Puritans' unitary system, and Anne Hutchinson (1591-1642), who argued that stress on a visible profession of faith promoted hypocrisy and undercut trust in divine grace. Because England paid little attention to New England, the Puritan leaders were free to handle dissent their own way: Williams and Hutchinson were banished, a few Baptists were fined or whipped, and near the tumultuous end of Puritan rule in England the Massachusetts authorities hung four recalcitrant Quakers (1659-61).
It was never the case that all ordinary New Englanders subscribed fully to the system. But on balance, the experiment as guided by the leading magistrates and ministers worked well. New England was often at peace, the pious revelled in a steady diet of carefully prepared biblical sermons, and (despite moments of strife) the political order functioned efficiently and with more public support than any other seventeenth-century European regime. Moreover, the necessary intellectual infrastructure was put in place early on: Harvard College, founded in 1636 to provide future ministers and magistrates an education in Christian liberal arts, and a printing press (located, like the college, in Cambridge), to provide the sermons, treatises, and miscellaneous learned literature that was lifeblood for the enterprise.
The one unavoidable difficulty was the passage of time. Increasingly, sons and daughters of first-generation settlers failed to experience conversion. Consequently, fewer and fewer of the second generation presented themselves for church membership. Steadily the fear grew that the Puritans' interlocking covenants would unravel. No new converts, no covenanted church; no covenanted church, no godly society. In the face of crisis, Massachusetts' leaders proposed an ingenious expedient. Meeting as a Synod in 1662, the ministers established what later historians have called the Half-Way Covenant. Under this plan, baptized individuals of good behaviour could present their children for baptism, but neither they nor their children could take the Lord's Supper unless they made a personal profession of faith. The framers of the Half-Way Covenant hoped to preserve both the integrity of local congregations as the gathering of the elect and the participation of as many people as possible in the Puritan system. They succeeded, at least in part, but time was taking its toll. A theology forged in the crucible of English religious strife had to be modified in order to survive in the greatly altered conditions of America.
These altered conditions included a series of shocks towards the end of the century: warfare with Native Americans in 1675-76 that left twelve towns levelled and 2,000 settlers slain (but that also destroyed the Indians as a factor in the region); hysteria over witchcraft in the early 1690s culminating in twenty executions at Salem Village; the imposition upon Massachusetts in 1695 of a
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