Cotton Mather


Aesthetic Education | John Winthrop | Cotton Mather | Benjamin Franklin | Alexander Hamilton | Roosevelt VS British Colonialism

Cotton Mather and the Aesthetical Education of the Colonies

American System

Part 3 of The Aesthetic Education of America

In discussing the proper approach to education, Lyndon LaRouche often uses the image of Raphael's painting, ``The School of Athens.'' In a competent education, the student re-creates the great discoveries of the past. His mind is populated by the minds of the men and women who made these discoveries. The student measures himself against this proven standard--rather than against the passing whims of popular opinion.

The school system established by New England's founders aimed at this to a large extent, and hence fulfilled the task of the aesthetical education of the student. The grammar schools and the college fostered a love of the Greek and Roman Classics, or ``{literae humaniores}''; Cicero, Virgil, Terence, and Ovid; Homer, Hesiod, and Theocritus. Most of these works were either poetry or dialogues. When the republicans' grip on New England was broken, the Classical texts were gradually replaced by modern empiricist works.

The character of the educational system was a continuation of the grammar school system established in England under the influence of Erasmus. Erasmus had introduced the Platonic method into education, to end the rule of stultifying Aristotelean logic. He charged that the Christian church was ``about to crumble to ruins, by the influence of their [Aristotelean] syllogism.'' Condemning Aristotle, Erasmus asked, ``What connection is there, I ask, between Christ and Aristotle? between the petty fallacies of logic and the mysteries of eternal wisdom?''

To break the control of Aristotelean commentaries over the medieval churches, Erasmus recommended returning to the original texts. It was for this reason that the study of Greek and Hebrew was encouraged, in part to be able to read the Bible. Erasmus also recommended the study of Classical Greek and Latin authors, and that, ``of all the philosophical writings, I would recommend the Platonists most highly.''

Erasmus's dialogues, which were a primary text in the grammar schools of New England, exemplify the Platonist approach to knowledge. As in the dialogues of Plato, the truth is not located in the statements of any one character. Rather, the reader must locate himself above the paradoxes which are presented by the often playful interaction of the characters, in order to comprehend a truth which is the solution to the paradoxes so presented. It is through this playful process, that the reader is challenged to overcome fixed patterns in thinking, and enjoy changing his previous opinions. Erasmus also often used seemingly trivial themes, to launch devastating attacks on the corruption of the feudal institutions of his age.

This approach to education shaped the New England churches around which Puritan society was centered. Sermons were the main form of public speaking. New England's ministers, studying at Harvard, received a sound Classical education, obtaining a bachelor's degree before being trained in theology.

The content of the Puritans' sermons contradicts the popular prejudice that the Puritans' religious belief was fatalistic. Historian Samuel Elliot Morison states that, ``after reading some hundreds of Puritan sermons, English and New English, I feel qualified to deny that the New England puritans were predestinarian Calvinists.'' The Puritan sermons assume--when they do not directly teach--that, by virtue of the Covenant of Grace, and though the efforts of the churches, salvation lay within reach of every person who made an effort.

Increase and Cotton Mather

After John Winthrop, the next remarkable figures in the aesthetical education of the American colonies were Increase Mather and his son, Cotton. Increase was born in 1639 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and received a degree at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1664, he became minister of the Second or Old North Church in Boston, soon becoming the most influential religious leader in the colony. He wrote approximately 130 books and pamphlets.

In 1683, Increase Mather and a number of Boston men formed a scientific club, named the Philosophical Society. The Boston group met fortnightly, ``for conference upon improvements in philosophy and additions to the stores of natural history.'' Although it only lasted about ten years, it served as a model for Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia Junto.

Increase Mather's son, Cotton, was born in Boston in February 1663. He studied at the Boston Latin School. He reports that, at age 12, he could speak Latin and had ``conversed with Cato, Corderius, Terence, Tully [Cicero], Ovid, and Virgil.'' In Greek he had ``gone through a great part of the New Testament and read considerable in Isocrates and Homer.'' Cotton Mather graduated from Harvard College at age fifteen. At eighteen, he joined his father as assistant pastor at the Old North Church.

Cotton Mather is truly an example of the Renaissance method of New England education. In his writing, Mather quotes in Latin, Cicero, Erasmus, Augustine, and Virgil. He read and quoted Plato in the original Greek. In discussing the founding of the Massachusetts colonies, he frequently refers to events in ancient Greece and Rome, and makes comparisons to Plato's Republic.

