal why he and some of the other magistrates were dragging their feet. It was not, he said, that they wanted no laws at all, but that they wanted the laws to arise out of judicial decisions rather than out of wholesale legislative enactments. Massachusetts was a new country and a new kind of society, dedicated as no other society had been to carrying out God's covenant. Though the terms of that covenant were set down clearly in the Bible, they could not be applied exactly as they had been in Israel. To agree in advance on positive applications would impose an impossible rigidity. God's will would be defeated in the very attempt to carry it out. Much better to leave the magistrates a free hand. Let them search the Scriptures for the proper rule in each case as it arose. The decisions would be recorded, and when a similar case arose in the future, the judges could hark back to it and be guided by it. Through just such precedents the common law of England had arisen. And did not every good Englishman acknowledge that the common law was more binding, more in accordance with God's will, than the statutes enacted by Parliament?
There was another reason, too, why Winthrop disliked legislation: the Massachusetts charter forbade legislation contrary to the laws of England, and the right legislation would have to depart from English law at many points. There was, however, no express limitation on judicial or executive action, and these might escape notice. For example, if Massachusetts simply followed the practice of having civil magistrates perform the marriage ceremony (as the Scriptures, to Puritan eyes, demanded), no one in England need be the wiser. But to pass a law forbidding any but magistrates to perform it would be to invite interference from England, and might lead to revocation of the charter.
Winthrop's arguments were not unreasonable, but they were no answer to the deputies. He spoke of making laws by judicial precedents, but that was exactly what they feared: how could they be sure the precedents would be the right ones? Precedents accumulating slowly, almost surreptitiously, not exposed to public deliberation might be chains to bind the people in slavery. Government existed to control human corruption; but governors were human, and there must be some way of controlling their corruption, too. A code, therefore, the deputies would have, and they finally found the right man to draw it up—Nathaniel Ward of Ipswich.
Ipswich, the second largest settlement in the colony, attracted men of character (including Winthrop's eldest son, John). Nathaniel Ward, like many Puritans and especially those of Ipswich, was an outspoken man. He was older than Winthrop and had behind him ten years of legal training and practice in London, ten years on the Continent, and ten years as rector of Stondon-Massey in Essex. He came to Ipswich at the age of fifty-five in 1634, served as pastor for a couple of years, and then resigned because of ill health but stayed on in the town.
He was no democrat and no demagogue. Before he died he returned to England and dared stand before the House of Commons and denounce it for its treatment of the King. "I see the spirits of people runne high," he observed disapprovingly to Winthrop in 1639, "and what they gett they hould." But the deputies did well in selecting him to draw their code. His legal experience was more extensive than Winthrop's and had probably been gained in the common-law courts, where lawyers learned to match laws against the discretion of the King, and where the people of England were gradually accumulating a heritage of civil liberties. Ward disapproved of giving the people a free hand in the government, but he was clear that "they may not be denyed their proper and lawfull liberties."
These liberties, along with the liberties of magistrates, churches, animals, servants, children, and women, he sought to protect in the Body of Liberties, as the code he drafted came to be called. There were a hundred provisions, many of which would have been welcomed by most men in old England, whether Puritan or not—for example, number nine: that "no monopolies shall be granted or allowed amongst us, but of such new Inventions that are profitable to the Countrie, and that for a short time"; or number ten, forbidding feudal restrictions on land: "All our lands and heritages shall be free from all fines and licences upon Alienations, and from all hariotts, wardships, Liveries, Primerseisins, yeare day and wast, Escheates, and forfeitures, upon the deaths of parents or Ancestors, be they naturall, casuall or Juditiall." There would be no Court of Wards and Liveries in Massachusetts. Ward introduced other innovations, too, based on his legal experience, to make Massachusetts judicial procedures simpler than English ones. And he guarded the traditional liberties for which Englishmen were even then struggling in the mother country: trial by jury and due process of law.
But the code was not merely a bill of rights to protect the inhabitants of Massachusetts from arbitrary government. It was a blueprint of the whole Puritan experiment, an attempt to spell out the dimensions of the New England way. Trial by jury was part of that way (although the General Court, exercising supreme jurisdiction, operated without a jury) and so was freehold tenure of lands, but only because these practices seemed in accord with the laws of God; for the New England way must be the way God wanted his kingdom on earth to be run, and every law must be measured by His holy word. "No custom or prescription," said the Body of Liberties, "shall ever prevaile amongst us in any morall cause, our meaning is [that no custom or prescription shall] maintaine anythinge that can be proved to bee morallie sinfull by the word of God." And it enumerated all those crimes which the laws of God branded as deserving death: idolatry, witchcraft, blasphemy, murder, bestiality, sodomy, adultery, manstealing, false witness, and treason. The list included several crimes which were more lightly punished in England, but the very brevity showed that God demanded lesser punishments for most offenses than the King of England did. In England the number of capital crimes amounted to about fifty during the seventeenth century and rose to well over a hundred in the eighteenth.
The Body of Liberties did not describe in detail the machinery of government that had been worked out for God's kingdom in Massachusetts during the preceding ten years. It did not, for example, define the relative authority of deputies and magistrates, which was still a matter of dispute. But it did lay down some general principles of fundamental importance: it reaffirmed the decision of 1634 in a provision stating the right of each town to choose deputies for the General Court; it guaranteed the right of freemen to elect all officers of government annually; and it defined the relationship of church and state in unmistakable terms. The state could establish Christ's religion in every church, and it could "deale with any Church member in a way of Civill Justice, notwithstanding any Church relation, office or interest." The church, or rather any particular church, could "deale with any magestrate, Deputie of Court or other officer what soe ever that is a member in a church way in case of apparent and just offence given in their places, so it be done with due observance and respect," but "no church censure shall degrad or depose any man from any Civill dignitie, office, or Authoritie he shall have in the Commonwealth." In other words, a church might censure or excommunicate a magistrate (who happened to be a member) for some improper magisterial action, but the excommunication would not affect his authority or the validity of what he did.
The code also stated some of the principles governing the special institution that the people of Massachusetts had developed to replace the parishes and boroughs and manors from which they had come. In these institutions of English local government, church and state were hopelessly entwined. In order to separate them and also do away with archaic forms of land tenure, it was necessary to construct an altogether new kind of unit, a unit which would be a parish without church officers, a borough without aldermen, a manor without a lord. The New England town was not built after any pre-existing pattern, nor were all towns alike. But in the course of a decade towns had somehow come into being, and some common features had emerged to which the Body of Liberties gave the sanction of law: the freemen of every town should have power to make bylaws (not contrary to the laws of the colony) and could also "choose yearly or for lesse time out of themselves a convenient number of fitt men to order the planting or prudentiall occasions of that Town." These "select persons" should not exceed nine in number and were to do nothing contrary to written instructions given them by their constituents. A unique form of local government had been created.
After much discussion and revision the code of liberties was finally accepted by the General Court in December, 1641. Winthrop recorded the fact in his journal without comment. He would doubtless have been happier if its provisions had been left unexpressed, but he probably found little to quarrel with in the substance of them. They defined the New England way for all to see, and if this might bring trouble, it might also prompt the world to imitation.
The freemen, in any case, were pleased to have things written out. There was still, of course, a great deal left undecided. Nothing, for example, had been said about the education of children, and in the following year the General Court made it a law that all parents see that their children be taught to read. A later enactment provided for free public schools. Many more laws would be needed in the coming years; but with the Body of Liberties established, the freemen felt safe in summoning Winthrop back as their leader. In May, 1642, they returned him to the governorship and kept him there, in spite of occasional protests by clergymen, for most of the remainder of his life.
Meanwhile, during the time Nathaniel Ward was constructing the Massachusetts Magna Charta, things began to happen in the rest of the world that would alter the significance of everything Winthrop and his colony had done or could ever do.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2877
SOURCE: "Traditional Patterns of Puritan Autobiography: John Winthrop's 'Christian Experience'," in Spiritual Autobiography in Early America, Princeton University Press, 1968, pp. 100-10.
[In the essay below, Shea explores Winthrop's "Christian Experience" as an account of his spiritual progress.]
Any Puritan autobiography exhibits its author's awareness of the traditional stages through which a man passed as God brought him to grace. But some narratives serve as paradigms in their adherence to textbook descriptions of the order of grace. Edward Taylor's "Spiritual Relation" is one of these. Another, the "Christian Experience" of John Winthrop was written more than forty years before Taylor's "Relation," and yet there is little substantial difference between them. Taylor's diagram of his experience can be applied to Winthrop's relation with little difficulty. Taylor divides the whole process of conversion into two parts, conviction and repentance. As it relates to the understanding, conviction is more precisely termed illumination, "but as it affects the Conscience whereby it turns its Checks upon the Will, and affections its properly called Conviction … and is a Singular Spur unto Repentance." In turn Repentance divides neatly into Aversion, "whereby the heart is broken of[f] from Sin," and Conversion, "whereby the Soule is carried to God in Christ." Conversion then flowers triply into Love, Hope, and Joy while Obedience works daily to carry on "the work of Repentance unto perfection."
John Winthrop dated the beginning of his progress in the Spirit from the time he came under the ministry of Ezekiel Culverwell, a prominent explicator of the ways of grace to non-separating English Puritans. Winthrop gives Culverwell's preaching as the means by which he moved, in Taylor's terms, from illumination to real conviction: "living there sometimes I first found the ministry of the word to come to my heart with power (for in all before I found onely light)…." Thereafter the stages succeed one another so nearly according to ideal form that a modern historian of the Puritans can safely offer Winthrop's narrative as representative of "hundreds of others." The typicality of the Taylor and Winthrop narratives, then, provides a basis for discussing later developments in Puritan spiritual autobiography while indicating the pervasive uniformity of its structure and vocabulary in the seventeenth century.
It would be difficult, nevertheless, to find autobiographical compositions which are wholly barren of individuality. Taylor's definitive articulation of his spirit in another form is hinted at in some of the language of the "Relation" and in his closing affirmation of the significance of the meditative act. Winthrop's narrative, although it lacks the names and dates that make his Journal the indispensable primary record of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, shows the impact of events and controversies in which the writer found himself engaged as a public magistrate.
For Winthrop, the winter of 1636-1637, during which the "Christian Experience" was composed, was a period of reassessment. Although he would soon be governor again, resuming the leadership he had exercised over the Bay Colony from 1630 to 1634, he was now in the third year of his exile from power. As an assistant, and more recently as deputy governor, he commanded influence, but was still denied executive power. Although he had not sought office energetically, rather had "earnestly desired, at every election, to have been freed," he would nevertheless be driven to seek an explanation for his eclipse, alternatively in the "jealousy" of the freemen or in some shortcoming of his own. Immersion in the affairs of the colony had left little time for introspection. In England, Winthrop had kept a diary, his "Experiencia," which contain several extended passages of self-analysis. Since arriving in New England, he had made no additional entries. Now, on January 12, 1636/37 he was beginning his fiftieth year of life and it was time for an accounting.
Impetus for autobiographical composition did not come from the calendar alone. In the previous October, Winthrop had received a letter from Roger Williams in Providence. Since Winthrop's timely and prudent suggestion that Williams might avoid deportation to England by setting his "course to Narragansett Bay and Indians, for many high and heavenly and public ends," there had developed a warm and mutually respectful correspondence between the two men. From his frontier outpost Williams was able to convey a good deal of useful information to Winthrop, especially concerning the movements and disposition of the Indians. A kind of dialogue developed between them, ranging over the issues on which Williams had been found to hold heretical opinions.
Assuming reciprocal understanding on Williams' side, despite his reputation for intransigence, Winthrop apparently felt no need to suppress the topics on which they were divided or to veil them in gentlemanly obscurities. In a letter whose contents are known only through Williams' reply of October 1636, Winthrop had posed six questions intended finally to wring an admission from Williams that he had caused a great stir over nothing. Williams' detailed reply argues that the dictates of conscience are unavoidable: "the stroke lies upon the very Judgment." Yet Winthrop had gone beyond frankness to call into question Williams' motives and spiritual estate. His sixth question implied that contentiousness as to doctrine was not the habit of the saints, that if Williams had grace he could not have set himself apart so easily from his fellow believers.
For the record, Williams repeated Winthrop's question to him: "You aske whether my former Condicion would not have stood with a gracious Heart etc.?" He then proceeded to emulate his own highest praise of Winthrop ("You beare with Fooles gladly because you are Wise") by drawing the most elementary of distinctions between reprobation and misjudgment. Surely Winthrop must be aware of the irony that he, and not Roger Williams, was espousing the perfectionism of the enthusiasts. "At this Quaerie Sir I wonder much because you know what Sinnes yea all manner of Sinnes (the Sinn unto Death excepted) a Child of God may lye in Instance I neede not." Too much the controversialist to forego examples, Williams then drove home his most telling point: "Instances I shall be bold to present you with: First doe you not hope Bishop Usher hath a Gracious Heart? and 2ndly Doe you not judge that your owne Heart was gracious even when (with the poysoned shirt on your back) you etc.?"
In the breaking off of the last sentence one feels Williams' reticence to deal as sharp a blow as he had sustained. As a result the sense of the poisoned-shirt allusion is ambiguous, perhaps implying a comparison between Williams' position in the colony and Winthrop's as a Puritan in England, perhaps referring to the controversy over the Governor's authority that led to Winthrop's defeat in 1634. In either case, Winthrop would have to reply that he hoped his judgment had been right and his spirit gracious at the same time. Williams claimed no more for himself.
The Winthrop papers contain no reply to Williams' question unless it is the spiritual autobiography written three months later. Simultaneously, another question was taking shape, which Winthrop assumed responsibility for posing to himself before someone else could point out the necessity. The Antinomian controversy, an explosion into the horrified view of the Bay Colony Puritans of that enthusiasm which had always been implicit in their doctrine of election, claims John Winthrop as a leading though not decisive figure. At first he only observed, and recorded what he saw. He set down in his Journal such errors of the Church of Boston as "that the Holy Ghost dwelt in a believer as he is in heaven; that a man is justified before he believes; that faith was before justification, but it was only passive, an empty vessel, etc." Soon Winthrop attempted to enter the controversy directly by means of two compositions, a "Declaration" to demonstrate that faith preceded justification, and an irenic attempt at a "Pacification" between the parties. But in the review of his arguments which he requested from Thomas Shepard, Winthrop faced the charitably phrased question, "whether it will be most safe for you to enter into the conflict with your pen (though the Lord hath made you very able and fit for it)," followed by a systematic baring of the flaws in his amateur's arguments. This was in December of 1636. Five months later Winthrop would be elected Governor once again and have his chance eventually to sit in judgment of Anne Hutchinson.
Whatever his limitations in doctrinal controversy, Winthrop knew two things for certain: that Antinomians encouraged impiety when they preached the dangerous doctrine that conviction, repentance, and other preparatory stages of conversion had nothing to do with God's bestowal of free grace; and that the doctrine of free grace, as a cornerstone of Puritan piety, needed to be preached with all the rigor of a John Cotton. The very extremity of Anne Hutchinson's position made it necessary to reaffirm an undistorted yet untained version of free grace and to allow, autobiographically, that he had just been rescued from creeping Arminianism: "The Doctrine of free justification lately taught here, took mee in as drowsy a condition, as I had been in (to my remembrance) these twenty yeares, and brought me as low in my owne apprehension as if the whole work had been to begin anew." The "Christian Experience" of John Winthrop is evidence that the public figure who sternly judged heresy welcomed the therapeutic effect of the Antinomian controversy on his own spiritual condition. A perfectly ordinary Puritan statement of the author's private dealings with his spirit, it nevertheless implies everywhere an involvement in a complex outer world of issues and personalities.
The conventional features of Puritan autobiography appear early in the "Christian Experience." Winthrop's opening statement, "In my youth I was very lewdly disposed," could be transposed to any of hundreds of other narratives without notice and with no special discredit to its new owner. Puritan autobiographers also suffered chronically from an adolescent disease that masqueraded as true conviction until it disappeared and left good health and a heart more depraved than ever: "But so soon as I recovered my perfect health, and met with somewhat els to take pleasure in, I forgot my former acquaintance with God, and fell to former lusts, and grew worse then before." Given the constant recurrence of these conventional features, it is not too severe a judgment to say that many spiritual narratives of the period were not so much composed as recited. The luxury of reducing past experience to predictable ritual was denied Winthrop, however, by the impact of his present experience. The narrator of the "Christian Experience" has been stirred to validate in autobiography his conviction that faith precedes justification and is the free gift of God, even though man must reach out his hands to receive it; and in an implicit concession to Roger Williams, he comes to acknowledge that there are ways for the justified man to offend God which the natural man has not dreamed of.
To begin, Winthrop describes the limited contributions made toward grace by his natural abilities. In his youth he had simply extended the application of certain "logicall principles" with which he was acquainted, and had achieved a better "understanding in Divinity then many of my yeares." Those years, which for many were "wild" and "dissolute," were somewhat less shameful for Winthrop because of the restraint he had felt imposed upon him by "natural reason" and the "sad checks of my naturall Conscience." This much, it could be admitted to the Antinomians, the Spirit had no part in. But through the means of Mr. Culverwell's ministry, grace began to make itself felt, "so as there began to bee some change which I perceived in my self, and others took notice of." How did these "strong excersises of Conscience" differ from the natural workings of conscience he had already experienced? Paradoxically, they prove themselves the work of the Spirit by leading to defeat rather than victory. Winthrop's irony gradually undermines the triumph that had seemed to proceed from his penitential fever at age fourteen: "I betook my self to God whom I did believe to bee very good and mercifull, and would welcome any that would come to him, especially such a yongue soule, and so well qualifyed as I took my self to be." Rather, the soul that would take its life from the Spirit of God first had to suffer total defeat. It was a battle, Winthrop saw, which he could not have won, whatever the strength of his depravity: "hee left mee not till hee had overcome my heart to give up itself to him, and to bid farewell to all the world, and untill my heart could answer, Lord, what wilt thou have mee to doe?"
For a time, Winthrop remembers, his only solace in defeat was a measure of "peace and comfort"; then came a gradual onset of delight and zeal, but in unsettled patterns. Could the autobiographer identify justification at the basis of these feelings? Had he consulted Anne Hutchinson, Winthrop would not have been assured by her probable reply. Whereas most Puritan ministers would counsel that a tree is known by its fruits, Anne Hutchinson maintained that "no sanctification can help to evidence to us our justification," as Winthrop reported in his Journal. For Mrs. Hutchinson, the soul knew of its graciousness by an "immediate revelation" or not at all. The full cruelty of this position was only too clear to one who had experienced repeated "tremblings of heart" and "plunges," who had feared he "was not sound at the root" and so received the praise of others as "a dart through my liver." In its naked irrationality, Mrs. Hutchinson's thinking was fearlessly consistent with the essence of the Puritan attitude toward conversion and divine sovereignty. Yet it would have had nothing to offer the self-accused hypocrite Winthrop described: "It was like hell to mee to think of that in Hebr:6," Paul's promise of damnation for those who fall away from repentance. Before he had ever heard of Anne Hutchinson, Winthrop implies, he had rejected the import of her thinking. Whatever uncertainties were involved in distinguishing God's determinations in the impalpable, a man pondering the fate of his soul preferred to scrutinize such evidence under the tutelage of Mr. Culverwell rather than wait for a thunderclap and bolt of lightning that might never come.
Hence the theological ambivalence of the John Winthrop we see portrayed in the "Christian Experience." Within the range of emphases which comprised Puritan orthodoxy, he appears first near the border which separated the impious doctrine of works from the legitimate search for evidences of salvation; then he appears as a bright embodiment of the doctrine of free grace, to be distinguished from the irrational intensity and lurid illuminism of the Antinomian. Of the two positions, the latter is more consciously assumed, in response, as Winthrop notes, to recent controversy. Even as one grants that the emphases may well have been compatible in the sequence of Winthrop's experience, one feels the strain of incompatible terminologies. Reviewing a period when grace was highly dubious, Winthrop is inclined to describe himself as "looking to my evidence more narrowly." He recalls being alerted by one of Perkins' works to a "better assurance by the seale of the spirit," and looking within was ashamed that "in all this time" he had "attained no better evidence of salvation." Even when Winthrop makes a point for free grace, describing a period of fruitless bondage to mere duties, he uses the legalistic term "evidence" uncritically. "I was held long under great bondage to the Law … yet neither got strength to my Sanctification nor betterd my Evidence…."
Only when Winthrop begins to shape his autobiography as argument is there a noticeable shift in terminology. The idiom in which the Antinomian controversy was conducted penetrates to Winthrop's description of "the time that the Lord would reveale Christ unto mee whom I had so long desired." In the "Experiencia" he had kept in England, Winthrop located the cause of spiritual depression in his too great attachment to the world, and had attributed his experiences of divine favor to rejection of "earthly pleasures"; but in the "Christian Experience" he restates the essential struggle of this period in specifically doctrinal terms. After he had realized that his "greatest want was fayth in Christ," Winthrop recalls, "it pleased the Lord in my family exercise to manifest unto mee the difference between the Covenant of grace, and the Covenant of workes…. This Covenant of grace began to take great impression in me…." Now it was impossible to feel discontent "for want of strength or assurance" because "mine eyes were only upon his free mercy in Jesus Christ." This is scarcely an Arminian position, yet Winthrop is anxious to demonstrate its compatibility with the assumption protested against by Mrs. Hutchinson, that a process of sanctification helps to reveal prior justification: "And the more I grew thus acquainted with the spirit of God the more were my corruptions mortifyed, and the new man quickened". In a closing paragraph describing how he learned to value both justification and sanctification, the amateur theologian has given way to an autobiographer who is the sole authority for his argument. Shaped to the uses of the present, experience gave the lie to both Antinomians and legalists.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5186
SOURCE: "John Winthrop: The Statesman," in The Idea of Fraternity in America, University of California Press, 1973, pp. 133-49.
[Here, McWilliams discusses Winthrop's political ideas as a system of thought "guided by the fraternal imperative."]
John Winthrop was a political man by vocation, a reflective man by nature and faith. None defended more strenuously the prerogatives of a specifically political wisdom distinct from that of the church. Yet Winthrop never conceived of a political understanding which did not depend on religious teaching; he relied on scriptural and religious authority rather more, and secular classical writings rather less, than did his clerical contemporaries.
His thought consists of a series of reflections on practical politics. It does no violence to Winthrop's ideas, however, to see in them an order and consistency amounting to systematic theory. In fact, Winthrop merits the supreme accolade which can be given a theorist: his diagnosis of his own times is relevant to others. He is a permanent contemporary.
Man, for Winthrop, was above all a social animal. The "paradise" of his spirit was love, which could be found only where there was likeness. Akin to his fellows both in the flesh and in the image of God common to all men, man found his delight in their company. Love, however, was no longer easy for men. Adam's fall had destroyed the instinctive sense of likeness which God had granted him. Men were now left with a darkened understanding which made them feel separate from God and different from their fellows.
Although his emotions now barricade him from others, man may be led by nearness, familiarity, and affection to acknowledge likeness for some of his fellows. The soul may then be enabled to grasp a partial love, imperfect because it is distorted and incomplete. Only Christ's redemption can make possible a sense of likeness without contact and intercourse. Among men in general, distance causes a slow attrition of affection. Memory causes a momentary awareness of the weakness of human will; prayer may cause a miraculous revival of affection and concern. Both memory and prayer, however, offer fleeting exceptions to the rules which testify to the nature of man.
Natural law indicated, Winthrop argued, that all men should be regarded as friends. Race, ethnicity, and nationality had no status in nature. The earth was given to men in common, belonging to no man to the exclusion of others. The increase of men and their flocks, however, produced scarcity in the natural environment. Not all men could be helped in their need; some distinctions were necessary to determine priorities of aid.
Hence, the Covenant of Nature: men formed an implicit agreement to divide the world and to establish barriers, rights of property, special obligations due to some men and not to others. All this derived from a rule of natural justice: that man should aid his fellow to the limit of his own necessity. When all men cannot be aided, Winthrop argued, man acts "by way of commerce," lending where repayment is possible, giving up to that point which endangers his own needs and survival.
The sinful nature of man, however, dominated by corrupted passions, evades the constraint of reasoned natural law. Fallen nature in man, dominated by self-love and the desire for security, is "worse than beasts." Realizing that the goods of the world are perishing and scarce, men are not content with satisfying their needs. They feel driven to "lay up treasures" against some future calamity, and demand more than they need. Scarcity makes the fraternity of nature imperfect; the anxiety of fallen man magnifies the imperfection, making men rivals more than nature requires.
Nonetheless, the rule of natural justice remains the law. All men are to be considered friends and brothers where possible; the expansion of fraternity is a standard of ethics and an aim of civil policy. All relations of natural men require an element of prudence; no perfect trust or fraternity is possible. The existence of evil demands precautions, and scarcity requires that a man look to his own needs. It is still essential, Winthrop argued, that we treat men as worthy of trust until there is a probability that they are unworthy. Mere possibility is not enough; to this extent, the burden of proof lies with the accuser. To adopt suspicion as a first principle is to poison the relations of all men. Even men in nature owe one another an obligation to distrust only as a last resort, and a duty of assistance until their own needs are certainly or probably endangered.
Natural justice, being based on the nature of man, contains no rules for enemies. By nature, men are not enemies, and given the fall, an established enemy is outside the law: natural man owes no obligations toward his foe. Christian man is "set apart" from other men by the existence of a law which regulates his dealing with enemies. The Christian law, however, frees the Christian from the excuse of natural necessity and prudence. It commands him to give even when his survival is endangered, requires him to love his enemies and to show them charity. It orders him, in other words, to be more perfect than nature. To natural men, these duties will seem burdensome; only to the Elect will they seem privileges. Nonetheless, to the extent that the "exclusive" standards of the Elect can be made applicable to human affairs, they consist only in a more intense obligation to establish fraternity among men.
Citizens and Magistrates
Politics must be guided by the fraternal imperative, subject only to the limitation that institutions, though they can instruct man, cannot be "effectual" in changing man's nature. Ends and means tend to overlap in Winthrop's analysis; the good city becomes a series of interlocking fraternities, binding magistrate and magistrate, magistrate and minister, and magistrate and citizen.
The central role of magistracy is hardly accidental, given Winthrop's view of the nature of his profession. Economic management, which demanded the knowledge of man's material needs and the means to fulfill them, was clearly lower than statecraft—which, because it was concerned with man's humanity, must know man's whole nature, including his spirit.
The church shared that concern, but the church's concern with the temporal world is less demanding than that of the magistrate. Unlike the minister and his congregation, the magistrate cannot select his "members"; he must take men as he finds them. Moreover, while the church need make no promise of material rewards, the magistrate is charged with caring for the public good.
Politics, in other words, demands both a knowledge of the good and a knowledge of the means of attaining it, both good intention and successful action. Thus, to perform his task, the magistrate needs the knowledge and the power of God. The demands on him are more exalted, the certainty of failure clearer, than for any other "natural man." Indeed, the obligations of the magistrate are greater than those of the Elect, while his ability to fulfill them is less. Magistrates, then, have a special need for encouragement and reproof from others in their position who can be expected to feel and understand the burdens of office. The Elect enjoy a special fraternity; the magistrate calls out to his fellow governors from the depth of his personal need.
Minister and magistrate also shared a fraternal bond; despite their distinct skills, their aims were identical. The magistrate should seek the counsel of the clergy in matters of faith and morals (his concern for worldly success made the magistrate especially prone to errors of moral judgment). The clergy, in turn, should accept a part of the burden for the inevitable failures of magistracy in its impossible task. Each, too, owed the other the duty of encouragement and support.
Against the "check and balance" theory of many of his contemporaries, Winthrop asserted the necessity of "friendship and affection" among those charged with the governing and the guiding of men. The fear of friendship among governors, he noted, is a counsel of division and not of love, and is based on a Machiavellian and not a Christian theory of politics. It violates the natural law, elevating suspicion over trust, and if enforced will inevitably wreak havoc with the community by raising distrust to the highest level of civil relations.
Moreover, such a counsel and policy violates the responsibility which the citizen owes the magistrate. That responsibility is greater than that which the Visible Christian owes his minister. Since politics has fewer givens than the church, the citizen should allow the magistrate a greater latitude in choice of means and a greater indulgence in failure than he grants to the minister.
Legal and formal restrictions of magisterial power are simply foolish. There is no point in seeking to eliminate the temptation to evil; men should avoid the prideful effort to be "more severe than God." The temptation to tyranny will exist whatever legal devices men create. Yet such rules, though they do not eliminate the danger of tyranny, may make it impossible for the magistrate to perform his functions. Seeking to prevent merely possible evils, Winthrop argued, is folly if it requires a cost to present good (an excellent rebuke to many "tests" of permissible speech later adopted by the United States Supreme Court). It is as much as men can do, Winthrop pointed out, to render tyranny improbable.
Many commentators intent, like Parrington [in Main Currents in American Thought, 1954], on seeing Winthrop as an autocrat, have neglected the specific restraints he advocated and the powers he conceded to the people at large. First, he argued that the community may limit the magistrate by statements of purpose and by general rules, for the right of the people in "giving or withholding their covenant" is not to be abridged. This constituent power did not exhaust the sphere of public liberty. At least in Massachusetts, Winthrop conceded the right of annual election of magistrates, and himself expanded the suffrage beyond that implied by the original charter. Finally, the people had a right to offer "counsel" on all laws and taxes, "counsel" having the expanded meaning often associated with premodern usage: no law or tax might be levied without the consent of the public or its representatives.
The people, exercising the power of God "mediately" in civil affairs, create commonwealths, elect governors, and judge their performance. Winthrop insisted only that those who hold divine power show some minimal approximation of divine charity toward those they elect. In modern terms, Winthrop's "autocracy" consisted of no more than a modern executive expects as a matter of course: the right to apply general policy to particular cases fairly free from restraint. His arguments did not presume a naive faith in magistrates; they were directed against a naive faith in legislators.
