Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Puritans and republican political practice

Historian Thomas Kidd has a post over at exploring the relationship between the Puritans and the development of American republican political practice:  Puritans:  The Original Republicans? As Kidd notes, while long identified with democratic theory and practice, Puritanism provided a Reformed approach to civic life that had strong republican overtones as well.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Calvinism>Presbyterianism [say, Church of Scotland]>Puritans>Congregationalism [the official church of Massachusetts until 1832!]

"Congregationalism," rule by the congregation and not "presbyters" [elders]. No central church--each congregation is its own theological master [although there was the Westminster Confession of 1646 that tried to make some common denominator].

Oh, and Congregationalism spawns the unitarians like John Adams!

The history of Protestantism is very much a history of early America as well. It's bloody fascinating. I have found that few Protestants really know much of it, even their own sect. And for secularists, non-Protestants, non-denominations and "Nones," it must be a total mystery.

As one of the above, coming to the Founding looking for Aristotle and Aquinas, I realized that you can't make any sense of America's religious history without understand the Protestant Reformation and its proliferation of sects after Luther. for example, these guys:

Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practising Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.
Many Congregational churches claim their descent from a family of Protestant denominations formed on a theory of union published by the theologian Robert Browne in 1592. These arose from the Nonconformist religious movement during the Puritan reformation of the Church of England. In Great Britain, the early congregationalists were called separatists or independents to distinguish them from the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians. Some congregationalists in Britain still call themselves Independent.
Congregational churches were widely established in the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, later New England. The model of Congregational churches was carried by migrating settlers from New England into New York State and then into the "Old North West," the North-West Territory, won in the American Revolution, now the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin (and a small portion of Minnesota). With their insistence on independent local bodies, they became important in many social reform movements, including abolitionism, temperance, and women's suffrage. Modern congregationalism in the USA is split into three bodies: the United Church of Christ, with which most local Congregational churches affiliate and which is also the most theologically progressive; the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches; and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, which is the most theologically conservative.

JMS said...

My take is summarized by historian Jon Butler: "The Puritan legacy in America has been over-emphasized and under-emphasized at the same time. We overemphasize the degree to which Puritanism represents the foundation of religion in American society. It does not. It did not. There were many other religions that came to the British colonies in the 1620s, 30s and 40s along with the Puritans and so the Puritans represent only one strain. At the same time, some of the Puritans, particularly John Winthrop, did introduce a certain kind of vision, a certain kind of idealism - some of whose elements are important in shaping American society - a vision of really wonderful goals about the nature of community. The Puritans placed a very valuable emphasis on belonging, on the nature of community, and in that regard, the Puritans were idealistic, even if we might look askance on at least many of their ideals.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JMS: That's Barry Shain's thesis too--what they wanted was their religious communities left unmolested by the state.

That should be a good link to Google Books, where you can preview the book.

The_Myth_of_American_Individualism means it's not about Ayn rand, about what is called "radical individualism," John Galt, Howard Rourke. It's more about a community that thinks the rest of the world sucks and wants to be left alone to do its own thing.

The Founding was a lot more Amish than libertarian.