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A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New Englandby David D. Hall
Synopses & Reviews
A revelatory account of the aspirations and accomplishments of the people who founded the New England colonies, comparing the reforms they enacted with those attempted in England during the period of the English Revolution.
Distinguished historian David D. Hall looks afresh at how the colonists set up churches, civil governments, and methods for distributing land. Bringing with them a deep fear of arbitrary, unlimited authority grounded in either church or state, these settlers based their churches on the participation of laypeople and insisted on “consent” as a premise of all civil governance. Encouraging broad participation and relying on the vigorous use of petitioning, they also transformed civil and criminal law and the workings of courts. The outcome was a civil society far less authoritarian and hierarchical than was customary in their age—indeed, a society so advanced that a few dared to describe it as “democratical.” They were well ahead of their time in doing so.
As Puritans, the colonists also hoped to exemplify a social ethics of equity, peace, and the common good. In a case study of a single town, Hall follows a minister as he encourages the townspeople to live up to these high standards in their politics. This is a book that challenges us to discard long-standing stereotypes of the Puritans as temperamentally authoritarian and their leadership as despotic. Hall demonstrates exactly the opposite. Here, we watch the colonists as they insist on aligning institutions and social practice with equity and liberty.
A stunning re-evaluation of the earliest moments of New Englands history, revealing the colonists to be the most effective and daring reformers of their day.
"In the popular imagination, the New England Puritans are often portrayed as dour and authoritarian individuals out to quash social liberties and enforce conformity to particular religious principles. Hall's captivating study of American Puritanism between 1630 and 1650 challenges this view and offers instead a portrait of a group of people deeply engaged in fostering vital alliances between civil government and ecclesial government. Drawing deeply on colonial records, the Harvard historian demonstrates that the Puritan colonists asked questions about who should have the vote and what kind of rulers they wanted, how the inheritance of property should be arranged, what role the civil state should play in religion, and how land should be distributed. He shows that the colonists, in contrast to their contemporaries in England, were ambitious to restore the religious practice of the earliest Christian communities, the Congregational Way. Hall's first-rate book offers a glimpse of a small slice of American religious history, challenging prevailing ideas about the nature of reform in Puritan New England. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
A revelatory account of New England’s Puritans that shows them to have been the most daring and successful reformers of the Anglo-colonial world.
Distinguished historian David D. Hall delineates the program of reform that the colonists undertook and chronicles the previously unheralded success with which they put it into practice. He explains that while they took for granted the benefits of English law, hierarchy, and obedience, they broke with England’s customary forms of political and ecclesiastical authority. He describes how they accomplished a daring revision of church government that eliminated centralized and hierarchical authority; a thorough revamping of law and judicial practices that eliminated most of the cruelty and abuses rampant in England; and forms of civil government that some dared to call “democratical” and that many regarded as protecting them from arbitrary rule. Finally, he makes clear that the reforms achieved by the Puritans were the most complete expression of the English Revolution: animus against special privilege, and the fullest realization of “fundamental liberties” and the “principle of consent.”
A stunning reevaluation of the earliest moments of New England’s history.
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