Winthrop had a more fundamental reason for opposing extensive formal limitations of executive power. He realized that the effort to eliminate all the possible evils of government, especially at the cost of many of its possible goods, is an indication of a desire to retreat from civic responsibility. In the first place, such a course rejects any share of collective responsibility; it regards the people always as victims, and never as victimizers. Secondly, it seeks to protect private concerns from interference at a cost to public goods. Natural man is always prone to self-concern, always likely to forget that "particular estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public." Some minimal risk of tyranny may be useful in inducing men to take some concern for the community. Moreover, the private interests of magistrates are more closely bound to the interests of the whole than are those of citizens engaged in private pursuits. "Mere democracy" tends to encourage privatism, faction, and disunity; some magisterial power is needed if the interest of the community is to be upheld—not because magistrates are radically different in nature from citizens (though hopefully of greater political ability), but because they are of the same nature. Both citizens and magistrates assume the burden of guilt that comes to the finite man who wields the power of the Infinite. They too owe one another the fraternal duties of encouragement and reproof, admonition and affection.
Profession and Action
Like most Puritans, Winthrop emphasized the natural limitations which compel men toward association and covenant. His assertion of the interdependence of private and public estates is of this order. So too is his argument that God had created differences of talent so that "all men might have need of one another." Differences in special gifts force men to seek association, because no one man can be self-sufficient.
There were, however, two defects to natural scarcity: (1) unless all citizens have at least that abundance necessary to life, conflict between them is bound to occur, and (2) natural scarcity operates more strongly against the poor than the rich, against the weak than the strong. Differences of ability may compel men toward association, but the less able are subject to greater compulsion than their more fortunate fellows.
The remedy for these shortcomings of nature must be sought in law and political action. Nature is inadequate because nature does not recognize, as men must, that differences in special gifts reflect no differences of merit. Winthrop carried his fraternal principles into economic policy; the state must guarantee minimal sustenance to all, and curb the excesses of the wealthy.
There was no doubt that wealth was perilous. Affluence led man to a dangerous feeling of independence, tempting him to believe that injury to the public might benefit his private fortune. The state, in Winthrop's view, must always prevent "oppression," which included usury and excess profiteering. The rich in Germany, he observed, had ignored the plight of the poor, and in their subsequent ruin could be read the moral lesson that each is bound to all.
His economic analysis went further than moralism. The state of English affairs had always disturbed him. "The land grows weary of her inhabitants," he had written; depression, poverty, and unemployment seemed to lie over Britain like a decree of judgment. Winthrop perceived, however, that this was the result not of nature but of defective civil policy. An early form of the "revolution of rising expectations" was sweeping England. A "riot of intemperance" was sweeping the land; men demanded more than was necessary and desired "fripperies" and luxuries of all kinds. The old upper limits to ambition had been swept away, and men were forced to struggle merely to maintain their station. "No man's estate is enough to keep sail with his equals." Compelled to seek an expansion in wealth and revenue, the aristocrats laid an increasingly hard hand on the poor. Change had introduced anxiety and insecurity, and had reintroduced the rapacity of man in the state of Original Sin.
Not all the ramparts of the English conscience had been destroyed. Rather, Winthrop observed that when some men practice acquisitive ethics with impunity, all men are confronted with a choice between imitating the unrighteous or suffering from their greed and lack of scruple. The Elect might choose to lose sustenance rather than engage in evil; unredeemed man must defend his own needs. The task of the state, which the royal government had not performed, is to avoid the necessity of such choices by preventing the unrighteous from acting with impunity. Failure to act is encouragement of evil. The failure of the state also laid a burden on the Visible Christian, who must do his duty and seek to set his fellows an example, even at the cost of suffering. In a fine rebuke to Roger Williams' separatism, Winthrop wrote that most Englishmen were doubtless corrupt but
whores and drunkards they are not. Weak Christians they are indeed, and the weaker for the want of that tender care that should be had of them, (1) by those that are set over them to feed them and, nextly, for that spiritual pride that Satan rooted into the hearts of their brethren, who when they are converted do not and will not strengthen them but also censure them to be none of God's people nor any Visible Christians.
Fortunately, men did not need to face the choice between unrighteous action and natural suffering. A continent lay open in which God had made it possible for man to enjoy the earth's fruits without despoiling his fellow. Moreover, the example of a fraternal community might stir the hearts of men in England. England, apparently, was hopeless. Puritans could not bear adequate witness to God's word, let alone to their social principles. The unredeemed must judge men by their works; the Visible Christian, limited by the natural law, could only guide himself by what was possible in the environment of acquisitiveness. Isolated in scattered communities and surrounded by hostility, the Puritan in England could not be expected to set a standard much beyond that of his fellows. At best, he could suffer with them; he could make little demonstration of the positive goods that might be men's. In America, Puritan political principles might receive an adequate test.
Martyrdom was not infrequent in England, but the cause of martyrdom itself illustrated the limitation of the English environment. Persecution was based not on Puritan action, but on Puritan profession. The church could not require its members—most of whom would not be of the Elect—to go much beyond a statement of intellectual conviction. Action lies in the sphere of physical nature; profession is the public statement of an intellectual creed. Being free from emotion's control, the Elect may be expected to act rightly in both respects. The merely Visible Christian has made a statement of his conviction, but he cannot be assumed to control his emotions and physical desires so long as he is isolated. Lonely man, without his brothers, Winthrop implies, is cowardly man, and while he is alone no more than profession can be expected of him. Profession itself, at best half a faith, becomes an "agony" and a virtue; those who fall away do no more than might be expected.
In New England, however, Winthrop argued that "cohabitation and consortship," the intimate, daily support of brethren, raise men above what is to be expected of the average Puritan in England. "What most do in their churches by profession only," he admonished his fellow colonists, "we must bring into familiar and daily practice"; surrounded by his fellows, the New Englander had less excuse than his persecuted brother at home for falling short in the practice of fraternity.
We must entertain each other in brotherly affection; we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities; we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together; always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.
Winthrop was to write Hooker that New Englanders were brothers in three senses: (1) in peril and envious observation, (2) in consociation, and (3) in the work of God. The three correspond to the humanly-possible covenants of Puritan theology: the Covenant of Nature for "mutual encouragement and succor" against peril; the Civic Covenant, made possible by delight in association the Church Covenant, produced by an intellectual conviction of the truth of the Word.
In at least two senses, New England differed from other states. First, there was no necessary conflict between the higher and lower covenants. Second, although the pattern of narrowing exclusiveness would apply—not all would be citizens or churchmen—it would be much softened. New Englanders would be far more equal in dignity and obligation than most communities. We, Winthrop asserted, are part of a fraternity closer than that which bound Israel to Moses, for with us there are no intermediaries between us and the Lord.
Winthrop's standard for New England was based on the theory that the standards of the Church Covenant, the best of all human covenants, can be made applicable as a standard for political practice if there is no hostile political environment to be taken as a given. Winthrop added to the traditional covenant theology of Puritanism the belief that, in the best circumstances, the magistrates and citizens of a Christian community could be elevated to a plane of equality with the church covenant itself; the secular and sacred could be of equal dignity where profession became the standard for action.
Promise and Peril
New England's opportunity partly depended on her peril, a situation which had led many to wonder whether the new continent had been meant for Christian men. The entire structure of covenant theology had been premised on natural scarcity and a hostile environment. Within the covenants, man learned to see his fellows as his chief support against the rigors and insecurities of the world. At the same time, the rigors were required to drive men into the covenants. Indeed, whatever obligations it imposes, a hostile environment can make the community a thing of joy. Lacking an adverse environment, the duties of community may appear an onerous burden to be avoided where possible. And the Puritans encountered such a situation in New England; after an initial period of hardship, the force of natural scarcity was drastically reduced.
Winthrop had rebuked his English critics, who saw migration as a pursuit of ease and comfort, by asserting that life in New England would be hard, and success unsure. Winthrop was right about the early stages, but he never believed that those early conditions would last long (hence his belief that men might enjoy the fruits of the earth without conflict in New England). Before the colonists landed, he stressed the danger that they might pursue "carnal intention" and "fall to embrace this present world, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity."
Life in America may have been hard, but land abounded, which to a traditional people meant wealth. In America, unlike England, intensive cultivation was not necessary and cooperative agriculture added little to individual well-being. John Cotton, in a phrase that was to have echoes, later denounced those who sought "elbow room" to the detriment of the community. Winthrop felt that punishment was deserved by those who would "enlarge their ease and safety" by deserting their fellows. Yet Winthrop had no doubt that in the new world such a course of action was possible; in America nature no longer compelled men into the civic covenant.
Winthrop's use of the phrase "ourselves and our posterity" was also a portent. Even in America, the Covenant of Nature was necessary for the individual, and the family retained a positive meaning. In England, the Puritans had seen the family as more exalted than the state, the arena where social reformation might begin. That emphasis, however, was only negative; since a corrupt state prevented action in the political sphere, the Puritan must make do with what he had by seeking to reconstitute the family in terms of the higher covenants. In America, the traditional Puritan emphasis on the family could serve to justify a different belief: that the family is more exalted than the state—or, however muted, than the church. The temptation to raise the status of the family arose from the primary temptation to remain a member of the Covenant of Nature alone.
The political community and the church could, of course, force the individual into membership in default of natural scarcity. Yet Puritan theorists understood fairly well that force applied by the community might constrain the individual from yielding to the temptations of nature, but it could not create the sense of political obligation. His consent, freely given, was always necessary. If the community were a burden and not a joy, a man's allegiance would lie with the Covenant of Nature, even if his body were compelled to serve the Civic Covenant.
Winthrop never slighted that understanding. His sterner colleagues always found him lenient. His generosity was partly due to his realization that in America, nature is unreliable; since it does not compel men into the political community, they must be induced to enter it. He feared harshness for the same reason he feared a "mere democracy." To transfer rule to the many is to give scope to their desire to reduce obligations; to treat the many harshly is to increase their resentment and thus heighten their desires to be rid of political obligation.
Most of the institutions of Puritanism were framed on the expectation of persecution by (or at least, alienation from) a surrounding political community. Congregational organization and class distinction argued for conflict as soon as the Puritan lost a sense of the salience of the factors which, uniting him to his fellows, set him apart from others. The Puritan institutions were designed to maximize intensity among a people already set apart from their kindred-in-blood and their kindred-in-politics, to provide support against the older ties and the threats of persecution which might lead a man to betray his own convictions. Winthrop did not always realize the significance of the change in political context which New England confronted, but its dissolutive tendency only emphasizes his thesis.
Winthrop understood that where neither the negative forces of nature nor a hostile community exist, the force of cohesion must be sought in positive moral obligations. The conscience of the individual must compel where man and nature do not. From the beginning, Winthrop defined the peculiar covenant of New England in terms which by the standards of Puritanism made it virtually impossible to fulfill. He demanded that New England produce the best possible human state, the best possible men, the most perfect of human fraternities.
His phrases were not the result of confident self-righteousness. In part, Winthrop's anxiety about the result explains his eagerness to pursue the "errors" of Roger Williams or Anne Hutchinson out of the Commonwealth. To many of his admirers, such as Morgan [in The Puritan Dilemma, 1958], Winthrop's conduct in the Hutchinson trial is the weakest moment of his career. Yet Mrs. Hutchinson, like Williams, taught a doctrine whose implications led directly to individualism. Against the positive moral obligations and the negative force of guilt which Winthrop hoped to inculcate as supports for man and for fraternity in New England, both Williams and Hutchinson appealed to a private moral insight which could justify men in their desire to remain in the Covenant of Nature….
Winthrop feared Williams' teachings because they might encourage what was base in New England, might cause her to lose her glorious opportunity and become no better than the human average.
The permanent legacy of Winthrop to American thought is his realization of the American promise and the conditions under which Americans labor in seeking its fulfillment…. Heretofore, he might have said, all fraternity save that of the Elect (and to a small degree, the church) has been based on the effort to escape from the mastery of nature and of men. America, freed from such mastery, must now essay a giant stride, must seek to be mastered by a higher vision. Struggle against fathers in the flesh must yield to duty to the Father in the spirit of men,
but if our hearts will not obey but shall be seduced and worship other gods, our pleasures and profits, and serve them, … we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea….
That prescription was not one in which the Puritan, by his psychological or political theory, could maintain much hope. It was an intellectual last resort, almost a counsel of despair. Winthrop's own forebodings found confirmation in practice, and his influence, like the religious tradition in general, lies in its effects on the ideas and guilts of Americans more than the conduct of American life. Yet symbols have their power. The duty to establish the best city, short of which no failure is adequate or excusable: is that not the definition of the American dream?
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11427
SOURCE: "John Winthrop Writes His Journal," in The William and Mary Quarterly, third series, Vol. XLI, No. 2, April, 1984, pp. 185-212.
[In the following essay, Dunn examines the style, structure, and content of the journal Winthrop kept between 1630 and 1649.]
Stored in the manuscript vault of the Massachusetts Historical Society within a locked case of handsome Victorian design are two fragile vellum-covered notebooks in the distinctive and devilishly difficult handwriting of John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts. These are the first and third manuscript volumes of Winthrop's journal, the prime source for the history of the Bay Colony from 1630 to 1649. In the first of these notebooks, measuring 7 1/4" × 5 3/4" and containing 188 pages, Winthrop made 169 pages of entries, starting on March 29, 1630, and running to September 14, 1636. There was once a second notebook with 358 pages of entries running from October 1636 to December 8, 1644; this volume was accidentally destroyed in 1825. The third notebook, measuring 10" × 6 3/8" and containing 186 pages, was only two-thirds filled when Winthrop died; he made 128 pages of entries in it, running from September 17, 1644, to January 11, 1649. This set of texts is surely the most baffling of all major early American documents to decipher or to edit. The handwriting in the two surviving volumes is notoriously hard to read, the ink is faded, the paper is often stained, worn, or torn, and the text is studded with marginalia, insertions, cancellations, and underscorings. Since the middle volume (containing 52 percent of Winthrop's text) is lost, the reader has to use a modernized transcription for this section, published by James Savage in 1825-1826, that obliterates many of the nuances in the original manuscript. It is safe to say that no one will ever publish a satisfactory edition of this remarkable document.
Problems start with the title. The work is alternatively known as The Journal of John Winthrop or as History of New England. Winthrop himself did not call it a journal, at least directly, but he did call it a history and also an annals. When he began writing in his first notebook, he supplied no title but plunged directly into the opening entry:
Anno domini 1630: march 29: mundaye.
Rydinge at the Cowes nearest the Ile of wight in the Arbella, a Shippe of 350: tunes whereof Captaine Peter Milborne was master….
As Winthrop moved to his second notebook he wrote at the top of the opening page, "A Continuation of the History of N: England," and when he reached the third notebook he wrote on the outside cover, "3: vol booke of the Annalls of N: England," and inside on the opening page, "A continuation of the Historye of N: England." The dictionary definitions of these terms overlap, but the essential feature of a journal is that it is a daily or regular record of events noted down as they occur, whereas a history is a more formal narrative of events arranged systematically and usually after the fact and an annals has the added characteristic of being written year by year or arranged in yearly sequence. The trouble with Winthrop, as we shall see, is that he began by keeping a daily journal in 1630 and then recorded entries less frequently and regularly and wrote them up at greater length, so that by the 1640s he had converted his work into a form of history.
Over the years many people have endeavored to read, transcribe, and edit Winthrop's notebooks. For 150 years after the governor died in 1649 no one attempted publication, but such worthies as William Hubbard, Cotton Mather, Thomas Prince, Ezra Stiles, Jonathan Trumbull, and Jeremy Belknap borrowed the manuscript volumes from the Winthrop family for extended periods. From about 1755 to 1816 the third volume disappeared among Thomas Prince's books in the tower of Old South Church. Thus when Ezra Stiles copied from the manuscript in 1771 and Governor Trumbull and his secretary John Porter transcribed it in the 1780s and Noah Webster finally published it in 1790, these four gentlemen had only the first two volumes to work with. Webster's edition was entitled A Journal Of the Transactions and Occurrences in the settlement of Massachusetts and the other New-England Colonies, from the year 1630 to 1644: written by John Winthrop, Esq. First Governor of Massachusetts: And now first published from a correct copy of the original Manuscript. Webster had not read Winthrop's manuscript. He printed a transcription of the first two volumes by Porter, who was a much more exact transcriber than Stiles but whose copy was not as "correct" as Webster claimed, for it was marred by many hundred misreadings and omissions. The first two notebooks were given to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1803 by the Winthrops, and the third in 1816 after it was discovered in Prince's library. When the task of transcribing this third book for publication "seemed to appall several of the most competent members" of the Society, James Savage (the librarian of the organization) undertook the job. He soon decided to prepare a new edition of the entire work, which he published in 1825-1826 under the title The History of New England from 1630 to 1649. By John Winthrop, Esq. First Governour of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay. From his Original Manuscripts. In 1853 Savage reissued his edition with the same title and text but expanded annotations. He was a very painstaking, dogged, and shrewd judge of Winthrop's hand, and his reading of the text was a vast improvement over Porter's. But Savage did not make a complete transcription, for he ignored many of Winthrop's marginalia, memoranda, and cancellations as unimportant. He took liberties with Winthrop's language, and unhappily he also took the liberty of borrowing Winthrop's manuscript from the Society in order to work on it in his office, where on November 10, 1825, a fire destroyed the second volume. Thus Savage was both the first and the last editor to study all three of Winthrop's notebooks.
In 1908 James Kendall Hosmer published what was in effect a streamlined version of Savage's edition under the hybrid title Winthrop's Journal, "History of New England," 1630-1649. Hosmer made no effort to reread the two surviving notebooks, but he reproduced Savage's text in larger print, with simpler annotations and a better index. He divided the narrative into chapters, one per year, which Winthrop had not done, and he expurgated a few passages that he considered "repulsive," such as Anne Hutchinson's monstrous birth, or too sexually explicit, such as William Hatchet's copulation with a cow. In 1931 the Committee of Publication of the Massachusetts Historical Society took a quite different approach. These editors decided, like Hosmer, to publish The Journal of John Winthrop (as they called it) in chapters or annual installments, but they intended to intersperse these installments among the governor's correspondence and other writings in the Winthrop Papers series and to reproduce the author's language as literally as possible. Only the first installment of this edition appeared: Winthrop's journal for 1630 in the Winthrop Papers, Volume II. Now, more than half a century later, Laetitia Yeandle and I have prepared a fifth edition of Winthrop's magnum opus. Drawing heavily upon the cumulative labors of our predecessors, we have devised a compromise text in which the opening and closing sections follow the original manuscript more closely than the middle section in Savage's modernized style; our edition will be published under the title The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649.
Living closely with Winthrop's text, as I have been
forced to do, has convinced me that the governor's notebooks offer an exceptional opportunity to study a seventeenth-century author at work. This opportunity is especially rewarding in the case of Winthrop, since he was both chief actor and chief recorder in Massachusetts for two crucial decades. He did more than any of the other Puritan founders to shape events and also to shape the historical perception of those events. One could doubtless learn a good deal more about Winthrop as a writer if the middle volume of his manuscript had not been burned. But it is possible, through examination of the two surviving volumes and related manuscripts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, to discover quite a bit about the governor's method of composition, to trace how he changed his method over time, and to demonstrate that these changes considerably affected the content and style of his narrative.
In March 1630, when Winthrop boarded the Arbella and opened his journal, he was a forty-two-year-old landed gentleman who had never participated in overseas colonization and whose interest in New England was extremely recent, but he brought to his task extensive expertise as a country squire, a city lawyer, and a Puritan activist. Born on January 12, 1588, in Edwardston, Suffolk, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge, studied the law at Gray's Inn, served as attorney at the Court of Wards and Liveries in London and as justice of the peace in Suffolk, and inherited his father's position as lord of Groton manor. In his youth Winthrop became a dedicated convert to Puritanism, and over the years he formed a wide network of alliance with fellow Puritans. By 1630 he had a considerable family to provide for: he was married to his third wife, Margaret, and had seven living sons and one daughter. Groton manor contained some 515 acres and produced about £430 in annual income, placing Winthrop among the few thousand wealthiest men in England. But he had fallen into debt in the late 1620s, and was disgusted by the corruption (as he saw it) of English life and by Charles I's religious and political policies. When the king broke completely with his Puritan critics in Parliament in March 1629, Winthrop decided to emigrate to America. He joined the Massachusetts Bay Company, which had just received a royal charter granting broad powers of self-government. On August 26, 1629, he signed the Cambridge Agreement in which he pledged with eleven other Puritan gentlemen to move with his family to Massachusetts if the company government and charter were also transferred to America. The company shareholders accepted this plan, and on October 20, 1629, they chose Winthrop as their new governor. In the winter of 1629-1630 he organized a migration of about a thousand persons who would sail to Massachusetts in seventeen ships during the following spring and summer:
Winthrop had published no books or pamphlets when he started his journal, but he was a very experienced writer. His surviving papers from the 1620s, which are manifestly incomplete, include letters, diaries, treatises, and notebooks in a wide range of styles. To his wife, his children, and his dearest friends Winthrop could write rapturous and intimate letters in biblical cadences of love, reverence, and exaltation, but he was extremely careful never to employ such language in his journal. At intervals between 1607 and 1637 he also kept a private spiritual diary, which he called "Experiencia," written partly in cypher, with many pages torn out and others obliterated. This notebook was his confessional, and it also was antithetical in style and content to the public journal he began in 1630. For example, in "Experiencia" he recorded in wrenching detail his deathbed parting with his second wife, Thomasine, in 1616, whereas in his journal he permitted himself only a succinct marginal memorial in 1647 to his beloved third wife, Margaret: "14 (4) In this sicknesse the Gouernors wife daughter of Sir Jo Tindale knight left this world for a better, beinge about 56. yeares of age: a woman of singuler vertue, prudence, modesty, and piety: and specially beloued and honored of all the Contry." But if Winthrop's "Experiencia" and his letters of love provided no models for the journal, other kinds of writing he pursued in the 1620s were more pertinent. As an attorney at the Court of Wards and Liveries from 1627 to 1629, Winthrop kept a docket of court cases in which he made summary digests of legal briefs—good training for the precise, terse, and sober expository style he aimed for in the journal. In 1627-1628 he compiled a notebook full of abstracts of sermons he had listened to, in which he reduced the preachers' lengthy expositions to lucid summaries—good training for the compact presentation of religious and political ideas and arguments in the journal. And in 1629, when he was trying to recruit emigrants to New England, he wrote a series of treatises designed to circulate in manuscript among fellow Puritans, in which he presented reasons for colonization, raised objections to these reasons, and answered the objections—good training for the gambit he adopted throughout the journal of stating both sides of an argument and then winding up emphatically in favor of the "correct" position.
Around October 1629, when Winthrop was elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company, he started to make entries in a new notebook, jotting down twelve pages of miscellaneous data concerning preparations for his trip to America. Among other things he noted the company's purchase of the Arbella for £750 and its contracts with a baker and a butcher in November 1629 to provide biscuit and salt meat for the voyage; he listed some of the people who were emigrating with him to Masscahusetts; and he drew a chart of the Massachusetts coastline from Gloucester to Salem (which he probably traced from a map supplied by Capt. Thomas Beecher, who had sailed to Massachusetts in the summer of 1629) to aid the last stage of the Arbella's navigation to the company's American headquarters at Salem. Although none of these entries is dated, they all appear to have been made between late October 1629 and early March 1630. Winthrop arrived at Southampton by March 14, 1630, boarded the Arbella about March 20, and sailed across the Solent to anchor at Cowes, a port on the Isle of Wight, by March 22. One week later, on March 29, he flipped over the notebook he had been using and started his journal from the other end, so that his miscellaneous entries of 1629-1630 are now found upside down in reverse order at the back of the book.
Why did he start his journal on Easter Monday? Back in 1962 when I first commented on Winthrop's journal, I supposed that he chose this date as symbolic of the new life he was entering in moving from corrupt old England to a convenanted community in New England. But I now believe that Winthrop had a more prosaic reason: he supposed that his fleet would sail the morning. In fact, because of contrary winds the Arbella did not sail until April 8. The larger question, of course, is why Winthrop decided to keep a journal at all, and here I believe that his initial purpose was simply to record the daily experience of what he knew would be a long and terrifying ocean voyage for the information of family and friends still in England who would be sailing in 1631 or after to join him in America. The year before, on April 25, 1629, Francis Higginson had started just such a sea journal when he crossed the Atlantic to join the Massachusetts Bay Company's advance settlement at Salem; Higginson finished this "True Relacion of the last Voyage to New England" (as he called it) on July 24, 1629, when he reached his destination, and sent it back to the company officers in London. Higginson's narrative made quite an impression on Winthrop. In October 1629, shortly before he was elected governor of the company, Winthrop sent from London to Suffolk a "booke" that can be identified from his description as Higginson's sea journal for his wife and children to read, and he asked his son Forth to copy part of it for distribution among neighbors "that haue a minde to N:E:" Between October 1629 and March 1630 Winthrop had been frantically busy with preparations for the trip. But now that he was on shipboard and could look forward to some enforced leisure during the voyage, he was in a position to perform the same service as Higginson.
The opening twenty-four manuscript pages in Winthrop's first notebook constitute his sea journal, which runs from March 29 to June 14, 1630, and systematically reports the events of every single day of the seventy-eight until the Arbella anchored at Salem. By inspecting the manuscript, noting the color of the ink, the thickness of the pen nib, the size of Winthrop's writing, and the slant of his hand, one can tell that he composed this sea journal directly as events occurred. He wrote the entries for fifty-seven days at fifty-seven sittings, and he wrote up the remaining twenty-one entries two or three days at a time. On April 15 Winthrop encountered his first Atlantic storm, and his notebook bears mute witness to this rough weather. The governor's hand danced about the page as he wrote: "About 10: at night the winde grew so highe and rayne withall, that we were forced to take in our toppsayle, and havinge lowed our maine saile and foresayle the strome was so greate, as it splitt our foresayle, and tore it in peeces; and a knott of the sea washed our tubbe overbord wherein our fishe was a wateringe." In narrating this sea journal Winthrop adopted the first person plural, a practice he generally followed thereafter. He referred to himself as "the governor" only twice and to himself as the author only four times, and he focused fat more on the actions of Capt. Peter Milborn, the commander of the Arbella. Winthrop's account contains much more concrete information than Higginson's journal of 1629 but offers fewer touches of drama or romance. His essential purpose was to record weather conditions and the ship's position, and he was so circumstantial that the Arbella's route in 1630 can be traced with considerable accuracy. When he finally sighted the Maine coast on June 8, he expressed his joy in characteristic style: "we had nowe faire sunneshine weather, and so pleasant a sweet ethere, as did much refreshe vs, and there came a smell off the shore like the smell of a garden."
On reaching Massachusetts, Winthrop again followed Higginson's example and composed an account of the Atlantic crossing that he sent back to England. He reported to his son John on July 23, 1630, "for the Course of our voyage, and other occurentes you shall vnderstande them by a iournall which I sende with my letters to your vncle D"—that is, to Winthrop's brother-in-law Emmanuel Downing in London. In other letters Winthrop described this account as "a iournall and relation" and a "larger discourse of all thinges." He also sent home a chart of the Arbella's route, prepared by Captain Milborne, and he directed that copies of his "iournall" be distributed to members of the family and friends. Since this "iournall" no longer survives, one can only speculate whether Winthrop copied it directly from his notebook sea journal. He cannot have added much new material, for he told his son John on August 14 that he had no time on first arrival to "make any perfect relation," and that he was still far too busy, so I must referre you and all my freindes to my former reporte as it is."
Distracted though he was by the problems of settlement, Winthrop made the crucial decision to continue keeping a journal after he landed in Massachusetts. He never discussed his reasons for doing this in surviving correspondence, but he was clearly taking notes on events of public interest so that when he had the leisure he could write an account of the founding of the colony to be circulated like his sea journal. Winthrop had a fully developed conceptual framework within which to work. During the voyage he had composed "A Modell of Christian Charity," his most celebrated and frequently quoted treatise, in which he explained to his fellow passengers their divine mission to create "a Citty vpon a Hill." He took it for granted that in Massachusetts, as in all societies, the leading men (such as himself) were endowed by God with riches, power, and dignity, while the followers would be poor, mean, and in subjection. But Massachusetts was also a community of Christians in collective covenant with God, so that the colonists had a special vocation to love and support one another and to obey the Lord's commandments. Should they serve the Lord faithfully, He would bless their efforts; should they deal falsely, He would destroy their plantation. Thus Winthrop's object in his journal was to chart the colonists' progress on their divine mission and to collect evidences of God's mercy and wrath.
However grand Winthrop's purpose, his entries during the first months in Massachusetts are maddeningly brief and irregular. Between June 17 and October 25, 1630, he recorded only two manuscript pages of entries, and he was not much fuller in November and December 1630. In skeletal form he noted some of the basic events: the arrival of thirteen ships, the first meeting of the Court of Assistants, the formation of Boston church, the imprisonment of Thomas Morton of Merrymount, the deaths of several leading planters. On July 2 he also recorded a bitter personal blow: "my sone H[enry] Wfinthrop] was drowned at Salem." He jotted a few entries once or twice a month, to judge by his handwriting and the color of the ink, and he left blank spaces for additions that he never filled in. Winthrop by no means conveyed the full gravity of the colonists' predicament in 1630. He never mentioned it in his journal, but he found on arrival that the servants sent ahead by the company in 1628-1629 had done almost nothing to prepare for the thousand new arrivals of 1630; they had not even raised enough crops to feed themselves. Winthrop was forced to release these servants from their indentures because he had brought no supplies to support them. The passengers on the Winthrop fleet were likewise short of food, the growing season for 1630 was well advanced, most of the livestock transported from England had died in transit, and shortly after landing the new settlers began to die of dysentery and scurvy. Amid these problems Winthrop supervised the settlement of six towns ringing Boston harbor, set up the colony government, traded with the Indians for corn and fish, and dispatched a ship back to England for emergency provisions. Massachusetts might well have collapsed completely had the governor been less resourceful and courageous.
Winthrop's meager entries are particularly regrettable because other accounts of the formation of the Massachusetts system of towns and churches in 1630 are also extremely skimpy. Had he had more leisure, he might have explained why the incoming colonists created so many towns instead of all living together, why each town had its own gathered church of self-nominated saints, and why Winthrop himself as governor chose first to settle at Charlestown and then moved to Boston. But even if he had had the leisure, he would never have described the physical process of settlement—the way in which the colonists built houses and started farms in the widerness—for he always excluded such mundane matters from his personal correspondence and his journal. And he had his reasons for silence on many other issues. The journal was a semi-public statement by the leader of the colony, and in the crisis months of 1630 he reported nothing that might get him in trouble with his fellow colonists or with the company at home or with Charles I's government. Winthrop probably privately blamed John Endecott for mismanaging the advance settlement at Salem, but he said nothing about it. Naturally he did not care to advertise that some 200 settlers died within the first year and that another 200 left in dismay. He probably also purposely omitted mention of the chief political event of 1630, the General Court of October 19. There Winthrop and his fellow magistrates pushed through new company rules whereby the magistrates' powers were expanded and the freemen's powers were restricted.
