How did John Winthrop change the government of Massachusetts

How did John Winthrop change the government of Massachusetts

How did John Winthrop change the government of Massachusetts?

  • Allowed women to vote
  • Created a colonial legislature
  • Established the Mayflower Compact
  • Allowed company shareholders to vote

Answer : Created a colonial legislature

John Winthrop changed the government of Massachusetts by creating a colonial legislature

The Reformation in Europe was a massive movement during the sixteenth century, which saw many socio-political and religious changes. With the emergence of Protestantism and its split from the Roman Catholic Church, several demolitions also appeared. Among these several groups of Protestants, there was one group called the Puritans. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were English Protestants who sought to purify England’s Church seeking “purity.” In England, the Puritan movement saw the emergence of several figures who spoke freely about their religion and propagated it. Among these people was the name of John Winthrop, who left their mark in history.

Born on January 12, 1587, into a wealthy land-owning and merchant family, John Winthrop was trained in the law and became Lord of the Manor at Groton in Suffolk. He was a lawyer by profession; however, his interest in religion made him one of the most known historical figures. He was an ardently religious person, and from the very teenage years of his life, he had thrown himself into spiritual study and prayer. Winthrop trained himself into a full-fledged Puritan, convincing everyone that God had elected him to salvation, or in Puritan terms, “sainthood.” His religious ideology not only demonstrated his elitist outlook, but he also became a social activist. According to him, this world was wicked and evil, and he took it upon himself to change it and gave the argument that “the life which is most exercised with trials and temptations is the sweetest, and will prove the safest.”

During the late 1620s, Winthrop had to go through an immense economic crisis as his landed incomes slumped. The religious atmosphere in England became tenser and tenser as King Charles I married a Roman Catholic after his accession in 1625. This appeared as a major bleak for the Puritans and other groups who felt that this could greatly harm the English Revolution. Charles was completely against the Protestant ideology of adhering to the Church’s beliefs and practices and gave his full support to England’s Church. This intolerance atmosphere led to Puritan religious and business leaders to consider emigration to the New World as a viable means to escape persecution. As Charles I’s anti-Puritan policy began to gain more support in England, Winthrop too ended up losing his court post in 1629. This led to a financial crisis in Winthrop’s life as he pleaded to sell his estate and take his family to Massachusetts.

The beginning of the establishment of successful religious colonization of the New World started in 1620 with the Plymouth Colony set up on Cape Cod Bay’s shores. By 1628, investors started to look up for land grants for the territory roughly between the Charles and Merrimack rivers. This led to the New England Company’s formation, which was later renamed the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629 after acquiring a royal charter that permitted it to govern the territory. Immediately after its establishment, small groups of immigrants were sent to the territory. Winthrop, after being financially challenged, took this chance to join this company. However, his knowledge about this work was limited as he was not much involved in the activities. Still, he had his fair share of information regarding the plans and activities of the company. When the Parliament of Charles I dissolved in March 1629, it also brought new challenges for the company.

His worry over this matter made him learn more about the plans, and gradually, he became more engaged with the company’s work, where he met new individuals at Lincolnshire. By early August, he had emerged as a significant proponent of emigration, and he circulated a paper on August 12 providing eight separate reasons in favor of emigration. In the Cambridge Agreement, means for emigrating shareholders to buy out non-emigrating shareholders of the company were also provide. When these changes were agreed upon, a new Governor who could emigrate to Massachusetts was needed. John Winthrop’s name was the most favored among all the other candidates, and through the majority, he was chosen as the Governor on October 20, 1629.

With Winthrop now as the new Governor of the colony, his arrival was also planned. In his sermon entitled A Model of Christian Charity, he talked about the new ideas and plans that would keep the Puritan society strong in faith while also comparing the struggles they would have to overcome in the New World with the story Exodus. In this work, the famous phrase “City upon the hills” was mentioned by him, which described the ideals that a colonist should strive for. The passengers who left England and Winthrop were considered an example for the rest of the world in rightful living. The Arbella, one of eleven ships sailing towards Massachusetts, carried over a thousand Puritans to Massachusetts that year. It was the largest original venture ever attempted in the English New World. The passengers were determined to be a beacon for the rest of Europe, “A Modell of Christian Charity,” in the words of Winthrop.

