The Puritan DilemmaThe Story of John Winthrop
U.S. History Period 1
Aug. 1, 1999 Summer Reading/Essay Assignment


In words that cannot fully portray the meaning of that which they speak, the Puritan Dilemma was ďthe question of what responsibility a righteous man owes to societyĒ. John Winthrop, being gifted in the ways of leadership and government, not to mention Puritan, found himself right in the middle of the dilemma and all of its effects. Relatively early in life, Winthrop made a personal realization, solving this dilemma for himself, that it was better to live among temptation, and resist it, than to avoid it. Moreover, God wanted him to live amongst his fellow men; thus, temptation was unavoidable. Although Winthrop made this discovery over a simple matter of whether or not he should go hunting or eat more dinner, it would later be of use to him on a much greater scale. After realizing this, he was quite able to follow its implications, but the trouble came later in his attempts to impose the idea on others, both in England, and in Massachusetts.


In the case that oneís society acts in what he considers to be a wrong way, he has a dilemma on his hands. The two sides of the dilemma are these: 1.)He can withdraw from that society in order that he may remain pure, or 2.)he may stay with the society, in an attempt to bring it back to purity. The latter of the two was Winthropís choice, but, as he would see, not the choice of many others. Winthrop first encountered separatism in England, at the time that Charles I dissolved Parliament, the Puritansí brightest hope in suppressing the growth of Catholicism and Arminianism. It appeared the solution to many, and appealed to most to simply shove off for New England to start anew, forgetting that England ever existed. However, Winthrop and most other Puritans knew better. They realized that abandonment was unreasonable, as well as irresponsible. To leave England as England had left Rome a century before would not likely bring more desirable results. In the end, he was convinced to go only because the colony, set on going, was in dire need of his leadership, and under the condition that their purpose was not to separate, but rather to temporarily strengthen their cause that they might someday return to save England.


In New England, however, separatism proved to be much stronger and more threatening. The suppression of two major cases can be attributed to Winthrop. Without him, either the case of Roger Williams, or the case of Anne Hutchinson (both separatists) may have brought an end to Winthropís ideals, and possibly even the colony. In both cases, Winthrop relied heavily on his ability to persuade people with reason. If this did not work, then he would use his power as a government official, but not until then. His combination of reason and patience made him very effective in these two situations.


In both of the above cases, governmental power became a necessity, however, even this Winthrop used with reason and patience. In the case of Roger Williams, Winthrop manipulated the timing and power of the governmental system such that Williamsís only option was to leave the colony for Narragansett Bay in the middle of the winter. In the case of Anne Hutchinson, who was much smarter than Williams, or even Winthrop, it seemed she may have her way. Through Winthropís patented reason-and-patience, Hutchinson, so caught up in the moment of her public trial, was made to contradict herself, instantly losing all followers. She, too, could only opt to leave. In several other cases, it did not go so far as to invoke the use of governmental power, but in each case, Winthrop was involved and successful.


Getting back to Winthropís childhood, it seems that, from the day he was born, preparation began for the challenging and rigorous future that lay ahead of him. Born on a manor, he quickly became acquainted with the farming lifestyle and skills he would need in the wilderness of New England. His active role in the county government, as well as his experience in the Court of Wards made him more than apt to participate in the Massachusetts government, usually as president.


Only Winthropís religious