Dave Tagatac U.S. History Period 1

Dave TagatacU.S. History Period 1Aug. 1, 1999Summer Reading/Essay
The Puritan Dilemma
The Story of John Winthrop
By Edmund S. Morgan
In words that cannot fully portray the meaning of that which they
speak, the Puritan Dilemma was “the question of what responsibility a
righteous man owes to society”. John Winthrop, being gifted in the ways of
leadership and government, not to mention Puritan, found himself right in
the middle of the dilemma and all of its effects.Relatively early in
life, Winthrop made a personal realization, solving this dilemma for
himself, that it was better to live among temptation, and resist it, than
to avoid it. Moreover, God wanted him to live amongst his fellow men;
thus, temptation was unavoidable. Although Winthrop made this discovery
over a simple matter of whether or not he should go hunting or eat more
dinner, it would later be of use to him on a much greater scale.After
realizing this, he was quite able to follow its implications, but the
trouble came later in his attempts to impose the idea on others, both in
England, and in Massachusetts.

In the case that one’s society acts in what he considers to be a
wrong way, he has a dilemma on his hands. The two sides of the dilemma are
these: 1.)He can withdraw from that society in order that he may remain
pure, or 2.)he may stay with the society, in an attempt to bring it back to
purity. The latter of the two was Winthrop’s choice, but, as he would see,
not the choice of many others. Winthrop first encountered separatism in
England, at the time that Charles I dissolved Parliament, the Puritans’
brightest hope in suppressing the growth of Catholicism and Arminianism.

It appeared the solution to many, and appealed to most to simply shove off
for New England to start anew, forgetting that England ever existed.

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However, Winthrop and most other Puritans knew better. They realized that
abandonment was unreasonable, as well as irresponsible.To leave England
as England had left Rome a century before would not likely bring more
desirable results. In the end, he was convinced to go only because the
colony, set on going, was in dire need of his leadership, and under the
condition that their purpose was not to separate, but rather to temporarily
strengthen their cause that they might someday return to save England.

In New England, however, separatism proved to be much stronger and
more threatening. The suppression of two major cases can be attributed to
Winthrop. Without him, either the case of Roger Williams, or the case of
Anne Hutchinson (both separatists) may have brought an end to Winthrop’s
ideals, and possibly even the colony.In both cases, Winthrop relied
heavily on his ability to persuade people with reason.If this did not
work, then he would use his power as a government official, but not until
then. His combination of reason and patience made him very effective in
these two situations.

In both of the above cases, governmental power became a necessity,
however, even this Winthrop used with reason and patience. In the case of
Roger Williams, Winthrop manipulated the timing andpowerofthe
governmental system such that Williams’s only option was to leave the
colony for Narragansett Bay in the middle of the winter.In the case of
Anne Hutchinson, who was much smarter than Williams, or even Winthrop, it
seemed she may have her way.Through Winthrop’s patented reason-and-
patience, Hutchinson, so caught up in the moment of her public trial, was
made to contradict herself, instantly losing all followers.She, too,
could only opt to leave. In several other cases, it did not go so far as
to invoke the use of governmental power, but in each case, Winthrop was
involved and successful.

Getting back to Winthrop’s childhood, it seems that, from the day he
was born, preparation began for the challenging and rigorous future that
lay ahead of him. Born on a manor, he quickly became acquainted with the
farming lifestyle and skills he would need in the wilderness of New
England. His active role in the county government, as well as his
experience in the Court of Wards made him more than apt to participate in
the Massachusetts government, usually as president.

Only Winthrop’s religious background hindered his judgement as an
adult. Upon arrival in New England, as churches began to form, most people
participated inCongregationalistcongregations,Winthropincluded.

Obvious to Morgan, and also to thosewhoreadthisbook,the
Congregationalist belief that “saints”, and only “saints” could be saved
and tell another “saint” from one who is condemned was one that could only
lead to separatism.Had Winthrop not been clouded by his childhood
adoption into the sect, he probably would have taken precautions against
its obvious dangers.

John Winthrop was an amazing man who will probably never be fully
credited for all of the things he has done for colonial society.Although
it is now almost 350 years later, the dilemma that Winthrop faced has not
left us. I hope that in studying Winthrop’s actions as well as those of
his adversaries, we, as a people will be able to understand that there is
always a better solution, not only to the Puritan Dilemma, but to all of
society’s problems. If we do not model Winthrop’s actions, we should at
least learn from them.

Dave Tagatac 8/1/99