Salem Witch Trials: Socioeconomics, Religion, and Fear

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MAY 2006

The Salem Witch Trials were caused by socioeconomic problems that were intertwined with the fabric that held early American life together: religion. Puritanism's lack of set doctrine lent itself to the possibility of corrupt leadership. In 1692 this is exactly what happened. Frightened by the possibility of losing his position as preacher to the Salem Village, Samuel Parris exploited the gravest fear that was held by people of that time period: Satan and witches.

The Trials were a mess from the very beginning, with random accusations thrown at people from all over the village. The examiners used the worst type of evidence, spectral, to send innocent people to their deaths only to realize years later the flaws of this system. The Witch Trials are remembered today because people have used fear to promote conformity throughout American history. Joseph McCarthy was one of these people who used fabricated and doctored evidence to frighten Americans about a false communist invasion after World War II. Parris and McCarthy share many similarities in their exploitation of fear and their ability to create a mass hysteria over untrue events. Introduction

Salem, Massachusetts was a town plagued with both socioeconomic and religious problems in 1692. The town, founded in 1626, was strictly Puritan. Unlike other religions of the time period, such as Catholicism, Puritanism was considered a non-establishment church . Therefore the Puritan beliefs were open to interpretation depending on who was preacher at the time. In this sense the preachers maintained a monopoly on the Puritan Church and what it believed. They used this power to manipulate doctrine, increase membership, and expand individual wealth. These socioeconomic aspects were inevitably intertwined with the one fact that was central to the collective whole: God must be a part of everyone's lives in order for the colony to be successful. Conformity was a way to ensure that everyone in the colony was on the same page. In the case of Puritanism this meant following a strict set of laws and rules set forth by their preacher, whomever it was at the time. Any citizen that violated these laws was subject to severe punishment and would serve as an example of what happened to those who stepped out of line. Since Church and State relations in Puritan colonies overlapped, the process of accusing and trying someone for a crime was extremely easy to carry out. Often times these events happened so quickly that there was not time to contemplate actions or examine one's conscience. This was indeed the case in 1692 when twenty people were executed in a matter of months in the small area of Massachusetts collectively known as Salem. When anxiety and paranoia gripped this God-fearing community and threatened all that was sacred to them, that community lashed out to protect their ways and beliefs. Salem from 1626-1692

Salem was founded in 1626 by Roger Conant who had left the failed Cape Ann expedition. Many people were excited at the prospect of Salem as a new colony because of its natural resources. Others, however, had to make their living off of the land. So, as Salem moved into the 1630s, its residents slowly moved away from the town's center and into the wilderness, this enabled them to clear land and farm as a means to survive. The farmers stayed in what would become Salem Village, however as is the case with most new lands the residents of the Village found it necessary to expand. After receiving rights to expand from their charter company, Salem Village had its own separate parish known as Salem Farms in 1672.

An important aspect of Salem's history during this time period were the preachers....
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