By the winter of 1630-1631 Winthrop was finding a little more time and inclination to make entries. He remarked with surprise on the bitterly cold weather and composed his first extended anecdote, which was about the harrowing mishaps of six Bostonians shipwrecked on Cape Cod, four of whom froze to death. In February 1631 he reported jubilantly on the return of the Lyon from England with the supplies he had or dered and twenty new colonists; he did not report that the Lyon carried more than eighty disgruntled old col onists back to England on her return voyage. Winthrop must now have felt confident that the survival crisis was ending. At the height of the crisis he had insisted in private letters to his wife that he did not repent coming, for he saw the sickness and mortality as God's mode of testing the colonists' corrupt hearts. Now he spoke openly on this subject in his journal. "It hather been allwayes observed here," he noted in February 1631, "that suche as fell into discontente and lingered after their former Conditions in Englande, fell into the skirvye, and died." From 1631 onward, a persistent theme running through Winthrop's narrative is that any colonist who deserts Massachusetts or who dares to quarrel with the colony government will be punished by God for his wickedness.
During 1631 Winthrop settled into a new form of record keeping, in which he took up his notebook two or three times a month, composed several entries at a time, and wrote at greater length than in June-October 1630. As he continued to work on the journal in 1632 and later years, he cut down on the number of dated entries but inserted more undated ones and said more each time he wrote, so that by the mid-1630s he was averaging nearly a full page each time he put pen to paper. The changes year by year in his mode of composition as he worked through his first notebook are summarized in the following tabulation:
|Period||MS pages||Dated entries||Apparent writing sessions|
|Mar. 29-June 14 1630||24||78||66|
|June 17-Dec. 26 1630||4||26||11|
|Jan.-Dec. 8 1631||11||52||32|
|Jan. 27-Dec. 5 1632||20||44||28|
|Jan. 1-Dec. 27 1633||22||30||29|
|Jan. 21-Dec. 22 1634||32||44||45|
|Jan. 13-Dec. 10 1635||29||37||37|
|Jan.-Sept. 14 1636||27||34||6|
Obviously, Winthrop never resumed the daily reports of his sea journal but decided instead to focus on three or four events per month, which he often wrote up at considerable length. There is almost no evidence in his first volume that he wrote retrospectively. At most, he discussed incidents a month or two after they occurred. Hence throughout this section of the journal we are introduced to events as witnessed firsthand, without benefit of hindsight. Furthermore, Winthrop seldom tinkered with his text after he set it down. He made many small stylistic revisions as he shaped his presentation, and he inserted occasional new material in the margin or in the text to complete a story or to make a cross reference, but only rarely did he introduce substantive changes in interpretation.
Did Winthrop have a historiographical model for his narrative? Clearly, he was little influenced by the pagan historians of classical antiquity or by such secular English chroniclers as Holinshed, Hakluyt, or Capt. John Smith. In the 1640s he cited Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World (1614) approvingly, but Raleigh's all-embracing epic was no model for him. Doubtless he admired John Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563), a longtime favorite among Puritan readers, but this work too was of little help, for Foxe memorialized the sufferings of individual Protestant heroes whereas Winthrop was describing an organic community in action. His design was much closer to William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, and Winthrop very likely consulted with his Pilgrim neighbor as he wrote. The two men met in December 1631 and visited each other thereafter. Bradford tells us that he started to compose his history "about the year 1630," and he kept working on it at intervals until about 1647, two years before Winthrop's death. But Winthrop had a more obvious and powerful model than Bradford: the Bible. In the historical books of the Old Testament, most particularly Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Judges, he could find a story exactly to his purpose, recounting amid plentiful evidences of human backsliding and divine wrath how God's chosen people escaped from captivity and came to the promised land.
As he composed his first notebook Winthrop gradually changed his perception of his own role as author-actor. In large part he responded to changing circumstances. From March to June 1630, on board the Arbella, Captain Milborne was in command and the journalist kept himself in the background. Then for nearly four years, from June 1630 to his electoral defeat in May 1634, Winthrop was governor of the colony and very much the central figure in his own story. From May 1634 to his electoral victory in May 1637 (which occurred after the completion of the first notebook), he was demoted to magistrate or assistant for two two years and deputy governor for one year; he was no longer in charge nor always in agreement with governmental policy. The changes of june 1630 and May 1634 required adjustments in his presentation. Once he landed in Massachusetts, the governor could no longer stay in the background and had to determine how to write up his own public actions and attitudes, and how much attention to give to his personal experiences and private thoughts. When he was demoted in May 1634, he had to decide whether to continue to report as an insider and how much to distance himself from the new colony leaders.
As we have seen, on arrival in Massachusetts Winthrop was both brief and evasive. As he resumed reporting at greater length in 1631 and 1632 he wrote at first more freely about his personal experiences than about his public actions. He reported the adventurous night he spent lost in the woods near Mystic (October 11, 1631), his joyous reunion with his wife and children when they arrived from England (November 2-11, 1631), his explorations into the back country beyond Watertown and Medford (January 27 and February 7, 1632), and the birth of a son (August 20, 1632); however, he made no mention of the General Court's key decision of May 1631 to bar non-church members from becoming freemen or exercising any voice in the government of the colony. Gradually Winthrop stopped saying much about his private affairs and focused more on public policy, and he soon was reporting controversial matters that are not mentioned in the official records of the General Court or the Court of Assistants. Only through the journal do we learn that on April 12, 1631, the magistrates reprimanded Salem church for choosing Roger Williams as their minister, or that between April and September 1632 Winthrop had a series of ugly confrontations with the deputy governor, Thomas Dudley. Winthrop is especially frank and explicit in describing his quarrel with Dudley. On May 1, 1632, he criticized the deputy governor for resigning from office ("desertinge his place" was Winthrop's phrase) and accused him face to face of greed and ostentation in his personal habits. On August 3, 1632, Dudley counterattacked with a barrage of charges that Winthrop was exceeding his authority and misgoverning the colony. At one point "the deputye rose vp in great furye and passion and the Governor grewe verye hott allso, so as they bothe fell into bitternesse." Winthrop devoted more than five pages to a recital of Dudley's complaints and his responses, thereby disclosing a number of administrative actions not previously reported in the journal or the colony records.
Why did Winthrop write so candidly and fully on these sensitive issues? Obviously, Dudley's charges touched a raw nerve, and he wanted to dispose of them as systematically as possible. By talking the issues out he could hope to win over the reader even if he could not convince Dudley, and he could also display his integrity as a reporter. Furthermore, by exposing Dudley's faults and demonstrating the triviality of his complaints, Winthrop was making the point that the deputy governor was much his inferior as a statesman. The two men became lovingly reconciled, according to Winthrop, and indeed the record shows that they were usually allies after 1632. But the portrait that Winthrop sketched of Dudley as a jealous, irascible colleague is bound to linger in the consciousness of any reader. It is the first of a long series of unflattering vignettes in the journal. Winthrop was not a real portraitist; he never described people in three-dimensional detail. But like Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography, he had the trick of thrusting a few barbs into most of the personages who figure prominently in his story. Naturally, he found little good to say about such outright adversaries as Thomas Morton, Sir Christopher Gardiner, John Mason, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Roger Williams, John Wheelwright, Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer, John Underbill, Samuel Gorton, Peter Hobart, and Robert Child. But he was seldom unequivocally positive about his fellow magistrates. John Endecott was rash and blundering, Roger Ludlow was intemperate, John Haynes was too rich, Henry Vane was a spoiled youth, Israel Stoughton and Richard Saltonstall were dangerous incendiaries, John Humfrey was a deserter, Richard Bellingham was dishonest. Likewise among the clergy, John Cotton was unsound, John Eliot was naïve, Thomas Hooker was aggressive, the Rogers brothers were quarrelsome, Hugh Peter and Nathaniel Ward were meddlesome. To be sure, Winthrop seldom dwelt on these criticisms; he had much more praise than blame for most of his colleagues and he freely admitted his own defects on occasion. Yet the reader who accepts his presentation will certainly conclude that the author of the journal was much the best and wisest public man in early Massachusetts.
By 1632, one of Winthrop's chief purposes in the journal was to explain and defend his administration, and as he pursued his critics his interpretation became increasingly one-sided. For example, on February 17, 1632, he described his victory over the people of Watertown who had refused to pay taxes levied by the magistrates because they had no representatives at the General Court. According to Winthrop, these people were finally convinced of their error, "so their submission was accepted, and their offence pardoned. But actually the Watertowners were the winners in this dispute. The May 1632 General Court voted that two representatives from every town should advise the magistrates on taxation, and in the court records the two spokesmen for Watertown were listed first, ahead of the representatives from the seven other towns. This modest concession satisfied the freemen for two years, but in the spring of 1634 they agitated for a larger share of power. Winthrop is our chief source on what happened next. On April 1 the representatives from the several towns asked to see the company charter and, when they read it, discovered that the freemen were authorized to meet four times a year to make laws. Winthrop tells how he explained to the representatives that this procedure could not work because the freemen were too numerous and were not properly qualified to choose "a select Companye" (that is, deputies from each town), to legislate; furthermore, such a legislative assembly would consume too much time. When he wrote this entry Winthrop mistakenly supposed that he had settled the matter. But on May 14, 1634, the General Court voted to give the freemen appreciably more power and the magistrates less. It was agreed that the General Court had the sole power to legislate and tax, that this body was to meet four times a year rather than annually, and that the freemen in each town were to choose deputies to represent them in these meetings. Those freemen who attended the May 1634 court of election voted by secret ballot for the first time, and they chose Thomas Dudley as governor and Roger Ludlow as deputy governor. There was apparently a move to drop Winthrop from the board of magistrates, but John Cotton preached an election sermon against this, and Winthrop was kept on.
The General Court of May 1634 was Winthrop's worst defeat. The constitutional change was a greater blow than the electoral change, because Winthrop could not accept the new deputies from the towns as in any way equal to the magistrates; for the rest of his life he fought to restore the magistrates' independence and supremacy. But at the moment of defeat he concealed his feelings. One week after this court session he wrote a very positive description of life in Massachusetts for an English correspondent, explaining that "Our Civill Government is mixt," with power divided among the magistrates, deputies, and freemen. He seems to have wavered a bit before deciding just what to report in his journal. First he made two entries about minor proceedings in the May court, leaving two large blank spaces that he never filled in. Then he turned the page and wrote out a full account of Cotton's sermon, the election results, and the constitutional change. "Manye good orders were made this Court," he concluded; "it helde 3: dayes and all things were Carried verye peaceably: notwithstanding that some of the Assistantes were questioned by the freemen for some errores in their government and some fines imposed, but remitted again before the Court brake vp: the Court was kept in the meetingehowse at Boston," It would be interesting to know whether Winthrop was among those questioned and fined, and why he canceled his concluding testimonial of harmony. Perhaps he found it too self-seeking. Certainly, one of the "good orders" of the May court was very irritating to him: a directive that ex-governor Winthrop make an account of all public monies and goods he had received and paid out during his administration. Winthrop does not say so in the journal, but he entered a statement into the court records in which he pointed out testily that he had disbursed over £1,700 for public use and received less than £400 in compensation.
The next three years of the journal, from May 1634 to May 1637, composed when the author was out of power, constitute the most interesting section of the entire narrative. Winthrop now wrote at somewhat greater length than before and concentrated on political events, and perhaps because he was no longer defending his own record he supplied more inside information about the controversial issues of the day. These were difficult years for the Bay Colony. In England, Archbishop William Laud's new Commission for Regulating Plantations served a writ of quo warranta against the Massachusetts Bay Company, and the Court of King's Bench ordered the company's franchise seized into the king's hands. In America many of the Massachusetts colonists joined Thomas Hooker and John Haynes in an exodus to Connecticut, Roger Williams was banished and fled to Narragansett Bay, the Massachusetts government plunged into a bloody war against the Pequot Indians, and in October 1636 the Antinomian controversy exploded in Boston. Modern commentators have questioned whether these events would have taken place, or would have been so disruptive, had Winthrop remained in charge. The journal encourages such sentiments by hinting (and sometimes openly stating) that matters in 1634-1637 could have been much better handled.
Yet Winthrop was neither as full nor as frank a writer as he later became. For example, his series of thirteen succinct entries on Roger Williams's stormy career, from the day that Winthrop welcomed this "godly minister" in February 1631 to the news of his mysterious disappearance from Salem in January 1636, raises doubts about what really happened and why. Winthrop presented Williams's rebellion against the Masschusetts church-state system as the work of a rigid and isolated fanatic who enjoyed no support outside Salem. In January 1636 Winthrop seemed quite as eager as any of his fellow magistrates to ship the banished man back to England. And yet Williams later claimed that Winthrop "privately wrote to me to steer my course to Narragansett Bay and Indians, for many high and heavenly and public ends, encouraging me, from the freeness of the place from any English claims or patents." The letters that Williams sent to Winthrop in 1636-1637, just after he came to Narragansett Bay, do read as though he regarded the ex-governor as his benefactor and friend. And was it just coincidence that the leading Bay magistrates and clergy convened a private meeting on January 18, 1636, a week or so after Williams's flight, and roundly criticized Winthrop for his "ouer muche lenytye and remissenesse"? Did they suspect him of giving covert aid to Williams?
On another sensitive topic, the exodus from Massachusetts to Connecticut in 1635-1636, Winthrop by no means "told all" in his journal. It is clear from his report of a week-long debate in the September 1634 General Court on whether Thomas Hooker and his followers in Newtown (Cambridge) should be allowed to go to Connecticut that feelings ran high on this subject and that Winthrop strongly opposed the move. The court records are silent about this debate, but Winthrop reported that the Newtowners finally bowed to the magistrates' opposition, "so the feare of their removall to Conectecott was removed." Unfortunately, he never explained when or why this decision was reversed. In the summer of 1635, as the migration began, Winthrop wrote cheerfully to an English correspondent, "we are putt to rayse new Colonys about 100 miles to the west of vs, upon a very fine river and a most fruitfull place"; he added that Hooker was going next year, but certainly not because of any quarrel he had with John Cotton. Winthrop's truer feelings emerged as he made a series of dolorous journal entries between October 1635 and November 1636 about the misadventures of the Connecticut pioneers, who nearly froze and starved in their new milieu and lost all their cattle. Clearly, neither the Lord nor John Winthrop was pleased with this migration.
The journal reaches its most dramatic point in 1636-1637 with the Pequot War and the Antinomian controversy. Winthrop narrated both crises as they developed, without knowing how either of them would turn out. In July 1636 he learned that a trader named John Oldham had been murdered by Indians from Block Island, and he quickly filled the closing pages of his first notebook with entries on the Bay government's efforts to track down the murderers and on Endecott's expedition of August 24—September 14 against the Block Island and Pequot Indians. Taking up another notebook, the lost second volume of the journal, Winthrop continued his story in the four opening entries of the new book, dated in October 1636, which describe the expansion of the war in Connecticut. Then in late October he made his first report on "One Mrs. Hutchinson," and it soon became evident to him that this "woman of a ready wit and bold spirit" was an even more dangerous adversary than the Pequots. During the next months he focused primarily on the Antinomians but supplied periodic progress reports on the Indian war until the Pequots were vanquished in August 1637 and he could concentrate full measure on Mrs. Hutchinson and her followers. Much was at stake for Winthrop in this contest. Anne Hutchinson's strong-hold was Winthrop's own Boston church, and her supporters initially included John Cotton as well as John Wheelwright and Governor Vane. She and her followers were zealously bent on driving such pharisees as Winthrop out of office, if not out of the colony. According to the journal, Winthrop was the chief opponent of the Antinomians: in the Boston church he alone defended the beleaguered pastor, John Wilson, and blocked the appointment of Wheelwright as an additional minister of the church. At the magistrates' meetings he stood up to Vane. Winthrop reported that he also stood up to John Cotton, and he seems to have supplied much of the pressure that persuaded Cotton to switch sides. At the May 1637 General Court, Winthrop scored the most satisfying triumph of his career when the freemen in a tense and stormy meeting elected him governor and dropped Vane and two other Antinomain magistrates from office. In November 1637 the General Court consolidated this victory by banishing Hutchinson and Wheelwright and disarming or disenfranchising seventy-five of their supporters. In March 1638 the Boston church was finally persuaded to excommunicate Hutchinson.
Once restored to power, Winthrop used his journal more aggressively than in the early 1630s to defend his record and denounce his opponents. In January 1638 he made a list of the "foul errors" and "secret opinions" of the Antinomians. In March 1638 he discovered that Mary Dyer, one of Hutchinson's supporters, had been delivered of a deformed stillborn fetus, and in September 1638 he heard that Hutchinson herself had a somewhat similar stillbirth after she was exiled to Rhode Island, whereupon Winthrop examined witnesses, had the corpse of Dyer's child exhumed, and entered full descriptions of both "monstrous births" into his journal as proof positive that God had turned against the Antinomians. However, even at this time of passionate controversy, when he was pursuing through the pages of his journal a woman whom he detested, Winthrop kept his language sober and controlled. The fiercest denunciation of Hutchinson is found, not in the journal, but in a separate account of the Antinomian controversy that Winthrop assembled and sent to England in the spring of 1638; this account was eventually published anonymously under the title A Short Story of the Rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists & Libertines, that infected the Churches of New-England (London, 1644). Winthrop's Short Story is a patchwork compilation of documents enumerating the theological errors of the Antinomians and elaborating his journal account of how and why the Massachusetts government and clergy passed sentence against them. Whoever found Winthrop's manuscript in London in 1644, and published it six years out-of-date, certainly garbled parts of the text and possibly inserted the most vituperative passages in order to enliven the piece. However that may be, Anne Hutchinson in the Short Story became an "American Jesabel," "a woman of a haughty and fierce carriage" who was "more bold than a man," a "great imposter" who gloried in her excommunication, and an "instrument of Satan" who poisoned the churches of New England. Winthrop was certainly capable of this language, but he was careful to avoid such polemical terms in the journal when reporting on Anne Hutchinson or any of his other adversaries.
Winthrop's manuscript journal for this particular period can no longer be examined, because he entered the section from October 1636 to December 1644 in the lost second notebook. We know from descriptions by Ezra Stiles (who read it in 1771) and by James Savage (who worked with it from 1816 to 1825) that this book was a substantial volume, about double the size of the first, with 366 pages of text and end notes. Winthrop appears to have used it for other purposes before he began making journal entries in it. At one end of the book, starting in May 1636 (immediately after his election as deputy governor in tandem with Vane), he kept notes on some of the executive decisions made by the governor and magistrates, and he continued to keep this informal record until April 1638. At the other end he started a list of "Gifts bestowed upon this Colony from 1634," and he seems to have recorded the first several of these gifts in 1635-1636. But he did not need a thick book for this list, and so he turned over a few blank leaves and took up his journal. As we have seen, he supplied a title for his work: "A Continuation of the History of N: England." At the outset of the second volume he still organized his text in the format he had been using since 1632, with three or four dated entries per month. But as he kept working, this format gradually changed. By 1639 he had only two dated entries per month, and in 1641 only one per month. He never abandoned dated entries altogether, and throughout the 1640s he kept inserting one or two dates per month; but the majority of entries were now undated, and increasingly he wrote for several consecutive pages on the same topic, so that his narrative became less segmented and more continuous: in short, more of a history.
It must be remembered that Winthrop was the governor of his colony for twelve of the nineteen years he kept the journal, and that he was continually a magistrate; he was in charge in 1630-1634, 1637-1640, 1642-1644, and 1646-1649. By the late 1630s he was clearly drafting the official history of his administration, and as he continued this task he became bothered by three problems that have agitated many historians: how to praise the virtues of living men, how to discuss human errors without prejudicing the reputations of those involved, and whether to reveal "secret hid things which may be prouoking"—in particular, Massachusetts's policy of evading and rejecting orders from the home government. In January 1640 he asked Thomas Shepard's advice on these points, and Shepard urged him to be candid "in the compiling of the History" and to leave tricky points for possible revision before publication. Basically, Winthrop followed Shepard's advice. As far as one can tell from Savage's transcript of the second notebook, the governor deleted or queried only a few critical remarks about Vane, Hooker, Bellingham, and the French Acadian commander Charles de La Tour, together with a few references to himself that could be construed as too personal and prideful. Reporting on the General Court of December 1641 "(for history must tell the whole truth)," he devoted several pages to Bellingham's misconduct as governor of the colony. To balance things he also blamed himself (but more briefly) for plunging into an alliance with La Tour in July 1643. While he was writing, Winthrop made occasional notes to himself on where to add further documentation. For example, on September 21, 1638, he reported that Charles I's Committee for Regulating Plantations had ordered the colony to send home the royal charter, and that the General Court sent a humble petition instead. "These instruments are all among the governour's papers," Winthrop noted, "and the effect of them would be here inserted." At the back of his notebook he filed two documents that he may have planned to insert in his narrative: a set of sixteen questions posed to Cotton in 1637 and a letter from Dudley in 1638. By the time he reached 1643 and 1644 Winthrop was copying into his text verbatim transcripts of such important documents as the Articles of Confederation among Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven in May 1643, the submission of two Narragansett sachems in June 1643, and Massachusetts's treaty of October 1644 with the French commander Charles d'Aulnay. Two comments should be made about these transcripts. First, whenever they can be checked against the originals or against contemporary copies they prove to be remarkably accurate. Second, Winthrop was surprisingly catholic in his choice: a verbatim copy of his own speech rejecting Goody Sherman's charges that the rich merchant Robert Keayne stole her sow is no surprise, but why did he transcribe Parliament's letter of safe conduct for Roger Williams, with its praise for Williams and its stinging rebuke to the Bay government for persecuting fellow Puritans? One can only regret that he had not started this practice much earlier.
Winthrop changed his method of composition in another, more fundamental way during the course of his second notebook. He began to write lengthy sections of his narrative at a sitting, some time after the events described had taken place. This point cannot be proved incontrovertibly, since the original manuscript is destroyed, but close examination of Winthrop's wording discloses solid evidence of a change from frequent writing sessions and contemporaneous reporting in 1636-1637 to irregular writing sessions and retrospective reporting by 1643-1644. The opening forty or fifty pages of the second notebook, running from October 1636 through November 1637, read as though the author was continuing his practice in the first notebook: he was making frequent entries as things happened or very soon after. He jumped back and forth between the Antinomian and Pequot crises in tune with the latest developments, he changed his mind several times about whether the Antinomian crisis was dying down or heating up, and he altered his portrayal of several characters as his story line changed course. In November 1636 Governor Vane was a "wise and godly gentleman," in December he became a petulant child who burst into tears and flew into rages, and as he quarreled more and more openly with Winthrop he went from bad to worse. John Cotton was evasive in October 1636, belligerent from December 1636 to April 1637, cautious in May, and reconciled to the other clergy in August, at which point Winthrop wrote: "this sudden change was much observed by some." Finally, the Lord Ley "showed much wisdom and moderation" on first arrival in June 1637, but within a month turned into a confederate of Vane's.
When we move ahead four years and examine Winthrop's text from September 2, 1641, to May 18, 1642, it appears that this entire section of about twenty manuscript pages was composed in May 1642 or after, since it contains repeated references to the General Court of that date. And when Winthrop reached the summer of 1643, he abandoned strict chronology. He discussed his diplomatic negotiations with La Tour (June 12—July 14, 1643) before taking up the Goody Sherman sow case (October 1642—May 1643) or the debate over the magistrates' "negative voice" or veto power in legislative proceedings (October 14, 1642—June 5, 1643). I believe that the long interlocking section of Winthrop's text from May 10, 1643, to October 12, 1643, which must have filled nearly fifty pages, was all composed at about the same time, probably in late 1643. Looking back over the complicated developments of the previous months, Winthrop evidently decided to explain his support for La Tour and his opposition to Goody Sherman as fully and systematically as possible because he had been roundly attacked for mishandling both situations. At this stage, I think he was still writing fairly close to the events described. When he narrated the Massachusetts government's invasion of Rhode Island in October 1643 to seize the radical Puritan Samuel Gorton, he did not yet know that Gorton would be released from imprisonment in March 1644. However, sometime between October 1643 and September 1644 Winthrop seems to have stopped working on his notebook for a long period. When he came to reporting on the imprisonment of another enemy, Thomas Morton, in September 1644, he also reported Morton's release in 1645 and his death "within two years after," or about 1647, all in the same paragraph. Unless he inserted this paragraph later (a possibility not mentioned by Stiles or Savage), he composed the closing pages of his second notebook in 1647 or 1648.
My argument that Winthrop changed his method of composition during the course of the second notebook is admittedly conjectural, but I reach firmer ground with the third notebook, which carries the narrative from September 1644 to January 1649. Inspection of Winthrop's manuscript indicates that he wrote 129 pages of entries in only about fifteen sessions; he seems to have set down 20 pages at one stretch, and 15 pages on three other occasions. Obviously, he was working very fast, and in consequence he made more slips and errors than previously. He wrote up ten entries twice over, deleted seven of these repetitions, but did not notice the others. Sometimes he got his dates wrong, especially toward the beginning where he placed three incidents in 1645 that actually occurred in 1644, and he similarly mixed up several events in 1647 and 1648. He filled up much space with verbatim transcripts of important documents; the twelve documents copied into the third book account for one-quarter of the text. Winthrop's style betrays haste; he has lost the compact precision, immediacy, and variety of expression characteristic of the entries from the 1630s. He may have felt that he had no time to lose, because he appears to have composed most or all of this notebook during the last few months of his life. He cannot have started it immediately after completing the second, because his initial page on the arrival of Madame de La Tour, dated September 17, 1644, repeats an episode already described in the closing pages of the second book. He cannot have started the third book in 1644 or 1645 because he misdated too many of the opening entries: And in three places he looked well ahead to future events. On the twelfth page of this volume, under the date July 3, 1645 (actually July 3, 1644), when discussing the erection of free schools, he made reference to a General Court order of November 11, 1647. Un der the date July 1, 1645, when discussing the Cambridge synod, he made a reference to May 1648. And under the date November 5, 1645, when discussing Henry Greene's ordination, he noted Greene's death in October 1648. None of these references was inserted later. Thus Winthrop not merely abandoned his former habit of day-by-day or month-by-month record keeping; he started the third volume three or four years after the events described, and he composed nearly two-thirds of it between mid-October 1648 and early March 1649, when he became fatally ill and too weak to write any more.
Fortunately, there is a further clue to Winthrop's method of composition in the late 1640s. When Ezra Stiles read the second notebook in 1771 he found several loose papers tucked into the book, including a "single sheet" that contained "sundry Entries in the Governor's Hand continuing the Memoirs to 1648," and he copied several of these entries. Jeremy Belknap, who had possession of the second notebook in the 1780s and 1790s, removed the loose papers so that these documents escaped destruction in 1825 and are now among the Belknap Manuscripts in the Massachusetts Historical Society. The "single sheet" of "Memoirs to 1648" is a large piece of paper folded twice to make eight pages, on which Winthrop jotted notes. The first four pages list eighty-five incidents that Winthrop apparently intended to discuss in his narrative, arranged chronologically from July 1643 to May 15, 1648. The remaining four pages contain his reflections on sacred and profane history. Winthrop seems to have jotted down his list of eighty-five items at various times, to judge by his handwriting, and he crossed off the ones that he incorporated into his text. I believe that he began keeping these notes when he laid aside his journal/history so as to jog his memory when he went back to work. Although the first two items date from 1643, the list starts in a systematic way in June 1644; this supports my contention that Winthrop stopped work on his second notebook temporarily at about that date. There is a note on the burial of George Phillips, July 2, 1644, worded almost exactly the same as Winthrop's entry on Phillips in his second notebook; when the governor took up his narrative again he evidently transferred this note directly into his text. Seven other items from the "Memoirs" list are incorporated into the closing pages of the second notebook. But the chief value of this little list was that it provided a skeletal outline for the third volume. The last item on the list dates from May 1648, supporting my contention that Winthrop wrote most or all of the third volume after that date. Certainly, he made heavy use of the "Memoirs" list; he incorporated sixty-three of these items into the third volume, sometimes copying them verbatim. The "Memoirs" page of notes for 1647 and 1648 is headed "not yet entered," but actually Winthrop did incorporate eleven of the fifteen incidents listed on this page. Altogether, he omitted only fourteen items from the "Memoirs" list.
Winthrop's four pages of reflections on sacred and profane history in the "Memoirs" are also very interesting because they help to elucidate his purpose in writing the journal/history. He scornfully denounces "heathen storyes (which are of so greate esteeme amonge men)" because the principal function of these secular histories is to narrate the reign and exploits of Satan, "where nothinge is to be seene but the boysterous and ambitious spirittes of Princes, the salvery and foole hard[i]nesse of their Captains and soldiers wherby millions of men are destroyed, and sent to hell before their tyme." The wars and battles celebrated by "heathen" historians are unnatural as well as vicious in Winthrop's eyes, because nature teaches all creatures to avoid destroying their own kind. Only Satan could have inspired the princes and captains to commit such carnage and imperil the human race. For Winthrop the truly glorious human actors are the saints who serve the King of Kings: their deeds, sufferings, and triumphs are the true stuff of history. The only "good use" of profane history is when it sets forth the wisdom, power, justice, and clemency of God and discovers the malicious practices of Satan.
Winthrop certainly believed that he was recording a chapter in the endless contest between God and Satan, and he certainly supposed that his purpose was to document God's design in bringing His people to New England while testing them with many challenges. But when he began his journal he rarely discussed teleology. One of the few times he did so was in July 1632, when he reported "a great combate between a mouse and a snake" at Watertown in which the victorious mouse symbolized "a poore contemptible people which God had brought hither," and the dead snake was the Devil. Winthrop knew, of course, that the Devil would not stay dead, and in his second volume he recorded many evidences of Satan's efforts to destroy Christ's kingdom in New England through such agents as the Pequot Indians, the Antinomians, and the Gortonists. God and Satan figure even more actively in the third volume. Winthrop saw the mutiny of the town of Hingham against the magistrates in 1645 as "the workinges of Sathan, to ruine the Colonies and Churches of Christ in New England"; he rejoiced in God's displeasure with Dr. Robert Child and the Remonstrants, who had dared to petition Parliament against the colony government in 1646; he reported that a clergyman attending the Cambridge synod of 1648 killed another snake that invaded the meeting house; and he punctuated his manuscript with examples of providential deliverances and punishments. His final entry, dated January 11, 1649, told about five persons who had recently drowned by "the righteous hande of God."
