An annotated bibliography of sources on the topic of:

The Puritan Legacy in New England

compiled and annotated by Rich Driscoll
for the course CAS CC 204: Religion and Secularism in Spring 2015

Hall, David D. A Reforming People Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Hall attempts to deconstruct two leading perspectives on seventeenth-century puritan society: the first being that the Puritans established an authoritarian regime, and the second being that they were overly democratic. Hall reconciles this by arguing that the Puritans combined aspects of both forms of government, which created “a more appealing, and more complex” society than either perspective leading perspective.

Worlds of Wonder Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Beliefs in Early New England. Harvard University Press, 1990.

Hall investigates the popular religious practices of seventeenth-century New England, which would be practiced by the average person. He contrasts new religious developments in New England with developments in Europe, which were founded on long-standing tradition. He also argues that the New England inhabitants were able create a “differentiated” society with “semi-independent governments” because they were not bound by old traditions.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated by Stephen D. Grant. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

In the section, “The Point of Departure and Its Importance for the Future of the Anglo-Americans,” Tocqueville credits America’s democratic attitudes and origins to the New England, Puritan settlers of the seventeenth-century. He writes in the context of the French Revolution and the spread of democracy in Europe. Tocqueville concludes that both the religious sphere and civil sphere “work together in harmony” and provide “mutual support to one another.”

Wertenbaker, Jefferson. The Puritan Oligarchy: The Founding of American Civilization. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947.

Wertenbaker criticizes the “Massachusetts Bible State” of the seventeenth-century, which he argues was ruled by ministers and other religious elite. He primarily focuses on the religious leaders’ strict control over education and the franchise. He also challenges the perspectives that the Puritans contributed to American democracy and ideas of religious freedom. Instead, he considers the reformers, who came after the Puritans, much more influential.

Winship, Michael P. Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and a City on a Hill. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.

In the section, “Designing a Godly Republic,” Winship discusses the formation of seventeenth-century Massachusetts’ governing structures and political ideas. He argues that the Puritans resisted tyranny, and also asserts that Governor John Winthrop assisted in the disestablishment of Massachusetts’ purely oligarchic rule. Winship also investigates the role of the franchise and considers it to be democratic, despite the limitations of those who received it.

The following articles were collected by David Hall in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts. He has paired them to provide opposing perspectives on a similar topic.

Adams, Brooks. “The Rule of the Priesthood.” Edited by David D. Hall. Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (Holt Rinehart and Winston), 1968.

Brooks provides a strong criticism against the influence of ministers in seventeenth-century New England. He argues that ministers imposed their influence upon matters, in which they had no prior experience or authority.

Brown, B. Katherine. “The Puritan Concept of Aristocracy.” Edited by David D. Hall. Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (Holt Rinehart and Winston), 1968.

Brown argues against Parrington, saying the governing structure of Massachusetts, which John Cotton supported, was in fact democratic by modern standards. She argues about Cotton’s definition of the terms “aristocracy” and “democracy.” She argues that “aristocracy” resembles contemporary representative democracies (in which the people elect magistrates to rule). “Democracy,” on the other hand, was used to mean the pure, and direct rule of the people. Brown concludes that the Puritan system, although containing may differences from modern systems, primarily functioned under similar democratic institutions and beliefs.

Parrington, Vernon L. “Puritanism as an Antidemocratic Ideology.” Edited by David D. Hall. Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (Holt Rinehart and Winston), 1968.

This is a commentary of John Cotton’s influence and perspective on the governing structure of Massachusetts. Parrington argues that Cotton favored an aristocracy, not of heredity, but of the saints. Parrington seems to like Cotton, but has difficulty accepting his influence in the prolonging of antidemocratic sentiments.

Seidman, Aaron B. “Church and State Reconsidered.” Edited by David D. Hall. Seventeenth- Century Massachusetts (Holt Rinehart and Winston), 1968.

Seidman challenge the view that the Puritan clergy swayed “governmental decisions to a highly impressive extent.” While he recognizes the convergence of religious and civil aspects, he discusses the formation of distinct civil and religious spheres.

Winthrop, John. A Model of Christian Charity. 1630.

Winthrop makes a call to establish a Godly society, which he argues is necessary for the success of their new colony. He clearly joins the religious and civil spheres together in his effort to establish a moral society. This document shows the foundational Christianity would play in both the civil and religious aspects of Puritan life.

The Massachusetts Body of Liberties. 1641.

This law establishes the legal rights of people as citizens of the community and members of the church. While Protestant principles still influence aspects of the civil law (primarily through references to the Old Testament), it demonstrates the formation of different spheres for the church and civil authority.

<< Return to the CC 204 Bibliographies homepage