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How did the Puritans effect the development of America?

During the early 1600's a period called the Reformation saw changes in the way Europeans looked at religion. The Catholic Church split apart and many new Christian organizations called Protestants were formed. In England a protestant religion called the Anglicans became the dominant force in social and political life. Some people in England, however, viewed religion differently. As a result a new protestant religion called Puritans evolved. The ruling Anglican church disapproved of Puritan beliefs and persecuted the Puritans. Though Puritans did gain control of England for a short time (Oliver Cromwell) many fled England and came to the New World (America) to escape religious persecution. The Pilgrims were Puritan settlers and many of the early settlers in New England were Puritans.

 

Puritans believed that all men were born sinners, this was known as the idea of "original sin." For the Puritans the only way to be saved (go to heaven) was by the grace of god. Puritans felt that only certain of people would be saved and that these people were chosen at birth, this was known as "predestination." Instead of giving in to sin, since there was nothing one could do to be saved, the Puritans saw sin as a challenge. The Bible, according to the Puritans, was the direct word of God. Because of this the Bible was seen as an infallible guide to all life including political, social and economic maters. Only members of the church, which were limited to a select few, made decisions for the community.

 

The Puritans believed that man must follow the Bible exactly and try to communicate directly with God. In order to communicate with God there had to be no distractions from their religion. In order to achieve this the Puritans held to an austere and Spartan lifestyle. Puritans immersed themselves in their work and avoided art, sculpture, poetry, drama or anything else that might be seen as a distraction. Even home furnishings were simply made of wood. The result of this lifestyle of hard work was a community that was wealthy and industrious. Since God was an all knowing and powerful force the puritans saw their wealth as a gift from God and a sign that they were correct. The Puritans sought to stamp out anything that might interfere in the correctness of their way. Any non believers were considered to be in error and were not to be tolerated. Eventually non believers like Roger Williams were driven out of the New England Colony. (It should be noted that the Puritans had fled England due to religious persecution and were now themselves persecuting others.)

 

The long term results of Puritanism are felt throughout our country because they were amongst our first settlers and spread their ideas and values throughout the land. The Puritan work ethic became a staple of American idealism. Likewise this nation remains a Protestant country with a legacy of conservatism. The Puritans may have lasted only a little over a century but their ideals remain.

Excerpts from John Winthrop

(Winthrop was a leading Puritan writer and thinker.)

 

"The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord and to comfort and increase the body Christ where we are members."

 

"For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw present help from us, we shall be made a story and by word through 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 servants and cause their prayers to be turned to curses until we are thrown out of the good land."

 

"Liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is liberty to that only which is good, just and honest."

 

God almighty in his most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich some must be poor, some must be eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection."

 

"If a brother be in want and thou canst help him thou must not make doubt, if thou lovest God thou must help him."

I. The Legacy of the Puritans

A. Who were the Puritans?

1. English Protestant minority

2. Left England amid persecution of their lifestyle and religious beliefs.

B. What were their basic beliefs?

1. Piousness

2. Righteousness

3. Hard Work

4. Bible was the literal word of God.

5. Original Sin (Man was born a sinner)

6. Predestination (It was decided at birth by God whether you were going to heaven or hell.)

7. Wealth was sign of Gods approval.

C. How did the Puritans influence our values and ideals.

1. The Puritan Work Ethic became and remains a model of American hard work ethic and led to our place as a modern industrial giant.

2. We remain a relatively Protestant nation with a very conservative bias.

3. We look at ourselves a special nation and our foreign policy of intervention and getting involved shows this. This is a direct result of the idea of being a "city upon a hill."


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