Winthrop, in common with the heathen story tellers he scorned, devoted much attention in his second and third volumes to sexual scandal—to cases of rape, fornication, adultery, sodomy, and buggery—but of course his purpose was hardly the same as theirs. When he reported that William Plain of Guilford was executed for masturbating or that George Spencer of New Haven was executed for siring a piglet with human resemblances, he was exhibiting these specimens of human depravity as proof that even in godly New England the Devil was continually at work. He dwelt as much on the penitential scaffold scenes as on the crimes, for God always searched out these sex offenders and punished them justly. Winthrop also reported on the punishments that God meted out to the political and religious rebels who rejected the Massachusetts church-state system. Anne Hutchinson, the greatest rebel, received the harshest judgment; first her monstrous birth in 1638 and then her murder by Indians in 1643. John Humfrey, who deserted Massachusetts for the West Indies in 1641 and took many other colonists with him, was also severely punished: a barn fire destroyed his hay and corn to the value of £160, and three child molesters repeatedly raped his little daughter. Dr. Child, the chief of the Remonstrants in 1646, was publicly humiliated on the streets of London, "and besides God had so blested his estate, as he was quite broken." Ironically, Winthrop's own estate had been blasted a few years before this; in 1639 his bailiff, James Luxford, contracted debts in his name totaling £2,500, and Winthrop was forced to sell much of his property. The Massachusetts freemen dropped him from the governorship for two years after this happened, and one of the deputies tried in 1641 to have him dropped from office altogether because he was "grown poor." But Winthrop barely mentioned his financial troubles, and then mainly to grumble that the colonists only raised £500 in a voluntary contribution to help him, for he refused to accept his property loss as a providential sign.
The final volume was definitely more a history than a journal. On the cover and the first page of this volume, as we have noted, Winthrop supplied two variant titles for his work: The Annals of New England and History of New England. The first is a misnomer. Winthrop never wrote up the events of a given year as a separate unit or chapter, the way a proper annalist like Bradford organized Of Plymouth Plantation, and in the third volume it is not always clear which year he is talking about. One can also quarrel with his second title, since Winthrop viewed developments beyond the borders of Massachusetts with deep suspicion. His news bulletins from Maine, New Hampshire, Plymouth, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Haven were mainly reports of crimes and disorders. Winthrop's prime topic in his second and third volumes was Massachusetts politics, and on this subject he was particularly concerned to answer each and every challenge to his administration. The two great set pieces in his third volume are the Hingham mutiny of 1645 and the Remonstrants' protest of 1646. Winthrop deliberately magnified both events. He was furious at the Hingham petitioners for bringing charges against him at the General Court, and he was furious at the deputies for entertaining these charges, so he wrote up his impeachment trial as a humiliating personal ordeal. He described very particularly how he sat through the trial as an accused criminal, below the magistrates' bench and with his hat off. He described how the magistrates eventually persuaded the deputies to exonerate him and fine the petitioners (this decision was less clear-cut than Winthrop reported), and he described how he resumed his magistrate's seat and lectured the court after the trial. Indeed, he inserted into his narrative the whole text of this masterful "little speech" on the liberty of the people and the authority of the magistrates.
In discussing the Hingham case, Winthrop criticized Peter Hobart and the other town leaders with particular sharpness. Perhaps he was thinking of Hobart when he wrote the following in his "Memoirs" statement on sacred and profane history:
If the Author sometymes mention the faylings of magistrates and Elders by name, he is not to be blamed 1: because the Historyes of the Scripture doe it frequently. 2: they were public, and therefore could not be concealed: 3: he mentions his owne faylings as well as others. 4: It is for edification to knowe that all godly men in all places and tymes have their infirmytyes. 5: this wilbe a meanes to cleare them from more and greater evills which have been charged vpon them by malignant toungues. 6: this will helpe to cleare the truethe of their profession, when thoughe they have had their errors etc. yet they have not approved allowed themselues to continue in them, or to lustife them.
When he came to deal with the Remonstrants, Winthrop had no compunctions about disclosing the failings of Child and his six colleagues, because these people were outsiders who were trying to subvert the colony government and place it under parliamentary supervision. In 1646 the Remonstrants' petition to the General Court posed a serious threat, because Parliament had already intervened on behalf of Roger Williams and Samuel Gorton and might well do so for Child. But Winthrop did not write up the Remonstrants' protest until late 1648 or early 1649, and by this time he knew that Parliament had rejected Child's appeal. Yet he filled twenty-two pages of his third notebook with a blow-by-blow account of the General Court's proceedings in order to justify and explain the court's actions. Perhaps he thought that these actions looked a little severe. The Remonstrants had been held in jail for months in order to delay their appeal to Parliament, and they were collectively fined nearly £1,000, which was more than the colony's annual revenue.
As Winthrop changed from a journalist into a historian he wrote more voluminously: his treatment of the years 1643-1646 is over twice the length of his treatment of the years 1633-1636. He focused more on political developments and narrated them in greater detail, perhaps because he had more victories and fewer defeats to report in the 1640s. Winthrop's electoral defeat in May 1634 had been at least as important, both to him and to the colony, as his victory over the Hingham petitioners in 1645, but he wrote up the 1634 episode in two pages and the 1645 episode in seventeen. In the early 1630s he had been silent or evasive on controversial issues, but by the late 1640s he pursued such topics with special zest. One of the great features of the journal/history, especially in the second and third volumes, is that the author reveals so many of the friction points in his society; yet of course he was not trying to establish objectivity but to prove the correctness of his own position. For as Winthrop engaged in one political battle after another, and as he grew more candid in discussing the issues at stake, he also became increasingly doctrinaire, not to say self-righteous, in his prosecution of the men and women he silenced or banished. Thanks to his narrative, it is very easy to recognize the lasting significance of events in early Massachusetts and very difficult to remain neutral on the subject of Winthrop's own leadership. For some, he is one of the great figures in American history. For others, he is the kind of man you love to hate.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13332
SOURCE: "'This Great Household upon the Earth'," in A House Divided: Domesticity and Community in American Literature, Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 8-39.
[In the following excerpt, Anderson traces Winthrop's idea of community as evidenced in his writings and compares it with those of Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor.]
The Book of Deuteronomy, particularly its closing chapters, had an irresistible appeal for the first generation of New England Puritans because of the parallels they recognized between their own situation and that of the Children of Israel, poised upon the borders of the Promised Land. All of the Old Testament had typological significance, of course, and the New Testament was the source that the leaders of the emigrants would consult for guidance in shaping their communal institutions. But it was to Deuteronomy that John Winthrop turned when he sought a forceful conclusion for the discourse on Christian charity that he delivered at sea as the Arbella and her consort ships sailed west toward Massachusetts Bay.
The passage Winthrop chose partly to quote and partly to paraphrase was from Moses' "last farewell" to his people, after he had at length restored their laws and was preparing to die. This wonderfully dramatic moment was deservedly familiar to readers, playgoers, and congregations long before Winthrop singled it out. The medieval compilers of the Gesta Romanorum were influenced by Moses' words of farewell as they assembled their popular collection of monastic and chivalric tales. The same passage that Winthrop chose, and the chapter or two immediately following it, served as the source for some of the dialogue in the Exodus plays of the English Corpus Christi cycle, and William Shakespeare, drawing perhaps on all these sources, had incorporated elements of Moses' farewell into several scenes from The Merchant of Venice—most notably into Portia's memorable lines on the quality of mercy. But Winthrop's treatment of his text is much more direct and, in its way, momentous than that of these literary predecessors. He uses it to capture in the form of a single choice the challenge facing the new colonists:
And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortation of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it:
The images of a city on a hill and of a "speciall Commission" or covenant are the traditional metaphors that modern scholarship has focused on as the heart of Winthrop's speech, but the emphases of Winthrop's text itself suggest that this Mosaic choice was a central part of his message, the condensation of what he believed the Puritan errand signified. The idea of a special covenant was vital to the emigrants' sense of density, but in "A Modell of Christian Charity" Winthrop devotes only a paragraph to the implications of this contract, subordinating it (as he does in the passage above) as just one metaphor among others. Even the vision of a "Citty upon a Hill" is, in many respects, only a kind of conspicuous predicament in which, according to Winthrop, the emigrants simply find themselves. "[T]he eies of all people are uppon us," he observes in an interesting modification of the Sermon on the Mount, implying that New England will be exposed to considerable scrutiny, like it or not. The choice between life and death, however, is at the center of what it means to be a deliberate participant in this dangerous enterprise. This is the master "modell" of Winthrop's title, and he set out in his discourse to identify the Puritan errand as closely as he could with the powerful appeal of life.
It may seem especially curious, then, that Winthrop chose to begin what he considered to be the "preface" of his speech with an explanation of the reasons why God had ordained that "in all times some must be rich some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subjection". Where, one wonders, is the charity in this? Winthrop undertakes at the outset to explain to us nothing less than the reasons why such social divisions should exist. Perry Miller [in Errand into the Wilderness, 1956] mistakenly identified this apparently complacent—and from Winthrop's point of view wholly traditional—acceptance of social stratification as Winthrop's main text and thought it called for "incessant brooding" on the part of all students of American history. For Winthrop, however, these opening comments are not so much a bulwark for the rights of property, or a rehearsal of familiar aristocratic platitudes, but the beginnings of an assault upon ordinary notions of worldly ownership and worldly duty. His antagonist, in conformity with a rich tradition of Puritan thought, was the self, and he began "A Modell of Christian Charity" by boldly addressing the chief incitement to selfishness among his economically vulnerable listeners.
God, quite simply, reserves all earthly property to himself. Its uneven distribution among men is no more than another manifestation of the familiar renaissance concept of plenitude. God multiplies his "Stewards counting himself more honored in dispenceing his guifts to man by man, than if hee did it by his owne immediate hand". Winthrop reinforces the implications of this idea by examining the two primary rules that are to guide the lives of the emigrants, justice and mercy, and the two kinds of law to which they are subject, that of nature and that of grace. The import of these principles and laws is that "community of perills calls for extraordinary liberallity". It was quite clear to Winthrop's audience—even before Winthrop himself explicitly confirmed it—that the voyagers in the Arbella stood to one another as in a community of perils and that, regardless of the objections of prudent self-interest (with which instinct Winthrop holds a small debate in the text of his speech), they must all conduct their affairs "with more enlargement towardes others and lesse respect towards ourselves".
With Levitican scrupulousness, Winthrop is careful to discuss the various contingencies involved in lending, giving outright, and forgiving debts, but it is clear that he does not have in mind as the guiding virtue of his new community simply ordinary generosity:
It is to be observed that both in Scriptures and latter stories of the Churches that such as have beene most bountifull to the poore Saintes especially in these extraordinary times and occasions god hath left them highly Commended to posterity … observe againe that the scripture gives noe causion to restraine any from being over liberall this way; but to all men to the liberall and cherefull practise hereof by the sweetest promises as to instance one for many, Isaiah 58.6: Is not this the fast that I have chosen to loose the bonds of wickednes, to take off the heavy burdens to lett the oppressed goe free and to breake every Yoake, to deale thy bread to the hungry and to bring the poore that wander into thy house, when thou seest the naked to cover them etc. then shall thy light breake forthe as the morneing, and thy healthe shall growe speedily, thy righteousnes shall goe before thee, and the glory of the lord shall embrace thee, then thou shalt call and the lord shall Answer thee.
"A Modell of Christian Charity" in fact moves steadily toward a vision of communal unity that is founded upon two "patterns," as Winthrop would have called them, taken not from covenant legality but from apocalyptic vision and private life: the body and marriage. Both are traditional images, but that is precisely why Winthrop adopts them. He can draw upon the familiar associations of the body of Christ and the marriage of Christ with his church to enhance the authority of his appeal for community and his argument against the self.
For though he was in fact making a kind of argument, Winthrop knew (as Shakespeare's Portia came to recognize) that people could not be argued into "workes of mercy" toward one another. Mercy had to emerge from within, and that emergence required a psychological and spiritual transformation on the part of those who would found a new community upon a spiritually regenerate basis. Winthrop concluded that the "first mover or maine wheele" of mercy and justice in human life was love, the "bond or ligament" that knits together human beings as firmly as the parts of a single body are knit together in mutual dependence. In conformity with the taste of his age, Winthrop was prepared to extend this bodily conceit just as far as it could go in the service of his point, delving into some of the particulars of digestion, for example, in order to show that just as the mouth may "mince the food" for the whole body and yet receive "a due proporcion" of nourishment in return, so affection is always perfectly reciprocal in the kind of society he envisions for America. This conceit, however, unlike those in the more strictly secular verse of Winthrop's contemporaries, does not succed or fail purely on poetic grounds. Winthrop derives its authority from passages in I Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, and John. Nor is such a literal and spiritual view of their social "constitution" simply one desirable alternative among many. Winthrop is not discussing possible social options but necessities. The extraordinary nature of the colonizing enterprise demanded that "wee must not content our selves with usual ordinary meanes":
Whatsoever wee did or ought to have done when wee lived in England, the same must wee doe and more allsoe where wee goe: That which the most in theire Churches maineteine as a truthe in profession onely, wee must bring into familiar and constant practise, and in this duty of love wee must love brotherly without dissimulation, wee must love one another with a pure hearte fervently wee must beare one anothers burthens, wee must not looke onely on our owne things, but allsoe on the things of our brethren, neither must wee think that the lord will beare with such faileings at our hands as hee dothe from those among whome we have lived.
In its rhythmic sequence of binding exhortations ("wee must love … wee must beare …") this passage anticipates by a few paragraphs the culminating vision of Winthrop's speech, toward which he is building with both musical and argumentative care. The nature of Winthrop's message requires such orchestration, for in opposition to the stubborn claims of the self, Winthrop pits a social ideal more demanding and more rewarding (he suggests) than marriage. Yet it is to marriage, and to its extension in family, that he appeals as a model for how this binding love operates upon the inward lives of those who choose to "exercise" it.
The loyalty of David and Jonathan is the second of the instructive instances of social beauty upon which Winthrop calls to give his ideal a dramatic life, but his chief example of the self-effacing power of human affection is Eve. And just as Milton has Eve recite the most beautiful hymn to human love in Paradise Lost (4, 635-56), so Winthrop elects to describe the psychological impact of love solely through an elaborate characterization of its effects on her. Strikingly—and it would certainly have seemed striking to Winthrop's biblically sophisticated listeners—he departs from scriptural authority and assigns to Eve the "fleshe of my fleshe" acknowledgment that Genesis attributes to Adam:
Now when the soule which is of a sociable nature finds any thing like to it selfe, it is like Adam when Eve was brought to him, shee must have it one with herselfe this is fleshe of my fleshe (saith shee) and bone of my bone shee conceives a great delightc in it, therefore shee desires nearenes and familiarity with it: shee hath a greate propensity to doe it good and receives such content in it, as feareing the miscarriage of her beloved shee bestowes it in the inmost closett of her heart, shee will not endure that it shall want any good which shee can give it, if by occasion shee be withdrawne from the Company of it, shee is still lookeing towardes the place where shee left her beloved, if shee heare it groane shee is with it presently, if shee finde it sadd and disconsolate shee sighes and mournes with it, shee hath noe such joy, as to see her beloved merry and thrivcing, if shee see it wronged, shee cannot beare it without passion, shee setts noe boundes of her affecttions, nor hath any thought of reward, shee findes recompence enoughe in the exercise of her love towardes it.
It is no simple matter to describe the uses to which Winthrop has put gender in this extraordinary passage. Despite the neuter pronouns with which he has referred to the "soule" in his opening sentence, it is possible to treat the insistent use of "shee" thereafter as a conventional gesture on the part of any properly educated English gentleman who wished his usage to conform to the gender of the Latin anima for soul. Even two centuries later Emerson will continue to treat the mind, the intellect, and the Reason as feminine, all the while insisting that living by the light of Reason is "manly." Such a reassuringly traditional reading of Winthrop's usage, however, does not square comfortably with the abruptness with which Eve's appearance in his initial main clause immediately transforms the pronouns. Nor can it account for the intensely sexual nature of the soul's commitment, the conception of delight, the fear of miscarriage, the maternal devotion to her "merry and thriveing" beloved. Winthrop's purposes in fact seem quite complex: He undertakes both to feminize Adam and to exalt Eve as the primary example of everyone who seeks the well-being of others above that of themselves. Eve is his model citizen, not his model wife, and she represents for Winthrop the conflation of the ideas of election and good citizenship that Amy Lang has identified [in Prophetic Woman] as one of the critical accomplishments of "A Modell of Christian Charity."
Part of the reason for Winthrop's uncharacteristic freedom with the language of Genesis in this instance may well be his desire to impress even more vividly upon his audience the revolutionary nature of their undertaking. If the demands of the self must yield to the force of communal love, then the demands of sexual primacy cannot be entirely inviolable. If we must maintain as a truth what others merely profess, then our domestic as well as our political relations call for careful examination. Eve's devotion in Winthrop's passage, after all, is both an acknowledgment of her exemplary power and a celebration of its domestic singlemindedness. At the same time Winthrop is drawing on an old exegetical tradition that identifies the figure of Eve both with her typological successor, Mary, and with the church. Adam's typological associations are with the inward process of election itself and with Christ, the Second Adam, whose apocalyptic return to earth marks the climactic "marriage" of Christian history but who is not readily available as a social presence in human life until the end of time. The typological network of Eve, Mary, and the church are, as Winthrop recognizes, "of a sociable nature," available in a way that Adam is not as a model for the operations of the human "church" understood both exclusively and inclusively. The Eve of Winthrop's passage is not occupied in distinguishing between the regenerate and the unregenerate in the objects of her affection; she is in pursuit of a "beloved" whose status seems to fluctuate between the confident joy of election and the disconsolate sorrow of doubt. She is capable of uniting the complete community of Massachusetts Bay, not simply (as Stephen Foster has suggested) those who "commune," in a network of affection that challenges the power of selfishness with a dramatic model of human, and female, generosity. This extraordinary capacity in Eve and in the typological network she embodies forms the connecting link between Milton's epics of the lost and regained Paradise. And … the range of Eve's appeal gave Emily Dickinson a model of female heroism upon which to shape the monologues of some of her boldest poems. This important modification of the hierarchal tradition is at the heart of Winthrop's model for the American community. The abrupt shift in focus from Adam to Eve with which his passage begins is only a condensed form of the shift in social focus that Winthrop proposes throughout "A Modell of Christian Charity": the shift from self to self-lessness, the shift from death to life.
It is, moreover, not only Eve's marital devotion but also her maternal zeal that Winthrop presents as images of the larger social union of community. She is simultaneously both terms in her typological identity, both Eve and Mary, spouse and mother. The neutral pronouns of the passage that celebrate her impassioned devotion generalize her self-lessness and blur the distinction between spousal and parental love. The "beloved" over whom she solicitously hovers in Winthrop's description might as readily be her "merry and thriveing" child as her husband. The result of this fusion of images is a far more complex and powerful presentation of the sociable nature, for Winthrop has not only employed his biblical figures in traditional typological ways, he has compressed the typological relationship into an extraordinarily rich and suggestive network of familial affection.
Winthrop's personal sense of the potency of the marital bond is perhaps one index of the meaning with which he, and no doubt many of his audience, invested the analogy between community and marriage. He was separated from his wife on the Arbella's momentous voyage. She remained in England and planned to follow on a later ship. Winthrop's letters to her as he prepared to sail are a lively mixture of the latest news on his sailing arrangements, pious consolations for their separation, and domestic tenderness. "Mine owne, mine onely, my best beloved," he addresses her on March 10, 1630, and on March 28 writes in part to remind her of the pact that they had apparently made (in cheerful ignorance of the effect of distance upon time) to "meet in spiritt" on Mondays and Fridays "at 5: of the clocke at night" until they would be able to meet again in fact. For Winthrop, then, it meant a great deal to describe the emigrants' relationship to one another and their relationship to God as a "more neare bond of marriage".
The closing allusion in "A Modell of Christian Charity" to Moses and the choice of life emerges naturally from this discussion of the communal marriage and the communal body. If the bonds of contract alone were involved in the sanctifying of Massachusetts Bay, then it would be difficult to understand, except perhaps in a technical sense, why Winthrop and his companions found their enterprise so urgent and so moving. It would be particularly difficult to see how Winthrop intended to appeal to the always significant percentage of the emigrant population who were not literally covenanted, or contracted, to church membership. A sense of "contract" is deeply embedded in the origins of Puritan colonization, but even in the case of Winthrop's colleagues in the business-like Agreement at Cambridge, it was not contractual sanctity but a vision of life that urged them forward.
Like the Agreement at Cambridge, the Mayflower Compact, shaped by practical necessity though it was, shows evidence of the appeal of a similar visionary union. Its signers bound themselves into a "civil body politic" the very nature of which they had yet to agree upon and the laws of which they had yet to frame, even as they engaged themselves in advance to obey them. Such confidence looks more than a little imprudent from a modern standpoint, until we recall the sorts of implications that Winthrop would later draw from the traditional metaphor of the body as applied to human communities. Indeed, perhaps even more deeply than did Winthrop, William Bradford identified the founding of Plymouth and the trials of the separatists with the plight of a family. Bradford expressed the anguish of their original escape to Leyden by emphasizing the suffering of the husbands who were hurried away to sea by their Dutch captain as they watched their wives and children taken into custody on shore by a "great company, both horse and foot, with bills and guns and other weapons." The separatists' determination to leave Holland for America was motivated in some measure by their desire "for the propagating and advancing of the Gospel," but the reasons that seemed to carry the greatest weight with them—and that prompted the most moving prose from Bradford—were the strains of European exile upon their families: "As necessity was a taskmaster over them, so they were forced to be such, not only to their servants but in a sort to their dearest children, the which as it did not a little wound the tender hearts of many a loving father and mother, so it produced likewise sundry sad and sorrowful effects."
The escape from this sadness and sorrow brought with it the terrible conditions of their first New England winter. But even in the grimmest circumstances, Brad-ford identified the devoted nursing of Miles Standish and William Brewster as a dramatic instance of the sort of selfless tenderness that Winthrop was to invoke on behalf of his own community ten years later. Standish and Brewster, among others, "spared no pains night nor day" in their devotion to the sick.
but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered … And what I have said of these I may say of many others who died in this general visitation, and others yet living; that whilst they had health, yea, or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.
Some of the same fluidity of gender and sensitivity to typology that Winthrop skillfully employs in "A Modell of Christian Charity" is present in the example of these maternal Pilgrim Fathers. Bradford had begun writing Of Plymouth Plantation just at the moment when the larger and better-financed expedition to Massachusetts Bay was about to supersede Plymouth in colonial history. But the shift in center of gravity from Plymouth to Boston involved virtually no charge at all in the relation that leaders in both colonies hoped to maintain between the claims of the self and the claims of the community. Winthrop gave that relation its definitive expression in the closing sentences of "A Modell of Christian Charity," drawing on the commanding image of the body and on the verbal complexity of his portrait of Eve's restless devotion in order to suggest the kind of vitality that he felt in his social ideal:
For this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affection, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberality, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord wil be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodness and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions; the lord make it like that of New England.
Within a moment or two of this ringing forecast, Winthrop is quoting Moses on the choice of life. To his listeners it must have seemed a completely appropriate text with which to close, on metaphorical as well as on typological grounds.
Winthrop's accomplishment in "A Modell of Christian Charity" is the extraordinary degree of concentration with which he was able to express a wide range of hopes and fears shared by his colleagues. Perry Miller was among the first to recognize this representative property of Winthrop's discourse and to employ the speech in The New England Mind: From Colony To Province as a fixed point of reference from which to measure the dissolution of the Puritan errand as the eighteenth century progressed. Miller's influential treatment, however, has tended to obscure the degree to which Winthrop's initial vision of the emigrants' plight not only anticipated decline but absorbed the pattern of great promise and great peril—a pattern inherited from the Puritan vision of the plight of the individual soul and from their reading of the cyclical history of the people of Israel—and accepted it not as a unique and temporary predicament but as the ongoing condition of life. The Mosaic choice that Winthrop describes seems resonant with finality, but in fact, as he makes clear, it renews its terms constantly in the private, daily labor of life, in the intimate bonds of marriage, in the obligations of a parent and a neighbor.
The heroic, public work of Joshua or even of Nehemiah, the wall builder, with whom Cotton Mather was much later to identify Winthrop, is not the sphere of activity that Winthrop himself evokes as central to his new, American experience. He evokes instead a deeply domestic and familal set of values, and he offers a wonderfully assertive and commanding vision of Eve as the most comprehensive embodiment of those qualities necessary to avoid the figurative shipwreck that was all too vividly present to the imaginations of his seaborne listeners.
The image of Moses and the choice of life with which Winthrop closes is grand enough in its own right, but it has its roots in, and draws its authority from, unusually modest sources in human experience. Nor is it by any means clear that Winthrop saw this authority as the exclusive property of one sex. Indeed, though "A Modell of Christian Charity" begins in an apparent justification of the traditional structures of authority within the English community, that justification proves to be the preamble to a description of communal authority that is both more and less stable than the familiar three-way alliance of wealth, place, and masculinity. The comforting implications of the concept of divine plenitude give way to the necessity that people comfort one another, nurture one another, and delight in one another. Those are the values of the household, not of the Great Chain of Being, and authority is grounded in them much as the stature of Eve is grounded both in her typological identities and her power of affection, or that of William Brewster and Miles Standish is grounded in their nurturing strength during the first winter at Plymouth.
These are the central features, then, of the vision of life that Winthrop presents: the sense of the ongoing predicament of choice, the domestic center of meaning within which that choice takes place, the necessary identification of communal authority—of power—with the bonds and obligations of the family. It does not follow from the presence of these features in Winthrop's speech that he was binding himself always to act under their guidance. They simply represent his best description of those professed truths that the residents of Massachusetts Bay must strive to put into action in daily life. Like any good Puritan, Winthrop must have expected a great measure of failure on his own part as well as on that of others. The twin perceptions of impending failure and exhilarating opportunity are the definitive properties of Moses' choice, and these along with the other critical elements of Winthrop's discourse provide the context for the poetic achievements of Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor.
Anne Bradstreet—newly married and sailing to New England with a father and a husband each of whom would in turn succeed to Winthrop's position as governor—was among the listeners whom Winthrop addressed on the Arbella in 1630. Under the circumstances it would have been next to impossible for her to avoid feeling the pertinence of Winthrop's appeal to the models of the body and the family. Indeed her domestic life was so intimately involved with the political life of the colony that she comes quite close to being a historical equivalent to the figure of Eve that Winthrop uses in his speech: the wife whose marital devotion is indistinguishable from a political act, and whose love transforms the remote relationships of power.
It is scarcely an exaggeration to trace the character of Bradstreet's work to the social vision that "A Modell of Christian Charity" embodies. Her loving, verse letters to her absent husband, for example, present themselves as expressions of a private affection that is peripheral to the serious masculine business of the state. In the context of Winthrop's model, however, Bradstreet's private affections and her celebration of them have public stature. Her own family appeared to recognize this fact and treat her poetry much like a public resource. Bradstreet does, to be sure, complain in "The Prologue" to The Tenth Muse that men are prone to patronize her work, but men were also prone to conspire to publish it without the author's consent, and Nathaniel Ward wrote some cheerful introductory verses to Bradstreet's book in which he mocks the myopic incompetence of a sexist Apollo, "the old Don":
Good sooth quoth the old Don, tell ye me so,
I muse whither at length these girls will go;
It half revives my chill frost-bitten blood,
To see a woman once do ought that's good;
And shod by Chaucer's boots, and Homer's furs,
Let men look to't, lest women wear the spurs.
Bradstreet apparently engaged in poetic exchanges with her father that Emily Dickinson would have found marvelous, and Simon Bradstreet, her son, wished particularly that his mother would leave him some written record from which he could continue to take counsel after her death.
Like Emily Dickinson, Bradstreet assembled private books of her poetry, but unlike Dickinson, she had clearly in mind an ultimate purpose for them, as she indicates in the six lines with which she prefaced the brief spiritual autobiography that she wrote for her children:
This book by any yet unread,
I leave for you when I am dead,
That being gone, here you may find
What was your living mother's mind.
Make use of what I leave in love,
And God shall bless you from above.
These are characteristically simple couplets. Bradstreet obviously had no poetic aspirations for them. But even so they capture the sense of affectionate seriousness that she brought to her work. She leaves this book in "love," but she makes sure her children know that she does not intend it for reverent neglect. There is just enough of the benevolent, maternal taskmaster in her admonitory "make use" to leave the unmistakable impression of an authoritative, parental voice. Much of Bradstreet's most memorable poetry is tied, directly or indirectly, to this sense of her domestic role and to the events of domestic life. She and those around her, however, would not have considered this fact as evidence of a purely personal or limited sensibility.
The extraordinary stature that Bradstreet was willing to claim for her domestic posture is generally couched in language that is, at least apparently, self-effacing. But this is much the same kind of self-effacement that Winthrop understands to be the central achievement of Christian charity. It does not happen in us naturally but must be actively sought and struggled for. As often as not, in Bradstreet's case, the struggle seldom achieves even a temporary resolution. Nor is the reader always perfectly certain of the relative merits of the antagonists. This sense of struggle is present even in a poem like "The Author to Her Book," which seems merely conventional in its modesty and resignation. Bradstreet adopts in these dedicatory lines the stance of a mother embrassed by the flaws in her poetic child. She does her best to correct her offspring's "blemishes," but her own lack of skill and her child's stubborn imperfections defeat her best intentions. She finally dismisses her hobbling "work" with some cautious advice about avoiding critics and pleading the lowliness of one's parentage.
