Home  »  Volume XV: English COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY LITERATURE EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 4. Early New England Congregationalism a Compromise between Aristocracy and Democracy

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

III. The Puritan Divines, 1620–1720

§ 4. Early New England Congregationalism a Compromise between Aristocracy and Democracy

It was during the decade of the thirties, at the moment when Presbyterianism was in the ascendancy, that the Puritan migration to New England took place; and the leaders of that notable movement were effectively Presbyterian in sympathies and policies. Possessed of ample means and of good social position, they were liberals rather than radicals, and they shared the common Presbyterian hope of capturing the ecclesiastical establishment as a whole instead of separating from it. But they had been preceded to America by the Plymouth congregation, a body of low-born Separatists, who had set up a church upon frankly democratic principles. In an unfortunate moment for Presbyterianism, the pioneer church at Salem came under the influence of the Plymouth example, and the following year, when the main body of Puritans came over with Winthrop, they fell in with the Salem example and set up the new churches on the Congregational principle, as seeming to provide the most suitable form for the development of a theocracy. The inconsistency of an arrangement by which an aristocratic leadership accepted a democratic church organization was obscured for the moment by the unanimity of ministers and congregation; but it was clearly perceived by the Presbyterians of the old country, and it was to prove the source of much contention in later years.