City on a Hill
The Puritans wanted to create in the New World a new center of right religion, to build what their sermons (with reference to the Old Testament) frequently called a “city on the hill”—a place of holiness that would be an example for all humankind. Toward this end, the Puritans laid great emphasis on family life and, in particular, on the education of children as well as the education of a class of clergymen sufficiently learned to interpret the Scriptures as authentically as possible. For the Puritans intended to guide their actions by an intensive interpretation of the Bible, since they saw themselves as living out a kind of Biblical allegory and prophecy in which they were on an “errand into the wilderness,” chosen by God to build the “New Jerusalem.” The most immediate practical effects of these beliefs were the creation of Boston’s High and Latin Schools as early as 1635, and Harvard College the very next year. Moreover, the Puritan character rapidly evolved into an unlikely combination of a limitless appetite for brilliant religious disputation and flinty intolerance of nonconforming beliefs. Needless to say, although they were smart folks, you wouldn’t want to spend a cocktail evening with one.