Fresh and thought-provoking, "Money and Morals in America" recounts the history of the conflict between greed and good in our country, from the founding fathers to the junk bond traders.
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MORE THAN ALL THE WEALTH IN THE WORLD
The puritans aboard the Arbella sensed the bounty of Massachusetts before they reached it. On the seventy-first of their seventy-six days at sea, they stopped to fish and easily caught dozens of large cod. With the next sunrise came an offshore wind bearing a smell of earth, a smell that reminded their leader, John Winthrop, of gardens. Four days later, at four o'clock on the morning of June 22, 1630, they fired two cannons to announce their arrival, jubilation apparently overriding consideration for the slumbering inhabitants of the village of Salem. Winthrop and his party steered into Plum Cove, dropped anchor, and went ashore. Wild strawberries abounded. The newcomers helped themselves.
Behind them were tempests (meteorological and human), seasickness, stillbirths, fears of pirates, orgies of swabbing, crime (swearing, fisticuffs, disobedience), and punishment (manacles, leg irons, weights around the neck). All that distinguished this transatlantic voyage from others of its day were a few sheets of paper on which Winthrop asked his companions to join him in a covenant based on the most inspired of Christ's imperatives: Love one another.
Winthrop's entreaty, "A Model of Christian Charity," declared that society was a body of separate parts, love the only thing capable of holding the parts together, and togetherness the only means of survival. God had made some individuals rich, some poor, some powerful, and some weak in order to display His range and create opportunities to work His spirit upon the wicked--preventing the mighty from devouring the weak and the poor from rising up against the rich, for instance. Above all, God had made a limitless variety of individuals to assure that "every man might have need of other[s]," thus knitting humankind together "in the bond of brotherly affection," Winthrop wrote. Once held by that bond, individuals would cease to feel their separateness and would strive together for the glory of God and "the common good of the creature Man."
To Winthrop, love was everything. The soul coveted it "more than all the wealth in the world," he said. "Nothing yields more pleasure and content to the soul than when it finds that which it may love fervently, for to love and live beloved is the soul's paradise, both here and in heaven." Of all graces, love--"free, active, strong, courageous, permanent"--was the most godly. Of all sins, self-love was the most deadly. Adam had fallen because he put his own desires first, and Christ had given His life to demonstrate the importance He attached to loving others more than oneself. In their new world, Winthrop said, "there are two rules whereby we are to walk toward one another: justice and mercy." Those who had must aid those who had not, and public good must come before private interest.
But if they embraced "this present world" and their "carnal intentions," he warned, "the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, be revenged of such a perjured people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant." To avoid this "shipwreck," as Winthrop called it (choosing a metaphor sure to impress a traveler in midocean), the people of Massachusetts must "rejoice together, mourn together, labor together, always having before our eyes our Commission and community."
If they succeeded in loving one another, Winthrop promised, God would bless them in all ways. The governor closed by asking them to remember that New England would be "as a city upon a hill," watched by Old England and by God. If they turned their hearts away from heaven, they would perish, and their failure would "open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God." John Winthrop could imagine such a fate, but he would not permit it.
At forty-two, Winthrop was starting over, hoping to build a new world to replace an old one fallen apart. Born in comfortable circumstances, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and began practicing law after training at Gray's Inn. Widowed twice in his twenties, he married Margaret Tyndal when he was thirty. But by the end of the 1620s, he had lost his place in the Court of Wards, and an agricultural depression had slashed the income from the Suffolk country estate left to him by his father. He despaired of giving his own sons a foothold in the world and could not think of his future or of England's without dread.
In portraits, John Winthrop is a dark-bearded man with penetrating eyes, a long nose, and a broad forehead. On the voyage to Massachusetts, he began keeping a journal, and if his eyes mirrored his soul as well as his journal did, they must have registered emotions stretching from majesty to merriment to kindness to fury. He was methodical, persuasive, seemingly devoid of self-aggrandizement, and compassionate except when he felt his authority under attack.
As a Puritan, Winthrop belonged to a small sect that had come into being in the decades of spiritual ferment following Henry VIII's establishment of the Church of England in 1536, after splitting with Rome. In their earliest days, Puritans concentrated their purifying on religious practices, hoping to persuade the Church of England that its elaborate rituals and decor were impediments to the individual's communion with God. Puritans also insisted upon the ultimate authority of the Bible. Both positions distressed the Anglican clergy by implying that despite its place at the center of English political life, it might be spiritually superfluous.
Puritanism proved no easier on Puritans than on prelates. An individual was called to the faith by God. Once summoned, a Puritan faced ceaseless demands to labor (earthly callings being the visible manifestations of spiritual ones), to spend hours at prayer, to forswear fancy dress and the theater, and to make each thought, word, and deed an emblem of the glory of God. Puritans viewed themselves as a chosen people, an opinion undoubtedly reinforced by the fact of their small numbers and the sheer hopelessness of their aspirations. Few were called, fewer chosen, the price of membership so high it could never be paid in full.
