However, they saw the need for civil government to function in alignment with biblical principles. Exactly how to do this, as more people came to their colony, was a challenge.
The Puritan message, that a civil society requires a moral society, echoes across American history. Benjamin Franklin emphasized the importance of a free people being a moral people. As people become more corrupt and vicious [full of vice], they have more need of masters.
Avarice [greed], ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. In standing against the injustice of segregation, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God.
An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. Does civil liberty mean having the freedom to do as we please or the freedom to do as we should? The Puritan idea of having the consent of the governed assumed the governed had the moral capacity to live as they should. A thorough reading of Winthrop's speech, along with an understanding of the circumstances in which Winthrop wrote it, yields a much deeper understanding of the message he meant to convey. John Winthrop was selected as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company in , and he was given the task of leading a fleet of Puritan settlers to establish a community of their own in New England the following year.
The speech was given to his fellow travelers on board the Arbella , the flagship of this fleet, as they prepared to sail from their native England. Winthrop's words laid out specific guidelines for living together in a Christian community—an important message because many of the settlers came from different regions and did not know each other before the journey. Winthrop also cautioned that the world would be watching them, and that failure to fulfill their duty to God would not only ruin their chances of prosperity, but would also disgrace like-minded Christians across the globe.
Though Puritans are often depicted in popular American culture as cold and unemotional, "A Model of Christian Charity" provides insight into the warmth and depth with which Winthrop and other Puritans sought to form bonds of community among themselves. Winthrop states to the gathered congregation that "we must love one another with a pure heart fervently," and details the ways in which each member should exhibit charity and mercy to all other members of the community.
He emphasizes communal living, with the wealthiest and most prosperous members of society freely giving to the poorest members, as well as charitable lending principles that would require a lender to simply forgive a debt if the borrower had no means of repayment.
The Pequots also had the misfortune to roil the Puritans at a moment when Governor Winthrop faced two other challenges to his authority. As employers and policy makers, they were unshakable in the conviction that generosity was economically and morally unsound. He is saying that later in life you will look up to your accomplishment as other would look up at a city upon a hill. Worksheets , Activities , DBQs. Although this experiment with communalism failed rather spectacularly and was abandoned after only three years, the ethic of neighborliness continued to be an important touchstone in both colonies throughout the seventeenth century. Winthrop knew nothing of the loans until hard times forced the friends to seek repayment. Themes All Themes.
It is the final section of "A Model of Christian Charity," however, that has received the most attention. In it, Winthrop compares their new Massachusetts Bay colony to "a city upon a hill": Like a city rising above the surrounding land, it is visible to all, and surely will be subjected to careful scrutiny.
Winthrop suggests that if he and his fellow Puritans succeed, they will serve as a shining example for others to follow. Maximum pay for building craftsmen was set at two shillings a day. Breaking the law would cost customer and craftsman ten shillings apiece. When some customers bent the rules by offering free meals to their hired hands, the court mandated a 25 percent pay cut for workmen fed on the job.
Governor Winthrop and his assistants also instituted a series of price controls as prices of food, clothing, and other necessities shot heavenward. Massachusetts merchants were ordered to charge only a third more than their goods would fetch in England. Wage and price controls came and went, returned and were repealed again, with the court alternately responding to public outcries and despairing of enforcement.
Winthrop noted in his journal that when wages were too tightly controlled, workmen tended to leave the labor market, contenting themselves with subsistence farming while they built up their own properties. Eventually the court called upon town governments to monitor wages.
"A Model of Christian Charity" is a sermon by Puritan leader John Winthrop, delivered on board the ship Arbella on April 8, while en route to the. A Model of Christian Charity. John Winthrop | Colonization of New England , from the Frieze of American History, Capitol Rotunda, Architect of the Capitol.
Winthrop also ordered each town to appoint an agent to buy all the goods from every incoming ship in exchange for the right to resell them at profits within the guidelines set by the court. But enterprising sailors would not be stopped from smuggling goods ashore to make their own trades.
Cheating inspired a flurry of regulations designed to compensate for the shortage of love that sellers felt for buyers. To address the deceits of tanners, the court ordered the appointment of tanning experts to regulate quality. Complaints about barrels that leaked because of wormholes led to official standards and inspections.
Every baker was required to give his loaves a distinctive brand in order to facilitate the discovery and punishment of those who gave short weight. A merchant guilty of overcharging was obliged to return double the excess and to pay a fine levied at the discretion of the court.
Theft and fraud brought vivid punishments intended to convince the populace to steer a narrow course. Stealing a loaf of bread, a sheet, or a pair of shoes called for a whipping. There were fines for unauthorized borrowing of horses and for peddling quack medicines. An ambitious servant who engaged in a bit of freelance trading without his master's permission was fined and flogged. In dealing with the scoundrels, Governor Winthrop drew on the full range of his feelings, sometimes playing the despot, sometimes the pragmatist, and sometimes the indulgent parent.
One winter, on learning that a man had been filching wood from a neighbor, Winthrop promised to rehabilitate the malefactor. The thief, asked to account for himself, explained that he had taken the wood because he and his family had none. Winthrop made his own woodpile available to the man and laughingly reported his success in "reforming" a criminal.
But his lenity coexisted with a conviction that only a strong hand would keep his fallible, self-loving charges on a righteous path. While the Puritans thought of themselves as a community of saints, it required more saintliness than most humans could muster for a merchant to put customers' welfare ahead of his own, especially when shortages dealt him an advantage. The merchant who happened to have a stock of bridles or window glass at a moment when his competitors had none was inclined to make the most of his luck until the arrival of new goods restored a measure of competition.
