Religion in the Thirteen Colonies

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Why are the Puritans significant in American history?

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The Puritans immigrated to America in response to the conflict between their religious beliefs and the doctrinal positions of the Church of England. Puritans, unlike the Pilgrims with whom they are often associated, believed the Church of England had strayed from its conservative roots, but they thought the church could be reformed.

The head of the Church of England was the King of England, conflating religious doctrine with government authority. In the mind of the Puritan, the church was too secular and had left the doctrinal principles of Christianity. Their beliefs immediately put them at odds with church leaders and with the king, encouraging them to leave England so that they could practice their beliefs without persecution. The colonization of America provided a perfect opportunity for them to make a transition.

The importance of Puritan contributions to the colonization and culture of America has been downplayed by historians in recent years as being a naive and archaic mode of thinking about how the colonies were able to survive. However, it is not in dispute that the strict Puritan lifestyle and adherence to putting the community above the individual was critical in their survival in a harsh new world.

The Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, one of the most vibrant and successful colonies in America. The Puritans valued religious tolerance and non-interference from the state. They allowed open public dissent and discussion on a wide range of matters regarding the authority of government. Puritans believed that the government was to serve the people, and limiting the government to the issues of commerce or regulating commercial activities was consistent with Puritan belief.

Puritans believed charity was a priority function of their religious practice. The government should play no role that was contradictory to religious belief. The Puritans provided a rudimentary system of education and curriculum. The Puritan work ethic is legendary, and even today the phrase is used to describe a positive attribute of someone who works hard and is successful!

Puritans were significant contributors to the American ideals of work, charity, religion, government, and social structure. Many of these ideas are enshrined in the founding documents of the Republic, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It is difficult not to appreciate and admire the Puritan adherence to a moral and ethical code despite the modern view that Puritans were too restrictive. It is precisely the commitment to their beliefs that made Puritans memorable in American history and culture.

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