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Adventures in American Theocracy
(Part 2) Heretics and Liberals
by Mark W. Bradley
January 7, 2005

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* Read Part One

In the autumn of 1636, John Winthrop and his Puritan friends were preparing to dip their hands up to their elbows in Native American blood. Once they committed to a policy of launching a pre-emptive strike against the Pequot people (in retaliation for atrocities committed by members of an entirely different tribe), they pursued that inexplicable course with a rare mixture of cultural arrogance and xenophobic malice. Significantly, the policy itself seems to have been driven by more than simple revenge, more, even, than a chronically insatiable hunger for land. It may, in fact, have constituted a gruesome demonstration of overwhelming force and resolve, one designed to dissuade any potential rival, Native American or European, from challenging Puritan hegemony in southern New England for the foreseeable future.

Such geopolitical nuance would, of course, have been lost on the average Puritan foot soldier, to whom it would have seemed like so much meaningless prattle. For him, one consideration trumped all others: the Lord required him to kill Indians, and kill Indians he would.

Having thus unleashed fire and brimstone aplenty for the necessary disposal of the heathen red savages, the Almighty was now free to turn his attention to His second favorite sport: partisan politics.

Accompanied by a Thundering Celestial Fanfare of Golden Tongues and Silver Trumpets (rendered curiously inaudible to anyone but the Puritan leader himself), God spoke once more to John Winthrop. Revealing to his faithful servant the providential design that lay hidden in the stars regarding Winthrop’s own political career, he advised him to enter the governor’s race against the liberal incumbent, Henry Vane, whom God had recently decided was an abomination in his sight (possibly because Vane held the subversive belief that executive power derived not from the will of God, but “from the freewill and gift of the people...”).

“Such devilish doctrines,” the Lord told Winthrop, “we must allow no foothold in this land.”

Being aware (by virtue of his omniscience) that Henry Vane’s power-base was centered in and around that shamelessly liberal bastion of bestial sodomy known as Boston, and remembering that all previous elections had been held in that infernal place, God suggested that it might be a good idea for Mr. Winthrop and his friends to arrange, on short notice, to have the elections moved to Cambridge, where the population was more favorable to his candidacy. Winthrop thanked the Lord for this suggestion and proceeded to implement it, which had the salubrious effect of suppressing voter turnout, putting, as it did, many hard miles of travel between the calf-worshiping Bostonians and their newly designated polling place.

But the real coup de grace was delivered when Winthrop managed to stick Vane’s party with the rather unflattering title of “Antinomian,” which is Greek for “he who is against the law.” For “Hapless” Harry Vane, failure to reject that particular appellation may have constituted, in retrospect, a bit of a public relations blunder, as it had the effect of portraying him and his supporters as a rowdy mob of godless anarchists (not necessarily a good thing in politics). On the other hand, it should be noted that Governor Winthrop didn’t need a Karl Rove to teach him how to frame an argument or demonize his political opponents.

The end result of all this was (low and behold) an upset victory for John Winthrop in the Gubernatorial Election of 1637. Needless to say, the Lord was gratified and relieved (though not necessarily surprised) at this outcome. Many of Vane’s friends tried to get him to contest the election, but (not wanting to seem like a sore loser) he chose instead to hightail it back to England, where he was given a knighthood.

Governor-elect Winthrop saw in this miracle a divine mandate for his policies, and wasted no time in going on a shopping spree with his newly won political capital. He began by purging the Massachusetts General Court of any and all members he deemed to be in opposition to the Lord’s work (and his own). Next, he moved to reform the immigration laws, abrogating to himself the power to refuse admittance into the colony to anyone suspected of being an Antinomian. Finally, he took preventive measures against domestic terrorism by forcibly confiscating firearms from the homes of 58 suspected Antinomian sympathizers. By means of these and other regrettable, but nevertheless necessary, emergency measures, Governor Winthrop succeeded in providing the loyal and patriotic citizens of Massachusetts with what they sought and desired above all else: a paternalistic, one-party, theocratic state capable of fighting a war on terror while simultaneously scaring the bejesus out of everyone in the process.

