Sherry Sylvester


Salem Witch Trials – A Case for American Exceptionalism

Halloween tourists are making their annual descent on Salem, Massachusetts to visit the real-life site of the supernatural on trial—the 1692 execution of 19 people for witchcraft. Piles of books and movies tell the Salem witch trial story, replete with wild-eyed, sexually repressed Puritan zealots roving the dark, foggy countryside seeking out women to drag into their evil court.

Although it’s no comfort to those who faced the gallows over 300 years ago, in fact, the made-for-Halloween scenes are largely based on centuries-old propaganda repeated by left-wing libertines today, who use it to push the myth that piety is bad and America was, somehow, rotten to the core from the beginning. The truth is the American colonies in 1692 were probably one of the safest places in the world to be if you were a woman—or even a witch.

Records indicate that at least 12,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Europe during the 17th century, although the estimates go as high as 300,000, during the so-called “Burning Times.” In England, witch executions had slowed down by the mid-1600s, but still, more than 250 women were executed. By contrast, the total body count in the American colonies, including the Salem witch executions, was 35.

Of course, early American colonists believed in witchcraft, just like their European cousins. About 200 people were charged as witches in the American colonies in the 17th century, but almost all of the charges were dismissed.

Equally important, after the witch trials were shut down in Salem in the summer of 1692, no one was ever executed for witchcraft anywhere in America again. Meanwhile, in England, witch trials continued and witchcraft was not decriminalized until 1727. To peg that date to an American benchmark, in 1727, Benjamin Franklin was 21 years old and already writing pamphlets on freedom.

The real history is not easy to uncover, even in Salem, where witch trial tourism is a huge boost to the local economy. (The town slogan is “Stop by for a Spell”).

But what we think we know about the Puritans in general and the Salem witch trials, in particular, comes from some dubious sources, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Salem-born American writer who was a descendant of an early Puritan family. Hawthorne’s great-grandfather had been one of the judges at the Salem witch trials, which was a huge public relations problem for him because of the general shame associated with the trials. To get around it, he changed the spelling of his name. Then, he wrote damning portraits of the Puritan founders of Massachusetts, which helped to distance him from his forebears—and, incidentally, to boost book sales.

This time of year, some secular writers routinely re-tell the witch trials story as one of religious hysteria, blaming the deep faith of the Puritans rather than the virtually universally held superstitions of the times.

Some contemporary Puritan scholars believe that Salem marked an intellectual turning point for the early Americans. Going forward after the trials, the colonists were forced to admit they’d made a horrible error, despite their commitment to creating a new and more moral society.

Historian Paul Johnson noted that in the months following the Salem witch trials, the General Court of Massachusetts passed a motion condemning the Salem judges. The families of those who were hanged were paid compensation and most of the members of the jury signed statements of regret. Many of those who had falsely testified against the victims confessed to perjury.

Samuel Sewall, one of the judges in the witch trials, almost immediately repented his involvement. Churches in Salem convened for days of penance and fasting, a practice that continued annually in Salem churches for years. Richard Francis, Sewall’s biographer, writes that Sewall’s own penance for his involvement in the witch trials was dedicating the rest of his life trying to eradicate slavery in America.

Of course, none of this compensates for the community compliance with the hysteria and mob violence that allowed the Salem witch trials and resulting executions to occur. Still, the American colonies were far ahead of the rest of the Western world at the time in confronting and dismissing superstition.

Their immediate repentance and reparations shows they didn’t hold themselves to a European standard. Instead, the people who had committed to building that “shining city on a hill” when they first landed in the Massachusetts Bay, held themselves to a standard that was higher than anyone in the world had yet seen.

They didn’t realize they were building what would become America, but they did know that their task was to create a place that would come to be called exceptional.


9th & Congress | Episode 9: How Texas Got it Right with Ray Sullivan

TPPF’s Sherry Sylvester sits down with political communications expert Ray Sullivan to discuss what first caused Texas voters to reliably go to the right when they cast their ballots, what policies and issues people cared about in 2002 that they still care about now, and what challenges he sees to ensure that Texas remains a conservative beacon for America and the world.

Listen to the 9th & Congress podcast on Spotify.