Exhilarating as these stringencies were to God's elect, most seventeenth-century Englishmen looked at Puritans and saw spoilsports made peevish by an excess of piety. An early Puritan chronicler noted that the Church of England ignored the pleas for reform and burrowed deeper into depravity by permitting "lewd and profane persons to celebrate a Sabbath like the heathen to Venus, Bacchus, and Ceres; in so much that the multitude of irreligious, lascivious, and popish-affected persons spread the whole land like grasshoppers."
By the time John Winthrop had come of age, the whole land was in fact spread with ills--political chaos, economic upheaval, disease, and crime. The Puritans, recognizing the chastening hand of God, were unsurprised. But as they contemplated the future, they found themselves in a predicament familiar to anyone who has been a member of a much-loved group when it lost its way: What is the right thing to do? Stay put and work for change? Or leave with one's ideals intact and try to practice them elsewhere?
England's rampant destitution vexed Winthrop with questions he could not answer. "Why meet we so many wandering ghosts in shape of men, so many spectacles of misery in all our streets, our houses full of victuals, and our entries of hunger-starved Christians? Our shops full of rich wares, and under our stalls lie our own flesh in nakedness." Wherever he looked in the late 1620s, he saw violence and sin. "Cruelty and blood is in our streets, the land aboundeth with murders, slaughters, incests, adulteries, whoredom, drunkenness, oppression, and pride where well-doing is not maintained, or the godly cherished, but idolatry, popery and whatsoever is evil is countenanced; even the least of these is enough, and enough to make haste out of Babylon." Fearing even greater afflictions, he prayed that God would provide the Puritans with "a shelter and a hiding place."
The most likely refuge was Massachusetts, where England already had a few outposts. And the most likely vehicle of escape was the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was managed and largely owned by Puritans. Based in London, the company had been chartered by the crown in 1629 for the purpose of founding a colony to take Christianity to the natives, trade with them, start fisheries and agricultural enterprises, and in general seize every chance to add to the king's power and purse. It occurred to the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Company that if they moved the seat of the company's operations from London to Massachusetts, they would have almost unlimited freedom to start a godly kingdom and run it as they saw fit.
Appealing as that sounded to some Puritans, including John Winthrop, others wondered whether God wanted such a kingdom. Removing the godly at a time of crisis would be a great wrong to church and country, the skeptics argued. Nor did they approve of Winthrop's desire to persuade the ablest Puritans to join him. They also challenged the right of Englishmen to help themselves to land long possessed by "other sons of Adam" and predicted that the natives' resentment would make them troublesome neighbors. Nature and experience argued further against the plan: Massachusetts lacked natural barriers to invasion, and no English settlement in North America could yet be counted a success.
Winthrop, determined to prove that the case for Massachusetts was stronger than the case against, formulated counterarguments and solicited other opinions. A good Christian could serve God anywhere, he said. He justified taking the best people on the ground that a mighty work required mighty workers. Native claims to the land meant little to most seventeenth-century Europeans. In taking possession of the Americas, they operated on their legal principle of vacuum domicilium, an ingenious dignification of a patently rapacious idea: If land was empty, it was available, and no payment was necessary unless natives claimed ownership. The earth was "the Lord's garden, and He hath given it to the sons of men to be tilled and improved," Winthrop said. The natives' lack of tilling only strengthened the Puritan sense of entitlement.
God Himself seemed to have special designs for Massachusetts. Only a dozen years before the landing of the Arbella, He had cleared the way for settlers by wiping out more than a third of the natives in a plague. ("Miraculous," said the Puritans.) Winthrop hoped to win the natives' goodwill but expected to prevail whether he got it or not. An English settler already in Massachusetts had assured him that forty men with muskets could hold their own against five hundred warriors with bows and arrows. More important, Winthrop considered it "a good work" to take the gospel to the natives. Whether the natives would take to the gospel he did not know, but he thought the Puritans should not pass up an opportunity to "raise a bulwark" against Jesuit missionaries in the New World. Untroubled by the absence of cliffs and other natural fortifications, Winthrop noted that Holland had managed to thrive despite similar vulnerabilities.
Winthrop found the failures of previous English settlements instructive but not discouraging. In his judgment, the organizers had erred because they had aimed "chiefly at profit," put themselves at the mercy of greedy merchants who cut off supplies in hard times, enlisted "rude and misgoverned persons" as settlers, and entrusted their government to the irresolute and the inexperienced. Winthrop intended to avoid these mistakes and believed that if Massachusetts prospered, it would be a haven for other Puritans. Calamity was imminent, he felt sure, "and who knoweth but that God hath prepared this place for a refuge for many whom He meaneth to save in the general destruction."
