Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America--Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln

Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America--Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln

Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America--Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln

Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America--Winthrop, Jefferson, and Lincoln


Notions of Christian love, or charity, strongly shaped the political thought of John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln as each presided over a foundational moment in the development of American democracy. Matthew Holland examines how each figure interpreted and appropriated charity, revealing both the problems and possibilities of making it a political ideal.

Holland first looks at early American literature and seminal speeches by Winthrop to show how the Puritan theology of this famed 17th century governor of the Massachusetts Colony (he who first envisioned America as a "City upon a Hill") galvanized an impressive sense of self-rule and a community of care in the early republic, even as its harsher aspects made something like Jefferson's Enlightenment faith in liberal democracy a welcome development. Holland then shows that between Jefferson's early rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and his First Inaugural Jefferson came to see some notion of charity as a necessary complement to modern political liberty.

However, Holland argues, it was Lincoln and his ingenious blend of Puritan and democratic insights who best fulfilled the promise of this nation's "bonds of affection." With his recognition of the imperfections of both North and South, his humility in the face of God's judgment on the Civil War, and his insistence on "charity for all," including the defeated Confederacy, Lincoln personified the possibilities of religious love turned civic virtue.

Weaving a rich tapestry of insights from political science and literature and American religious history and political theory, Bonds of Affection is a major contribution to the study of American political identity. Matthew Holland makes plain that civic charity, while commonly rejected as irrelevant or even harmful to political engagement, has been integral to our national character.

The book includes the full texts of Winthrop's speech "A Model of Christian Charity"; Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration and his First Inaugural; and Lincoln's Second Inaugural.


Like no other figure of founding importance for America, we remember his words but not his name. In the spring of 1630, John Winthrop, newly elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company, gave a lay sermon to those sailing with him on the Arbella, flagship of what would become a massive, decade-long exodus of English Puritans to this country. His audience listened intently, their reflexive reverence heightened by their anxiety over the perilous journey ahead. They were to live with each other, Winthrop insisted, “in the bond of brotherly affection.” Among other things, he explained that this meant

We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentle
ness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make
each others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together,
labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commis
sion and community in the work.

This was more than mere rhetoric. As Winthrop saw it, only by becoming “A Model of Christian Charity” (the common title of his remarks) could this company be sure to avoid the all too real possibilities of destruction at sea or extinction in the harsh wilderness of the New World. Moreover, by successfully grounding their personal character and communal practices on ideals of biblical love, they were destined to rise up a prosperous, powerful, and widely admired “City Upon a Hill.”

Today, prominent scholars across a range of disciplines praise Winthrop's address as the “most famous text in 17th century American history,” the “Ur-text of American literature,” and a distinctive and . . .

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