Mather was consciously working to get his readers to locate their own actions on the stage of universal history, and to thereby act as world historical individuals. He quotes from Book II of Plato's {Republic} in discussing John Winthrop's qualities as a leader.@s3@s0 Of the attacks on Winthrop, Mather states, ``For the trial of true Virtue, 'tis necessary that a good Man ... Tho' he do no unjust thing, should suffer the Infamy of the greatest Injustice.'' In his essay, ``Bonifacius, An Essay upon the Good,''@s3@s1 Mather holds himself accountable to the standard set by Erasmus. He states:

"But Erasmus ... has furnished him [Mather] with an answer, which is all that he intends to give unto it: ``The censure of others upbraids me, that I have done so much; my own conscience condemns me that I have done so little.'' The good God forgive my slothfulness."

Cotton Mather emerged as the dominant intellect of New England, and of the American colonies as a whole, during the last decade of the Seventeenth and the beginning of the Eighteenth centuries. During the 1690's, Increase Mather and his son Cotton wrote 30 percent of all the books printed in Boston. Cotton Mather's total published works reached 450. His works included history, biography, essays, sermons, fables, books of practical piety, theology, and verse. Mather was at the center of a global network, and is estimated to have written 8,000 letters during his lifetime.

Cotton Mather quickly stepped into his father's shoes as the leading defender of the liberties of the Massachusetts colony. He emerged as America's first native-born political pamphleteer during the revolt that deposed the British-imposed Governor Andros in April 1689. On the very day of the Boston revolt, he read his speech, ``The Declaration of the Gentlemen, Merchants, and Inhabitants of Boston, and the Country adjacent,'' from the balcony of the Town House to the crowd below.

Cotton Mather's most famous work, ``Bonifacius, An Essay upon the Good,'' is an organizing manual for creating a society which is coherent with Plato's concept of agape. Mather argues that no person's knowledge or activity has any value unless he is governed by the commitment to do good:

"It will be no immodesty in me to say: The man who is not satisfied of the wisdom in making it the work of his life to do good, is always to be beheld with the pity due to an idiot."

Mather applies this standard most emphatically to religion itself. Bonifacius declares that ``a workless faith is a worthless faith,'' and,

"I will not be immodest, and yet I will boldly say: The man is worse than a pagan, who will not come into this notion of things, A good man is a public blessing {or, a common good.} None but a good man, is really a living man; and the more good any man does, the more he really lives. All the rest is death; or belongs to it."

Mather asks his reader to see the entire world as his sphere for doing good:

"The world has according to the computation of some, above seven hundred millions of people now living in it. What an ample field among all these, to do good upon! In a word, the kingdom of God in the world calls for innumerable services from us."

In ``Bonifacius,'' Mather proposed the creation of public societies to deal with all manner of civic problems: to deal with public disorders, to found schools for the poor and improve existing ones, to meet to discuss and propose legislation. We will see, later, how Benjamin Franklin acted on the lessons learned from Mather and his ``Bonifacius.''

The Beauty of God's Creation

Mather, in ``The Christian Philosopher,'' demonstrates the beauty and perfection of the universe in a very poetic way. He discusses how God designed the universe as the best of all possible worlds,

"as the essence of every thing, and its relation, in being fitted, beyond any Emendation, for its Actions and Uses, evidently proceeds from a Mind of the highest Understanding, so the nature of these Actions and Uses, in as much as they are not any way destructive or troublesome; no, but each thing tends apart, and all conspire together to conserve, cherish, and gratify: this is an Evidence of their proceeding from the greatest Goodness."

Mather rejects the view of man as a wretch, by reference to St. Augustine:

"It was most reasonably done of thee, Father Augustine, to tax the Folly of them who admired the Wonders in the other Parts of the Creation abroad, ... but see nothing in themselves to be wondered at."

Instead, he says of man, that

"if thou standest where thou oughtest to stand, in the uppermost Round of the Divine Ladder, next to the most High; then thou approvest thyself to be indeed what thou wert designed by God to be, the High-Priest and Orator of the Universe; because thou alone, standing to know Him, and Speech to express thy Knowledge of Him, in thy Praises and Prayers to Him."

The `Newtonian' Arian Heresy

Cotton Mather was part of the global political and scientific network of Gottfried Leibniz. In fact, Mather did battle against Isaac Newton's protege Samuel Clarke for promoting the Arian heresy, at the same time, and on essentially the same issues, as Leibniz did in the famous Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence on the nature of the laws of the physical universe, and of God's role in them.

The Arian heresy, which arose in the Fourth century A.D., presented the Christian God in Aristotelean terms. God was not the Creator, but rather, he was the Aristotelean ``First Cause,'' which set the universe in motion at the beginning of time. Christ was considered neither divine nor eternal. By reducing Christ to human status only, the Arian heresy denied Christianity's primary religious statement of man's being in God's image. For related reasons, God was considered to be unknowable to man.