At summer's end in 1629, having received the king's approval to shift the company's seat to Massachusetts, the shareholders elected Winthrop as governor. In spite of his relatively small financial stake in the Massachusetts Bay Company, he defeated three other candidates for the post. The reasons for his victory are not entirely clear, but the case he had made for moving to New England was powerfully reasoned. Winthrop's seriousness, his determination to succeed, and his obvious devotion to a cause larger than himself undoubtedly appealed to investors who understood the riskiness of the venture. "Oh, that He would give me a heart now to answer His goodness to me, and the expectation of His people," he wrote Margaret.
For the next nine months, the governor and his aides busied themselves hiring sixteen ships and recruiting a thousand pious settlers--women, children, and men who were carpenters, masons, smiths, potters, coopers, fishermen, and farmers. Provisions were gathered, and in the spring of 1630, the hold of the Arbella began to fill with 10,000 gallons of beer, 3,500 gallons of water, much bread and cheese, and hundreds of barrels containing the ingredients of thousands of meals that must have been stupefyingly dull: salted cod and beef, peas, oatmeal, and flour. For flavor there was butter, salt, mustard seed, vinegar, and suet. Winthrop left no sign that he doubted the rightness of his decision to leave, but as the departure approached, he was not without regret. Merely reading a letter from Margaret, who would not join him in Massachusetts for more than a year, had "dissolved my head into tears," he said.
Whatever joy the first fleet of Massachusetts Puritans felt at their deliverance from the terrors of the sea was soon tempered by other discoveries. During the previous winter, more than a quarter of the three hundred English settlers who preceded the Puritans to Massachusetts had succumbed to disease, cold, or the vagaries of the food supply. The survivors--weak, hungry, badly housed--inspired little confidence. Dozens of the Puritans who came with Winthrop decided not to stay, preferring the certain perils of another transatlantic passage to the unknown terrors of the wilderness.
Toward the end of June, after a few days in Salem, Governor Winthrop and his aides headed south through the woods in search of a town site, ultimately selecting a spot near Beacon Hill. They named the settlement Boston, after an English stronghold of Puritanism. The first test of Winthrop's faith soon followed, and he noted the event with one terse sentence in his journal: "My son H:W: was drowned at Salem." Henry Winthrop, one of the governor's eight children, had gone with a group of ship's officers to look at a native encampment. On the way, they spied a canoe across a river and decided to borrow it to save themselves a long, hot walk to the next ford in the stream. Henry, twenty-two and vigorous, had volunteered to swim over for it.
The little that John Winthrop said of the drowning when he wrote his family showed his reluctance to question God's will. There was a lesson to be drawn from such events, he told another of his sons: "the Lord teach you and the rest by it to remember your Creator in the days of your youth, and to improve your time to His service, while it lasts." Despite God's "stroke upon my son Henry," he wrote home to Margaret, the rest of the family was safe, and God upheld "our hearts that we faint not in all our troubles"
Troubles were legion. Cows and goats were dying, calves were being eaten by wolves. The governor felt obliged to order his first execution. Christmas Eve wrapped New England in a bitter cold that did not abate till spring. Fowl and game were plentiful, but the density of the forests made it hard for a hunter to get a clear shot. Shivering in tents and drafty huts, the settlers had little to eat but clams, mussels, and whatever acorns they could chisel from the frozen ground. By New Year's Day, two hundred of them had died. Many more were ill.
There was no doubt that this was the voice of God, but it was difficult to make out what He was saying. Had the Puritans been abandoned? Or did God mean to test them, as He had tested His other chosen people? Unwilling to believe that the Puritans had been forsaken, Winthrop concluded that they had incurred the Lord's displeasure. Precisely how, he declined to say, though he wrote Margaret that "Satan bends his forces against us, and stirs up his instruments to all kinds of mischief, so that I think here are some persons who never showed so much wickedness in England as they have done here." In hopes of regaining divine favor, he ordered a day of atonement.
But the greatest shock on this alien shore was a pleasant one. Trees came down, houses went up (and stayed up, once the governor banned wooden chimneys), crops flourished, livestock multiplied, and in 1631 Winthrop commissioned the construction of a small sailing ship, The Blessing of the Bay, to start a trade along the coast. By 1632, Richard Saltonstall, one of the Massachusetts Bay Company's largest shareholders, saw profits wherever he looked--from masts, clapboards, fishing. tar, pitch, hemp, and flax. What the settlers did not need themselves they expected to sell elsewhere. Saltonstall urged an English acquaintance to "encourage good men to come over, for here is land and means of livelihood sufficient for men that bring bodies able and minds fitted to brave the first brunts."
