Cotton Mather & The General Court 1710

English: Lesson 40

“If you had been a member of the General Court, how would Cotton Mather’s sermon have influenced your politics?”

Cotton Mather was a New England Puritan minister and author of many religious and Puritan books including Theopolis Americana: An Essay on the Golden Street of the Holy City which he wrote in 1710. The book is a civil sermon which Mather presented to the General Court and that focused on the free market and how the market ought to work, and his view of America eschatologically. The sermon was a civil sermon and had to be vague in order not to divide the members of the General Court, it also couldn’t deviate from the traditional and accepted opinions of the community, because that was why Mather was invited to speak, he represented the community and was already part of the establishment. His sermon included topics on; the free market, the street of gold as described in Revelations 21, slavery, and America in Biblical prophecy.

If I was a member of the General Court at that time I do not think the sermon would have greatly influenced or changed my politics. Mather’s views on the free market and how it should be run were pretty straight forward and common, emphasizing the importance of contracts, criticizing any violations of the contracts made, and advising to avoid all deceit. In the sermon he described the perfect free market place as a street of pure gold. This street of gold is referring to the Bible and the heavenly city that God has prepared for us in which there will be a street of pure gold. Mather interprets that street of pure gold to be the market-place where the affairs of trade “bring together a concourse of people.”

“The Street must have no Dirty Ways of Dishonesty in it. I beseech you, Sirs; Let there be none but Just and Fair dealings in the Market-Place. Let all the Actions of the Market-Place be carried on with a Golden Equity and Honesty regulating of them” (Theopolis, pg 9).

Mather was convinced that New England would have a major roll in the coming kingdom of God, and that the street of gold described in Revelation 21 would be a market-place where all dealings were clear and perfect. He gave his many criticisms of New England’s market and how it would have to change to become that wonderful street of gold, but he never gave any suggestions on how that could be achieved. Being not directly involved in the market he was not very knowledgeable with how the market worked and could only give a preachers criticisms. With this information in mind I do not think this would have changed my politics in relation to the free market.

One point that Mather made in his sermon that I would most defiantly disagree with were his views on slavery. Although he did not advocate for the kidnapping of men to be put into slavery, he did not think it was wrong to keep slaves in English households. This would have influenced my politics as I would have to say “yes I agree we should not kidnap people for slavery” but “no, it is not right to enslave anybody.” Mather’s opinions on slavery in 1710 were not radical and everyone would have no issue with keeping slaves, someone from the 21st century would see how it is morally wrong.

The sermon also focused greatly on biblical prophesies, which Mather was obsessed with applying them to America and in particular New England. Mather was sure that there would be a world wide kingdom of God and that New England would have a place in it. His goal was eschatological; America’s roll in biblical prophecy was that God would use New England and the English speaking colonies positively in the construction of the kingdom of God. Mathers interpretations of Romans 11 and Revelation 20 to 22 are taken literally, especially the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the conversion of the Jews. These opinions would not have been radical at the time, especially in the General Court as Mather was preaching a very vague civil sermon and most people would have been a post or premillennialist. I am not a premillennialist or postmillennialist but an amillennialist, meaning I believe that the 10 verses in Revelations to be greatly symbolic and not to be taken literally. I do not think this difference of beliefs would have influenced me politicly, but it would have divided the General Court if the members did not agree with the speaker.

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