Book Review: Richard L. Bushman’s From Puritan to Yankee

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September 30, 2012 by magpiemenina

I recently finished reading, after suffering through pages of boredom, Richard L. Bushman’s From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690 to 1765 (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1967). It was another book acquired on our trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, a few weekends ago.

Why I read it:

I don’t know anything about Connecticut. I’m originally from northeastern Ohio, and my ancestral family came from Connecticut, so I thought maybe I could learn a bit about society in early Connecticut. The book was cheap and used, too, so why not?

Summary:

Bushman traces the change in mindset of early Anglo populations in Connecticut from what he terms “Puritan” (religiously-based, focused on the coming world, controlled by an apparatus consisting of combined church and state) to “Yankee” (economically and outwardly focused, religiously related to a more independent experience of grace not manifested through good works but through inner life). His argument revolves on the platforms of economy, religion, and law. In early Connecticut, law and religion were interrelated and served to control behavior. As economic interests intruded, manifested in part through the need to move away from towns to have more productive farms and thus creating a need for new parishes as the population spread, these controls were weakened. Economic concerns and a sparser population, as well as influxes of religious dissidents from the colony of Rhode Island, led to a fracturing of the cohesion amongst authorities both civil and religious. Their internecine arguments diminished their power and left the population willing to consider and embrace the experiential religion of the Great Awakening in place of the old religion, which had come to be seen as worldly-based because of the conflation of civil authority with divine authority. Freed from the feelings of guilt that disobeying civil authority was disobeying divine authority, the stage was set for participation in the American Revolution.

Evaluation:

The book had some interesting information but was a fairly simplistic thesis, easily argued. Bushman lacked the skills needed to combine discussions of diverse strands of related topics into one smooth narrative, which Kathleen Brown so excellently exemplified in Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs. Each topic (economy, law, etc.) received its own separate section and treatment. The reader is able to make connections between sections because the thesis and conclusions drawn are simple, not because of any connections made across the sections by the author. The book was also dull, slow reading. I don’t recommend it unless you are planning to pen an expansion of Bushman’s topic.

 

Maybe I should come up with a quick rating system for my book reviews – one to five stars or something. Total number of glazed looks while reading book. What do you think?

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