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The New England Mind: From Colony to Province Paperback – 15 Apr 1983

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About the Author

Perry Miller (1905-1963) was an historian and literary critic. He is the author of numerous books, including the Life of the Mind in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1956, Jonathan Edwards, Errand into the Wilderness, American Thought: Civil War to World War I, and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Significant Consensus Study of the "Declension" of Puritan New England 7 Sept. 2006
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
Format: Paperback
A week before I was to take my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. in history, my advisor asked me to name the three great historians of colonial American whose names began with "M." I sputtered for moment and made no serious answer, in part because of the trivial nature of the question, but he wanted me to say Edmund S. Morgan, Samuel Elliot Morison, and Perry Miller. No question about it, Perry Miller (1905-1963) was one of the most important of the consensus historians of the middle part of the twentieth century and his work on the American Puritans was required reading for all students of history when I attended graduate school in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "The New England Mind: From Colony to Province" (1953) was one of his masterworks, exploring the intellectual history of the Puritans through a deep investigation of the thought of the Puritan divines. In this book, as well as its predecessor "The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century" (New York: Macmillan Company, 1939), Miller asserted a single intellectual history for America that could be traced to the Puritan belief system.

Miller also described a terrifying "declension" experienced by the Puritans which, he asserted, resulted from the "apostasy, ingratitude, and corruption" of their too well off children who did not understand the struggles of their forefathers and did not appreciate their sacrifices in bringing them to a new land of plenty where they might live their lives in the spirit of a covenant with God (p. 482). The demise of the intellectual position of the early Puritans disturbed Miller, who searched for order among the thought of its best minds. Instead, he found a terrifying dissension that rejected that earlier consensus. As Miller put it, at the time that the revolutionary generation was being born in the 1730s "reality--all the complex, jostling reality of this anxious society--demanded new descriptions" to make sense of the world (p. 485).

As in all works by Miller, America was very much one nation and one people, but in this book he describes an unsettled people and nation troubled by its place in the world and its own self-image. A search for identity ensued, and for Miller that was a never ending quest. This book, a product of the consensus historical construct of the middle part of the twentieth century--which emphasized common intellectual beliefs over conflicting self-interest--remains an imposing work. It is involved reading with its emphasis on the elite thinkers of Puritan New England, but the depth of investigation and the breadth of detail is impressive. Few would read either this volume, or its prequel, at the beach, but for those seeking to understand the history of Puritanism it is invaluable.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Scholarship & Writing 26 July 2015
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Paperback
Another wonderful book by Perry Miller. This book is the sequel to his great The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. The structure of From Colony to Province is quite different from that of The Seventeenth Century. The latter is a synchronic analysis of the New England Puritan world view and drew from the writings of Puritan divines across the whole of the 17th century. From Colony to Province is a more conventional narrative, charting the fate of this world view as it as battered by external events and its own internal contradictions. Miller proceeds from the mid-17th century to around 1730. The Colony of Miller's title is the established New England Way; a theocratic society dominated by a ministerial elite dedicated to complex version of Calvinism and particularly distinguished by Covenant theology, which aimed to remove some of the sting of predestination by defining the God-Man relationship on a contractual basis. By 1730, New England was an increasingly secular society, the ministerial elite was becoming increasingly marginal, orthodox Calvinism was eroding, and Covenant theology was being discarded in the heartlands of Boston and Connecticut.

The erosion of the New England Way was driven by multiple forces. Conceived as a somewhat utopian experiment that would kindle a further reformation in Europe, Puritan theology prepared the ministerial elite poorly to deal with the reality of an increasingly prosperous and permanent society. A society of the elect faced both major theoretical and practical problems of bringing the children of the elect into the covenant, leading to the famous Half-Way Covenant, a compromise that ultimately satisfied no one and contributed significantly to ministerial conflict and the decay of Covenant theology. The latter's emphasis on contractualism would give rise to secularizing political trends and after the Restoration, the Puritans had to concede toleration to avoid being overrun by state-sponsored Anglicanism and the ambiguity of claiming toleration as a minority while insisting on state church privileges in New England was a persistent source of tension with London. Episodes like the Salem Witch trials and persecution of dissenters kindled considerable disillusionment with the orthodox ministry.

The Puritan emphasis on learning was something of a Trojan horse. By the end of the 17th century, Cartesian logic was being taught at Harvard. Thinkers like Grotius, Locke, and Newton were widely read, even by some of the most conservative figures in the Puritan ministry. Even Machiavelli was cited approvingly during some disputes within the ministry. Starting from Covenant theology, a persistent theme is the gradual growth in the estimation of human capacities and retreat from strict Calvinism, often in disguised forms. Miller focuses particularly on the careers and intellectual evolution of Increase and Cotton Mather, the father and son ministers who continually fought rear guard actions against the decline of New England orthodoxy. Other figures, such as Solomon Stoddard, the "Pope" of the Connecticut River valley and implacable foe of the Half-Way Covenant, and portrayed very well.

Like The Seventeenth Century, the quality of writing is outstanding. Miller treats his subjects seriously and sympathetically but there many gems of ironic commentary throughout this book.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential, Timeless Classic of American History. 25 July 2014
By Mark Acres - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the most important works of American history ever produced. If you want to understand how we got where we are, you must read this account of where we started.
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic 23 Nov. 2009
By Loren C. Gruber - Published on
Format: Paperback
A classic examination of the early American intellectual life. All serious students and scholars of American literature and history must read this book.
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