The Puritans didn’t care about this core US text

In 1630, John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, proclaimed to fellow Puritan settlers that “we shall be as a city upon a hill.”

“Only in the second half of the 20th century would it come to be seen as the ur-text of America—the vision that got the whole thing going.”

Nearly four centuries later, Winthrop’s striking image has emerged as a fixture of American political rhetoric, says Abram Van Engen, associate professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.

“For both the left and the right, Winthrop’s sermon has become a foundational text,” says Van Engen, who also serves as principal investigator for the City on a Hill Archive. “But there is something a little odd about this origin: the Puritans themselves paid no attention to it. They never printed it or remarked on it; they didn’t take any notes, and they quickly lost all track of it.

“Only in the second half of the 20th century would it come to be seen as the ur-text of America—the vision that got the whole thing going.”

In this video, Van Engen discuss the history of Winthrop’s city on a hill, as well as its subsequent adoption by presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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Source: Futurity