John Winthrop

John Winthrop

John Winthrop was born in Groton, Suffolk, England in 1588. Educated at Cambridge University he practised law in London but was persecuted for his Puritan religious beliefs. Winthrop thought that the Church of England should abolish bishops, ecclesiastical courts and other relics of Roman Catholicism such as kneeling and the use of priestly vestment and altars. The Separatists also believed that the government was too tolerant towards those who were guilty of adultery, drunkenness and breaching the Sabbath.

Winthrop was granted a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony and arrived with 700 settlers in 1630. He served as governor of Massachusetts for 12 terms and was considered to be a good leader. However in 1636 he clashed with Roger Williams and was forced to banish from the colony.

One of the settlers, Anne Hutchinson, began to claim that good conduct could be a sign of salvation and affirmed that the Holy Spirit in the hearts of true believers relieved them of responsibility to obey the laws of God. She also criticised New England ministers for deluding their congregations into the false assumption that good deeds would get them into heaven. Complaints were made about Hutchinson's teachings and Winthrop eventually expelled her from the colony.

In 1645 Winthrop became the first president of the Confederation of New England. Winthrop's History of New Englandwas published after his death in 1649.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) John Cotton, sermon preached at Southampton when John Winthrop and his party departed to America in 1630.

Now, God makes room for a people three ways:

First when He casts out the enemies of a people before them by lawful war with the inhabitants, which God calls them unto, as in Ps. 44:2: "Thou didst drive out the heathen before them." But this course of warring against others and driving them out without provocation depends upon special commission from God, or else it is not imitable.

Second, when He gives a foreign people favor in the eyes of any native people to come and sit down with them, either by way of purchase, as Abraham did obtain the field of Machpelah; or else when they give it in courtesy, as Pharaoh did the land of Goshen unto the sons of Jacob.

Third, when He makes a country, though not altogether void of inhabitants, yet void in the place where they reside. Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the sons of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it nor ask their leaves. So that it is free from that common grant for any to take possession of vacant countries. Indeed, no nation is to drive out another without special commission from Heaven, such as the Israelites had, and will not recompense the wrongs done in a peaceable way. And then they may right themselves by lawful war and subdue the country unto themselves.

(2) John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity (1631)

God Almighty, in His most holy and wise providence, has so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich; some poor; some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection.

The reason hereof: first to hold conformity with the rest of His works, being delighted to show forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures and the glory of His power, in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole.

Second, that He might have the more occasion to manifest the work of His spirit; first, upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them, so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against their superiors and shake off their yoke.

Third, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bond of brotherly affection. From hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy, etc., out of any particular or singular respect of himself, but for the glory of his Creator and the common good of the creature man.

(3) Journal of the Massachusetts Bat Colony (1635)

Mr. Vane and Mr. Peter, finding some distraction in the commonwealth arising from some differences in judgment, and with some alienation of affection among the magistrates and some other persons of quality, and that hereby factions began to grow among the people, some adhering more to the old governor, Mr. Winthrop, and others to the late governor, Mr. Dudley - the former carrying matters with more lenity, and the other with more severity - they procured a meeting, at Boston, of the governor, deputy, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Hooker, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Winthrop, Mr. Dudley, and themselves.

Mr. Winthrop spoke, professing solemnly that he knew not of any breach between his brother Dudley and himself, since they were reconciled long since. Then Mr. Dudley spoke to this effect: that for his part he came thither a mere patient, not with any intent to charge his brother Winthrop with anything; for though there had been formerly some differences and breaches between them, yet they had been healed, and for his part, he was not willing to renew them again.

(4) In March, 1637, John Wheelwright, the brother-in-law of Anne Hutchinson, was convicted of sedition and contempt because his religious views departed from orthodox Puritanism. In May, 1637, John Winthrop explained why dissenters would not be accepted by the colony.

(1) If we here be a corporation established by free consent, if the place of our cohabitation be our own, then no man has right to come into us, etc., without our consent.

(2) If no man has right to our lands, our government privileges, etc., but by our consent, then it is reason we should take notice of before we confer any such upon them.

(3) If we are bound to keep off whatsoever appears to tend to our ruin or damage, then we may lawfully refuse to receive such whose dispositions suit not with ours and whose society we know will be hurtful to us, and therefore it is lawful to take knowledge of all men before we receive them.

(5) In 1642 there was a dispute about the distribution of power in the Massachusetts Bay Company. John Winthrop issued a statement explaining why he believed that magistrates had the right to veto decisions made by the town representatives.

Now if we should change from a mixed aristocracy to a mere democracy, first we should have no warrant in Scripture for it; there was no such government in Israel.

I say, we should incur scandal by undervaluing the gifts of God - as wisdom, learning, etc. - and the ordinance of magistracy, if the judgment and authority of any one of the common rank of the people should bear equal weight with that of the wisest and chiefest magistrate.