The Old Deluder Act and America’s Literacy


February 16, 2016 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org)

The Old Deluder Act
From its inception, America was a highly literate society, and its literacy was because of the Bible.

“The Puritans strongly supported education. Literacy, they believed, is necessary in order to read and understand the Bible and its principles. Literacy and education were also important to them because a civil republican/democratic self-government require informed, knowledgeable voters and representatives who understand the laws of the colony. Literacy and education also provide communities with competent citizens of various professions. The Puritans, therefore, wanted to spread knowledge to everyone for the benefit of the community” (Angela Kamrath,
The Miracle of America).

Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, said, “... the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments” (
Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1798).

The Massachusetts School Law of 1642 required all children to be taught to read and write by their parents or masters of apprenticeship. The children were to be able “to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of this country.”

The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony went further, requiring that every town and community with over 50 families set up schools and hire schoolmasters. The goal was so that “the old deluder, Satan [would not] keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” The particular fear was that the Catholic Church would be able to deceive an illiterate people as she had been accustomed to doing in Europe. The law began as follows: “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue [Latin], so in these later times by persuading from the use of tongues [illiteracy], that so at least the true sense and meaning of the Original might be clouded with false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours: it is therefore ordered by this Court and Authority thereof; that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to each all such children as shall resort to him to write and read...”

The New England Code of 1655 required that children be made “able duly to read the Scriptures ... and in some competent measure to understand the main grounds and principles of Christian Religion necessary to salvation.”

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