YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 6, 2013

The “credibility” conundrum

credibilityWe are in the midst (or at the beginning of) the “Syria crisis”.  My observant Jewish friends and family are also engrossed in self-reflection, perhaps even atonement and reparations for those they have wronged over the past year. Not being an observant Jew myself, I am engrossed in how language is deployed during this massive attempt by a Democratic administration to achieve consensus over a policy that is controversial in both political parties.

The word of the day is “credibility”. Behold how it is used twice in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal , 9-6-13, p. A15, co-authored by Joseph Lieberman and Jon Kyl, and entitled “Inaction on Syria Threatens U.S. Security.” : …This is no longer just about the conflict in Syria or even the Middle East. It is about American credibility. Are we a country that our friends can trust and our enemies fear? Or are we perceived as a divided and dysfunctional superpower in retreat, whose words and warnings are no longer meaningful?…[We must put our country first]…That judgment should provide the foundation we need for a bipartisan strategy that protects America’s credibility and, in turn advances our security and prosperity.”  (my emph.)

I asked my Facebook friends to state what they thought “credibility” signified. One answered with the definition of the word that Lieberman and Kyl probably agree with: there must not be a conflict between rhetoric and action. I prefer to dig a little deeper and ask, is the word “credibility” not connected to the notion of “credit worthiness”? Max Weber, protesting the lack of spirituality in the iron cages of materialism constructed by the capitalist spirit, alleged that Protestantism had made creditworthiness the test of what we now call “credibility.” The poet William Blake (a great favorite in the New Left)  preceded him in denouncing  [the money changers in the temple] in favor of “community” uncontaminated by filthy lucre.


How did we become a superpower to begin with? Was it by overwhelming moral superiority, as that proto-progressive John Winthrop urged in the seventeenth century? Or was it the collapse of our rivals in the twentieth century, owing to disastrous and expensive European wars? Did we emerge as the only “superpower” rather by default because of our capitalist work ethic combined with the existence of a continent with virgin soil, untapped mineral resources and plenty of eager immigrants and ex-slaves to do the heavy lifting? And are our “divisions” easily overcome through a manly effort at will power?

The notion, advanced by Lieberman and Kyl, that divisive, partisan nay-sayers are the obstacles to unity, prosperity and security leaves me, well, incredulous.  No dissenter I have read is hell bent on weakening America. They all have realistic reservations about such matters as an exploding debt and the unforeseeable consequences of this belated intervention in what seems to me to be the least predictable, and most volatile region on earth. The sudden focus on the Syrian crisis may well be a Democratic machine initiative to change the subject and ultimately to destroy the Republican Party that would curb the welfare state. Mass media will cooperate without reflection: their format alone will break our concentration. See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

US spending


August 5, 2013

Evil (crypto-Jewish) “Puritans”

PuritansHarvard sociologist Talcott Parsons once described American analogs to evil Nazis: they were the “romantic Puritans” of New England. In the Wall Street Journal of August 5, Kirk Davis Swineheart reviews For Adam’s Sake: A Colonial Saga in Colonial New England by Allegra di Bonaventura. The reviewer praises “the great Puritan divine John Winthrop” in the first sentence, then goes on to make the startling observation that New Englanders held slaves. At least he did not echo black supremacist claims that Jews dominated the slave trade, but his rendering of the sins of colonial New England find resonance in American Studies, in progressive studies of colonial history and of history in general, and in the fiction of Thomas Dixon, author of the screenplay for the notorious The Birth of a Nation—a movie that set off the second wave of KKK activity in the nineteen teens and twenties.

When I entered graduate school in the early 1980s to get my degree in US history, I quickly discovered that New England was one of the most studied in the social history (bottoms-up) sub-field. The Salem witchcraft trials were one sensational attraction, but so was the Antinomian Controversy of 1636-1638, considered to be a prelude for the worst excesses of the English Civil War. John Winthrop (whose organicist ideology harkened back to medieval economic practices) was pitted against the troublemaking avatar of market society Anne Hutchinson. I wrote about this controversy at length here: https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/. [This series is highly recommended. Nothing like it anywhere.]

The favored explanation for the Salem witch hunts turned out to be “inequality” between settlers in Salem, and one book that explained the witch hunt was especially favored (by Boyer and Nissenbaum, both part of the academic left). Imagine my surprise when in my dissertation research I discovered that one famous American, a member of the Adams family, viewed the Puritans as Hebraic, and indeed as a “persecuting race.” What follows is an excerpt from Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. It brings together the notions of Puritans as proto-Nazis, the puritan as romantic, and the antisemitic slant adopted by Talcott Parsons and his predecessors or intellectual descendants in American history/cultural studies. Even Lord Byron enters the picture of villainy, racism, and tainted Jewish blood (as victim, not perp).

[Book excerpt:] In an effort to achieve upper-class unity after the Civil War against an expanding industrial working class, the essentialist anti-puritan/anti-Jewish/misogynistic reading of “the American character” was adopted by ideological brethren on American soil.  The “left” Romantics, like New England Puritans, were consistently “typed” or “raced” as Hebraic or Jewish by organic conservatives. But the fanatics were also “gendered” as the moral mother, her prototype Anne Hutchinson.  Take the case of the nineteenth-century American historian Charles Francis Adams who analyzed the Antinomian controversy (1636-38) that he claimed had rent and permanently damaged the infant colony of Massachusetts Bay even as the provoking Anne Hutchinson and her corrupting middle-class will to power were banished:[1]

[Charles Frances Adams:] “It was a struggle for civil power and ecclesiastical supremacy in a small village community.  As such it naturally–it almost necessarily–resulted in a display of the worst qualities of those engaged in it.  It illustrated also with singular force the malign influence apt to be exercised by the priest and the woman as active elements in political life.  Stirred by an access of ill-considered popular enthusiasm, the body of the freemen had, at the election of 1636, put a slight upon the time-honored magistrates of the colony, by placing the boyish Vane over their heads, in the office of governor.  An ambitious woman, with her head full of Deborahs and the like, and with a genius for making trouble, had then sought to drive from his pulpit, in the chief town, its long-settled pastor, in order to install her own favorite preacher in his place, with her kinsman as that preacher’s associate and successor.  In her day-dreams she herself probably occupied, in the new order of things she proposed to bring about, the position of a prophetess,–the real guiding spirit of the whole, –with her husband possibly in the judge’s seat.  Altogether it was an exhilarating vision,–such a vision as self-conscious and usually unappreciated natures have in every time and most places been wont to revel in….(569)…At the hands…of an historian whose intelligence is not mastered by his sympathies, she and her friends, including Governor Vane, are entitled to no consideration.  They went on a fool’s errand, and they brought great principles into lasting odium.

On the other hand, the way in which the adherents of [Henry] Vane and Mrs. Hutchinson were suppressed cannot be defended, without including in the defence the whole system of religious and political intolerance of that time.  But why should it be defended?  It is impossible to ignore the fact, and worse than useless to deny it, that the New England Puritans were essentially a persecuting race.  They could not be otherwise. They believed that they were God’s chosen people.  As such, they were right; all others were wrong.  If, therefore, they failed to bring up their children in the strait and narrow way, and to protect them and all the people from the wiles of the Evil One, God would not hold them guiltless.  The Israelites were their models in all things, and the precedents which guided their action were precedents drawn from the books of the Old Testament.  “So, by the example of Lot in Abraham’s family, and after Hagar and Ishmael, he saw they must be sent away.”  The Israelites were not an attractive or an amiable or a philosophical race; they were narrow, devout and clannish.  No one ever presumed to sophisticate away their cruelties or their persecutions.  Yet withal they were a strong and aggressive people, believing certain things implicitly; and accordingly they impressed themselves and their beliefs on the human mind.  Their very imperfections were essential elements of their strength.  They believed to fanaticism; and it was the strength of their fanaticism which caused their belief to dominate.  It was the same with the Puritans of New England. They persecuted as a part of their faith.”

Bad Anne Hutchinson

Bad Anne Hutchinson

[Book, cont.]    The impartial historian Adams’ misreading of ancient history is remarkably sturdy.  In his Hume-style portrait of the usurping Anne Hutchinson (a.k.a. Hawthorne’s “the Woman”) we have the ahistoric archetype of the totalitarian agitator, the clingy maternal superego that holds humanity, rulers and ruled alike, to universal and timeless ethical standards, that dispatches Ahab and Pierre on utopian crusades that are sure to fail. [2]  It is fascinating and alarming to contemplate the birthing of Adams’-style “pluralism,” scattering the dark shadows of ‘intolerant’ Hebraic Puritanism, cradle of both factions in the Antinomian controversy. Today Anne Hutchinson is a heroine to some feminists and libertarians, a proto-Nazi to one prominent New Americanist. Richard Brodhead, dean of Yale college and Professor of English, writing for an educated middle and upper-class audience, has depicted the lineage she spawned, worsened by “the emotional dependencies produced in the hyper-affectionate, inward-turning, hothouse family newly prominent in Melville’s time”:

“Captain Ahab is a figure of the psychically damaged man as visionary authority and charismatic leader.  Ahab knows and persuades others of the One Sole Truth, the truth of his demented obsession.  Pierre is another incarnation of a type that has run through American history, from the antinomian religious dissidents of the 1640s [sic] to the civil disobeyers and antislavery radicals of Melville’s generation to the sect and militia leaders of our own time.  In its harrowing rendition of the cult of private visionary calling, “Pierre” envisions this urge as leading not just to violent trashing of the conventional social world but to a meltdown or disorientation of the moral world.”[3]

[Book, cont.]    For gentleman scholars, English and American alike, Lord Byron was the epitome of adolescent negativity, Thomas Carlyle his antithesis.  Written in 1924, the English critic H.J.C. Grierson’s remarks could have been voiced by any of the lashed Melville scholars peering at Mother’s ruffled brow.  They register an appetite both for suffering and its relief, an oscillation between pious aversion and illicit admiration:

” To Byron’s acute, clear mind the mystical philosophy which is at the heart of romanticism was altogether foreign.  He never approached the inner shrine of romanticism where the mood of a mere rebellion begins to give way to dimmer or clearer intuitions of a new and positive vision, a faith to take the place of that which the spirit has rejected, the dawning of a new comprehension of the magic and beauty of nature, the mystery and beauty of human nature, full as it is of “misery, heartbreak, pain, sickness, and oppression.”

Byron has failed, or has he?  Pain is sublime, but so is the grandeur of social transformation.  Byron reminds us of the Jews:

“…He was held in the grasp of too many contradictions–antidemocrat and democrat, believer and blasphemer, man of the world and inspired satirist.  But, to speak more truly, the Romantics were all prophets, not unlike their Jewish precursors, intent at a period of world-disorder on the quest of justice and mercy and love and beauty, a recasting of life and reconstruction of faith…. He is the constant reminder…of what the world really is, of the greatness of the task of interpreting and reforming it.”[4]

Grierson, the devotée of Carlyle, but swept away, has conceded that the [Jewish] Byron is “really” in touch with things as they are. Lord Alfred Douglas, editor of Plain English, was less favorably disposed toward the Jews. His poem, “In Excelsis”(1924) contains images that evoke the Quarter-Deck scene in Moby-Dick as read by conservative critics sighting an uprooted materialist heretic in Ahab:

“The leprous spawn of scattered Israel/ Spreads its contagion in your English blood;/ Teeming corruption rises like a flood/ Whose fountain swelters in the womb of hell./ Your Jew-kept politicians buy and sell/ In markets redolent of Jewish mud,/ And while the ‘Learned Elders’ chew the cud/ Of liquidation’s fruits, they weave their spell./ They weave the spell that binds the heart’s desire/ To gold and gluttony and sweating lust:/ In hidden holds they stew the mandrake mess/ That kills the soul and turns the blood to fire,/ They weave the spell that turns desire to dust/ And postulates the abyss of nothingness. “[5]

[Book, cont.]    There is no single left or liberal standard to evaluate the social content of art.  Today’s ethnopluralists continue to scan texts for positive or negative images of their partisans.  In the 1930s, Stalinist bureaucrats separated proletarian and bourgeois consciousness so drastically that essentialist categories permeated their critical theory no less than the racialists’.  Only “workers” or the colonized masses (a.k.a. themselves) were free of perceptual distortions.  Hegelian-Marxists have attempted to locate the text in history, analyzing form and content to discover the concrete function it might have served in “the world movement toward democracy.”  Artists who artificially reconciled glaring social contradictions (between capital and labor, between ideals and reality) either through class collaboration or resignation or through formal closure–the impossibly happy ending, all threads tidily tied up–were held to be right-wing and antimodern.  Progressive artists were those who ripped into appearances to leave secrets exposed and contradictions hanging.  This is a test that Ahab and his blood-tipped harpoon should have passed; why didn’t they?   (For a hostile Southern view of New England puritans see http://www.sonofthesouth.net/revolutionary-war/pilgrims/puritans.htm. For a blog on the Wandering Jew trope, see https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/.) For a more recent blog that stigmatizes all early Americans Protestant nativists/murderers, see https://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/.


[1] Charles Francis Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History Vol. II (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903, Revised Edition): 574-75. Henry Vane was a puritan aristocrat, briefly governor of Massachusetts Bay, later executed as a regicide.  Note that Hutchinsonian ambition is blamed, yet the Puritans were essentially persecutors. (Adams of course was the grandson of John Quincy Adams whose Puritanism was directed against the money power;  his father had married into wealth , as Daniel Walker Howe points out,  Political Culture of the American Whigs, p. 48.)  This inner contradiction pervades much of the historiography of the Antinomian Controversy. See my ms. “Anne Hutchinson’s Red Regiment.” It is also telling that Adams Jr. had turned against the unbending radicalism of his father’s friend Charles Sumner who may be the more immediate inspiration for his hostile portrait of the puritans.

      Cf. Laurie Robertson-Lorant, 1996, p.287: “…Melville intuitively sensed, perhaps in the deepest recesses of his own heart, an inner mother—not the haughty, controlling Victorian matriarch, but the great goddess whose nurturing presence antedated the angry God of the Hebrews and the Puritans.”  Again, the slur against the angry Jewish God: Referring to a late poem, “The Devotion of the Flowers to their Lady,” Robertson-Lorant  writes “Before the Old Testament patriarchs twisted it into a symbol of sin and death as part of their campaign to destroy  the worship of the Goddess, the snake was considered sacred because it was the creature who hugged the bosom of the Mother and heard her secrets.  The inviolate Rose, a trope for the female genitals, embraces the phallic Worm, or serpent, who is demonized in the Scriptures.  Thus the poem implies that violation and conquest are the direct legacy of a jealous God whose power is controlling and destructive, not generative and erotic. (611).”

Similarly she conflates Melville’s neo-Calvinist mother, the Hebrew God, and Ahab: “In a man-of-war world, the voice of the people is strangled by propaganda, which is violence transformed into a bloodless art. The Bellipotent resembles a twentieth-century totalitarian state where government officials invoke “national security” to cover politically expedient violations of civil rights [what civil rights?], and where military necessity dictates that perversions of language are acceptable political weapons, and justice as civilians know it does not exist.  In Moby-Dick, Ahab bends the crew to his insane will by incantatory language and brilliantly orchestrated ritual. With its intentional inaccuracies and syntactical twists and turns, Billy Budd anticipates George Orwell’s 1984. (594). As with many other scholars it is assumed that Ahab foresees or igores the inevitable doom of his ship and crew; the allegorical content of the quest as explicated in “The Quarter-Deck” is not engaged. Whether Melville views Ahab as geologic Promethean/ abolitionist or something less appealing to twentieth-century liberals, the comparison with Hitler or Stalin is ahistoric.

[2] See the Robert Altman-Donald Freed film Secret Honor, in which the Quaker Richard Nixon is dominated by his mother, the source of his over-reaching and tragic descent into madness.  First his mother’s little dog, he is set up to become the running dog of the fascistic nouveaux riches Southwestern capitalists after the war.  It is hinted that the Eastern establishment erred in not taking the talented young veteran and lawyer into their club; i.e., they lacked the necessary stabilizing pluralism that keeps the ship afloat.

 [3] Richard Brodhead, “The Book That Ruined Melville,” New York Times Book Review, 1/7/96, p.35. See also Brodhead’s essay “Melville, or Aggression,” Melville’s Evermoving Dawn, ed. John Bryant (Kent: Kent State U.P., 1997): 181-191. Relying on what he calls a recent revolution in feminist cultural history that has explicated the entry of sphere ideology and new roles for  the sexes, Ahab is now understood as the exemplar of individualist masculinity as constructed in mid-19th century America, the self-assertive entrepreneur resisting subjugation, his rage a cover for inner feelings of impotence.  Ishmael, not Ahab, represents Melville’s creative capacities, sublimating male aggression into “writing, irony, and verbal play “(182).

[4] H.J.C. Grierson, “Lord Byron,” The Nation and the Athenaeum, 4/19/24, 81-83.

[5] Quoted in Gisela C. Lebzelter, Political anti-Semitism in England 1918-1939 (London: Macmillan, 1978 ):26. The “Learned Elders” were the conspiratorial rabbis exposed in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery swallowed whole by respectable conservative journalists in 1920. John Freeman, the second Melville biographer, published in Douglas’ periodicals, including Academy.