Winthrop believed that all kinds of people, both rich and poor, were necessary for a colony as both groups were members of the same community. When the fleet arrived at Salem in June, he was welcomed by John Endecott, one of the Bay of Massachusetts’s founders. Winthrop and his deputy Thomas Dudley found the Salem area inadequate for a settlement suitable for all of the arriving colonists, and they embarked on surveying expeditions of the area. At first, they settled for Charlestown to make their base, but due to lack of good water in that area, their base was shifted to the Shawmut Peninsula, where they founded Boston. Because of the relatively late season, the colonists decided to establish dispersed settlements alongside the coast of Charles River, which avoided attacks from hostile forces by presenting them a single point.

However, the colony was already suffering a lot. During the first few months, the colony struggled with losing 200 people to various causes in 1630, including Winthrop’s son Henry and about 80 others who returned to England in the spring due to these conditions. New reforms were necessary for the colony to make it a better living place, and that is exactly what Winthrop strived to do. He set a new example for other colonists by working side by side with the laborers and servants for a better future for the colony. One can say that his ideas were genuinely noble, and in one report, it is also mentioned that he “fell to work with his own hands, and thereby so encouraged the rest that there was not an idle person to be found in the whole plantation.” He built his new house in Boston in a spacious plot of arable land. He was also given the land on the Mystic River banks, named the “Ten Hills Farm.” Matthew Cradock, who owned the Mystic River’s shipyard, built the colony’s first boat there. Winthrop’s “Blessing of the Bay,” which was used specifically for trading and packet ship up and down the coast of New England.

One of the very first issues that arose during Winthrop’s governance was his rift with Thomas Dudley, who was one of the members responsible for the establishment and organization of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The rift was over the establishment of the colony’s capital as both of them had different ideas in their head. Dudley had constructed his house at Newton while Winthrop had his house at Boston. The council had already decided to establish the capital at Newton, so Dudley settled there. But because Winthrop refused to settle there and later even criticized Dudley regarding his expensive woodworks usage, the gap between them increased. Though, they were reconciled once their children got married.

Throughout his years of governance, Winthrop had his fair share of issues with several people. However, he was also able to bring many positive changes to the colony, which are considered a “social revolutionary” by many scholars. Some critics have seen Winthrop as a visionary utopian as well. Still, the most obvious thing was that he was urging his fellow colonists to adopt the combination of group discipline and individual responsibility that gave Massachusetts such immediate and lasting success as a social experiment. According to the colony’s charter, the Governor’s Council in the colony included a governor, deputy governor, and eighteen magistrates who served as a precursor to the Council’s idea. All of the officers were elected annually by the freemen (the people who were not slaves) of the colony. The first meeting of the General Court consisted of exactly eight men, and they were the ones who decided the governor and deputy should be elected by the assistants, in violation of the charter; under these rules, Winthrop was elected governor three times. The general court also admitted a significant number of settlers and established a rule stating that all freemen should be local church members.

During the election of 1634, the freemen sent delegations, insisting on seeing the colony’s charter. After seeing the charter, they learn that the colony’s lawmaking authority, the election of governor, and the deputy election all rested with the freemen, not with the assistants. Winthrop approved on this point of the election, which were later conducted by secret ballot by the freemen. However, he also understood that lawmaking would be unwieldy if conducted by a relatively large number of freemen. To compromise in this situation, it was decided that each town would select two delegates to send to the general court as representatives of its interests. In the election of the late 1630s, the seeming impulsive attitude of the judicial decision led to the formation of a new body of laws that would bind the opinions of the magistrates together.

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However, in this case, Winthrop showed his disapproval and opposed them by using his power to stall and obstruct its implication in the law. He had a strong belief in the common law tradition, and as the magistrate, he desired to have flexibility in making any decision on their unique circumstances. He also pointed out that the adoption of written laws “repugnant to the laws of England” was not allowed in the charter and that some of the laws which were going to be adopted likely opposed the English law. During the governance of Richard Bellinghums in 1641, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties was adopted, which is why the laws enacted in them led to the vacating of the colonial charter in 1684.

During the 1640s, constitutional issues arose concerning the power of the magistrates and assistants. In a case involving an escaped pig, the assistants ruled in favor of a merchant who had allegedly taken a widow’s errant animal. The woman appealed to the court, and so, the court appealed in her favor. The assistants then used their right to veto the general court’s decision, sparking the controversy. Winthrop opposed their decision completely as he argued that as the assistants are experienced magistrates, they must be able to check the democratic institution of the general court because “a democracy is, amongst most civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government.” After pointing out such a disputable subject in the court, he became the center of the allegation when he was formally charged with interfering with local decisions in a case involving the Hingham militia.

