Perry Miller, in Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge: Harvard-Belknap, 1956).

Verbatim excerpts:

— Introduction:

[ix] What I believe caught my imagination, among the fuel drums [in Africa], was a realization of the uniqueness of the American experience; even then I could dimly make out the portent for the future of the world, looking upon these tangible symbols of the republic’s appalling power. I could see no way of coping with the problem except by going to the beginning. Walt Whitman says, in a somewhat different context, that he commenced his studies, but was never able to get beyond the beginning. … The beginning I sought was inevitably — being located in the seventeenth century — theological. This was not a fact of my choosing …

I have never entertained the slightest ambition of making these ideas palatable to my contemporaries in any other sense than the historical one. There they are — those with which American thought began. Respect for them is not the same thing as believing in them — as Nathaniel Hawthorne preëminently demonstrated.

— “The Puritan State and Puritan Society” [1938]:

[147] The belief that government originated in the consent of the governed was equally congenial to the Puritan creed. The theology is often enough described as deterministic, because it held that men were predestined to Heaven or Hell; but we are always in danger of forgetting that the life of the Puritan was completely voluntaristic. The natural man was indeed bound in slavery to sin and unable to make exertions toward his own salvation; but the man into whose soul grace had been infused was liberated from that bondage and made free to undertake the responsibilities and obligations of virtue and decency. The holy society was erected upon the belief that the right sort of men could of their own free will and choice carry through the creation and administration of the right kind of community. The churches of New England were made up of “saints,” who were born in it, or were forced into it, or joined because of policy and convention. The saints were expected to act positively because they had in them a spirit of God that made them capable of every exertion. No doubt the Puritans maintained that government originated in the consent of the people because that theory was an implement for chastening the absolutism of the SDtuarts; but they maintained it because they did not believe that any society, civil or ecclesiastical, into which men did not enter of themselves was worthy of the name.

***

[149] When men have entered these covenants, first with God, then with each other in the church and again in the state, they have thrice committed themselves to the rule of law and the control of authority.

888

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