The desire for liberty was widespread among settlers of the New World. Many groups and people of different backgrounds came to stake their claim and make their way in America over time. Among these groups were the Puritans seeking a refuge from the persecution of the English empire. These Puritans had differing ideas about liberty than other groups and wanted to set an example for England through their denomination. One of these Puritans, John Winthrop, governed over the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Winthrop makes a very clear line between the liberties of man, what they are, and how they are important to be made distinct.
Natural liberty and moral liberty are vastly different things and John Winthrop makes a good case that we should follow the moral path of liberty and the Puritan ideals held within. Winthrop describes the natural liberty of man in a very primordial sort of way in that it is like a beast that can cause men to be evil: “The exercising and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts….” (Foner 32). It is important to note here how he mentions the “exercising and maintaining” of the liberty. The reason it should be noted is that this means that it is only necessarily ‘all bad’ per-se when it is the ruling liberty or practice of one’s life. He prefaces this statement before by stating how “it is a liberty to evil as well as to good” (Foner 32), even though he still maintains it is “incompatible and inconsistent with authority” (Foner 32). This shows that Winthrop is still erring on the side of caution by acknowledging the importance and precedence of authority even if he believes the contrasting structure has its place sometimes.
Another facet of the natural liberty described by Winthrop is how it opposes God and God opposes it: “This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it.” (Foner 32). The sorts of Puritan ideals Winthrop and others around him espouse are going to be inconsistent with the “wild beast”. The other liberty discussed by John Winthrop is what is called moral liberty. Based on Winthrop’s explanation it has a lot less to do with the complete freedom to do whatever one would like than natural liberty. He describes it as something that is “exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” (Foner 32). While this doesn’t make much sense given what the definition of liberty as, the idea makes a lot of sense from the Judeo-Christian perspective Winthrop has. Natural liberty is the freedom to do what one wants even if it is not good for you while moral liberty is choosing to subject yourself to your own or another form of authority to free yourself from the ‘bad’ that can come from certain choices.
This is why many Christians choose not to overindulge in things like sex or alcohol besides the fact that the Bible teaches these things. The main reason for following the path is that if someone makes a habit out of either in less than ideal circumstances they will be slaves to those things or sin and make mistakes. This is why there is always talk of idols in Christianity. John Winthrop understands these concepts very well and knows why they are to be followed as opposed to being blind to the structure of his faith. He describes the natural desires and slavery it holds on people towards the end of the speech: “If you stand for your natural corrupt liberties, and will do what is good in your own eyes, you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur, and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke;” (Foner 33).
John Winthrop believed in making it apparent what the different liberties of man were and what place they have in ones life. He and others believed in separating themselves from the institutions that ruled over their people in England to make better ones here in America. He was just one of many Puritans who sought to proclaim the ideals of their religion on society to try to better it. While Religious toleration may have unfortunately not been a value held among them and other colonies, the Puritans and Winthrop had good intentions of doing the right things and establishing good values and rules for the people. Winthrop’s views and statements on the natural and moral liberties make a good case for adhering to certain moral values and authorities while understanding distinction between the two liberties.