There seems, at first, little struggle here. Bradstreet solicits a bit of tenderness for her "rambling brat" and concocts one or two clever (if disturbing) puns on printing "rags" and on her offspring's crippled "feet," but only in the closing lines does she suggest the striking model for her creative zeal:
In this array, 'mongst vulgars mayst thou roam;
In critics' hands, beware thou dost not come.
And take thy way where yet thou art not known.
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother—she, alas, is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
These poems, Bradstreet claims, are perhaps imperfect, but they are also unfathered, created out of nothing but the author's "feeble brain," harshly judged for their failings yet forgiven by a mother whose nurturing hand seems at once affectionate and heavy with nearly an excess of formative power:
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
Bradstreet is both a chagrined parent and an analogue for God in these seemingly modest lines. She is apologizing for her artistic inadequacies and asserting an extraordinary potency all at once—a potency that both evokes and dismisses the figure of the absent father. At the same time, Bradstreet's omnipotent motherhood is marked by the typological network that Winthrop exploited in his portrait of an equally affectionate and powerful Eve. Like Eve, Bradstreet the author is implicated in the "defects" of her crippled verse. She, after all, has made it. But she is also a mother strangely independent of earthly fathers—like Eve's typological descendant—and prophetically sensitive to the fate she envisions her child will suffer once it falls into the hands of critics. The fusion of the tradition of authorial modesty with typological ambition in these lines is both unsettling and invigorating. It represents the "willed resignation" that Robert Daly has described [in God's Altar, 1978] as the characteristic mark of Bradstreet's best verse, and at the same time asserts the kind of communal authority that Winthrop identified with his sociable and selfless Eve.
Bradstreet was capable of evoking Winthrop's metaphors quite directly, often in contexts that strike a modern reader as almost inconceivably unsophisticated. "In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659" is a fine example of such an exaltation of the domestic posture, working out of conditions that are less poetically promising than the witty conceits of "The Author to Her Book." Like most of Bradstreet's work, "In Reference to Her Children" is metaphorically and structurally straightforward, ninety-four lines in more or less regular couplets, built on the commonplace fiction of a mother bird reminiscing about her chicks: "I had eight birds hatched in one nest," the poem begins, "Four cocks there were, and hens the rest." The earthy savor of such language would have seemed quite familiar to contemporary readers. John Cotton had preached a farewell sermon to some of the earliest emigrants to Massachusetts Bay in which he urged his listeners to "forget not the wombe that bore you and the breasts that gave you sucke. Even ducklings hatched under an henne, though they take the water, yet will still have recourse to the wing that hatched them: how much more should chickens of the same feather, and yolke?" Cotton's purpose was to encourage his listeners to remember England and it did not strike him as unseemly to do so in this simple way.
Bradstreet's metaphor is equally simple and traditional. She comments on each of her hatchlings in turn, from the eldest, who has now flown to "regions far," to the three youngest, who "still with me nest" but whose flight she already anticipates. The departure of her "brood" fills her with fear both because of the dangers of the world—fowlers, hawks, and untoward boys—and because her children are in want of wisdom. "O to your safety have an eye," she urges them, and after describing how she intends to pass her old age, singing "my weak lays" in a shady wood, she offers them her last piece of advice:
When each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping language, oft them tell,
You had a dam that loved you well,
That did what could be done for young,
And nursed you up till you were strong,
And 'fore she once would let you fly,
She showed you joy and misery;
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak, and counsel give:
Farewell, my birds, farewell adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.
What is most interesting, and most characteristic, about these concluding lines is the way in which Bradstreet is able to infuse her almost insistently naive conceit with a surprising, and moving, degree of seriousness. The change is anything but heavy-handed, but if we are alert, then the three pairs of antonyms—joy and misery, good and ill, life and "kill"—seem unmistakably to echo the structure of Moses' farewell injunctions on "life and good, death and evil" to which Winthrop had attached such significance nearly thirty years earlier. Bradstreet certainly does not force the association upon us, but there is a great deal of difference between the distressed mother bird who had cried "O to your safety have an eye" just a few lines earlier and the quality of calm and stately wisdom that suddenly settles upon the poem's close. The shift in tone that occurs in these final lines suggests Bradstreet's desire to entice us along into a delightful and striking contrast. But even without such a formal hint, it is clear that one of the chief advantages of Bradstreet's childlike conceit of birds, chicks, and nests is what we might call its inherent poetic humility.
As the rich fusion of tones in "The Author to Her Book" suggests, Bradstreet is engaged in a more or less steady struggle with the self. "The finest bread hath the least bran," she wrote in "Meditation 6," "the purest honey the least wax, and the sincerest Christian the least self-love". The vocation of a poet, however, is almost inevitably an assertion of the individual sensibility, particularly as Bradstreet practiced it. She was the family elegist and spiritual counselor, the family solicitor with God in many of her verse prayers. Unless we are devoted antiquarians, we know very little indeed about those "public employments" for which Bradstreet's husband was so often absent, but Bradstreet's amorous verse letters to him are familiar to many modern readers. At some level she sensed the potential incitement to egotism that such power over feelings and over human memory could represent. Taking counsel with the chastened peacock of her "Meditation 5," she appears to have focused her own literary efforts not on the dramatic display of poetical "gay feathers," but rather upon a considered exposure of those embarrassing black feet: "So he that glories in his gifts and adornings should look upon his corruptions, and that will damp his high thoughts". Bradstreet took some care to damp her own.
It is equally clear that accompanying this conventional, or corrective, humility of Bradstreet's is a genuinely religious sense of unworthiness, expressed most directly in the private verse laments that she left to her children, in which a succession of fainting fits, sicknesses, and periods of bodily weakness all conspire to remind her of her utter dependence upon God:
My thankful heart with glorying tongue
Shall celebrate Thy name,
Who hath restored, redeemed, recured
From Sickness, death, and pain.
I cried, Thou seem'st to make some stay,
I sought more earnestly
And in due time Thou succor'st me
And sent'st me help from high.
Lord, whilst my fleeting time shall last,
Thy goodness let me tell,
And new experience I have gained
My future doubts repel.
An humble, faithful life, O Lord,
Forever let me walk;
Let my obedience testify
My praise lies not in talk.
Accept, O Lord, my simple mite,
For more I cannot give.
What Thou bestow'st I shall restore,
For of thine alms I live.
When Bradstreet's powers are fully engaged, her poetry manages to sustain an unusually effective balance between the genuine humility of these private laments and the kind of forthright self-confidence ("My praise lies not in talk") that conventional humility disguises. Even in these lines from a "thankful heart," Bradstreet cannot resist reminding God that his succor was something less than prompt, and she does indeed expect to encounter future doubts. Her gratitude and obedience are not inconsistent with an essential, human assertiveness, just as her authorial modesty is not inconsistent with a willingness to hint at her own, God-like powers of composition—of judgment and amendment. For Bradstreet (as Robert Daly has again noted) man's relation to God was "familial," but that relation implied a degree of antagonism as well as intimacy that Bradstreet's own domestic roles permitted her to appreciate and dramatize.
The brief dedicatory verses to her father that appeared in the posthumous, 1678 edition of her poems clearly overstate her modesty in the conventional manner when she characterizes her offered work as "this crumb." But other elements of the poem—the allusion to the parable of the talents, in particular, and to the necessity for "forgiving" debts that Winthrop emphasizes in parts of "A Modell of Christian Charity"—establish just as clearly both a sense of dependence and a sense of Bradstreet's own personal adequacy. Both the indebtedness and the stubbornness are deeply felt:
Most truly honoured, and as truly dear,
If worth in me or ought I do appear,
Who can of right better demand the same
Than may your worthy self from whom it came?
The principal might yield a greater sum,
Yet handled ill, amounts but to this crumb;
My stock's so small I know not how to pay,
My bond remains in force unto this day;
Yet for part payment take this simple mite,
Where nothing's to be had, kings loose their right.
Such is my debt I may not say forgive,
But as I can, I'll pay it while I live;
Such is my bond, none can discharge but I,
Yet paying is not paid until I die.
The similarity between the language of Bradstreet's private lament (also a "simple mite") and this more public poem is another index of the complex interplay in her work between genuine and conventional selflessness, between self-effacement and self-confidence. "In Reference to Her Children" is built around a similar balance, offering at the same instant two versions of Bradstreet's maternal solicitude: one the implicitly patronizing view of the fretful mother bird, the other quite boldly identifying her parental concern with that of Moses for his people.
Bradstreet's apparently simple "Meditation 6" on self-love is in some measure a general admission of this characteristic mixture of boldness and modesty: "The finest bread hath the least bran, the purest honey the least wax, and the sincerest Christian the least self-love." The best bread may well have the least bran, but at the same time Bradstreet implies that all bread has some. Bees' wax may be an unwelcome intruder in one's honey, but its presence there is anything but unnatural. Accordingly, though the best Christian may have the least self-love, Bradstreet is more than prepared to take a forgiving attitude toward that residue of egotism, provided that it does not try to assert itself too openly. Like many of her best meditations, the analogies in this one have a benevolently corrective effect upon its dogmatic basis. Just as Winthrop recognized in his closing exhortations to "A Modell of Christian Charity," it is clearly desirable to struggle against the self, but it is entirely natural that the struggle should be at least a partial failure. "In Reference to Her Children" virtually enacts this struggle and dramatizes its fortunate failure. Without some sense of self there would, of course, be no poem at all. Without some potent restraint upon the self, the nature of the poem would change. The delicate allusion to Moses might harden into an unacceptably self-aggrandizing view of the speaker's role. Bradstreet intends that the emphasis fall where the title suggests: upon her children, not upon herself. She hopes simultaneously to enjoin "life" upon them and to embody the meaning of that injunction in her carefully balanced manner of giving it.
Not even the convention of poetic humility or a calculated simplicity, however, could disguise Bradstreet's immense satisfaction in her domestic roles. The images from "In Reference to Her Children," for example, are in one sense unsophisticated, but in the context of the whole poem—its seriousness of purpose as well as its simplicity of means—they are fondly playful. The innocence of its primary metaphor does not trivialize the emotions expressed but serves instead as a constant, gentle reminder of a parent's vulnerability through her children:
O would my young, ye saw my breast,
And knew what thoughts there sadly rest,
Great was my pain when I you bred,
Great was my care when I you fed,
Long did I keep you soft and warm,
And with my wings kept off all harm,
My cares are more and fears than ever,
My throbs such now as 'fore were never.
Alas, my birds, you wisdom want,
Of perils you are ignorant;
Oft times in grass, on trees, in flight,
Sore accidents on you may light.
O to your safety have an eye,
So happy may you live and die.
These lines are solicitous and at the same time surprisingly blunt. Much as in the case of the typologically double identity of the speaker in "The Author to Her Book," Bradstreet assumes the role of a fussing mother bird, but she is also a demanding judge of her children's insufficient wisdom. It is clear that her sense of a mother's role (and voice) is anything but stereotypically simple. This same sort of complexity is present as well in the poems that reflect her status as wife.
The verse letters to her husband are among the most memorable of Brandstreet's poems, not only because of the enthusiasm with which they celebrate married love, but because of the nature of the love that they celebrate. Bradstreet always writes from the perspective of the homebound wife who wants her busy partner to return; yet just as the vulnerability of "In Reference to Her Children" is mutual, so the dependence between husband and wife is mutual in Bradstreet's love poems. "I have a loving peer," she writes in one verse letter, making rather skillful use of the two meanings of "peer" to establish the double assertion: I have a loving lord, and I have a loving equal. Bradstreet's love poems take what appears to be unrestrained delight in acknowledging her dependence upon her husband, but the terms in which she expresses that delight almost always affirm, directly or indirectly, that the dependence is mutual—the perfect model for the mutual dependence of society at large that Winthrop envisioned for America.
Bradstreet's reference to her "loving peer," for example, comes in the midst of a poem that seems particularly extravagant in its images of wifely dependence:
As loving hind that (hartless) wants her deer,
Scuds through the woods and fern with hark'ning ear,
Perplext, in every bush and nook doth pry,
Her dearest deer, might answer ear or eye;
So doth my anxious soul, which now doth miss
A dearer dear (far dearer heart) than this.
Bradstreet goes on to compare herself to a "pensive dove" mourning the absence of her "turtle true," and to "the loving mullet, that true fish" that leaps onto the bank to die with "her captive husband" rather than lead a lonely life. The poem draws to a close by heaping up these three identities in a way that draws attention to their hyperbolic nature but also discloses in the parallelism of the first two lines of the following passage the differences among them:
Return my dear, my joy, my only love,
Unto thy hind, thy mullet, and thy dove,
Who neither joys in pasture, house, nor streams,
The substance gone, O me, these are but dreams.
Of these three images of wifely desolation, only one is stereotypically passive and helpless: the dove, with whose "uncouth" moanings for "my only love" even Bradstreet herself is a bit impatient earlier in the poem. The loving hind is a restless, energetic searcher, as nimble as the puns that characterize her, and the mullet is "true" with a nearly fierce joy in self-sacrifice. It is a chivalric rather than a "feminine" loyalty, and it produces exhilaration rather than despair. The love in this poem is a complex passion that asserts its power as much as it laments its incompleteness.
"A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment" explores the same kind of complexity. It is a scolding, witty, erotic poem, that may also acknowledge an indirect debt to the memorable portrait of Eve in "A Modell of Christian Charity." Bradstreet closes her "letter" with an allusion to Genesis that is a bit truer to the biblical text than Winthrop's but which is nevertheless a stern reminder that the bonds of marriage are not dependent upon metaphysical conceits for their power and ought not to be subjected to strain for routine causes:
But when thou northward to me shall return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.
Where ever, ever stay, and go not thence,
Till nature's sad decree shall call thee hence;
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet both but one.
There is nothing merely "public" about Bradstreet's claim upon her husband. She openly reminds him, as Winthrop's Eve served to remind his listeners, of the relationship between marital devotion and the kind of apocalyptic imagery that these lines evoke: a loving "sun" united with his bride and forming a single being.
"To My Dear and Loving Husband" brings this same, sobering force to bear even more directly, for though the title seems to express Bradstreet's confidence in her husband's affections, the text of the poem itself is more tentative in its claims of confidence and at the same time more emphatic about the momentous consequences of domestic loyalty:
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Bradstreet is "happy" in her husband and prizes his love, but these assertions fall ever so slightly short of confirming that his love equals the resistless force of hers, and her direct address to the community of wives establishes that masculine affection is in general less satisfactory than it might be. The poem is a celebration of the Bradstreets' particular relationship and at the same time a plea for recompense and a reminder that earthly love and loyalty are the critical symbols of "covenanted" love, the basis upon which John Winthrop had established the Puritan community. They exert a momentous claim upon human attention. These messages are potentially so antagonistic to one another that their mixture in thirteen lines of poetry is an unusual achievement. Bradstreet's sense of the psychological richness and import of domestic life called for both extraordinarily exuberant and extraordinarily politic expression.
She is similarly politic and tender with her children. The "Meditations" that she prepared for her son Simon are, as we have seen, both reflections of sound doctrine and ameliorations of that doctrine to accommodate Bradstreet's sense of human limitation. Indeed, some of the most beautiful of these "Meditations" cast God in the role of a "prudent mother" who has a fund of good sense to draw upon in rearing her children. "Meditation 39" is the finest example of this domestic analogy. No wise mother, Bradstreet observes, will give her little child "a long and cumbersome garment," for that would only result in falls, bruises, or worse. Similarly, God recognizes that generous earthly endowments are likely to prove too cumbersome for weak Christians: "Therefore God cuts their garments short to keep them in such a trim that they might run the ways of His Commandment". The message of this meditation is both reassuring and discouraging. We might have preferred that God be more generous with earthly wealth and honor and let us take our chances with stumbling. But Bradstreet's understanding of maternal solicitude is not sentimental. Her sense of the role has a priestly quality to it that is both fond and stern. Her dedication of the "Meditations," for example, displays at once her care for Simon's well-being, her desire to respond to his request for something in writing by which to remember her, and her gently expressed suspicion that he might, after all, need just this sort of guidance and spiritual support. "I could think of nothing more fit for you nor of more ease to myself," writes Bradstreet, than these incitements to spiritual thinking. That motherly observation itself might well serve as Simon's first topic of meditation.
The prose memorial that she left to her children is similarly solicitous and stern. Bradstreet wished to share with her children a generous record of her own struggle with doubt and of her own assurance of God's ultimate provision for "this great household upon the earth". At the same time she casts these reflections as a deathbed speech—not unlike Moses' last farewell—which she hopes will "sink deepest" and give useful guidance: "I have not studied in this you read to show my skill, but to declare the truth, not to set forth myself, but the glory of God". This document is personal—Bradstreet meant it to remain private—but its voice is also public and, in its way, remote:
I knowing by experience that the exhortations of parents take most effect when the speakers leave to speak, and those especially sink deepest which are spoken latest, and being ignorant whether on my death bed I shall have opportunity to speak to any of you, much less to all, thought it the best, whilst I was able, to compose some short matters (for what else to call them I know not) and bequeath to you, that when I am no more with you, yet I may be daily in your remembrance (although that is the least in my aim in what I now do), but that you may gain some spiritual advantage by my experience. I have not studied in this you read to show my skill, but to declare the truth, not to set forth myself, but the glory of God. If I had minded the former, it had been perhaps better pleasing to you, but seeing the last is the best, let it be best pleasing to you.
The same mixture of maternal solicitude and power that gave such richness to the texture of "The Author to Her Book" is responsible for the interplay of confidence and doubt, authority and affection in this striking paragraph. It is probably inadvisable to place too much emphasis upon the artful significance of seventeenth-century syntax. But Bradstreet's long first sentence in this passage—twice interrupted by dramatically contrasting asides—captures in a single unit of expression the complexity and importance of the domestic role as Bradstreet understood it. She captures as well the characteristic alternation between security and insecurity that Winthrop identified so deeply with the predicament of the Arbella emigrants. "Downy beds make drowsy persons," Bradstreet wrote in "Meditation 8," "but hard lodging keeps the eyes open; a prosperous state makes a secure Christian, but adversity makes him consider" (273). It was precisely to foster such considered living in her children that Bradstreet took on her authoritative role, but it was an authority that she naturally derived from the roles linking her to Winthrop's emblematic Eve and to the potent, mediating figure of Mary, whose sorrows Bradstreet also took up in the elegies she wrote for three of her grandchildren and for a daughter-in-law who died in childbirth.
Bradstreet's power as an elegist consists in her ability to dramatize what Robert Daly names the "weaning" process by which a Puritan learns to be resigned to the loss of earthly beauty. But in the best of these poems it is not entirely as an earthly speaker that Bradstreet presents herself anymore than she presents herself in the memorial to her children as an earthly presence or defends her poetic children in "The Author to Her Book" as an earthly creator. Her command over the powers of consolation does not really seem to derived from the traditional, natural metaphors of which the poems are composed. These, in fact, are curiously out of harmony with the deaths of children, as Bradstreet quietly shows us in "In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth":
Farewell dear babe, my heart's too much content,
Farewell sweet babe, the pleasure of mine eye,
Farewell fair flower that for a space was lent,
Then ta'en away unto eternity.
Blest babe, why should I once bewail thy fate,
Or sigh thy days so soon were terminate,
Sith thou art settled in an everlasting state.
By nature trees do rot when they are grown,
And plums and apples thoroughly ripe do fall,
And corn and grass are in their season mown,
And time brings down what is both strong and tall.
But plants new set to be eradicate,
And buds new blown to have so short a date,
Is by His hand alone that guides nature and fate.
The first stanza begins with three formulaic laments that the poet seems able to put aside, in the fifth line, with a serenity that makes even one lament seem superfluous. The child is "blest," and Bradstreet does not require the consolatory metaphor of fair flowers to reach her state of inward peace, as "settled" apparently as that of the infant's soul itself. Nor does the second stanza make more use of its more elaborate, natural parables of mutability. The child was neither grown nor ripe, not strong and tall. The lessons of nature simply encumber a relationship to the divine will that is direct and confident—that of a mother who recognizes that she had received her child directly from the same hand that now claims it. This is a posture that is not easy to credit in a human speaker, but neither is it easy to credit the complex posture that Bradstreet adopts in "The Author to Her Book" until one recognizes that Bradstreet is speaking (as a Puritan might put it) "typically" as well as humanly, face to face with God in a relation that Emerson would later recognize and envy as the mark of his Puritan ancestors.
In perhaps the finest of her poems envisioning her own death, Bradstreet made it clear just how deeply her imagination responded to the network of associations and images that Winthrop summoned up in his vision of Eve as the redemptive model for life in Massachusetts Bay. "As Weary Pilgrim" offers the reader a description of two figures, one the poet in a state of perplexity and glorious anticipation, the other a hypothetical traveler through life to whom the poet compares herself in the simile that the title suggests. This first pilgrim, however, is disturbingly content to die. He "hugs with delight his silent nest" in a selfish parody of Winthrop's vision of social delight, and "blesses himself to think that his earthly trials are over and the grave's "safety" awaits. Bradstreet's own earthly pilgrimage is quite different, marked by the domestic temperament, by the vitality of the image of marriage, and by the thirst for life. Her "clay house" decays, but it is an existence "among the blest" that she counts upon after death and not a self-indulgent and isolated escape. The grave is a place of preparation, of urgency, leading to an apocalyptic marriage with Christ and the replacement of human weakness and dishonor with human power:
Bradstreet clearly chooses "life" in this poem, whereas the first weary (and, not incidentally, male) pilgrim chooses death. Her last two lines are characteristically retiring and bold, insecure about her personal worthiness and at the same time startlingly confident in her own powers of appeal. Christ too is an absent spouse, with whom Anne Bradstreet is willing to assert her erotic claims. "As Weary Pilgrim" progresses, then, from a depiction of the Old Adam of selfish contentment to an embodiment of an ecstatic and visionary Eve who is, at the same time, the community as Bride, the Church welcoming her "Bridegroom." Bradstreet's poetic exploration of Winthrop's typological triad from "A Modell of Christian Charity" is in its way the artistic midpoint between Winthrop's purposeful prose of 1630 and Edward Taylor's ecstatic meditations on the Eucharist and on Canticles, in which he celebrates at the outset of the eighteenth century the same communal and individual marriage.
The relationship between Edward Taylor's proliferation of images and the handful of metaphors assembled in "A Modell of Christian Charity" is both more and less direct than Anne Bradstreet's relationship to that same, fruitful speech. Nowhere does Taylor echo Winthrop as closely as Bradstreet does, for example, in the final lines of "In Reference to Her Children." Nor does he identify as closely as Bradstreet does with the fabric of domestic metaphor that links private with public life. It would be surprising if he did so, for Taylor is nearly two generations removed from the founders of Massachusetts Bay, arriving at Boston in his early twenties almost forty years after the Arbella and almost certainly with no access to the text of Winthrop's discourse.
At the same time, however, Taylor's poetry is dominated, to a far greater extent than is Bradstreet's, by the overriding subject of the soul's journey from death to life. Taylor has dozens of ways of describing the journey and of voicing the soul's aspiration toward God. He exhorts his Maker repeatedly to blow on the coal of his smoldering faith, to feed his spirit on heavenly food, to root up his "henbain," chokewort, and ragwort and plant him with honeysuckle, sage, and savory, to dress him in the bright garments of grace, to "screw" him up, to oil his rusty lock, to sharpen his dull pencil or brighten his dim ink, to fill his earthly bottle with heavenly liquor, to redecorate the "Flesh and Blood bag" of his soul and make it a shining temple. Extravagantly conceived and extravagantly mixed metaphors are the characteristic (and traditional) expressions of Taylor's pious zeal and spiritual exuberance, but they all focus on the contrast between what he called the "lifeless Life" or "Living Death" of sin and the spiritual life of grace.
To some degree, it is a disservice to Taylor to single out only one set of images from his lively multitude, since the experience of reading him is so decisively marked by the pleasure of tumbling along a stream of figurative language. But as Karl Keller has observed [in The Example of Edward Taylor, 1975], the significance of this inventive and eclectic richness for Taylor himself was its intensively focused interest in the great Puritan drama: the soul's preparation for grace, the exchanging of death for life. In a single stanza, Taylor is quite capable of touching on four or five distinct, and to some degree competing, metaphors, all of which converge toward the central subject of life, even though that critical word itself may be present only implicitly in one or two modifiers, or in the contrast between withered and "frim" (or flourishing) fruits:
As in Winthrop's image of the mouth that minces food for all the body, Taylor's "grinders" very nearly carry the idea of a conceit too far. Like Thoreau, however, Taylor himself seems to have feared only that he would not be extravagant enough. That such metaphorical diversity could tend to such spiritual unity is an underlying subject in most of Taylor's work, particularly in the "Preparatory Meditations," which are by their very nature diverse poetic approaches to a single spiritual goal: the sacrament of communion.
From what we might call a doctrinal standpoint, then, Taylor's application of the scriptural contrast between life and death is more explicit than Bradstreet's even as his figurative language is more lavish and more daring. In many ways they scarcely seem comparable except as extreme instances of opposite tendencies within the tradition of Puritan poetry. But Bradstreet and Taylor share a number of assumptions, in addition to the devotion to spiritual "life," that govern their work, the most important and most obvious of which is the context of familial discourse within which they understood their verse to be operating:
In recent years the most acute and thorough of Taylor's readers have tended to agree that the self-deprecation expressed in stanzas such as these fairly mild ones (by Taylor's standards) reflects a genuine contempt on Taylor's part for his own poetic efforts. Anne Bradstreet's gentle dismissals of her verse seem almost vain by comparison to the depths of spiritual and artistic self-loathing to which Taylor repeatedly seems to sink, but even the most strongly stated of these depictions of human corruption-sometimes in their very extravagance—evoke the innocence of the lisping child and the image of parental solicitude that sustains the lines above. Taylor may well envision himself as a leper "all o're clag'd" with running sores and scabs, with "Stinking Breath," corrupted lungs, and a "Scurfy Skale" encrusting his entire body like the "Elephantik Mange," but the extremity of the description itself calls attention to its own conventional nature in a way that prevents the reader from taking such descriptions very seriously. The more highly wrought they get, the more childlike they seem, and the more plausible and more tender, in turn, seems the Lord's careful "springeing" and "besprinkling" that cures the leper's malady with His blood.
The personal usefulness of the "Preparatory Meditations" was, after all, to prepare and not to incapacitate. Taylor employed these poems as a means of readying himself for what he perceived as the momentous role he played administering and receiving the sacrament. The biblical quotations accompanying all but one of the meditations are the texts upon which he had chosen to preach on each communion Sunday, and all the meditations except the first one are dated. These poems are rooted just as deeply in Taylor's life as Bradstreet's domestic poems are rooted in hers, and their repetitive nature (like that of Bradstreet's laments) was from Taylor's perspective their primary meditative asset. They were meant to transform the mere repetitions of life into exalted occasions, all of the same fundamental kind to be sure but as diverse as the most heterogeneous natural imagery could make them. Collectively these poems also provide an extraordinary portrait of the ongoing interplay between security and insecurity in the Puritan imagination. William Scheick is only partly right when he states [in The Will and the Word, 1974] that the meditations nowhere depict "any sense of comfort on the poet's part." In fact the strategy of virtually every one of the poems is to enact the recovery of a degree of personal assurance sufficient to make the ceremony of communion possible both for Taylor as the priestly celebrant and for the reader. They are, as Scheick elsewhere perceptively notes, acts of preservation, however inadequate their language may have been to Taylor's vision and however incomplete the process of reassurance might remain. No orthodox Congregational sacramentalist—as Taylor was—would have felt comfortable laying claim to an absolute certainty of personal election. But the church as a social entity had to accommodate itself to irresolvable metaphysical uncertainty, and in one sense that act of accommodation is what the meditations perform, much as the figure of Eve accommodated the strict demands of election to the social necessities of Massachusetts Bay in "A Modell of Christian Charity."
The particular ways in which Taylor sought to make his poetry useful confirm his participation in the tradition of the believing self's inadequacy and at the same time suggest his own peculiar softening of that tradition. The "Preparatory Meditations" repeatedly assert the unaided soul's incapacity properly to praise or to serve God, but they do so in a remarkably homely, very nearly forgiving, fashion. One cannot escape the implication throughout Taylor's diction that even at their worst man's sins are not so serious after all. The cajoling attitude of the "Crumb of Dust" with which Taylor opens the "Prologue" to his meditational series represents the consistent tone of his poetic persona:
Taylor's posture throughout the poems that follow reflects both the humility and the assertiveness of these prefatory lines. These are clearly the words of a fallen speaker, aware of his diminished status in the universe, but aware as well of the larger typological design that makes a measure of bemusement at his own "Slips" something other than a gesture of theological impertinence. On occasion, to be sure, Taylor will revile man's corrupt condition, but it is nevertheless clear that he is prone to exercise a kind of poetic "grace" upon his human sinners, alleviating their afflictions in a way that anticipates, and to some extent symbolizes, the operations of genuine grace upon the genuinely corrupted spirit.
At times, in his joy at God's care for His erring and undeserving creatures, Taylor can approach a sort of elation in his lines that suggests both stark surprise and a kind of durable innocence on the part of the awe-struck speaker:
Stanzas like these are not particularly unusual in Taylor's work, ingenuous as they are, and it would be a mistake to ascribe their peculiar charm either to the author's lack of poetic sophistication or (as Robert Daly suggests) to an extremely sophisticated suspicion of all metaphoric speech. One indirect way of asserting the inadequacies of the self—as we noted in Bradstreet's verse—is to make certain that one's imagery reflects the "inadequacy" of human vision in general. That, in part, is the purpose of Taylor's nearly comic pursuit of preposterous images. At the same time, in Taylor's work such language has the effect of convincing us that unregenerate man is not really a very great redemptive challenge. Taylor's generic sinner does not fall into the glorious metric apostasy of Milton's Satan, but into a kind of childish "naughtiness" in which the value of human life remains very much apparent despite its temporary state of degradation:
In her recent treatment of Taylor's typological poetics, Karen Rowe [in Saint and Singer, 1986] finds in these lines a "scathing self-denunciation" of the "sin-riddled soul's empty frivolities," a point of view that seems, at best, unjustifiably sober. Barley-breaks and Coursey-park are, like Blindman's Bluff, innocent games. A state of sin that can be characterized in this manner is already well on the way toward being forgiven.
