Seventeenth Century America
In the years following the beheading of Charles I, England was thrown into turmoil and civil unrest. It was a time when ” All power was vested in the quarreling committees of parliament and in the military might of Oliver Cromwell and his army” (Boles. Gaustad. Griffith. Harrell. Miller and Woods. 2005. p. 65). In 1660, when Charles II took power it became a time of restoration, healing and reorganization. “ For a quarter of a century Charles II (1660- 1685) would guide his restored kingdom”(Ibid. p. 66). In this time Charles II renewed efforts towards the colonization of America.
By 1685 when Charles II died, twelve of the thirteen original colonies were established. After Charles II, his brother James reigned briefly, and his reign ended with ” The Glorious Revolution of 1688- called glorious because it was bloodless” (Ibid. 66). It did not last long, but when it was over it changed a lot of things in England, as well as the American colonies. The Glorious Revolution took away the elite rights of kings, and placed power and decision making more firmly into the hands of parliament.
There were new laws passed such as the Toleration Acts of 1689, “granting tolerance to all but Catholics and Unitarians” (Ibid. 82). The news of the revolution in England had effects in the colonies . As Edmund Andros was overthrown, and “ In New York ever present factionalism erupted into rebellion, that though short lived, shaped much of that colony’s politics into the eighteenth century”(Ibid. 82), and of course the anti catholic sentiment caused a lot of concerns, and fueled the ongoing religious disputes. .
John Locke wrote two important treatise on what he felt government should be and do. Locke’s theory was that Civil Government was supposed to preserve and protect natural human rights such as the “fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property” (Ibid. p. 85), and if they failed to do so, ” Such a government not only could be overthrown but deserved to be”(Ibid. p. 85). One of the direct results upon the colonies in America of the Glorious revolution was that ” It led, colony by colony, to a greater assertion of rights against arbitrary or selfish authority”(Ibid. . 85). You can hear a lot of the sentiments of the founding fathers of the American Revolution echoing from the words and beliefs of John Locke. Also the reign of James II caused a lot of worry among the people in the colonies, because religious disagreement and strife was already rampant in the colonies, and they felt that ” If James were to succeed in returning England to the Roman Catholic fold, then what chance did the colonies have of maintaining their protestant heritage? ” (Ibid. 82).
I feel that John Locke was an important figure in the formation of American Ideals of freedom, and his thoughts can be heard to echo throughout the Constitution that would be written in the future by the founding fathers of a free America. The Salem Witch Trials: In the midst of the religious upheavals happening in the colonies, between Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, and even emerging Christianity, added upon this were the Salem Witch Trials. The ” Witchcraft hysteria erupted in and around Salem Massachusetts, in 1692″( Boles. Gaustad. Griffith. Harell. Miller and Woods. 2005. . 86).
While witch trials had been going on in Europe and other countries prior to the Salem hysteria, ” The novelty for America (not for Europe) was it’s singular persistence in Salem and it’s contagion”(Ibid. 87). It was almost like all of the religious furor of the past years culminated in Salem. The problem with the Salem witch hysteria was that almost anything anyone claimed against an accused person was accepted as evidence. As stated in Unto A Good Land, “ Innocence was difficult to prove, since dreams of someone doing satanic deeds were initially accepted as evidence.
Accusations on the other hand, were easy to make, especially since they required little empirical evidence, only the dramatic recounting of visions”(Ibid. p. 87). Once a person was accused they were as good as proven guilty. I think this event was important because it may also have helped form some of the foundation ideas behind our modern judicial system.
Attempts to explain the hysteria that gripped the town have blamed it on mass hysteria, as well as ” physiological ( A bread mold that produced hallucinations)”(Ibid. 87), but what I found the most interesting to note in the text, was the mention regarding ” Tensions between relatively impoverished Salem Village ( Where most of the accusers lived) and prosperous Salem Town, the home of most of the accused”(Ibid. p. 87). Was it possible the accusations were based on pure dislike and rivalry? Or as some claimed a reaction to eating the moldy grains that caused them to hallucinate? We may never know, but with the strong evidence shown by the boundaries clearly marked between accuser and the accused one would have to wonder if this was an intentional misuse of the justice system.
We may never know, but when two men, Increase and Cotton Mather, both clergymen, as well as a father and son team, took a stand against the witch trials practices, I think their ideals and beliefs, like John Locke’s played an important role in the future of America’s development. These two men did not argue whether or not there were real witches, they took a stand and argued for justice. Their argument was against ” Proceedings that too readily accepted evidence that could at worst be faked, and at best was beyond proving or refuting”(Ibid. 87).
They felt that you needed more than unproven accusations to bring someone to trial, especially when the charges whether true or not could not possibly be proven or disproved. By the end of the hysteria that accompanied the Salem Witch trials twenty people were put to death before Increase and Cotton Mather helped put a stop to the insanity. Once accused a defendant was as good as guilty, and without the injection of these two men who knows how many more would have been accused? I think they may have been the early beginnings of innocent until proven guilty.