The scientific worldview promoted by Newton corresponded to this heresy. Newton's physical universe was an empty void in which particles interacted. God, in this universe, was nothing more than Aristotle's ``First Cause,'' the pool player who racked up the billiard balls, and fired up the first shot that set all the particles in motion. Once the balls were in motion, God was powerless to change their course. Leibniz attacked this view, because it reduced God to an impotent observer, and turned the universe into a mechanism which, like a wind-up clock, was running down.

Mather coordinated a campaign against Arianism on both sides of the Atlantic. He argued that Arianism struck at the very essence of Christianity. In 1712, he urged a correspondent in Scotland to refute the Arian doctrine by documenting that Christianity was fundamentally based on the eternal deity of Christ. He urged his correspondent to write a history of Christianity, which demonstrated that the Nicene Creed had always been the doctrine of Christianity. In this, Mather placed himself squarely in the tradition of the Council of Florence.

It was against Samuel Clarke, who Mather described as one of ``two grand satanic tools,'' that he directed his strongest polemics. Mather wrote of him:

"The grand poisoner has been Dr. Clarke, who has refined upon Arianism so far as to decry the Arians; and yet his whole (pretended) New Scheme is in the very words of it, the vomit of the infamous Valentinus Gentilis, whom the Switzers beheaded for his blasphemies about the middle of the Sixteenth century."

A Little People

After the restoration of England's monarchy in 1660, following the period of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, a redoubled assault had been launched on New England's independence. In October 1686, the Massachusetts Charter was declared void. In December, Edmund Andros was dispatched as the royal governor, to enforce the Crown's will on the colony.

However, in 1688, during the ``Glorious Revolution'' which placed William and Mary on the British throne, the colonists rose up and overthrew the royal governor. In April 1689, over a thousand Bostonians and militiamen from neighboring towns easily overwhelmed the royal forces. The colonists immediately restored their charter, and proclaimed a series of measures for both political independence, and economic independence through economic development. Increase Mather, who was already in England, argued the colony's case before the new king.

Despite Increase Mather's efforts, New England did not recover its Charter. Even more serious, the leadership of New England was taken over by a British-allied merchant grouping that rejected the Colony's republican mission. Cotton Mather described this decline his 1696 pamphlet, ``Things for a Distress'd People to Think Upon.'' New England, wrote Mather, was no longer filled with heroes worthy of serving as models for future ages. Its leaders were no longer sustained by a Public Spirit and ``a fervent Inclination to Do Good, joined with Incomparable Ability to do it.'' This moral descent went hand in hand with the increased subjugation of New England to the British. Mather wrote ``There seems to be a shameful Shrink, in all sorts of men among us, from that Greatness and Goodness, which adorned our ancestors: We grow Little every way; ... we dwindle away, to Nothing.''

However, if self-government was ended in Massachusetts, it certainly was not forgotten. The principles of self-government embodied in the Massachusetts Bay Colony served as an inspiration and example for America's republicans. Even as the British were asserting their control over New England, the processes that had been set in motion were pushed ahead elsewhere in the colonies.

Aesthetical Education Leads to Truth Schiller wrote, that although in the aesthetical condition the mind is free, it is through this freedom that man is able to find truth:

"The transition from the passive condition of feeling to the active of thinking and willing occurs therefore not other than through a middle condition of aesthetical freedom, and although this condition in itself decides something neither for our insights nor convictions, hence leaves our intellectual and moral worth entirely problematical, so is it yet the necessary condition, under which alone we can attain an insight and a conviction.

Schiller understood that man discovers truth, not through sense certainty, but in the realm of Platonic {ideas.} It is precisely by developing the creative powers of the mind to think aesthetically, to create Platonic ideas, that one is able to arrive at truth. Schiller states:

"Truth is nothing, which can be received from outside like the reality or the sensuous existence of things; it is something, that the power of thought produces self-actively and in its freedom, and it is just this self-activity, this freedom, which we miss in the sensuous man.

Once man has located his identity in the powers of creative discovery, rather than in sense certainty and the sensuous emotions, the search for truth becomes much easier:

"The step from the aesthetical condition to the logical and moral (from beauty to truth and to duty) is thence infinitely easier, than the stem from the physical condition to the aesthetical (from the mere blind life to form) was."

Once one has located his identity in the realm of the aesthetical, he now desires to make creative discoveries and develop new hypotheses to improve his knowledge.

