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

§ 8. Their Industry and Influence

If the influence of the ministers was commanding, it was due in part to their indisputable vigour, and in part, it must be acknowledged, to their control of the means of publicity. The complete domination of the press they regarded as their perquisite; and they swayed public opinion sometimes by means not wholly to their credit. Those who opposed their policies experienced difficulties in gaining a hearing. Thus Robert Calef, who attacked the Mathers because of the witchcraft business, found it desirable to send his manuscript to London for publication, and John Wise probably sent his manuscript of The Churches Quarrel Espoused to New York. Complaints were heard that the press was closed. In the preface to The Gospel Order Revived, by T. Woodbridge and other malcontents, published in New York in 1700,

  • The Reader is desired to take Notice that the Press in Boston is so much under the aw of the Reverend Author, whom we answer, and his Friends, that we could not obtain of the Printer there to print the following Sheets, which is the true Reason why we have sent the Copy so far for its Impression and where it was printed with some Difficulty.
  • When James Franklin spoke out roundly against the tyranny of the ministers, they induced the magistrates to teach him respect by throwing him into the common gaol. It was a serious matter to offend the hierarchy, even in the days of its decline, and far more serious to attack. But the days of its domination were numbered, and after 1720 the secular authority of the Puritan divines swiftly decayed. The old dream of a Kingdom of God was giving way, under pressure of economic circumstance, to the new dream of a commonwealth of free citizens. The theological age was to be followed by a political age, and in this later world of thought the Puritan divines were unfitted to remain leaders of the people.