American Legal History

Why Does Religious Conviction Endure Exposure?

A thought occurs to me regarding the arbitrary, yet pious and prudential, nature and function of early Massachusetts Colony legal systems -- zoomed-in on the orbit of Winthrop -- as described by G.L. Haskins. The seed of this notion comes from Chapter 8 of Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts, pages 114-8. Winthrop's bellwether leadership of the early colonial society afforded him and his Puritan followers the opportunity to re-create legal regimes from whole cloth, so it is with a very curious eye that I read Haskins's report that procedural rules of appeal were threadbare. It seems odd that a newborn society would accept strict conduct laws and arbitrary legal mores. Moreover, I understand that the arms of Winthrop's legal principles were not designed to blindly hold the guilt or innocence of an accused party in equal weight, but rather the system stared into the sun and held religious piety and social purity in one heavy hand. It is an old revelation that our kindergarten stories about the Massachusetts pilgrims are apocryphal, but I still do not understand how the Puritan experience interacted with their manifested legal system. Likewise, I don't understand why these Puritans retained these strict social laws over generations when exposed to less judgmental legal systems that, to my atheist mind, seemed to allow more fun and were proved to be somewhat economically and socially successful.

A censorious society founded on strict religious laws is not a particularly fun or engaging one; why, then, did it follow Massachusetts settlers as they moved elsewhere in New England? Could it be that I'm overstating the quotidien weight or effect of laws in Massachusetts society? Or am I understating the staying power of religious conviction?

-- JohnOMeara - 16 Sep 2016



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r1 - 16 Sep 2016 - 13:40:42 - JohnOMeara
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