Braving the first brunts, onerous as they were, proved a minor challenge compared to the struggle of loving one another. With the demand for houses far exceeding the supply of sawyers, carpenters, and masons, a bidding war broke out within weeks of the Arbella's landing. Craftsmen in the building trades routinely gouged their customers, and customers of ample means paid so well that the less affluent were priced out of the market. As the havoc and rancor spread, the Court of Assistants--Massachusetts Bay Company directors who served as a combination of cabinet and legislature for the colony's first few years--imposed wage controls in the summer of 1630. Maximum pay for building craftsmen was set at two shillings a day. Breaking the law would cost customer and craftsman ten shillings apiece. When some customers bent the rules by offering free meals to their hired hands, the court mandated a 25 percent pay cut for workmen fed on the job.
Governor Winthrop and his assistants also instituted a series of price controls as prices of food, clothing, and other necessities shot heavenward. Massachusetts merchants were ordered to charge only a third more than their goods would fetch in England. Wage and price controls came and went, returned and were repealed again, with the court alternately responding to public outcries and despairing of enforcement. Winthrop noted in his journal that when wages were too tightly controlled, workmen tended to leave the labor market, contenting themselves with subsistence farming while they built up their own properties. Eventually the court called upon town governments to monitor wages. Winthrop also ordered each town to appoint an agent to buy all the goods from every incoming ship in exchange for the right to resell them at profits within the guidelines set by the court. But enterprising sailors would not be stopped from smuggling goods ashore to make their own trades.
Cheating inspired a flurry of regulations designed to compensate for the shortage of love that sellers felt for buyers. To address the deceits of tanners, the court ordered the appointment of tanning experts to regulate quality. Complaints about barrels that leaked because of wormholes led to official standards and inspections. Every baker was required to give his loaves a distinctive brand in order to facilitate the discovery and punishment of those who gave short weight. A merchant guilty of overcharging was obliged to return double the excess and to pay a fine levied at the discretion of the court.
Theft and fraud brought vivid punishments intended to convince the populace to steer a narrow course. Stealing a loaf of bread, a sheet, or a pair of shoes called for a whipping. There were fines for unauthorized borrowing of horses and for peddling quack medicines. An ambitious servant who engaged in a bit of freelance trading without his master's permission was fined and flogged.
In dealing with the scoundrels, Governor Winthrop drew on the full range of his feelings, sometimes playing the despot, sometimes the pragmatist, and sometimes the indulgent parent. One winter, on learning that a man had been filching wood from a neighbor, Winthrop promised to rehabilitate the malefactor. The thief, asked to account for himself, explained that he had taken the wood because he and his family had none. Winthrop made his own woodpile available to the man and laughingly reported his success in "reforming" a criminal. "[I]n the infancy of plantations," Winthrop wrote, "justice should be administered with more lenity than in a settled state" because people were more apt to transgress out of ignorance and desperation than real evil. But his lenity coexisted with a conviction that only a strong hand would keep his fallible, self-loving charges on a righteous path.
While the Puritans thought of themselves as a community of saints, it required more saintliness than most humans could muster for a merchant to put customers' welfare ahead of his own, especially when shortages dealt him an advantage. The merchant who happened to have a stock of bridles or window glass at a moment when his competitors had none was inclined to make the most of his luck until the arrival of new goods restored a measure of competition.
The most celebrated case of mercantile grasping came before the court in 1639, when Robert Keayne of Boston was accused of allowing himself unconscionable profits. He was said to have marked up such goods as nails, thread, and gold buttons by more than 100 percent on some occasions. Members of the court had no doubts about Keayne's guilt but disagreed about the gravity of his offense. Some wanted to fine him 200 [pounds sterling], others 100 [pounds sterling]. Winthrop initially took a hard line, viewing the practices as inexcusable because Keayne was a wealthy man, professed to be a true Christian, and had ignored earlier warnings against overcharging. Worst of all in Winthrop's judgment, Keayne seemed blind to the necessity for impeccable behavior by members of "a church and commonwealth now in their infancy, and under the curious observation of all churches and civil states in the world."
Those in favor of the smaller fine argued that it was in the nature of trade to exploit whatever advantages a market presented, that Keayne was not the only sharpster among Boston's merchants, and that because the Bible required no more than double restitution, a fine of 200 [pounds sterling] seemed unduly punitive.
Keayne was ordered to appear in church to "acknowledge and bewail his covetous heart." Overcome by tears as he struggled to explain himself, he pleaded ignorance of his wholesale prices in some instances and argued that he had believed--mistakenly, he had come to understand--that when a merchant lost money on one item, there was no sin in making it up on another. After debating whether Keayne should be excommunicated, the congregation concluded that an admonition would suffice. As Winthrop reported the proceedings, it was decided that Keayne had been misled by "false principles" but had shown himself "otherwise liberal in his hospitality, and in church communion."
