The Puritans, conductors of the Salem witch trials, in which many people were killed, were right in their actions. The Puritans were settlers in early American history that settled near Salem, Massachusetts. They were looking for religious freedom in America, because they weren’t Catholic. They had a very strict interpretation of the Bible and lived according to that. They were also responsible for the Salem witch trials, an event in which many people were killed for supposedly being witches.
However, although the Puritans caused much distress and grief during the witch hunts, they were justified in doing this because they were acting in accordance to their laws against a perceived threat that they thought could have seriously and severely damaged or destroyed their community, as well as the people who lived there. First, in order to understand the Puritans’ actions, we must learn about their laws to understand their actions. Coming from a strong religious background, being a witch was illegal to the Puritans.
This stems originally from the belief that witches had created a pact with the devil, and religiously the devil was the root of all evil. Another reason being a witch was illegal was because witches were thought to have supernatural powers. The people being “bewitched” by a witch were the man accusers in the trials. During the trials, only these people and the witch themselves were considered to have proper witness testimony, because they would be the only ones to see the “bewitchment” happening. All of this is important to know because it casts light on the legality of what the Puritans were doing.
If they were acting in accordance to their own laws, what they were doing would have been right and just. Remember, this takes place before the United States was formed, and therefore the Puritans only had the laws that they had created to follow. Clarifying this can also eliminate any bias based on sparse knowledge about the Salem witch trials, because not everyone knows the whole story. So, because the Puritans had laws regarding how to deal with witches, they obviously must have believed in their existence. However, what did they actually believe witches were?
To the Puritans, in basic terms, a witch was simply someone who contracted with the devil and because of this, had been given supernatural powers. Witches were thought to be able to bewitch people through rituals and other occult practices. A prevalent example of this is the notion that witches can fly. Many trials contained testimony by witnesses that they had seen the accused flying. Another example would be that witches could torment people from a distance. One example of this is harming dolls that have been “charmed”, to hurt the intended victim of the witch, similar to what one might think of a voodoo doll.
It was believed that witches could hurt their victims this way, by attacking the doll with pins or drowning it or some other similar method. Finally, they were also believed to be able to kill with certain rituals. Because of all of these reasons, witches were greatly feared. Knowing about what the Puritans believed witches were is important in understanding why their actions were justified. They believed that these people could attack, kill, and injure others supernaturally, and saw evidence of this through those “afflicted” by the witches.
This explains the terror and hysteria that they felt, when they thought these people could kill with a simple ritual or spell. This also explains why they’d exercise extreme caution in the trials. Wrongfully acquitting even one of the witches could have brought disaster on their society, which is why they pushed for a conviction so hard. These people were acting in self defense against a force they couldn’t understand. So, now that background information has been given on the Puritans’ laws and what they thought witches were, how well were they following these laws and were hey being just in their use of the laws? Despite popular belief that the judges in the witch trials were corrupt, the Puritans actually followed their laws justly. This is a question of how justly the Puritans were following their laws, and not of the laws’ justness. The Puritans were really trying to prevent their people from being injured. When supposed victims of witchcraft were being attacked supernaturally, twisting and writhing in pain, the Puritans sought to end their suffering and help prevent others from undergoing a similar fate.
They were terrified of the witches, and rightly so, given their beliefs. This is also why the courts seemed biased and unfair in favour of conviction. The Puritans couldn’t afford to acquit even one witch, because even one witch could exact a terrible vengeance upon the town. In the Puritans’ eyes, it would be better to wrongfully accuse one person of being a witch and them dying than to wrongfully acquit a witch and let that witch kill the entire town.
It is important to know these facts because it explains why the actions that most people would see as unreasonable or unfair were actually based on the Puritans trying to keep their community alive. There was no other governing force over them at the time, because the United States hadn’t been founded yet, so they only had their own laws to uphold. But, if the Puritans aren’t bad people, then why did they do these actions that seem ridiculous? Shouldn’t they have known? The reason they didn’t think their actions were insane or paranoid was because during this time, they thought they were doing the right thing.
It’s easy for people in the present century to look back on the Puritans’ actions and declare them to be paranoid or unjust, but it’s important to understand that the Puritans had no other context. A reader of The Crucible in the present day knows how the entire trials were carried out, and has many other instances to compare the trials to, too. However, the Puritans would have only had their laws, and the only other examples they heard of were other cities nearby having to enact their own witch trials.
The Puritans were afraid or their lives, and believed that witches were real. So when someone acted like they were in pain or like they were being bewitched, the Puritans believed them. All of these reasons are why the Puritans continued to perform trials without realizing they were being unreasonable. The Puritans truly believed that witches were attacking people in their cities, and they had evidence of this through the victims of bewitchment. So, after all of this evidence, let’s answer the question; were the Puritans’ actions justified? For all of these reasons, the Puritans’ actions were justified.
They were afraid for their lives from witches, who they believed had great supernatural powers and that they could destroy the towns. They also were afraid of letting a witch go, because a vengeful witch attacking the town would have severely damaged the town and its people. There was also no sense that they were doing anything wrong. This is because they had no other context to judge their actions, no outside force to look inwardly on them and declare them to be ridiculous or paranoid. They only had their own laws to follow, and they followed their laws correctly. What is a society without laws?
The Puritans had to follow their laws because without them, their society would fall into anarchy, and that would cause more damage than any witch trial could. From their point of view, they were doing the right thing, and that makes them reasonable. Only an unreasonable person does things that they don’t believe to be right. All of this is important because it explains the Puritans’ actions. How could they be reasonable while also killing people in trials for a reason that we don’t believe existed? Given all of the background information, it is clearer to see how the Puritans were reasonable.
In conclusion, the Puritans’ actions in the Salem witch trials were reasonable. However, after learning about the Puritans, it is important that we as a society learn from this. What are we doing now that in 400 years people will look back and declare us unreasonable? We should learn from the Puritans’ example and look at our own society to make sure our actions in the present day are justifiable and reasonable. True civilizations and societies should always be reviewing themselves in this way to make sure that an event like the Salem witch trials never happens again.