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New England


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Region including the present states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, was named by Captain John Smith in his map of 1616. The harsh climate, rocky soil, and paucity of natural products discouraged colonization, except by the Puritans who sought a new home in which to cultivate their faith, and there early developed a homogeneity emphasized by their intolerance of beliefs at variance from orthodox Calvinism. Accordingly, cooperative action was common in such matters as the public school system, civic rule by town meetings, the organization of the Congregational Church, and the New England Confederation. The resulting early New England mind may be traced through the writings of such divines as the Mathers and Jonathan Edwards, and of such laymen as Bradford, Winthrop, and Sewall. Economic considerations also produced a unity, shipbuilding and fishing being the most characteristic occupations, but the very barrenness of the soil, lack of a staple, and inaccessibility of markets forced the people to develop an ingenuity that flowered in the shrewd, thrifty, independent, and resourceful type known as the Yankee. Because of its great foreign commerce, which led to the rise of such ports as Boston and Salem, the region was particularly affected by the British Navigation acts, and played an important part in shaping colonial ideas toward the Revolution, producing such leaders as Samuel and John Adams.

After the Revolution the commercial classes became increasingly powerful as the transition to industrialism advanced, calling forth a generally conservative temper that came to be buttressed by a pride of heritage. This attitude, evident in the writings of the Connecticut Wits, may be observed later in the policies of the Cotton Whigs, whose guiding lights were the textile mill owners closely affiliated with the Southern cotton planters. The Brahmin class was therefore long averse to the antislavery movement, but others, with equal pride of heritage and thoughtful of the spirit of Yankee independence, identified themselves passionately with the humanitarian movements of the mid-19th century. Thus Garrison, Whittier, and others agitated for improved conditions of labor in both North and South. Liberalism manifested itself likewise in the growth of Unitarianism, under Channing and Parker, and in the philosophic and literary movement of Transcendentalism, whose school, flourishing at Concord, included Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, and Margaret Fuller. True to the cultural tradition that had led to the founding of Harvard as early as 1636, others also maintained the region's distinction as the center of American intellectual activity, and this renaissance of the pre-Civil War years has been termed by such critics as Van Wyck Brooks “the flowering of New England.” Among the representative authors of the time may be mentioned Longfellow and Lowell, who show the scholarship and romantic influences of the Cambridge authors; Bryant and Whittier, the love of nature and social liberalism frequently to be observed in New England thought; Holmes, the genteel Brahmin attitude; Hawthorne, the interest in moral problems and in the Puritan past; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the humanitarianism and later the preoccupation with local color.

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Subjects: Literature.


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