American History Questions
John Wintrop, considered by many as the earliest prominent Puritan minister, was key in their decision to move to America. He was one of the estimated 20,000 to set sail from England to the New World, to establish a city of God, governed by biblical principles he felt were not adhered to in England. His words, “we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, (and that) the eyes of all people are upon us” (Vaughan, 1972) are considered as the primary motivation for the search for a new, more righteous land where, like the Jews in Exodus, would create a ‘New Jerusalem’; a pure Christian community. As strict Calvinists, they believed in an omnipotent, sovereign God, who had selected a few “Chosen Ones”. Never knowing if they were among the chosen, puritans lived in a constant state of spiritual anxiety, which caused rifts within the community. Led by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, they challenged the religious authority of the community and contributed to the development of a “spiritual malaise” (Vaughan, 1972).
In 1679, a conference held to deliberate the ”spiritual malaise” picked the causes as a rise in swearing; tendencies to sleep at sermons; the increase of sex and alcohol, especially in inns, where women were known to reveal their arms and, more alarmingly, their breasts; and the increase in incidences of lying and lawsuits. While the Hutchinson case is the most prominent of the difficulties faced in the first decades of the colonies, Roger Williams was also irked by the preparation doctrine, and he disputed ideas such as Puritans being the new “Chosen” people and Boston as the new Zion. He also challenged the role of the clergy in the judiciary and politics, as he believed in the separation of church and state, and he deeply opposed dispossessing the indigenous people of their lands.
Historians say that the decision by a London Court of Chancery to revoke the Massachusetts Bay Charter in the year 1684 which placed colonial lands under the control of the Charles II had a major impact on the Puritans. Throughout the history of the colony, there had been accusations of witchcraft, but these cases were handled unobtrusively. In a new trend, the magistrates excluded the clergy, who had always handed witchcraft charges, from participating in the investigation. Within three years, several public officials made apologies publicly. By the year 1695, there was little that was left of the Puritan society that was previously the City on the Hill (Elliot, 1988).
Religion: There was a bias against those that followed faiths other than Puritanism were not eligible to vote. The colony recognized all “freemen” as grow male citizens with privileges to hold office and vote. The original group of freemen became the first mature male settlers from Mayflower. Later, one could graduate to a freeman by getting sponsorship of an existing freeman. Later restrictions stipulated a one-year waiting period between nomination and acceptance into freemen status, and also placed restrictions on some religions, preventing Quakers from becoming freemen (Elliot, 1988).
Race: The official underlying principle for making Africans slaves was that they were heathens, but those who traded with slaves and slaves’ owners often quoted from a passage in the book of Genesis. Ham, it is believed, committed a sin against his father Noah that condemned his dark-skinned descendants to be “servants unto servants” (Fredrickson, 2002). When in 1667 Virginia declared that transformed slaves could be bound since they were of heathen descent, the explanation for black servitude was changed from religious status to something approaching race. Starting in the late seventeenth century, decrees were issued banning marriage among the blacks and whites and discerning against the mixed children of unceremonious liaisons (Fredrickson, 2002).
Racism exists when one ethnicity dominates, excludes, or attempts to eliminate another based on hereditary, unchangeable differences. No justified evidence has been established in other cultures or in Europe prior to the Middle Ages. Official justification for such attitudes came in sixteenth century Spain when Jews who converted to Christianity and their descendents became victims of systematic bias and exclusion.
The Reformation period saw the beginning of a period of increasing contact with people of darker skin in Africa, Asia, and people from the Americas and was formulating opinions about them. Even though they did not explicitly say so, laws implied that blacks were undisputedly foreign and inferior to other races, absolving said races from any guilt in the practice of slavery (Fredrickson, 2002).