Puritanism began as a movement within the Church of England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritans believed that the Church of England had not gone far enough in parting ways with the Roman Catholic Church. They felt that the Anglican Church should be brought more into line with the teachings and practices of churches that were influenced by John Calvin and other reformers. The Puritans were known for a distinct work ethic which derived from their faith. Many sociologists believe that the Puritan work ethic was fundamental to the prosperity of the United States.
The Puritans were Calvinist Reformed in their theology, writes Daniel Walker Howe in "The Impact of Puritanism on American Culture." As such, the Puritans held to John Calvin's view that God had predestined those who were to be saved and those who were to be damned. In their view, working hard didn't cause a person to be saved, but hard work was one of the marks of an elect believer. In essence, the Puritans believed that hard work is the believer's mission in this life.
Hard work and industriousness were stressed as pillars of the Puritans' faith. Puritans believed that when believers worked hard, it brought glory to God. They further believed that hard work brought prosperity, by which they could provide well for themselves, their families and the needy around them.
The Puritans' dedication to self reliance and acquiring wealth through hard work and thrift was based largely on the belief that material wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Some sociologist believe this dedication to self reliance combined with the necessity of trading the goods they produced, both with Native Americans and with Mother England, led to the rise of trade and the capitalist mindset in North America.
Puritans emphasized thrift -- making proper use of your resources, saving and refraining from wasteful practices. In the Puritan's mind, the bounty he earned as a result of his work showed the favor of God and was not to be squandered, but used judiciously.
The Puritans' thrift was important in helping them survive as farmers in New England, where the farmland was not particularly good and the growing season was short. Had the Puritans not been thrifty, it is doubtful that the colonies would have survived and developed into the United States as we know it.
One of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation was the conviction that the Scriptures should be available in the vernacular and that common people should be taught to read well enough to read and interpret the Bible. The Puritans adopted this mindset. Many sociologists and economists believe that the biggest impact the Puritans had on economic prosperity had less to do with actual work ethic than with the promotion of literacy and the inherent advantages it offers.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images