Taylor wrote, of course, from the perspective of one of the elect. In the opening poem of "God's Determinations," he makes it clear that even in the full panic of their sense of sin, such elected souls resemble a "Child that fears the Poker Clapp," who falls to earth and "lies still for fear least hee—Should by his breathing lowd discover'd bee". The errors of such children invite gentle treatment and that is precisely the sort of treatment that they receive both in the drama of "God's Determinations" and in the lines of the "Preparatory Meditations." Presumably a cycle of poems and meditations describing the inner life of the damned would be considerably more grim, but Taylor's interest in their fate is quite perfunctory, and his portrait of the elect has sufficient variety in it to allow almost any reader to identify with the saved souls rather than with the lost ones. Ezra Stiles, Taylor's grandson and a temporary custodian of his papers, once occupied himself in calculating quite seriously the numbers of resurrected souls involved at Judgment Day. How crowded would Christ's courtroom be and how might the verdicts go in proportion of saved to lost souls? Stiles estimated that about 120 billion souls would be involved altogether, of which 90 billion would be saved and 30 billion damned. These are, by strict Calvinist standards, rather good odds. More importantly, perhaps, they seem consistent with Edward Taylor's own tendency to weight the human predicament in favor of election and then to focus his imagination upon the benevolence of that process of salvation.
Taylor's depiction of the anxieties of the insecure human soul is detailed and sincere; he is by no means complacent in his vision of the operations of grace. Even the saved are filled with a sense that they "have long ago deserv'de Hells flame," that God's "abused Mercy" could only "burn and scald" them, that Justice and Vengeance "Run hotly after us our blood to spill". Such accounts of the genuine terror of human life, however, are almost always followed by descriptions of our mortal plight that subtly, but decisively, relieve the strain and imply our ultimate rescue:
Who'le with a Leaking, old Crack't Hulk assay
To brave the raging Waves of Adria?
Or who can Cross the Main Pacifick o're?
Without a Vessell Wade from shore to shore?
What! wade the mighty main from brim to brim,
As if it would not reach above the Chin?
But oh! poor wee, must wade from brinck to brinck
With such a weight as would bright Angells sink.
Or venture angry Adria, or drown
When Vengeance's sea doth break the floodgates down.
If Stay, or Go to sea, we drown. Then see
In what a wofull Pickle, Lord, we bee.
To be saved from hell's flames and from an aroused, bloodthirsty Justice seems scarcely possible. But even a deeply shaken believer might reasonably expect to escape from a "wofull Pickle." In the dialogue poems from "God's Determinations" that prepare the soul to resist Satan's temptations and to achieve church fellowship, the "Saint" assures the "Soul" that God dispenses grace to human beings only gradually, for good psychological reasons:
You think you might have more: you shall have so,
But if you'd all at once, you could not grow.
And if you could not grow, you'd grieving fall:
All would not then Content you, had you all.
Should Graces Floodgate thus at once breake down,
You most would lose, or else it you would drown.
He'l fill you but by drops, that so he may
Not drown you in't, nor cast a Drop away.
Equipped with this kind of reassurance, even the most reluctant of Taylor's elect souls, the second and third "rancks" that originally had fled God's presence and held their breath waiting for the poker-clap, are filled with "holy Raptures" and able to capture the entire heavenly strategy in a single couplet:
Sin sincks the Soul to Hell: but here is Love
Sincks Sin to Hell: and soars the Soul above.
The sense of great peril and great promise that marks Winthrop's description of the American plight is present to Taylor's imagination in this sense of a carefully nurturing God, releasing His grace with all the cautious circumspection of a mother watching over her child's slow but steady growth. Taylor never explicitly manipulates God's gender, as Bradstreet is willing to do in her "Meditation 39," for example. He takes his images from emblem books and from the Bible, with very little of the kind of provocative modification that Winthrop himself was willing to employ in his treatment of the figure of Eve. But it is equally clear that Taylor is firmly grounded in the imaginative heritage of Winthrop's "modell," and in the preeminence that model had given to domestic settings and domestic instincts.
What finally gives Taylor's work its distinctive, infectious energy is the earnestness with which he takes to heart his own poetic version of this tradition, operating in the experience of election: Even in our degraded state, we are still children; even in his inconceivable majesty, God is still our parent and takes a parent's interest in us. The household metaphor that was so formative for Anne Bradstreet is critical to the sense of intimacy that Taylor feels with his attentive and forgiving Maker. It is possible to tease, to cajole, to "tweedie" praise, to fill one's address to God with the most
An excerpt from Percival Lowell's elegy on John Winthrop (1649):
humdrum domestic metaphors, to offer Him "wagon loads" of love and glory, to dedicate one's services as a spinning wheel, an organ pipe, a liquor bottle, a writer. The fullness and to some degree the very unevenness of Taylor's poetic discourse is a substantial part of its meaning. One does not attempt to polish or revise for God's benefit, any more than the compilers of the Bay Psalm Book would have attempted to polish God's altar. One simply opens one's humanity to God, and to the greatest extent possible one celebrates it. Taylor's confidence in God's closeness is at least as critical to the shape his poetry takes as is his awe at God's power. In this sense he is in perfect agreement with Milton, whose God is strikingly at ease in Paradise and much more at home there than among His marshaled ranks of militarized angels. Taylor's own wonderfully comfortable relations with God are by no means paradisal. He remained a crumb of dust, a bag of botches, a purse of naughtiness. But in this colloquial vocabulary of degradation, the intimacy of the family thrives.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9629
SOURCE: "Winthrop's Journal: Religion, Politics, and Narrative in Early America," in Religion and the Life of the Nation: American Recoveries, edited by Rowland A. Sherrill, University of Illinois Press, 1990, pp. 235-58.
[Here, Moseley discusses the ways in which the tone of Winthrop's journal changes from a mere recording of historical fact to a personal, self-conscious narrative.]
John Winthrop has often been portrayed as a self-righteous martinet, a Puritan dictator whose love for power was matched only by his unthinking Calvinist orthodoxy. Yet reading his three-volume Journal enables us to recover a more credible, if more complicated, image of the foremost founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Several years ago historian Edmund Morgan wisely eschewed the authoritarian caricature and, instead, cast Winthrop [in The Puritan Dilemma, 1958] as representative of "the Puritan dilemma," that characteristic tension between the transcendent exuberance of an awakened spiritual life and the mundane requirements of living responsibly in a fallen world. Because Morgan pictured Winthrop as quite thoroughly molded by his spiritual experiences as a young man in England, he tended to read Winthrop's Journal as a straightforward chronicle of how Puritan religious convictions were translated into political realities in early New England. Yet Winthrop did not simply reach his religious conclusions in England and then embark prepared to govern accordingly in the New World. Reading the Journal with an ear for changes in Winthrop's narrative voice reveals that his character, attitudes, and beliefs were not so thoroughly formed by the time of migration as Morgan implied. Indeed, Winthrop's thinking underwent significant transformations in New England, and writing the Journal became his way of making sense of these revisions.
Winthrop's Journal is thus of more than historiographical interest, for it discloses the development of a prototypically American sensibility. Insofar as it represents a more complex Winthrop than previously known, then, the Journal allows us to reclaim one kind of integral response to American experience in religious and political terms which, it can be argued, is presently in danger of being lost to rigid, codified, and inflexible sentiments. Regaining imaginatively the compound of openness and integrity that Winthrop achieved in his Journal thus, presents a possibility of recovery from the ambivalence that suspends contemporary American life between grandiose delusions and austere self-denial.
The current malaise is described well in the recipe for "the minimal self" outlined in Christopher Lasch's recent book [The Minimal Self 1984] about "psychic survival in troubled times," when "self-hood becomes a kind of luxury." Since "emotional equilibrium [now] demands a minimal self, not the imperial self of yesteryear," this leading cultural critic is definitely expressing "no indignant outcry against contemporary 'hedonism,' self-seeking, egoism, indifference to the general good—traits commonly associated with 'narcissism.'" Lasch naturally wishes his contemporaries could do more than merely "survive." Yet he knows that the kind of self-hood that "implies a personal history, family, friends, a sense of place" requires "the critical awareness of man's divided nature," and, short of reading Freud, he can recommend no workable access to this crucial resource. He would like to revise the values of his readers, but he distrusts new visions and despairs of renewing the old. In this predicament, which Lasch describes with uncomfortable accuracy, how can recovery begin? Is there an alternative to "the minimal self"?
Winthrop's Journal shows that the impetus for revision, recovery, and renewal comes not merely in these late bad times but in the beginnings of the national story. It is true that many Europeans came to America seeking a new way of life. But this novelty was not, as it were, de novo. The New World was from its discovery a place of revisioning, a place where the problems of life in the Old World could be corrected or avoided. The ideal of the new was thus consciously or unconsciously formulated in reference to the problems of the old. Few Europeans succeeded in stamping the New World indelibly with the impress of the ideal they brought from the Old, as new geographic and social conditions meant that originating designs had to be recast. Nevertheless, without reference to such ideals novelty overwhelmed, experience became mere flux. Revision, then, was not a static pattern but a living process; revisioning thus integrates action and interpretation into the story of America. Without revisioning, the story disintegrates into wanton dynamism, lifeless traditionalism, or gross self-deceit. While much great American literature has examined the difficulty of integrating the driving energy of the new with the wisdom of respect for the past, the hypothesis here is that in at least one exemplary instance—the Journal of Puritan Governor John Winthrop—revisioning began early and worked well. Indeed, Winthrop's Journal invites revised thinking about the subsequent revisioning of America.
In the early parts of the Journal Winthrop records, as one might in a public diary, the facts and sundry impressions of the transatlantic crossing and the struggle to found a colony in Massachusetts Bay. The reader, then and now, knows Winthrop as a reporter and trusts the factuality of his voice. Within a few years, as Winthrop faces the challenge of chronicling events of greater complexity and duration, the entries are less frequently made and tend to lengthen into stories in which the narrator attempts to re-create mixed motives and to trace the processes of conflicts that defined the terms of life in the Bay Colony. As the Journal progresses, Winthrop begins to leave blanks in the text, spaces to which he can return to add more facts or to ponder the significance of the events he records. Likewise, he begins to refer to previous and subsequent entries, to employ obvious authorial rhetoric, to cover longer spans of time in some entries, and to group events according to their significance rather than to strict chronology. At one point, when dealing with Anne Hutchinson in the retrospection of his prose, Winthrop first attempts to record the events leading to and surrounding her expulsion from the colony; later, he writes a "Short Story of the Rise, Reign, and Ruin of the Antinomians, and Libertines that Infected the Churches of New England." The shift in narrative approach does not necessarily betray a change of mind on Winthrop's part about "this American Jesabel." But it does indicate an awareness that her story, and his involvement with it, requires a new way of recounting the experience.
Such changes are at least as significant, if not more so, than a more superficial change of ideas, for the alteration of narrative forms reveals Winthrop's nascent apprehension that life in America will require new structures of understanding and will repay novel interpretations. By the beginning of what was in his own text the third and final volume of the Journal, Winthrop is more consistently and more fully engaged as the historian of early America, composing a reflective narrative in which it is plain that events are being remembered and reviewed in terms of what the experiences themselves express—instead of simply what they may be construed to mirror in terms of the purposes of a transcendent God. Yet because Winthrop was not a highly self-conscious modern author, it is not surprising to find a mixture of narrative styles in the second and third sections of his Journal. With that caveat in mind, one can begin to see what the patterns of its telling suggest about the meaning of Winthrop's story of New England.
The Puritans went—or, from a contemporary perspective, came—to America with the explicit purpose of revising the practice of religion in England. Their reforming vision was articulated by John Winthrop in a lay sermon, "A Modell of Christian Charity," delivered on board the Arbella in 1630. The basic model was clear: "GOD ALMIOHTIE in his most holy and wise providence hath soe disposed on the Condicion of mankinde, as in all times some must be rich some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subieccion." No one in England would have argued with that! The "reasons" behind the model suggest the distinctive mission of the Puritans. As "a Company professing our selues fellow members of Christ" they come "to seeke out a place of Cohabitation and Consorteship vnder a due forme of Government both ciuill and ecclesiasticall." This work will require "extraordinary" means; thus unlike "When we liued in England," now "that which the most in theire Churches maineteine as a truth in profession onely, we must bring into familiar and constant practice." Far from being a project designed and performed by men, Winthrop reminds his fellows that "Thus stands the cause betweene God and vs, wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke." The covenant means that if God hears our prayers and brings us in peace to our desired place, then he has ratified the agreement and "will expect a strickt performance of the Articles contained in it." In order to muster the requisite love, justice, and humility, "wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man," and then "the God of Israeli … shall make vs a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for we must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty vpon a Hill" with "the eies of all people … upon us." Faithfulness to this originating vision, therefore, would spur revision of religion and politics in England and throughout the civilized world.
Much has been written about the Puritans and their "errand into the wilderness," but the purpose here is to look not so much at what "really happened" as into how John Winthrop interpreted the early history of the project he led. It is not that he initially thought the project would require interpretation—far from it. He was so sure of the "modell" and of his own ability to govern that he began a journal simply to keep a record of the way the Puritan plan unfolded. He was ever in the thick of things, usually as governor, always as the recognized leader of the colony. But an interesting thing happened on the way to reforming England and the world. Not only did England have her own revolution and hence need little advice from Massachusetts but also some American Puritans, as the development of Winthrop's Journal reveals, were becoming more committed to revisioning as a process than they were to the society and institutions they set out initially to revise. To be sure, not everyone made this transition. Most were caught up too thoroughly in the rude exigencies of daily life, and those who had visions were generally overpowered by them. As his journal-keeping became an increasingly self-conscious literary project, Winthrop mapped out a "middle landscape," poised precariously between the rampant spirituality and the land-hungry expansionism of his companions. His literary enterprise afforded Winthrop a crucial angle of revision, which if not wholly yet still significantly enabled him to succeed where so many of his contemporaries failed. For Winthrop's writing began to give him a double or combined consciousness of himself both as an active participant in and as an interpretive observer of Puritan life. In the process Winthrop's narrative becomes considerably more than a quotidian chronicle, and the religious and political developments at the heart of his story need to be understood in relation to the changing nature of the narrative itself.
In the first and perhaps most obvious place, in the course of the years covered in his Journal Winthrop moved from a commitment to reform and renew the Church of England toward an affirmation of a new, more characteristically American religiousness. Tension between the old and the new is evident very early on. Thus on 27 July 1630, about a month after landing in Massachusetts, Winthrop observes: "We of the congregation kept a fast, and chose Mr. Wilson our teacher, and Mr. Nowell an elder, and Mr. Gager and Mr. Aspinwall, deacons. We used imposition of hands, but with this protestation by all, that it was only as a sign of election and confirmation, not of any intent that Mr. Wilson should renounce his ministry he received in England." Despite their protestations, such balancing became increasingly difficult.
The original idea was that, while the corrupt Anglicans required purifying, the separatists, such as those at nearby Plymouth, had severed their bonds with the communion of the saints. The Bay Colony was to chart a middle course, and Winthrop and the others were prepared to be welcomed back by a mother country awakened by New England's shining example. But William Bradford visited Boston in 1631, and on 25 October 1632 Winthrop records that when he and John Wilson and two Puritan captains visited the Pilgrims:
The governour of Plimouth, Mr. William Bradford, (a very discreet and grave man,) with Mr. Brewster, the elder, and some others, came forth and met them without the town, and conducted them to the governour's house, where they were very kindly entertained, and feasted every day at several houses. On the Lord's day there was a sacrament, which they did partake in; and, in the afternoon, Mr. Roger Williams (according to their custom) propounded a question, to which the pastor, Mr. Smith, spake briefly; then Mr. Williams prophesied; and after the governour of Plimouth spake to the question; after him the elder; then some two or three more of the congregation. Then the elder desired the governour of Massachusetts and Mr. Wilson to speak to it, which they did. When this ended, the deacon, Mr. Fuller, put the congregation in mind of their duty of contribution; whereupon the governour and all the rest went down to the deacon's seat, and put into the box, and then returned.
Winthrop soon saw the Pilgrims as allies and even spiritual brothers, and he did not return "home" when the Puritans came to power in England. New World associations had replaced ties from the Old.
Then, too, it was useful to convene elders from the various churches for specific causes and occasions, and in such meetings new steps were taken. In November of 1633, for example, Winthrop notes:
The ministers in the bay and Sagus did meet, once a fortnight, at one of their houses by course, where some question of moment was debated. Mr. Skelton, the pastor of Salem, and Mr. Williams, who was removed from Plimouth thither, (but not in any office, though he exercised by way of prophecy,) took some exception against it, as fearing it might grow in time to a presbytery or superintendency, to the prejudice of the churches' liberties. But this fear was without cause; for they were all clear in that point, that no church or person can have power over another church; neither did they in their meetings excercise any such jurisdiction.
By denying so fervently the dangerous extreme of Presbyterianism, they abandoned the middle ground and forthrightly espoused radical Congregationalism. There were indeed no bishops in New England!
The planting of new churches in new settlements seemed natural; nevertheless, in practice, such new developments required monitoring. As Winthrop explains on 1 April 1636, there were good reasons for keeping a close eye even on people led by a man of "bright learning and high piety" such as Richard Mather:
Mr. Mather and others, of Dorchester, intending to begin a new church there, (a great part of the old one being gone to Connecticut,) desired the approbation of the other churches and of the magistrates; and, accordingly, they assembled this day, and, after some of them had given proof of their gifts, they made confession of their faith, which was approved of; but proceeding to manifest the work of God's grace in themselves, the churches, by their elders, and the magistrates, &c. thought them not meet, at present, to be the foundation of a church; and thereupon they were content to forbear to join till further consideration. The reason was, for that most of them (Mr. Mather and one more excepted) had builded their comfort of salvation upon unsound grounds, viz. some upon dreams and ravishes of spirit by fits; others upon the reformation of their lives; other upon duties and performances, &c; wherein they discovered three special erreurs: 1. That they had not come to hate sin, because it was filthy, but only left it, because it was hurtful. 2. That, by reason of this, they had never truly closed with Christ, (or rather Christ with them,) but had made use of him only to help the imperfection of their sanctification and duties, and not made him their sanctification, wisdom, &c. 3. They expected to believe by some power of their own, and not only and wholly from Christ.
Evidently such guidance was effective, for four months later "a new church was gathered at Dorchester, with approprobation of the magistrates and elders." Thus some new form of church order appeared to be in line with God's purposes in New England. Although the full flowering was many years away, some of the seeds of denominationalism—America's distinctive contribution to ecclesiastical organization—found native soil in the early towns of New England.
In religious matters Winthrop entered arguments and made his own beliefs clear but finally moved against only those whose beliefs appeared to threaten the public order. No doubt he was heavy-handed and crude in the ways he orchestrated the removal of Anne Hutchinson and her followers from Massachusetts, but there is also no doubt that he acted in response to what he perceived as the clear and present danger her antinomian teachings involved. She was "a woman of a ready wit and bold spirit," he observed on 21 October 1636, who "brought over with her two dangerous errours: 1. That the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in a justified person. 2. That no sanctification can help us to evidence our justification." Winthrop knew instinctively that "From these two grew many branches," which would sprout beyond the bounds of decent communal order.
If they could not be pruned by the elders, the antinomians would have to be removed "root and branch" by the magistrates. As Winthrop saw it, Mrs. Hutchinson did more than sow dissent; she encouraged people to believe that since they were actually one with the Holy Spirit, they could live entirely as they pleased, without need for religious instruction and moral constraint. By December, John Wilson laid the blame for the growing and "inevitable danger of separation" squarely "upon these new opinions risen up amongst us, which all the magistrates, except the governour and two others, did confirm, and all the ministers but two." Winthrop defended Wilson in the church and in writing to the fencesitting John Cotton, but to no avail. Given the spreading disturbances, it is not surprising that Winthrop's party applied increasingly unseemly pressure until Mrs. Hutchinson finally broke down in court, rapturously affirmed her erroneous beliefs, and was banished. Recalling the tenacity of the mainline's counterattack, one has to remember the overwhelming importance of spiritual affairs in Puritan life in order to understand—not to say excuse—Winthrop's treatment of these "familists."
In the heat of the controversy, when the future of the Bay Colony as a coherent religious community seemed most in doubt, one of Winthrop's observations on 17 May 1637 reveals the more constant side of his character: "The intent of the court in deferring the sentence was, that, being thus provoked by their tumultuous course, and divers insolent speeches, which some of that party had uttered in the court, and having now power enough to have crushed them, their moderation and desire of reconciliation might appear to all." Such ambivalent sentiments were not simply for the sake of noble public appearance. In fact, Winthrop's characteristic tendency was toward leniency, as can be seen in his relations with Roger Williams and in Thomas Morton's personification of Winthrop as "Joshua Temperwell." In the entry for 29 October 1645 he points out that "sure the rule of hospitality to strangers, and of seeking to pluck out of the fire such as there may be hope of to be reduced out of error and the snare of the devil, do seem to require more moderation and indulgence of human infirmity where there appears not obstinancy against the clear truth." Thus he was at odds with spiritually adolescent hotheads such as Henry Vane and pedestrian precisionists such as Thomas Dudley. In the heat of the moment, the passionate found Winthrop's temperance objectionable; over the course of his life, though, the people often preferred Winthrop's spiritual moderation to Hutchinson's abandon or Dudley's authoritarianism.
While he could not abide Anne Hutchinson's bold antinomianism, Winthrop was no certain enemy of Roger Williams, who came to consider the governor a wise and trusted adviser. The "inner light," in Winthrop's eyes, needed the focus of orthodox doctrine to produce useful insight, and spiritual heat required the regulation of social sanction to fuel "a Citty vpon a Hill." Thus in late August of 1637 "the synod, called the assembly, of all the teaching elders" met to consider "about eighty opinions, some blasphemous, others erroneous, all unsafe, condemned by the whole assembly; whereto near all the elders, and others sent by the churches, subscribed their names; but some few liked not the subscription, though they consented to the condemning of them."
If theological opinions without critical consideration by the elders might have consequences that were unsafe for the community, outright immorality without clear punishment was at least equally pernicious. On 12 November 1641 Winthrop enables his readers to witness the fate of one Hackett, a young servant in Salem who "was found in buggery with a cow, upon the Lord's day." Even upon the ladder prepared to be hanged, full repentance had not come; "but the cow (with which he had committed that abomination) being brought forth and slain before him, he brake out into a loud and doleful complaint against himself" and was led in prayer by John Wilson and the other attendant elders. Winthrop's observation upon the lad's execution is noteworthy: "There is no doubt to be made but the Lord hath received his soul to his mercy; and he was pleased to lift up the light of his countenance so far towards him, as to keep him from despair, and to hold him close to his grace in a seeking condition; but he was not pleased to afford him that measure of peace and comfort as he might be able to hold out to others, lest sinful men, in the love of their lusts, should set mercy and repentance at too low a rate, and so miss of it when they vainly expect it." With such precise moral calibration, the Bay Colony would be no "burned-over district."
True piety required the guidance of a learned clergy. The weird misbeliefs and violence fostered by Samuel Gorton and his cohorts sprang from the fact, as Winthrop notes on 13 October 1643, that "they were all illiterate men, the ablest of them could not write true English, no not common words, yet they would take upon them the interpretation of the most difficult places of scripture, and wrest them any way to serve their own turns." Nevertheless, Winthrop's goal was not to douse the flame of religious enthusiasm but to sustain it within a steady range. Charismatic spirituality might lead either to disregard for moral regulations or to compulsive moralism. Winthrop wanted to keep true religion alive by avoiding both extremes, and he often found himself needing to protect the unwary from their neighbors' ire. While it certainly had its limits, Winthrop's lenity in such matters did more than get him in trouble with the inflexible among the saints. It also nurtured resources that could be tapped a century later by Jonathan Edwards in the Great Awakening. And the development of these spiritual resources can best be seen in the increasing creativity of the narrative voice in Winthrop's Journal. Looking at Puritan religious life through the changes in the Journal, then, suggests crucial relations between institutional and imaginative expressions of American spirituality.
Because of its overriding religious purposes, the Bay Colony's political life was supposed to be different from what its people had known in the old country. Unlike the factionalism that "hath been usual in the council of England and other states, who walk by politic principles only," asserted Winthrop on 30 October 1644, in Massachusetts:
these gentlemen were such as feared God, and endeavored to walk to the rules of his word in all their proceedings, so as it might be conceived in charity, that they walked according to their judgments and conscience, and where they went aside, it was merely for want of light, or their eyes were held through some temptation for a time, that they could not make use of the light they had, for in all these differences and agitations about them, they continued in brotherly love, and in the exercise of all friendly offices each to other, as occasion required.
But, try as he might to see Puritan politics in terms of religion, Winthrop, as his friends in the ministry had on occasion to remind him, was no theologian; he was a leader of men and manager of worldly affairs, and so it is, in the second place, in the realm of politics itself that one looks for an understanding of the man. Indeed, much of the Journal is taken up with observing the hero's political reasoning and tact in the face of his opponents' passion and contrariness. Just as his style of religion changes, so too in politics the Journal reveals Winthrop's transformation (incomplete but undeniable) from being governor as ruler to being governor as first citizen. The architect of "A Modell of Christian Charity," who sees power rightly held by the governor and dispensed through his wisdom on behalf of the governed, becomes in the press of founding, sustaining, and directing a successful colony the engineer of an increasingly political structure, who writes "A Discourse on Arbitrary Gouerment."
While remaining the elected governor more often than not throughout his life in the New World, Winthrop is continually in the process of giving away political power. In 1631 the people of Watertown agreed to pay their assessment for new fortifications after admitting their misunderstanding of the nature of the Bay Colony's government. "The ground of their errour," Winthrop notes on 17 February, was that
they took this government to be no other but as of a major and aldermen, who have not power to make laws or raise taxations without the people; but understanding that this government was rather in the nature of a parliament, and that no assistant could be chosen but by the freemen, who had power likewise to remove the assistants and put in others, and therefore at every general court (which was to be held once every year) they had free liberty to consider and propound any thing concerning the same, and to declare their grievances, without being subject to question, or, &c. they were fully satisfied; and so their submission was accepted, and their offence pardoned.
This right of the freemen to elect their leaders was important—to Winthrop, to the freemen, and to others within the colony. Virtually from the outset, and then steadily, Winthrop oversaw the expansion of the franchise. During a private meeting of the assistants on I May 1632, "after dinner, the governour told them, that he had heard, that the people intended, at the next general court, to desire, that the assistants might be chosen anew every year and that the governour might be chosen by the whole court, and not by the assistants only." The news distressed at least one of the others, but his objections were "answered and cleared in the judgment of the rest," and Winthrop's information proved accurate. A week later, when the general court met in Boston, the change was made: "Whereas it was (at our first coming) agreed, that the freemen should choose the assistants, and they the governour, the whole court agreed now, that the govemour and assistants should all be new chosen every year by the general court, (the govemour to be always chosen out of the assistants;) and accordingly the old govemour, John Winthrop, was chosen; accordingly all the rest as before, and Mr. Humfrey and Mr. Coddington also, because they were daily expected." For the moment, a more general electoral process was simply a better way of choosing the same leaders. Within a few years, however, religious unrest fueled political passions; new men were elected, and offices rotated among the old guard. By 1644 there was a move to grant the freemen's privileges to non-churchmen, and in May of 1646 the rights of freemen were given to non-freemen as well. Until his death in 1649, Winthrop remained the one most often elected. The people usually trusted his leadership, always respected his judgment, and approved of his judicious broadening of the franchise.
Likewise, Winthrop worked steadily to balance the power of the generally elected "assistants" and the locally representative "deputies," never yielding enough to satisfy the more "democratical" deputies, nevertheless leading toward a form of legislative power that was fully bicameral by 1644. Then, too, while seeking to retain an arena for judicial discretion, he oversaw the formulation of a general body of laws for adjudication within the colony—never minutely specific enough to satisfy the precisionists but nevertheless far from the arbitrariness of autocracy.
In politics as in religion, Winthrop was characteristically ambivalent. On the one hand, as a good Calvinist, he agreed with the elders who affirmed on 18 October 1642 that "in a commonwealth, rightly and religiously constituted, there is no power, office, administration, or authority, but such as are commanded and ordained by God" and that the political institutions of such a commonwealth "ought not to be by them either changed or altered, but upon such grounds, for such ends, in that manner, and only so far as the mind of God may be manifested therein." Yet on the other hand, compassion for others led him on 18 January 1635 to profess "that it was his judgment, that, in the infancy of plantations, justice should be administered with more lenity than in a settled state, because people were then more apt to transgress, partly of ignorance of new laws and orders, partly through oppression of business and other straits." Given the ongoing tug-ofwar between antinomians and precisionists, Winthrop's ambivalence embroiled him in—and saw the colony through—many controversies. In all he sought balance: in "a little speech" in 1645 Winthrop reminded the people, as he notes on 14 May, "so shall your liberties be preserved, in upholding the honor and power of authority amongst you." And he welcomed the development in 1643 of an intercolonial government called the United Colonies, with its own commissioners—elected by all freemen by May of 1645—to resolve disputes between the several colonies of New England and to coordinate their common defense. On the one hand, yielding power seemed to increase Winthrop's authority; on the other, in all these ways he was preparing the colony for orderly continuity following the passage of his personal charisma.
Caught in a tug-of-war between enemies in England who wanted to install a "general governor" over all the colonies of New England and the deputies from the several towns who wanted more democratic decisionmaking, Winthrop moved from advocating aristocracy to supporting a mixed government, or "buffered democracy," at its heart much like the concept developed a century and a half later by the more conservative among the founders of the American republic. On the one hand, Winthrop suggested the expansion of the franchise, the development of a bicameral legislature, the formulation of a general body of laws, and the constitution of an intercolonial government. Yet he did not go as far in any of these matters as their proponents wished. For, on the other hand, he believed that an excess of democracy would lead to instability. He agreed with those who spoke for the rights of the minority in a church dispute in September of 1646 "that it was not to be expected, that the major party should complain of their own act, and if the minor party, or the party grieved, should not be heard, then God should have left no means of redress in such a case, which could not be." This particular case had a Winthropian happy ending, for "some failing was found in both parties, the woman had not given so full satisfaction as she ought to have done, and the major party of the church had proceeded too hastily against a considerable party of the dissenting brethren, whereupon the woman who had offended was convinced of her failing, and bewailed it with many tears, the major party also acknowledged their errour, and gave the elders thanks for their care and pains." Thus it seems possible that Winthrop's changing attitudes toward governance may provide a clue for interpreting relations between the federal theology of the Puritans and the federalism of such "revolutionaries" as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. In the later stages of his Journal Winthrop moves from reporting events to telling stories that let the experiences of various characters speak increasingly for themselves. This move reflects his growing willingness to give the people and their deputies a voice in government, and so it is through the Journal that one begins to observe connections between the political, religious, and imaginative forms of the American story.