Keayne felt the sting of his public humiliation for the rest of his life. Thirteen years after the trial, in disgrace again because of drunkenness, he began writing a will that filled 158 pages in the colony's probate records. Thirty pages railed against the cruelty of the judgment, and another thirty attempted to prove his innocence with details from his account books. Keayne consoled himself with thoughts of the day "when I and they, the judges and the judged, shall stand naked before one throne, where there will be no respect of persons, when all sentences and the causes of them will be called over again before a greater judge and a higher tribunal than man's can be."
In Keayne's ordeal it is possible to see that the Puritanism of New England, for all its insistence on stability, was instability itself. The Puritans in the wilderness were like a row of iron filings suspended between two equally powerful magnets--held in place by a tension so perfect that it snapped at the least disturbance and scattered the filings in all directions. Puritanism demanded hours of worship and daily Bible reading, yet the business of conquering the wilderness needed constant toil. A good Puritan was expected to be economically self-sufficient, but he was also supposed to subordinate personal interests to the needs of community. The cardinal virtue, self-denial, pitted a human against most of the longings recognizable as human. It was wrong to make a monastic withdrawal from society, equally wrong to embrace the world. A Puritan lived trembling on the edge of a blade, ever in danger of a bloody plunge to perdition.
The calling, the divine summons to Puritanism as well as to one's earthly vocation, was a knot of contradictions. On the one hand, it gave Puritan patriarchs a compelling justification of the status quo: the mighty were mighty and the weak weak because God had made them so. To aspire to another station was to flout His will. On the other hand, the calling demanded a sweaty devotion to work, and assiduity amid the vast opportunities of Massachusetts regularly produced wealth and a change of station.
Few subjects agitated the Puritan mind more than wealth. It was both a sign of God's blessing and a powerful temptation to the sin of pride (how satisfying to be among the elect of the elect!) and to the sins of the flesh. Orthodoxy required a Puritan to dress plainly, but judging by the court's steady issuance of sumptuary laws, the appetite for fancy clothing was insatiable. The Puritan leadership was especially distressed by the sartorial ostentation of the lower classes, who were supposed to content themselves with "raiment suitable to the order in which God's providence has placed them." The court banned short sleeves, disclosing as they did "the nakedness of the arm." Also forbidden were wide sleeves, billowing breeches, clusters of ribbon, luxurious cuffs, and double ruffs, presumably because all of them required excessive quantities of fabric. Lace was outlawed for provoking "the nourishing of pride and exhausting of men's estates."
Even here the Puritans were ambivalent. While they would not have wastrels and peacocks in their own province, they saw nothing amiss in profiting from the immoderation of others, so they allowed lace makers to continue in their callings as long as they promised to sell their handiwork only to "such persons as shah and will transport [it] out of this jurisdiction." The court also ended the drinking of toasts, declaring that they served no purpose, often led to drunken brawling, and wasted wine and beer. Such sentiments did not prevent the Puritans of Massachusetts from entering--and prospering in--the rum trade.
Avarice was a highway to hell, but riches were not. "Riches are consistent with godliness," the Reverend Samuel Willard declared, "and the more a man hath, the more advantage he hath to do good with it." Here was divine encouragement to wax fat and an invitation to imagine it a noble aim because the richer a man became, the more wealth he would allow to trickle down to less fortunate Christians.
Poverty saved an individual from indulging worldly appetites but was no proof of sainthood. The able-bodied poor of seventeenth-century Massachusetts were suspected of being willfully deaf to their callings. A scarcity of labor that persisted for decades made employment easier to find and more remunerative in Massachusetts than in England, so idleness was nearly as intolerable as sodomy. Nevertheless, Governor Winthrop insisted that all the poor be cared for, and towns and churches regularly cooperated in distributing food and alms. As local taxes rose and the ranks of the poor increased, grumblers drew increasingly sharp distinctions between the worthy poor and the idle poor. Beggar and vagabond were forced to move on, often with whips at their backs. Many villages forbade strangers to visit for more than a fortnight, and hosts had to pledge that their guests would not become an expense to the town.
Puritans opened their purses to relieve the starkest miseries of the poor but felt no duty to help their fellow beings rise in the world. As employers and policy makers, they were unshakable in the conviction that generosity was economically and morally unsound. Winthrop, holding an attitude that persisted into the twentieth century, believed laborers should not earn much more than they needed for subsistence because high wages led to high prices and encouraged workers to slack off.
In the early 1630s, when Winthrop and the Court of Assistants first regulated the wages of carpenters and others in the building trades, they acted partly for the well-being of the community and partly to discourage bad habits. Able to earn enough in four days to support themselves for a week, the craftsmen began lazing about. They also spent freely on tobacco and "strong waters," which Winthrop considered "a great waste to the commonwealth" since the proceeds tended to flow out of Massachusetts to sellers in Virginia and other colonies.