The compliant General Court, only too happy to adopt and ratify Winthrop’s legislative agenda, further demonstrated its patriotic fervor by passing the first installment of his defense authorization bill, which provided funding for the removal from power of the Pequot “madman” (Sassacus) and his replacement by the “moderate and progressive” Chief Uncas of the Mohegans.

In time, Uncas would prove to be a great statesman of his people, selling off their lands to the highest bidder and enriching himself at their expense. In the end, the Mohegans were richly rewarded by the English for their many years of loyal service. Somewhat surprisingly, they received the same gift as all the other tribes: a one-way ticket westward into unfamiliar lands where they encountered hostile native tribes uninterested in making their acquaintance. The moral of this story? Oh, let’s see, something like, “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists. Except, well, even if you are with us, but you kinda look like the terrorists, maybe it would be better if you sort of, you know, went somewhere else.”

Meanwhile, God had cooked up another Herculean task for John Winthrop. This time, the heroic governor was charged with slaying the many-headed hydra of religious pluralism. Complicating matters slightly was the fact that this dreaded monster had had the foresight to disguise herself as a lowly midwife. No matter. What the midwife brings forth, the intrepid servant of the Lord must be prepared to strangle in the cradle.

In 1637, Anne Marbury Hutchinson was a middle-aged woman who had spent the better part of her life in quiet religious devotion. She, her textile merchant husband, and their brood of children had left their Lincolnshire home some years before, and had come to America in the footsteps of their Puritan minister, the Rev. John Cotton.

Once established in Massachusetts Colony, Anne Hutchinson supplemented her husband’s income by serving as a midwife. In her spare time, she organized a women’s discussion group that met after each Sunday’s church service. There, she and her friends dissected that day’s sermon, noting its errors and shortcomings, occasionally pointing out inconsistencies in the theological arguments of Boston’s ministers. It was an innocent pastime that was fraught with more hazard than Mrs. Hutchinson could possibly know.

For had her meetings remained small and unobtrusive, Anne might have been considered by the Puritan Fathers of Boston as something of a harmless crackpot. As it happened, she attracted a growing contingent of influential clergy and laymen in the community -- including her brother-in-law (Rev. John Wheelwright), her spiritual mentor (Rev. John Cotton), and the soon-to-be-replaced Governor Henry Vane. Such a powerful gathering of minds in opposition to the spiritual leadership of John Winthrop was, to Winthrop’s way of thinking, clearly as illegal as it was heretical. It wasn’t long before

Mrs. Hutchinson was brought to trial on charges of blasphemy and sedition.

When the case came before the General Court of Massachusetts, the governor himself presided at the trial, and served as its prime inquisitor. He began the proceedings with an introductory statement from the bench:

“Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here...and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God, nor fitting for your sex...”

After a brief, but spectacular trial, Anne Hutchinson was found guilty by a majority of the judges present, and the following exchange took place between her and Governor Winthrop:

Governor Winthrop: “Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.”

Mrs. Hutchinson: “I desire to know wherefore I am banished?”

Governor Winthrop: “Say no more. The court knows wherefore and is satisfied.”

Judgment having been pronounced, Anne Marbury Hutchinson, age 46 (and the mother of fifteen children), was condemned to spend the following New England winter in prison, denied even the comfort and company of her sons and daughters. Even Anne’s former friend and spiritual advisor, Rev. John Cotton, found it expedient to join in the general attack on her, calling her opinions a “Gangrene” and a “Leprosie,” that will “eat out the very Bowells of Religion.”

At long last, God and John Winthrop could relax. With Mrs. Hutchinson out of the way, theocracy was free to flourish in Massachusetts.

Mark W. Bradley is a history teacher, a genealogist, and a writer of satire living in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at:

Other Articles by Mark W. Bradley

* Adventures in American Theocracy: (Part 1) The Pequot War