Founders’ Corner: The American Witch Trials

There is no defense for what took place during these witch trials but it is important to tell accurate history.

This wasn’t solely an American problem. This was happening around the world. 30,000 died in England after being accused of being a witch. Another 75,000 died in France. Another 100,000 in Germany. In total more than 500,000 people ended up dying during the several decades that they were taking place in Europe before these trials finally came to an end. Death toll in America before they were ended? 27. Not 27,000, but 27, and they ended within 18 months.

It’s easy to look back at history for some people and claim that America was (and many Americans still believe is) this horrible, evil country. But most of the practices that took place in America took place almost everywhere, but they ended far sooner than anywhere else. The witch trials are one example. Slavery is another.

It’s important to look at what it was that put the Witch trials to an end in America decades before Europe. Yes, witch trials were started because a few ministers misinterpreted the Bible. But it’s important to point out that It was several Christian leaders (Rev. John Wise, Rev. Increase Mather and Thomas Brattle) who confronted the civil leaders about this horrible practice. They pointed to the Bible and that the rules of evidence and due process that were set forth in the Bible were not being followed. The civil leaders were convinced and put an end to the witch trials.

Many like to claim that we aren’t a Christian nation and throw out the “separation of church and state” line constantly, but a majority of the laws from our Founding era were inspired by the Bible. Even the very secularist Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer acknowledged in 1999 in Lilly v. Virginia when he stated that “The right of an accused to meet his accusers face-to-face is mentioned in, among other things, the Bible.”

Oh, and by the way that “Separation of Church and State” line isn’t found anywhere in the Constitution, Bill of Rights or Declaration of Independence. The only thing that the Constitution says regarding religion is in the First Amendment that states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. That means that Congress can’t pass a law enacting a religion run by the state, which was the practice of England. Congress can’t declare that Catholic is the official state religion and that I can be arrested for going to a non Catholic church. And even the First Amendment was inspired by Joshua 24:15.

After being pointed out that the practices in the witch trials violated Biblical principles, Governor Phips of Massachusetts stopped them in October 1692. Five years after this the Massachusetts Court publicly repented and set an official day of fasting and praying for forgiveness. The 12 jurors published a declaration of sorrow and Judge Sewall publicly confessed his guilt.

After the trials ended, the families of the accused received restitution and their names were exonerated.

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