In order to understand the motivation of John Davenport and his fellow puritans it is important to grasp the pervasive and encompassing concept of the the Covenant of Grace. In order to explore this relationship in depth it is important to turn to the work of Perry Miller and his book
The New England Mind.
In it Miller defines the theology and philosophy of the Protestant religion. It is separated into four books whose topics are Religion and Learning, Cosmology, Anthropology, and Sociology. I suspect many current teachers, who are not themselves protestant nor have not studied protestant theology in depth, are like myself unaware of the depth of the theological writings and influence on the seventeenth century society of protestants who settled in New England. Other sources I used for this discussion were two books by Edmund Morgan,
The Puritan Family
The Puritan Family
Morgan describes the relationships of the citizens; to each other, the family relationships of husband to wife and parents to children. In
The Puritan Dilemma
he describes the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In one we learn of the covenant and in the other we learn of the charters necessary to begin a settlement and establish a form of government. I would recommend both books to teachers who wish to fully comprehend the motivation and influence of the colonial settlement.
In this section I will discuss the covenant and the role of the charter on the establishment of the the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
For the purpose of this unit I will discuss the concept of the Covenant of Grace. The Protestant leaders held that all truth was in the Bible. Up until the protestant movement the bible was in Latin and held sacred only to be read and interpreted by the Roman Catholic clergy. They concluded that the covenant Abraham made with God in the Old Testament was the very same covenant they were to make with God. Each individual made their own covenant with God through Baptism. A father could make a covenant with God for his whole family. Only those chosen by God through this covenant could be saved. Good works did not guarantee an afterlife with God but good works were a sign in those who had attained grace through the covenant.
All prescriptions to lead a sanctified life could be found in the Bible and in the Ten Commandments. "They studied minutely every phrase of the Scriptures and extracted from it the last ounce of meaning, so that each one of the Ten Commandments meant volumes of prohibitions and injunctions to them." (Morgan,
The Puritan Family
, p.11) According to Morgan the commandment which truly defined the organization and behavior of the puritan was the fifth commandment which required all to honor their father and mother. "This command summarized all of God's laws concerning the organization of society, not only his laws about family organization, but his laws about political and ecclesiastical organization as well" (Morgan,
The Puritan Family,
p.12). Ministers spent many hours writing and delivering sermons to their congregants explaining and interpreting the Bible according their logic.
Their interpretations encompassed every relationship. According to their logic "the God of order who made the creatures subordinate to man had arranged human society into a network of dual relationships in which one part was usually subordinate to the other: ruler and subject, husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant(Morgan,
p.25). All relationships which were not natural as in husband and wife of parent and child were entered into voluntarily and came through a covenant. According to Samuel Willard's,
Covenant Keeping the Way to Blessedness
written in 1682 a covenant ..."is a mutual Engagement between two parties"(Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 26). According to the American Heritage College Dictionary a covenant is "A binding agreement; a compact."
This contract or covenant which originated in the Bible had enormous impact on the social relationships in a civil society. Covenant is a contract, a promise a person enters into and cannot be broken. ... "Where two parties do stand mutually obliged one to another in a voluntary Agreement, there is a Covenant."(Miller, p.375) How this covenant with God encompassed the covenant of the magistrates over their people gave a religious stamp of approval of those who determined or interpreted what was logical or correct. The ministers of the protestant sect spent many hours writing and interpreting this leap from God to Civil society.John Davenport in his election sermon as reported in Miller's book,
The New England Mind ,
stated, "The orderly ruling of men over men, in general, is from God, in its root, though voluntary in the manner of coalescing" (Miller, p. 421).
For the purpose of this unit I have given this background information of the covenant which is by no means complete, but will inform the teacher and the students hopefully the seriousness which the Protestant leaders took this concept of Covenant. The Covenant which leaders entered into had as their foundation the Word of God!
The Charter is a legal document which gives the right to occupy land in the new world. To understand the influence of the Charter on the settlement in New England we will examine the experience of John Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay colony. This was the next large settlement following the arrival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth.The Massachusetts Bay Company was a trading corporation which held by the authority of the King of England the right to settle in Massachusetts. John Winthrop while still in England was enlisted by Isaac Johnson, a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who himself was planning to emigrate, to be part of the design of the new government (Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma, p. 45). The meetings of the trading companies were usually held in England therefore control was assured. According to Morgan's research no place was determined for the meetings so in reality the meetings were held in the new colony. What in effect this accomplished was that the new colony became self governing. This was an important consideration for John Winthrop and helped in his decision to make the move.