October 30, 2011

Collectivism in the history establishment

Gordon S. Wood, prize-winning historian

I have spent the last week trying to read Gordon S. Wood’s first book, The Creation of the American Republic (U. North Carolina Press, 1969), perhaps an expanded Harvard U. dissertation written under Bernard Bailyn. It was the beginning of Wood’s stellar career in writing the history of the early Republic, and an example of what was called in graduate school “the republican synthesis” as put forward by the most left-liberal professors in the field. If Wood is correct, then my prior enthusiasm for Alexander Hamilton’s bow to popular sovereignty in the Federalist Papers, is sorely misplaced. Rather, I am to view the Federalists as confidence-men, who cunningly adopted the time-worn phrase “popular sovereignty” (a feature of monarchies too) to install a fundamentally aristocratic government that did too much for individuals and the meritocracy, while betraying the “out of doors” “mobs” that had not only fought for liberty in the Revolution, but legitimated a Constitutional Convention in 1787 (319, 363, 382).

Although to read the Federalist papers, one might think that the Constitution advocated a government that was grounded in the House of Representatives, complete with separation of powers and checks and balances, in Wood’s reading, natural aristocrats (562 and passim; i.e.,  Alexander Hamilton, crypto-Jew*) sneaked in a government that made the Presidency tantamount to a monarchy and the Senate an aristocracy, while the judiciary would ever thwart the will of the truly democratic, public-interest-minded People, who were only apparently in control of the House of Representatives. This is populist reasoning that would find its apotheosis in the New Left that identified “corporate liberalism” as the enemy (big business and the state in cahoots at the expense of the little guy), and in the popularity of Noam Chomsky and in the OWS movement that has roiled the media for the last month. (i.e., corporations are NOT people).

I am not sure that I fully understand Wood’s argument. I certainly do not agree with one statement that seems to be crucial. After a long paragraph on the luxury debate (republican simplicity is threatened by pomp/consumerism, hence the source of decadence), Woods writes, “Like Puritanism, of which it was a more relaxed, secularized version, republicanism was essentially anti-capitalistic [what?** C.S.], a final attempt to come to terms with the emergent individualistic society that threatened to destroy once and for all the communion and benevolence that civilized men had always considered to be the ideal of human behavior. Right from the beginning of the Revolution there had been some Americans who had doubted the ability of any people, including the Americans, to surrender their individual interests for the good of the whole.” (418-419)

Here is another quote that suggests that the Federalists had cunningly co-opted the [indescribable, who were too diverse to put into one bag] Antifederalists: “Considering the Federalist desire for a high-toned government filled with better sorts of people, there is something decidedly disingenuous about the democratic radicalism of their arguments, their continual emphasis on the popular character of the Constitution,*** their manipulation of Whig maxims, their stressing of the representational nature of all parts of the government, including the greatly strengthened executive and Senate. In effect, they appropriated and exploited the language that rightfully belonged to their opponents. The result was the beginning of a hiatus in American politics that was never again closed. [He goes on to say that “the real social antagonisms of American politics” were masked. The Federalists should have said that they were really aristocrats.] (562)

So is republicanism a good thing or a bad thing? This seems to be the double-talking voice of agrarian radicals, such as  Jefferson and Jackson, then the Progressive movement and of the New Deal, appealing to present-day “out-of-doors” democrats, massed to complain of “inequality.” It necessarily looked backward to an imagined medieval polity, where the Good King unified the people in a healthy body politic, one that had happily delegated the power to speak and act for themselves. It is a strange construction of Liberty, but also an awkward attempt to see nothing but “communion and benevolence” in a reinterpreted, truly “living Constitution” that ostensibly protects capitalism, unlike its pseudo-democratic pseudo-capitalistic predecessors in the 18th century. Think of FDR and his foiled attempt to pack the Supreme Court.

*Stephen F. Knott quotes Wood: “…Hamilton led a faction in the 1790s that ‘was promoting the interests of financiers and monarchists at the expense of the general public'”(208). Knott’s chapters 5 and 6 take up the Hamilton as Jew theme, citing such as Father Coughlin, Ezra Pound, and (subliminally) William Carlos Williams. See Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (U.Kansas Press, 2002): 112, 128ff. A particularly offensive line from Pound, writing in 1954: “Hamilton was a kike, a red headed scotch chew.” Knott also emphasizes throughout that Henry Adams was the origin of the fourth-hand rumor (taken to be fact by all the subsequent Jeffersonians) that Hamilton stated that the People was a great Beast. Henry Adams’s opposition to modernity and to Jews is not in dispute.

**Perhaps Wood was thinking of John Winthrop, who is often quoted by left-leaning liberals as a model for the New Deal. I laid out the Antinomian Controversy (1636-38) here in a four-part essay: https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/. Winthrop wanted medieval-type wage and price controls, while Hutchinson foreshadowed market economies.

*** When I was in graduate school at UCLA, Gary Nash pointed to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 as the model of direct democracy. I suspect that Gordon S. Wood also compares more complex governing models to this example of popular radicalism. For instance, Pennsylvania at that moment had a unicameral legislature elected every year; also the state militia enlisted men elected their officers. This type of democracy harkens back to the Levelers of the 17th century English Civil War, and Wood makes the comparison himself. But I should not single out Gary Nash. The “republican synthesis” referred to the anticapitalistic Country party in England, that opposed Walpole’s economic measures, and was espoused by Joyce Appleby and her graduate students. Nash and Appleby were the chief organizers of the much contested National History Standards, and are both left-liberals. For a contrast, see Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (UP Kansas, 1985): 67, and fn25. Republicanism, he argues, contradicting Wood, commonly signified representative democracy. Not that FM discounts the penetration in America of Country party Opposition in Britain. Republicans in b0th North and South feared selfishness and effeminacy, though FM distinguishes between Northern puritan republicans and Southern physiocrats; the corrupters were “Standing armies, priests, bishops, aristocrats, luxury, excises, speculators, jobbers, paper shufflers, monopolists, bloodsuckers, and monocrats….” (77). McDonald is a self-described “paleoconservative” and also an indefatigable researcher.

May 15, 2010

Blog Index to Anne Hutchinson series

From the feedback I got on this series, there is nothing even slightly resembling it in print. It is long, so I broke it into four segments. The second section takes you by the hand to understand how Anne H. got into trouble with the establishment, so skip if you are already familiar with the chronology. Has footnotes, and I am proud of it. If you get through it, you might understand better why I wrote the blog “Evil Puritans” linked here: https://clarespark.com/2013/08/05/evil-puritans/. Anne Hutchinson was the perfect autodidact, strong woman, and prefiguration of free market economics. The literature about her is wildly misogynistic, including Hawthorne’s sketch of “The Woman” that one scholar (the brave Michael Colacurcio) has linked to The Scarlet Letter, with the “A” standing for Anne Hutchinson. Since primary sources (as opposed to rumors) are scarce for AH, I focus on the distortions visited upon her career by liberal 20th century sociologists and historians.





And for a related blog on fear of The Woman, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/. “Who shall educate the educators?”

September 29, 2009

Anne Hutchinson’s Red Regiment and the Cultural Historians, part three


Postwar readings.  Bernard Bailyn’s 1955 Ideologiekritik study of seventeenth-century New England merchants partly advanced preceding scholarship that had stressed only political rivalries; Bailyn’s book was a contribution to the study of political culture, a subset of the new cultural anthropology/ social history recommended by the American Historical Association in 1939.  Since it did postulate clashing economic interests between the Winthrop and Hutchinson factions, Bailyn’s was the first quasi-materialist analysis of the Antinomian controversy; subsequent writers (Battis, Williams), have followed his lead in attempting to synthesize cultural, economic, and political factors.[i]

     Bailyn pays less attention to inevitable structural conflict than to mistaken perceptions; his imagery suggested a preventible catastrophe: the “Antinomian schism…which rocked the Bay Colony to its foundations” hinged on the fact that immigrant tradesmen, including Anne Hutchinson’s husband, son, and brother-in-law, upwardly mobile and now prosperous merchants in the New World, were shut out from the highest ruling circles in Massachusetts Bay.  The organic and medieval ethos of the Winthrop faction, based on land as “security and stability” rather than “wealth,” suggested “authoritarianism” and “constriction and denial” to the new merchant class.  Winthrop and his allies saw the merchants as the embodiments of “brashness and insubordination.”  Bailyn noted that “the merchants, with striking uniformity, backed the dissenters,” those allegedly “dangerous mystics” and heretics who were threatening “civil and ecclesiastical polity” and refusing to abide by the demand that “conformity to the letter of the law, careful performance of religious duties, was essential discipline and that it should be evident in one before he was admitted to church membership.”  This merchant-farmer, city-country conflict was key to an inevitable confrontation for the merchants were thwarted on all fronts by farmers defending their rational and opposing interests.  The conflict became more “explicit,” less “voiced in hair-splitting theological disputes,” in fights regarding “overcharging, usury, taking advantage of a neighbor’s need.”  Bailyn’s remarks on the furor that erupted in the case of the guilt-tormented merchant Robert Keayne, condemned for overcharging, shows the degree to which self-serving, selective readings of the Bible were attached to an explosive but unanalyzed structural contradiction:

“The original charge against the distraught merchant fell like a spark into an incendiary situation.  The settlers, predisposed to believe middlemen parasites, found themselves utterly dependent on them for the most essential goods and equipment.  Incapable of understanding or controlling the workings of the economy, they sought to attribute the cause of the soaring prices and the shortage of goods to human malevolence.  Instances of merchants taking advantage of the situation confirmed them in their belief that only the most rigorous discipline of the businessmen could save them from misery.  In the same Calvinist social teachings that had justified his life to Keayne they had a grammar for the translation of economics into morality, and in the machinery of the Puritan church and state a means of effecting these ideas.  From the same texts the Puritan magistrates and the merchants read different lessons.  The former learned the overwhelming importance of the organic society which subordinated the individual to the general good.  Keayne learned the righteousness of those individual qualities whose secondary but attractive virtue it was to aid in the fight for success in business.” [ii]

   Bailyn is describing a fight over conflicting injunctions in Biblical texts: working hard to increase personal wealth versus controlling oneself on behalf of the commonweal.  Selective readings masked the underlying contradiction.  Merchants like Keayne would be forced to constant (and burdensome) self-regulation or “rationalization of one’s life” (p.44).

     The questions remain: was Bailyn’s clean boundary between merchant and farmer consciousness and interest accurate?  Has he not followed the (now disputed) model of bourgeois revolution, wherein a new progressive class bursts medieval fetters asunder to advance its economic interests?  Given that all but four of the Boston congregation were, for a time, sympathetic to Anne’s positions, could all the Hutchinsonians have been upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, while their antagonists engaged in a pre-capitalist mode of production?  And did not both upper-class factions believe in a paternalistic organic society, envisioning different strategies to keep the poor in place?  Was this not a multi-dimensional faction fight within a larger capitalist class consensus that carefully delimited free speech and the wandering imagination?  Shall we discover that Anne Hutchinson’s critics and her friends alike saw her as a witch because she represented the emerging market in goods and in ideas that, down the line perhaps, could undermine the class monopoly of legitimacy and political power, a development prefigured by her lower-class admirers?  And why would we have expected anything more advanced from the seventeenth century in a frontier setting?  Was Bailyn, no less than his predecessors, part of an intellectual trend powerful in the academy and at Harvard since the mid-1930s which advised entrenched elites  prudently to absorb challengers from below, so as to head off the suicidal intra-class conflict that, by distracting cooler upper-class heads, could allow lower-class hotheads to prevail?

     Other recent writers have similarly leaned toward cultural anthropological models to define the conflict and its dynamics; they focus on institutions and processes that either support or disrupt social cohesion; it is the integrity of the social fabric that compels their attention, not intellectual freedom.  The English historian Keith Thomas (1958) did not address the New England crisis directly, but absorbed Anne Hutchinson into a larger context of female mystics and radical sectaries threatening the family discipline which supposedly sustained social order.  Hutchinson was one of many women using religion as an outlet for public expression and arousing hysterical male fears of anarchy and revolt.[iii]   Emery Battis (1962), ostensibly following Bailyn, saw the faction fight between clerics, landed gentry and yeomen farmers vs. merchants and artisans, but drastically modified Bailyn’s analysis.  The conflict was needlessly exacerbated by the irrational power drives of the pathological, menopausal, and demagogic Woman and her atypically emotional, mostly upper-class followers. [iv] [Battis is dissected below.]

     Erik Erikson’s formulation of psychological development as the search for “identity” has yielded a festoon of explanations.  For his son, the sociologist Kai Erikson (1966), Anne Hutchinson’s gender was not decisive in causing the conflict, though he mentions that “men like Winthrop would have been annoyed by Mrs. Hutchinson’s belligerent intelligence whether they knew what she was talking about or not.”  Rather, Erikson emphasized a whole slew of ambiguities to which the group ritual of persecution, the purging of “deviants” gave reassuring definition.  The “lively enthusiasm” and “spirited individualism” of insurgent Puritanism, so appropriate to revolutionaries standing outside and jeering at the established order, was represented by Hutchinson.  But such a posture could not have served the “political maturity” (represented by Winthrop and his political descendant FDR) necessary to the responsible exercise of governmental authority; i.e., the predatory side of capitalism must be restrained.  Hutchinson’s trial drew the line between the older strain of Puritanism in England and that of the new clerical orthodoxy in Massachusetts.  Erikson did not draw Hutchinson as a political radical but believed her “metaphor” alarmingly echoed the Reformation’s “unresolved dilemmas.” [v]    Because there was no codified system of civil law until 1648, and the Scriptures did not address contemporary disputes, the Bay Colony was suffering, not from Hutchinson’s estrogen deficit, but a “boundary crisis.”  “By accepting the Bible as their spiritual parentage, England as their political parentage, a trading company as their spiritual parentage [they] owed their corporate identity to a wide assortment of elements.”  To make these “coherent” the Puritans had to be “doubly conscious of who they were and where they were going.”  By giving shape to the Devil (the “deviants” such as Anne Hutchinson, the Quaker martyrs, and Salem witches), Puritans could define themselves as the Devil’s negation.  Thus Hutchinson’s trials were a “tribal ceremony, a morality play, a ritual encounter” which revised the boundaries of the New England Way just as the investigations of the McCarthy era expressed the community’s interest in clarifying the murky, ambiguous boundary between democracy and communism after World War II, to give it the same sharp clarity that the distinction between democracy and fascism had enjoyed before the war (this distinction between democracy and fascism being “one of the baselines of the American way”).[vi] 

   Kai Erikson has relied upon reductive and irrationalist social psychology, arguing that the people of Massachusetts Bay did not understand what they were fighting about; moreover we, his contemporaries three hundred years later, still lack analytic clarity about the dynamics of the conflict (p.81). Not only does he attribute social processes, motives and feelings to an entire society without factual evidence, but fails to identify the structural contradictions and limitations (intra- and inter-class conflicts and economic scarcity) that would reveal the rational core at the center of the controversy.

   Like 1930s amateur historians nervous about puritanical state repression (Prohibition and Red scares), David Hall (1968) aligned himself with Charles Francis Adams’ allegedly favorable nineteenth-century assessment of Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and Henry Vane as proto-liberals striking a blow for toleration and civil liberties, but Hall removed Hutchinson from center stage as “chief antagonist” in the Antinomian Controversy.[vii] It was John Cotton’s differences with other ministers that were decisive.  Like Battis and Erikson, Hall emphasized individual and group emotions, believing that antinomianism found fertile soil because of a mass “spiritual depression” following Cotton’s revival of 1633, popular anger at ministers who could not assuage the people’s personal anxieties over salvation, and the miseries of dislocation in “the bleak New England wilderness.” [viii]

     Ben Barker-Benfield (1972), a male feminist, concentrated on the shakiness of Puritan male identity made less stable by the Puritans’ inherent tendency toward “jacobinism”; extreme sex-role differentiation leading to male fears of passivity and dependency; Winthrop’s fears of Anne Hutchinson as midwife; and the male monopoly in selection of the elect, rendering females less confident of election.[ix] Lyle Koehler (1974, 1980), also a male feminist, believed that Puritanism worsened the status of women in New England because male helplessness in an authoritarian society compelled the subjection of women as compensation.  The Antinomian Controversy, like witchcraft, the Quaker invasion, and female criminality, represented women’s “search for power,” taking the form of gender revolt against oppressive male authority.  Hence Anne Hutchinson was a catalytic “role-model”; her mysticism leveled men and women by rendering both sexes equally helpless and dependent on God.  If men weren’t “better,” if earthly success was relatively insignificant, then this created the possibility of feminine “pride” and explained Hutchinson’s heroic defiance and resistance to the ministers as well as the loyalty of her female followers.[x] Some of these historians (Bailyn, Erikson, and Hall) have erased gender conflict to near invisibility.  Others, while bringing gender antagonisms to the foreground, have so abstracted Hutchinson from her own consciousness, lived experience, and the specific content of her interactions with Bostonians of different classes, that the historic figure seems to elude us, changing her shape from Good Witch to Bad, dissolving always into Hawthorne’s “the Woman,” a reiteration of Hester Prynne.

