Such Men are Dangerous
The Fanatics of 1692 and 2004
By Frances Hill
Most Americans, of course, would like to think that our modern-day leaders are more enlightened than the witch-hunting Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But are they? Is it possible that people like Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and even George W. Bush are just the modern-day equivalents of Cotton Mather, John Hathorne, and William Phips? Frances Hill finds a frightening resemblance, and hopes that by remembering the past we can avoid repeating it.
Much of what we know about the Salem witch trials is the result of Frances Hill’s meticulously researched books on the subject. To many, this seems to be a bizarre chapter of history that could never repeat itself in modern times. Yet that is exactly what is happening, Hill says. The events are, of course, very different. The Puritans twisted a popular fear of imaginary “spectral” forces to bolster their power and wealth. Today’s neoconservatives are twisting the very real public fear of terrorism to bolster their ideological agendas, power and wealth.
We know how the story of the witch hunts ends. The modern equivalent is still under way, with far more chilling ramifications for the future of humanity.
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About the Author
Frances Hill is the author of several books, including three on the Salem witch trials—A Delusion of Satan, The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials; The Salem Witch Trials Reader; and Hunting For Witches, A Visitor’s Guide To The Salem Witch Trials.
She was born in London and went to Keele University, Staffordshire, where she obtained a BA Honors degree in English Literature and Philosophy. After traveling in Europe and the US for a couple of years she worked as an assistant to the blind Daily Telegraph editorial writer T. E. Utley, in London’s Fleet Street, and then as a reporter for the London Times Educational Supplement, writing about education and social work issues. In the ’70s she moved to New York to work as American correspondent for the TES.
On returning to the UK, she became a free-lance journalist while working on her first novel, Out of Bounds. For many years she was the radio critic for the TES as well as a fiction reviewer for The Times and feature writer for several other publications. Out of Bounds was published in 1985 and followed by a second novel, A Fatal Delusion, in 1989. Her acclaimed account of the Salem witch trials, A Delusion of Satan, was published by Doubleday in New York in 1995 and Hamish Hamilton in London in 1996. The paperback was brought out in England by Penguin in 1996 and in the US by da Capo in 1997. A new da Capo edition appeared, with a new preface, in 2002. The Salem Witch Trials Reader was published by da Capo in 2000 and Hunting for Witches, A Visitor’s Guide to the Salem Witch Trials, by Commonwealth Editions in 2002.
Frances Hill lives in London but visits the US regularly, spending every summer in Connecticut. Her Web site is at www.franceshill.net.
What People are Saying
“In the flood of political nonfiction inspired by the Bush administration, Hill dares to get past complaining, actually making an intelligent case for learning from history.”
—Eric Robbins of Apple Valley Books, Winthrop, ME in Bookselling This Week“Frances Hill, in her book Such Men Are Dangerous, has drawn arresting parallels between the witchhunting pathology of Calvinism and of US neo-conservative politicians.” —The Independent (London)
“In her chapters, Hill plays off the 1692 fanatics with those in 2004. Each section is remarkably lucid and clear. . . . Her analysis of the witch trials is authoritative and perceptive. . . . The “spectral evidence” of Mather’s day becomes the rumor and intelligence-gathering of the present day. The witches in prison suggest the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Hysteria drives all, and fear is the fuel these politicians thrive on. The real story here . . . is the American penchant of witch hunts in general, the demagogic rush to skewer scapegoats, rouse the body politic, and launch crusades against various axes of evil.”—The Providence Journal
“Among the other inspired first-timers [in publishing political books this year] is Vermont’s Upper Access. In addition to its [other] titles, the press will publish historian Frances Hill’s Such Men Are Dangerous: The Fanatics of 1692 and 2004 (Mar., $22.95), which examines the similarities between Puritan ideologues and today’s neo-conservatives.”—Publishers Weekly
“Hill posits that America at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with its poverty, lack of health care, overflowing prisons, and random executions, is a place of great savagery, comparable to Massachusetts at the end of the seventeenth century. According to Hill, the people running the country in 2004 are as self-righteous and inhumane as the Puritan leaders of 1692. That will be welcome reading to [at least] a segment of the American public.”—ForeWord Magazine
“Author Frances Hill, who has written three previous books on the Salem witch trials, presents a peculiar thesis that at first blush seems outrageous. . . . Oddly, Hill is quite convincing about all of this. Her writing is breathlessly sharp and incisive, and her research is thorough, impeccable, and amply footnoted. The book reads like a thriller and stands as a walloping indictment of a government run amok, with far-reaching and bone-chilling implications for our future.”—Fearless Reviews
“Such Men are Dangerous: The Fanatics of 1692 and 2004 is a chilling commentary that compares political figures such as Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush with the ideologues of 1692 colonial America who led the Salem witch hunts. Comparing the government’s manipulations of American reactions to September 11th with the Puritans’ twist on popular fear of ‘spectral’ forces to commit murder and bolster their own wealth, Such Men Are Dangerous takes a bold stand but is chilling in its uncanny comparisons. A scathing expose that forces the reader to take a cold, hard look at America’s current leaders.”—Midwest Book Review
“It’s disheartening to know that Americans have evolved so little in 300 years. This is quite an eye-opener of a book. . . . Highly recommended.”—Dead Trees Review
Table of Contents
Parallel Personalities (chart)
- The City on a Hill
- The Land of the Free
- The Intellectuals—Ministers Increase and Cotton Mather, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
- The Rulers—Deputy Governor William Stoughton, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney
- The Powers Behind the Throne—Magistrate John Hathorne, Adviser Richard Perle
- The Top Men—Governor William Phips, President George W. Bush
- The Moderates—Judge and Diarist Samuel Sewall, Secretary of State and Autobiographer Colin Powell
- The Witch Hunt
- September 11
- The Effects on Justice and Freedom
Three days after two hijacked planes flew into the twin towers in New York City, President George W. Bush strode into the Cabinet Room in the White House for the first full cabinet meeting since the attacks. The fourteen men and women arranged along the highly polished mahogany table stood up and clapped. Bush’s face creased and his eyes misted in that expression of emotional overload that was to become all too familiar to the American people in the next days and weeks. He took his place next to Colin Powell, his secretary of State.
