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Conflicts of Law: Reconsidering the Influence of Religion on Law in Massachusetts Bay

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The idea that there were different points of view in seventeenth century Massachusetts Bay is not a new one. Several recent studies have undermined Perry Miller's monolithic “Puritan Mind”—demonstrating there were many strands of thought even among the nominally orthodox, and suggesting that we think of the settlers in New England as members of a movement with many ideas, rather than holders of a single point of view.

While the idea that there were divisions within the category of Puritan is not a new one, the extent to which that ideological pluralism had a practical impact on the Bay colony's institutions, from its families to its governing system, has not yet been explored. This paper is a preliminary effort to demonstrate how ideological pluralism led to different conceptions of law, and had a practical effect on the legal system developed in the first generation of settlement in Massachusetts Bay.

Affiliations: 1: Clemson University Department of History Clemson, SC 29631, USA


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