Puritanism came as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Many Protestants in England believed that King Henry VIII had not changed the church enough when he broke from the Roman Catholic church. They believed that the church needed to be further “purified” and brough closer to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There were two main factions of Puritans the minority chose to “break away” from the church and worship in their own style. The majority of Puritans believed in trying to purify the church from within and remained members of the Church of England. This affects American history in that the Pilgrims in Plymouth Plantation (the Mayflower folk) were separatists who came to America to create their own community and church as separated as possible from the “corrupt” society of England. The other settlers of Massachusetts Bay, however, were NOT separatists, and thus over time the Pilgrims’ view began to lose out to the Reform ideals of the majority. However, the notion of being separate from the centralized authority of the church clearly remained a seed in the mind of the colonists, soon to blossom into the argument of political separation.
Puritans in America organized their churches in a “Congregational” manner. In this system, a group of people decide together to create a community, or church. They create a “Covenant” with each other to work together as one to better the community. Each individual pledged to work their hardest and do their best to support the whole. At the same time, any problems of any member became the problems or concerns of the whole. People gave up a certain amount of their personal freedom and individualism, but gained the benefits of a combined community. Again, this system is clearly influential on the later political organization of the colonies and the notion of creating a “Constitution” or “Articles of Confederation” that bind groups together in a mutually beneficial manner.
The Puritans believed in predestination, but not like the Calvinists. The Calvinists believed that there were a set number of saved souls, and their salvation was determined before they were even conceived. The Puritans believed that any number of people could be saved, but that only God could determine who was or wasn’t saved. Humans could not presume to determine whether or not a person was “good enough” for God’s salvation. Thus, all members of the community had an obligation to live as good of a life as possible, to better meet God’s standards for salvation. Once a person had been saved, God’s grace would be reflected in their every moment. Thus the person who had good fortune and success was believed to reflect God’s pleasure. Failure to live up to God’s standards brought God’s displeasure and punishment. Thus bad fortune and failure were justified punishment for failing to live up to God’s standards.
This is just a very simple beginning explanation of Puritanism. Check out these websites if you want to know more: