A Reforming People

A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England

With a New Foreword by the Author DAVID D. HALL
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    A Reforming People
    Book Description:

    In this revelatory account of the people who founded the New England colonies, historian David D. Hall compares the reforms they enacted with those attempted in England during the period of the English Revolution. Bringing with them a deep fear of arbitrary, unlimited authority, these settlers based their churches on the participation of laypeople and insisted on "consent" as a premise of all civil governance. Puritans also transformed civil and criminal law and the workings of courts with the intention of establishing equity. In this political and social history of the five New England colonies, Hall provides a masterful re-evaluation of the earliest moments of New England's history, revealing the colonists to be the most effective and daring reformers of their day.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0165-6
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    David D. Hall

    Books take on a life of their own once they pass into the hands of readers. Less than a year after its initial publication (April 2011), this is already under way withA Reforming People,prompted in part by a word in the subtitle that dates from the late sixteenth century when “puritan” began to be employed by enemies of a “further reformation” within the Church of England. This rhetoric troubled a member of the House of Commons who supported such a reformation. Speaking to his fellow Parliamentarians in 1587, Job Throckmorton complained: “To bewail the distresses of Gods children,...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-21)

    Shortly after Charles I received the Petition of Right in 1628 and agreed to its provisions, he changed his mind and inserted a speech justifying the royal prerogative in the journal of the House of Commons. In a Boston where muddy tracks and half-built houses were visible signs of a newly founded town, a magistrate in the Massachusetts government, angered by reports that “the people” wanted to clamp down on the authority of officers like himself, raged in 1632, “Then we should have no government, but … everye man might doe what he pleased.” Five years later, as “freemen” gathered...

  6. CHAPTER ONE “Arbitrary” or “Democratical”? The Making of Colony Governments
    (pp. 22-52)

    Two months after arriving in Massachusetts in June 1630, the officers of the Massachusetts Bay Company held a “court” in their new capacity as administrators of a colony. That day, the business at hand was deciding how to pay the ministers the Company had recruited and what to do about the soaring prices of supplies and servants’ labor. By year’s end, this little group was enacting rules to ensure the validity of commercial contracts and the distribution of property left by those who died. It was crucial, too, that the group arrange for grants of land so farming could begin,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Land, Taxes, and Participation The Making of Town Governments
    (pp. 53-95)

    As colony governments were forming, the colonists were busy devising rules and structures for the towns in which they lived. This, too, was a politics that aroused strong feelings, for the business of each town was deciding how land should be distributed. People watched and worried as this process unfolded, for the well-being of every family depended on having enough land. People also worried because the process could disrupt or strengthen social peace. Of conflict there would soon be plenty, once towns began to assign lots, map their boundaries, and require households to fence in gardens and planting lands: boundaries...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Godly Rule Empowering the Saints
    (pp. 96-126)

    Explicating the book of Revelation to a lecture-day audience in Boston, John Cotton urged the colonists to “raise up” their “hearts in holy thankfulnesse to God” that they had been “delivered” from the “great beast” of Roman Catholicism. The central theme of his sermon series on Revelation was power, just and unjust, limited and unlimited: the unjust and virtually unlimited power asserted by the Papacy over churches, civil societies, and the consciences of Christians, as contrasted with the “simplicity” of the apostolic or “primative” church, its leaders exercising limited authority, its communities enjoying a cluster of “liberties,” and the churches...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR An Equitable Society Ethics, the Law, and Authority
    (pp. 127-158)

    The hope that everyday life coincides with an ethics of love (“charity”), peace, and justice is as old as Christianity and as fresh as last Sunday’s sermon in our twenty-first-century churches. So is the sentiment that the two are misaligned, the everyday world slipping further into disarray as people pursue false gods and revel in temporary satisfactions. It seemed this way in ancient Israel and, in the early sixteenth century, to Thomas More, who imagined a better way of living inUtopia(1516). In Shakespeare’s England, “wonder” stories dramatized God’s revenge on Sabbath-breakers, and inThe Pilgrim’s Progress(1678) John...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE “Already in Heaven”? Church and Community in Cambridge, Massachusetts
    (pp. 159-190)

    Something about the land bordering the Charles River upstream from Boston, a place named Newtown by the first people to settle there, was bothersome. Within a year of arriving in Newtown in 1633, Thomas Hooker and the “company” that had followed him from England were looking elsewhere, having decided that the “plowable plaines were too dry and sandy” and the supply of meadow insufficient.¹ By 1636, Hooker and his friends had departed for the Connecticut River Valley, where they founded the town of Hartford. Fortunately for them, several groups that arrived in 1635, most of them connected with the minister...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-196)

    At a tense moment in New England politics, the arrival of four commissioners dispatched by the government of Charles II to terminate the colonists’ de facto independence from England, ninety-one men in the town of Hadley, Massachusetts, petitioned the General Court in 1665 about the rights or privileges they wanted to preserve. The first of these was “the right from God and man to chuse our own governors, make and live under our own laws.” Drawing on a commonplace of continental humanism, the distinction between slavery and freedom, they justified this right by evoking the “liberties and privileges” that made...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 197-244)
  13. Index
    (pp. 245-256)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-259)