     By now it should be obvious that the authoritarian social relations revealed in the historiography on the Antinomian Controversy are not part of the quasi-medieval past: unidentified as such, they pervade our socializing institutions, including the family, the public schools, the humanities and social sciences, and the media.  Keith Thomas’ frequently cited article, “Women and the Civil War Sects,” does not set out to examine Hutchinson in the specific context of New England, 1636-38, though he often mentions her.  I review his arguments because he does not view women’s aspirations for autonomy and social influence as pathological and therefore requiring psychiatric explanation, and because his data give weight to my suspicion that Hutchinson’s “style” and “personality,” so derided by her critics, may have been highly distorted, and in any case, could not have been decisive in the defeat of her faction given the balance of power in New England at that time or since.

     Keith Thomas argued that the activity of some women in mid-seventeenth-century England posed both real and spectral threats to the social order and the security of the state.  By questioning women’s place within the patriarchal family, many female mystics and radical sectaries who were represented disproportionately in the radical sects of the Civil War period, seemed to be turning the world upside down (45). Mainstream Puritanism did not significantly raise the status of women.  The father was the master/king/priest of the household; marriage was women’s destiny; she was to be silent and obedient to husband, church and state; she owned no property in marriage. Such alleged Puritan improvements for women, brought about by their “exalted view of family life, protests against wife-beating and the double standard, and the denunciation of the churching of women,” were actually minor.  “As for the much-vaunted Puritan love, it should be remembered that it came after marriage not before; and that, as a popular manual remarked, ‘we would that the man when he loveth should remember his superiority’“ (43).

     For female mystics, preachers, and seers, “religious enthusiasm” with its claim to spiritual equality between the sexes, offered a degree of emancipation.  “Membership in the sects outside the Church [of England] or mysticism within allowed women self-expression, wider spheres of influence, and an asceticism which could emancipate them from the ties of family life” (56).[xi] Anne Hutchinson was one of many mystics and lay preachers who were arousing “a horrified chorus of opposition” in London, Dublin, the Universities, and New England.  Hugh Peter’s accusation against Anne was typical: “You have stepped out of your place; you have rather been a husband than a wife, and a preacher than a hearer; and a magistrate than a subject; and so have not been humbled for this” (49).  Theological disputation and political activity directed against the state were seen as inseparable.

     Thomas has limned the radical specter, a charismatic leader/agitator who would subject the state to the depredations of turned-on bachelors and masterless men refusing the ministrations of arbitrary power (42).  In the imagery he quotes, the specter is a witch-like phallic woman talking back to male authority and invading their space to unravel the body politic.  They were “agents of Satan,” “demagogues” rousing the “rabble” who were too “weak in understanding and reason to dispute them.  They were “ardent” desirers of fame, “puffed up with pride” and “insolent usurpers” (51).  Preaching women were destroying the family: “…the growth of the sects was…reducing the practice of household piety, alienating the affections of members of the family toward each other, and worst of all, rending the bonds of obedience which held them together” (52).   Thomas concluded that the challenge to “the organization and discipline of the family’“ was ended by the conservative turn taken by the radical sects after they became institutionalized (53).  Their long-term impact, however, was to redefine and limit paternal power and to create an altered discourse on the status of women.  “New standards of utility and reason were being sought to justify the subordination or men and women to each other” (56, 46).  The female sectaries were not forerunners of feminism because they based their claims on spiritual equality rather than natural rights and a lack of intellectual differences between the sexes (56).

      For purposes of analyzing Anne Hutchinson’s politics, the strength of Thomas’ interpretation is also its weakness.  By collapsing Anne into the category of (understandably) rebellious, even politically radical, women, he makes her less peculiar.  But by neglecting her class position and the specific dynamics of the Antinomian Controversy, he implies she is sympathy with the most democratic separatist and Civil War sects; thus Battis (288) and Barker-Benfield (67) could associate her with Lilburne or Winstanley or align her with the “Radical Reformation.”  Whereas Bailyn, by attaching her theology to the economic interests of the new merchant capitalists, does force the question: toward what social ends was Anne Hutchinson’s ambition directed?  Thomas’ description of the radical specter cannot answer that question, for he has separated women as a group from their concrete, historically specific connections to classes and social movements.  Koehler and Barker-Benfield write in the same idealist historiographic tradition, sympathetic though they are to the aspirations of women for equality.  Moreover, there is the imputation in all cultural history that a more egalitarian discourse creates massive macroeconomic change, as if lopsided social property relations could be set aright by sounder intellectual argument and poise.

       Unlike Thomas and the male feminists, Emery Battis, author of the “fullest account” of the Antinomian controversy, saw Anne’s personality as so bizarre, idiosyncratic, and attractive that it required book-length elucidation.  A distinction need not be drawn between Battis and Erikson; Battis, while presenting new data concerning the occupations of the Hutchinsonians, also emphasized Anne’s peculiar psychological configuration and its uncanny power to excite her normally well-behaved following, rather like some postwar social psychologists had analyzed Hitler and the Germans: anomie caused by science, the new philosophy, and economics made ordinarily sensible (urban) people uniquely susceptible to demagogues:

“Although some of the ‘disinherited’ were among Mrs. Hutchinson’s disciples, the backbone and sinew of the movement was drawn from an altogether dissimilar social element.  They were men (and women) of some affluence, eminence, and prestige in the community, people of education and gentle breeding who were not normally given to emotional excess.” [Battis, p.  ]

   Similarly Erikson had ignored class conflicts, pointing out that people such as Anne are always around, “driven to a deep excitement by the urgency of their own convictions.”  It was the townspeople who had placed her in a historical crossroads: the transition from individual religious experience to the doctrine of individual preparation.  Her banishment was the only available language to express this change (106-107).  Erikson aknowledged his debt to Perry Miller, Talcott Parsons, Erving Goffman and George Herbert Mead, men perhaps like him, beset with twentieth-century anxieties, bewildered by the divisive clash of subjectivities associated with the open-ended, free-wheeling modern condition, as Battis freely admitted in his Epilogue.

    The Battis biography sets out to balance the puffery by liberals, “to correlate the accessible data of her life experience in such a way as to provide a fresh understanding of her career.  Indeed…it seems fruitless to continue to write of her as if she were a thoroughly normal person, motivated by normal impulses” (viii).  Although Battis said he would “indicate the general outlines” of Hutchinson’s “psychological configuration” (ix), it is John Winthrop’s stern visage that greets the reader in the frontispiece of Battis’ book; after all, Winthrop, aided by Harvard medical school consultants, is the major source of data on Hutchinson.  Even though the moderate Battis takes pains to underline his dissatisfaction with the orthodox victory, he relies upon conservatives to diagnose Hutchinson, another Ahab or Hitler avant la lettre: “gentle” and “mild” John Cotton is the reasonable moderate to be defended; Anne Hutchinson is the overweening extremist to be discredited and disciplined.  Battis is both awed by and afraid of his subject’s power:

“Gifted with a magnetism which is imparted to few, she had, until the hour of her fall, warm adherents far outnumbering her enemies, and it was only by dint of skillful maneuvering that the authorities were able to loosen her hold on the community.  She was a woman, who, through some impulse now obscure, sought an emotional outlet which seemed to resolve itself most effectively in the acquisition of power and influence over the lives and spiritual destinies of her fellows.  Had she been born into a later age, Mrs. Hutchinson might have crusaded for women’s rights or even wielded a hatchet for temperance’s sake.  But for better or worse, her lot was cast in the seventeenth century, and her hand was to be felt in a theological tempest which shook the infant colony of Massachusetts to its very foundations (6).”

   The reader might infer that all women reformers are “not thoroughly normal,” but like Hutchinson, heavy-handed destroyers of “infant” colonies;  the hand that rocks the cradle should be hand-cuffed.  Battis, faced with a strong and maternal woman, cannot deal with her as a historic figure, so creates an ahistoric, irrational, reductive explanation to defend himself from an imago.  While appearing to admire Mrs. Hutchinson’s accomplishments he makes her crazy and hurtful; while appearing to add a more concrete economic dimension to Bailyn’s cruder typology, he undermines it by attributing irrational characteristics to all the Hutchinsonians: they fall–women, merchants, and the poor–under Anne’s spell.  I will show that Battis has duplicated Rugg’s corporatist liberal ambivalence and inherited her penchant for docudrama and melodrama. [xii]     

     For Battis, the decisive factors that explain Anne’s charismatic but aberrant personality, mysticism and destructiveness are to be discovered in her flawed interactions with three men.  First there was her domineering and disapproving father, Francis Marbury, with whom she identified.  Father too was defiant and persecuted; he had railed against unqualified clerics in the Church and was silenced.  The stamping father was the original source of her “notoriety and nemesis” (7-9).  Second was the over-fond and effeminate “man of a very mild temper and weak parts, wholly guided by his wife” (in Winthrop’s words), her husband William.  He “adored” Anne, but failed to provide her with “mental direction,” another cause of her disturbance.  The loss of her father’s “firm, directing hand” which the moonstruck William could not replace, left her “sailing full before the wind without a rudder” (11-13, 51-52).  In cases like Anne’s where the husband’s mental direction is absent, the blocked “libido” “settles back” upon “the ego,” resulting in “narcissism.”  Thus, as night follows day, she would need constant public affirmation: Anne became the prototypical political agitator (55, fn 18).  Like her seventeenth-century critics, Battis has sighted “an ardent desire to be famous.”  And he is concerned. “Although she could not have understood or explained it, nonetheless, [rudderless] Anne felt the lack and began obsessively to reach out in other directions for affective support and guidance” (13).  Third was John Cotton who filled her need for a “substitute mental director.”  Cotton provided a father substitute (his gentleness, like Henry Vane’s, did not “inhibit” her “expressiveness” and “spontaneity”), but his “mystical arcana” was a source of “delusions” and his naivet‚ and overly conciliatory “personality” allowed Anne to stray, plunging her and the colony into an avoidable disaster (38, 52, 20, 54, 226-228).  Battis dispenses some preventive politics to vigilant future leaders:

“It seems unlikely that Mrs. Hutchinson and her friends would deliberately use Cotton as a Trojan horse to dissemble their beliefs.  More probably they had accepted his doctrines in good faith, but unskilled in theological niceties and stirred to excess by the uncharitable example of their legalist opponents, had gradually tipped the delicate balance and deposited Cotton’s Covenant of Grace into the pit of heterodoxy.  Cotton had long foreseen such a possibility and should have guarded more carefully against it.  Had he done so, this crisis might never have arisen (228).”

        The reader now understands the deep causes of Anne’s neediness which have led to hysteria and mysticism, and her intransigence which stems from an insatiable craving for public approbation fatally mixed with the desire to replicate her father’s punishment (both his chastening at the hands of the Church of England and his stifling of her spontaneity).  While it is plausible and even likely that her father’s defiance affected her deeply, it is also possible to view Anne Hutchinson’s family and class as sources of strength, confidence, and endurance, but Battis, ignoring class and gender interests, has recreated her as a megalomaniac, citing Karen Horney, The Neurotic Of Our Time (1937) as his authority:

[Battis:] “The neurotic individual, seeking protection against weakness and helplessness, strives for power and constantly endeavors to offset the feeling of being insignificant, a tendency which generally results in an assertive and domineering attitude.  In due course Mrs. Hutchinson would find broad scope for such an inclination in her activities as religious teacher, malcontent, and dialectical opponent to the theologians of Massachusetts Bay.  The Antinomian philosophy provided another such release.  Theoretically, Antinomianism was a rejection of power by placing the human will in the hands of God, to be manipulated by Him as He saw fit.  Practically, however, it amounted to an assertion of unqualified personal power and autonomy.  The individual became a law unto himself and reserved the right to make all decisions affecting his actions without reference to the needs of the community.  Such a philosophy offered an incalculable advantage to a nature that was constantly striving to prove its own value.  Like the timid child who courts danger in order to draw attention and establish proof of his own courage, Mrs. Hutchinson wrenched herself free of narrowly defined social obligations and determined to steer her own course.  The very radicalism of the doctrine commended itself by contributing to that singularity with which she sought to win attention and approval (56).”

      If Hutchinson is the unmanageable Id, then John Cotton is the Ego, at peace with the Reality Principle: a salutary vagueness makes him all things to all men.  Cotton’s moderation is contrasted with Anne’s extremism in an account of Calvinist theology as practiced by the neurotic and the normal.  There were contradictions within Protestantism; orthodox Calvinism was modified to resolve its major dilemma, thus ensued Puritan rationalism.  The capacity of the theocracy to maintain social control through religion hinged upon reconciling the contradiction between God’s omnipotence and man’s moral responsibility for his actions.  Covenant theology explained that God still chooses the elect, but the ability to perform “works” demonstrates that a bond has been sealed with God.  As Thomas Hooker put it, “You must not think to go to heaven in a feather bed; if you will be Christ’s disciples, you must take up his crosse, and it will make you sweat” (62).  Battis cites fears of lower-class irrationalism and anti-intellectualism exemplified by “silly women laden with lusts” who threatened the “sobriety and control” of the rationalist order.  Puritans had to strike a balance between the extremes of “empiricism” and “mystical illuminism” (27, 28).  Grace, or regeneration, renovated reason, rescuing it from “unruly passions,” hence reason was able to “grasp” “the data of the world.”  John Cotton, while tending toward Calvinist orthodoxy, did not offer a “radical rejection” of the Puritan compromise.  “He emphasized the free promise of God’s grace without reference to man’s prior performance, but he stipulated clearly that after the original promise of God’s grace obedience to the law was a necessary stipulation of salvation.”  This strategy judiciously reduced factional conflict, but “humorless,” lawless, and paranoid Anne destroyed the compromise between the Covenants of Works and Grace, adhering stubbornly to the pure Covenant of Grace, minimizing “moral effort,” and wrongly asserting the indwelling of the spirit–the ultimate mental director. [xiii]

     Anne’s “fixed-idea” is explained through a multiplicity of factors: Two of her children had died in England, “undoubtedly under her care during their final illness.”  If she was unsure of her election, the tragedy would be construed as a sign of God’s wrath.  There was also the example of the “unnamed woman of Ely” who “captured Anne’s fancy” along with other female lay preachers.  Then there was the exalting effect of female hormones during pregnancy and [their loss?] in menopause, Hutchinson’s disease of the transition.  None of these could be counteracted by men, all of whom had let her down as described above.  Battis is silent on the possible effects of testerone, its ebb and flow, in the behavior of John Winthrop and Thomas Weld, with their wild-eyed, fantastic descriptions of “monstrous births” issuing forth from Hutchinson and her ally Mary Dyer, or in the vanity, opportunism and ambivalence of John Cotton (53, 43-44, 54-55, 248fn, 346).

      Although Battis insists that “the movement never generated into the extremes of “primitive revivalism” and that almost “all of Mrs. Hutchinson’s adherents,” “Puritans of a rational-dogmatic type” “while thoroughly sympathetic to her teachings, continued to excercise a critical judgment that restrained them from following the immoderate course their enemies feared they would take,” Battis’ rhetoric and accounts of her following strongly suggests that Anne primarily appealed to their emotions, rather than to the rational self-interest that his phrase “critical judgment” implies.  In fact, he concludes, “the Antinomian dissent was not a social movement at all…The goals of the Hutchinsonian group were vague and ill-defined, its leadership diffuse and uncertain; its relations disorderly and incoherent” (280).  The dissenters would have prevailed had their teacher held her tongue at the civil trial, and had her upper-class followers who held a measure of political power, exercised it with greater political maturity and sophistication.  As Battis accounts for the growth of Hutchinson’s following, he indicates the degree to which appeals to irrational “secular anxieties” generated emotional and destructive political responses, while at the same time, he clearly indicates that there was an irreconcilable conflict between sectors of the “haves.”

     Battis insists that this was no poor people’s pietistic movement (284-285).  Anne built her following largely from the more affluent Bostonians, all entrepreneurs (268), scapegoaters made anxious by ambiguity (282).  They were “enthusiastic housewives” and their husbands: “frustrated” merchants and artisans along with a few resentful members of the lower orders.  With Boston short of professional medical “practitioners,” Anne Hutchinson was able to convert her female followers through her activity as a busy, skilled and effective midwife and healer; i.e., she exploited the vulnerability and gratitude of sick and weakened women.  Battis imagines a scene where Anne successfully treats an ill housewife, helping her with housework, sitting by her bedside and inquiring “gravely into [her] soul’s estate.”  She then promotes the Covenant of Grace, pointing out that the legalistic doctrine of Works “held out no hope of salvation.”  Both in her home meetings and in such intimate encounters, Anne unconsciously confused her views with those of John Cotton, thus adding to her credibility and rapidly enlarging her flock of [queer black sheep].[xiv]

    Battis believes that the women proselytized their husbands.  Among males, Anne derived her “core” support from among the “power elite” of merchants and artisans, “either quite prosperous or at least moderately well-to-do,” “alienated” and on the defensive against a coalition of clergy, yeomen farmers and landed gentry who were attempting to regulate economic activity in anger over mercantile profiteering and rising costs of labor and commodities.  The Covenant of Grace made their “immoral” behavior irrelevant to their elect status.  Thus the Hutchinsonians had “economic interests…frustrated by the organic morality of the orthodox clergy and gentry.” [xv]

      A subtle but crucial distinction between Battis and Bailyn emerges here.  Bailyn has the “magistrates and merchants” reading “different lessons” “from the same [Calvinist] texts” in a structurally “incendiary situation”; their opposing economics and morality clearly fused in the consciousness of the contending factions, each side seeking to vindicate its behavior by citing contradictory Biblical injunctions: guided by market conditions, the nascent free traders work diligently while the incipient New Dealers/communitarians intervene in the economy with wage and price controls.  Battis, by contrast, has the merchants unconsciously and indirectly aware of the extent to which the Covenant of Grace supported their rational economic interests.  Yet, as we have seen, Battis has chastised them for not organizing rationally to prevail over the Winthrop faction; he does not see them as unalterably opposed to the “basic moral pattern of the community”: [xvi]

“The leading merchants of Boston had not calculatedly adopted Mrs. Hutchinson’s tenets with this mundane consideration in mind [that their economic practices and salvation were no longer linked]: the commitment was doubtless made without conscious awareness of related goals.  But being only human it was essential to their psychological well-being that the framework of events and relations in which they were implicated should have meaning for them–such meaning as would confirm each man’s sense of his own worth.  The orthodox theology had failed to satisfy this need, and Mrs. Hutchinson had unwittingly provided a felicitous conjunction.  Although neither she nor her companions were disposed to abandon the basic moral pattern of the community, this altered perspective allowed greater latitude to define what was morally sound and what was not.  Furthermore, it permitted them to rest confident in their regeneration despite all contrary claims founded on a paternalistic and organic philosophy.”