The most celebrated case of mercantile grasping came before the court in , when Robert Keayne of Boston was accused of allowing himself unconscionable profits. He was said to have marked up such goods as nails, thread, and gold buttons by more than percent on some occasions. Members of the court had no doubts about Keayne's guilt but disagreed about the gravity of his offense. Some wanted to fine him , [pounds sterling] others [pounds sterling]. Winthrop initially took a hard line, viewing the practices as inexcusable because Keayne was a wealthy man, professed to be a true Christian, and had ignored earlier warnings against overcharging.
Worst of all in Winthrop's judgment, Keayne seemed blind to the necessity for impeccable behavior by members of "a church and commonwealth now in their infancy, and under the curious observation of all churches and civil states in the world. Those in favor of the smaller fine argued that it was in the nature of trade to exploit whatever advantages a market presented, that Keayne was not the only sharpster among Boston's merchants, and that because the Bible required no more than double restitution, a fine of [pounds sterling] seemed unduly punitive.
Keayne was ordered to appear in church to "acknowledge and bewail his covetous heart. After debating whether Keayne should be excommunicated, the congregation concluded that an admonition would suffice. As Winthrop reported the proceedings, it was decided that Keayne had been misled by "false principles" but had shown himself "otherwise liberal in his hospitality, and in church communion. Keayne felt the sting of his public humiliation for the rest of his life. Thirteen years after the trial, in disgrace again because of drunkenness, he began writing a will that filled pages in the colony's probate records.
Thirty pages railed against the cruelty of the judgment, and another thirty attempted to prove his innocence with details from his account books. Keayne consoled himself with thoughts of the day "when I and they, the judges and the judged, shall stand naked before one throne, where there will be no respect of persons, when all sentences and the causes of them will be called over again before a greater judge and a higher tribunal than man's can be. IN Keayne's ordeal it is possible to see that the Puritanism of New England, for all its insistence on stability, was instability itself. The Puritans in the wilderness were like a row of iron filings suspended between two equally powerful magnets--held in place by a tension so perfect that it snapped at the least disturbance and scattered the filings in all directions.
Puritanism demanded hours of worship and daily Bible reading, yet the business of conquering the wilderness needed constant toil. A good Puritan was expected to be economically self-sufficient, but he was also supposed to subordinate personal interests to the needs of community. The cardinal virtue, self-denial, pitted a human against most of the longings recognizable as human. It was wrong to make a monastic withdrawal from society, equally wrong to embrace the world. A Puritan lived trembling on the edge of a blade, ever in danger of a bloody plunge to perdition.
The calling, the divine summons to Puritanism as well as to one's earthly vocation, was a knot of contradictions. On the one hand, it gave Puritan patriarchs a compelling justification of the status quo: the mighty were mighty and the weak weak because God had made them so. To aspire to another station was to flout His will.
On the other hand, the calling demanded a sweaty devotion to work, and assiduity amid the vast opportunities of Massachusetts regularly produced wealth and a change of station. Few subjects agitated the Puritan mind more than wealth. It was both a sign of God's blessing and a powerful temptation to the sin of pride how satisfying to be among the elect of the elect! Orthodoxy required a Puritan to dress plainly, but judging by the court's steady issuance of sumptuary laws, the appetite for fancy clothing was insatiable. The Puritan leadership was especially distressed by the sartorial ostentation of the lower classes, who were supposed to content themselves with "raiment suitable to the order in which God's providence has placed them.
Lace was outlawed for provoking "the nourishing of pride and exhausting of men's estates.
Even here the Puritans were ambivalent. While they would not have wastrels and peacocks in their own province, they saw nothing amiss in profiting from the immoderation of others, so they allowed lace makers to continue in their callings as long as they promised to sell their handiwork only to "such persons as shall and will transport [it] out of this jurisdiction.
Such sentiments did not prevent the Puritans of Massachusetts from entering--and prospering in--the rum trade.
Avarice was a highway to hell, but riches were not. Poverty saved an individual from indulging worldly appetites but was no proof of sainthood. The able-bodied poor of seventeenth-century Massachusetts were suspected of being willfully deaf to their callings. A scarcity of labor that persisted for decades made employment easier to find and more remunerative in Massachusetts than in England, so idleness was nearly as intolerable as sodomy. Nevertheless, Governor Winthrop insisted that all the poor be cared for, and towns and churches regularly cooperated in distributing food and alms.
As local taxes rose and the ranks of the poor increased, grumblers drew increasingly sharp distinctions between the worthy poor and the idle poor. Beggar and vagabond were forced to move on, often with whips at their backs. Many villages forbade strangers to visit for more than a fortnight, and hosts had to pledge that their guests would not become an expense to the town. Puritans opened their purses to relieve the starkest miseries of the poor but felt no duty to help their fellow beings rise in the world.
As employers and policy makers, they were unshakable in the conviction that generosity was economically and morally unsound. Winthrop, holding an attitude that persisted into the twentieth century, believed laborers should not earn much more than they needed for subsistence because high wages led to high prices and encouraged workers to slack off.
In the early s, when Winthrop and the Court of Assistants first regulated the wages of carpenters and others in the building trades, they acted partly for the well-being of the community and partly to discourage bad habits. Able to earn enough in four days to support themselves for a week, the craftsmen began lazing about.
They also spent freely on tobacco and "strong waters," which Winthrop considered "a great waste to the commonwealth" since the proceeds tended to flow out of Massachusetts to sellers in Virginia and other colonies. WERE it not a sin, pride would have been the most appropriate feeling for the Puritans to have as their first decade in Massachusetts came to an end. Through grit and perseverance, they had transformed twelve thousand acres of rocky, forested wilderness into farmland yielding more than enough wheat, corn, and rye to feed the twenty thousand inhabitants of Boston and the surrounding towns.