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The Puritan and the Republican

John Winthrop on the one hand, and both Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Adams on the other, represent what may be called the two essential streams of the American tradition, which may be called respectively the puritan and the republican. Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Adams, though standing essentially on the same side of that ideological divide, were divided by the nature of sex roles as those were accepted in the eighteenth century, so that the scope of the public role available to Abigail Adams was vastly less than that available to Benjamin Franklin. Nevertheless, though women were largely (though not entirely) confined to a private sphere at that time, Abigail Adams succeeded in making the most of the situation in which she found herself, and which she probably never essentially questioned.

Let us first consider the differences between the outlook of John Winthrop and those of both Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Adams, differences which are owed in part to the different centuries in which they lived, but which have none the less persisted in American history and culture down to the present day. John Winthrop, born in England at the time of the Spanish Armada, was an American by adoption rather than by birth. He was also, though born in the Elizabethan age, a creature essentially of the seventeenth century, which was to be the last century in which the politics and culture of the Western world were dominated primarily by religious concerns. We should thus not be surprised that Winthrop's outlook was far more religious in character than that of either Franklin or Adams, both products as they were of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Yet John Winthrop was clearly a religious zealot even by the standards of his day. His decision to commit himself, for religious reasons, to the New World--with all that implied psychologically and symbolically (p. 32)--was indicative of the centrality of his religious preoccupations. The...

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The Puritan and the Republican. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:58, May 25, 2020, from