    Here we get to the heart of corporatist liberalism and its crazy-making logic.  Words and their meanings have no weight for Battis.  How can a pattern both be basic and yet stretch? Are basic moral codes like rubber bands?  Battis has never limned a consensus pre-existent to the pointless ruckus; does he mean that they are all putative Christians?  No, he has asserted, not demonstrated, a balance or compromise, the flexible middle way à la Hume, that could have led Protestants to peaceful and rational conflict resolution.  A moral economy with its customary and just prices, however, is either there or not there; pre-capitalist and capitalist social relations have yet to be harmonized, no matter how gracious the management style, but the necessary rupture is erased by the utopian corporatist liberal.

     Additional followers, a “slender minority” came from the lower class; they are anti-intellectual and irrational.  First Battis quotes Edward Johnson’s description of an “incendiary” proselytizer:  “Come along with me. I’le bring you to a woman that preaches better Gospel than any of your black-coates that have been at the Ninniversity, a Woman of another kinde of spirit, who hath many revelations of things to come, and for my part…I had rather heare such a one that speakes from the meere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, then any of your learned Scollers, although they may be fuller of Scripture.”

   Battis does not tell us that Edward Johnson, a militia captain, was no impartial onlooker.  Philip Gura quotes Johnson as complaining “that Hutchinson and her followers’ emphasis on ‘rare Revelations of things to come from the spirit’ not only ‘weaken[ed] the Word of the Lord in the mouth of his Ministers’ but was part of an attempt ‘to put both ignorant and unlettered Men and Women, in a position of Preaching to a multitude,’ a goal exemplary of their ‘proud desires to become Teachers of others.’ [xvii]   Later, Battis characterizes the entire “peripheral” group (ninety men of whom only seven were not poor):

“In summation, it appears that the members of the peripheral group were, for the most part, less specifically goal-oriented than those in the other groups.  Unsettled and rootless, frustrated in the attainment of various individual needs, they were suggestible to an interpretation of the situation that would sustain their own self-evaluation.  But most of them probably found adequate vindication of their own worth in an uncritical acceptance of the condemnatory stereotypes in which the opposition was portrayed, rather than through adherence to the positive doctrinal ideals of the movement.  Participation in a concerted attack on the official guardians of sanctity and on those “hypocrites” who labored under a Covenant of Works would release feelings of hostility, and help support the emotional conviction that even those who did not pursue the disciplinary rigors of Puritan orthodoxy might be of worth.” 

   Battis has found a scientistic way of saying that the peripherals (no less than the gentle core group, see above) were a protofascist rabble, easily aroused and full of unfocused resentment, prey to a demagogue who would feed their wilting narcissistic needs with negative images of the established clergy.  Left to their own devices the peripherals would never have thought of the Winthrop-controlled clergy as their enemies.  Judicious planners reading Battis’ book would make sure that the marginalized were “included” in the system and provided with positive sources of self-esteem not dependent on scapegoating.  As I have tried to show, all of the Hutchinsonians are tarred with this condescending characterization, whatever Battis may say about their “critical judgment.”

     As Battis describes the persecution of the Hutchinsonians, he continues to contradict himself, like Winnifred Rugg, ending by blaming the victims.  Why does he think Anne was persecuted?  Starting in the sixteenth century with the rise of the nation-state, heresy was punished as a civil crime.  Toleration was unthinkable for national security would be imperiled by ideological pollution.  Boston was facing rioting sailors, angry Pequot Indians and the need to recruit a militia to fight the Connecticut tribe (116-119).  But these “external threats” were not uppermost in Winthrop’s mind, for they could be managed through “diplomacy or force” even though the Hutchinsonians refused to fight the Pequots.  Rather, Anne was “the worm that gnawed within their vitals and threatened to turn the Saints against each other.”  The unity of “new Zion” was endangered by a “meddling woman” who should have stayed in the kitchen (120).  Winthrop was also galled that people might be independently consulting Scripture to check upon the accuracy of their ministers’ citations and interpretations, as Battis shows in his account of the civil trial.  The following passage illustrates, line by line, the underlying anxiety that explains the hysterical response of the Winthrop faction: clerics and magistrates were fearful of the new literacy, hence of potential insubordination in the laity.  The last paragraph illustrates Battis’ unflagging habit of attributing feelings and ideas to his characters that he could not have known:

“I teach not in a publick congregation,” she insisted.  Her meetings were private, held within her own home, and those who came were unsolicited.  “The men of Berea are commended for examining Pauls doctrine; wee do no more but read the notes of our teachers Sermons, and then reason of them by searching the Scriptures.”

     Unhappily she had stumbled onto the very path which Winthrop was most eager to explore.  “You do not as Beareans search the Scriptures for their confirming in the truths delivered, but you open your teachers points, and declare his meaning, and correct wherein you think he hath failed…as if hee could not deliver his matter so clearely to the hearers capacity as your self.”

     “Prove that!” she hotly challenged, “That anybody doth that.”  But she knew full well that this sally had touched her closely.  Anne sagged under the strain.  The stolid figures at the far side of the table blurred and swam dizzily in her view (193-194).

     Earlier, Battis had shown that the leaders needed to control definitions of morality and immorality to regulate political and economic behavior.  He also noted that Anne was married to a member of the merchant group that was opposed in interest to the Winthrop faction.  He has described Winthrop’s horror that Anne had left her kitchen for the parlor, a venue which was now a university to foment sedition or the conditions that could make sedition more likely: private meetings and critical independent thought.  Yet throughout his account, Battis admonishes Hutchinsonians for extremist tactics, as if less evangelism and more decorum, a more tactful style would have provoked less opposition.  Unlike the conciliatory Cotton, these “true believers” were filled with “fervor.”  “Emboldened” Hutchinsonians, mostly women, were confrontational and disruptive in church (105, 137).  Wheelwright was “perverse” and “inflammatory” in the Fast Day Sermon, and Anne’s gratuitous admission of “immediate revelation” after Cotton had already saved her was sheer crusading zealotry.  Battis speculates that she disobeyed Winthrop’s order to be quiet because she may have wanted to “rise triumphantly from the ashes of humiliation and annihilate her persecutors with the terrible brilliance of her heavenly champion” (202).  Her ill-timed outburst (like those of her supporters) brought down repression onto her entire faction.  “Had she modestly kept silence, gratefully accepting a providential deliverance from catastrophe, her story might well have had a different ending.”  In one conclusion, Battis states “The Antimonians had struck a heavy blow–if not for freedom of thought, certainly for that heterogeneity which leads to freedom of thought–but in so doing, they had aroused a fresh and inordinate dread of heterodoxy” (78).  He is saying that had the Hutchinsonians not been bamboozled by a psychopathic demagogue, but instead had promoted their interests (assumed now to be identical between women, merchants, artisans, and the poor) with a lighter touch and better political organization, they could have averted what David Hall has described as a century of formalism and increased authoritarianism caused by the Antinomian controversy (Hall, 20).

       I have described the historiographical tradition in which Battis writes as corporatist liberal, reductive, and irrationalist.  In the misappropriation of Freud disseminated by Talcott Parsons and other Hobbesians, potentially destructive natural impulses are fundamental to the explanation of human behavior.  This line is argued against a materialist analysis that describes social property relations and the total ensemble of human relationships that spring from these relations, many of which are contradictory.  For the Parsonian “structural functionalists” a politically effective, well-adjusted individual develops the inner controls to subordinate unruly emotions, hence rationally may maximize the political and economic opportunities made available in our society.  Such mature individuals are integrated with a minimum of disruption, for they have adjusted to pre-existent administrative remedies.  Women, at the mercy of female hormones, are less capable of rational behavior than (upper-class) men and are probably rightly excluded from the public sphere where their all-too-attractive emotionalism can “tip the delicate balance” (Battis, 288) which insures social stability.  How does Battis fit this old model?  First, he sees Anne as motivated solely by unconscious forces and female hormones, removing her from her social context.  Second, he relies upon irrationalist corporatist liberal social theory to account for the Hutchinsonian defeat.

     Battis views Anne’s mysticism, tenacity, and militancy as symptoms of “delusions” and worsened by the changes of menopause.  He does not pursue the question as to what degree, if any, Anne understood that her theology was self-serving to her social group, the new mercantile capitalists; instead he has characterized the “felicitous conjunction” between free Grace and merchant interests as “unwittingly provided” by Anne.  Such a question need not be pressed because the primary determinants of her behavior are unconscious, whipping her about because she lacked a “rudder.”  Furthermore, it is men, not women and men in classes who shape female behavior.  Thus Battis dismisses the possibility that Anne’s theology might have been influenced by her Puritan mother and/or have been fortified by lived experience, her social practice as a mother, midwife, healer, and female preacher, i.e., as a member of a female culture composed of women in different ranks but sharing many identical problems.  Second, Battis criticizes the irrationalist Hutchinsonians for style and disorganization, as if through politeness, discretion, and “dexterity” they could have made frontier institutions work for them.  They could have organized themselves into a proper interest group as if they had at their disposal democratic procedures which then could have forced a neutral state peacefully to adjust to new social configurations and new, rationally expressed demands from below.  Yet he has shown that the state was autocratic; that there were numerous irreconcilable conflicts, that is, disputes that could not have been negotiated and compromised without sacrificing or endangering fundamental economic interests and social identities (Chapter XVII and passim).

     What does Battis say, then, about the significance of Anne’s class position?  He seems to be worried about the upper-class Antinomians, who should have been able to check their narcissism to balance the incorrigible lower orders.  Even though he insists, perhaps wrongly, that her core following was almost entirely prosperous and entrepreneurial (268),[xviii] Battis saw Anne as analogous to nineteenth-century conservative feminists and as a “herald” of the “individualistic” “new man” “delineated by Rousseau,” along with the Levellers Hampden and Lilburne and the Digger Gerrard Winstanley.  Rugg (whom Battis barely cited), while admiring Anne’s feminism, also criticized her for radicalism and anarchism, but took care to dissociate her from contemporary middle-class democratic movements emanating from urban artisans and shopkeepers.  Rugg commented that Hutchinson found the deference accorded to her intoxicating, but also postulated that her social leadership gave legitimacy to the grievances of women and lent respectability to a gentle religion.

     What have other historians said about upper-class “radicals”; and what do Hutchinson’s trial records reveal about the significance of her class position to contemporaries?  Christopher Hill notes that the gentry in seventeenth-century England were not to question authority for this could set a bad example and encourage servile revolt.[xix] T. Wilson Hayes agrees, arguing that had the cleric John Everard, an upper-class Familist agitator, been a member of “the lunatic fringe” of “ill-bred laymen,” he might not have been so “tenaciously” persecuted.  But while Everard’s status and achievement conferred authority upon radical ideas, he was not co-opting these ideas by making them respectable or providing outlets for previously unfocused resentments:

“…after his conversion he adopted the task of providing working people with the means by which they could validate ideas already implicit in their own radical tradition, ideas which recognized no absolute separation between the world of nature and the world of grace.  Among the heresies Everard finally admitted in 1639 was ‘that the visible world was but God clothed with accidents,’ that there would be no resurrection of the dead….’that scripture, literally understood, was false,’ all ideas that Niclaes himself had espoused….the true inheritors of Everard’s legacy were literate working people such as Gerrard Winstanley, the Digger leader, who based his plan on making the earth into a common treasury on the Familistic interpretation of Scripture which Everard did so much to substantiate (66-67).

      Historians should compare these contemporary “heretics” before classifying Hutchinson as either consciously or accidentally connected to revolutionary Puritanism.  Was she criticizing the sanctity of upper-class property, or teaching toleration and pluralism, or encouraging her flock to think for themselves, so as to overthrow illegitimate clerical domination; or was she fighting for control of Massachusetts Bay in the interest of her own merchant family?  Certainly she was perceived as a “radical.”  The record is replete with images of social dissolution at her hands, and her social leadership was seen as enhancing her threat to the moral magistracy.  John Cotton was alarmed that an “eminent Christian” should even be questioning the notion that the body of Christ was not resurrected, ergo the bodies of “sinners” would not burn in Hell, thus removing a major weapon in the arsenal of elite psychological warriors in their struggle to perpetuate and reproduce class rule. [xx] John Winthrop worried that Familistically inclined “Teachers,” no matter how “truly godly” they might be throughout life, would likely spawn “Scholars” in the next generation who would become “hereticks and schismatics.”

     Emory Battis, echoing Winthrop, remarked, “The insurrectionary bent of the Hutchinsonians derived in no small measure from the inherent Jacobinism of Protestant theology” (254).  Philip Gura shares the view that Puritanism generates radicalism (monstrous births).  Wondering where Anne’s mortalist heresy could have originated since it did not surface until her church trial, he writes, “The mystery is where such radical propositions came from, there being no hint in the earlier account of testimonies of such doctrinal vagaries; and for explanation one perhaps should rely on Hutchinson’s own account, that she ‘did not hould any of thease Thinges before imprisonment’ in the winter of 1637-38–that is, that she progressively generated the ideas from her initial Puritan tenets.”  Gura believes that “a very similar pattern emerged” in such radicals as Richard Overton in England during the 1640s.  “In this light, the evolution of the New England antinomians’ doctrine directly anticipated the inevitable fragmentation of Puritan doctrine in England, where in the 1640s and 1650s radical ideas proliferated in a land in which no strong orthodoxy had emerged, as it had in Massachusetts, to check them” (261).  Gura’s balance-of-power chessboard politics are at odds with Brenner’s (see below) but not that of Gura’s acknowledged mentor Christopher Hill.  Hill argues that radical sects emerged from the underground and proliferated only because the ruling class was split and busy fighting each other; a mistake they would never repeat.

     This idealist formulation has been central to many writers on the Antinomian controversy including the feminists Koehler and Barker-Benfield.  The remainder of my essay will criticize the idea that “Protestant theology” as such, is inherently either radical or conservative. 

20. Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1955).  Although apparently structuralist, Bailyn’s Weberian, Parsonian and interactive account considers status group conflict.  He explains that the merchant faction were “uprooted radical puritans”: former carpenters and masons, husbandmen and East Anglian cloth workers; while the Puritan gentleman who never lost control of the colony were economically embarrassed by inflation and annoyed by uppity servants (36).  As he tells us in his preface, Bailyn was studying how political roles and social position affected entrepreneurship.  A structural analysis would have looked more closely at Hutchinson’s following, which was by no means entirely composed of prosperous merchants (as Battis later revealed), then gone on to delineate which conflicts were irreconcilable.  Moreover, the Winthrop faction was not operating under pre-capitalist assumptions; they were all capitalist planners, experimenting with wage and price controls which had not effectively controlled inflation in a situation typical of new settlements: scarcity in food, provisions, and skilled labor (32-33); see below.

21. Bailyn, 39-43.

22. Keith Thomas, “Women and the Civil War Sects,” Past and Present 13 (April 1958).

23. Emery Battis, Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Chapel Hill: U. North Carolina Press, 1962).  Although Bailyn does not include the artisans as Hutchinsonians (except as former “workers”), Battis does not adequately acknowledge his debt to Bailyn, as if he were the first scholar to notice the merchant-farmer split.  “Most studies of the Antinomian Controversy make no effort to discuss the nature of Mrs. Hutchinson’s following beyond the simple assumption that it comprised almost all the members of the Boston congregation plus a few people from the neighboring towns.  Their backgrounds and stations are not analyzed, the degrees of their enthusiasm or complicity are not examined, and their motivations are not explored.”  Bailyn is cited briefly and vaguely in two footnotes, p. 67 fn 9, and p. 100 fn 27, complimenting his “discerning discussion of the influence of the merchants in the 1630s” and “for an excellent discussion of the commercial situation.”  Battis has been favorably cited and relied upon by Erikson, Colacurcio, Demos, and Gura. Hall, Rutman, Koehler and Barker-Benfield have offered vague, weakly argued and non-systematic criticisms of parts of his judgments and methodology.

