Tenacious of Their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts

Paperback | May 15, 2002

byJames F. Cooper

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Although the importance of Congregationalism in early Massachusetts has engaged historians' attention for generations, this study is the first to approach the Puritan experience in Congregational church government from the perspective of both the pew and the pulpit. For the past decade, author James F. Cooper, Jr. has immersed himself in local manuscript church records. These previously untapped documents provide a fascinating glimpse of lay-clerical relations in colonial Massachusetts, and reveal that ordinary churchgoers shaped the development ofCongregational practices as much as the clerical and elite personages who for so long have populated histories of this period. Cooper's new findings will both challenge existing models of church hierarchy and offer a new dimension to our understanding of the origins of New England democracy. Refuting the idea of clerical predominance in the governance of colonial Massachusetts churches, Cooper shows that the laity were both informed and empowered to rule with ministers, rather than beneath them. From the outset of the Congregational experiment, ministers articulated--and lay peopleembraced--principles of limited authority, higher law, and free consent in the conduct of church affairs. These principles were codified early on in the Cambridge Platform, which the laity used as their standard in resisting infringements upon their rights. By neglecting the democratic components ofCongregationalism, Cooper argues, scholars have missed the larger political significance of the movement. Congregational thought and practice in fact served as one indigenous seedbed of several concepts that would later flourish during the Revolutionary generation, including the notions thatgovernment derives its legitimacy from the voluntary consent of the governed, that governors should be chosen by the governed, that rulers should be accountable to the ruled, and that constitutional checks should limit both the governors and the people. By examining the development of church government through the perspective of lay-clerical interchange, Cooper comes to a fresh understanding of the sometimes noble, sometimes sordid, and sometimes rowdy nature of church politics. His study casts new light upon Anne Hutchinson and the "AntinomianControversy," the Cambridge Platform, the Halfway Covenant, the Reforming Synod of 1679, and the long-standing debate over Puritan "declension." Cooper argues that, in general, church government did not divide Massachusetts culture along lay-clerical lines, but instead served as a powerful componentof a popular religion and an ideology whose fundamentals were shared by churchgoers and most ministers throughout much of the colonial era. His is a book that will interest students of American culture, religion, government, and history.

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Although the importance of Congregationalism in early Massachusetts has engaged historians' attention for generations, this study is the first to approach the Puritan experience in Congregational church government from the perspective of both the pew and the pulpit. For the past decade, author James F. Cooper, Jr. has immersed himself...

James F. Cooper, Jr. is Associate Professor of History at Oklahoma State University.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 5.98 × 9.09 × 0.79 inPublished:May 15, 2002Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195152875

ISBN - 13:9780195152876

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. The Implementation of the Congregational Way2. "A Mixed Form": Clerical Authority and Lay Liberty3. Lay "Rebellion" and Clerical Reaction: Antinomianism and Its Aftermath4. The Presbyterian Challenge5. Congregationalism in Crisis: The Halfway Covenant6. An Uneasy Balance7. Declension and Reform8. Clerical Conflict and the Decline of Sola Scriptura9. Perpetuation and Disintegration10. The Great Awakening and the Privatization of Piety

Editorial Reviews

"A major revisionist study that makes extensive use of records from more than 100 early Massachusetts churches... covering the entire colonial period, he traces the shifting dynamics in church politics right up to the beginnings of the Revolutionary movement," William and Mary Quarterly