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John Eliot (1604-1690), the Puritan missionary to the New England Indians, developed this plan of political organization for the Christianized tribes that he converted. In the late 1640s, he adapted it for English use and sent a manuscript copy to England, where it appeared in print 10 years later, in 1659, following the death of Cromwell and before the accession of Charles II.
Eliot’s “Preface” to the work was far more radical and troublesome than the utopian theocracy described in the main body. “Much is spoken of the rightful Heir of the Crown of England, and the unjustice of casting out the right Heir: but Christ is the only right Heir of the Crown of England, and of all other Nations also.” He proposed to the English nation, “That you would now set the Crown of England upon the head of Christ, whose only true inheritance it is,” and set their “civil polity” on the model given by God to Moses in the wilderness (in Exodus 18), so that “then shall the will of God be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.” The work throughout anticipates an imminent start of the millennium.
Within three years the book had been banned, and Eliot was forced to issue a public retraction and apology. His unique and fascinating work has been called the first book of political theory written by an American and also the first book to be banned by an American government.This online edition reproduces the full text of the original, including the contemporary spellings and punctuation. A few typographic errors have been corrected and are noted.
Puritans, political theory, Moses, theocracy
American Politics | American Studies | Biblical Studies | Christian Denominations and Sects | Political Science | Political Theory | Religion
Eliot, John, "The Christian Commonwealth: or, The Civil Policy of the Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ" (1659). Zea E-Books in American Studies. 29.