24. Kai T. Erikson, Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance (N.Y.: Wiley, 1966): 82, 93, 71-74, 87.

25. Erikson, Wayward Puritans,  67-70, 54-59, 64, 101, 102, 70.  Erikson adopts a centrist propaganda objective, sharply distinguishing between organic entities: democracy and communism, or democracy and fascism, as if such boundaries were real, not hypostasized. Such a ploy masks the fact that many governments intervened in the economy during the crises of the 1930s with bureaucratic collectivist policies, and no democratic capitalist society protected the rights of independent labor unions perceived as strengthening the socialist left.  New Dealers who had been accused of “social fascism” by Stalinists before the Popular Front period, were sensitive to the need to distance themselves from the various discredited fascisms after the war, while Stalinists cooperated by nailing Republicans, not the corporatist liberals, as “fascists” during the McCarthy years and even earlier.

26. Hall, op.cit. See above for Adams’ dour view of all New Englanders, persecuting Hebraists to a man.

27. Hall’s judgment was made after he examined previously unpublished material.  But see Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston, 1966, Chapter V for the conflict of Cotton with his colleagues.

28. Ben Barker-Benfield, “Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Attitude Toward Women,” Feminist Studies I (1972): 55-78.

29. Lyle Koehler, “The Case of the Feminine Jezebels: Anne Hutchinson and Female Agitation During the Years of Antinomian Turmoil, 1636-1640,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, XXXI (1974): 55-78.

30. Cf. Phyllis Mack, “Women as Prophets,” The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism, ed. Margaret C. Jacob and James Jacob (London, 1984): 214-230.  In the short run, the activity of women prophets failed to improve their status because they had drawn upon and reinforced typical negative female qualities: irrationality and hysteria, but worse, their “Utopian visions…were projected…outside historical time…Until the Apocalypse, women would–and should–remain weak and despised in the natural order (225-226).”

31. Rugg often indicates where she created an imaginary reconstruction of an episode in Anne’s life (although this does not excuse the lamentable lack of footnotes), while Battis presents fictional scenarios that could not have been derived from the sources cited, yet are presented as historical events.  Cf. Rutman’s abrupt change of tone when he describes the Antinomian Controversy: “Anne Hutchinson was disruption personified” (119).  Her followers “were but a mob scrambling after God, and like all mobs, quickly dispersed once their leaders were dealt with (121).”  They “heckle,” “badger” and “twist”; i.e., they are the embodiments of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism.

32. Battis, 27, 34-35, 57, 56, 54.  Cf. Ziff’s analysis of Cotton as standing outside the ascetic Protestant tradition in The Career of John Cotton, 150-153.

33. Battis, 82-86, 91, 92, 102, 103, 109, 249-285. Gary Nash suspects that the artisans would have been poor (letter to me, 1984).  Cotton clearly approved of Anne’s proselytizing activities as midwife during this early phase of recruitment (see Hall, 411-413).  Battis may have abused this source, conveying the impression that Anne misinformed her patients as to the identity of her views with Cotton’s, and even that Cotton criticized her for doing so.  Battis wrote,” point by point husband and wife probed and measured Mrs. Hutchinson’s monitions, held them up against the known light of Gospel, weighed them against the familiar teachings of Mr. Cotton.  At last, weary but exultant, they may have concluded that the three were as one, and thanked God that this good woman, their neighbor, had such light to bestow on them (86).”  Is Battis hinting that the triad, husband, wife and Anne, had usurped God (the Trinity)?

34. Battis, 257, 95-100, 263.  Although merchants and artisans were both affected by wage and price controls, Battis has lumped them together as if they had no antagonistic interests requiring discussion.  For instance, artisans were dependent upon merchants for raw materials.

35. Battis, 103-104. See also Ziff, Puritanism, 76.  “Anne Hutchinson spoke theoretically, with no conscious reference to material conditions, when the vocabulary of free trade was as yet unthought of.  But the group who supported her show in their makeup the early stirrings of resistance to impediments to such freedom.”

 36. Philip Gura, A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1660 (Middletown, 1984): 244.

37. The occupations of 56 of the 187 Hutchinsonians were unknown.  Battis found 7 professionals (teachers and ministers), 14 merchants, 38 craftsmen, 23 husbandry, 12 services, 7 maritime, 2 military, 10 skilled servants, 16 unskilled servants.  In the core group, out of 38 there were only 2 professionals, 9 merchants, 8 craftsmen, with 4 farmers and 7 of unknown occupation (suggesting marginality) (297).  This seems to be a more heterogeneous group than Bailyn had described.

38. Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London: Temple Smith, 1973): 20.

39. See Gura, Sion’s Glory,  p.91 for a different interpretation of the mortalist heresy: it undermined the purpose of founding New England, that is to hasten the Second Coming.  There would be no Last Judgment because Christ was already present in the heart.  However the examination records of Anne Hutchinson suggest that it was the threat to social control that was at issue.

Anne Hutchinson’s Red Regiment and the Cultural Historians, part two

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     What follows is a review of the historical and popular literature on Anne Hutchinson in the twentieth century.  First, I present the salient facts and judgments in Winnifred King Rugg’s 1930 biography and in those of her New England nativist contemporaries.  Rugg’s corporatist liberal assumptions and ambivalence toward her subject is typical of other books published in 1930 and 1931 on the same subject; she prefigures and combines the major historiographical traditions identified in this paper: one is ‘liberal’ and ‘Freudian,’ reductive and irrationalist; the other is ‘feminist.’  Second, I criticize in detail aspects of those interpretations which see gender conflict or Mrs. Hutchinson’s personality as central to the Antinomian controversy.  By juxtaposing the circumstances of Hutchinson’s life in England and Boston as presented by Rugg, the assemblage of historical argumentation, and my closing remarks which point to a possible new synthesis, the polemically reductive, ahistorical, and above all irrationalist character of academic writing on the subject of Anne Hutchinson may clearly emerge.



        A spate of books on Anne Hutchinson appeared in 1930 and 1931 apparently in response to recent Red Scares and repressive legislation instigated by puritanical Prohibitionists.  Three were written by women; one was framed as a less biased account than previous treatments by hostile males.  Helen Augur wrote a florid fictionalized biography An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson (1930) casting the noble-blooded Hutchinson as the glorious forerunner of the (more fanatical) Quaker movement and a true feminist and pacifist; unlike the hypocritical Roger Williams, she was a genuine democrat.  Ever the saintly herbalist and healer, she was Christ crucified by horrid legalistic Puritans and their cruel and unbending Mosaic law: Winthrop’s vengefulness followed Anne into Rhode Island and the Dutch territory where she and her family were killed by Indians; his long arm was the ultimate cause of her death.  For Augur, Winthrop/ Moses/ The Jews eclipse the mystic, spiritual, shining martyr.  That same year a short, spare work less favorable to Anne appeared.  In Edith Roelker Curtis’ Anne Hutchinson, A Biography, her subject was both “magnetic and aggressive.”  Curtis emphasized the political rivalry between Winthrop and Hutchinson in a setting of almost dream-like austerity and material deprivation.  Like the other writers of the 1930s, Curtis was appalled that the Puritan faction was so harsh; it was ironic that they (outsiders become insiders) were treating the Hutchinsonians as the Puritans had been treated in England; their lack of statesmanship would lead to the barbarism and barbaric superstition of the Salem witch trials in 1692.  Like Curtis, Winnifred King Rugg’s 1930 biography demystified Hutchinson as blameless victim; like Augur, she stressed the presence of a supportive women’s culture.  The following pages reconstruct Rugg’s internally contradictory account.

     Rugg saw Anne Hutchinson as a pioneer feminist, “the first American clubwoman,” and the “Mother of Transcendentalism.”  Both her positive qualities (intellectual competence, self-assurance, assertiveness, and charitableness) and negative qualities (radical extremism, arrogance, and self-destructiveness) are understood as stemming from her family history, particularly the unconscious identification with her colorful father.  As a healer and a preacher of a gentle, optimistic religion of the heart, she gave such expression to pent-up and terrified Calvinist women that their outpourings culminated in a cultural revolt.  Though it was probably doomed from the outset, Anne’s personality was central to the rise and fall of a “feministic” movement.

     Anne was born in 1591 to Bridget Dryden and Francis Marbury. Mother’s background was strongly Puritan while Father was an audacious and irrepressible minister of the Church of England; it was a “modestly comfortable” family of the lesser gentry.  Marbury had been repeatedly imprisoned and silenced for his criticisms of the incompetence of other (perhaps lower-class) ministers; his hot-headed and witty defiance of Bishop Aylmer in 1578 (Marbury was twenty-two) on a behalf of a “clear ministry” at a hearing before the Ecclesiastical Court led to yet another imprisonment.  This dramatic incident is represented by Rugg as the family story that scripted Anne’s later behavior.[ii]

     After one fifteen-year silencing, Marbury was restored to the ministry, taking a church in London probably through his brother’s connections; presumably, he was “chastened and reconciled.”  Anne was fourteen when she and her large family left the town of Alford. (Already skilled in child-rearing, she had helped her mother manage a brood of seven younger siblings.) During the next five and a half years in London, then “boiling in religious controversy,” she was exposed to vigorous debates and criticisms of the preaching clergy and to “current events.”  Rugg believes she participated in these discussions, having been familiar with the Geneva Bible since early childhood.  After Marbury died in 1611, Anne was promptly courted by a childhood friend, William Hutchinson of Alford, a mercer of lesser social standing than the Marburys and Drydens.  They married and had fourteen children in Alford, three of whom died.  Anne managed “a little commonwealth” of children and servants; her duties included the supervision of household manufactures, tending the family’s health, and participation in community charity.  The girls attended dame school, the boys grammar school, and evenings were devoted to family prayer and Bible reading.  But rural Alford was a let-down after the intellectual and emotional intensity of her father’s home.  She sought relief in the lectures and preaching of the eloquent and learned John Cotton, the Vicar of St. Botolph’s in Boston, twenty-four miles away.

     Possibly in 1616 or 1617 Anne passed through a year-long spiritual crisis and was tempted to turn Separatist, but this would have meant rejecting her father’s church and allying with the “fanatical,” despised and persecuted lower orders.  Sequestered in her room and poring over Scriptures for guidance, she decided to become a non-conformist, “relying wholly upon the word of God as given in the Bible” and rejecting the forms and ceremonies of the bishops.  Only preachers who purified the church of “forms established by man” could be relied upon as the “clear ministry.”  Her painful confusion over competing sources of authority (the voices of Christ, Moses, John the Evangel, and Antichrist) was resolved; John Cotton was her “clear” minister who would be, through the twenty-year period that Anne visited St. Botolph’s, gradually simplifying the church service, discarding the surplice, the cross in baptism, and the requirement that communicants kneel.  His ever more blatant non-conformity aroused powerful opposition, and he fled England, arriving in colonial Boston in 1633.  Anne was left “bereft” and spiritually famished.  That same year, her brother-in-law John Wheelwright, another non-conforming cleric, was silenced.

     Once again consulting the Bible for guidance, Anne believed she was directed to follow Cotton to Boston.  Though her motives were primarily religious, Anne recognized the business opportunities for her husband and children; moreover she was reassured by the backing of local gentry and “great Lords” such as Warwick, Say and Sele, and Brook.  The Hutchinsons emigrated in 1634 on board the Griffin, where Anne became the center of attention, prophesying and justifying her removal from England and the exposure of her children to the rigors of a “strange land” on the grounds that England was soon to be “plucked up by the roots and cast forth”–Thomas Hooker’s prophecy.  Already she had antagonized several fellow-passengers on the ship, Reverend Zachariah Symmes and William Bartholomew, having admitted to both, “Nothing great ever befel me that was not made known to me beforehand”; Symmes delayed her admission into the Boston church and Bartholomew later testified against her at her civil trial.

     Anne quickly assumed a position of social leadership in Boston, by then a farming village and commercial center of less than a thousand people.  Her merchant husband acquired grants of land in Wollaston and Dorchester (1636-37), first building a large home and shop in the style of an English farmhouse across from Governor Winthrop “at the very heart of things.”  Anne was “the most popular woman in the colony, more resorted to ‘for counsell and advice than any of the ministers,’“ according to Winthrop.  William Hutchinson prospered and was made Deputy to the General Court and Judge of the District Court while Anne socialized frequently with John Cotton (who shared the ministry of the Boston church with John Wilson), with other merchants, and with the attractive young Calvinist, mystic and seeker, Henry Vane, a Puritan aristocrat and briefly governor of the colony.

     But Anne was simultaneously laying the groundwork for religious heresy and persecution.  Her more “humble admirers” were acquired through her activities as “Lady Bountiful” serving as midwife, healer, and comforter to those with “homesick, aching hearts,” discussing their many “vexations” which included their husbands, the pressure of caring for “hordes of children,” the self-denial of the sumptuary laws, rules about the wearing of veils in church, the painful extremes of the New England climate, wolves, mosquitoes, and the unfamiliar diet.  Unlike ministers and husbands, Anne was a sympathetic listener, which allowed women to express their grievances freely.  Rugg also noted that Anne’s social standing was crucial in legitimating both her teachings and the complaints of women.  Within two years, she was “drinking that most heady of all wines, the deference of her associates.”  But worst of all, Anne was telling sick and dying women that if they loved Christ, and felt that love in their hearts, there was proof of salvation!  They had true religion and would be reunited with their children in heaven.

       By the fall of 1636, Anne had turned her home into a rival church and was dominating Boston social life; her famous weekly prayer meetings for women from all ranks originated, Rugg believed, in a rebuke from John Cotton.  Her mentor had noted her absence from a small evening prayer meeting at the home of a more humble neighbor.  After meditating upon her possible snobbery and the poverty of religious experience for silenced women, Anne opened her home to all women to rectify “the meagerness of social intercourse and sources of inspiration” from which they suffered.  By the time her brother-in-law, the minister John Wheelwright, arrived in Boston, May 1636, her now twice-weekly prayer meetings (one with men added by popular demand) were the major social and intellectual event in the colony.  Fifty to eighty people crowded her parlor and listened outdoors at the windows, including the Boston elite, male and female.  Increasingly, she expanded upon the mere repetition of Cotton’s sermons, adding her own commentary and even criticisms.  Complaining about her popularity, John Winthrop observed, “Hence many families were neglected and much time lost.”

      With Wheelwright on the scene, Anne urged that he be hired to assist John Cotton to “neutralize the effects of Wilson’s sermons….”  Like Anne and Henry Vane, Wheelwright believed that “the Holy Ghost actually dwells in the heart of every true Christian” and “sanctification is no evidence of justification.”  No outside authority evaluating the scrupulosity of a person’s life could know if that person was or was not a Christian.  It was at this time that Winthrop, writing his History of New England, first took note of Anne, for in October 1636 the religious dispute looked like a battle for control of the colony.  Anne pressed her friends to promote the appointment of Wheelwright as Cotton’s assistant; a motion was made at a church meeting.  Ex-Governor Winthrop and minister Wilson were arrayed against Governor Vane and Hutchinson, with Cotton remaining neutral though he had not previously opposed Wheelwright; Rugg believed that Cotton and Wheelwright held nearly identical views and both were less radical than Anne.  Winthrop conceived a face-saving plan to dispatch Wheelwright to the new church at Wollaston where Hutchinsonians held land.  Wheelwright accepted, but the Hutchinsonians, reluctantly acquiescing, were “offended” and the Wheelwright rejection became the main subject of Anne’s meetings, with “the whole town” absorbed in the controversy and “talking only of union with the Holy Ghost and sanctification.”  The home meetings kept growing while Anne became more overt in her criticisms of Wilson and more fearless in propounding her doctrines of “love,” “inner serenity,” and “assurance.”  Winthrop believed that nearly the entire Boston congregation was won over.  But Rugg felt that Anne needlessly exacerbated the conflict when she “let her too ready tongue run away with her” by declaring that only Cotton and Wheelwright were “sealed with the Covenant of Grace.”  When Wilson rose to give a sermon, Anne led a walkout, provoking the “scare-word” label “antinomian.”  The Hutchinsonians, like “Bolsheviks” in 1930, were “stamped” as a “peril,” evoking Familism, free love, and the disastrous Anabaptist experiment at Münster.

      The polarization of Boston is alternately avoidable and inevitable in Rugg’s account.  On the one hand, though Winthrop, Wilson, and Cotton were no “tolerationists,” they wanted the controversy hushed up to protect the Charter. [iii] Furthermore, the fuss was only a “red scare”; there was neither a concrete lower-class threat to the state nor a challenge to social control: the Antinomians were not libertines.  To Anne, morality was the inevitable fruit of a “believing heart,” not required “proof” of “holiness.”  Rugg is saying that there were no rationally opposed interests.  Rather, bored Bostonians enjoyed the excitement of dissension and Anne probably gloried in the scandal, what with all Boston debating Grace versus Works, and large numbers of them allied with her position.  On the other hand, there were opposed interests: Anne sincerely wanted the “harsh” “dogmatic” Wilson offset or neutralized, for he was making leaden the hearts of her female flock; at the same time, Wilson believed she was “working to oust him.”  Furthermore, the ministers were angry because “the shoe pinched,” and a mere woman, an inscrutable mystic, was obliterating their self-esteem.