It is through the science of physical economy, which was founded by Leibniz and advanced further by Lyndon LaRouche, that one is able to test the validity of scientific discoveries. LaRouche has developed a scientific method to relate the individual mind's discovery of a validatable universal physical principle, to the increase of the potential relative population-density of his species as a whole. LaRouche writes:

"Mankind's functional relationship to the universe, is expressed for sense-perception in two general ways. It is expressed both in the improvements in increased life-expectancy, size of population, and other demographic characteristics of populations, and that population's increased physical power over the universe, in {per-capita} and {per}-square-kilometer terms. These perceptible forms of improvements in the human condition, are benefits acquired both through relevant changes in human behavior, as scientific and technological progress expresses this, and by alterations of nature in ways which are relevant to, and indispensable for the realization of the potential benefits implied in scientific and technological progress."

This principle would characterize the economic development of America before and after the Revolution.

Republican Development in the American Colonies

The next breakthroughs in the development of the American colonies were the result of a transatlantic battle against the Venetian party in England, by the republican forces led by Leibniz. The pro-republican faction in England saw the expansion of the colonies as a crucial flank against the Venetian party, and in 1710 succeeded in having Royal governors appointed to Virginia and New York who pushed forward those colonies' development.

*Robert Hunter became governor of New York and New Jersey. A former military commander, he was a personal friend of Jonathan Swift, Leibniz's leading ally in England. He launched a series of projects to expand those colonies beyond their confinement around the lower Hudson Valley. He also wrote the first American play, an attack on the former governor, Andros.

*Alexander Spotswood became lieutenant-governor of Virginia in 1710. Earlier, positive influences in Virginia had been largely snuffed out during the 1690's, following the appointment of Andros as Virginia governor, after he had been kicked out of Boston. The Virginia colony consisted largely of tobacco plantations, whose product was shipped to London. There were few towns or even roads to connect these plantations into a coherent unit. The colonial government was dominated by the wealthy planters. Few schools existed in its decentralized economy, and the planters hired tutors to educate their sons.

Spotswood arrived determined to expand the colony--which was confined to within 50 miles of the Atlantic--all the way to the Mississippi River. He personally directed the colony's development, forcing through a law that landowners must develop their holdings, or they would lose their land titles. He mapped out roads and inland waterways, and new towns and forts. He pushed for the establishment of an iron industry, and eventually developed it himself, after the Colony's House of Burgesses refused to use tax money to fund it.

Finally, he led an expedition to find a route west, through the Blue Ridge mountains. This rekindled the spirit of discovery, and had the effect of driving the colonial society forward. Virginia began a renewed growth through westward expansion. Growth decreased the dominance of the plantation system, and developed a healthier political climate, ensuring that Virginians saw themselves as building a nation. Not surprisingly, the young George Washington was involved in surveying the west, and mapping out plans for further expansion.

Pennsylvania's John Logan

The Charter to the colony that became Pennsylvania had been granted to the Quaker William Penn in 1681. The colony was permitted a measure of self-government. It was settled by tens of thousands of Quakers, and also, later, a large number of German immigrants.

William Penn selected James Logan (1674-1751) to be his Secretary, and brought him to Pennsylvania in 1699. Logan became a leading figure in the colony, holding all the most important political offices during the following fifty years.

James Logan was a Classical scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and many other languages. His library of 2,651 volumes contained the greatest collection of Classical works in the colonies.

Logan was at the center of a network of scientists in the colonies, who saw themselves as opponents of British empiricism. He was the leading exponent of Leibniz in the colonies, and his library contained numerous of Leibniz's works. Not only did Logan express his support for Leibniz against Newton in the dispute on the discovery of calculus, but he questioned Newton's mathematical and mental competence, at a time when Newton was president of London's Royal Society. His American correspondents included New York's governor Robert Hunter, and the scientist Cadwallader Colden.

Around the time that Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in 1723, Logan began writing ``The Duties of Man As They May be Deduced From Nature,'' as a refutation of Locke and Hobbes. Logan circulated copies of each chapter among the circles of Franklin's collaborators, and to his correspondents in England.

In agreement with Leibniz, Logan developed a conception of the universe as the best of all possible worlds, writing that one must express

"a due sense of gratitude to your bountiful Donor, your Creator, and supreame Lord of this Universe, the beautiful and exact order of which, in all its outward part you here behold, and how wisely and determinately each is made to answer its proper end."

Logan rejected Locke's assertion that human nature is governed by the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Instead ``the inclination of the Heart to Good, with which it seeks to unite ... is the principle which animates us to seek our perfection.''

Introduction and first section of "The Aesthetic Education of America" 

Aesthetic Education

Section 2: John Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay Colony

John Winthrop

Section 4: Benjamin Franklin: The Playfulness of the Beautiful Soul

Benjamin Franklin

Section IV:

Benjamin Franklin

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