How did religious beliefs and dissent (change of beliefs from the norm) influence the New England Colonies and their government?
The issues that both the Puritans and Separatists (Pilgrims) had with the Church of England led them to want to leave England and be able to practice their respective religions with out fear of persecution. Because they believed their religious ideas were the model for a good and prosperous life for their colony, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony established a government based on their religious beliefs. The Separatists, who had not been treated fairly in England, decided to create a government based on “fair and equal” laws.
What was the purpose of forming the Massachusetts Bay Colony?
Unlike the Separatists (Pilgrims) who established the Plymouth Colony almost by accident, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony were purposeful in their intent to create a new colony in the area we now call Massachusetts. They were looking to create a “utopian” type society where the government and religion were connected, modeled after the idea of a “utopia” first put forth in Sir Thomas Moore’s Book by the same name. To initially fund the cost of establishing a colony they created a company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, with investors who were looking to profit from the resources available there. So, there were two reasons to create the Massachusetts Bay colony; profit, and more importantly, the creation of a utopian society based on Puritan religious beliefs. John Winthrop intended for it to be a model Christian society for all to follow. (City Upon a Hill)
How did religion influence government in the Massachusetts Bay Colony?
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was governed by the General Court. The representatives on the General Court were elected by church members and were generally the leading men in the church. For this reason, the church had enormous power in the governance of the colony. Anyone who dissented (disagreed with the way the church ran things), such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were banished from the Colony.
Why was it important to set up a government in the Massachusetts Bay Colony?
Every society needs a government of some sort. Anarchy (the lack of a government) requires every individual to provide for their own safety and security. It quickly becomes a world in which the powerful rule the weak, and have the ability to take whatever they want from weak. In Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop saw the purpose of the government as a way to enforce the following of the Puritan religion and the incorporation of its beliefs into the colony’s social fabric. In this way, his “City Upon a Hill” (example) theme could become a reality.
How did this government demonstrate power and control?
As all governments use laws to control the populace, Massachusetts’ established the General Court, a “representative” legislative body that made laws for the citizens to follow. These laws promoted Puritan beliefs, and their inclusion in the everyday actions of the citizens of the colony. While the General Court was “representative”, meaning they were elected to represent the people of the colony, they really only represented the church members who could elect them. Those who did not follow these laws were often put on trial and punished. They could be banished from the colony if the church felt their offense was great enough.