      Rugg continues in this vein, describing irreconcilable conflict worsened by Hutchinsonian irrationality. Dissenters are bad because they destroy the cohesion that was never there. Such is the tortuous logic of corporatist liberalism.  Anne should have blurred boundaries to protect pluralism, not clarified doctrinal differences that polarized the (already polarized) colony.  Simultaneously Boston is blamed for doing the same. Anne is emotionally exhilarated, hence oblivious to the possible consequences to herself and her family.  First, the Winthrop faction launched a letter-writing campaign to win over John Cotton in the fall of 1636.  That winter, a meeting “calamitous” for Anne was held at Cotton’s home, assembling the “disgruntled clergy” of the colony, Governor Vane, the magistrates and Anne; Cotton would be the pacifying influence.  Anne was at first gracious, tactful and evasive when questioned about the ways she thought Cotton and Wheelwright differed from other clergy.  But under pressure from the minister Hugh Peter, she unwarily adhered to truth and duty.  Recalling Scripture (“the fear of man is a snare”), she widened the breach by candidly admitting that only Cotton (and presumably Wheelwright) preached the Covenant of Grace; then, in mystical and incomprehensible language, she likened all the rest to “the Apostles before the Resurrection, before they were sealed with the Seal of the Spirit.”  Cotton cut the meeting off and the ministers departed, some confused, some charmed, others insulted and all eventually nursing grudges.  By the meeting of the General Court in January 1637, party lines had hardened and only Cotton and Winthrop retained a conciliatory spirit.

       On Fast-Day, January 20, 1637, Winthrop noted that there were only two local causes for alarm: dangerous Indians (the Pequots) and “the dissensions in our churches.”  Both Cotton and Wheelwright preached, the latter’s sermon not provoking complaint at the moment of its delivery.  But also at this time, Anne’s followers were traveling about the colony, heckling ministers and diminishing her popularity outside Boston.  As part of a Winthrop plan to defeat Governor Vane at the next election, Wheelwright was scapegoated; his Fast-Day sermon severely criticized as incendiary and seditious.  To support him, sixty members of the Boston church signed a petition denying these allegations, but the Court, over Vane’s protests, ruled that the sermon tended to “cause disturbance” and moved the site of the May elections to Newtown, insuring Winthrop’s re-election.  Rugg saw Anne’s religious beliefs as widening and encompassing every antagonism in Massachusetts Bay: Boston versus the other towns; Wheelwright versus the clergy; young Vane against old Winthrop and Dudley; the colony versus England; a “potent” yet “unarticulate” class resentment of women and the poor against the magistrates; but most “penetrating and inclusive of all the differences,” the argument between “good hearts” and “good deeds” as hopes for salvation.

      As the narrative of “civil war” proceeds, Rugg portrays Anne as intent upon martyrdom and her following as volatile.  On Election Day, May 27, 1637, Governor Vane tried to revive the Hutchinsonian petition before the election commenced.  A “tumult” and brawl ensued with Deputy-Governor Winthrop forcing the election to proceed, insisting that Vane was out of order.  All the Hutchinsonians were voted out of office with Winthrop returned to power.  A “somewhat childish interchange of reprisals followed.” The Vane halberdiers refused to serve Winthrop; Vane and the merchant Coddington sat with the deacons, not the magistrates, in church; and Boston church members refused to fight in the Pequot War [initiated by the Connecticut Colony, May 1, intended to eliminate the Pequot threat; they had vowed to drive the English from the region].  The new General Court passed an immigration law excluding potential Hutchinsonians, further angering the populace; Henry Vane, Anne’s only civil supporter, left Boston, “glad to go.”  Soon Cotton changed and in six weeks, Wheelwright was banished.  Rugg attributes to Anne the belief that despite these reverses, “she alone, unaided, could uphold the doctrines she had taught.”  It was this irrationality that “makes martyrs.”

      Meanwhile, public excitement was “toning down” as people became less engaged with theatrics and more involved with farming.  Opinion soon softened toward the minister Wilson.  Cotton and Wilson reconciled and the Pequot War had been won without a single English casualty in battle–with Wilson, the preacher of Works, as chaplain in attendance [not true, two Englishmen had died]. [iv] A synod, the first Council of the Congregational Churches in America, was organized to uproot heresies, “clean up the colony and vindicate themselves as ‘able ministers.’”  The synod, held at Newton, lasted twenty-four days and was attended by ministers, lay delegates, magistrates, and Anne (who was not allowed to speak).  Eighty-two heresies were presented as a general smear, the ministers refusing to attach themselves to particular individuals or to allow the calling of witnesses.  This in turn prompted a walkout by some Bostonian men.  Anne was continually attacked, but not by name; women’s meetings were pronounced “disorderly” especially where a woman played minister; sermons were no longer to be discussed or questioned after delivery; church members who had theological differences with their ministers could not leave their churches unless the disagreements were “fundamental”; and worst of all, John Cotton (but not Wheelwright) apparently lined up with the enemy.

     The clerics and other Winthrop allies now moved quickly to purge the Hutchinsonians.  Of the three Hutchinsonian deputies in the General Court, only Coddington remained; Coggeshall and Aspinwall were removed and the new Court immediately banished Wheelwright.  The Court voted that “Mistress Hutchinson be summoned for traducing the ministers and their ministry in the country.”  The criminal trial commenced in Newton, November 1637; Anne admitted, gratuitously, to “immediate revelations,” thereby convicting herself.  At its conclusion, with Anne ordered banished and imprisoned, the halberdiers were disfranchised and fined twenty and forty pounds; all the signers of the Boston Petition were called before the Court and required to recant or be disfranchised; all of Boston’s powder and arms were transferred to Roxbury and Cambridge, and seventy-five men were disarmed out of fear of riot or “suddaine irruption” as might be inspired by “some revelation.” [v]

     On March 15, 1638, the clerics held an ecclesiastical “examination” to complete Anne’s public humiliation after months of fruitless attempts to make her recant while imprisoned at the home of the Roxbury merchant Joseph Weld.  Pregnant, exhausted, and ill, she finally recanted at her trial after prolonged badgering by John Cotton and other ministers, but according to Rugg, “lost her temper” and gave them the ammunition they needed to declare her recantation a lie and cast her out of the church into heathendom.  Of her former devoted female following (just chastised by Cotton) only the future Quaker martyr Mary Dyer rose to accompany Anne as she left the Boston Church.

       Rugg completes her biography with a horrific reconstruction of the massacre that finished Anne’s life, once again intimating that her fearlessness was more foolhardy than exemplary.  Anne’s melodrama ended in 1643 when, newly widowed, she removed with her younger children from Rhode Island (which she expected to fall within the baleful influence of Massachusetts Bay) to Pelham Bay.  This was Dutch-controlled territory where relations between the “greedy” Dutch settlers and local Indians were hostile.  During an apparent lull in the period which Rugg called one of “terror and havoc,” Anne convinced a reluctant carpenter to build her a home.  “Anne, with unfailing friendliness and missionary zeal, welcomed her new Indian neighbors” and tried to convert them.  When war broke out once again, all the white settlers fled to the fort, but Anne, who trusted the Indians, was “unafraid.”  She and all but one of her family were killed, possibly, Rugg speculated, because she was known to be a friend to Captain John Underhill, a banished Antinomian and leader of the (Providential) victory over the Pequots in 1637, now fighting for the Dutch.  Thomas Weld, minister, marked this new severity as a Providential vindication of his colony’s sagacity in punishing her.[vi]

     Rugg’s evaluation of Anne’s behavior during her two “trials” demonstrates the same ambivalence and analytic confusion she revealed earlier.  On the one hand, all but three of the deputies were against her from the outset; the ministers, except for the conciliatory Cotton (who, in Rugg’s view turned on her only after her confession of immediate revelations) were out for a conviction.  Winthrop, acting as both judge and prosecutor, was convinced that dissension was destroying the colony; therefore Hutchinson was either to be rescued or expelled.  She could relinquish her religious beliefs or leave, whatever the outcome of the “trial.”  The court had no charges that could stick, hence was forced to seize upon her spontaneous admission of being privy to the heresy of immediate revelations as justification for her punishment.  Yet, as her ally Coddington pointed out, she had broken no laws, and “words uttered in uplifted moments are not deserving of extreme punishment”; there was no equity here, he charged, but she was banished, imprisoned, and eventually excommunicated nonetheless.  On the other hand, Rugg had already shown that the disempowerment of the Hutchinsonians was a foregone conclusion.  Like more recent historians who have assumed that Cotton “saved” Anne by his testimony that there were no significant differences between Anne and other ministers (i.e., he blurred the boundaries), Rugg scolded Anne for giving the elders grounds for conviction: “Perhaps it was her feeling of elation over her apparent victory…a feeling of relief that lifted her out of all common sense; coupled with her incorrigible disposition to teach, impelling her to proclaim her experience with the enthusiasm her judges hated.”  Later, Rugg noted that even if Anne had been released, she would have pushed her position even more vigorously.[vii]

     While it is true that ministers and magistrates crowed over Anne’s providential admission of immediate revelations, the August 1637 synod had already crushed free speech and assembly (such as it was) where religion was concerned; the civil proceeding was at best a show trial.  Still Rugg maintains her belief in prudence, condemning the “extravagant practice” of Anne’s mysticism, while exonerating John Cotton from charges of dishonorable behavior:

“Roger Williams wrote bitterly of Cotton’s ‘fig-leaf evasions and distinctions,’ but there is something to be said for Cotton.  He was naturally a man of moderation and averse to exuberance.  It was distasteful to him to be made the spokesman of opinions that took on such guises that he revolted against them.  He cannot be blamed for not recognizing the children of his own brain after they had been stepfathered so zealously by the more fiercely partisan of Anne’s faction.” [viii]

   How the Hutchinsonians were simultaneously to save their skins and yet preserve their cherished religious beliefs (for some, grounded in close reading and freely expressed criticisms of illegitimate authority) is never explained.  And of course, Anne’s followers were not a coherent faction with identical economic interests.

     Rugg and her feminist contemporaries bequeathed to future readers a double and contradictory legacy.  First, she brought out the feminist dimension of the controversy, which suggested conflicts of interest between women and men.  She transmitted a strong sense of Hutchinson as the leader of an alternative and oppositional culture which did, to some degree, embolden women and threatened to inspirit others.  But by failing to reconstruct the full social and historical context, e.g., the need for upper-class unity in the face of potential servile revolts given legitimacy by the Reformation, she was unable to explain why “feminist” self-assertion was able to surface and become so fearsome.  She relied upon a non-explanation in describing Anne’s irrational behavior: she was irrational because she was hysterical; thus the social crisis of 1636-38 could somehow have been averted.  Perhaps had Puritan doctrinal rigidity been relaxed with a hot rum toddy of Thomism (boundaries blurred between Grace and Works), romantic revolt from below could have been averted.  There were no irreconcilable conflicts between men and women, clerics and laity, or between upper-class individuals and factions striving for dominance, and only spectral threats from below.

      Writing in response to the dramatic accounts of Augur and Rugg, the genealogist Reginald Pelham Bolton self-published a corrective biography, A Woman Misunderstood: Anne Wife of William Hutchinson (1931).  No lover of dissenters, Bolton both contrasted and conflated austere passion-stirring demagogues (like Anne’s father attacking ministers) with tolerant (yet critical) moderates like his ancestor Robert Bolton:

     “The progress of independent religious opinion, accelerated by the teachings of discontented preachers, and accentuated by the opportunity of perusal of the newly translated Bible, led to widespread religious dissension and extended into political unrest…

     “Her father’s derogatory attitude and his hostility towards the preachers of the day were conducive to a spirit of criticism on the part of a daughter, who seems to have inherited a good measure of his combative spirit and inflexible nature.  As quoted by my ministerial relative, the evangelical preacher, Robert Bolton, during Anne’s life at Alford, he wrote and printed this opinion of some of his fellow clergy in the following uncompromising terms: “Self-preaching Men-pleasers, selfe seeking and Soul murthering Dawbers who blunt and rebate the edge of the sword of the Spirit with dawbing flattery.”  You could have little confidence in the pronouncements or teachings of a minister unless he could clear himself of that accusation, and prove to your soul’s satisfaction that he was not a “Dawber” and was not “preaching with a variety of human learning, tricks of wit, Frier like conceits,” when on the contrary he should be engaged in “beating down Sinne and battering the bulwarks of the Divell.”

    ” If Anne had lived a little nearer Broughton than Boston, she might have fallen under the influence of Robert Bolton, denouncer of deceit and preacher of a “Comfortable walking with God,” rather than the specious John Cotton, and in that case we should have had no Antinomian controversy in New England, and Anne would have died in her bed, unknown to history (17-18).

   Like Anne’s, the personality of the treacherous trimmer John Cotton has been determined by the father, in his case a cunning attorney (another amoral, legalistic, switching Jew?).  In other words, “Anne Wife of William Hutchinson” was a woman under the influence of the wrong man; Robert Bolton and his descendant could have set her straight.  Given the lamentable inability of the lower orders to read metaphors without excitement, her female propensities would inflame an otherwise soluble set of conflicts: “Her Nemesis was her infatuation for eloquent men like Cotton and Whelewright.  Womanlike, she placed them on a pedestal, only to see them fall shattered.  Her spiritual exaltation generated enthusiasm and romanticism, which carried her beyond their teachings, and was communicated to others by her great personal influence (15).”

The congregationalists upon whom New World clerical patronage unhappily and precariously rested (34) could not be trusted.  Most crucially, the Tory Bolton revealed an unspoken irrationalist assumption of much writing about imperceptive Puritans.  Neither Anne nor her brother-in-law intended to foment rebellion; it was always a case of mistaken identity:

“The weapons of our warfare,” [Whelewright] said, “are not carnal, they are spiritual.”  But his hearers were probably less enlightened than he, and his opponents seized upon such phrases as “If we will not fight for the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ may come to be surprized,” and “we must put on the whole armor of God and must have our loins girt and be ready to fight.”  Such incitements are so much in harmony with the inherent pugnacity of mankind that they lose their impersonal character with the unthinking crowd.  There is general applause when a military band plays “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  So it is not surprising that his adjurations were misjudged.

     “To Anne it was an inspiring address, but it threw down the gauntlet to her already jealous theological opponents.  It took but little twisting of its meaning to make it appear an incentive to sedition and to violence.  It further concentrated attention on the “Antinomians,” as Anne and Whelewright were by now termed, and convinced them in prejudiced minds, of being “above and adverse to the law of Mosaic code.”  So whether Anne had influenced her brother-in-law or not, she received the chief reactions of the occurrence. [end, Bolton quotes, more below]

    Bolton’s title “Misjudged” gets clearer and clearer.  Synthesizing his views with the other genealogist Helen Augur, we may conclude that the lower orders are too literal, mistaking highly mediated texts (metaphors) for calls to revolution.  The uppity Winthrop derived from mediocre tradesmen (Augur pp.34-35), is unable to control his carping jealousy and prejudice [the will to power] and so cannot read the superior Anne and her merchant allies as assets to the community: the decapitating middle-class (personified in Winthrop) has doomed the hapless poor to hopelessness and discontent (81).  But Anne too was blind: womanlike, hence a bit mad, the romantic, hypercritical, introspective Anne herself has misjudged the effect her incendiary statements would have upon the commonweal.  As the grand climax, Anne’s distorted idealizing vision in combination with “hostile and dogmatic theocrats” (the inexperienced leaders who had misjudged her), would propel her toward the ghastly dénouement in Dutch-controlled territory:

“Cast out by [bad] decisions into entirely uncontrolled unorthodoxy, she became a center of unregulated opinions and beliefs, which still menaced the security of the clergy.  Their continued efforts, first, to conciliate her, and that failing, to dislodge her from her refuge in Rhode Island, were productive of the fright that finally overcame her resolution and drove her into the unforeseen dangers by which she and her unfortunate children perished.  The precarious situation in which she eventually placed herself and her family becomes explicable by knowledge of those circumstances which impelled her at that time to involve herself in such imminent danger and at the same to deprive her family of any effective means of defense.

    ” In regard to the immediate cause of her death, she was as much a victim of blind ignorance on the part of the natives, who included her in their general hatred of the white people, as of their innate savagery.

     “Christian ministers, fellow-believers in the gospel, and members of her own church terrified and hounded her into the situation which resulted in her death, and ignorant natives destroyed in her one of their few understanding friends.

     “She was a woman greatly misunderstood, misjudged, and mistreated [Bolton, ix].

   How could white people act like this?  Thirty years later, Emery Battis embroidered Bolton’s cautionary tale with a rampant red thread of female rudderlessness.  In other words, Bolton and his old-stock confrères are warning upper-class husbands to watch out for their very own newly enfranchised upper-class wives, biologically determined toward romantic shipwreck without kindly and empathic, but firm, male direction.

   The remainder of this paper examines more recent writers who have made gender conflict and personality the focus of their studies.  How precisely have they analyzed the significance of Anne’s class position, her politics, the character of the religious culture she represented, and the degree of legitimacy enjoyed by husbands, ministers, and magistrates within different social groups in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the mid-1630s? Will their interpretations be based on material conflicts of interest or foolish miscalculation by leaders of warring groups of white people?  To what degree have they transmitted earlier nativist judgments that seem so crude to readers in today’s “multicultural” environment?


