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Reading: Deliberative Democracy in the Context of Town Meetings in Seventeenth-Century New England

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Research Article

Deliberative Democracy in the Context of Town Meetings in Seventeenth-Century New England

Author:

David D. Hall

Harvard University, US
About David D.

David D. Hall is Bartlett Professor of New England Church History Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School. His books include The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century; Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England; Puritans in the New World: A Critical Anthology and, most recently, A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (2011). He has edited two key collections of documents: The Antinomian Controversy of 1636–1638: A Documentary History and Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638–1693.

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Abstract

From Alexis de Tocqueville onward, the seventeenth-century New England town has been associated with political and social practices that nurtured the making of a “democratic” society. Myth or reality? And where does the religion of the English people who founded the New England colonies figure in this story? A close examination of town and church records—which Tocqueville was unable to accomplish—reveals a powerful commitment to the core values of transparency, equity (fairness and justice), and broad participation. The “Congregational” system of church government transferred authority from any centralized hierarchy to the laymen of each local congregation. Similarly, the central governments in the colonies gave generous allocations of land to groups of immigrants, empowering them to set up self-governing towns. A crucial question for these towns was deciding how to distribute this land; another, was who could share in the decision-making. No formal or explicit “democratic” ideology accompanied the making of this civic culture, but in the context of the seventeenth century, the outcome was something unusually akin to a democratic society

How to Cite: Hall, D. D. (2019). Deliberative Democracy in the Context of Town Meetings in Seventeenth-Century New England. Journal of Public Deliberation, 15(2), 4. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16997/jdd.332
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Published on 11 Dec 2019.
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