Were it not a sin, pride would have been the most appropriate feeling for the Puritans to have as their first decade in Massachusetts came to an end. Through grit and perseverance, they had transformed twelve thousand acres of rocky, forested wilderness into farmland yielding more than enough wheat, corn, and rye to feed the twenty thousand inhabitants of Boston and the surrounding towns. The common good had been vigorously promoted by Governor Winthrop and his assistants, who spurred the construction of dams, mills, and other public works with a variety of economic incentives. To speed the development of commercial fishing, they granted fishermen exemptions from military service and certain taxes. The town bull, available to serve all cattle, was as much a feature of life as were common pastures and common woodlots. Local officials were empowered to draft laborers for public construction projects. To assure that crops did not rot in the field for want of hands at harvesttime, constables had authority to compel the aid of merchants and others not regularly employed in farming. The inhabitants of Massachusetts may not have loved one another, but the governor excelled at devising ways of making them act as if they did.
Next to Winthrop, the man most responsible for the successes of the 1630s may have been the archbishop of Canterbury, whose persecution of English Puritans drove wave upon wave of them to the shores of Massachusetts. Upward of fifteen thousand immigrants arrived with their life savings, and their needs for food and housing apace, expanded demand for goods and services. Land values climbed steadily, and by 1640, prosperity was, if not universal, refreshingly widespread.
Then milk and honey ceased to flow. Impeached as a traitor, the archbishop went to the Tower of London in 1640, an event that "caused all men to stay in England in expectation of a new world," Winthrop said in his journal. The drying up of immigration deprived the colony's farmers, merchants, and artisans of new customers and cut off the supply of cloth, furniture, and other English goods brought to Boston aboard ships carrying new settlers. Corn and grain lost virtually all of their value, and cattle prices plunged 75 percent. Farmers could not pay merchants, who routinely extended credit between harvests. Merchants in turn could not settle their debts with suppliers in England. By autumn, the Court of Assistants was so alarmed by the amount of property being confiscated for nonpayment of debt that it ordered all such proceedings reviewed by panels of "3 understanding and indifferent men."
Pointing to the collapse of crop and livestock prices, the court urged servants, laborers, and workmen to lower their wages proportionately and "be content to partake now in the present scarcity, as well as they have had their advantage by the plenty of former times." This time the court stopped short of imposing wage controls but warned that it would be considered "great opposition in any that shall transgress the intention of this order, and will have them proceeded with accordingly." The court also decreed that corn, fish, and other commodities be accepted in settlement of debt. To reduce imports, committees were appointed to investigate the prospects of home manufacturing of linen and wool.
The governor escaped none of the hardships of the depression. By his calculation, the cost of running a proper governor's household came to 500 [pounds sterling] a year, 300 [pounds sterling] of which he funded with his own money, largely from the sale of his estate in England. Absorbed in public affairs, he left his private fortunes in the care of his bailiff, James Luxford, who proved most untrustworthy. Luxford often borrowed money from Winthrop's friends, who naturally assumed that the bailiff was acting at the governor's request. Winthrop knew nothing of the loans until hard times forced the friends to seek repayment. It also appears that Luxford sometimes overcharged when he sold Winthrop's produce and livestock, and he sometimes overpaid when he hired his own friends for odd jobs. For forgery, lying, and other offenses, Luxford was bound to the public whipping post, where his ears were cut off. And then, the court records dryly note, Luxford was given "liberty to depart out of our jurisdiction."
To repay the 2,600 [pounds sterling] he owed to creditors, Winthrop was forced to revoke his will. For the future, he put his trust in the benevolence of the Lord, "who hath promised not to fail or forsake me but will be an husband to my wife and a father to our children, as He hath hitherto been in all our struggles." His brother-in-law made him a present of a calf, which arrived with a comforting reminder from the story of Job, who had been "raised to a full estate in this way by his friends." Another friend observed that after Job had been brought low by the Lord, the Lord had "blessed his latter days more than his former." The people of Massachusetts collected 500 [pounds sterling] for Winthrop, and Winthrop managed to accumulate the rest of what he owed, but he had to sell his house in Boston and most of his farm. Recalling the depression some years later, he brimmed with melancholy: "Indeed it was a very sad thing to see how little of a public spirit appeared in the country, but self-love too much."
