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Puritan roots in todays America Culture

Robert rder
(sroder.robert@yahoo.com)

History of American Literature


Faculty of Letters and Communication Sciences

Puritanism had, even from the beginning, a strong and profound effect upon
American culture, as a political and social force. Except from the fact that Puritanism was
the starting point for American culture, it still provides ways of thinking that are
integrated in the social culture of todays America. Even though the puritan ideas
vanished or became less important by time, it is worth mentioning that writer and
thinkers like John Winthrop and Roger Williams provided ideas that stayed in the
American consciousness.
Ideas like freedom and the purpose of religion in a society are important matters in
todays society. Puritans ideas about these concepts were not forgotten, but modified and
adapted for contemporary concerns. In The Journal of John Winthrop and Roger
Williams work The Bloody Tent of Persecution is presented many ideas that are still
present in present American life and culture and by analyzing these writings it is obvious
to see the roots of modern American way of thinking.
The concept of government and the meaning of freedom have been debated since
the beginning of colonial America. John Winthrop addresses in his journal the issue of
what moral liberty means, in his speech to the General Court he states: The great
questions that have troubled the country are about the authority of the magistrates and the
liberty of the people1 a modern reader could very easily resonate and adapt this
statement to todays American society. This proves that Puritans built the starting point
for constantly questioning the political and moral beliefs of their society.
Winthrop is concerned about what true freedom means and he provides the base
ideas for the continuous cultural American question about the true definition of liberty.
For example, he explains that there are two types of liberty: natural and civil. In terms of
nature, Winthrop writes an important quote in his journal: man, as he stands in relation
to man hath the liberty to what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as to good.2 this statement
represents the foundation of what later freedom would mean and to what extent personal
liberty should or could be extended and allowed, especially if the possibility to do harm
exists. He builds the beginning of modern issues and debates about freedom boundaries
and also puts forward the idea that liberty is a God given concept.
1

Winthrop, John, The Journal of John Winthrop, 1648


Idem.

John Winthrop claim that This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of
subjection to authority; it is the same kind of liberty where Christ made us free.3 Even
from the beginning, he is aware of the fact that liberty, even though is a God given gift,
has the potential to be abused. He has an advanced train of thought and he was ahead of
his time by considering the meaning of liberty and the possibility that ones freedom could
harm others or the society. These ideas represent the root of American questions about the
personal sense of free will and liberty both in term of the state and the self.
Moreover, Roger Williams has a more specific contribution to American culture,
even though he jumped some Puritan ideals and was banished from his social group of
peers, in his work, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution he debated the very modern idea
of separation between state and church. His comments in this piece of work provided
arguments of the later debated topic for the American cultural topic of separating
religious and civil matters. His ideas are also way ahead of his time and his revolutionary
way of thinking is unique for its later effect upon the creators of the United States
Constitution. William states: an enforced uniformity if religion throughout a nation or
civil state confounds the civil and religious, denies the principle of Christianity and
civility, and [denies] that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.4 The main topic that he
debates is not the modern reason for separation, but the fact that one is too sacred
(religion) and it should be kept apart from the other. This concept is an important idea for
later American culture and ideology, even if the reason of doing so was eventually to
keep the power balanced and without interference. Despite the fact that he had a different
reason, it is still important that he laid the groundwork for such an issue although his
ideas caused his expel from Puritan community. Except this idea, he states in The
Bloody Tenet of Persecution another progressive thought: God required not a
uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state5 such a statement is
very similar to the modern American belief that any religion could be practiced free
without the interference of the state. Using Gods intentions, Williams claims that there
should not be any religion funded by the state this idea is one of the most important and
resonant ones that would later influence American culture and politics.
3

Idem.
Williams, Roger, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution, 1643
5
Idem.
4

After all, Puritanism remains the basic layer of American society and still has
remains of ideas that survived (transformed and adapted) through time. This movement
had a profound influence on the social, political and theological ideas of modern culture
of America.

Bibliography:
1. Winthrop, John, The Journal of John Winthrop, 1648

2. Williams, Roger, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution, 1643


3. Puritanism in American Literature
(http://faculty.cbhs.org/skelly/puritans.htm)
4. Puritan Typology
(http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/typology.htm)
5. http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/puritani.htm