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

By Matthew S. Holland | Go to book overview

Prologue
“Bonds of Affection”— Three Founding Moments

I

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.”1

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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