Peter Hobarts, the minister of Hingham, questioned the magistrates and railed against Winthrop specifically for what he characterized as arbitrary and tyrannical actions. However, he was able to successfully defend himself, stating that the issues of Hingham required the magistrates’ intervention. One of the biggest disputes Winthrop had gotten himself into was his conflict with Anne Hutchinson. Even after being a Puritan, Winthrop and Hutchinson had different ideologies that set them apart. Even after being a mere woman at that period of time, she was able to gain complete control over the church. She was able to convert the whole colony to a religious position that Winthrop considered blasphemous. However, his victory was confirmed; this conflict during his governance acted as a great challenge, which remains a matter of discussion.

The Indian policy which Winthrop followed was that of diplomacy and civility. The colonists usually believed in acquiring more land receive title to the lands that they occupied in the early years. However, they also practiced a policy that historian Alfred Cave calls vacuum domicilium: if the land is not under some active use, it is free for the taking. This meant that lands could be claimed which were only used seasonally by the Indians for purposes like hunting, fishing, etc., and was left empty otherwise. Alfred Cave also states that according to Winthrop, he believed in superseding the Indians as they were the “more advanced” people who had more rights over the land. He further even had his conflicts with the Indians, which led to the Pequot War. 

Slavery also existed in Massachusetts Bay before the governance of John Winthrop. But some speculations suggest that Winthrop was not against it. After the Pequots’ defeat in the Pequot War, many of them were captured and shipped to the West Indies as slaves. Winthrop kept one male and two female Pequots as slaves.

As far as trade and taxation are concerned, it was pretty tough for England to control the colony’s trade and taxation. Colonial economies operated under merchantalism, a system based on the belief that colonies existed to increase the mother country’s wealth. Although they were able to maintain the right to tax the colonies, some situations heavily cost them. With the rising tensions in England, civil war soon began, which led to a decline in the number of people and provisions in the colony. Consequently, the colonists decided to expand their trade and interact with other non-English and English colonies. This led to the formation of trading relationships with non-Puritans on Barbados from where cotton was imported and the neighboring French colony of Acadia.

Along with all the responsibilities given to Winthrop, he was also a significant property owner of the colony. He owned the Ten Hills Farm and the land that became the town of Billerica, Governors Island in Boston Harbor, and Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay. He was also involved in the fur trade in partnership with William Pynchon and often used his ship, Blessing of the Bay. Even though trade and taxation were difficult, an informal agreement was made with England, which allowed the colonists to levy their own taxes. However, smugglers soon exploited the English inability to guard every port by secretly trading against Parliament’s wishes.

Although there were several challenges faced by John Winthrop, he did not remain as a mere petty colonist but was actually loved and respected until the very end of his life. One of the major reasons America became such a center of attraction for England was their search for religious freedom. Winthrop came to Massachusetts with many of his followers to propagate what he believed in and purify the Church’s corrupt nature. Some colonies did have strong leaders, but if they didn’t have supplies, and they didn’t arrive at the right time of year, then, overall, the colonies still might not be successful. Those three characteristics were actually present here as they really helped the Massachusetts Bay Colony be successful right away. Puritans fished, cut timber for ships, and trapped furs. These were three things that helped them have new supplies.

The Mayflower Compact was also formed during this time period, a set of self-governance rules established by the English settlers who traveled to the New World. The establishment of the Governance Court in a colony was a new step forward in that time period. Winthrop gave the freedom to vote to all the freemen, including women, which initially evolved the socio-political structure of the colony. Over the course of 150 years of their rule, the colonists, and in this case, John Winthrop, was able to leave quite a great impact on the governance of the Bay of Massachusetts. Whether we talk about the rudimentary forms of self-government, along with the expansion of trade and commerce and religious ideas, these were a contribution given by Winthrop to the colony. He was even considered a kind and tender man, as this side revealed in the loving letters to his wife, Margaret. It cannot be denied that his certain ideologies were orthodoxy, which is why he was opposed by many. However, one cannot also deny that the nature of his authority over the Massachusetts Colony during the time period of colonial expansion was somewhat of fresh air. 

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