Date of Award

Summer 2002

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Krugler, John

Second Advisor

Hay, Robert

Third Advisor

Hay, Carla


The tension between authority and dissent has been a defining characteristic of American life from the founding of the first colonies until the present. Especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it has become increasingly important for Americans to learn to strike the correct balance between the need for security and order on one hand, and the civil liberties of individuals on the other. Bringing those often conflicting values into harmony has never been easy. The first quarter century of the history of the Massachusetts Bay colony was marked by a series of intense political and religious controversies in which John Winthrop, Roger Williams, John Cotton, George Philips, Henry Vane, Anne Hutchinson, and Henry Dunster played pivotal roles. This project focuses upon six particular incidents of conflict and controversy involving those seven principle figures that occurred between 1630 through 1655. Those six political and religious disputes will serve as the prism through which the symbiotic relationship between authority and dissent in Massachusetts is viewed. By examining those controversies, this study contributes four important points to the historical literature regarding New England's first generation. First of all, while the founders of Massachusetts never unanimously embraced one monolithic code of orthodoxy, a Puritan identity did exist in early New England. That identity derived its legitimacy from the pervasive sense of community that most colonists shared, and the colonial authorities set the limits of that identity in direct response to the religious, political, and social crises they encountered. Secondly, this project proposes that two impulses must be taken into account when examining the use of authority: the horizontal and the vertical. While the horizontal cooperation that often existed between leaders in Massachusetts is well documented, little has been said about the vertical allegiance that allowed leaders and those under them to find common cause, even in dissent. This dissertation also contends that several key dissidents have been omitted from the histories that treat this period. By highlighting the careers of Williams and Hutchinson at the expense of dissenters such as Philips, Cotton, and Dunster, one style of dissent is elevated while others are ignored. By recognizing the full cast of dissenters present in that period, the complete spectrum of dissent in early New England can be appreciated. Massachusetts' first quarter-century was not only characterized by external, socially turbulent dissent, but also by dissidence in its more abstract and-internal forms. Only by taking into account the character of a given episode of dissent can one completely understand the strategies employed by the colonial authorities in responding to it. Such an analysis not only offers insight into past conflicts between those who exercise power and those who advocate dissenting points of view, but may also offer us hints as to how authority and dissent must be reconciled in America's future in order to preserve a society that cherishes the rights of individuals -- even in times of national crisis.



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