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Point of View: Que Sais-Je?

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 11:47

I’m beginning to get it — “it” being how Puritanism, with its disdain for freedom of speech, religious tolerance, equality, et cetera, led to the Declaration of Independence — but my essential question as to how we got from Cotton Mather to Thomas Paine remains.

A book on colonial history in Connecticut by Richard Bushman has helped. It’s a story of the gradual lessening of clerical and secular control as younger generations moved, inevitably, farther and farther out of town, from the first church and meeting house. It’s a story too of the sea change in thinking that the extension of land ownership and Yankee trade helped shape, the individual gaining in importance — presumably, if he were rich, with God’s imprimatur — as Calvinism’s grip was loosened a bit.

Then there was the New Awakening in the mid-18th century, and the New Lights, who favored a personal relation with God over one mediated by clerics, and the Old Lights, lovers of order who backed anti-itinerancy laws that, for a while, until the New Lights overturned them, barred revivalist preachers who were from away.

And so individuality began to chafe against authority, which, come to think of it, is why the Puritans came over here in the first place. A bit strange, but, again, as I said, I’ll read on.

Inquiring further, a moment ago, I typed into Google that I was interested in learning more about “the philosophical underpinnings of American revolutionary thought,” and, what do you think? My Feb. 20 column on the Puritans was the second to turn up!

Temper your high self-regard, said Paul Friese. Algorithms (what ever they are) pick things up quickly. A word here, a word there can trigger them. Often one sees Dan’s Papers cited as the ultimate authority when it comes to the Hamptons on the internet, he said.

That brought me back to earth. And, later in the day, when I offered to show Mary, I was nowhere to be found, gone with the wind.      

In a way it’s serendipitous that I somehow missed studying much American history in school. That I can do so now, even at this late date, is nice to know — there’s still so much to learn — but I must hurry for we may be nearing the end of it.


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