Deputy Governor Danforth oversees the witchcraft trials in Salem, as in other parts of Massachusetts. He likes to think of himself as fair-minded, so it disturbs and angers him to discover that people fear the court. He believes that no innocent person should fear the court, and that he and Judge Hathorne are guided by God, so nobody will be punished unjustly. As a result, he fails to examine evidence critically or to act when he could to stop the hysteria. Even at the end, when it’s obvious that the society is disintegrating, he refuses to see the role that the witchcraft trials and hangings have played in it.
Miller’s depiction of the characters of the people who prosecuted witches, like Danforth, was sometimes criticized as being too excessive. Miller agreed, but defended his depiction as adhering to the facts of history. Miller suggested Danforth was important because he helped define and defend the boundaries of society, the rules that people lived by. His character, Miller says, is driven by the idea that mankind must be protected from knowledge, an idea that Miller characterized as believing that “evil is good.”