For all his own public spirit, Winthrop had a keen appreciation of the sovereignty of self-love in the human character. Neither promises of paradise nor threats of damnation could obliterate self-love, so the most Winthrop could do was try to contain it by yoking private gain to public good wherever possible. Suspicious of monopolies and other economic arrangements that favored the few, Winthrop and the Court of Assistants nevertheless granted broad privileges to entrepreneurs in the belief that their successes would benefit the colony as a whole. Hugh Peter, a clergyman and civic-minded entrepreneur who had spurred the development of commercial fishing by organizing a central store to sell fishing equipment at reasonable prices, was enlisted to raise capital for shipbuilding so that Massachusetts could expand its trade. With obvious satisfaction, Winthrop noted in his journal that the task was difficult "for want of money, &c. but our shipwrights were content to take such pay as the country could make."
A saltworks, an ironworks, and mines were encouraged with concessions lasting anywhere from ten years to eternity. The most ambitious of the early industrial enterprises was an ironworks started by John Winthrop Jr. In 1641, bearing promises of tax exemptions, land grants, mineral rights, and other privileges, he sailed to London in search of investors. Sympathetic English Puritans chartered the Company of Undertakers for the Iron Works of New England, appointed the younger Winthrop as manager, and sent him home in 1643 with 1,000 [pounds sterling] and a platoon of miners and foundry men. Within five years, output of guns, pots, and other cast-iron wares reached a ton a day.
But the more the works produced, the more money it lost. Transportation of manufacturing equipment from England was prohibitively expensive, the workers bumptious. "[N]otwithstanding all our care," the Londoners explained, "we have been necessitated to send some for whose civilities we cannot undertake, who yet we hope by the good example, and discipline of your country, with your good assistance may in time be cured of their distempers." Their distempers proved incurable, their expertise spotty. As losses swelled, acrimony led to lawsuits, countersuits, and the bankruptcy of the ironworks.
Hampered by shortages of capital and skill, manufacturing grew slowly in Massachusetts despite the government's generous incentives. Prosperity, when it returned, could be traced almost entirely to trade. Once the colony had ships of its own, it found export markets for salted fish, grain, cattle, leather, clapboards, barrels, and masts.
Catching the first scent of Massachusetts four days before anchoring at Salem, Winthrop had thought immediately of gardens--of land that was cultivated, not wild. This was no accident. He and his companions believed that the Lord had commanded them to improve the earth, replacing the chaos of wilderness with the order of the English countryside. They took as their text Genesis 1:28-29: "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
In the beginning, fearful of wolves and unpredictable natives, the Puritans huddled inside the city upon a hill and submitted to the control of the governor and his Court of Assistants. As survival became easier, more than a few settlers began to yearn for freedom, which they imagined they would have if they lived out of sight in the next cove or on the far bank of some bridgeless river.
Torn between the belief that a godly society demanded closeness and the conviction that a godly people should tame the wilderness, the Puritans embraced both. Social controls gradually tightened, with authorities dictating who could settle where, who could sell land to whom, who could board ships and when, and who would be allowed to visit. Jesuits were denied admittance except in emergencies--a shipwreck, say--and made to depart on the next available conveyance. At the same time, new towns sprang up regularly, and speculation on wilderness real estate was feverish.
As the Puritans read Genesis, God wanted them to exercise dominion over the natives as well as the wilderness. They hoped their conquest of the Massachusetts Pequots would be a gentle one. "Offend not the poor natives, but as you partake in their land, so make them partakers of your precious faith," a Puritan cleric advised his fellow Christians. "Who knoweth whether God have reared this whole plantation for such an end."
In the matter of loving one another, Pequots were models of Christian charity, said a settler who befriended them--"so loving that they make use of those things that they enjoy (the wife only excepted) as common goods, and are therein so compassionate that rather than one should starve through want, they would starve all." It was the rest of Christianity that bedeviled the natives. Good Christians were expected to cover their bodies, and with clothing came the burden of laundry. They were also expected to trade leisure for work, trust in a god they could not see, and seek no sexual pleasure outside monogamous marriage. Converts were few.
In earthly affairs, relations between Puritans and natives were conducted on Puritan terms. The court regulated commerce between white man and red, forbade natives to be paid in gold or silver, and restricted the natives' access to firearms. It also sought to protect the natives on numerous occasions--ordering the whipping of a young settler convicted of making indecent proposals to a squaw, demanding recompense when settlers' hogs ravaged native cornfields, and making wine available out of a belief that it would be unjust to "deprive the Indians of any lawful comfort which God allows to all men."
The peace between Puritans and Pequots ended in 1637 with a war begun by the Puritans in retaliation for the slaying of two English traders. After a few skirmishes, several hundred Pequots, women and children included, took refuge in their fort on the Mystic River. The English set it ablaze and shot all who tried to escape. Between five hundred and seven hundred Pequots perished. The survivors never again threatened Puritan authority.
