The Puritans in America Elected Representatives to Govern in their Colonies

Moses Elects the Council of Seventy Elders by Jacob de Wit, 1737

The Puritans elected civil officers to govern in their colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut rather than have their rulers rule absolutely or by hereditary succession as often occurred in Europe.  The people’s practice of choosing representatives to govern followed practices in the Bible and the ideas of consent and popular sovereignty, in which the people hold and grant power.

In elections, some civil officers might be confirmed by covenant or agreement, voted in, selected by draw, or otherwise directly chosen by the people.  Other officers might be appointed by the chosen leaders—and thus indirectly elected by the people.  Both methods are forms of election.

Puritans John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, and John Cotton cited Exodus 18:13-27 and Deuteronomy 1:13-15 from the Bible in support of the principle of elected representatives.  In Exodus 18:25, Moses appoints 70 elders or judges to share in the responsibility of governing the nation of Israel and to represent the people:  “Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people:  rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”  This practice transferred the responsibility of leading and judging matters of the nation from one person, Moses, to more civil servants who were godly, moral, qualified, and selected to share in this burden.  It demonstrated the people’s rule and consent.  It was also very suitable for a nation with many people and/or much land mass.

In keeping with these principles, the Puritans chose religious leaders for their churches even before they came to America, and they followed the same practice when electing civil leaders for their commonwealths in America.  The Puritans, like the Israelites, also made a point to elect godly, moral leaders to govern and administer justice.

Later, in the U. S. Constitution, the American Founders continued the practice of electing representatives for the new nation and emphasized the importance of choosing moral representatives.  Such representative government demonstrates the main characteristic of a “republic”—a country governed by elected representatives of its people.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.


Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Related articles/videos:
1.  An Introduction to Popular Sovereignty
2.  Who were the Pilgrims?  Why did they come to America?
3.  Why the Pilgrims Identified with the Ancient Israelites
4.  The Mayflower Compact:  The Pilgrims’ First Self-Governing Act in America
5.  The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact as Covenant
6.  The History of Thanksgiving Day in America
7.  The Pilgrims & Private Property:  What the Pilgrims Might Have Thought About Communism & Socialism
8.  Three P’s That Led to Freedom in the West:  Printing Press, Protestant Reformation, & Pilgrims
9.  The Puritans’ Moral Authority was the Bible
10.  A City on a Hill:  Why John Winthrop and the Puritans Came to America
11.  The Puritans in America Identified with the Ancient Israelites and Practiced Covenants
12.  Why the Puritans Favored Limited Government
13.  The Puritans in America Favored Rule of Law Based on the Bible
14.  The Puritans in America Created the First Written Constitution of Law
15.  Why Puritan Thomas Hooker Favored Democracy Over Aristocracy
16.  Challenges in the Early Puritan Colonies:  The Dilemma of Religious Laws & Religious Dissent
17.  Why and How Did School Begin in the United States:  The Puritans Supported Education for Bible Literacy

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 5:  Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like, p. 119, 344.  MS-HS.

Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like

Purpose/Objective: Students learn about the Puritans’ Bible-based governing principles and values that characterized their colonies including moral truth, self-government, limited government, rule of law, constitutions, popular sovereignty, elected representatives, work ethic, and a literate citizenry.

Suggested Reading: Chapter 3 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text.  Students read sections Introduction to 3:13.

Prediction Chart:  (continued from Part 1 of this unit).  After Part 2 and Part 3 lessons are taught, students fill out the third column on their prediction chart answering the questions of what happened in the colonies.  How did the Puritans in fact set up their colonies?  What were their governing principles and values?  Have students compare the outcome with their prediction.  Did they come close to predicting what happened?  See the “Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like” prediction chart in the “Supporting Resources” section of the course guide, p. 344.

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

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