12. Winnifred King Rugg, Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson (Cambridge, 1930): 2, 3.  Samuel Eliot Morison reviewed Rugg’s book along with biographies by Helen Augur and Edith Curtis in New England Quarterly 3 (April 1930), describing Rugg as a “member of Boston’s sporting intelligentsia,” and finding Anne Hutchinson “more tedious, the more often her story is told.” But he compared Rugg’s book favorably with other works under review: Rugg’s biography, “though somewhat sentimental, is the most careful and fair-minded.”  She could see the point of view of the Winthrop faction.  He also noted that Hutchinson was no advocate of toleration. “There was nothing in her creed that would have given New England more love, beauty, or civility.  There was much in it that would have inaugurated an era of hot-gospelling and holy-rolling” (358-359).

13. Rugg, Prologue, Chapter I, passim.

14. This was a judgment similar to that of the nineteenth-century historian George E. Ellis, The Puritan Age and Rule in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay 1629-1685 (Philadelphia: Burt Franklin Press reprint 1970): 300-362.  The Puritans were protecting their image in England.  Ellis’ focuses on the tumultuous aspects of the affair, owing to the fact that “comparisons and personalities were the raw material of strife; and some persons other than the wholly illiterate began to use words new to them.”  Most people were unable to follow the debates “with any clear mental apprehension” (309); he reiterates the point on p. 322. Ellis also draws a distinction between Boston and the country towns, hinting that mass political emotions were a phenomenon of commercial cities.

15. See Major Mason, Brief History of the Pequot War, with an Introduction and some explanatory notes by Rev. Thomas Prince (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, reprint 1971): 9.  According to Mason, there were two killed and twenty wounded during the assault upon the Pequot fort at Mistic, Connecticut.

16. See the Colony Records quoted by John Savage, The History of New England (Boston, 1825): 247-248, footnote.  The source specifically mentioned the German (Anabaptist) revolt.

17. By this point Rugg’s psychological diagnoses have undermined her feminist analysis that had acknowledged the real grievances of women.  Compare her description of the trial with Erikson’s and Morgan’s: Kai Erikson wrote “Perhaps she wanted to take advantage of the momentary confusion; perhaps her high sense of theater got the better of her. Or perhaps deviants of her kind are compelled by some inner urgings to make a “profession” of feelings which their judges can only receive as “confession….” (97).  Cf. Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, 1958): 143, 151.  Morgan described Hutchinsonians as “nihilists” and “religious fanatics…not content to march quietly along their short cut to heaven.”  On the turning point in the trial: “…the revered Mr. Cotton had knocked out the props from under the only remaining charge.  The triumph was too much.  Hitherto Mrs. Hutchinson had been on guard and had dextrously parried every thrust against her.  Had she been content to hold her tongue at this point, the judges might have felt obliged to dismiss her with a censure.  But instead she now proceeded to justify herself by a torrent of divine revelations.  Winthrop tried to stop her, but the floodgates were opened–perhaps by hysteria.  Suddenly he must have seen where this outpouring might lead and was silent.”

18. See David Hall, Antinomian Controversy, 200, fn4.  The first edition of John Winthrop’s Short Story….(1644) was entitled Antinomians and Familists Condemned by the Synod of Elders in New-England; with the Proceedings of the Magistrates Against Them, And their Apology for the same.  Weld ordered Winthrop’s documents, wrote a preface and changed the title to John Winthrop: A Short Story of the Rise, reign and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists, and Libertines, that infected the Churches of New England.  It was published in England as the “Antinomian sects” were beginning to appear.  This indicates that the Hutchinsonians’ fate was sealed at the Synod; the trial could not have reversed the tide.

19. Compare Perry Miller, The New England Mind from Colony to Province (Cambridge, 1953): 58-60, with Larzer Ziff, The Career of John Cotton (Princeton U.P., 1962): 49, 147 with regard to John Cotton’s character.  Where Miller saw “a feeble reed” “beaten down by practical men,” Ziff portrayed him as cautious, prudent and judicious.  Michael Colacurcio has argued that Cotton’s behavior during the Antinomian controversy was sufficiently complicated to inspire Hawthorne, who recreated his dilemma in The Scarlet Letter,  see fn. above.

Anne Hutchinson’s Red Regiment and the Cultural Historians, part one

The Uppity Woman in Context

This is the first part of a multi-part blog series about irrationalist renditions of the Reformation. Readers of prior blogs will recognize my  opponent: the “moderate man,” who, I argue, cannot identify irreconcilable conflicts, but believes that all conflict is susceptible to mediation by “rational” arbitrators. The strange historiography on the famous troublemaker Anne Hutchinson serves as instructive example of the rule of “moderates” in the academy.

I.     During the mid-1630s, Anne Hutchinson, a middle-aged gentlewoman, self-appointed lay preacher, midwife and healer, rocked the infant colony of Massachusetts Bay with sufficient vehemence to toss it, bloodied and adrift, into the cold waters of religious and political controversy.  Hutchinson and her large Boston following had challenged the credentials of all but two of the Bay Colony ministry, hence the legitimacy of the ruling group.  Accordingly, the Hutchinsonians, who included wealthy merchants and artisans as well as the humble, were disfranchised, disarmed, or otherwise terrorized and persecuted, while Anne Hutchinson herself was imprisoned, banished, excommunicated and denounced as a Familist, a witch, and a degenerate.[i]

Across the Atlantic in 1636, the very year that Governor John Winthrop declared Anne Hutchinson a troublemaker, another upper-class radical was arrested.  An esteemed English cleric, Dr. John Everard, was accused of preaching Familism, a radical utopian doctrine originated a century earlier by Hendrick Niclaes of Münster which “undermined clerical control over the psychological lives of ordinary people” by encouraging “the newly literate sectors of society–women, artisans, servants and laborers” to read the Bible for themselves and, if need be, challenge the interpretations decreed by their betters. “The heightened self-esteem literacy fostered and the intellectual independence it encouraged suggested to working people that they were not innately sinful and enabled them to believe that one day they might create a perfect society here on earth–an idea that sapped the foundations of Tudor government.” [ii]

Although Anne Hutchinson, the eminently respectable wife of a merchant, landowner and judge, repeatedly disavowed any radical sympathies, her detractors just as persistently characterized her as the non plus ultra of extremists, poisoning the body politic and inciting civil war. John Winthrop fretted that her confidence in “immediate revelation” was “the most desperate enthusiasm in the world…Of all the revelations that ever I read of I never read the like ground laid as is for this. The Enthusiasts and Anabaptists have never the like.”

The Deputy Governor Dudley agreed with Winthrop’s historical analogy:  “These disturbances that have come among the Germans have been grounded upon revelations, and so they that have vented them have stirred up their hearers to take up arms against their prince and to cut the throats of one another, and these have been the fruits of them, and whether the devil may inspire the same into their hearts here I know not, for I am fully persuaded that Mrs. Hutchinson is deluded by the devil, because the spirit of God speaks truth in all his servants.”

Thomas Weld complained that her venom had diffused into “the very veines and vitalls of the People,” dividing every institution: churches, courts, town meetings, the militia, “and in families setting division betwixt husband and wife!”  For Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing two centuries later, Anne Hutchinson was an archetype: “the woman” as riveting agitator. She stares down her persecutors during the civil trial that had arraigned her for criticizing ministers:

[Hawthorne:] “In the midst, and in the centre of all eyes, we see the woman. She stands loftily before her judges with a determined brow; and, unknown to herself, there is a flash of carnal pride half hidden in her eye, as she surveys the many learned and famous men whom her doctrines have put in fear. They question her; and her answers are ready and acute: she reasons with them shrewdly, and brings Scripture in support of every argument. The deepest controversialists of that scholastic day find here a woman, whom all their trained and sharpened intellects are inadequate to foil. But, by the excitement of the contest, her heart is made to rise and swell within her, and she bursts forth into eloquence….”

Hawthorne’s sketch of that enlarged and bursting heart would be realized in Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter, Zenobia’s passion flower, Miriam’s ruby jewel, and the Wandering Jew’s “blood-incrusted pen of steel,” then in Melville’s prideful, eloquent Captain Ahab, a character read as a “mystic” by Melville’s first modern biographer, Raymond Weaver.[iii] Today Anne Hutchinson is a heroine to some feminists and libertarians, a protofascist to one prominent New Americanist.  This is how Richard Brodhead, then dean of Yale college and Professor of English, depicted the lineage she spawned, worsened by “the emotional dependencies produced in the hyperaffectionate, inward-turning, hothouse family newly prominent in Melville’s time”:

“Captain Ahab is a figure of the psychically damaged man as visionary authority and charismatic leader.  Ahab knows and persuades others of the One Sole Truth, the truth of his demented obsession.  Pierre is another incarnation of a type that has run through American history, from the antinomian religious dissidents of the 1640s [sic] to the civil disobeyers and antislavery radicals of Melville’s generation to the sect and militia leaders of our own time.  In its harrowing rendition of the cult of private visionary calling, “Pierre” envisions this urge as leading not just to violent trashing of the conventional social world but to a meltdown or disorientation of the moral world.” [iv]

But what of the historic figure? How has “the Woman” been appropriated in the twentieth century? How might we rehistoricize this provocative personality, “the Woman,” not only as a fascinating and complex problem in itself, but as a spotlight into academic politics?  Is there a contrast between the seventeenth-century nexus of the Antinomian Controversy vs. the context and pivotal actions as they have been asserted by recent cultural historians?  Has fear within the professoriate itself of upper-class dissent and agitation tout court distorted a conflict with quite different dynamics than the ones reported heretofore?

There is a dearth of diaries, letters or other primary sources in Hutchinson’s own hand to cast light upon her private beliefs and intentions.  Commentators must rely on “transcripts” of her civil trial and ecclesiastical examination to find her words, and these were delivered in the heat of battle.[v] The other major sources are the memoirs and propaganda of her opponents, such as Governor Winthrop, the minister Thomas Weld, and her once-beloved teacher, the “turncoat” John Cotton. The paucity or one-sidedness of the sources, however, has not prevented many scholars and biographers from making elaborate conjectures concerning Hutchinson’s politics and motives.  Moreover, corporatist ‘liberal’ political assumptions have led biographers to blame the victim by implying that the Antinomian controversy could have been smoothed over or its more repressive consequences averted had its leading figures, especially the ambitious, sharp-tongued, fanatical, and intransigent Anne Hutchinson, commanded the skills of political maturity: self-control and a state of mind conducive to compromise, conciliation, and those democratic procedures necessary to “conflict-resolution” and “adjustment” in the pluralist society of today, the “milieu” in which scholars are expected to function, a setting with little resemblance to the conditions experienced by the English settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Some historians, choosing to emphasize gender antagonisms as the major feature of the controversy, have failed to examine all of the other conflicts in the Bay Colony which could have impinged upon the social crisis of 1636-38, yet we cannot find a balanced assessment of Anne Hutchinson’s role without such a systematic reconstruction.  For “the woman’s” martyrdom was not the only instance of persecution.  To be sure, the writings of ministers and magistrates are so replete with misogyny and hysteria directed against her that the Antinomian controversy may seem like a gender conflict in which an uppity woman got her just desserts.  But women and men of different classes and ‘races’ were at odds during this period; the sex war cannot be detached from other conflicts which perhaps allowed it to surface and which made it seem so threatening.  For instance, as Rutman notes, “Boston’s enlarged servant population…was almost entirely excluded from church membership following the Hutchinsonian disturbances.” [vi]   Defending himself from charges of presentism, Lyle Koehler exposed a weakness which runs through the literature: he has no theory of ideology to connect political economy and culture, hence cannot sort out the variables of class, gender, and ‘race.’  To the complaint from Sidney A. Hart and John Walter Putre that the Antinomian controversy was a conflict grounded in religious differences, not an outbreak of “primitive feminism,” Koehler could only respond: “My concern…was to deal with the question why so many women became “Antinomians” and how the authorities responded to them.  I was concerned with the juxtaposed [his emph.] theological and social dimensions of the Antinomian unrest, but only insofar as those dimensions affected the women’s arm of that unrest.” [vii]  It has been acknowledged by writers of the past and present alike, say Hume in the eighteenth century and Robert Brenner today, that religion provided the vocabulary that subsumed all social conflicts; have other contemporary cultural historians, like Koehler, relieved themselves of customary critical tools?

The Pequot War (May 1637) was fought during this period. To account for the extreme individual and mass political emotions generated in the Antinomian controversy, historians might consider and reject the “fortress mentality” of a colonial society displacing both hostile and friendly natives, but perceiving itself besieged by “papistical Frenchmen and pagan Indians”–a society which saw itself as the victim, not the perpetrator of aggression.[viii] James Axtell explained that “the colonist’s [were] a chosen if momentarily abandoned people.  As the Israelites had suffered oppression and attack in another wilderness, the English felt themselves besieged by Satan’s minions in the form of pagan Indians and papistical Frenchmen.”  Ancient Jews, however, did not characterize their opponents as the Devil’s minions.  Although it is true that Indian relations were a preoccupation for John Winthrop that surely intensified his urgent desire for group solidarity, Axtell has put a dubious spin on this element of the explanatory context; his is an organicist formulation that, like Richard Brodhead’s, subtly smears “Hebraic” radical puritanism.  This essay is intended to historicize all such irrationalist, corporatist explanations founded upon the dodgy notion of group character.

It has been a common Tory strategy to attribute Jewish characteristics to the rebels, first after the English Civil War, then after the American Revolution; the ex-colonists were hypocrites, preaching godliness and equality while killing Indians and enslaving Africans, although I did not see it when I began to write about the Antinomian controversy in 1983-84.  The essentialist anti-puritan/anti-Jewish/misogynistic reading of the Antinomian controversy of this century had powerful precedents in the writing of earlier Tories seeking upper-class unity to stave off another civil war, and in their ideological brethren on American soil.  Take two examples; first, the nineteenth-century American historian Charles Frances Adams: [ix]

It was a struggle for civil power and ecclesiastical supremacy in a small village community.  As such it naturally–it almost necessarily–resulted in a display of the worst qualities of those engaged in it.  It illustrated also with singular force the malign influence apt to be exercised by the priest and the woman as active elements in political life.  Stirred by an access of ill-considered popular enthusiasm, the body of the freemen had, at the election of 1636, put a slight upon the time-honored magistrates of the colony, by placing the boyish Vane over their heads, in the office of governor.  An ambitious woman, with her head full of Deborahs and the like, and with a genius for making trouble, had then sought to drive from his pulpit, in the chief town, its long-settled pastor, in order to install her own favorite preacher in his place, with her kinsman as that preacher’s associate and successor.  In her day-dreams she herself probably occupied, in the new order of things she proposed to bring about, the position of a prophetess,–the real guiding spirit of the whole, –with her husband possibly in the judge’s seat.  Altogether it was an exhilarating vision,–such a vision as self-conscious and usually unappreciated natures have in every time and most places been wont to revel in….(569)…At the hands…of an historian whose intelligence is not mastered by his sympathies, she and her friends, including Governor Vane, are entitled to no consideration.  They went on a fool’s errand, and they brought great principles into lasting odium (574).

[Adams, cont.] On the other hand, the way in which the adherents of Vane and Mrs. Hutchinson were suppressed cannot be defended, without including in the defence the whole system of religious and political intolerance of that time.  But why should it be defended?  It is impossible to ignore the fact, and worse than useless to deny it, that the New England Puritans were essentially a persecuting race.  They could not be otherwise. They believed that they were God’s chosen people.  As such, they were right; all others were wrong.  If, therefore, they failed to bring up their children in the strait and narrow way, and to protect them and all the people from the wiles of the Evil One, God would not hold them guiltless.  The Israelites were their models in all things, and the precedents which guided their action were precedents drawn from the books of the Old Testament.  “So, by the example of Lot in Abraham’s family, and after Hagar and Ishmael, he saw they must be sent away.”  The Israelites were not an attractive or an amiable or a philosophical race; they were narrow, devout and clannish.  No one ever presumed to sophisticate away their cruelties or their persecutions.  Yet withal they were a strong and aggressive people, believing certain things implicitly; and accordingly they impressed themselves and their beliefs on the human mind.  Their very imperfections were essential elements of their strength.  They believed to fanaticism; and it was the strength of their fanaticism which caused their belief to dominate.  It was the same with the Puritans of New England. They persecuted as a part of their faith (Adams, 574-575).

The impartial historian Adams’ misreading of ancient history is remarkably sturdy; it has buttressed antidemocratic, antirepublican social movements since the English Civil War.  In his portrait of the usurping Anne Hutchinson, we have the ahistoric archetype of the totalitarian agitator, the clingy maternal superego that holds humanity, rulers and ruled alike, to universal and timeless ethical standards, that sends unwary men like Ahab and Pierre on utopian crusades that are sure to fail. [x]  It is fascinating and alarming to contemplate the birthing of Adams’-style “pluralism,” scattering the dark shadows of ‘intolerant’ Hebraic Puritanism, cradle of both factions in the Antinomian controversy.

A voluble eighteenth-century predecessor to Adams was the Tory David Hume, noted today more for his contributions to skeptical philosophy than for his massive History of England. It was Hume who eloquently and subtly argued for “toleration” as the only option for societies facing the mayhem fomented by science, printing and mass literacy.  I shall quote at length and comment upon key passages in Hume’s recipes for preventive politics and social stability in an unprecedented and unpredictable social environment; Hume is our guide to the vicissitudes of civil liberties, extending from the sixteenth century to the hard-fought culture wars of the late twentieth century; he was seeking the third way, the moderate solution to the polarizing tendencies of the Reformation-Counter-Reformation; in Hume’s diagnostics, exemplary conduct in the upper-classes is crucial, yet his remedies do not make sense.[xi] Hume’s post-new model intellectual persists today in the humanities, dispensing confusion, not enlightenment.