The goal of the Massachusetts Bay colony was to create a more perfect society with governing rules in accordance to God's demands. It was quite clear that England could not be made more pure because of the political turmoil and corrupt influences of those wanting power. John Winthrop and his colleagues saw this as an opportunity to create from scratch a world of Protestantism. John Winthrop and his fellow protestants felt that this holy experiment would result in a beacon, a "City on the Hill," which England then would be able to emulate. These protestants were not the separatists who settled in Plymouth but members of the Protestant English Church who felt they were doing what was best for the English Church.
Much has been said of the separation of the Church and state as a foundation of the early American settlement. Like most early concepts this has taken on new meaning over the years. It was true that the civic leaders elected the Church leaders and they were not the same. It was also true the early colonists were very suspicious of tyranny and control. However, the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony took very seriously their commitment of establishing a kingdom of God on earth (Morgan,
The Puritan Dilemma
, p. 69). In order to do this all were required to work together, not allow selfish motivations and personal gain interfere with God's plan. John Winthrop felt that this covenant with God was similar to the covenant that God made with Israel. In this context difference was not allowed. All members of the colony were required to read and attend church services. Only Saints were allowed to hold positions of power. Saints were those who were chosen by God and therefore the official members of the Church.
Now that the Charter and headquarters of the company rested in New England with John Winthrop and eight other colonists they had the authority to establish the governance of the settlement. The charter granted authority: "to make, ordain, and establish all manner of wholesome and reasonable orders, lawes, statutes, and ordinaces, directions, and instructions, not contrarie to the lawes of this our realm of England, as well for setling of the forms and ceremonies of government and magistracy fitt and necessary for the said plantation, and the inhabitants there, and for nameing and stiling of all sortes of officers, both superior and inferior, which they shall finde needeful for that government and plantation, and the distinguishing and setting forth of the severall duties, powers, and lymytts of every such office and place" (Morgan,
The Puritan Dilemma,
What in effect John Winthrop and his fellow members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established was an unlimited authority to establish the government they wanted. This they did as though it were a covenant with God; establishing rules, assuring all rules were followed, and that all rules were established for a more perfect society, so as to give honor to God.
It is important for teachers of American History to understand the concept and influence of the Charter. According to Isabel Calder John Winthrop and leaders maintained the nomenclature of the charter grant which called for governor, deputy governor, assistants, freemen, general courts, and courts of assistants. The governor was now the chief of a colony and the freemen were not the stockholders, as designed by the charter, to make money while absent from the plantation but voters and officeholders and as such needed to be members in good standing of a Church. It is stated in the Massachusetts Colony Records the general court of May 18, 1631 had "ordered and agreed that for time to come noe man shalbe admitted to the freedome of this body polliticke, but such as are members of some fo the cyurches withinj the lymitts of the same" ( Calder, p.39)It was unique to New England in 1930 that John Winthrop, and not absentee landholders, held the charter.
A key concept was that members of thebody politic must be members of a church within their limits. John Winthrop welcomed all who left England to be part of this experiment. As the numbers of immigrants rose to the thousands it was important to establish churches and to deal with those who carried "separatist" ideas There was a great deal of discussion on how many made up a church and how the churches were to be organized. There were two prevalent groups who had ideas about the structure of the Church heirarchy; the presbyterians and the congregationalists. The presbyterians wanted a structure of heirarchy where "groups of churches would be formed into presbyteries, presbyteries into synods, and these collective bodies would exercise supervisory control over their members"(Morgan,
The Puritan Dilemma,
p.77). However, the other group of Puritans who became known as the Congregationalists wanted each Church to have its own authority and autonomy. The presbyterians were willing to admit all those who lived a good life whereas the congregationalists "insisted that membership be confined to persons who could prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they had been singled out by God for salvation"(Morgan,ibid. p.77). All must attend Church, however, only saints had power. It does not take too much imagination to see how much trouble could be caused by individual members of churches determining who was saved. It is a tribute to John Winthrop who governed this quickly growing community, dedicated to bringing honor to God, that there was cohesion at all. This forced conformity and elite leaders had an enormous impact on the spirit of the New England Colony and the subsequent political development of our Country.