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Why Puritan Thomas Hooker Favored Democracy over Aristocracy

July 6, 2017

After the Puritans had migrated to America and settled in Massachusetts, some Puritans moved and formed the colony of Connecticut.  One Puritan who became instrumental in founding Connecticut was Rev. Thomas Hooker.  Hooker was a Puritan preacher who pastored a church in New Towne, later named Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Hooker was a prominent leader in the colony, but he fell out of favor due to his political differences with other leaders like John Winthrop, though he was friends with Winthrop.  So, in 1636, Hooker and his congregation moved to a settlement outside of Massachusetts, at Hartford.  Soon after, his and nearby groups founded the colony of Connecticut.

Hooker’s Company reach the Connecticut, Estes & Lauriet, publishers, 1879

Winthrop and Hooker both sought to incorporate democratic elements in the civil governments of the early Puritan colonies in America.  However, their systems initially differed in some ways.

Winthrop favored a kind of “mixed government” which had elements of aristocracy and democracy.  An aristocracy is the “rule of the best” in which a superior or privileged (and sometimes hereditary) upper class or nobility governs.  A democracy, following the principle of popular sovereignty, is the “rule of the people” in which the people govern directly or through elected representatives.  In Winthrop’s mixed government, some issues were decided by the aristocratic class and others were decided by the people.  The ruling class held a substantial amount of power and discretion.  Winthrop disliked mere democracy which he thought had no basis in scripture.

In contrast, Hooker favored only democracy.  He thought Winthrop’s aristocracy gave civil leaders too much authority.  For no man, he thought, is naturally subordinate to another without consent.  The people, he thought, had the right to elect representatives for themselves and to distinctly assign or limit the powers of their representatives.  Civil power, therefore, was more limited in Hooker’s democracy than in Winthrop’s mixed system.  Hooker found support for this representative system in Deuteronomy 1:13 in which Moses instructs the Israelites to “‘choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.’”

While Winthrop and the colonists of Massachusetts debated their form of government, Hooker envisioned a more solidly democratic government in Connecticut.  Massachusetts soon became more democratic as well.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E.  
The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  Who were the Pilgrims?  Why did they come to America?
3.  Why the Pilgrims Identified with the Israelites
4.  The Mayflower Compact:  The Pilgrims’ First Self-Governing Act in America
5.  The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact as Covenant
6.  The History of Thanksgiving Day in America
7.  The Pilgrims & Private Property:  What the Pilgrims Might Have Thought About Communism & Socialism
8.  Three P’s That Led to Freedom in the West:  Printing Press, Protestant Reformation, & Pilgrims
9.  A City on a Hill:  Why John Winthrop and the Puritans Came to America
10.  How the American Puritans Were Like the Bible’s Israelites
11.  Why the Puritans Favored Limited Government (and Why the U. S. has Three Branches of Government)
12.  Why the Puritans in America Favored Rule of Law
13.  Why the Puritans Elected Representatives to Govern in their American Colonies
14.  Challenges in the Early Puritan Colonies:  The Dilemma of Religious Laws & Religious Dissent


Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 4:  The Political Ideas of Winthrop and Hooker, p. 118, 320.  MS-HS.

Purpose/Objective: Students learn about political ideas of Puritan leaders John Winthrop and Thomas Hooker, including their views on forms of government (Winthrop’s mixed government vs. Hooker’s democracy), mutual support for covenants and civil representatives, and Hooker’s initial support for and initiation of limited government, popular sovereignty, consent of the governed, and constitutions.

Suggested Reading: Chapter 3 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text. Students read sections from 3.1, 3.4, 3.6-3.11.

Think-Pair-Share and Venn Diagram. Students brainstorm with a partner and write down the similarities and differences between the political ideas of John Winthrop and Thomas Hooker. Discuss. See the “Venn Diagram” in the “Supporting Resources” section of this course guide, p. 320.

This entire lesson and venn diagram are available for download with a FREE membership from AHEF.

To download the whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the member resources page on americanheritage.org.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Published by: The Founding

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