In my first example, Hume describes the debates between Catholics and radical Protestants aroused by the proposal to disseminate a corrected version of the Tindal translation of the Bible during the reign of Henry VIII.  His remarks demonstrate the urgent need to control what, indeed, the revealed word of God commanded:  While Protestants demanded that all believers, one by one, inspect the written Word to check the veracity of their instructors and to choose more rationally amidst the competing claims of sects, Catholics argued that ambiguity, internal contradiction, and arousing but confusing metaphors in the Bible itself were ingredients that torched the too-vulnerable bodies of “silly women and mechanics”:

[Hume:]  The friends of the reformation asserted, that nothing could be more absurd than to conceal, in an unknown tongue, the word of God itself, and thus to counteract the will of Heaven, which, for the purpose of universal salvation, had published that salutary doctrine to all nations: that if this practice were not very absurd, the artifice at least was very gross, and proved a consciousness, that the glosses and  traditions of the clergy stood in direct opposition to the original text, dictated by supreme intelligence: that it was now necessary for the people, so long abused by interested pretensions, to see with their own eyes, and to examine whether the claims of the ecclesiastics were founded on that charter which was on all hands acknowledged to be derived from Heaven: and that, as a spirit of research and curiousity was happily revived, and men were more obliged to make a choice among the contending doctrines of different sects, the proper materials for decision, and above all, the Holy Scriptures, should be set before them; and the revealed will of God, which the change of language had somewhat obscured, be again, by their means, revealed to mankind.

The favorites of the ancient religion maintained on the other hand, that the pretence of making the people see with their own eyes was a mere cheat, and was itself a very gross artifice, by which the new preachers hoped to obtain the guidance of them, and to seduce them from those pastors whom the laws, whom the ancient establishments, whom Heaven itself, had appointed for their spiritual direction: that the people were by their very ignorance, their stupidity, their necessary avocations, totally unqualified to choose their own principles; and it was a mockery to set materials before them, of which they could not possibly make any proper use: that even in the affairs of common life, and in their temporal concerns, which lay more within the compass of human reason, the laws had in a great measure deprived them of their right of private judgment, and had, happily for their own and the public interest, regulated their conduct and behavior: that theological questions were placed far beyond the sphere of vulgar comprehension; and ecclesiastics themselves, though assisted by all the advantages of education, erudition, and an assiduous study of the sciences, could not be fully assured of a just decision, except by the promise made them in Scripture, that God would be ever present with his church, and that the gates of hell should not prevail against her: that the gross errors adopted by the wisest heathens, proved how unfit men were to grope their own way through this profound darkness; nor would the Scriptures, if trusted to every man’s judgment, be able to remedy; on the contrary they would much augment those fatal illusions: that sacred writ itself was involved in so much obscurity, gave rise to so many difficulties, containing so many appearing contradictions, that it was the most dangerous weapon that could be intrusted into the hands of the ignorant and giddy multitude: that the poetical style in which a great part of it was composed, at the same time that it occasioned uncertainty in the sense, by its multiplied tropes and figures, was sufficient to kindle the zeal of fanaticism, and thereby throw civil society into the most furious combustion: that a thousand sects must arise, which would pretend, each of them, to derive its tenets from the Scripture; and would be able, by specious arguments, or even without specious arguments, to seduce silly women and ignorant mechanics into a belief of the most monstrous principles: and that, if ever this disorder, dangerous to the magistrate himself, received a remedy, it must be from the tacit acquiescence of the people in some new authority; and it was evidently better, without further contest or inquiry, to adhere peaceably to ancient, and therefore the more secure establishments. [Hume, 221-222].

Will the fiery class of Bible readers feel too great a confidence in its own strength?  Now Hume makes his anxiety about role-models explicit; speculative thought in the Head provides a perilous example to the ignorant and giddy multitude, progressively disintegrating the body politic; mass religious instruction was spinning out of control:

[Hume:] The king [Henry VIII] made in person a speech to the parliament on proroguing them; in which, after thanking them for their loving attachment to him, which, he said, equalled what was ever paid to their ancestors by any king of England, he complained of their dissensions, disputes, and animosities in religion.  He told them that the several pulpits were become a kind of batteries against each other; and that one preacher called another a heretic and Anabaptist, which was retaliated by the opprobrious appellations of Papist and hypocrite: that he had permitted his people the use of the Scriptures, not in order to furnish them with materials for disputing and railing, but that he might enable them to inform their consciences and instruct their children and families: that it grieved his heart to find how that precious jewel was prostituted, by being introduced into the conversation of every alehouse and tavern, and employed as a pretence for decrying the spiritual and legal pastors: and that he was sorry to observe, that the word of God, while it was the object of so much anxious speculation, had very little influence on their practice; and that, though an imaginary knowledge so much abounded, charity was daily going to decay.  The king gave good advice; but his own example, by encouraging speculation and dispute, was ill fitted to promote that peaceable submission of opinion which he recommended. [in year 1545, p.298].

Ever the mediator between extremes, Hume distances himself from the Catholics; Hume is a modern and an enemy to superstition.  Repression is no alternative to Protestant disputation, he argues; ignorance but exacerbates feelings of emnity: Hume, as doctor to society and a man of the world, prescribes the toleration of difference, but apparently not from a desire for the intellectual engagement that could lead to rational social action in the body politic he wants to preserve; rather he wishes to forestall outbreaks of barbarism in the lower orders.  The good king will relax the hold of religion, constricting its sphere so that men may be flexible; free to seize new opportunities by ingratiating themselves with more powerful others whose ethical beliefs are different from their own.  Here Hume expatiates upon the wages of persecution during the reign of Queen Mary; no one is so opinionated, irrationally dogmatic and hence destructive of good order, as “polemical divines”; again, Hume reconstructs the debate:

[Hume:] The practice of persecution, said the defenders of Pole’s opinion, is the scandal of all religion; and the theological animosity, so fierce and violent, far from being an argument of men’s conviction in their opposite sects, is a certain proof that they have never reached any serious persuasion with regard to those remote and sublime subjects.  Even those who are the most impatient of contradiction in other controversies, are mild and moderate in comparison of polemical divines; and wherever a man’s knowledge and experience give him a perfect assurance in his own opinion, he regards with contempt, rather than anger, the opposition and mistakes of others.  But while men zealously maintain what they neither clearly comprehend nor entirely believe, they are shaken in their imagined faith by the opposite persuasion, or even doubts, of other men; and vent on their antagonists that impatience which is the natural result of so disagreeable a state of the understanding.  They then easily embrace any pretence for representing opponents as impious and profane; and if they can also find a color for connecting this violence with the interests of civil government, they can no longer be restrained from giving uncontrolled scope to vengeance and resentment.  But surely never enterprise was more unfortunate than that of founding persecution upon policy, or endeavoring, for the sake of peace, to settle an entire uniformity of opinion in questions which, of all others, are least subjected to the criterion of human reason.  The universal and uncontradicted prevalence of one opinion in religious subjects can be owing, at first, to the stupid ignorance alone and barbarism of the people, who never indulge themselves in any speculation or inquiry; and there is no expedient for maintaining that uniformity so fondly sought after, but by banishing forever all curiosity, and all improvement in science and cultivation.  It may not indeed appear difficult to check, by a steady severity, the first beginnings of controversy; but besides that this policy exposes forever the people to all the abject terrors of superstition, and the magistrate to the endless encroachment of ecclesiastics, it also renders men so delicate that they can never endure to hear of opposition; and they will some time pay dearly for that false tranquillity in which they have been so long indulged.  As healthful bodies are ruined by too nice a regimen, and are thereby rendered incapable of bearing the unavoidable incidents of human life, a people who were never allowed to imagine that their principles could be contested fly out into the most outrageous violence when any event (and such events are common) produces a faction among their clergy, and gives rise to any difference in tenet or opinion.  But whatever may be said in favor of suppressing, by persecution, the first beginnings of heresy, no solid argument can be alleged for extending severity towards multitudes, or endeavoring, by capital punishments, to extirpate an opinion which has diffused itself among men of every rank and station.  Besides the extreme barbarity of such an attempt, it commonly proves ineffectual to the purpose intended, and serves only to make men more obstinate in their persuasion, and to increase the number of their proselytes.  The melancholy with which the fear of death, torture, and persecution inspires the sectaries, is the proper disposition for fostering religious zeal: the prospect of eternal rewards, when brought near, overpowers the dread of temporal punishments: the glory of martyrdom stimulates all the more furious zealots, especially the leaders and preachers: where a violent animosity is excited by oppression, men naturally pass from hating the persons of their tyrants to a more violent abhorrence of their doctrines: and the spectators, moved with pity towards the supposed martyrs, are easily seduced to embrace those principles which can inspire men with a constancy that appears almost supernatural.  Open the door to toleration, mutual hatred relaxes among the sectaries; their attachment to their particular modes of religion decays; the common occupations and pleasures of life succeed to the acrimony of disputation; and the same man who, in other circumstances, would have braved flames and tortures, is induced to change his sect from the smallest prospect of favor and advancement, or even from the frivolous hope of becoming more fashionable in his principles.  If any exception can be admitted to this maxim of toleration, it will only be where a theology altogether new, nowise connected with the ancient religion of the state, is imported from foreign countries, and may easily, at one blow, be eradicated, without leaving the seeds of future innovation.  But as this exception would imply some apology for the ancient pagan persecutions, or for the extirpation of Christianity in China and Japan, it ought surely, on account of this detested consequence, to be rather buried in eternal silence and oblivion.

Though these arguments appear entirely satisfactory, yet such is the subtlety of human wit, that Gardiner and the other enemies to toleration were not reduced to silence; and they still found topics on which to maintain the controversy.  The doctrine, said they, of liberty and conscience, is founded on the most flagrant impiety, and supposes such an indifference in all religions, such an obscurity in theological doctrines, as to render the church and magistrate incapable of distinguishing with certainty the dictates of Heaven from the mere fictions of human imagination.  If the Divinity reveals principles to mankind, he will surely give a criterion by which they may be ascertained; and a prince who knowingly allows these principles to be perverted or adulterated, is infinitely more criminal than if he gave permission for the vending of poison, under the shape of food, to all his subjects.  Persecution may, indeed, seem better calculated to make hypocrites than converts; but experience teaches us, that the habits of hypocrisy often turn into reality; and the children, at least, ignorant of the dissimulation of their parents, may happily be educated in more orthodox tenets.  It is absurd, in opposition to considerations of such unspeakable importance, to plead the temporal and frivolous interests of civil society; and if matters be thoroughly examined, even that topic will not appear so universally certain in favor of toleration as by some it is represented.  When sects arise whose fundamental principle on all sides is to execrate, and abhor, and extirpate each other, what choice has the magistrate left but to take part, and by rendering one sect entirely prevalent, restore, at least for a time, the public tranquillity?  The political body, being here sickly, must not be treated as if it were in a state of sound health; and an affected neutrality in the prince, or even a cool preference, may serve only to encourage the hopes of all the sects, and keep alive their animosity.  The Protestants, far from tolerating the religion of their ancestors, regard it as an impious and detestable idolatry; and during the late minority, when they were entirely masters, they enacted very severe, though not capital, punishments against the exercise of all Catholic worship, and even against such as barely abstained from their profane rites and sacraments.  Nor are instances wanting of their endeavors to secure an imagined orthodoxy by the most rigorous executions: Calvin has burned Servetus at Geneva; Cranmer brought Arians and Anabaptists to the stake; and if persecution of any kind be admitted, the most bloody and violent will surely be allowed the most justifiable, as the most effectual.  Imprisonments, fines, confiscations, whippings, serve only to irritate the sects, without disabling them from resistance: but the stake, the wheel, and the gibbet must soon terminate in the extirpation of banishment of all the heretics inclined to give disturbance, and in the entire silence and submission of the rest. [Hume, 416-419].

For Hume, the curbing of speculative thought among the people will discourage science, a bad thing; and in this horrible practice, Protestants have been as guilty as the Catholics.  Toleration, then, entails incorporation or co-option of social irritants; tolerated as long as the troublemakers do not stray from their assigned turf to convince others, that is until they switch allegiances, good opportunists and moral relativists that they are, jumping to a different prospect.  The reader may judge for herself to what degree Anne Hutchinson’s friends and enemies diverge from Hume’s centrist formulation, fed with controversy that is not too hot, not too cold, but [the] Just Right.

[i]. See Darret B. Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston(Chapel Hill, 1965): 121. In addition to the familiar epithets of “antinomian,” “Anabaptist,” “Familist,” and “Opinionist,” all of which connoted varieties of anarchy, free love, and even communal ownership, Rutman has uncovered the appellation, “this red Regiment.”

2. See T. Wilson Hayes, “John Everard and the Familist Tradition,” The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism, ed. Margaret C. Jacob and James Jacob (London, 1984): 60-61, 63.  Thomas Chaundler, a clothier, and Robert Sterete, a clerk, were arrested in 1561 and forced to give “lengthy confessions” about the practices of their Familist community.  They testified that “in their community they had all goods in common and met, thirty at a time, ‘to hear Scriptures expounded.’  The host furnished meat, drink and lodging for the night.  They attended church but objected to confessing to be ‘miserable sinners’ because such confessions lessened self-respect and made it more difficult to stop sinning.  They affirmed that all things are ruled by nature and not directed by God.  They prohibited weapons until they were attacked.  All marriages were performed ‘by the brethren’ and they allowed divorce by mutual consent after one year of marriage.  They denied that Christ is equal to God or is the son of God and believed that everyone must first be in error before understanding the truth.  They insisted that ‘heaven and hell are present in this world among us and that there is none other.’  They refused to hold funeral services or believe in the efficacy of church ceremonies, and thought all ministers should be itinerants and that every day should be a sabbath, for God made the earth to be enjoyed.  They believed Christ was in them, that there was a world before Adam’s time, that no one should be punished for his opinions, and, most important, that everyone has a right to interpret Scripture.”  If this community of Familists was typical, then there are no grounds for comparison between Hutchinsonian theology or social practice.  Hayes’ account differs from Larzer Ziff in Puritanism in America (N.Y.: Viking, 1973): 72.  Ziff writes, “‘Familists’ meant members of the Family of Love, a sect that believed that free love was a permitted result of the gracious life freed from the law.”  The Familists were merely a “counter-culture” “drawn from the disinherited of the earth” comforting themselves “in the little they do possess.”  Ziff’s description has trivialized the Familists and depoliticized their materialist challenge to the dominant culture.

For the Weld quote see David D. Hall ed., The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638, A Documentary History (Middletown, 1968): 207-209.

3. The moderate David Hume, foe to all forms of zealotry, described the end of Cranmer, burned at the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary, but uncompromised and united to his principles: “It is pretended, that after his body was consumed, his heart was found entire and untouched among the ashes; an event which, as it was then the emblem of his constancy, was fondly believed by the zealous Protestants.”  Cf. the remains of “Ethan Brand,” the prideful autodidact who haunted Nathaniel Hawthorne. See David Hume, History of England Vol. 3 (Boston, 1856): 434.

4. Richard Brodhead, “The Book That Ruined Melville,” New York Times Book Review, 1/7/96, p.35.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Mrs. Hutchinson,” in Tales, Sketches and Other Papers (Cambridge, 1878): 224.  See also Michael J. Colacurcio, “Footsteps of Anne Hutchinson: The Context of the Scarlet Letter, “ ELH 39, #3 (1972): 459-94.  Anne Hutchinson was the symbol of libertarian revolt and cultural dissolution;  the Antinomian Controversy is the sub-text of The Scarlet Letter. Anne Hutchinson and John Cotton were parents of the “monstrous birth” Antinomianism, just as Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale produced the monstrous child Pearl.

5. Historians have not seen the original reports of the two trials, nor can it be known whether the first transcripts were accurate.  The first account of the civil trial was appended to Thomas Hutchinson, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston, 1767), but it was taken from “an ancient manuscript” which “may have disappeared in the sacking of Hutchinson’s house during the Stamp Act riots of 1765.  The proceedings of the church trial are an eighteenth-century copy of another lost “seventeenth-century original,” copied by Ezra Stiles, a Newport minister who became president of Yale College.  See Hall, Antinomian Controversy, 311, 350.

6. Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston, 146.

7. Lyle Koehler, William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, XXXII (January 1975): 170.

8. See James Axtell, The European and the Indian (N.Y.: 1981): 310.

9. Charles Francis Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History Vol.II (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903, Revised Edition).

10. See the Robert Altman-Donald Freed film Secret Honor, in which the Quaker Richard Nixon is dominated by his mother, the source of his over-reaching and tragic descent into madness.  First his mother’s little dog, he is set up to become the running dog of the fascistic nouveaux riche southwestern capitalists after the war.  It is hinted that the Eastern corporatist liberal establishment erred in not taking the talented young veteran and lawyer into their club; i.e., they lacked the necessary stabilizing pluralism that keeps capitalism afloat.

11. Quotes are from David Hume, History of England vol.3 (Boston, 1856), to be abbreviated HE

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