A Constitutional Culture: New England and the Struggle Against Arbitrary Rule in the Restoration Empire

In a vital, yet little recognized, story of the revolutionary nature of Puritan New England, Kyle Roberts (pictured above) of the Congregational Library & Archives, and author Adrian Chastain Weimer celebrate the release of her new book, A Constitutional Culture: New England and the Struggle Against Arbitrary Rule in the Restoration Empire. Click here for a 55-minute recording of this virtual presentation on May 10, 2023.

In A Constitutional Culture, Weimer (above, left) uncovers the story of how, more than a hundred years before the American Revolution, colonists pledged their lives and livelihoods to the defense of local political institutions against arbitrary rule. With the return of Charles II (above, center) to the English throne in 1660, the Puritan-led colonies faced enormous pressure to conform to the crown’s priorities.

Charles demanded that Puritans change voting practices, baptismal policies, and laws, and he also cast an eye on local resources such as forests, a valuable source of masts for the English navy. In the face of this threat to local rule, colonists had to decide whether they would submit to the commissioners’ authority, which they viewed as arbitrary because it was not accountable to the people, or whether they would mobilize to defy the crown.

Those resisting the crown included not just freemen (voters) but also people often seen as excluded or marginalized such as non-freemen, indentured servants, and women. Together they crafted a potent regional constitutional culture in defiance of Charles II that was characterized by a skepticism of metropolitan ambition, a defense of civil and religious liberties, and a conviction that self-government was divinely sanctioned.