Winthrop's sense of vocation evolves in several stages. While still in England, when the altogether prepared but somewhat skeptical and unwilling Winthrop is recruited, he joins the Puritan project with a plan for action. As the chief actor, formed for heroic leadership, he has a design, or "modell," with which he informs and charges the group's sense of common purpose. Then, in the New World, he guides his model into action, usually playing the hero but sometimes forced into a supporting role—a new stance which, by making him from time to time an observer, heightens his powers of perception and gives him a crucial angle of interpretation through which to view the development of his design. Thus in December of 1636, in the midst of the antinomian turmoil, while Winthrop is out of office he has time to write a long entry describing Henry Vane's petulant attempt to resign as governor and relating his own and John Wilson's wise probity during the turbulence surrounding Anne Hutchinson.
As Winthrop begins to see himself as both interpreter and actor, he examines the people whose actions he records with increasing attention to their unique circumstances and personal complexities. Winthrop's entry for 9 November 1641 begins with "Query, whether the following be fit to be published," indicating an increasingly discriminating awareness of his role as a writer, and then proceeds to recount how Governor Bellingham stole the affections of a young woman residing in his own house and induced her to marry him instead of the man to whom she was betrothed. The relation of this compromising incident, which led perhaps to Winthrop's becoming governor again at the next election, is followed three days later by another tale of infidelity:
Mr. Stephen Batchellor, the pastor of the church at Hampton, who had suffered much at the hands of the bishops of England, being about 80 years of age, and having a lusty comely woman to his wife, did solicit the chastity of his neighbour's wife, who acquainted her husband therewith; whereupon he was dealt with, but denied it, as he had told the woman he would do, and complained to the magistrates against the woman and her husband for slandering him. The church likewise dealing with him, he stiffly denied it, but soon after, when the Lord's supper was to be administered, he did voluntarily confess the attempt, and that he did intend to have defiled her, if she would have consented. The church, being moved with his free confession and tears, silently forgave him, and communicated with him: but after, finding how scandalous it was, they took advice of other elders, and after long debate and much pleading and standing upon the church's forgiving and being reconciled to him in communicating with him after he had confessed it, they proceeded to cast him out.
Winthrop notes that "after this he went on in a variable course" and finally nearly two years later "he was released of his excommunication, but not received to his pastor's office." In this narrative, told primarily for the sake of its own interest, though perhaps in some measure also to document the scandals occurring during Bellingham's administration, Winthrop uses adjectives deftly to delineate a memorable character, and he compresses events of two years' duration into a coherent short story.
This little story within a story is followed by a fourpage tale of "a very foul sin, committed by three persons" involving the debauchery of a young girl who was abused "many times, so as she was grown capable of man's fellowship, and took pleasure in it." Then, following an authorial observation that "as people increased, so sin abounded, and especially the sin of uncleanness, and still the providence of God found them out," Winthrop tells the story of poor Hackett and the cow, and various other tales of disorder before this long entry is completed. By this time Winthrop is more than governor; he is working consciously as the author of early New England. By 1642 the form of his work is no longer that of journal entries; Winthrop begins simply to intersperse dates in the text of a flowing narrative. In 1643 a single entry covers two months, looking back in time in order to show present events in their proper light. And the entries themselves lengthen, with those of May 1645 and November 1646 surpassing twenty pages each. Thus in terms of particular literary devices, such as characterization, retrospective narration, and the avoidance of authorial intrusion, as well as in terms of the increasing flow and continuity of the narrative as a whole, Winthrop's text ceases to be a matter of recordkeeping and becomes a matter of history as literature.
More nuanced characterization of others and more awareness of their roles in the drama of the Bay Colony as a whole provide Winthrop an increasingly distanced perspective on his own motives and actions as a character in the story he tells. The decency and sympathy with which he treats the characters in his Journal is perhaps related to his characteristic leniency toward those in trouble and his urge to understand their motivations—tendencies which sometimes cost him his office when public passions ran high but which also made him a better writer. While in roughly equal measure hero and narrator, Winthrop develops a literary form that can embrace confrontations and hence a narrative vision that sustains and includes challenges in ways beyond his capacities as one of the actors in the drama of the Bay Colony. On 12 June 1643 Winthrop records his apology for the style of one of his writings in which he had made "appeal to the judgment of religion and reason, but, as I there carried it, I did arrogate too much to myself and ascribe too little to others." A few months later, on 14 July, he notes in his Journal one of his failings as governor: "this fault hath been many times found in the governour to be oversudden in his resolutions, for although the course were both warrantable and safe, yet it had beseemed men of wisdom and gravity to have proceeded with more deliberation and further advice." Thus sometimes directly in power and sometimes not, Winthrop emerges more as narrator than as actor, freer to tell the history of early America in its own terms, still bearing witness to the motivating power of his original model but more intrigued now with discovering what the model has engendered than with forcing the New World's light through the prism of his initial design. As he observes on 12 November 1641, "God hath not confined all wisdom etc. to any one generation, that they should set rules for others to walk by."
Winthrop's opponents seem to have been people of single visions. As a man of action and of observation, however, Winthrop learned that the spiritual power of a vision lives only in the ongoing revisioning it engenders. When visions are codified and institutionalized, they begin to die as authority degenerates into control. Models imposed on experience stifle vitality and become relics, whether venerated or despised. In some crucial ways a moderate from the outset, Winthrop discovered in writing his Journal that interpretation, through reference to a past ideal of the future, yields a kind of authority that need not violate the experience of the present. The ideal is reshaped as experience is represented. As a writer, Winthrop was able to respect the integrity of the present without losing sight of the ideal and without using the ideal to disfigure the vitality of the present. Like his movements in religion and politics, in his Journal Winthrop moves toward freedom even while he gains authority. It is in the product of his double vision, the text itself, that all the people of single vision continue to live for us. Their descendants made the jeremiad the literary form most characteristic of second—and third-generation Puritans. For them, as Sacvan Bercovitch says [in The Puritan Origins of the American Self, 1975], "every crisis called forth a reassertion of the design." In contrast, Winthrop kept the design alive by remaining open to the unexpected. Vision endures in revision; as he said on 12 November 1641, "for history must tell the whole truth."
The whole truth can be neither wholly expressed in action nor fully relished in observation. As a certain kind of conscious and unconscious experience, Winthrop's changing engagement in and interpretation of life in the New World generated a new literary form. Hence we might see the Journal as the first example of what Sacvan Bercovitch calls "auto-American-biography," the telling of one's own and America's story in the same imaginative act. Or we might consider Winthrop's Journal to be something like the first American "novel," especially insofar as the meaning Winthrop articulates as narrator is generated from the alteration of his original governing design and therein initiates what David Minter [in The Interpreted Design, 1969] calls "the interpreted design as a structural principle in American prose." In any case, in Winthrop's Journal this is all rudimentary rather than fullblown. On the one hand, when we see Winthrop as an actor who begins with a design upon the world and ends as a narrator or historian, we are not yet dealing with the developed literary genius of Hawthorne, James, Fitzgerald, or Faulkner that Minter explicates. Yet on the other hand, there is in Winthrop's Journal something akin to the impulse that led Norman Mailer to call the major sections of The Armies of the Night  "history as a novel" and "the novel as history." There are certainly few other than inverse personal comparisons to be drawn between Mailer and Winthrop, but Mailer's intuitions about America hark back to an ancestry that might surprise him. Mailer and other recent keepers of the American dream have, like Winthrop, discovered that politics, religion, and narrative are modes of power, ways not only of responding to experience but also ways of controlling life by shaping its manifold energies into tractable, intelligible, forms. Revisioning America involves charting their ebbs and flows.
Recovering a sense of Winthrop's compound of integrity and openness yields resources for recovery from the ambivalent malaise of contemporary American life. Because he charted a course between the whirlpools of spiritual exuberance and the stagnation of moral precisionism, Winthrop's project suggests a strategy for coping with the expansive religious and political visions of Anne Hutchinson's cultural descendants and with the self-centered programs of latter-day Thomas Dudleys. Neither the grandiose delusions of religious and political imperialism nor the cunning austerity of an individual and cultural style that is "taut, toned, and coming on strong" will suffice to sustain a sense of purpose commensurate with American promise. Christopher Lasch's recipe for "minimal self-hood," for example, is more puritanical than authentically Puritan; Lasch's work, like much neoconservative cultural criticism, follows the form of the jeremiad while lacking its theological substance. Winthrop's revisioning defines an alternative to Lasch's studied pessimism as well as to the wistfully Emersonian optimism in many dreams of a larger and better life. Winthrop knew the answer to Emerson's Transcendentalist query, "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?" Such dreams for a larger and better life are inevitably fashioned from fallible, if not meretricious, materials. An original relation to the universe, like the Puritans' "Modell of Christian Charity," is already unreachably in the past. Although it is a lesson remembered usually in—or just after—times of crisis, revisioning is the only real way of having America at all.
Pointing to "some strange resistance in itself," Robert Frost says [in "West-Running Brook"], "It is this backward motion toward the source, / Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in, / The tribute of the current to the source." Readers who recall the elegiac ending of The Great Gatsby—Nick Carraway's remembrance of "a fresh green breast of the new world" that "had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder"—such readers will confront Winthrop's journal entry for Tuesday 8 June 1630 with a start of recognition:
The wind still W. and by S. fair weather, but close and cold. We stood N.N.W. with a stiff gale, and, about three in the afternoon, we had sight of land to the N.W. about ten leagues, which we supposed was the Isles of Monhegan, but it proved Mount Mansell. Then we tacked and stood W.S.W. We now had fair sun-shine weather, and so pleasant a sweet air as did much refresh us, and there came a smell off the shore like the smell of a garden.
There came a wild pigeon into our ship, and another small land bird.
The Puritan imagination was saturated with Old Testament images: the birds present an antitype of the end of the Flood, and days of rain and fog end when sight of land is coupled with new sunshine and the smell of a garden!
Winthrop began with a vision and discovered the value of revisioning. Revisioning is where Americans begin. While "we can believe only by interpreting," Paul Ricouer points out [in The Symbolism of Evil, 1967], that "it is by interpreting that we can hear again." Or as Nick Carraway concludes, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Thus recovering Winthrop involves more than pointing to the Puritan foundation of the American cultural edifice. Winthrop's achievement, the commitment to revisioning that informs his Journal, is more model than monument. He kept in play certain contradictory attitudes—individualism and communalism, innocent optimism and studied pessimism, interpretation and action—that work as antinomies throughout subsequent American cultural history. Neither in politics nor in literature was his work complete: governance of the Bay Colony often lacked Winthrop's guiding moderation, and his Journal is unabashedly an unfinished text. What can be recovered by looking backward at this curious blend of authoritarianism and moderation, of involvement and detachment, is the knowledge that the return of possibilities comes in the process of revisioning.
However much Americans now may wish for a reappearance of leadership with Winthrop's balanced sense of purpose, such renaissances depend on complicated historical and psychological processes that scholarship can investigate but not generate. Historical scholars contribute best to cultural recovery by rethinking the kind of history they write. The world of recent historical inquiry has been divided, if not between spiritual visionaries and moral precisionists, then between "humanists" who love theory and interpretation and "social scientists" who thrive on statistics and facts. Clifford Geertz is right to celebrate the blurring of these genres, and one goal of the present essay is to suggest that to undertake such interdisciplinary analysis—blending together in this case thinking about religion, politics, and narrative—is simply to render scholarship apposite to the variegated stuff of historical experience. The inability ever completely to fulfill such complex hermeneutical goals is the unavoidable price of wanting to see whole; to attempt, and thereby to achieve, less is the greater failure.
Study of the past may be hampered by artificial boundaries between various areas of life, and attempts to see the past whole may disclose distinctions more important than those made between academic disciplines. There is an irony, for example, in seeking faultless political candidates and then castigating them when their deficiencies inevitably appear. As Lewis Lapham asks [in Harper's, Dec, 1985], "who could bear the thought of being governed by human beings, by people as confused and imperfect as oneself? If a politician confessed to an honest doubt or emotion, how would it be possible to grant him the authority of a god?" In contrast, after being acquitted in an invidious political trial, on 14 May 1645 Winthrop reminds his fellow citizens that "it is you yourselves who have called us to this office, and being called by you, we have our authority from God" and then entreated them "to consider, that when you choose magistrates, you take them from among yourselves, men subject to like passions as you are. Therefore when you see infirmities in us, you should reflect upon your own, and that would make you bear the more with us, and not be severe censurers of the failings of your magistrates, when you have continual experience of like infirmaries in yourselves and others." Winthrop does not distinguish between the people and their leaders in terms of moral quality. He draws the line elsewhere:
The covenant between you and us is the oath you have taken of us, which is to this purpose, that we shall govern you and judge your causes by the rules of God's laws and our own, according to our best skill. When you agree with a workman to build you a ship or house &c. he undertakes as well for his skill as for his faithfulness, for it is his profession, and you pay him for both. But when you call one to be a magistrate, he doth not profess nor undertake to have sufficient skill for that office, nor can you furnish him with gifts &c. therefore you must run the hazard of his skill and ability. But if he fail in faithfulness, which by his oath he is bound unto, that he must answer for. If it fall out that the case be clear to common apprehension, and the rule clear also, if he transgress here, the errour is not in the skill, but in the evil of the will: it must be required of him. But if the cause be doubtful, or the rule doubtful, to men of such understanding and parts as your magistrates are, if your magistrates should err here, yourselves must bear it.
Assessing leaders in Winthrop's way would require continual self-assessment, which is always difficult, and might improve the quality and realism of American political discourse.
If self-scrutiny is the price of revisioning America, some things have not changed. For, as Winthrop went on to say, "concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country." American life is still bedeviled by this mistake, although most people may no longer—perhaps for good reasons—be able to acknowledge it. As a true son of the Reformation, Winthrop distinguished between two kinds of liberty. On the one hand, there is everyone's "natural" liberty "to do what he lists." Such freedom to "do your own thing" is one of the few values Americans today now hold in common, even while rcognizing that this "is a liberty to evil as well as to good" and that "this liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority." Unlike Winthrop, however, Americans now reject authority that curtails freedom. Certainly no one wants to reinhabit the cramped moral space of early New England. Yet in taking a stand for freedom, Americans may have forgotten what Winthrop envisioned, on the other hand, as the true form of liberty:
The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal, it may also be termed moral, in reference to the convenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your good, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this, is not authority, but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
Without something like "civil" or "federal" or "moral" liberty, as Winthrop wrote on 22 September 1642, the Puritan community could not endure:
Others who went to other places, upon like grounds, succeeded no better. They fled for fear of want, and many of them fell into it, even to extremity, as if they had hastened into the misery which they feared and fled from, besides the depriving themselves of the ordinances and church fellowship, and those civil liberties which they enjoyed here; whereas, such as staid in their places, kept their peace and ease, and enjoyed still the blessing of the ordinances, and never tasted of those troubles and miseries, which they heard to have befallen those who departed. Much disputation there was about liberty of removing for outward advantages, and all ways were sought for an open door to get out at; but it is to be feared many crept out at a broken wall. For such as come together into a wilderness, where are nothing but wild beasts and beastlike men, and there confederate together in civil and church estate, whereby they do, implicitly at least, bind themselves to support each other, and all of them that society, whether civil or sacred, whereof they are members, how they can break from this without free consent, is hard to find, so as may satisfy a tender or good conscience in time of trial. Ask thy conscience, if thou wouldst have plucked up thy stakes; and brought thy family 3000 miles, if thou hadst expected that all, or most, would have forsaken thee there. Ask again, what liberty thou hast towards others, which thou likest not to allow others towards theyself; for if one may go, another may, and so the greater part, and so church and commonwealth may be left destitute in a wilderness, exposed to misery and reproach, and all for thy ease and pleasure, whereas these all, being now thy brethren, as near to thee as the Israelites were to Moses, it were much safer for thee, after his example, to choose rather to suffer affliction with thy brethren, than to enlarge thy ease and pleasure by furthering the occasion of their ruin.
The notion that freedom means staying rather than moving on, accepting hardship and confinement rather than seeking openness and a better life, is an idea that Americans learned to admire but not to emulate, a sentiment that makes the seventeenth-century mind remote from modern sensibility. Winthrop's commitment to such ideas is what makes it inappropriate, finally, to read him as a proto-Romantic who found change exhilarating. However much he made way for novelty, Winthrop's steadfast Puritanism cannot be overlooked. In fact, to interpret him as more modern than he was would be to miss the ways his life and work calls ours into question.
It is only by honoring his irreducible otherness that we can appreciate his way of revisioning America. Without his originating beliefs, his revisions in religion, politics, and narrative make the wrong kind of sense. Revision for its own sake keeps little but criticism alive; in this sense it is still true that where there is no vision, the people perish. Hence if we lack a coherent sense of purpose as a people, we could do worse than hypothetically to adopt Winthrop's model of civil liberty. It is so different from our conventional ideas that it might force us to begin the process of revision. Winthrop's Puritan vision will not provide the answers we need, but by framing the right questions it might inaugurate our own revisioning. The will for that task, and a steady commitment to it, is what Winthrop's Journal has to offer. In undertaking it, we keep something alive that is more important, finally, than any particular origin.
In life as in scholarship, possibilities come into focus only when limitations are recognized; one never grasps them whole, yet one doesn't simply have to get by without them. If historian John P. Diggins is right about "the lost soul of American politics," Winthropian revisioning presents a real alternative to the apparent contemporary options of nostalgic communalism and narcissistic individualism. Our world is different from but not more difficult than that of the Puritans. Winthrop sold all that he had to come to America and lost most of what he acquired here. Our sacrifices are more subtle but no less uncomfortable. Revising America will cost more than we imagine and require resources beyond ourselves. There is no other way to keep the dream alive. History that tells the whole truth is a rock against the current as it runs away. Resistance is all. Revisioning is most us.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8633
SOURCE: "Ways of Making History in Early New England," in John Winthrop's World: History as a Story, The Story as History, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992, pp. 130-47.
[In the following excerpt, Moseley focuses on Winthrop 's journal as a history, noting its exemplification of a Puritan point of view, and comparing it with other historical accounts.]
Winthrop's Journal was not only about Puritans; it was a Puritan history. This quality, so quickly lost by those who wrote about the early Puritans, comes clearly into focus when Winthrop's history is compared with the other great history of first-generation New England. Like the Puritans' Winthrop, the Pilgrims' William Bradford was both governor and historian, and the two men interacted as leaders of communities as close as Boston and Plimouth. For all their day-to-day cooperation, though, the theological differences between the Puritans and Separatists had important consequences for the ways the two men understood and wrote history.
William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation, 1620-1647 chronicles the endurance of a small group of English Protestants who shared many of the Puritans' beliefs about the degeneracy of their native land and its established church. Instead of hoping to reform the Church of England, though, Bradford's Pilgrims decided that purity of belief and practice could be achieved only through "removal to some other place." Believing that true Reformation required separation, they sought religious freedom first in Holland, where their relative ease of acceptance exposed the group, especially the children, to the unforeseen danger of assimilation. So they separated again, this time going all the way to New England, a decade ahead of the Puritans, and settling in Plimouth.
Governor Bradford's history of the people he led is a year-by-year account of the ongoing tribulations they faced—from the sharp financial dealings of their backers, from the Indians, from starvation, from smallpox, and from tensions within their own community between those who were truly committed to the general undertaking and those whose primary motivations sprang from self-interest. The main theme of Separatist history is spelled out early and informs Bradford's entire account: the trials and temptations confronting this small band of believers were unrelenting, "but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits." If the Puritans tried to live in the world without being of the world, then the Pilgrims sought to avoid being of the world by living apart from it. Unlike the Antinomians, the Pilgrims did not seek to be free from the rules that guide the soldier of faith in combat with the world, yet neither were they so bold as to expect to triumph in this life. Hence Bradford's history has an elegaic tone. Instead of hope for progress, the lives of Pilgrim saints display the courage of perseverance.
Although he was not a perfectionist, Bradford tended to distinguish between good and bad people; Winthrop, conversely, characteristically saw a mixture of good and bad within everyone. An interesting point of comparison comes in the early 1640s, when both historians had to deal with outbreaks of what their communities considered immoral and unnatural sexual acts. Both were committed to relating such unpleasant events; as Winthrop put it on 12 November 1641, "history must tell the whole truth," or, in Bradford's words, "the truth of history requires it." Yet their different interpretations of similar events suggest a crucial distinction between the Puritan and Separatist views of human nature and, consequently, between their respective ways of making history.
In his journal entry for that same day in 1641, Winthrop enables his readers to witness the fate of William Hackett, a young servant in Salem who "was found in buggery with a cow, upon the Lord's day." Although "he was noted always to have been a very stupid, idle, and ill-disposed boy, and would never regard the means of instruction, either in the church or family," the Puritans worked with him, "labouring by the word of God to convince him of his sin, and the present danger of his soul," until finally "it pleased the Lord so to bless his own ordinances, that his hard heart melted." There was no question of escaping punishment, but his execution was postponed a week to allow more time for spiritual progress. Yet even upon the ladder prepared to be hanged, he had not fully repented: "But the cow (with which he had committed that abomination) being brought forth and slain before him, he brake out into a loud and doleful complaint against himself and was led in prayer by John Wilson and the other elders in attendance. Winthrop's observation upon the lad's execution is noteworthy: "There is no doubt to be made but the Lord hath received his soul to his mercy; and he was pleased to lift up the light of his countenance so far towards him, as to keep him from despair, and to hold him close to his grace in a seeking condition; but he was not pleased to afford him that measure of peace and comfort as he might be able to hold out to others, lest sinful men, in the love of their lusts, should set mercy and repentance at too low a rate, and so miss of it when they vainly expect it." With their complex view of human nature, the Puritans were capable of applying to a single individual both aspects of Paul's New Testament claim, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Their neighbors in Plimouth, in contrast, were inclined to separate Paul's clauses between the sinners and the saints.
In 1642 "the truth of history" required William Bradford to record how Thomas Granger was "detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey." While careful to "forbear particulars" regarding the young servant's "lewd practice towards the mare," Bradford does point out that "whereas some of the sheep could not be so well known by his description of them, others with them were brought before him and he declared which were they and which were not." But there is no mention of concern for the boy's soul. Instead, Bradford simply notes that Granger freely confessed the facts: "And accordingly he was cast by the jury and condemned, and after executed about the 8th of September, 1642. A very sad spectacle it was. For first the mare and the rest of the lesser cattle were killed before his face, according to the law, Leviticus XX.15; and then he himself was executed. The cattle were all cast into a great and large pit that was digged of purpose for them, and no use made of any part of them." Pilgrim authorities determined that "the knowledge and practice of such wickedness" was acquired "in old England," and Bradford points to a cautionary moral: "By which it appears how one wicked person may infect many, and what care all ought to have what servants they bring into their families." If Winthrop's narrative about Hackett expresses the characteristic Puritan concern with the struggle between sin and grace in each individual's life, then Bradford's account of Granger's fate articulates a typical Separatist desire to weed out wicked people who may have crept into the community of the saints.
Beyond its immediate moral offensiveness, Granger's buggery raised important concerns about the meaning of history for Bradford, who worried that such incidents might lead future generations to question the integrity of their origins. Without doubting the propriety of the Pilgrim proceedings, Bradford faced the larger issue squarely: "But it may be demanded how it came to pass that so many wicked persons and profane people should so quickly come over into this land and mix themselves amongst them? Seeing it was religious men that began the work and they came for religion's sake? I confess this may be marveled at, at least in time to come, when the reasons thereof should not be known; and the more because here was so many hardships and wants met withal. I shall therefore endeavour to give some answer hereunto." Explanation outdistances narration for Bradford; the posterity he envisages will look to history for a source of inspiring moral examples rather than for the early chapters of a continuing story. Winthrop's story outgrows the framework of his original design, whereas Bradford's events are controlled by the meanings they illustrate and the questions they answer.
Bradford's answers are soundly Separatist. First, "it is ever to be remembered that where the Lord begins to sow good seed, there the envious man will endeavor to sow tares." Second, building and planting in a wilderness required so much work that the supply of good servants was exhausted; therefore, "many untoward servants" were brought over, served out their times of indenture, began their own families, and increased. Third, "and a main reason hereof," the traders who transported godly persons were simply good businessmen who "to make up their freight and advance their profit, cared not who the persons were, so they had money to pay them. And by this means the country became pestered with many unworthy persons who, being come over, crept into one place or other." And fourth, some good people in England were simply getting rid of their problems: "So also there were sent by their friends, some under hope that they would be made better, others that they might be eased of such burthens, and they kept from shame at home, that would necessarily follow their dissolute courses." Bradford's conclusion sounds a distinctly Separatist note of despair: "And thus, by one means or other, in 20 years' time it is a question whether the greater part be not grown the worser?" Because Bradford portrayed the conflict between good and evil by drawing a line between good people and bad people, rather than by examining the moral battleground within every human soul, the cards always seemed to be stacked against the Separatists, even in a relatively free and open new land.
Bradford's basic orientation did not change when he moved from explaining the wickedness of such an otherwise insignificant servant as Thomas Granger to expounding the lifelong goodness of a true servant of God such as the Reverend William Brewster, a faithful elder of "this poor persecuted church above 36 years in England, Holland and in this wilderness" and one of the eldest of the Pilgrim saints. Elder Brewster exemplifies perseverance, for "notwithstanding the many troubles and sorrows he passed through, the Lord up-held him to a great age." Before cataloguing Brewster's virtues, Bradford makes his meaning clear: "I would now demand of any, what he was the worse for any former sufferings? What do I say, worse? Nay, sure he was the better, and they now added to his honour." Separatist virtues seem to emerge not simply in response to large challenges but chiefly through suffering. Endurance, rather than triumph, is the Pilgrim's goal.
Elder Brewster's intelligence and learning, his honesty and discretion, and his humility and faith earned him trust and affection throughout his life, especially in his role as a teaching minister in Plimouth. Rather than any particular accomplishments, though, what Bradford finds most noteworthy about Brewster is his life's demonstration of the longevity of the Pilgrim Fathers: "I cannot but here take occasion not only to mention but greatly to admire the marvelous providence of God! That notwithstanding the many changes and hardships that these people went through, and the many enemies they had and difficulties they met withal, that so many of them should live to very old age! It was not only this reverend man's condition (for one swallow makes no summer as they say) but many more of them did the like, some dying about and before this time and many still living, who attained to sixty years of age, and to sixty-five, divers to seventy and above, and some near eighty as he did. It must needs be more than ordinary and above natural reason, that so it should be." Given the "crosses, troubles, fears, wants and sorrows" they experienced, Bradford asks rhetorically, "What was it then that upheld them? It was God's visitation that preserved their spirits." Whatever ability and courage might accomplish, Bradford believed, the strength of saintly endurance required more than even Brewster's admirable character and virtues.
Once again, instead of teljing a story, Bradford draws the lesson from the life: "God, it seems, would have all men to behold and observe such mercies and works of His providence as these are towards His people, that they in like cases might be encouraged to depend upon God in their trials, and also to bless His name when they see His goodness towards others." The lesson is one, Bradford acknowledges, that everyone will not appreciate: "It is not by good and dainty fare, by peace and rest and heart's ease in enjoying the contentments and good things of this world only that preserves health and prolongs life; God in such examples would have the world see and behold that He can do it without them; and if the world will shut their eyes and take no notice thereof, yet He would have His people to see and consider it." In Bradford's view, lack of wide-spread recognition does not diminish the truth. Indeed, for the Separatist, spiritual power and worldly failure seem to go hand in hand.
By 1644 even many of the faithful were lured to richer farmland and better harbors than Plimouth afforded, so that the staying image of Bradford's history is elegaic: "And thus was this poor church left, like an ancient mother grown old and forsaken of her children, though not in their affections yet in regard of their bodily presence and personal helpfulness; her ancient members being most of them worn away by death, and these of later time being like children translated into other families, and she like a widow left only to trust in God. Thus, she that had made many rich became herself poor." After recounting the successful prevention of war with the Indians by the commissioners of the United Colonies, Bradford's history ends by bemoaning the loss of Separatist stalwart Edward Winslow, who upon returning to England to battle New England's adversaries had become involved in the Civil War that was bringing the Reformation back to life. William Bradford in Plimouth seemed to feel that the Pilgrim project had ended. If the Puritans had been on an errand and had transformed its meaning into an ongoing enterprise, the Pilgrims were already—and in a sense always—looking backward rather than ahead.
In 1650 William Bradford turned away from writing the history of Plimouth and began to study Hebrew, seeking a personal connection with more ancient origins:
Unlike John Winthrop, whose involvement in the story he was writing continued until sickness took his life, William Bradford had finished his effort to guide his plantation by recalling its connection to an inspiring past. Bradford's decision suggests telling differences between the kinds of history that he and Winthrop wrote and between the ways they understood their work as historians, in keeping with their moral and religious points of view.
Contemporary historian Peter Gay suggests [in A Loss of Mastery, 1969] that English Protestants were heirs both of medieval and of Renaissance attitudes toward history: "Medieval historians, in sum, for all their biographies, all their chronicles, all their universal histories, were in their hearts unhistorical—Renaissance historians, whether they found in history a cyclical movement, or progress, or chaos, justified the course of history by, and within, the course of history." Their medieval Christian heritage held that human history was meaningful by virtue of its connection to divine history, whereas Renaissance humanism taught that human history was justified, to the extent that it had meaning at all, in and on its own terms. As forthright participants in the reformation, English Protestants balanced these contradictory views of history, with Puritans and Separatists agreeing that the Reformation in England was moving too slowly, if indeed at all, under the dead hand of an established church. An unstable mixture of medieval and Renaissance ideas about history was part of the cultural baggage on board the Mayflower and the Arbella, as Bradford and Winthrop led their people to New England for the sake of the Reformation.