The gaping disparity between the ideal of loving one another and the slaughter of the Pequots could not be denied, but it could be explained. By "one another," the Puritan did not mean strangers or infidels, he meant his fellow Puritans. The Pequots also had the misfortune to roil the Puritans at a moment when Governor Winthrop faced two other challenges to his authority. The idea of separating church and state was anathema in the Bible commonwealth, and in 1636, when a radical young preacher named Roger Williams refused to stop telling his congregation in Salem that civil authority should end at the meetinghouse door, he was exiled to England. Although Winthrop agreed that Williams must be silenced, he liked him enough to break ranks with the Court of Assistants and give him advance notice of the banishment. On Winthrop's advice, Williams fled to the wilds of Rhode Island.
The other dissenter in need of squelching was Anne Hutchinson, whose home had become a sort of spiritual salon, a gathering place for those who wanted to talk about what they heard from the pulpit. Hutchinson led the discussion, and the discussion led to heresy. Orthodox Puritanism held that salvation was a gift from God, but an individual had to prepare for it by living a life filled with good works. Hutchinson wanted to replace this "covenant of works" with a "covenant of grace," which rested on the appealing idea that an individual would be notified of salvation by a revelation from God. Grace rendered good works unnecessary. Hutchinson's credo, propagated by a brother-in-law who was a Boston preacher, grew so popular that it became the sole issue in the election of 1637. Winthrop and the old guard managed to beat back the heretics' candidate for governor, but not without chicanery: they moved the polling place from Boston, where Hutchinson's thinking was most widespread, to Cambridge. Hutchinson was tried, convicted of "traducing the ministers," and exiled.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Winthrop's power came from Puritanism itself. There was an irreconcilable contradiction between the Puritan creed, which demanded absolute faith, and the intense rationality the Puritans brought to their relationships with God and with one another. In business, family, and government, Puritans saw relationships largely in terms of contracts--binding agreements in which nothing is taken on faith. A contract, arrived at by negotiations that culminate in mutual consent, proceeds from two assumptions: that the parties involved are capable of making rational choices and that they have a right to exercise the choices they make. As Governor Winthrop discovered, such ideas were inherently democratic. Chafing against the near dictatorship of the governor and the Court of Assistants, the inhabitants of Massachusetts wanted to know why, having freely entered into the covenant outlined in "A Model of Christian Charity," they had almost no say in determining how it would be carried out. The Puritan fathers replied that the settlers had agreed to God's terms, which were not negotiable. The argument did not hold. By asking his fellow Puritans to join him in a covenant, Winthrop had--intentionally or not--invited them into a relationship based on consent. Ever after they had balked at submitting.
Early in the spring of 1649, Governor John Winthrop, then in his sixty-first year, died of a cold. To his family he left 103 [pounds sterling] worth of household furnishings of the most rudimentary sort, many tools, a few firearms, and some clothing (much of it characterized as "ould" in an inventory of his worldly possessions). With its balls of twine, pewter candlesticks, chains, fish hooks, and spectacles, the inventory was the testament of a man who lived what he preached.
Winthrop's spiritual legacy is rich and tangled. On the voyage to New England, he had entreated his companions to love one another and for two decades had done his utmost to make them live the ideal. The poor were suspect but supported. For the greedy there were fines, price controls, and public opprobrium of the sort heaped upon Robert Keayne. The common good was well tended, with incentives to build public works and stimulate manufacturing, trade, and employment.
But love had its limits. None was wasted on natives or strangers. Religious dissenters and persons with democratic hankerings were accused of loving self more than society. The Puritan regarded himself as a man of his word, yet he also wanted every verbal agreement confirmed in writing, and his document of choice, the contract, was rooted in mistrust rather than brotherly love. A prosperous and devout Puritan might insist that he was merely the steward of his worldly possessions, with the true ownership reserved to God. All the same, he took the precaution of writing wills and deeds, which lodged ownership in quarters well this side of heaven. Diligence and thrift, once regarded as signs of putting the life of the spirit before the life of the flesh, came to be valued as strategies for accumulating wealth. The city upon a hill had been conceived as a haven from the evils of the world, but for many, the haven came to feel less sheltering than controlling. Part of the attraction of the wilderness beyond Boston was its release from watchful authorities and from the constant pressure to prove one's neighborly love. Opportunity, prosperity, democracy--all were potent forces in the life of Puritan Massachusetts, and all tended to fuel individual ambitions at the expense of Winthrop's collective ideal.
The failure of this experiment in love speaks more to the nature of ideals than to the shortcomings of John Winthrop. Between the real and the ideal there is always a gap, and as if in obedience to some law of physics, the gap becomes electrically charged--crackling, unstable, destined to change. But as easy as it was to say that the dream of a city upon a hill had been too grand, the alternative, a city ruled by self-interest, seemed small and base. Winthrop could not make the citizens on his hill love one another, but the thoughtful among them regretted that. Impossible to attain, his ideal also proved impossible to ignore. Puritanism would fade, but the tension between wealth and commonwealth would not.
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