Subscribe to the 9th & Congress newsletter.


9th & Congress | Episode 9: How Texas Got it Right with Ray Sullivan

TPPF’s Sherry Sylvester sits down with political communications expert Ray Sullivan to discuss what first caused Texas voters to reliably go to the right when they cast their ballots, what policies and issues people cared about in 2002 that they still care about now, and what challenges he sees to ensure that Texas remains a conservative beacon for America and the world.

Listen to the 9th & Congress podcast on Spotify.

Subscribe to the 9th & Congress newsletter.


Blame DEI for Anti-Israel Protests on Campuses

Senate Bill 17, which will close down the so-called “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” offices on Texas campuses in January, was not passed to push an ideological agenda on Texas universities. Instead, the priority was to stop a sanctioned system of internal indoctrination that is making students stupid.

Recent protests in Austin make it clear that for many students at the University of Texas, SB 17 is too late. A student group from UT-Austin called the Palestine Solidarity Committee drew hundreds to the Capitol — “double to triple” the number of attendees at the pro-Israel rally earlier in the day, according to Austin American-Statesman reports.

In a battle between brutal terrorists, who killed, mutilated, maimed, and captured hundreds of people in Israel, these University of Texas students chose to march in support of the terrorists. Chanting “Israel is a racist state” and “Free Palestine” on the streets of Austin, they demonstrated no understanding of the history of the region or the latest Hamas terrorism, the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust. Incredulously, one of the demonstrators told the press they were not anti-Semitic.

To understand why these Texas students made such a hateful, ugly, and frankly dumb choice, just look at what they are learning from the DEI programs that infuse every aspect of campus life on the glorified 40 acres.

The National Association of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officers in Higher Education’s stated mission is to teach:

“…the history of racism, colonization and conquest on how higher education and other sectors of society have been complicit in maintaining systems of [white and male] privilege.”

In their view, racism in America is virtually the same as it was in the days of slavery. The meaning of conquest and colonization are distorted by DEI, too. For example, DEI proponents claim that the Pilgrims didn’t come to America for religious freedom – they came to conquer the natives.

Using proscribed propaganda by hucksters like Ibram X. Kendi and the multi-million dollar fraudsters at Black Lives Matter, DEI has created partisan activists on campus who parrot the precepts of critical race and gender theory and view the world as divided between those who are oppressors because they are descended from colonizers, and those who are oppressed because they are descended from those who were victims of oppression.

Words like merit, hard-work, persistence and achievement are presented as illusions to obscure the basic premise of DEI — the deck is stacked in favor of those who were born with what they define as privilege, regardless of their circumstances, and nobody else has a chance at success.

According to them, the American dream is a lie and has been since 1619.

So it is not surprising that when Hamas terrorists attacked and killed thousands of Israelis last week, including women and children, these DEI infused students immediately started marching in support of the killers. After all, Hamas’ mission is also based on lineage — their goal is to kill everyone who was born Jewish.

It is ironic that so much of DEI is focused on the “pretend violence” including so-called “micro-aggressions.” Students tell me there are rooms set aside in the library at Texas A&M to protect so-called LGBTQIA+ students from having to study in close proximity to anyone who isn’t LGBTQIA+. These are called “safe spaces.”

But apparently, the brilliant thinkers studying at Texas universities missed the obvious parallel in Israel. Hamas dragged Israeli families out of their homes on a holiday. They killed children in front of their parents, raped and mutilated women, and abducted hundreds of other victims. UT’s Palestinian Solidarity Committee apparently didn’t notice that on October 7, there were no safe spaces for Jews in Israel.


Recapping the 88th Legislative Session with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick

Tuesday, May 30, 2023
9:30 am – 11:00 am


Free Speech: UT is as Bad as Harvard

It was big news the other week when the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) announced that Harvard University had the worst record on free speech of any university in the country. This is particularly sad considering its history. Harvard is where Samuel Adams first began to formulate the concept that the American colonies should free themselves from control of the British Parliament. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Samuel’s cousin John Adams all credit Samuel Adams with being the first to conceptualize the idea of freedom for the American colonies. It was virtually unthinkable idea at the time but it became a reality because Adams and his friends at Harvard discussed and debated it, effectively incubating the idea of independence for Americans.

