Puritans Vs. Gambling

Although attention is paid to the South, the Midwest, and the West, there is strong correlation of all areas with the development of gambling, in the Northeast, particularly New York City.

Considerable time, therefore, will be devoted to investigation of gambling in New York City and in the state of New York.

The English legal system played a leading role in shaping the development of American legal thought and its institutions, and so it was with gambling laws that both prior to and after the American Revolution.

John Winthrop's Puritans were among the earliest settlers of the North American continent.

Those who settled in what is now Massachusetts condemned gaming from the start, but their disapproval did not originally rest upon the belief that such activity was evil per se or directly contrary to the teaching of God.

That 'word' had only one rightful source, the Bible. While theft and adultery were specifically prohibited, the Bible did not expressly condemn gaming.

Nevertheless, in its first year of existence, the Massachusetts Bay colony outlawed the possession of cards, dice, and gaming tables, even in private homes. In addition, although games in general were not expressly banned, they clearly fell under the idleness statute of 1633.

The early colonists opposed any unproductive use of time, and game playing was condemned as one form of idleness. Other prohibited diversions included dancing, singing, and all unnecessary walking on Sunday.

Connecticut's law followed a similar course and denounced game playing whether or not gambling was present, because it prompted '... much precious time to be spent unfruitfully.'

Several factors combined to produce the Puritan opposition to entertainment reflected in and exemplified by this early Northeastern legislature: The harsh and unfamiliar American wilderness, the danger of hostile Indian attack, and the possibility of starvation or disease.

Later statutes considered other problems--- the welfare of innocent families, public safety, and juvenile delinquency.

In 1721, a New Hampshire act against gambling, for example, spoke of a need to prevent the unnecessary impoverishment of the gambler's family.

Moreover, a New York statute expressed concern for the financial ruin of the gambler and the violence connected with gambling ventures, while a 1748 New Jersey act equated idleness and immorality with fraud and the corruption of youth.

Lotteries also migrated from the earliest times onto the American scene. However, they occasioned an argument derived from the Bible that specifically condemned such activity.

Although the growth of a working, non-religious class in the Puritan midst led to a weakening of the religious influence, the Puritans did not take their loss of political power lightly.

Prominent Puritan theologians began to interpret recurrent misfortunes as signs of God's anger with the degradation of of Puritanism.

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