Where did the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies of Puritan pilgrims come from and what were they really all about?
Governor Winthrop, a founder of the Massachusetts colony, said, "We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." The Mayflower Puritans had been driven out of England as subversives. The Puritans saw this religious colony as a model of a social and political order that they believed all of Europe should adopt.
The Puritan movement was part of a sweeping revolt within English society against the ruling feudal order of wealthy lords. Only a few decades after the establishment of Plymouth, the Puritan Revolution came to power in England. They killed the king, won a civil war, set up a short-lived republic, and brutally conquered the neighboring people of Ireland to create a larger national market.
The famous Puritan intolerance was part of a determined attempt to challenge the decadence and wastefulness of the rich aristocratic landlords of England. The Puritans wanted to use the power of state punishment to uproot old and still dominant ways of thinking and behaving.
The new ideas of the Puritans served the needs of merchant capitalist accumulation. The extreme discipline, thrift and modesty the Puritans demanded of each other corresponded to a new and emerging form of ownership and production. Their so-called "Protestant Ethic" was an early form of the capitalist ethic. From the beginning, the Puritan colonies intended to grow through capitalist trade--trading fish and fur with England while they traded pots, knives, axes, alcohol and other English goods with the Indians.
The Puritan colonies were ruled by a government in which only the male heads of families had a voice. Women, Indians, slaves, servants, youth were neither heard nor represented. In the Puritan schoolbooks, the old law "honor thy father and thy mother" was interpreted to mean honoring "All our Superiors, whether in Family, School, Church, and Commonwealth." And, the real truth was that the colonies were fundamentally controlled by the most powerful merchants.
The Puritan fathers believed they were the Chosen People of an infinite god and that this justified anything they did. They were Calvinists who believed that the vast majority of humanity was predestined to damnation. This meant that while they were firm in fighting for their own capitalist right to accumulate and prosper, they were quick to oppress the masses of people in Ireland, Scotland and North America, once they seized the power to set up their new bourgeois order. Those who rejected the narrow religious rules of the colonies were often simply expelled "out into the wilderness."
The Massachusetts colony (north of Plymouth) was founded when Puritan stockholders had gotten control of an English trading company. The king had given this company the right to govern its own internal affairs, and in 1629 the stockholders simply voted to transfer the company to North American shores--making this colony literally a self-governing company of stockholders!
In U.S. schools, students are taught that the Mayflower compact of Plymouth contained the seeds of "modern democracy" and "rule of law." But by looking at the actual history of the Puritans, we can see that this so-called "modern democracy" was (and still is) a capitalist democracy based on all kinds of oppression and serving the class interests of the ruling capitalists.
In short, the Puritan movement developed as an early bourgeois revolutionary challenge to the old feudal order in England. They were the soul of primitive capitalist accumulation. And transferred to the shores of North America, they immediately revealed how heartless and oppressive that capitalist soul is.