Old Deluder Satan Law

The Old Deluder Satan Law is unquestionably one of the most oddly named laws in United States history.

The Old Deluder Satan Law was passed in Massachusetts in 1647. It was a follow-up to the parental neglect law of 1642. That law, aptly known as The Law of 1642, charged parents or the masters of children who were apprenticed to ensure that the children knew both the principles of religion, and the most critical – the capital – laws of the Commonwealth.

Apparently some felt that the Law of 1642 didn’t go far enough in ensuring that children got a proper education, and so in 1647 a new law was passed, which came to be known as the Old Deluder Satan Law. Here’s what it says, in part:

“It being one chief point of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of Scriptures, as in former times, by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times, by persuading them from the use of tongues that so at last the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded by false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers, that learning might not be buried in the graves of our fathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours…”

Hence the “Old Deluder Satan” name.

This law, though oddly named, was a crucial turning point in American public school education. The law mandated that every town must have a school, and that towns with fifty families or more must have an elementary school, and those with one hundred families or more must also have a secondary or Latin grammar school.

Many credit the Old Deluder Satan law with giving rise to public education for the masses which the United States enjoys to this day.

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Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America