The assembled cabinet members rustled, coughed, and tucked themselves down. In the ensuing hush, the president spoke. As always, he said, the meeting would begin with a prayer. He’d asked Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of Defense, to prepare one. The twelve men and two women bowed their heads as Rumsfeld, his clipped, grating tones unusually humble, prayed, among other things, for “patience to measure our lust for action.”
There may well have been those in the room who felt that if anyone needed such a prayer to be heard, it was this secretary of Defense. However, no one doubted that action must be taken. The greatest, most glorious nation on Earth had been attacked, literally out of the blue. That great nation was the symbol and exemplar of everything best in the world. Colin Powell put it into words.
“This is not just an attack against America, this is an attack against civilization and an attack against democracy.” When the meeting ended, President Bush was driven in a motorcade to the National Cathedral for a service of mourning. All the cabinet, most of the Senate, and many House of Representatives members were present. The rest of the population watched on television.
“Our responsibility to history is already clear,” the president said. It was “to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” He talked of “the warm courage of national unity” and a “kinship of grief and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies.”
Later, Bush said of this speech that he “looked at it from a spiritual perspective, that it was important for the meeting to pray . . . I believed the nation needed to be in prayer.”
It was May 24, 1692. This was the first of a series of meetings held over the next several days. Phips had arrived from England only ten days before, appointed by the crown to govern Massachusetts under a new charter, that is, a document granting limited self-rule. First, there was unfinished business to attend to. But then the council turned to the most pressing matter of the day: the more than 150 suspected witches languishing in jail. The councilors’ words on the subject have not come down to us, but the tenor of the meeting can be guessed from what Governor Phips later wrote:
I found this province miserably harassed with a most horrible witchcraft or possession of devils which had broke in upon several towns, some scores of poor people were taken with preternatural torments, some scalded with brimstone, some had pins stuck in their flesh, others hurried into the fire and water, and some dragged out of their houses and carried over the tops of trees and hills for many miles together.
We know today, of course, that witches do not exist. But no one in authority in Massachusetts doubted that witchcraft was occurring in the province and posed a terrible threat. What was more, it was occurring in a society that one of its founders had described as a “city on a hill” that would show the rest of the world how to live. The leading minister, Cotton Mather, had called its inhabitants “the best people under heaven.” Witches, the agents of the devil, were trying to destroy God’s chosen realm.
Governor Phips was faced with a dilemma. For eight years, since its original charter was revoked, Massachusetts had been under direct rule from England, followed after its revolution in 1689 by a state of legal limbo, without a valid court system and judicature. By what court should the suspected witches be tried?
Who should be appointed as judges? William Stoughton, Phips’ deputy governor, urged him to found a special court that could get to work straight away and sit without interruption until all the witches were dealt with. Under the new charter such a court was of dubious legality. But in this time of extreme crisis, strict adherence to the law was not uppermost in many people’s minds. Phips delegated the nomination of the judges of the new court to the councilors.
Both William Phips and William Stoughton had been appointed to their posts by the king, on the recommendation of the leading Massachusetts minister, Increase Mather, with the enthusiastic support of his son, Cotton Mather.
On May 27th, William Phips ordered that a special court of Oyer and Terminer be set up with William Stoughton as chief judge. The council should at least have waited until the first meeting of the province’s entire legislative body, the General Court, to take such a step. William Phips gave as his excuse for such haste “that there are many criminal offenders now in custody, some whereof have lain long and many inconveniences attending the thronging of the goals this hot season of the year.” But such humane considerations were hardly William Stoughton’s chief concern, as soon became apparent.
The first trial of a suspected witch was held less than a week later, and she was hanged a week after that.
These two incidents show governments separated in time by 300 years, responding in similar ways to major events. As noted before, the events themselves are dissimilar. The September 11th attacks caused thousands of deaths in the single most traumatizing episode in American history. The entire nation watched television coverage, in real time or soon after, as two symbols of American power crumbled and men and women died. In 1692 the threat of witches was invisible but for the fits and contortions of those said to be bewitched, and the visions of spirits seen by others. Unlike the terrorists, the alleged “witches” were innocent people with neither evil intentions nor power. But the fear of them —and of their alleged master, the devil—was as great, and as easily manipulated, as the fear of terrorists in 2001.
In both incidents, leaders of government faced what seemed to them deadly dangers from enemies bent on the total destruction of the most industrious, most moral—in every sense simply the best—society and people on Earth. They saw no way of responding but with violence. They saw no outcome but total victory or defeat. Both believed God was on their side against evil. In both cases, panic, simple-mindedness, and religious and nationalistic fervor predominated over calm, nuanced thinking and reason.
And, as a result of both incidents, some of those leaders had an unforeseen chance to pursue their own political and personal agendas. They could use the public’s panic and gullibility to achieve their own ends.
As a result of both incidents, the rights and liberties of citizens were sacrificed and countless innocent people suffered. The closer one looks, the closer the parallels between 1692 and 2001 (continuing into 2004) become.