Because the Puritans and Separatists believed they were advancing the Reformation by migrating to New England, they shared many spiritual concerns, social commitments, and political convictions. People who set out to further and possibly to perfect the Protestant movement believed that change was possible, that history did not simply repeat itself. But separatism and Puritanism represented antithetical strains within the broad heritage of the Reformation, and in the hands of Bradford and Winthrop these tendencies were developed into two views of history that have ever since been in conflict. While they often cooperated as governors, as historians Bradford and Winthrop were the first voices in an ongoing cultural debate that has been—and continues to be—profoundly important for American life. Two contradictory attitudes about the nature of American society and the purpose of American foreign policy are rooted in the Separatist and Puritan ways of making history in early New England.
Bradford justified the Pilgrim migration by looking back to the New Testament, the first years of Christianity, and the marytrs of the early Reformation for models to encourage the Separatist saints to endure the trials they faced. Inspired by the heroes of the faith chronicled in John Foxe's influential Book of Martyrs, the Pilgrims sought to redeem the present by reclaiming the true Christian past. Worried about his people's fortitude, suspicious of conspiracies against them, and looking backward for models, Bradford wrote a history that is nostalgic in tone, as fearful of the Pilgrims' declension as it is full of belief in the rightness of their cause. A sense of history was important for Bradford because it linked the temptations of the present to the age-old ceaseless struggle of the saints. He did not expect his people to tame the wilderness or to transform the Church of England. He wanted them, more simply, to live as witnesses to the true faith.
If assimilation had threatened their cause in Holland, the isolation of Plimouth was more promising. For the Pilgrim community to succeed, it had to remain separate from the wickedness of the wider world. Hence as his people dispersed for richer farmland and better commerce, as their need for a common defense drew Plimouth into cooperative agreements with other colonies in New England, and as the English Civil War pulled good men like Winslow into new conflicts across the seas, Bradford lost the sense of involvement in a meaningful historical process. He wrote more about the longevity of the original Pilgrim saints than about new energies and future challenges. The purpose of writing history, for Bradford, was to illumine a darkening world by testifying to the purity and courage of saints who struggled valiantly against the world, even in defeat.
Conversely, Winthrop wrote of Puritans who struggled for meaning within, rather than against, the world. Because they believed so strongly in a God beyond history, the Puritans threw themselves passionately into history, in order to bring this world into conformity with the next. Although Winthrop clearly set forth his design for the Puritan project in his "Modell of Christian Charity" sermon on board the Arbella, his history of New England tells the story of events as they happened, rather than attempting to organize Puritan experience along the lines of a predetermined plan. As they worked to establish themselves and to build a society in accordance with their various, often conflicting interests, Winthrop's characters, himself included, were not pure saints. Indeed, the security of their community was actually threatened less by external enemies, though they had plenty, than by insiders who believed that their personal union with the Holy Spirit freed them from obeying the rules of moral behavior. These Antinomians were the people the Puritans wanted to keep out of the Bay Colony, because Anne Hutchinson and her sort of people did not understand the necessity of moral rules. People need religious authority, social order, and moral laws, the Puritans believed, not so much to separate the bad people from the good people as, more fundamentally, to enable people, all of whom are mixtures of good and bad, to make some spiritual progress while living together. Winthrop's sense of the meaning of history as it is lived and written reflects these Puritan differences from the Separatists.
In contrast to Bradford, who looked backward for models to use in his effort to render the present significant, Winthrop observed present experience in order to record the events of an ongoing story. The Puritan mind was full of biblical models, to be sure, but instead of the Pilgrims' adoption of Christian martyrs, the heroes of "God's New Israel" were the patriarchs of the Old Testament who led a chosen people into the promised land. In his work as governor, Winthrop defended the order that he believed a continuing community required, bowing to the pressure for some changes and leading the way in others. His political balance sustained the Puritan project as a whole, helping to keep a sense of movement alive. Unlike the Pilgrims, who bore witness to the truth of the gospel in a seemingly solitary, almost antihistorical way, Winthrop's Puritans were laying the foundations of a new society. Their New England would chart its own course when a civil war in their homeland halted immigration, disrupted trade, and made it clear that the eyes of the world were not riveted on their "Citty vpon a hill." Winthrop kept writing history not so much for an English audience as for whoever would want to know about the early years of New England.
The justification of Puritan history was coming to be within history itself. The history of New England itself began to assume some of the religious import for the sake of which it had originally begun. Given their realistic assessment of human nature, the Puritans knew that ongoing reform—of themselves and their society and thereby of the world—would be required if their project was to fulfill its promise. They learned to use the precariousness of their undertaking—whether the challenge came from Antinomians or Indians, marauding Frenchmen or adversaries in England—as a way of affirming the Tightness of their enterprise, as their descendants would learn to use moral declension as a rhetoric of confirmation. If Bradford wrote history to help himself and his readers understand and endure the present through reference to the past, then Winthrop wrote in order to record the continuing reformation of the present into the future. Frequently in conflict with each other, Separatist and Puritan views of history long outlived Bradford and Winthrop to influence succeeding generations of Americans and their historians. In their own distinctive ways, both views charged history with religious importance. The way these alternatives focused the debate about America's role in history became one of New England's foremost contributions, for good or ill, to the history of American civilization.
As the more "medieval" of the two, the Separatist historian tends to interpret events by way of reference to particular moments in the past when exemplary acts revealed connections between the human and the divine. Likewise, Bradford's work as a historian is justified insofar as it remains true to God's plan. The honesty of his calling therefore requires him to say when the events he is recording fail to sustain the significance which the great models from the past have embodied. The Separatist's inherent dualism, seen in his desire to draw a firm line between good people and wicked people, inclines him toward a historyless cast of mind and makes him a foe of tradition as such. Everyone who responds to ambiguity and confusion by wanting to isolate the few good people from the mass of bad people and to find a place uncorrupted by the vicissitudes of history knows something of the Separatist dream. Yet even such an adventure, as Bradford discovered, begins to have its own history, from which there is finally no escape. The Separatist may then respond stoically, as Bradford did, resigning himself to events beyond his control and preserving a personal sense of meaning by abandoning history in favor of meditation upon those great moments from the past—in Bradford's case, at the very beginning of history itself—when truth was indeed said and done. Or with similar motivations, he may respond by trying to expell the bad people who have infiltrated the group, hoping to reclaim his people's original purity by securing borders that will prevent contact with a contaminated world.
When Pilgrim spirituality ebbed, the Separatist response to history remained. As the ultimate importance originally experienced through exemplary models from the past came to be invested instead in the identity of the present group, the Separatist view of history found cultural and political expression, often with religious overtones, in the ideology of American isolationism. Separatist political leaders have tried to protect America from involvement with an impure world, and Separatist historians have interpreted American history as a series of conflicts between darkness and light, in a myriad of forms. Separatist cultural criticism preserves Bradford's nostalgia, though often without recourse to the ancient models that sustained his religious faith. Whatever their professions, subsequent generations of Separatists have felt like Pilgrims, often without knowing exactly why. In contrast, Bradford's people "knew they were pilgrims." While salutary in some ways, the inevitable loss of a shared religious faith did not necessarily make American society more humane.
In keeping with the Renaissance humanism that Puritan leaders imbibed while acquiring university educations in divinity and law, the Puritan historian tends to find the meaning of events within his own history. Winthrop has a sense that history is the field in which a divine plan is being worked out. Rather than interpreting present experience in light of particular models in the past, the Puritan historian is alert for the ways current events, and the connections between them, may themselves have symbolic significance. The Puritan's belief that all people are mixtures of good and evil, seen in his insistence that even the justified saints need to pursue the hard path toward sanctification, inclines him to take history seriously. While there is no traditionless faith for the Puritan, he tends to believe that, human nature being what it is, even the English Protestant tradition can slip from its true purpose and will require occasional, perhaps continuing reformation and renewal. Everyone who, feeling surrounded by problems and failures, decides to stay on board and to work for change from within the system, convinced that some improvement is preferable to a fruitless search for perfection, experiences something of the Puritan temper. Yet even such a temperament, Winthrop learned, is apt to rise toward heedless enthusiasm or to fall into niggling precisionism. Since they take their own history so religiously, Puritans are always susceptible to flights of Antinomian fancy or to seizures of moralistic authoritarianism. The tendency of latter-day Puritans to move in one of these directions or the other recapitulates the tensions within the Bay Colony that Winthrop described.
Winthrop's commitment to writing history grew from his religious convictions about human nature, providing the governor a crucial additional perspective on his own involvement in history and strengthening his basic character, which historian Edmund S. Morgan has described so well: "John Winthrop, while trying to live as God required, learned that he must live in the world, face its temptations, and share its guilt; and Winthrop helped to prevent the government of Massachusetts from seeking a greater perfection in this world than God required or allowed. Winthrop had less control, and less understanding, of the church than the state. And the church, by any standards, had to be more pure than the state…. But the visible church, like the man himself, must remain in the world and must not only bring its members closer to God but must also help to redeem the rest of the world" [Visible Saints, 1963]. At his best, the Puritan historian applies Winthrop's sense of balance, self-criticism, and need for renewal not only to the people whose history he records but also to his own work as a historian. At his worst, whether in an Antinomian or precisionist mode, he thoroughly identifies the Puritan thrust toward renewal with the life of his group itself and assumes that his righteous people are called to reform the rest of the world.
The Puritan view of history was not lost when Puritan piety waned. Although the children of the founders designed a "Half-Way Covenant" to permit their offspring to retain church membership, subsequent generations soon lost the sense of balance that kept the original Puritans moving forward within the verges of a common path. As the errand into the wilderness took on its own meaning, Winthrop's Puritan view of history turned into a less explicitly religious tradition of reform, sometimes of America itself and sometimes, through the new nation's intervention, of the world. While some Puritan political leaders have crusaded for a congeries of social reforms, others, seeing less need for internal improvement, have tried with varying success to enlist America in campaigns to reform the world, usually according to their own image of American purity. Puritan historians have read and written American history as consensual themes of renewal. Puritan cultural critics have bemoaned America's moral decline as a way of renewing the nation's commitment to improve itself and the world, though often without recourse to the religious faith that sustained Winthrop's vision of "a Citty vpon a hill." Countless Americans have supported reform platforms and voted for reform tickets, purchased and tried out an apparently endless variety of self-improvement programs, often stirred deeply by vague motivations. In contrast, Winthrop's Puritans examined themselves scrupulously, reasoning carefully about the covenant they owned with God. While few contemporary Americans would choose to live within the ruled confines of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, many continue to respond, for better or worse, to the call for reform that characterizes the Puritan view of history.
There's nothing like a war to sharpen the debate between latter-day Puritans and Separatists and to make one wise for leaders with Winthrop's balanced involvement in and understanding of history. A clear view of Winthrop, heightened by consideration of what he shared with and where he differed from his colleague Bradford, might clarify current debates, if only by reminding present-day Americans that the Puritan and Separatist views of history were present, already in tension, in the earliest years of one of the traditions that most influentially informs American culture. Yet it is difficult to hear Winthrop's voice, for subsequent interpreters of America muted his image as they transformed the early historians of Pilgrim and Puritan saints into saints themselves. The telling differences between Bradford and Winthrop were silenced, as they were enshrined foremost among the founding fathers of New England. The inaugural hagiography was composed in a virtually insurmountable fashion by a third-generation descendant of premier Puritans, the complicated genius Cotton Mather.
Since his name was derived from two eminent grandfathers, John Cotton and Richard Mather, it is not surprising that Increase Mather's firstborn son felt driven to rekindle the fading embers of the Puritan faith. The New England in which the boy grew up was moving socially, politically, and commercially away from its Puritan foundations, and Cotton Mather devoted himself to restoring the spiritual vitality and shared moral commitments without which, he believed, thoroughgoing degeneration would ensue. Mather poured his energy into this task with an obsession that warranted historian Vernon Parrington's characterization: "Intensely emotional, high-strung and nervous, he was oversexed and overwrought, subject to ecstatic exaltations and, especially during his celibate years, given to seeing visions" [Quoted in Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, ed. Raymond J. Cunningham, 1970]. However one accounts for or copes with Mather's personal peculiarity, if indeed one can, it is clear that writing history was one of the chief weapons he fashioned in the struggle to revitalize an entire society and that the way Mather wrote history had lasting consequences. If Mather failed to revamp New England, by enshrining the early Puritans in an aura of perfection he articulated a sense of guilt sufficient to keep their memory alive. His audience was chastened rather than transformed; a slightly guilty conscience kept their noses to the grindstone of change. Subsequent historians shared Mather's praise for the founding fathers of New England. Without his freight of guilt, these early leaders were appealed to as the inspiring ancestors of a new civilization.
"I write the Wonders of the Christian Religion, flying from the depravations of Europe, to the American Strand," announced Mather at the outset of his great work, Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New England. Because the churches of New England were patterned on the earliest years of Christianity, Mather asserts, they were heirs of an ongoing Reformation, with its greatest moments still ahead. His recipe for revitalization is simple: "In short, the first Age was the golden Age: to return unto that, will make a man a Protestant, and, I may add, a Puritan." But if Mather seems to be summoning his contemporaries actually to achieve what earlier generations had so heroically attempted, he quickly reveals that the future of the Reformation is less social than cultural. The full import of the Reformation, it turns out, is involved with Mather's own work as a historian, for "whether New-England may live any where else or no, it must live in our History!" Pages of self-congratulatory comparisons with ancient historians great and small, however, bring Mather finally to acknowledge that the greatness of his own work will inhere more in the elegance and insight of his writing than in its effect upon his readers.
Indeed, bearing witness to the Puritan founders may primarily provoke negative reactions: "All good men will not be satisfied with every thing that is here set before them. In my own country, besides a considerable number of loose and vain inhabitants risen up, to whom the Congregational Church-discipline, which cannot live well where the power of godliness dyes, is become distasteful for the purity of it; there is also a number of eminently godly persons, who are for a larger way, and unto these my Church-History will give distate, by the things which it may hapen to utter in favour of that Church-discipline on some few occasions; and the discoveries which I may happen to make of my apprehensions, that Scripture, and reason, and antiquity is for it; and that it is not far from a glorious resurrection." As if that were not enough rejection to expect, "on the other side, there are some among us who very strictly profess the Congregational Church-discipline, but at the same time they have an unhappy narrowness of soul, by which they confine their value and kindness too much unto their own party: and unto those my Church-History will be offensive, because my regard unto our own declared principles does not hinder me from giving the right hand of fellowship unto the valuable servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, who find not our Church-discipline as yet agreeable unto their present understandings and illuminations. If it be thus in my own country, it cannot be otherwise in that whereto I send this account of my own." The Christian tradition had appropriated Isaiah's prophecy that the Suffering Servant would be "despised and rejected of men"; now Mather anticipated a similar response to his own calling. Mather wrote history to continue the Reformation, not expecting that reform would actually occur but in order to carve out an enduring place for himself as a true Puritan. His ambivalences were thoroughgoing and profound, for while undercutting the direct import of writing history, he invested the historian, himself, with immense significance.
By translating history into the biography of saints, Mather sanctified his own vocation. In the process, history became sermonic, more Separatist than Puritan in temper. Turned into icons, leaders such as Bradford and Winthrop might be venerated by the faithful or debunked by iconoclasts but would rarely be read as historians. Held up as "the shields of the churches," the governors and magistrates of New England were "perpetuated by the essay of Cotton Mather," with a pointed epigram:
The glories of that elder age,
Lustrous and pure, shall never wane,
While hero, martyr, ruler, sage,
Its living monuments remain.
Despite ceaseless allusions to classical writers regarding his role as historian, and more in keeping with the tradition he was attempting to reclaim, Mather cast Bradford and Winthrop as Old Testament patriarchs. On the one hand, it was not difficult to find the proper niche for Bradford: "The leader of a people in a wilderness had need be a Moses; and if a Moses had not led the people of Plymouth Colony, when this worthy person was their governour, the people had never with so much unanimity and importunity still called him to lead them." On the other hand, the Puritan governor elicited so many patriarchal allusions that Mather virtually constructed for Winthrop a chapel of his own.
Indeed, Winthrop's virtues surpassed those of leaders from the classical tradition that Mather quoted so fulsomely to dignify his own work as a historian:
Let Greece boast of her patient Lycurgus, the lawgiver, by whom diligence, temperance, fortitude and wit were made the fashions of a therefore longlasting and renowned commonwealth: let Rome tell of her devout Numa, the lawgiver, by whom the most famous commonwealth saw peace triumphing over extinguished war and cruel plunders; and murders giving place to the more mollifying exercises of his religion. Our New-England shall tell and boast of her Winthrop, a lawgiver as patient as Lycurgus, but not admitting any of his criminal disorders; as devout as Numa, but not liable to any of his heathenish madnesses; a governour in whom the excellencies of Christianity made a most improving addition unto the virtues, wherein even without those he would have made a parallel for the great men of Greece, or of Rome, which the pen of a Plutarch has eternized.
Mather sustained his own image as the Plutarch of a new republic by Romanizing the combined Old Testament model and New World order that he took Winthrop to represent. As "Nehemias Americanus," Mather's Winthrop promised to lead Christianity, in its American Puritan version, beyond ancient glories to found a new civilization.
For Mather, the Winthrop family heritage made the governor's justice, wisdom, and courage "the more illustrious, by emblazoning them with the constant liberality and hospitality of a gentleman. This made him the terror of the wicked, and the delight of the sober, the envy of the many, but the hope of those who had any hopeful design in hand for the common good of the nation and the interests of religion." It was natural for such an eminent person to be "chosen for the Moses" of the Puritan undertaking, and "nothing but a Mosaic spirit could have carried him through the temptations, to which either his farewell to his own land, or his travel in a strange land, must needs expose a gentleman of his education." Moreover, since he not only led his people across the sea but also governed their settling in the new land, Winthrop was more than Moses to Mather.
Given the Puritans' desire to reform England by reconstituting the church according to its original, true design, Winthrop recalled the biblical Nehemiah, who led his people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after a period of exile. Yet Winthrop's designation as "Americanus" is also significant, for Puritans did their rebuilding in a new place. Thus Mather's characterization of Winthrop as Nehemias Americanus aptly expresses the ambivalence of the Puritan undertaking as a whole. In some ways, it was a looking backward to origins and a reformulation of ongoing institutions; simultaneously, in other ways, it was a new undertaking in a new land. Winthrop was a successful leader, Mather suggests, because the unique combination of his virtues was apposite to the complex demands of the Puritan project.
Like Nehemiah, Winthrop knew how to endure petty infighting between the discontented and the overzealous in his own party, and he also knew when to be liberal with his goods and generous in overlooking faults: "But whilst he thus did, as our New-English Nehemiah, the part of a ruler in managing the public affairs of our American Jerusalem, … he made himself still an exacter parallel unto that governour of Israel, by doing the part of a neighbor among the distressed people of the new plantation." Winthrop's combined ability to husband frugally and to dispense bountifully evoked another patriarch in Mather's biblical imagination: "Indeed, for a while the governour was the Joseph, unto whom the whole body of the people repaired when their corn failed them; and he continued relieving them with his open-handed bounties, as long as he had any stock to do it with." The story of the arrival of a ship loaded with provisions at the very moment when Winthrop was "distributing the last handful of the meal in the barrel unto a poor man distressed by the 'wolf at the door'" elicits a wordly-wise aphorism from Mather: "Yea, the governour sometimes made his own private purse to be the publick: not by sucking into it, but by squeezing out of it." The following parable, together with Mather's pointed commentary, illustrates Winthrop's saintly leadership:
In an hard and long winter, when wood was very scarce at Boston, a man gave him a private information that a needy person in the neighbourhood stole wood sometimes from his pile; whereupon the governour in a seeming anger did reply, "Does he so? I'll take a course with him; go, call that man to me; I'll warrant you I'll cure him of stealing." When the man came, the governour considering that if he had stolen, it was more out of necessity than disposition, said unto him, "Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply your self at my wood-pile till this cold season be over." And he then merrily asked his friends, "Whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood?" One would have imagined that so good a man could have had no enemies, if we had not a daily and woful experience to convince us that goodness it self will make enemies.
Such vignettes kept Winthrop's memory alive in folktales as well as in the more "official" chronicle Mather composed.
In Mather's view, "there hardly ever was a more sensible mixture of those two things, resolution and condescention, than in this good man," and "it was not long before a compensation was made for these things by the doubled respects which were from all parts paid unto him." Such a "mixture of distant qualities" produced exactly the kind of leader the complex Puritan adventure required, demonstrating the particular way in which the achievements of God's New Israel surpassed the greatest accomplishments of classical antiquity: "In fine, the victories of an Alexander, an Hannibal, or a Caesar over other men, were not so glorious as the victories of this great man over himself, which also at last proved victories over other men." Foremost among the founders of New England, Winthrop stands in a way for the renewed triumph of the entire Old Testament tradition, as Mather's eulogy declares: "Such a governour, after he had been more than ten several times by the people chosen their governour, was New England now to lose; who having, like Jacob, first left his council and blessing with his children gathered about his bed-side; and, like David, 'served his generation by the will of God,' he 'gave up the ghost,' and fell asleep on March 26, 1649. Having, like the dying Emperour Valentinian, this above all his other victories for his triumphs, His overcoming of himself." Cleverly affirming his own role as the historian of the true faith, Mather adapts "the words of Josephus about Nehemiah, the governour of Israel," for Winthrop's epitaph: "He was by nature a man, at once benevolent and just: most zealous for the honour of his countrymen; and to them he left an imperishable monument—the walls of New England." The irony is that in trying to write a history that would keep Winthrop alive as a model for future generations, Mather encapsulated the exemplary governor within the walls of history.
As Mather's hero becomes more saintly, at once more admirable and also more removed from common life, the power of the historian is irrevocably increased. Mather's heightened self-consciousness of his own role as historian overwhelmed his subjects, transforming flesh-and-blood men such as Bradford and Winthrop into exemplary figures in the service of Mather's vocation as the Josephus of the Puritan faith and the Plutarch of a New World civilization. Mather's eagerness to wear both hats coincides with the merging of religious and civic virtues in his iconography of early New England. Future interpreters of America would look back to the founders through Mather's eyes, responding to new cultural crises by invoking the memory of a time when piety and politics were at one.
Regardless of its historical accuracy and its author's unusual personality, Mather's Magnolia Christi Americana had monumental consequences for succeeding generations of historians and other keepers of the American dream. In probing the national ideal that informs Uncle Tom 's Cabin, for example, literary historian and critic Edmund Wilson [in Patriotic Gore, 1966] cites a revealing passage from the autobiography of Harriet Beecher Stowe: "There was one of my father's books that proved a mine of wealth to me. It was a happy hour when he brought home and set up in his bookcase Cotton Mather's Magnalia, in a new edition of two volumes. What wonderful stories those! Stories, too, about my own country. Stories that made me feel the very ground I trod on to be consecrated by some special dealings of God's providence." As for countless other Americans, for Stowe such feelings were intertwined with her emotional response to a reading of the Declaration of Independence: "I was as ready as any of them to pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor for such a cause. The heroic element was strong in men, having come down by ordinary generation from a long line of Puritan ancestry, and just now it made me long to do something, I knew not what: to fight for my country, or to make some declaration on my own account." To suggest how naturally Mather's inheritance provides religious roots for the ideology of the American Way of Life, Wilson cites an episode from Stowe's work Poganuc People:
After the singing came Dr. Cushing's prayer—which was a recounting of God's mercies to New England from the beginning, and of her deliverances from her enemies, and of petitions for the glorious future of the United States of America—that they might be chosen vessels, commissioned to bear the light of liberty and religion through all the earth and to bring in the great millennial day, when wars should cease and the whole world, released from the thraldom of evil, should rejoice in the sight of the Lord. The millennium was ever the star of hope in the eyes of the New England clergy; their faces were set eastward, towards the dawn of that day, and the cheerfulness of those anticipations illuminated the hard tenets of their theology with a rosy glow. They were children of the morning.
Mather had turned Bradford and Winthrop into saints whose names resounded in the litany of cultural nationalism.
In keeping with Mather's intentions, the saints were invoked to recall a present generation from its forgetfulness in order to restore its confidence in the future. As American society became increasingly diverse, reference to the faith of the founders became less specific. Distinctions between Pilgrims and Puritans, once so important, were muted. If Mather looked to the past in order to reclaim the Puritan spirit, his cultural descendants did so on behalf of Protestantism more broadly, then for the sake of Christianity, and finally to revive religiousness in general, to bloster moral commitments, or simply to affirm some shared sense of civic purpose. Whether Bradford and Winthrop were praised as saints or, later, debunked as authoritarians, Mather's iconography was remarkably durable. For they were not read as men who wrote the histories in which their acts as governors were recorded. Consequently, the telling differences between Separatist and Puritan views of history were not remembered, and the critical perspectives each of the two men brought to bear upon history itself went unobserved. In the process, American history itself, read as the progress of American civilization, was invested with an authority that was for Bradford and Winthrop, in their respective ways, beyond history.
When later Americans clashed over essentially Separatist or Puritan versions of their past, present, and future, therefore, their arguments were the more dangerous insofar as their foundations, and the differences between them, were forgotten. Two related but distinct sorts of difficulties were engendered by this lack of awareness. On the one hand, subsequent generations of Americans experienced clashes between the Separatist desire for cultural and political isolation and the Puritan drive toward moral and political reform. The battle between isolation and reformation was played out between political parties in response to questions of American involvement in international conflicts, and a more personal struggle between Separatist and Puritan tendencies divided the hearts of individual citizens. On the other hand, since the distinctive histories of the two visions were forgotten, the ongoing dilemma was often superficially resolved. When the differences were glossed over, it could be asserted that American beginnings were actually as pristine as the Pilgrims had wished and also that Americans were impelled to press forward like Puritans to reform the world—in the image of their own deceptively innocent origins. Confusing the ideologies of these early voyagers to New England could become, in the political culture of a major world power, a recipe for domination and international disaster. Whether the outcome was experienced as a conflict between or as an amalgamation of Separatist and Puritan views of history, the consequences of forgetfulness might be benign or malicious, but they could not be understood and directed toward constructive ends. Without an appreciation of what they inherited from this part of their history, Americans were at its mercy.
As the civilization New England helped to inaugurate became increasingly complex, Mather's saints lost their voices. Without their contributions, the debate about the meaning of America and its role in the world became more strident and less profound. Given the inescapably international character of contemporary economic and political affairs, national problems and world events are inextricably interwined for the United States. Hence, despite its understandable allure in periods of crisis, the Separatist tendency, manifested in the rhetoric of isolationism, remains an illusion, indeed unreachably in the past. If Bradford's voice is essentially contrapuntal, however, Winthrop's vision of principled involvement in the world, informed by his Puritan understanding of human nature and shaped by his commitment to history as an ongoing process, remains vitally important. For Winthrop's voice to be of better service in the future than his icon has been in the past, we must learn to read the history of his story as a significant episode in early New England and as part of the continuing Puritan strain in American culture.
Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 633
Baritz, Loren. "Political Theology: John Winthrop." In his City on a Hill: A History of Ideas and Myths in America, pp, 3-45. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1964.
Overview of Winthrop's life and work, with emphasis on his ideology.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975, 250 p.
Takes Cotton Mather's biographical essay on Winthrop as a representative text and a starting point for a discussion about the "Puritan view of the self," "the individual in history," and "the idea of national election."
Bozeman, Theodore Dwight. To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988, 413 p.
Traces "the primitivist strands in English Puritan thought through the period of the Great Migration," with numerous refrences to Winthrop.
Dawson, Hugh J. "John Winthrop's Rite of Passage: The Origins of the 'Christian Charitie' Discourse." Early American Literature 26, No. 3 (1991): 219-31.
Argues that Winthrop's famous sermon was most likely composed in England prior to his departure, not aboard the Arabella, as is commonly assumed.
Delbanco, Andrew. The Puritan Ordeal. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989, 306 p.
Discusses "the experience of becoming an American in the seventeenth century," with numerous references to Winthrop.
Dunn, Richard S. "Book One: John Winthrop." In his Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England 1630-1717, pp. 3-58. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962.
Asserts that Winthrop was the first American "to define liberty as riding easy in harness," and cites his importance in passing on the "Puritan code of disciplined self-government."
Michaelsen, Scott. "John Winthrop's 'Modell' Covenant and the Company Way." Early American Literature 27, No. 2 (1992): 85-100.
Suggests that "Winthrop's sermon not only bears a significant relation to newly emerging theories of contract law and interpretation, but it reveals a great deal about the actual legal conditions of the Puritan voyage to America."
Morgan, Edmund S. "Notes and Documents: John Winthrop's 'Modell of Christian Charity' in a Wider Context." The Huntington Library Quarterly 50, No. 2 (Spring, 1987): 145-51.
Compares Winthrop's sermon with other, similar shipboard addresses, concluding that "his special gift lay in bringing disagreements to a happy issue."
Morrison, Samuel Eliot. "John Winthrop, Esquire." In his Builders of the Bay Colony, pp. 51-104. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1930.
Historical account of Winthrop's role in the establishment of the Bay Colony. Morrison asserts that "From his fellows of the ruling class, strong and able men, he stands out as a superior man of noble character, with a single eye to the common weal."
Mosse, George L. "John Winthrop: Christian Statesman." In his The Holy Pretence: A Study in Christianity and Reason of State from William Perkins to John Winthrop, pp. 88-106. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957.
Argues that "it is in the works of Winthrop… that the Covenant theology becomes the means of harmonizing the word of God with the idea of reason of state."
Power, M. Susan. "John Winthrop: 'A Model' and the 'Journal'," "John Winthrop: Arbitrary Government and the Rule of Law," "John Winthrop's 'Declaration' and Elisha Williams' 'Essential Rights' Compared and Contrasted." In her Before the Convention: Religion and the Founders, pp. 65-84, 85-106, 107-26. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984.
Detailed discussion of Winthrop's writings mentioned above.
Rutman, Darrett B. Winthrop's Boston: Portrait of a Puritan Town 1630-1649. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965, 324 p.
Describes Boston in Winthrop's time as a "dynamic community" that was not strictly ideological.
——. John Winthrop's Decision for America: 1629. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1975, 105 p.
Examines factors that contributed to Winthrop's decision to come to America and includes documents relating to his decisionmaking process.
Winthrop, Robert C. Life and Letters of John Winthrop. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864, 452 p.
Additional coverage of Winthrop's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 24, and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 30.