By the mid-1760s, the British had made Samuel Adams and anyone who agreed with him public enemies, just for talking about independence.

Luckily for us, that didn’t stop them. Those Harvard men moved forward, writing pamphlets and making speeches, despite knowing that their statements would likely ruin their prospects for advancement, at best, or ultimately get them arrested or hanged, at worst.

That’s why it is so tragic that Harvard students today report they frequently are afraid to say anything that might be construed as controversial or politically incorrect. They are afraid of being censured by their professors. One student told researchers that she chose to write on topics that weren’t controversial to avoid censure.

According to FIRE, Harvard’s free speech record is so bad that it actually managed to score lower than zero. It called Harvard’s record “abysmal.”

FIRE establishes its rankings by polling students. It also compiles data on how many students are dismissed for speaking out, how many controversial campus speakers turn out to be dis-invited, and whether or not the university administration has stood in support of free speech or buckled under campus or faculty pressure.

Harvard ranked 248 out of 248 academic institutions surveyed.

Yet, the University of Texas at Austin’s ranking was almost as bad as Harvard’s—near the bottom, they ranked 236, the worst of any school in Texas.

According to FIRE researchers, the majority viewpoint at both Harvard and UT Austin is liberal, which is no surprise. What is surprising is that students at UT Austin outnumber conservatives by a ratio of almost 4-to-1. That’s slightly higher than Harvard, where the liberal to conservative viewpoint ratio is 3.32-to-1.

Harvard, of course, is a private school (although it does receive plenty of federal tax dollars). Still, voters in Massachusetts gave Joe Biden a 33 point victory in 2020, so maybe a 3-to-1 liberal to conservative ratio on the nation’s oldest college campus makes sense there.

But the University of Texas at Austin is located in a state that has elected conservative Republicans to every statewide office for more than two decades. What excuse can there possibly be for Texas taxpayers to underwrite a campus where the liberal to conservative ratio is almost 4-to-1 and students don’t feel like they can speak their minds?

The study also found that UT Austin students were more comfortable than Harvard students when it comes to shutting down speakers they don’t agree with on campus. A larger percentage of UT Austin students gave a green light to “blocking entry, shouting down and physical violence to prevent on-campus speakers from speaking” than those at Harvard.

Harvard students also showed more tolerance for both liberal and conservative speakers on campus than students attending the University of Texas. FIRE didn’t call UT Austin’s record abysmal, but it did call it “poor,” not a term Texans usually find acceptable in any ranking, particularly when describing a multi-billion dollar operation that presents itself as the flagship of flagships.

Both Harvard and UT Austin scored below average on “comfort expressing ideas via writing in class and among their peers and professors”–146 at UT and 144 at Harvard. You can see how this would happen after seeing former UT Dean of so-called “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”(DEI) Skyller Walkes, screaming at a group of students that “an educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor. Which one will you identify as?”

If you watch the video it is clear there’s no room for “What do you think?” or “Speak up if you disagree.”

Also, remember University of Texas Psychology Professor Kirsten Bradbury who asked the following multiple choice question on a test:

“Which sociodemographic group is most likely to repeatedly violate the rights of others, in a pattern of behavior that includes violence, deceit, irresponsibility and lack of remorse?”

The correct test answer was “wealthy white men.”

The student who came forward with that test question did so secretly and took great care to remain anonymous. She did not present it to university officials.

Bradbury issued a non-apology and there have been no reports of repercussions from the university.

Freedom of speech is essential to the primary purpose of a university education. Diversity of thought, and open inquiry are critical to creative thinking and innovation. Without them there is no hope of expanding worldviews that were previously unimagined–like Samuel Adams did.

By the way, Texas A&M ranked seventh on the FIRE survey. WHOOP.



The Sweet Tea Series I Why Sherry Sylvester Left the Left

Sherry Sylvester is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Her career has spanned across multiple states, positions, and even parties. On this episode, Taylor and Sherry talk about the evolution of women in politics and why Sherry chose to leave the left and embrace Texas conservatism.

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